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Positive Feedback ISSUE 24
march/april 2006


A Tale of Three Precious Jewels (三寶石)

The TAO of Integration - Dr. Sardonicus examines the Dussun integrated amplifiers

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials. Lin Yutang

While it is arguably true that separates are sexier, high-quality integrateds make much more sense for the majority of audiophiles. Cost, space, and component matching issues all argue for taking the road less forked. And while receivers have long been the whipping boys of snooty audiophiles, one has to wonder if improvements in engineering and manufacturing techniques over the past few years and the dramatic effect of Home Theater are not, in aggregate, resulting in products of merit in this oft reviled niche. I dunno personally, but if someone out there has a receiver they think is ready for running with the big dogs, I promise it most grave and open-minded consideration. God knows, I would love to actually be able to GET NPR in the cousin-marrying, red-neck preserve, little country hell-hole I presently inhabit (wow, did I say that out loud?).

BUT, I do know there is any number of excellent integrated amplifiers out there. I also maintain that for most audiophiles they probably represent an ultimately more practical solution than separates. And I say this for one, primary reason; The Facts.

Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don't do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out
Facts are getting the best of them
Facts are nothing on the face of things
Facts don't stain the furniture
Facts go out and slam the door
Facts are written all over your face
Facts continue to change their shape
I'm still waiting ...I'm still waiting ...I'm still waiting...

(Talking Heads - Cross Eyed and Painless)

Try this …go out and purchase a highly rated line-level pre-amplifier from one manufacturer ($2000), and a highly rated 100 watt power amplifier from another manufacturer ($2000), toss in two quality after-market power cords ($250 a pop), add appropriate suspension doo-dads ($200 for each component), and then hook them together with one meter of quality interconnect ($500). Grand total? $5400. OR, buy one 250 watt integrated ($2500), a really nifty after-market power cord ($500), suspend it ($100) and what do you get? $3100. Use the $2300 bucks to buy any of the following: really good digital source or turntable and cartridge, very respectable two-way monitors with stands, etc.

All things being equal, what do you think the chances are that most audiophiles will arrive at a felicitous arrangement of pre and power amplifiers, interconnects, etc. that will reliably out perform a well executed integrated?

And …when you move from 100 Watts to 250 Watts, what happens to your window of possible speaker matching? Frankly, for practical considerations, 250 genuine Watts lets you comfortably drive 98% of the speakers out there, without worrying. Since speaker selection is by FAR the most variable part of the process, I think more choice is always better than fewer choices, when it comes to speakers. What a burn to find one you absolutely love, and simultaneously discover your cherished 50 watter spitting up blood and coming up woefully short for your new love's 85dB efficiency and appetite for current! I have come to loathe the sound of a starving speaker.

If you can get past your ego and your prejudices (more boxes equals better sound) you stand a much better chance of assembling a really excellent two-channel system for under ten thousand dollars using an integrated amplifier, than you do with separates. When you go above the ten thousand dollar level the picture is not quite so clear, but there is still a great deal of merit in this approach, especially for those of you with smaller spaces and multipurpose listening rooms. Remember, all you have to do to mess up a high quality pre-amplifier-power amplifier combination is to miss-match, or miss-connect them. And trust me, this happens ALL THE TIME! And, it happens at every price point.

And there are great integrated pieces out there for every taste and at virtually every price point, tubed and solid state. Without effort, one can assemble a substantial list of high quality integrateds for consideration; and, the list is getting longer every day.

Now, we come to the three jewels in our little parable. The Dussun Trio.


Hyper Class-A Integrated Stereo Amplifier
Dual Mono, 250w/ch @ 8ohm
Retail: $2898


Hyper Class-A Integrated Stereo Amplifier
Dual Mono, 150w/ch @ 8ohm
Retail: $2098


Integrated Stereo Amplifier
100w/ch @ 8ohm
Retail: $698

And …no, I don't exactly know what "hyper class A is." We are working on that. What I do know is that both the V-6 and V-8 run cool enough you can actually put stuff on top of them if you wish (as long as you use some sort of non-reactive spacer to allow for circulation).

Construction is impressive (the danged V-8 weighs in at just under a hundred pounds, the 6i at about sixty five).

The V-series feature:

  • Dual Mono ultra-low-noise toroidal transformer

  • Over 60,000 MFD of filter capacitance per channel

  • Minimal internal wiring

  • Ultra-short signal path

  • Non-magnetic, non-resonant aluminum cover

  • Non-invasive protection system

  • Microprocessor-controlled passive volume potentiometer

  • High quality. double-sided printed circuit boards

  • Van den Hul CS-122 HYBRID loudspeaker cable for power transfer

  • Exclusive custom Dussun gold-plated high-current audio connector for
    amplifier and loudspeakers

There are a lot of very nice touches on these pieces, not the least of which is the BEST functional speaker terminals I have ever used. These things are HUGE, which easily allows for sufficient torque from just your fingers to reliably tighten even heavy cables, WITHOUT the use of tools. Variations of this design should be standard for all high end equipment. Love ‘em, love ‘em, love ‘em!

Even the entry-level DS-99 sports very high quality parts and a surprisingly substantial build.

Please note, the MSRP on these pieces is just that. Ping Gong, the distributor, indicates the street prices will be even more attractive.

Jennifer Crock currently has the flagship V-8 and has had it apart. I have invited her to write a technical side-bar. Her initial impressions, and those of her husband and business partner, Michael (as they have related them to me) are of very good construction and parts quality. I am hoping to get more of a read on the whole hyper-class "A" thing from her, over time.

And …?

So, OK, they are made very well, and they are incredibly priced. How do they sound?

Most of my initial listening has been through either the ACI Sapphire XL monitors, or the Piega P-10s. I hope to have the opportunity to listen to them on more challenging speakers. Frankly, the V-8 on the ACI is a bit of overkill, but that being said, there is no substitute for a speaker held in the vice-like grip of an amplifier that vastly exceeds its demands. Driven by the V-8i, I can fill a largish room with the ACIs with no audible signs of distress, although at times I wondered if the volume of blowback from the ports on the little sweeties were going to propel them through my secondary listening room like a missile.

When Jennifer gets done with the V-8i, I will trade her out for the V-6i and then spend some time it on the Piegas.

Right now I have the V-6i in my secondary system, with a SONY SCD-777 SACD player, JENA Labs cabling, driving the Piegas (whose sound I completely understand).

I am running the little hundred-watter on the ACIs in yet another system. More on that later in this article.

So, we will start with the V-6i. This is a very high quality piece that is going to street sell for significantly south of $2000. It has the grunt to power most anything you might want to pair it with, is built like a brick, and has this utterly charming, grain-free, snappy fireworks-dazzled drive that I adore. This is not some polite, laid back, sedate sister. Remember, I have been feeding the Piegas 300 watts per channel of BAT so I know how they sound with ample reserves.

I have previously observed that modern solid state equipment is rapidly losing its traditional signature. Definitely true for the V-6i. Although it is as flat as a ruler and nitro-powered fast, there is simply not a trace of glare or glass. However, where it truly charms is in inner detail and snap. Try to imagine being warm and comfortable in your high priced ski gear, while streaking down the glacier. Yeah, it's kinda like that.

When things get frenetic and complex, it holds together with a confidence that is seriously outside its price range. This is angioplasty-serious hi-end hi-fi for Circuit City mid-fi prices. At this price point I cannot think of a comparably poised and competent performer. Recommended without reservation.

BUT, it may not be my favorite Dussan piece.

The DS-99

Somewhere, lost in the shrouds of time passed, I know there was a time when I heard something audio for under a grand that I liked. I can't remember when or where; I think I was wearing flares at the time.

What do you say to a high-quality, extremely nice sounding, beefy 100-watt integrated that will street sell for under six hundred dollars, with a headphone amp even? I know what I say, I say, "Hi there!" Good heavens, each of you should have one just for utility purposes! A high quality integrated that you can tuck under one arm and will drive 90% of the speakers out there with no problem? Pulllleezzzzze! Pinch me.

I adore this little amplifier. It so significantly trounces my little Bryston 60, that I have retired it from active service.

Hooked up to the ACI Sapphire XLs with entry-level JENA Labs cabling, this combo ROCKS!

This is truly hi-fi on a budget. Even though the Sapphires are not terribly efficient, the DS-99 is more than adequate to the task, with significant reserves. No, it is not ultimately resolving, but again we have this grain-free, smooth and linear presentation that offers absolutely nothing objectionable.

Because of its lightening quick and very slightly lean nature, it is perfectamundo for the ACIs which error only so slightly to the warm side. This pair makes the best small, rock/pop/jazz systems I have heard for the money. Oh, I need to qualify that statement. When I say lean, you may read, lacks bass; quite the contrary, this little lady has startlingly, visceral bass. It's just that tonal balance is not tipped as with so many budget integrateds.

The Dussan/ACI combo is a match made in heaven and you can get them BOTH for right at 2k. This means a complete system for around $3500, with appropriate source, cabling, and other ancillaries, maybe even less. Wanna add some additional excitement? Add one or two of the eyebrow-raising, tres inexpensive ACI "Force" (soon appearing as XL) subs (review under way) and you have a full range, full rage, and fully satisfying audio system of extraordinary value. Price to benefit, this is about as good as it gets short of rolling your own. I am picky as hell, and I have had hours of fret-free enjoyment from this combo on both music and film.

Let me emphasize this. This is NOT a budget sounding system. This is not hair shirt compromise audio. This is real hi fi, and real fun!

Stay tuned, more adventures coming to this station soon.