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Equipment Review

November 1999

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Bel Canto DAC1 Digital-to-Analog Converter

by Marc Mickelson

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Pioneer DV-414


It began immediately after my review of the Bel Canto DAC1 appeared -- the e-mail came in. "Are you going to re-review the DAC1 with a DVD player?" "When will you hear the DAC1 with a DVD player?" "You missed the point by not hearing the DAC1 with a DVD player." I brought this upon myself -- I suggested that we would do a follow-up review with a DVD player. Luckily Bel Canto agreed and sent me a Pioneer DV-414 with true 24/96 digital outs to use along with the DAC1. However, I didn’t expect to hear so immediately and consistently that the original review was only the opening course.

First things first: the Pioneer player is a reasonably good transport. It sounds a bit thin and transistory and is not the sonic equal of the Mark Levinson No.39 or Linn Ikemi I have here, both of which sound more naturally resolving and powerful. The DV-414 is not a giant-killer transport, but it’s not awful either, doing its job respectably. I suspect that it would compete with various lower-priced CD players as a transport.

Used with the DAC1, however, the Pioneer player raises its performance a few notches. In the place of its recognizably electronic sound, the DV-414 takes on a sense of liquidity that I don’t quite hear with my reference Timbre TT-1 DAC or when I run it into the Levinson No.39. I can only speculate that this is due to the Bel Canto DAC1’s ability to handle jitter -- that it must be more sophisticated in this regard than the Timbre or Levinson. I also found that the Pioneer player sounds best through its TosLink digital output -- and for the reasons that I mentioned in my original review of the DAC1: the TosLink connection sounds smoother and darker, which doesn’t hurt the overall sound of the transport. The DAC1/Pioneer DV-414 combo is exceptional with CDs -- smooth, musical and still resolving. I can’t even think of a $1600 CD player ($1295 for the DAC1 and $300 street price for the Pioneer DV-414) I would consider instead of it.

And here’s a bonus: the DAC1/DV-414 combo can also handle 24/96 discs from Classic and Chesky. In my original review, I commented that I was not as pleased with the DAC1/CAL CL-20 player combo with 24/96 software as with the CL-20 alone. This is not the case with the DAC1/DV-414; it sounds terrific with 24/96 software, easily the equal of the CAL CL-20 alone, although I’m going by recollection, and a noticeable step up from standard CD sound. All of the attributes of 24/96 software are there -- expansiveness and a lack of forwardness in the upper midrange/lower treble -- along with the intrinsic qualities of the DAC1 itself: an analoglike smoothness and natural quality. It’s very important, however, that you make sure that 24/96 output is enabled with the DV-414. This is done via on-screen menus. If it is not, the signal will be downsampled within the DVD player and the DAC1 will still lock, killing the effect of the DAC1’s internal circuitry. This is easy to test if you have a non-24/96 DAC on hand. Just insert a DVD and if your DAC doesn’t lock, the 24/96 outputs are on.

So there you have it -- the Bel Canto DAC1/Pioneer DV-414 combination is a success and a bargain of sorts to boot. Keep that e-mail coming, hear?

...Marc Mickelson

Bel Canto Design DAC1 Digital-to-Analog Converter
$1295 USD.
Warranty: Lifetime.

Bel Canto Design, Ltd.
212 3rd Avenue North, Suite 345
Minneapolis, MN 55401
Phone: (612) 317-4550
Fax: (612) 317-4554

E-mail: info@belcantodesign.com
Website: www.belcantodesign.com

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