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JKDAC32 Review

posted 9 Apr 2012, 02:52 by John Kenny   [ updated 27 Oct 2012, 04:48 ]

John Kenny JKDAC32 (M2Tech Hiface + PCM5102 + LiFePO4) See here

vs. Rega DAC (AU$900).  The JKDAC32 and its British counterpart share some qualitative similarities.  They both lean towards the organic end of the spectrum.  They both put overall musical coherence and PRaT ahead of detail extraction and top-to-bottom frequency extension, the Rega being warmer overall by way of a plumper lower-midrange.  The Rega's also a little more lively in the top end.  The kicker being that the Rega demands the JKSPDIF (or similar) to run even-Stevens with the JKDAC32.

A run through Lampchop's Mr. M, first with the JKDAC32 and then with the Rega DAC: without USB-S/PDIF convertor appendage - and fed via its own USB input - the Rega DAC sounds comparatively tonally bleached.  Kurt Wagner's vocal body is thinner via standalone Brit than the all-in-one Irishman. For a record that seduces with hushed tones, an inky-black background is critical mood enhancer.  The JKDAC32's battery infusion wins hands down here.  Running its USB direct into the Mac Mini, the Rega's background is infected by a soupçon of hash-fizz.

vs. JKDAC (Sabre). Of the two JK units, initial impressions suggest the Sabre original materialises as the most able to trawl for deep for detail.  It definitely extends further at both frequency extremes: a bass that swings wrecking-ball low but a top-end that crystalline and vivid.  Smooth or refined it isn't; there's little evidence of vapour-trail decay, for which you'll need to BYO tube amplifier.  Like many ESS-chipped decoders, the Sabre-d JK sounds lit-up by brilliant sunshine and highly caffeinated.  It's pure Sydney:  in your face, fun, brash, thrilling…and (often) tiring - the detail carve skirts the edges of listener fatigue during longer listening sessions.  Redolent of MSG as a food flavour enhancer, the initial wow-factor of extra tongue-zing ultimately morphs into an inner-detail hangover.  Or exhaustion.  Or both.

The JKDAC32 is pure Melbourne:  cooler, wetter, more cultured, smoother, more refined.  It does't draw attention to itself and is altogether more easy-going.  Instrumentation is served up as more congealed - a thicker soup and with less spice.

Concluding. The achievement here is not just a theoretical one:  that digital transport quality matters.  John Kenny's DAC twins might come with the compromise of being USB-only but they deliver in spades.  The jitter-broom of a Hiface means the tonal-bleaching and high-frequency tension is swept away BEFORE the DAC chip gets its mitts on the one and zeroes......

I don't intend to insult your intelligence (dear reader) with clichés of how the JKDAC32 "competes with units two or three times the price".  Or that it is "recommended".  Or that it is "superb".  Despite superlatives meaning little in a comparative world it is all of these things.