Product Review -
Pink Triangle; DaCapo Digital-To-Analog Converter - September,
By Richard Black
Size - 3 1/4"H x 18"w x 15"D, weight - 12 pounds, Prices: the basic DaCapo, with choice of 18- or 20-bit filter, costs L1536.50 in the UK (there are dealers in the USA and most countries of Europe). With a 22-bit filter, cost is L1601.50; with 1307, L1654.50, and with HDCD, L1706.50. An optional battery supply is available for L1590. Pink Triangle can be contacted at +44 171 703 5498 or at email@example.com.
USA Distributor: Pro Audio, 111 South Drive, Barrington, Illinois 60010 Contact: Brian Tucker, Phone (708) 526-1660, Fax (708) 526-1669
Once upon a time there was The Linn, more specifically known as the Sondek LP12 turntable, of course. Nowadays it is just one of many record players in its category, but 15 years ago it was practically unchallenged. One of the first challengers was the Pink Triangle turntable, an unlikely-looking beast with such odd features as a perspex platter, floppy suspension and a DC motor. Despite its apparently eccentric design, the deck gradually made its name and is still in production, in slightly modified form. I've used one for about five years and find it an exceptionally neutral deck; I'm very happy with it.
However, no manufacturer with bills to pay is wise to stick exclusively to LP replay, and Pink Triangle must have been quietly toying with digital audio products for a while, because in 1993 the company brought out its first digital product, the DaCapo DAC. Unlike many DACs, this one used Pink's discrete converter (most manufacturers use commercially-available integrated circuits) and in-house-designed clock recovery circuits to achieve a jitter specification close to what Pink Triangle perceives as a desirable figure (in the region of 10ps, for those to whom such numbers mean anything!) It was joined later by the less expensive Ordinal DAC (using more conventional circuitry) and the Cardinal transport, but it is the DaCapo, in its slightly revised current form, that is the subject of this review. Pink Triangle achieves low jitter rates by the use of a multi-stage phase locked loop for clock recovery, and with the Cardinal transport, there is now the option of a separate clock link (a cable) back from the DAC to the transport to eliminate synchronization problems.
Externally, the DaCapo bears a strong family resemblance to other PT products, with its sculpted wood edges. Intended to be left powered continuously (PT claims that its performance is improved when fully warmed up), it has no power switch, but it does have a standby switch which kills the audio output, and four input selectors. The review sample actually only had one input, but PT can supply a variety of input options (normal coaxial, Toslink, AT&T etc.) on small Digital Input Cards (DICs) which plug in to the rear of the main circuit board and fix to the rear panel. Inside the unit, two cigarette-pack-size screening cans are clearly labeled "Single-Bit D/A Converter" and "Filter Module". The former, in the interests no doubt as much of security as of screening, is soldered to the circuit board; the latter however is removable, and one of the DaCapo's unusual features is that different filter modules are available and user replaceable to upgrade or "tune" performance. At the time of writing this review, five modules are available; 18-bit, 20-bit, 22-bit, 1307 and HDCD. All use various combinations of filter ICs from chip manufacturers including Yamaha and Philips, and the HDCD module (using circuits from Pacific Microsonics) naturally also decodes HDCD-encoded discs. Not wishing to enter the HDCD minefield for the moment (and also because there is still next to no HDCD software available), I left this particular stone unturned and tested the DAC with the other four filters only.
Coming to the DaCapo shortly after PT's cheaper decoder, the Ordinal, my first reaction I must confess tended towards "is that all?". The differences didn't seem that stunning, and I'm not sure even now that they justify the price difference. BUT, that was with the 18-bit filter module installed. It was when I tried the 1307 and 22-bit modules that things really took off. Don't get me wrong; the 18-bit filter is good and makes a fine DAC, but it is not dramatically better than the Ordinal which is substantially cheaper (a little over half the price). In this form, the DaCapo gives a full-bodied sound which is not fatiguing and which does nothing to conceal detail in complex passages of music. Stereo imaging is rock-solid (something at least which most digital audio equipment seems to manage pretty well), and image depth is good if not the greatest.
With the 1307, which I heard next, the sound develops some of the "bloom" that the best systems can reproduce, but without the loss of detail that is a telltale sign of euphonic distortion (a la SE triode amp.). There is a slightly more relaxed character to percussive leading edges, especially on good piano recordings, and image depth improved noticeably. I felt at first that this was an exceptionally fine digital system. Then I tried the 22-bit filter.
I'm sure most people reading this have at some time heard one of the speakers from the 70s and 80s which used certain types of plastic cone drivers, and which always managed to sound exactly as if they were plastic, imparting a strange, quacking coloration to any instrumental sound. I feel many digital systems have the same effect, admittedly less so but still rather flimsy and plasticky rather than solid like an old tree. The DaCapo with the 22-bit filter is the most solid-sounding DAC I have yet heard. As a pianist, I listen to a lot of live and recorded pianos in a week and can spot a "plasticked" piano a mile off. With the 22-bit DaCapo I could really feel that the instrument making the sound weighs half a ton. Similarly with a traditional jazz recording I could hear the sax player's true tone rather than the usual comb-and-paper imitation, and with full orchestra, the real weight and solidity of unison cellos and basses was obvious. All this, retaining the precise tonal character, the sharp detail and the full 2-D soundstaging of the 1307 filter. In fact, front-to-back imaging might be a fraction better with the 22-bit filter too.
I haven't mentioned the 20-bit filter; to be honest I didn't listen to it much. It costs the same as the 18-bit, offers slightly better soundstaging but possibly a hint of coloration; however, it's no match for the 22-bit option. I would not recommend this DAC at all to those who like their hi-fi rose-tinted, but its honesty is exactly the quality I look for in good audio equipment. Having said that, I did feel that the 1307 (coming back to it after the 22-bit) is perhaps ever so slightly tailored in some way, just minutely twisting things away from full-on daylight in favour of incandescent bulb light; but it's such a small twist that it's hard to be sure. I would certainly recommend that option for audition, but my top recommendation comes for the 22-bit option.
Equipment used in this review: Marantz CD273 as transport; Sony DTC750 DAT deck; EAR802 preamp; ATC SCM20 speakers actively amped with EAR519 monoblocs for treble and my own unique bass amplifier; interconnects made from industrial 105-ohm twinax; Goertz speaker cable.
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