From time to time, in the midst of medium, good or even very good devices comes something, that stands out from the reviewers routine. This can happen for many reasons: maybe it is uncommonly good sound, nice design, high manufacturing quality or some technical solutions used. Sometimes it happens, that those elements connect, amplifying the effect. That was not the case with the Audionemesis digital to analog converter. When I saw the DC-1 during my first round at the Munchen show - it did not stand out from the thousands of other devices gathered at that sow. Wandering by it the second time I stopped for a moment, because something caught my attention - and I even don't know what. Now standing I asked a smiling guy, dwelling around it, to hold the opened equipment for a photo. He took the DC-1 and said that it does not have any oversampling or other digital signal processing. "How do you know?" I asked. "Because I designed it" - he answered.
Fabio Camorani, because it was him, the owner of AudioNemesis and AudioNautes, is one of those contended with life Italians, who, in contrast to Poles, seem to know how to enjoy life. Even more, they do what they like to do. And Fabio loves vinyl. That is the reason, while visiting his AudioNautes web page, we will find much information about analog records. But not only LP's - we'll find information about JVC XRCD disks. Obviously his love did not make him blind enough to ignore the existence of the silver disks. Probably this was the impulse that made him build the DC-1? Maybe. Important is the fact, that the D/A converter is the first element of a system proposed by Fabio under the name AudioNemesis. And when the digital world is entered by a guy, for whom the black and flat is beautiful - it might get interesting.
Finally, that what caught my interest in AN, before I could listen to DC-1, was the man behind it - Fabio. It is not news, that a device mirrors the character of its creator. The more interesting the man, the better the device. And just after a short while of talking to the owner of AudioNemesis you know for sure, that you are talking to SOMEBODY. Open minded, cordial, and though sure of his ideas - not with the conviction of a presumptuous fool, but a man, who checked and touched everything he is talking about. And the things that come out of his hands are not killing anybody at first sight - they look OK, sound even better, but have the "something", an added value, that they release only when being in their presence for longer time. In effect, the longer we see and listen to the DC-1 (as we are talking about it now) the better we do understand it and value it. And the higher thresholds we set for other equipment.
AudioNemesis, while writing this article, has not yet an official distributor, but for as far as I know, after publication of the interview with Fabio, a few companies issued interest. Because there is no official decision yet, we present DC-1 as a product with no distributor, with a price like on the Italian market. Before reading this article, it is worthwhile to get acquainted with the mentioned interview, as it elaborates on the basic design ideas, philosophy and construction facts.
As mentioned before DC-1 does not make an impression at first as it should. Saying "as it should", I do not mean that it's price allows for being on cloud nine (because its price is so low, that you could expect exactly the opposite) but I think about it from the perspective of a month spent listening to it. I almost didn't listen to anything else, although trying to fulfill my reviewers obligations I actually should have.
DC-1 is a device with a super-analog sound. This, knowing what we have said before, should not surprise anybody. To achieve a sound of such character, of such class, for the given money, you must … actually I don't know what you must, because it should not have happened. Analog sound, against expectations, is very easy to emulate. You just cut the treble, add some nice for the ear, warm sounding distortions, rise the noise level - and we have the analog digitalism. Such actions in the low price-level are required, because a CD player costing about 1000 or 2000 zł has it's internal limitations, which cannot be surpassed in any way. I don't have to say, that where sound from higher shelves comes into play, you cannot emulate, it is about getting out the analog substance from the recordings.
In the AudioNemesis converter we deal with the second option. The sound, at first look, is a bit soft and cozy. Transferring from the player Audio Agile Step or Musical Fidelity A5 you have the feeling, that you miss some treble. But just listen for 2-3 days and try to go back to the mentioned players (which, by the way, are reference in their price categories). I think, that 90% of the readers will hear what it all is about. First of all the dynamics of the DC-1 are gigantic. Micro beats, reverb, etc, connect with the broader perspective of the recording and show, that the material recorded on a large amount of CD's has incredible speed and power. Let's take the recording "Jazz Variants" The O-zone Percussion Group as an example, located on the Manger sampler "Musik wie von einem anderen Stern" (strange, but the CD has no catalog number). Both power and pecks are shown immediately by the DC-1. And are not accompanied by even a trace of roughness, grittiness, sharpness - anything that is commonly associated with digital dynamics and digital opening.
Yes - opening. Softness, which dominates our view of the Italian converter at first, is not what it seems to be. It is not about shaving off the edges, or rounding of the sound, but more about the lack of mechanical elements of the sound. It is best observed in recordings with a trumpet. Trumpet = Davis. If Davis, then only the Japanese Master Sound edition. Listening to records like "Miles Ahead" (Miles Davis+19, Sony Records [Japan], SRCD 9106), where the trumpet is accompanied by a band, phenomenally arranged by Gil Evans, one can hear, that the trumpet is not only the attack, the cutting - it is there of course - but also, if needed, intimacy and warmth. After a sharp phase of attack sometimes there is a phase of reverb, shown nicely by the DC-1. Due to the very good shading of dynamics, both the trumpet and the band were very readable and distinctive.
The best comes later - together with the midrange. Full, rich sound of the saxophone of Sonny Rollins from "Saxophone Colossus" (Prestige/JVC, VICJ-60138, XRCD) was filled and warm. Noticeable by Davis, and here especially important, was the detail, resolution, with which AN showed the music. Soft-like presentation was not based on erasing the details, but on their exposure like on an analog, vinyl LP. That was the feature, for which we had to wait, with a shift of our expectations, but which is lacking in most digital equipment.
Staying in the circle of reference recordings, let's take re-edition of Jean Michel Jarre's "Oxygene" (Dreyfus/Mobile Fidelity UDCD 613, gold CD). This, recorded in an analog technique, with the use of only analog synthesizers, disk, is an example how to connect the wealth of harmonics with precision - an attribute that the digital synthesizers have no more. The precision of the DC-1 in connection with the lack of aggression has given the album wings. The whole sound spectrum was even, the virtual sources (in this case as virtual as you can get) had a nicely shaped space, surrounding, breath. The stage was deep and wide, leaving no illusions as to the class of the device.
Listening to special editions one might forget, that most of the CD's are "run of the mill" commercial productions. A large number of devices that handle the pearls very well when fed with a badly mastered disk says: sorry, but I cannot lie and have to show them in their full misery. That kind of device was the D/A converter Nagry DAC. AudioNemsis cannot circumvent some things, but does something, what I cannot verbalize at this moment yet, but the effect is the same as with the partner to DC-1 distinction of the month, analog turntable VPI Aries Scout. Every record played with it shows it's best features. The deficiencies are masked, or better are not exposed. Listening to the newest CD of Maanam "Znaki szczególne" (Pomaton/EMI 77113) you can hear directly from the beginning, that there is something wrong with the treble. Knowing the influence of "copy control" on the sound (in this case, like in most cases in disks mastered by Takt Poland, the recording is secured by the Israeli system Cactus),one can say, with large probability, that it is due to that. Rest of the sound range is much better, with good dynamics and beat. A similar situation was with my favorite band from the borderline of electro-industrial music, the German group Diary of Dreams. In this case, though one could listen to, this most of the time badly recorded band, it was apparent, that their EP "Panik Manifesto" (EFA 23452-2) is one hundred twenty times better recorded than the rest of their disks, including the newest one. And this is just a digitally recorded, digitally transformed and played music. And it was so beautiful…
A month is much and it is also little. In comparison to listening tests in the shops, or blinded ABX tests, it is eternity. This confirms, that only long term listening is of any value, whatever the "objectivists" would say. DC-1 easily competes with equipment costing around 10 000 zł and more (you have to add the cost of a digital cable and a drive). The quality of surrounding elements is important, but not decisive in case of this device. It is simple - the better the surrounding equipment, the better it will do it's job. This is good, because in the price segment in which this DAC is located, one cannot expect miracles. On the other hand this is bad, because connecting it with Velum cables (interconnects NF-G SE, speaker cables LS-G and digital cable DG), costing a dozen times more we approach its limits. Here we hear its flaws. Firstly, at 10 000 zł the bass will better lead - more precise, and in a more tight way. Slight blurring of this sound range in a player from this price tag is not a shortcoming, but it is noticeable. Given the price of about 895 euro (including VAT) this just an academic discussion, because no device from this price range is half as thorough as DC-1, which will probably survive quite a few changes in the listening system, every time showing something extra. But even when paired with a cheapo system it will be it's best component. One more thing - the tested unit stays in the redaction system. For long.
As written in the introduction, the details of design of the DC-1 are described in the interview with Fabio. One might just add, that the maker of the final version of the DC-1 is Fabio's partner, Giuseppe Intorrella, who also designed the printed circuit board. So let's limit ourselves to empiric description of the device. It's enclosure is made from sheet iron, finished with structural paint. It is scratch-proof, but can be troublesome when trying to clean it, as the cloth becomes captured in the paint structure. The front plate is simple and nice. It is made of a thick acrylic plate, with the back painted black and a blue lighted AudioNemesis logo. It will be an ornament to any system, On the back, according to the idea of minimalism, we find only one digital input (RCA) and a pair of non-balanced, gold plated outputs. Just next to the input there is a small LED indicating truncated connection. Frankly speaking I missed an indication of a GOOD connection (lock), for example as lighting of the model description, located on the front panel. The power cord is detachable. The whole isurprisingly heavy and deep, is put on four ordinary plastic feet. But even with that simple support the DC-1 plays very well. Plugging it into a pricy system, one could think of something in exchange for those feet, like Tara Labs cones.
The inside shows nice, minimalist circuitry. Its bigger part consists of - as common in well designed equipment - the power supply. Behind the IEC socket there is an AC filter, but in contrast to commonly used no-name filters integrated in the socket - it is a special filter, designed especially for this unit. And though it looks quite common at first sight - a large suppressor and four capacitors - on it's top a label with the name Black Noise is located. It was prepared by an Italian company Systems&Magic. When I asked Fabio Camorani about this detail, he emphasized the role of this element:
"As you know, in the projects of AudioNemesis you can find some elements, crucial to the achieved results. One of those is the mains filter. We have designed our own solution, (we don't like the cheap standard solutions, used by other companies, regardless of the price of their products). I realized, that we know the owner of Systems&Magic, a company responsible for very well received Black Noise mains filtersWe asked him to design a filter for the DC-1. And so was born this one, a project created just for us. Systems&Magic was on exposition in Munchen, together with ourselves, on the second part of our display. The company is not known outside of Italy, but I am sure it will be. The filter in DC-1 is manufactured especially for us, and has some unique properties, from many points of view. I am not saying that the DC-1 sound depends only upon it! It is not true. I am just saying that this filter is a part of the sound, just like any other crucial component of this project."
Behind the filter there is a medium sized, classic transformer, with two outputs - separate for the analog and the digital sections, and eleven capacitors. 2200 µF each - eight for the analog part, and three for the digital part. The latter is being fed by an IC stabilizer LM7805, the analog section is stabilized by discrete components.
If we look at the board behind the digital input, it becomes clear that we do not deal with another mass produced unit. The input is buffered with a separation transformer of the Scientific Conversion make. Behind it the digital receiver and the D/A converter are placed - the only IC's in the device - with erased markings and blocks of HDG on top to minimize vibration. Those are hard, and look similar to ferrite - according to Fabio their structure is similar to those used by him in the AudioNautes products. In this section you can see many small ferrite rings - this must be a way to minimize the influence of noise. The rest of the circuit is based on transistors, also with erased markings and glued to black dices. The signal path is as short as possible, we have only 2 transistors per channel. From input to output a maximum of a few centimeters. Outstanding, not only for this kind of money, are the passive elements. In the signal path only the not inductive precision resistors of the company Dale were used, and in the output costly Vishay polypropylene capacitors. Such kind of make is not common, even in devices costing 10 000 zł.
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