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Digital to Analog Converter


DA0 3.0

Manufacturer: CEC Co., Ltd
Price (when reviewed): 28 000 EUR

Contact: C.E.C. International GmbH ǀ Wacholderweg 16
22335 Hamburg | Germany


The tested product was supplied by: RCM

e had to wait a long time so that the flagship belt-drive transport of Japanese company C.E.C. (CEC) would finally be joined by equally sophisticated DAC. As long as I remember, that has always been a case – the TL0 transport in its successive incarnations was in its perfection alone. Below in the price list everything was as it should have been, ie. the TL3 transport was accompanied by the DA3 DAC (see HERE [Polish]), but TL0 was rather frequently combined with flagship DACs of other brands (for many it has also become a kind of an example used in their own designs of devices). And even if nominally the TX71 played the role of "the first lady", it was not a real "ultimate" choice for this transport.

It is no secret that over the years the electronics for this company, including D/A Converters, was designed by Juan Carlos Candeias Isaac, an engineer and designer, preparing OEM products for several companies, including CEC and Aquavox. His German company was called Candeias Audio Electronics, and after moving to China, Candeias Electronics Co., Ltd. Along with Manfred Penning (formerly Restek) he finally founded a company named B.M.C. [Polish]. These days are over for CEC.

When we look at the new converter, we can see that this time the Japanese company has benefited from the knowledge of someone from the outside, again a European - at the rear we find the inscription "Made in EU" that confirms that. Although no one will say this, the way they made housing, the functions, the appearance of the back panel and internal structure allows me to say with a lot of certainty that DA0 3.0 was designed and built by our good friend Rumen Atarski of Thrax Audio. This means that we are dealing with an extremely interesting product.

DA0 3.0

The new CEC DAC is big and heavy. It's housing was made of perfectly matched aluminum plates and the device accepts digital signals up to 32 bits and 384 kHz, as well as DSD128 (via USB). It is equipped with a number of digital inputs, and it features a transformer coupled output. Each section has a separate power supply. What is even more important is that instead of some of-the-shelf DAC chip they decided to use a discrete, multi-bit 32/384 DAC made by MSB. Discreet means here not that it is small – it covers an area of approximately 20x15 cm, but rather that it is not an integrated circuit and that its components are separately soldered on the PCB.

Majority of the best D/A Converters I know, whether it is dCS, MSB or totaldac use a similar solution. There are some exceptions obviously – our Polish Ancient Audio being a great example, but an ever growing number of top DACs are based on discrete R-2R circuits, with discrete resistors ladder switched by semiconductor circuits, controlled by a programmable DSP. The software for such a system is created by a particular manufacturer, which allows them to include their own digital filters, upsampling algorithms, etc.

In addition to classic digital inputs, such as: RCA, optical, USB and AES / EBU, DA0 3.0 also incorporates a Superlink input ("CEC Superlink- Digital Signal Transmission System Connection"), based on four 75 Ω BNC cables. This way allows a separation of the clock for left and right channel audio signal, the return clock signal from transport and audio signal. Also Ancient Audio has its own version of such a link where each channel between transport and DAC connects with five separate digital cables! It was solved in a much simpler way in dCS, but even there the hi-res and DSD signals run through two cables, separately for the left and right channel.

It's a rarely used solution, but one of the best ones, allowing to bypass the S/PDIF receiver to better synchronize both components of the system, and thereby reduce jitter. Superlink in this new CEC DAC was necessary, because their TL3 and TL0 transports were and are equipped with this type of output. The latter has a chance to use its true potential for the first time, at least using such an elaborate connection.

Note that DA0 3.0 features a great white display that is large and easy to read. Since we received one of the first production units, we did not have a final version of the remote control or manual. However, the operation is pretty straight forward and can be performed from the front panel. User can choose a digital filter – there is a choice of four, activate one of the two upsampling algorithms, reverse the absolute phase and enable the re-clocking of an input signal. Let us add that the jitter is negligible, as the level of 1ppm suggest, the inputs are optically isolated, there is no need for the I/U conversion, there are no output buffers or any filters in the circuit after signal leaves D/A stage. We liked this device so much that during the High End Show in Munich we awarded it with Best Sound (read HERE). All that is just a beginning.

DA0 3.0 DAC was used together with CEC TL0 3.0 transport using both, Superlink as well as RCA (S/PDIF) connections. A separate listening session was conducted using Audionet ART G3 CD Player utilized as a CD Transport (Philips CD Pro2 LH). Signal from unbalanced outputs was delivered to Ayon Audio Spheris III preamplifier using Siltech Triple Crown interconnect and than using Crystal Cable Absolute Dream IC to Soulution 710 power amp.

I used my own Harbeth M40.1 loudspeakers as well as semi-active Aequo Audio Ensis with signal delivered to them using Tara Labs Omega Onyx. I also used the 1390 PLB a pair Polish Pylon Audio Opal Monitor [Polish] loudspeakers. Even the latter clearly presented difference between Superlink and S/PDIF connection.

Adjustable digital filters allow user to “tune” that sound of the device, at least to a point, to fit the sound to our system and requirements. These do not cause any fundamental differences, as eg. cables did, but significant enough so that it is worth giving them a try. The test was carried out with the re-clocking and upsampling No. 2 and a digital filter No. 3 on. As for upsampling I had mixed feelings, so it is best if you try them for yourselves.

C.E.C. in “High Fidelity”
  • TEST: C.E.C. CD5 - Compact Disc Player, see HERE
  • AWARD OF THE YEAR 2014: C.E.C. TL0 3.0 – Compact Disc transport, read HERE
  • TEST: C.E.C. TL0 3.0 – Compact Disc transport, read HERE
  • TEST: C.E.C. ASB3545WF Wellfloat – anti-vibration platform, read HERE
  • TEST: C.E.C. DA 3N + TL 3N – digital-to-analogue converter + CD transport, read HERE
  • TEST: C.E.C. CD 3800 + AMP 3800 – CD player + integrated amplifier, read HERE
  • TEST: C.E.C. DA53N – digital-to-analogue converter, read HERE
  • TEST: C.E.C. TL53Z + AMP53 – CD player + integrated amplifier, read HERE
  • TEST: C.E.C. TL51XR – CD player, read HERE
  • TEST: C.E.C. TL1N/DX1N – CD transport + D/A converter (world premiere), read HERE
  • TEST: C.E.C. AMP3300R – integrated amplifier, read HERE
  • TEST: C.E.C. AMP6300 – integrated amplifier, read HERE

  • Recordings used during test (a selection)

    • Andrzej Trzaskowski Quintet, Andrzej Trzaskowski Quintet, Polskie Nagrania „Muza”/Warner Music Poland, „Polish Jazz vol. 4”, Master CD-R (1965/2016)
    • Bill Evans, Everybody Digs Bill Evans, Riverside/JVC JVCXR-0020-2, XRCD (1958/2007)
    • Brian Eno, Another Green World, Island Records/Toshiba-EMI VJCP-68658, CD (1975/2004)
    • Byrd, McLean, Coltrane, Taylor’s Wailers, Prestige/Analogue Productions CPRJ 7117 SA, SACD/CD (1957/2013)
    • David Cross & Robert Fripp, Starless Starlight, Noisy Records/Inter Art Committees | Vivid Sound Corporation VSCD4294, SHM-CD (2015)
    • David Sylvian, Alchemy – An Index Of Possibilities, Virgin CDVX 23, Promo CD-R (1995/2003)
    • Depeche Mode, Violator (+Enjoy The Silence Maxi SP CD), Mute Records/Alfa Records ALCB-33, CD (1990)
    • Franz Schubert, Winterreise, wyk. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Alfred Brendel, Decca 464 739-2, CD (1986/2001)
    • J.S. Bach, Solo & Double Violin Concertos, wyk. Anderw Manze, Rachel Podger, Academy of Ancient Music, Harmonia Mundi HMA1957155, „Musique D’Abord”, CD (1997/2016)
    • King Crimson, In The Court of the Crimson King, Atlantic/WOWOW Entertainment [Japan] IEDG-01, 7” Platinum SHM-CD + DVD-Audio (1969/2016);
    • Michał Urbaniak Group, Live Recording, Polskie Nagrania „Muza”/Warner Music Poland, „Polish Jazz vol. 24”, Master CD-R (1971/2016)
    • Pet Shop Boys, Super, Sony Music Labels (Japan) SICX-41, CD (2016)
    • R-Men, I thought about you, T-TOC Records MCDR 3002, „Platinum Gold Sound“, Master CDR IIα (2010)
    Japanese issues available at

    Superlink vs S/PDIF

    Test shall begin with a short description of my impression on comparison between Superlink (using separate cables for clock and signal) and S/PDIF connection (using a single cable).

    The differences are significant and they decide whether what we get is a very good or a remarkable performance. This second option being a result of a combination of TL0 3.0 transport and DA0 3.0 DAC connected using Superlink. Sound when playing using S/PDIF is, in comparison, "gray" or in other words - colorless. You might think I exaggerate, because we are talking about a few percent improvement in the sound quality, and sure, one might say that. My answer to that is this: if we're talking about the top level, and we are already enjoying top level sound, each percent in this or that way means giving up or gaining something important. In this case, the gain means better depth of the sound, much more sensible, velvety naturalness of the sound and this unique "presence" it creates.

    It may seem an exaggeration, but - I assure you - it is not: the difference between the two inputs is subjectively so big that it becomes more important than the choice of a transport itself. Connected using a high-end digital S/PDIF cable CEC and Audionet transports sounded distinctly different, with the Japanese unit having an upper hand. It offered a thicker, more substantial, more natural sound and, above all, it offered a much better defined bass. But when I compared Superlink and S/PDIF connection between CEC components the differences between them were more fundamental. I would think of TL0 3.0 and DA0 3.0 as an “obligatory” set that should work together.

    DAC with signal delivered this way sounded so incredibly natural. I repeat it again and again (to be precise – for the third time), but I can't forget the sound I heard in Jacek Gawłowski's mastering studio. It was incredibly natural and believable. CEC offers a very similar performance. It focuses on delivering particularly rich, full sound, on texturing, on the maximization of "firmness" of the sound. It is vivid and active while having no hint of any digital artifacts in it.

    Its tonal balance is shifted downward the band, at least in comparison to most other digital sources, and it is one of the foundations on which the sound is constructed. It is so in part due to the belt-driven transport, but DAC also promotes this “vision” of the sound. With the Audionet as transport sound was a little lighter, but mainly not so deep - and I don't mean the sound stage, which I will discuss in a moment, but the depth of individual instruments, vocals, reverbs.

    The way that CEC system presents the physicality of drums, bass, trumpet, vocals finally, is simply incredible. It's very uncommon in the context of audio in general, not only for a digital player. In this respect, this performance was very close to the sound of an analog master tape. This is not the same sound, it is simply not possible, but among the devices for audio playback only two digital systems - dCS Vivaldi SACD Player and Ancient Audio Lektor Grand SE CD Player - and among turntables primarily TechDAS Air Force One offered similar attributes.

    Of course one can analyze individual parts of the band, sub-bands, dynamics, tonality, timbre and so on and I'm not saying it would be a mistake. However, this would distort the overall picture, which is more important than its components. Purity, beautiful proportions between the whole and the detail, refined imaging, these are important elements of the presentation and CEC delivers them beautifully. But the essence of this performance is something else - a reliable presentation of a “big picture” that causes goose bumps, involves listener even when he listens to some recordings he already listened to hundreds of times.

    Therefore, it is a particularly palpable sound. By "palpable" I understand that it is a reliable presentation of the instrument's sound or of a voice, which allows listener to realize/understand/appreciate both, the strategy and its implementation for the recording process (recording, mixing and mastering), and the music itself on an equal footing. It's the kind of communication, in which technique is constantly present underneath the events and it co-builds a new artistic message, a new quality, which has a lot in common with a live event but is not identical with it. In many ways, it's even better sound than the one we know from the 'live' events.

    Let me explain. At the time when I had the CE system at home, the Teatrum Musicum Kraków 2016 was taking placed in my city, coordinated by Capella Cracoviensis ("High Fidelity" was a media sponsor of the event). For two months of its duration there were several concerts and musical events prepared in different places by several cultural institutions of our city.

    One (hot) evening, I listened to Biber's Mystery sonatas performed by CC musicians with Robert Bachar as a soloist. He used five different violins, one for each sonata; these were violins of a different built and, above all, voicing. I sat maybe 2-3 meters from him with theorbo on the left, small cello on the right, and straight ahead, there was the violin, harpsichord and organ. The concert took place in the auditorium of Blessed James at the Franciscan Church in Krakow. The concert was brilliant and it ended with several encores. But one thing was different from what I listened to at home - the sound was largely dispersed and reflected, there was no clear "imaging" of the violin. The sound-holes directed up promoted reflection rather than direct sound. If the event had been recorded, microphones would have stand on a tripod, some 3 m above the stage, facing down, and they "would see" violin directly.

    That's how I heard Rachel Podger and Andrew Manze violins playing Bach's double sonatas from Solo & Double Vicertos Harmonia Mundi ("Musique d'Abord" series). They were presented with a clearly image, excellent timbre and were properly located on stage. The concert I mentioned above was an absolute revelation, and playing the music from a CD did not have the magic of live events. And yet I got a better perspective of the violin listening to the recording, I felt closer to the violin when listening to the CD using CEC system.

    It is not a heresy but a reality - how many times can we participate in a concert of some remarkable performers who are, at the time, in really good form, while we sit in the right place of a very good concert hall? And about jazz concerts? Rarely, very rarely happens that such concerts are properly amplified as it was a case once with Tomasz Stańko performance promoting the album Wisława in the Krakow Philharmonic. Rock concerts? Forget about it

    Contact with a live music is achieved through one's whole being, body and mind. It is something that can not be faked. I must say, however, that CEC DAC listened together with their transport offered something just as valuable in return: the already mentioned "palpability" of the sound, so that each subsequent event, ie. each new recording carried an emotional charge comparable to the one perceived during a live concert, it elicited similar (if not the same) emotions.


    This CEC setup ranks at the top of the currently available digital sources, regardless of whether we're talking about files, SACD or CD. It occupies this top with a few other products. Of those that I had a chance to listen to that other ones I already mentioned before plus there is one more – the top totaldac system. Each one is different, with each of them we are offered a slightly different interpretation of the musical event - equally fascinating, but still different.

    The dCS offers even smoother, more “illuminated” sound. They way it builds space and everything in it is almost imperceptible in its naturalness. The closest match to it in this aspect would be the TechDAS Air Force One turntable. The French system, with 3.0 TL0 as a signal source, delivered even purer sound, with even more open treble area, with a very large soundstage. From these two systems CEC differs with more substantial presentation, better bass extension and better drive.

    If I were to compare it to something else another, it would be idler turntables or a reel-to-reel tape recorders. It's a particularly solid, meaty, with a hint of "vintage" sound in the sense that it never allows for any brightness which makes it similar to analog recordings made using tube hardware. This type of presentation, with German company Tacet being a great representative, has a center of gravity set quite low and it focuses on coherency, and a great differentiation of a lower midrange and bass. Upper midrange and treble in dCS and totaldac are slightly better differentiated. Both present treble in a bit stronger fashion too than CEC. It is extremely pleasant to listen to, but in fact, the sound rises even higher and goes a bit further.

    In terms of differentiation of the midrange and bass only Ancient Audio system could compete with CEC. The Polish digital source is not so phenomenally resolving in the bass, nor is its performance so remarkably rhythmic but the midrange is pure magic through the depth, saturation and refinement. CEC sounds in a very similar way, but it does not go that far. It also shapes the soundstage differently – it does not show the individual instruments so clearly nor their reverb, as Polish CD Player does, preferring rather not so well defined but thus a more natural sound stage, as we know it from reel-to-reel tape recorders.

    Summary or the GOLD Fingerprint

    I probably have not satisfied the Readers of "High Fidelity", who look for an easy and clear answers. I'm sorry, but I could not describe it otherwise as we are talking about a digital system that needs to be discussed in a different way. It does not really matter whether there is treble or there isn't one, and if there is, how much of it one can hear, because it's nonsense (in this particular case, these are important elements of the test, but in the lower price ranges). We are talking about the hardware that plays so reliably, so believably that we have to consider more fundamental issues, ie. how the particular album affects me, what exactly does it move in my soul and heart, what's my attitude towards this particular presentation of this particular music, how does it compare to the other top sources (digital or not).

    In this respect CEC's performance is close to the one of an analog master tape. It does not form such distinct phantom images as the Ancient Audio system and does not show sound in such an incredibly smooth manner as dCS, it can not differentiated treble quite so well as totaldac. However, there is something that the others (except perhaps Ancient Audio) do not have – this source presents the world in a way as if we were in it. This is the world that has been created from start to finish, but in such a way that one never even begins to thinking about arguing this particular concept of presentation. Because there is nothing to argue about. GOLD Fingerprint.

    A full name of the reviewed converter is "CEC DA 0 3.0 - Universal Audio DSP controlled DAC". Its design is almost exactly the same as the one of Thrax Audio Maximus DAC, apart from a few details.

    The housing is made of aluminum plates perfectly fitted together - it is a truly excellent work. Electronics is bolted to the upper wall and there is no other way to get to it than by dismantling the whole device into small parts - I didn't want to do that. The bottom of the housing is screwed to it with aluminum feet, but instead of metal screw they used a plastic, threaded spindle.

    Front is covered for the most part with a mirror-like plate, resembling the one used in TL0 3.0 transport. Visible beneath is a fantastic, large, easy to read display. Maybe a little too short, because it can not fit the whole displayed information at once. We can read on it information from device's menu, as well as the parameters of digital signals. I found it interesting that the DAC when connected to the CEC transport displayed the information about signal having a resolution of 24 bits, as if the transport upsampled signal before sending it out. On the other hand when I connected a Philips CD Pro2 transport (in both Audionet ART G3 and Ancient Audio AIR V-edition) the displayed number “17” suggestion such a strange bit-depth when playing regular 16-bit discs.

    Next to the display there are six push-buttons, which allows user to change an active input, change the settings in the menu, turn on the mute mode (a green LED lights up) or switch it to standby mode (red light). The rear panel has been machined from a single aluminum plate. It holds Neutrik and Cardas connectors. There are two analog outputs - balanced and unbalanced - and one chooses between them with a small switch.

    The inside is almost entirely occupied by a large, made of high-quality material, printed circuit board with Platinum Signature MSB Technology's 32-bit DAC modules. These are resistors turned on using semiconductors, controlled by a DSP. CEC features four mono converters, controlled by two DSPs from Analog Devices. These contain the digital filters, including upsamplers, as well as the re-clocking circuit. There is no conventional I/U conversion or buffers, or even amplifiers in the output stage. The output is transformer buffered – these are supplied by the British company Carnhill. It's an interesting choice, because the vast majority of manufacturers of audio products chooses Swedish Lundahl transformers.

    At the sides there are two PCBs with power supplies – there are as many as four separate Talem transformers for each channel separately, for the display and auxiliary systems. The USB input features a receiver prepared by JL Sounds. It uses a programmable XMOS chip, supported by high quality oscillators - a separate one for input signal and two more for an output signal. There is also a re-clocking circuit there that reduces jitter. The PCB accepts USB signal in an asynchronous mode, with resolution up to 384 kHz and 32 bits, and therefore the level of DXD. It also allows the transmission of DSD signal (using DoP protocol). The system delivers I2S and S/PDIF signals. To isolate the noise coming from a computer from the rest of the system, I2S output (and also, if someone uses it, the S/PDIF one), oscillators and re-clocking circuit are galvanically isolated from the XMOS USB input.

    Specifications (according to manufacturer)

    • Input signal:
    32/384 (USB) | 24/192 (other inputs)
    Digital inputs:
    • SUPERLINK: BNC x 4
    • S/PDIF (RCA)
    • AES/EBU
    • USB 2.0: PCM 32 bits/32-384 kHz | DSD 64/2,8224-128/5,6448 MHz
    Power consumption: 30 W
    Dimensions (W x H x D): 432 x 400 x 120 mm
    Weight: around 16 kg
    Color: silver, black



    - Turntable: AVID HIFI Acutus SP [Custom Version]
    - Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE | Miyajima Laboratory ZERO (mono) | Denon DL-103SA, review HERE
    - Phono stage: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE

    - Compact Disc Player: Ancient Audio AIR V-edition, review HERE

    - Line Preamplifier: Polaris III [Custom Version] + AC Regenerator, regular version review (in Polish) HERE
    - Power amplifier: Soulution 710
    - Integrated Amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE

    - Stand mount Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
    - Stands for Harbeths: Acoustic Revive Custom Series Loudspeaker Stands
    - Real-Sound Processor: SPEC RSP-101/GL
    - Integrated Amplifier/Headphone amplifier: Leben CS300XS Custom Version, review HERE
    - Headphones: HIFIMAN HE-6, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE | HIFIMAN HE-300, review HERE | Sennheiser HD800 | AKG K701, review (in Polish) HERE | Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, version 600 - reviews (in Polish): HERE, HERE, HERE
    - Headphone Stands: Klutz Design CanCans (x 3), review (in Polish) HERE
    - Headphone Cables: Entreq Konstantin 2010/Sennheiser HD800/HIFIMAN HE-500, review HERE

    - Portable Player: HIFIMAN HM-801
    - USB Cables: Acoustic Revive USB-1.0SP (1 m) | Acoustic Revive USB-5.0PL (5 m), review HERE
    - LAN Cables: Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA (kable ) | RLI-1 (filtry), review HERE
    - Router: Liksys WAG320N
    - NAS: Synology DS410j/8 TB
    System I
    - Interconnects: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, review HERE | preamplifier-power amplifier: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
    - Loudspeaker Cables: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review (in Polish) HERE
    System II
    - Interconnects: Acoustic Revive RCA-1.0PA | XLR-1.0PA II
    - Loudspeaker Cables: Acoustic Revive SPC-PA

    System I
    - Power Cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300, all system, review HERE
    - Power Distributor: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu Ultimate, review HERE
    - Power Line: power cable Oyaide Tunami Nigo (6m); wall sockets 3 x Furutech FT-SWS (R)
    System II
    - Power Cables: Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version, review (in Polish) HERE | Oyaide GPX-R (x 4 ), review HERE
    - Power Distributor: Oyaide MTS-4e, review HERE
    - Stolik: SolidBase IV Custom, read HERE/all system
    - Anti-vibration Platforms: Acoustic Revive RAF-48H, review HERE/digital sources | Pro Audio Bono [Custom Version]/headphone amplifier/integrated amplifier, review HERE | Acoustic Revive RST-38H/loudspeakers under review/stands for loudspeakers under review
    - Anti-vibration Feets: Franc Audio Accessories Ceramic Disc/ CD Player/Ayon Polaris II Power Supply /products under review, review HERE | Finite Elemente CeraPuc/ products under review, review HERE | Audio Replas OPT-30HG-SC/PL HR Quartz, review HERE
    - Anti-vibration accsories: Audio Replas CNS-7000SZ/power cable, review HERE
    - Quartz Isolators: Acoustic Revive RIQ-5010/CP-4

    - FM Radio: Tivoli Audio Model One