I used the Wadia S7i as a disc transport and a Roon Nucleus server to play files. I also hooked up a VPI Classic 4 via a TEAD Microgroove to check out the single-ended analogue inputs and ran the Wadia’s DAC, along with the analogue output from the CH D1.5 into the balanced inputs. Power amps varied between the VTL S-200 and the latest TEAD Linear Bs, with speakers ranging from the T&T Nel Extreme to the Living Voice OBX-RW3 and the Stenheim A2. The B.audio also spent time in the main Music Room system, where it mixed it with the Wadax Reference DAC and Server, the CH C1.2, L1/X1 and A1.5s, driving Stenheim A5SEs or U2-Xs, so it got a thorough and thoroughly varied work out. But in order to keep things manageable, I’m going to look at each aspect of the B.DPR EX’s performance in turn.
Using the B.audio DAC
The B.DPR EX’s surprisingly intuitive and easily navigated menu tree, accessed via the remote control and navigated via the screen, allows you to switch the unit to fixed output level operation. That switches off the volume control circuitry (although the analogue inputs are still active). The network connection for the streamer was left disconnected. Not quite the same as running the DAC without the analogue section or streamer, but as close as I could get under the current circumstances. Even so, with the B.audio’s balanced outputs fed to the line inputs of the VTL TL-5.5, the results were seriously impressive.
If timing is everything in digital audio, B.audio’s proprietary jitter reduction circuitry and long-tail, up-sampling algorithms are doing a seriously impressive job of maintaining temporal and phase integrity. Fire up the B.DPR EX with familiar discs and you are greeted with a big, nicely delineated (but not spot-lit) and incredibly stable soundstage. There’s none of the shimmer or wobble that so often afflicts high-res file replay, nor the incipient lack of substance. Recent reviews have included the filter-less Konus Audio Digitale 2000 DAC, a unit that majors on that musical substance and an almost physical presence. Compared to the B.audio, the Konus definitely comes from the extreme opposite end of the technological spectrum. Yet listening to these two DACs side-by-side, it is astonishing just how similarly they present the core musical virtues in a performance. The sheer density and rhythmic continuity of the Konus make for a compellingly involving presentation – a straight-ahead simplicity that is as entertaining as it is propulsive. But the B.audio can match the Konus in terms of rhythmic articulation and expressive range, while bringing a greater sense of space and significantly greater detail.
But note the qualifier: when I say that the B.audio “can” match the Konus it’s far from a given, especially when listening side-by-side. The Konus is a digital endomorph, presenting a thickened and slightly bottom-heavy balance. Optimise the system set-up around that tonal aberration (which you’ll need to in order to enjoy the Digitale 2000 at its considerable best) and you might well conclude that the high-tech B.audio is a typical digital and musical ectomorph, all thin and skinny. But re-set the system to suit the B.DPR EX and you’ll quickly recognise your error. Like any genuinely neutral component (and the B.audio is impressively neutral in overall balance) it is easy to make it sound lean and lacking in body. Adjust the system and the speaker positioning in particular, to match the B.audio’s exacting demands and the sound blossoms, filling out, gaining colour and presence, drive and shape. This is no ectomorph: this is a genuine mesomorph, muscular, balanced and beautifully formed – certainly as far as its musical performance is concerned.