Avari DSD DAC and Analogue Music Server
The Avari DSD DAC is designed by Archiving Vinyl with the assistance of Avari and is distributed by Archiving Vinyl. This all FET Class A balanced design uses the same Delta Sigma Converter chip, as did my highly modified Mytek DAC. The original stock Mytek comes with five IC op amps that I had modified employing Burson Supreme sound Modules along with 200 discrete transistor devices. It was long-standing member of my reference system and was once sold by Archiving Vinyl.
The Avari DAC uses superior atomic clocks, a clean, well spaced layout, Class A J-Fet conversion and amplification stages, and a better power supply also using J-Fets. The designer believes, as do designers at Avari, that J-Fets are superior for amplification. In my experience it is rare to see all discrete transistors in a DAC much less only J-Fets. The Avari DAC power supplies are also extremely low noise.
The designer says, “I have been advocating the advantages of J-Fets in general and J-Fets in particular, especially for low and medium level circuits. JFETs provide extremely high resolution, bringing out more details, sound cleaner and more natural than the best bipolar transistors, and even the very best tubes. Overall, I believe the JFETs offer the best sound in audio circuits.” I would have to agree given what I’ve heard.
By way of the name of his company, over a year ago Michael Fremer did a review about digitizing vinyl without equalization and doing this with digitial information. I spoke with William Elder about this and, as is typical of him, he decided it must be done perfectly and thus the name of his company, Archiving Vinyl. At some point he and I will take all of my 45 rpm reissues into DSD files. With master tapes no longer available, we will have more convenient and truer to the reality of the actual performances files.
I first sought to compare the Avari DAC with the modified Mytek DAC. I had thought the modified Mytek was quite nice in the year or so I had it. The Avari was totally new when it arrived. After about four days of the having it playing but not in the system, I decided to switch from the highly modified Mytek unit to the Avari. The modified Mytek DAC uses their board and is otherwise quite different as noted above.
Initially, the Avari and the modified DAC were quite close in terms of performance. but after break-in, I heard more information with the Avari and a larger image of the soundstage. With the modified DAC, I had to listen to the same cuts multiple times on both the JRiver MC-21 and the Signalyst to note much of a difference. But with the Avari, Signalyst was quite obviously much better, especially after I put the Tripoint Thor SE grounding cable on the DAC, it was obviously much improved once the Thor SE grounding wire had several days on it. I should note that Signalyst does not use the DAC chip. Rather it uses an algorithm to convert digital to analog. The DAC chip is just by-passed.
The Avari is clearly the best DAC I have heard. I heard a MSB costing $130,000 playing MQA at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show that might have rivaled the Avari. I guess that I will never know whether that might be true, however. But clearly the Avari playing DSD is exceptional. But it needed substantial break-in given that it was brand new. Initially, I tried the silver grounding cable provided with the Troy Signature from the Avari to my Troy Signature. It made quite an improvement. I also have four Tripoint Thor SE grounding cables and finally decided to use one on the Avari. After a day and night of settling down, the sound was exceptional. All my listening since has been with the Thor SE on the Avari. There was no way to ground the Mytek DAC.
Ultimately Diane Krall’s A Case of You, from "Live In Paris" (Verve 4400651092) initially impressed me, as it gave much better control of her piano pedaling feedback through the mike stands. I was also sitting besides her turning the music pages. This, of course, might be about where the microphone would be, but It was very realistic, as I could hear the audience before her merely by their movements. The realism of the sound stage, the timbre of the instruments, and the expressiveness of her vocalist were all quite enjoyable.
Frank Sinatra and Count Basie’s One For My Baby (and one more for the road) from "Sinatra At The Sands" (Reprise 8122737779) finally proves to have a real sound stage with a feel for the room, audience, and band. It is as though you have the best seat in the room. Through the years since I first got this recording I have increasingly made it more and more realistic. Finally, Ansermet’s Swan Lake Duo on FIM’s "This is K2 HD Sound!" (FIM K2 HD 078) Finally gets more realism as well as a perception of depth to the orchestra. Once again the precision gives you total accuracy of where the various instruments are on the eighteen feet across and ten feet high sound stage. This album frequents my listening in reviews, as the late, great, Winston Ma’s remastering is just right on.
The digital information for the DAC comes from the AMS music server, which is also from Archiving Vinyl. They are connected by a double USB cable also made by Avari, that replaces my BMC PureUSB1. Everything on the server is replayed in quad DSD. But most of the best is from DSD files.
There are three programs for off-loading the digital information while JRiver is the meta data and organizational source used. It is very convenient to use with my MS Surface 4 touch control unit at my listening position. The best source is the Signalyst software playing playlists from the JRiver information. There is a new version of Signalyst that provides the meta data and organization. I soon will get it. Fubar is also available, but I only tried it once.
What I am hearing is truly exceptional sound and realism. The image is appropriately higher, well outside the speakers on the left and right, and has pinpoint accuracy on most recordings. Let me try to further explain what I hear. Were you sitting close before a jazz group with four musicians and one singer, playing with no amplification, you could probably, even with your eyes closed, note where the saxophone is, where the piano is, and so on through the final member. You can hear the fingering of the sax, perhaps where the high keys on the piano are, and whether the singer turns her head. And of course, you can tell whether one musician is further back. While this precision lends realism to instruments, what it really lends is the feeling of being there! This is quite evident with this DAC in the system, but certainly aided by the other equipment. As I said, sonically this is the best I have ever heard. I have missed many hours of sleep as I was so enthralled that I just could not close down the system and go to bed.
I should note that about 3 out of 4 of my SACD derived recordings have the sound stage realism, and about 2 out of 4 of my CD derived recordings. The Sinatra at the Sands recording is from a CD on SHM from Japan and is clearly superior to my CD version. Of course none of the monos have this, but some of the monos are clearly better than I have heard them before the Avari DAC. Almost all of my reference recordings have been treated with The Essence of Music treatment, which has always made great improvement.
I hasten to say that I am uncertain, as always, that you might not extrapolate what I hear to what you might hear. Nevertheless, I rejoice in what I am hearing and highly recommend it.
AMS Analogue Music Servers with 4 Ultra Precision clocks & Sata cables starting with the silver series at $14,500
Phone: 1 425 493-7863 (Canada)
Price: Avari All FET Class A Balanced DSD DAC: Silver Series stating at $14,500
Archiving Vinyl AVM Music Server
I should note that there are broad ranges of upgrades available on both units and that these are modular units meaning that one can upgrade fairly easily.