R&T Audio Design stands for Ratzov Tsenkov, which are surnames of the two designers from Bulgaria: Tsvetan Tsenkov is an engineer of electronics( PCB and electronics design) and Ivaylo Ratzov is an industrial designer (cases and speaker cabinet design). Their aim is to produce High-End quality systems for audio applications and looking at their website, one can see they already have a plethora of very interesting products, among them a single-ended Class A amplifier (7W solid state), passive preamplifier, speakers, a very interesting CD transport and a few DACs, of which the USB Ultra DAC Orpheus represents their top of the line model and is a subject of this review.
The inside story
The description from their website says: “The new ULTRA DAC ORPHEUS of RT audio design is designed of a chip AD1852 in a differential mode with voltage output. The USB part is based on an asynchronous Xmos chip realized on a separate PCB with 5 VDC power supply.The DAC can work with a SPDIF format using a CS8416 receiver powered by 2 separate high quality LT1086-5 stabilisers. The digital section of the dac, AD1852 is powered by a separate power supply. The filter capacitors are Nichicon True gold grade. The AD 1852 is a high-end multibit delta –sigma converter which supports 24 bits, 192 kHz sample rate.
Based on our philosophy we use output transformers (Sowter 3575) differential mode without common point which reduces noise from the signal ground. When we use output transformers as an analog filter we reduce frequency and phase (under 2 degrees) distortions. The sound is very clean with deep music stage. We don’t use op-amps as I/V converters and LP/HP analog filters because that way the sound is very sharp and blurred. All components (low manufacture tolerance) are soldered manually with silver solder and are tested for defects.”
The USB Ultra DAC Orpheus uses a battery powered power supply with high quality separate automatic charger in switch mode (switching-mode power supply) which can be used for more than 12 hours without charging. The main benefit of a battery power supply should be immunity from the mains hum and noise.
Some technical data:
Frequency response; +/- 0.25 dB 15 Hz to 60 kHz
Digital format; I2S 24bit/192kHz (PCM)
Digital input; 1 RCA SPDIF;1 USB B asynchronous 32bit /384kHz
Phase shift; under 2 degrees
Looking from the outside the enclosure seems very well made with a nice logo on the front panel as well as on top. I should mention that the unit comes with a 5 year warranty.
Overall the unit seems quite pleasing to the eye if perhaps a little conservatively styled - all a matter of personal taste and preferences.
The manufacturer`s description of their Ultra DAC Orpheus got me really curious about its performance because R&T Audio Design seems to make use of a number of techniques to “fight the digititus”, or how should I put it: the way the DAC handles the data stream while trying to avoid the inherent digital artifacts. The use of use output transformers as an analog filter instead of op-amps, is certainly one of them and the battery power supply is another.
I have left the DAC on for a couple of days before I started with more critical listening. The first impressions were all very positive: the R&T Audio Design USB Ultra DAC Orpheus revealed itself as a very serious performer. It showed a very balanced sonic picture with lots of even the tinniest microscopic details that were handled in a very refined way. The stage depth was indeed fabulous but of course that doesn`t mean that the Ultra DAC Orpheus put everything further back, no, it just means that it just showed the depth layering that was contained in the recording, accordingly. In doing that, the instruments could easily detach themselves from the speakers` enclosures and freely float in space, beyond left and right speaker. Perhaps the sense of height wasn`t on top level (still very good nevertheless), but the depth effect was certainly way above average and made the back wall disappear easily. The effect of great depth layering was especially evident and welcome on classical music.
The Ultra DAC Orpheus could easily show the differences between a standard 16/44 track and a high resolution one, of the same recording. In most cases, the differences were quite big.
In comparison to a higher priced Ayon CD-1sc (used as a converter) it showed a slightly less energized sonic picture with less stage height but the sound in general was still excellent and highly enjoyable.
The Chinese-born composer Bright Sheng`s music can sound very exciting and so it was reproduced here, with the Ultra DAC Orpheus. Speaking of Bright Sheng, he: “has been a trendsetter in the world of composition. In 2001, he was selected to receive the MacArthur Foundation’s prestigious “Genius Award.” The award called Sheng “an innovative composer who merges diverse musical customs in works that transcend conventional aesthetic boundaries. He bridges East and West, lyrical and dissonant styles, and historical and contemporary themes to create elegant compositions with a distinctive signature.”
I have listened to his “Never Far Away” album (2009), recorded with San Diego Symphony Orchestra, Jahja Ling was conductor and Yolanda Kondonassis played the harp. The music on this album is full of dynamic shifts and explosive momentos that were all very accurately portrayed by the Ultra DAC Orpheus but what`s more important: the soul of music was never lost in the process, it simply made for an inviting musical experience. On “Tibetan Swing” the woodwind and string instruments were clearly reproduced with their distinctive tone as well as spatial placement and on top of these the occasional drum blasts sounded highly dynamic with proper heft, but still possessing the required control. The percussions had a shimmering tone with proper decay - nothing was truncated here.
I should absolutely mention the Bulgarian composer and pianist Pancho Haralanov Vladigerov (1899-1978) who`s “Piano Concerto N. 3” is a beautiful romantic piece which incorporates some Bulgarian traditional music themes. I strongly urge you to discover for yourself this magnificent piece. The Ultra DAC Orpheus once again provided for an emotionally intense and exciting experience that just called for repeated and prolonged listening sessions. The timbre of the instruments was just right and this is very important.
Going to the “light” Jazz camp, the Finnish Lenni-Kalle Taipale Trio “Lumia” (2005) is one of my favorite jazz/fusion albums of all time. This is surely not a typical Jazz recording with simple improvisation on a sparse main theme; here, the melodies are very strong throughout and the general feeling is not melancholic or bluesy if you will but very positive and uplifting. The Ultra DAC Orpheus caught all the brilliance of the piano and its dynamic attack. The first track on the album “Jazzarin mopo keulii” is an explosive tour de force, showing a catchy melody and virtuosic piano playing that immediately provokes toe tapping. The rhythmic quality was served very well by the Ultra DAC Orpheus. The track “Saarni” is a hauntingly beautiful song, sung by Johanna Iivanainen and I must admit it touches my soul every time I hear it. Through the Ultra DAC Orpheus, her soothing voice sounded open, articulated and simply enchanting.
Digging deeper into more “sophisticated” kind of Jazz, the German Michael Wollny, Eva Kruse, Eric Schaefer - [em] II album is a spectacular recording (recorded in Sweden!) of a spectacular acoustic Jazz trio. Obviously I love them for different reasons than aforementioned Lenni-Kalle Taipale Trio, but it`s certainly good such variety exist, among jazz groups. The opening track “Bruder” represents a harsh test for any high end audio system because the dynamic range is just awesome and to reproduce it with near lifelike sound pressure levels AND with proper impulse responsiveness, puts great demands on the reproduction chain and DACs aren`t excluded here; the highly percussive piano attacks can easily produce distortions or even reveal strange artifacts in the sound. The Ultra DAC Orpheus performed the test with no obvious stress or struggle and kept its composure all the way.
Jazzanova is a German, Berlin-based nu-jazz, chillout and jazz house band whose “In Between” album is almost legendary. The track “No Use” is a groovy Funk of the highest caliber. The rhythmic beats and the soulful singing of Clara Hill just make for another toe tapping experience - which still needs to be reproduced as it was intended...and so it was with the Ultra DAC Orpheus, the groove was intact and everything was alive sounding, as it should.
One of my favourite singer songwriters is Melody Gardot and her story is quite remarkable: while cycling in Philadelphia in November 2003, she was hit by a car whose driver had ignored a red traffic light. In the accident she suffered some serious head and spinal injuries and her pelvis was broken in two places. During her time in hospital she learned how to play the guitar and began writing songs, which were later released in “Some Lessons: The Bedroom Sessions” (2005).
Her “My One and Only Thrill” (2009) is full of very intimate, romantic and at times melancholic music that is played and sung in way that arouses plenty of deeper emotions. Heartfelt ballads dominate throughout the album but occasionally she puts in some more up-beat tempo songs, for a change of pace. This is obviously not the music for headbangers (not that it`s anything wrong with headbanging :-) ) but rather for the quiet evenings spent with your better half.
A great audio component should not detract from the musical enjoyment or block/diminish the emotional content but rather step aside and the deliver the musical goods intact as much as possible. The Ultra DAC Orpheus certainly did exactly this, it enabled the music flow towards the listener in a direct and heartwarming way, which was highly appreciated.
Music is not just a stream of various tones of different lengths and varying loudness levels that just wait to be rationally dissected, no, it (the music) carries a message that goes beyond the meaning of mere words and for those that are willing to open their hearts to its message... life will always have a meaning.
Was, in delivering the above, the Ultra DAC Orpheus successful? In my view: yes, absolutely.
In the much overcrowded DAC marketplace the R&T Audio Design Ultra DAC Orpheus manages to firmly occupy its position as a very cleverly built DAC that has something really valuable to offer not only in its, but even higher price regions and can thus be wholeheartedly recommend to music lovers.
• Frequency response; +/- 0.25 dB 15 Hz to 60 kHz
• Distortion at 50 Hz (Source 40 ohms); 0.05% at +20 dBu
• Output level; 2,1V
• Digital format; I2S 24bit/192kHz (PCM)
• Analog outputs; 1RCA
• Digital outputs; 1RCA asynchronous mode
• Digital input; 1 RCA SPDIF;1 USB B asynchronous 32bit /384kHz
• Phase shift; under 2 degrees
• Dimensions; 230mmx280mmx80mm
• Warranty; 5years
Bulgaria, Sofia post code : 1618
kv. Bratya Bukston blok:204 vhod:B floor: 2