Placed on a rocky islet in the midst of sandbanks and exposed to powerful tides between Normandy and Brittany, stands the 'Wonder of the West', Gothic-style Benedictine abbey Le Mont-Saint-Michel, dedicated to Archangel Michael. One of France's most recognizable landmarks, Mont Saint-Michel and its bay are part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites and more than 3 million people visit it each year to experience this architectural "Tour de Force" and learn something about its rich history. Perhaps worthy of mentioning, Mont Saint-Michel was the inspiration for the design of Minas Tirith in the film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.
Just some 40 kilometers away lives Vincent Brient, a digital wiz extraordinaire (and a passionate music lover) who is apparently destined to co-write the history on modern, state of the art digital sources and thus contribute to another “wonder” in this area. There are numerous facts and indications that point into this direction. All of his components were developed by him - from the ground-up and this includes the visual design which is simple, elegant and distinctive.
During the recent Mono&Stereo interview, Vincent said: “The truth is in listening, not in the theory or standard measurements. So the listening test decide what is good, even if it is unexpected or unbelievable. I like working like an instrument maker, not only as an electronic engineer. An "engineer only" work leads to very good measurements but most time a not so good sound.”
This is absolutely a sign of a really balanced and healthy approach; actually the only one that can lead to outstanding results - in my view, at least. I have nothing but the greatest respect for people like Vincent; it is people like him that, through their creations push the boundaries of what is possible and hence enable us, users, to experience the music in unimaginable realistic ways.
Vincent`s main aim is: STATE OF THE ART sound reproduction that comes AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE IN RECREATING THE ORIGINAL MUSICAL EVENTS. Perhaps we will never be able to fully reconstruct the original musical events but on few very rare occasions I have experienced cleverly assembled systems that were able to remind me of the live performances - and that`s a lot.
State of the art doesn't necessarily mean “insanely expensive” but unfortunately it also doesn't mean this level of music reproduction could be achieved by means of affordable (relatively cheap) components - you probably get my point. One can spend enormous amounts of money on luxury high end audio collectibles and the resultant systems` sound could still be found far from SOTA (state of the art) if not even mediocre. There are countless examples out there and mostly I see a clear distinction between luxury high end audio products and state of the art audio products. Luxury high end audio products need extensive marketing and “branding” efforts which can take years and tons of ca$h in order to become accepted, while the state of the art audio product just needs an experienced (unbiased) listener (a concert goer) with excellent hearing abilities who is able to instantly recognize the product as a SOTA one. Of course, luxury audio products CAN offer state of the art sonic performance but sadly, this is not always the case. In a sense it`s all about priorities and to my knowledge, there are plenty of (well-situated), experienced, passionate music lovers out there that seek state of the art audio components just for the sake of their OWN pleasure in experiencing their favorite music in a very intimate and realistic way.
From my experience, Totaldac products fit perfectly into this category: elegant devices that were built with the sole aim: sonic performance above anything else.
The Total Package
For the Mono&Stereo review Vincent sent the d1-digital reclocker and the d1-twelve DAC which is composed of two monoblocks, for the left and right channel respectively.
In this configuration the left monoblock is used as a MASTER and the right one as a SLAVE. This combination kind of represents an intermediate solution for the eventual upgrade from the d1-digital reclocker to the (strongly recommended) d1 server based system. It is aimed at those who want to use their CD transports or computers as a source. All three units feature outboard linear power supplies. The d1-digital reclocker uses the same technology as the d1-dual DAC, especially the asynchronous fifo memory but the analog outputs have been replaced by digital outputs. It also has multiple digital inputs, a 69bit volume control which can drive many power amps incredibly well and it also has an internal clock which strongly suppresses the jitter of any digital source. It can transform any 176KHz/24 DAC into a DSD ready DAC and can also be used as a USB to AES-EBU (or spdif) converter of a very high sound quality. DSD files (DoP standard) are accepted on the USB, spdif and AES-EBU inputs and then resent in DSD DoP format or transformed to PCM 176/24 to the spdif and AES-EBU outputs.
It should be pointed out that all Totaldac DACs are of a „non-oversampling DAC” (NOS DAC) variety; the d1-twelve uses 6 discrete resistor R2R ladders per channel, so a total of 12 ladders for the system or in other words roughly 600 Vishay Foil resistors per system (400 resistors for the d1-monoblock!). So many DACs in parallel lower the noise and the impedance to an extent that an output stage is not required anymore, so there are no tubes, transistors nor any other active components in the output stage. No feedback as well.
10KHz sinewave with a high jitter, when using the reclocker d1-digital:
In regard to his implementation of the digital volume control, Vincent says: “I have made many different volume controls, including high end pots, relays, Shallco + stepper motor, LDR... The best sound was with the digital volume control implemented inside the FPGA of the DAC d1, made with a 69bit resolution. It was the only way not to "listen" to the volume control components.”
- 192KHz asynchronous Xmos USB, optical, RCA and AES-EBU digital inputs, selectable from a remote control.
- 44.1KHz, 48KHz, 88.2KHz, 96KHz, 176.4KHz and 192KHz, 16 to 24 bit formats supported on all inputs except 96KHz max for optical input.
- DSD (DoP standard) supported on the USB, AES-EBU and spdif inputs.
- a custom DSD to 176.4KHz/24 PCM can be activated or deactivated from the remote control.
- USB input compatible with Jplay in 24 bit "extreme hibernate" mode.
- embedded custom clock with anti-jitter FIFO memory.
- AES-EBU and spdif (RCA or BNC) digital outputs, only one of these outputs must be used at the same time.
- 69bit digital volume control, adjusted via remote control and an OLED display. The remote control receiver can be disabled by a switch to use a dedicated remote control.
- bit perfect signal path when the volume is set to maximum (0dB).
- phase polarity selected through the remote control.
- display switched off by remote control or automatically.
- all unused inputs are completely disconnected (including the ground) to keep the optimum noise floor even when several sources are connected.
- external power supply to minimize the noise.
- aluminum and PMMA enclosure.
- power consumption 12W.
- dimensions: height 110mm, width 360mm, depth 290mm.
- power supply dimensions: height 65mm, width 122mm, depth 180mm.
- weight: 4kg
All three units came neatly packaged with all the necessary cables (even a high quality filtered USB cable) and the remote which besides volume control and input selection, also allows phase polarity reversal, the possibility to disconnect earth/grounding, a defeatable non-oversampling DAC compensation filter (treble -FIR) and the bass compensation system (bass boost) filter.
The Total Experience
For this review I have used the Totaldac d1-digital reclocker/d1-twelve DAC mainly with the excellent Thrax Dionysos tube preamp but I have also tried to drive the power amps directly with the Totaldac combo. Depending on the music material, I would prefer one or another but by all means Vincent`s implementation of the 69 bit digital volume control inside his DAC proved to be ingenious - I could easily live without the preamp for the rest of my life.
Although my expectations were set high, nothing could prepare me for this kind of aural experience - actually from the very first notes I was utterly gobsmacked!
I must admit (among other things) I live for the moments like this, when I experience something so profoundly different from the mainstream audio fashion and on the other hand, something that is also able to come so much closer to the sound of the real thing. This is a feat the Totaldac d1-digital reclocker/d1-twelve DAC trio was able to accomplish with ease. I had to go through the shocking phase first, in order to regain my vocabulary because I was literally left speechless. Confronted with the incredibly relaxed transparency (I can`t seem to find a better description) I was in for a sonic journey of the highest order.
Being an analog lover first and foremost, I cannot remember ever experiencing such extremely natural and self-evident sonic picture - from a digital source. The instruments and singers formed in front of me in a most believable way - to date. Everything was vibrant and alive which is a sure sign of exemplary micro and macro dynamic abilities.
Songs that I know really well, like the Michael Franks` “Hourglass” (Abandoned Garden, recorded in 1995) were rendered with striking sonic realism through the Totaldac d1-digital reclocker and d1-twelve. The man himself literally materialized in front of me in way like none of the other DACs could ever show. The 3D effect of a real person being in the room with me was uncanny! The guitar and piano possessed life-like realistic timbres and occupied a sharply defined place on the virtual sound stage. In general all recordings suddenly showed incredible holographic qualities, with movements of instrumentalists and singers being showed extremely precise - the stage suddenly sprang to life. To experience a lifelike immediacy through a really great system, one should listen to the singer-songwriter Gianmaria Testa “20 Mila Leghe (In Fondo al Mare)” track, from his excellent “Vitamia” album:
The splashing water at the beginning, followed by some piano mechanical noises, cello, Gianmaria`s voice and eventually accordion and guitar - all of them are recorded with incredible fidelity that must be experienced to be believed. The weight/body of instruments and solo voice were rendered in a breathtakingly realistic manner, like wise the timbre/tonal colors - extremely natural.
I was pointed to this album just recently and through the d1-digital reclocker/d1-twelve DAC it sounded simply spookily realistic! I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of information hidden in the “zeroes and ones”. This album is a true gem and warrants my warmest recommendation.
Again I have listened to the Eiji Oue - Exotic Dances from the Opera (Reference Recordings, recorded natively in the PCM format at 176.4 kHz/24 bit and converted to DSD) but this time I experienced a shocking see-through transparency and resolution, with incredible front to back depth layering. The second track “Dance of the Seven Veils” revealed astonishing deep bass that through the d1-digital reclocker/d1-twelve DAC possessed amazing control, slam and extension.The dynamic swings were rendered with extreme contrasts. The separation of orchestral rows and individual instruments was simply impeccable; I could easily follow instrumental lines without the slightest effort whatsoever. The percussion in particular had a shimmering quality that extended almost forever. The size of the recording venue, the depth, height and width, were phenomenal. None of the DACs that I have tried before were able to reproduce this track at such amazingly high level.
Although I listen to the Rodrigo y Gabriela - Live in Japan (DSD) album quite frequently, it was again only with the d1-digital reclocker/d1-twelve DAC that I have experienced what this album really has to offer. The presence of the guitars, the explosive dynamics, the power, the energy, the openness of the musical presentation, even the screaming audience and the applause - were the closest to the live concert, that I have experienced so far - with a digital source. The reproduction of inner detail, the resolution of transient detail and freedom from digital artifacts was peerless in my experience. With such sound quality levels one can easily experience deep emotional involvement. The d1-digital reclocker/d1-twelve DAC proved they can step aside and deliver emotional content in spades. Never before have I experienced a DAC that would be able to bring so much information and sound so emotionally involving at the same time. These things appear mostly contradictory with other DACs: either you can have one or the other but almost never both at once.
The Alex Machacek, Matthew Garrison, Jeff Sipe “Improvision” album is packed with high energy and exciting instrumental music. About the Austrian guitarist Alex Machacek, John McLaughlin said: "Alex Machacek's music starts where other music ends".
Richard Heath of Jazzwise wrote: “Matthew Garrison with his 5 string electric bass continues to show he in the major league of post-Jaco bassmen. And Jeff Sipe? This drummer seems to be a best kept secret amongst jazz rock fans, and here is the equal to the other two musicians.“ The opening track “There's a new sheriff in town” demonstrates their extraordinary musical abilities in the best light. The d1-digital reclocker/d1-twelve DAC proved to be equally adept at resolving busy mixes like the ones found on this album; the pounding drum rhythms were clearly separated from the 5-string bass guitar and the electric guitar, while at the same time it kept the composure and maintained the drive.
José James is one of my favorite musicians and his music has been described as Future Jazz/ Neo-Soul. Whatever these labels mean, the fact remains he is one very special artist. My first encounter with his music happened relatively late when I discovered “No Beginning No End “, an album recorded in 2013 for Blue Note. This album is really well recorded and it really shone through the d1-digital reclocker/d1-twelve DAC combo.
Already the first track “It's All Over Your Body” features some clever, tricky rhythms. The music is soulful and intense and puts quite great demands on the audio system as a whole and depending on the source can give musical enjoyment of a varying degree.
Played through the d1-digital reclocker/d1-twelve DAC I got the sense of a MUCH increased intimacy and immediacy which strongly enhanced the sense of overall sonic realism and thus reinforced the listening enjoyment.
In 2014, Jose released “While You Were Sleeping“ and the title track sounded simply enchanting through the Totaldac combo, unlike ever before:
One last musical example that I should absolutely mention is the Fleurs Noires` “Orchestre De Tango” album that features some extremely dynamic acoustic music played by an all-female group from France (the singer is from Argentina). The album is based on a series of original compositions, especially written for them by famous songwriters like Eduardo Acuna, Victor Parma, Gerardo Jerez Le Cam and Andrea Marsili. The music is exciting and performed with scary dynamics. Majority of DACs have a hard time not to reveal its shortcomings in terms of thinness/harshness of the sound as well as revealing some annoying digital artifacts. The d1-digital reclocker/d1-twelve DAC combo showed zero signs of stress; the sound reproduction quality was on a whole different level and once again proved the superiority of Vincent`s concept.
The Totaldac d1-digital reclocker/d1-twelve DAC combo represents a MAJOR ACHIEVEMENT in the world of digital converters. It shows performance levels that go beyond everything that I have ever tried under known conditions. The most striking virtue was how it brought together extreme transparency and exemplary musicality without sacrificing one bit of either of the two. Compared to the Totaldac d1-digital reclocker/d1-twelve DAC, the great majority of even expensive DACs sound processed and hectic. My time spent with it was extremely joyful and the Totaldac combo proved to be a real eye/ear opener. The way it handles PCM as well as DSD music files is simply spellbinding. The fact that it features a highly transparent 69 bit digital volume control that renders all but very best preamps useless, seems like a sweet bonus, enabling it to drive the power amps with energy, control and no apparent lack of impact.
In the light of the above, The Totaldac d1-digital reclocker/d1-twelve DAC receives the Mono&Stereo Upper Echelon award, as well as the place n Über Audio section - it truly belongs to the STATE OF THE ART CLASS!