Audiozen 413 DAC review

413 DAC

Audiozen 413 DAC

When Matej asked me how I felt about writing an exclusive review on the new Audiozen 413 DAC for the Mono & Stereo, I didn’t have any second thoughts. I immediately accepted, and for a number of reasons.  First of all, I don’t know a lot about Audiozen – the Italian manufacturer.  I have actually never heard before any of their devices. Secondly, the audiophile in me is always looking for new thrills. And thirdly, this kind of HIFI device has lately been in the spotlight on the audiophile scene.

After I agreed to the review, Matej very quickly organized for the DAC to be delivered to my home address. The readers of the Mono & Stereo know that Matija is like an AK-47 rifle when it comes to delivering fresh news from the HIFI world, so this impeccably fast organization should not really come as a surprise. Anyway, there was some hot stuff on my living room table. It only took a couple of precise scalpel moves for a well-known smell of new a device to fill the room.

I took the DAC and its power supply out of the box, gave it the once over and was immediately baffled. One particular detail caught my attention – the 413 does not have a USB connection. How is it possible I thought to myself, that nowadays someone would actually manufacture a DAC without installing a USB connection?! After a short brainstorming session the answer came to me by itself. But we’ll come back to that.

413, the name of the device, is actually a clever word game in which each number is replaced by a letter of the alphabet. Do you get it? 4 stands for D, 1 for A and 3 for C. Brilliant! This clearly tells us that someone at the Audiozen was thinking ‘outside the box’ and did not conform to the dull and unimaginative product and device names we come across on a daily bases.

Technically speaking, the DAC has 3 digital coaxial S/PDIF inputs and 2 analogue RCA outputs at the back. And that’s it! There is not, as I already mentioned, a USB connection, no AES/EBU, toslink or BNC. Furthermore, there is no possibility of an external clock connection eather. Pretty Spartan I would say, especially for today’s applications and the luxurious HIFI lifestyle. An input selector and 2 LED indicators are placed on the front side of the device, one of them showing if the 413 is connected to a power supply and the second marking the audio signal processing.

Cirrus Logic CS4353 DAC stands at the heart of the 413, placed in a Dual Mono configuration, along with other exquisite audiophile parts. The Power Supply is completed with two independent toroidal transformers. These two separately control the digital and the analogue section.

The 413 is capable of processing audio signals up to 24 bit/192 kHz. I should however mention that the 413 without the SPDIF/USB converter is limited to 24 bit/96 kHz.  I connected it to the Wilson Audio Sophia 3 system loudspeakers, Classe CA-2200 power amplifier and Classe CP-800 preamplifier/DAC. I turned the DAC section in the preamplifier off, so that nothing would stop it from showing what it is really capable of. I used the M2Tech EVO with a custom power supply for SPDIF/USB conversion.

My audio sources were Mac Mini (mid 2010) with Fidelia and Audirvana Plus Mac OS players and OPPO DV-981HD DVD player, which has for a couple of times now turned out to be a great CD transport. The cables I connected to the 413 were the Kubala Sosna Anticipation (RCA) for the analogue and Kubala Sosna Expression (75 Ohm RCA) for the digital section.

I left the 413 on without giving it more attention. I gave it some time to settle in, unpack the electrons and get to know his hosts. I offered him my finest bottle of electricity, showed him the material we would be using for the next few days and went to bed. I heard later that he talked about his adventures from the factory until late at night.

After a couple of days of non stop operation the time has come for the 413 to start singing, so I offered him the first CD. This didn't come as a surprise and he readily accepted the challenge. By the way he acted I could tell that I had in front of me a sophisticated middle aged gentleman. He did not exaggerate with the details or put an accent on any part of the sound spectrum. When I asked what he thought about Orlando Cachaito Lopez, his album of the same name (World Circuit, 2001) and Cuban music, he answered with a very precise description of Orlando's double bass. Continuing, he gave a great spatial impression of the other musicians and their instruments. I listened carefully and as the time went by, I realized that among other qualities, he had an amazing sense of rhythm.

Next I introduced him to Mercedes Sosa and Misa Criolla (Ariel Ramirez, DECCA, 1999). As a true gentleman he realized that he was being introduced to a lady and gave it his best. This Argentinian-Italian union was a clear proof that even the deepest drum registers can be properly reproduced. To make things even better, he preserved the authority of Mercedes Sosa’s voice and gave it a great spatial dimension.

In the end they kissed goodbye, greeted sentimentally and decided they would like to meet again. I had to tear them apart, because John Martyn was anxiously waiting in the background. He wanted to introduce us to the sound of his guitar from the Solid Air album and track (Island, 1973/1990). Their conversation went smoothly, with Martyn’s voice occasionally rising, just to prove that the 413 is capable of doing a great job with the dynamic jumps.

One CD after the other, for some reason I started to believe that this fine gentleman was keeping something from me. I had a feeling that he was hiding unknown details from his life from me. I became so curious that I had to do something about it. I connected my MacMini and the M2Tech Evo to the 413 and the unexpected happened, shocking me completely.

The 413 finally showed me its true face, opened its soul and showed me the truth. From that moment on, our conversation reached a new level. The first word I can think of is sophisticated, since the 413 is really capable of drawing an enviable amount of information of a recording to the surface. In this way music acquires a logical and balanced shape. But what does that actually mean?

First of all, it means that it is completely in charge of the information it receives and then processes into an audio signal.  By doing so it does not allow for the music to sound unnaturally or reveal the digital features of its source. Furthermore it does not put an accent on certain parts of the sound spectrum, which is a common occurrence with the DAC devices of the similar price range. Usually with this price range, there are too many details, while on the other hand the bass region lacks firmness and the mid region is undertoned. It does not force the gauges of the sound stage and it gives a proper spatial dimension to all the musicians.

While listening to Da Pacem Domine (Arvo Part, Harmonia Mundi, 2006), I could feel the choir occupy a clear position in the space. The finesse of the voices, accompanied by fantastic micro dynamics and texture, was something that until then I associated only to rare and much pricier D/A converters. Thanks to the background blackness, the organ summed up the atmosphere in this convincing musical play. I was able to hear every detail of the recording, every quiver of the voices. Amazing!

And just as I thought that the 413 couldn’t do better, I experienced a new kind of thrill with Michel Godard and his album A Trace of Grace (Carpe Diem Records, 2011). This exceptionally well recorded material (24 bit/192 kHz) is a unique musical voyage in which in the chapel of the Abbeye de Noirlac convent, Godard’s serpent horn,  Guilemette Laurens and Gavin Murgia’a vocals, Steve Swallow’s base and Fanny Paccoude’s violin take the lead.

In order to understand and experience this work of art in its full glory, it is essential to feel the natural quality and the timbre of the instruments in a specific space. The echo in the space allows for a unique experience and this is where the 413 shows how powerful it is. The resolution and the air that filled my listening room left me breathless. Compared to almost 4.500 euro more expensive Classe CP-800, it was only slightly behind in terms of dynamics and details.  If you have a chance to listen to this piece, pay attention to Gavin Murgia’s saxophone and how it dynamically wriggles within the space. In certain moments, the sound is like a bullet fired directly at your heart. You will survive only if the bullet is followed by the gratification of the sound. If not, you will die listening.

After this, my brainstorming sessions from the beginning of this text were given a meaning and a confirmation.  The less is more principle is really at work here and I truly believe that the SPDIF/USB converter has been deliberately left out of the DAC, in order to prevent the downgrading of the sound of the device itself. Finally, the same thing has already been done, by a much more expensive Berkeley with the Alpha DAC model. You need to choose your own SPDIF/USB converter. I would recommend the M2Tech EVO because it is a pure High-End product, that considering what it actually offers, has a surprisingly low price (350 €). Combined with the 413 it creates a union that will be hard to beat on many levels, and not only of those of a price range.

In the end I had no questions left for the 413. I let it talk and what I heard could be described as an actual story of our lives: natural and well known, without exaggeration. We spent more than a month together during which it did not make any bad recording sound better, nor did he make the beautiful ones more beautiful. It always gave me the truth and that is why I will always remember it as a true gentleman. One late afternoon it took a train to Italy. I offered a first class ticket which was graciously declined. We parted without tears and unnecessary words, but with feelings of great respect for each other. A week later I received word that it made it home safely.

Regardless its price, this is one of the best DACs I had the opportunity to listen to in my system. I would like to someday meet its designer and congratulate him on a well done Italian job. You might come across a better looking and a more attractive DAC, which, thanks to its well known name will keep its value for years to come making it easier for you to sell it someday. But if you buy the 413, you might just give in to the music and say –why would I ever sell it? I’m not crazy!

It really is that good.

850 EUR with VAT

Text and photos: Nebojša Uglješić

Test System:
Speakers: Wilson Audio Sophia 3
Power Amplifier: Classé CA-2200
Preamplifier/DAC: Classé CP-800
Source: Mac Mini (Mid 2010/Mountain Lion)
Software: Fidelia, Audirvana Plus
USB/SPDIF Converter: M2Tech HiFace EVO
PSU for M2Tech: Sound
Speaker Cables: Transparent Musicwave Super MM2
Interconnects: Sumic Audio Black Hole 5 Plus (XLR), Kubala Sosna Anticipation (RCA)
Digital Cables: Audioquest Raven AES/EBU (XLR), Nordost Blue Heaven USB, Kuba Sosna Expression (75 Ohm, RCA)
Power Cables: Audioquest NRG-2, Audioquest NRG-3, Wireworld Stratus
Power Bar: Supra MD06-EU MKII
Listening Room: Acoustically treated, 8,5 x 3,8 x 2,8 m

Matej Isak. Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine. All rights reserved. 2006-2014. ..:: None of the original written text, pictures, that were taken by me, links or my original files can be re-printed or used in any way without prior permission! ::..