To Peter Roth,I read your review of the Ayre QB-9 DAC and I am interested in the Wavelength Crimson that was featured in this review. I’m a little confused as I saw your answer to a reader saying that the Ayre QB-9 can be beat and the examples you gave of DACs that can beat it were Ayre's DX-5, Wavelength's Crimson, and the dCS Debussy. However, in your review you said that the Ayre bested the Crimson.
Anyway, I’m just looking for the best DAC I can get for around $10,000 or less. Is there anything else that you would recommend? Any thoughts on the Debussy? Thanks for all the great reviews you’ve done and I look forward to your next one.
Thanks very much!
Digital technology is a constantly moving target that continues to see significant improvements. At the time I reviewed the Ayre QB-9, it routinely beat the then-existing configuration of my Wavelength Crimson (with Numerator 24/96 DAC module) in that particular review system. This was especially true for music files ripped from CDs mastered in the early days of digital (i.e., mid 1980s to early 1990s -- presumably due to its minimum-phase digital filters, I believe). Even then, the Crimson won out for me with certain program material and the mood I happened to be in. Stalwart tube fans may well have preferred the Crimson overall, but I admit to being primarily in the solid-state camp, and the price differential may well have skewed my perspective a bit.
In any event, Gordon Rankin and Wavelength have not stood still. My Crimson has now been upgraded to HS (high speed) status with the new Denominator 32/192 DAC module, which is based on the 32-bit ESS Sabre DAC chip. There is a laundry list of other improvements included in this upgrade (e.g., opto-coupler isolation). I’ve also had the analog volume control option installed, so I can directly drive the amplifiers in my secondary system. I will be reviewing the fully up-to-date Crimson in the coming months. Here is a preview: the improvements are not subtle; it offers fantastic performance, and its musicality not only exceeds that of my QB-9, but it is now in a neck-and-neck race with the USB DAC portion of my Ayre DX-5 (although these are two horses with quite a different flavor, and so picking either as a winner is system and sensibility dependent). Beyond these two, I plan to review the Aesthetix Pandora DAC with volume control in 2012 (it is now in production), but what I’ve just heard at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest is very promising (especially at only $6k for a full-featured DAC with volume control and all the digital inputs covered).
If I were looking for a new DAC today, in addition to looking closely at the DX-5, Crimson, and Pandora, I would audition the Berkeley Alpha DAC Series 2 with Alpha USB (a recently updated combo), the new Meitner MA-1, the dCS Debussy and the Playback Designs MPD-3. Have fun! . . . Peter Roth