Accustic Arts REFERENCE TUBE DAC-II Mk3 DAC USB-24/196 DSD64 w volume control

AA 20 DA REFDAC
NZ$ 19,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Accustic Arts

High-End from ACCUSTIC ARTS® is expected to sound natural and detailed,

New

The tube hybrid TUBE DAC II DA converter from ACCUSTIC ARTS® was introduced in 2007 and has since enjoyed a lot of success and received numerous awards.
Now the converter has been fundamentally revised to offer the additional possibility to play direct stream digital (DSD) music data.
As with the previous model, the MK 3 version is also equipped with numerous excellent connection possibilities and plays a number of different digital sound formats.

The important features of the TUBE DAC II – MK 3 include 5 digital inputs (XLR, 2 x coaxial, optical and USB). The USB input works according to the latest asynchronous 24/192 technology and is compatible to DSD.

In the playback of different music formats customers can choose between native signal processing or upsampling to 192 kHz. An integrated preamplifier section with volume control enables direct connection of the TUBE DAC II – MK 3 to a power amplifier.

Features

Specifications

Reviews

Videos

Features

Audiophile reference D/A-converter with a so called "tube hybrid" concept.Special and unique 2x 32Bit / 192kHz & DSD64 technology with simultaneous digital signal processing, separately for right and left channel

  • Audiophile high-precision D/A converter
  • Ultra-precise 24 bit / 192 kHz technology
  • ACCUSTIC ARTS® “tube hybrid” technology
  • D/A converter section with the following advantages:
    – 5 digital inputs: 2 x coaxial, 1 x balanced, 1 x optical, 1 x USB
    – USB interface with modern asynchronous 24/192 technology
    – easy playback of different audio files (WAV, AIFF, FLAC, MP3, etc.) from Windows® or Mac OS X® computer via USB interface with USB drivers within scope of delivery
    – selection between “native” signal processing or 24/192 upsampling
  • Playback of hi-res DSD audio files
  • ACCUSTIC ARTS® “tube hybrid“ technology with following advantages:
    – very low distortion and a “good-natured”, perfect distortion spectrum
    – “analog” sound experience with exceptional precision
    – easy tube change without readjustment (plug & play)
    – selected “military” tubes of the highest quality
  • Analog section with the following advantages:
    – 1 fully balanced output (XLR)
    – 1 unbalanced output (RCA)
    – outputs are fixed or volume controlled via the integrated pre-amplifier function (selected by push-in button)
    – analog output stage class A standard
  • 2 magnetically shielded toroidal core transformer (“Made in Germany”) of the highest quality for high output reserve (1 x 150 VA, 1 x 75 VA)
  • Very elaborate power supply with separate supply voltages for the individual assemblies to enable best possible decoupling of signals
  • ACCUSTIC ARTS® remote control
  • Extremely stable, solid, resonance-balanced housing manufactured primarily with 10 mm thick aluminium plates
  • The ACCUSTIC ARTS® TUBE DAC II – MK 3 is “Handmade in Germany”

Specifications

Input data formats:
Hi-res audio up to 24 bit / 192 kHz (ALAC, FLAC, AIFF, WAV etc.)
DSD64 (2.8 MHz)

Digital inputs:
1 x AES/EBU; balanced – 110 Ω (XLR)
2 x S/P-DIF; unbalanced – 75 Ω (COAX)
1 x TOSLINK; optical
1 x USB 2.0

Digital outputs:
1 x AES/EBU; balanced – 110 Ω (XLR)
1 x S/P-DIF; unbalanced – 75 Ω (COAX)
1 x TOSLINK; optical

Analog outputs:
1 x balanced – 2x  33 Ω (XLR)
1 x unbalanced – 33 Ω (COAX)

Transformer power:
1 x 150 VA, 1 x 75 VA

Reviews

Its ability to convey the texture and emotion of the music is breath taking.

REVIEW SUMMARY:
When I think of a product being made in Germany there are immediately a number of clichés that come into my mind. It will be superbly engineered, very well made, efficient, the player is all of these and more, it is natural, musical, subtle, and beautifully posed, what is it not is clinical, sterile and humourless, it is a fun engaging player to live with. .....To a lot of people the words natural, musical and CD player do not fit comfortably together they need to hear this combo it will blow their mind!

EXTENDED REVIEW:
For those of you unfamiliar with Accustic Arts, they are a based in the town of Lauffen am Neckar on the outskirts of Stuttgart, Germany. With a back ground designing products for the studio market they started producing hifi equipment about 15 years ago. 
 
The name Accustic Arts is and abbreviated version of ACCUrate acouSTIC ARTS no less! 
 
Producing a wide range of exotic equipment the Drive 11 / tube dac 11 is their current state of the art reference series cd player. They have taken the rather unusual but not totally unique path of combining the latest digital dsp processing technology with thermionic valves, in this case ECC83s located in the analogue filter stage of the DAC. 
 
The drive is a top loader based around the hi-end manufacturers favourite, the renowned cdPro2LF cd module. This differs quite dramatically from the normal draw loading mech found on the vast majority of players, its most significant difference being it utilises a heavy die-cast metal frame with mechanical decoupling instead of the normal plastic or pressed metal chassis. This has excellent damping characteristics and simultaneously offers high stability and rigidity. Fairly par for the course so far. 
 
The really interesting things start happening when we get round to the tube hybrid dac. 
Here they combine very elaborate, digital signal processing with thermionic valves to give; they say extraordinary precision and musicality. They go to great lengths to tell you that this is not an up sampled dac but instead uses over sampling and dsp to product what is claimed to be true 32 bit signals.
 
The heart of the dac is the 32 bit digital filter and 26 parallel operating processors, which redefine the word as a 32 bit signal this is then processed by individual dacs for each channel. An oversampled player like an upsampler uses a higher sampling frequency but in this case it is a multiple of the original 44.1Khz (352.8Khz for 8 times oversampling as apposed to say 192Khz that most people use for upsampling.) What this is not doing is up converting the signal at this stage to a high bit rate. Where an upsampler increases its accuracy by decreasing the scan times and up converting the word to normally 24 bit an oversampler is in reality still processing at 44.1 KHz but is taking multiple samples in the same time frame and outputting the mean average so cutting down on error rate as a result. Both of these systems push the digital noise further from the audio band so mean less harsh filters can be used. In this case it is a Burrbrown OPA627 opamp followed by the ECC83 for each channel. 
 
Aesthetically the player is a mixed bag. You can see the superb engineering and quality of materials used in the construction but with the big bling chrome knobs on the front it is a bit brash for me, but hey that’s down to personal choice. Most people who have seen it when visiting have loved it. I also feel that although the loading cover looks impressive it is a little agricultural in its operation and does not have that silky smooth action I would expect at this price point. There is great attention to detail in the build and choice of components used with the obvious philosophy of nothing but the best being very evident.
 
There is a beautiful sense of fluidity with the player, lucidity and sweetness that is missing from all but a handful of cd players. Gone is the clinical sterility that can plague the medium in general including the vast majority of ‘hi-end players’. 
 
This combination really does get the to heart of the performance, its ability to convey the music in a natural analogue fashion combined with the transparency, clarity and dynamics you expect from the best digital source is astonishing. You are drawn into the music and find yourself simply enjoying the experience and performance. It has the ability to perform well across all genres of music, coping admirably with the dynamic swings of full scale orchestral work as well as the fast rhythmical beats of modern synthesised tracks and the raw energy of rock. 
 
If your ideal player is one that ekes out every last detail and ruthlessly exposes every aspect of the performance this is not a player for you. The detail is there but it does not jump out at you. The imaging and scale are impressive but not at the holographic levels presented by some of the players in the stratosphere of hifi exotica that this resides in. The bass is well extended and articulate; vocals are expressive and tonally very natural sounding. 
 
It seems silly talking about a player costing £14,000 getting back to basics but that is exactly what this does, it gets back to the core, the fundamental reason for having a hifi in the first place, the music. There is such an inherent sense of rightness about the player, the timing is metronomic, the subtleties and nuances of the music come through beautifully it just sounds right. there are players out there that will sound more impressive, that will give you greater scale and authority and that will give you pin point accuracy when it comes to imaging, but I am yet to hear one that is as musical, as natural or has the ability to put a smile on my face and draw me into the performance. The player is amazing adept at conveying the delicacy and subtleties of the harmonic structure of the music. 
 
Its ability to convey the texture and emotion of the music is breath taking. 
 
When I think of a product being made in Germany there are immediately a number of clichés that come into my mind. It will be superbly engineered, very well made, efficient, the player is all of these and more, it is natural, musical, subtle, and beautifully posed, what is it not is clinical, sterile and humourless, it is a fun engaging player to live with. 
 
To a lot of people the words natural, musical and CD player do not fit comfortably together they need to hear this combo it will blow their mind!
The Accustic Arts Combo really sum up what Digital high quality music reproduction currently means…..
Edgar Kramer - AUDIO ESOTERICA

ACCUSTIC ARTS - ES STREAMER & REFERENCE TUBE DAC-II Review - see link for excellent PDF reveiw: 
http://www.accusticarts.de/pdf/testberichte/audio_esoterica_2014.pdf

The Accustic Arts combo equals or betters my reference MBL 1521A transport and 1511F DAC combo in every grade on the audio report card
Marshall Nack

REVIEW SUMMARY:
An interesting point—the AA's treble is wholly unrestrained, yet it almost never sounds harsh. How do they do that? 
AA macro dynamics are exceptional. I had not met my mbl Noble front-end's match… until now.
The AA is a very neutral front-end. Neutrality means, among other things, you don't hear the same-old, same-old all the time. 

I'm happy to report the coronation of a new bits and bytes king. The ACCUSTIC ARTS DRIVE II and the companion TUBE-DAC IISE comprise a major contender in digital front-ends. At its price point, it is the best I've come across.

EXTENDED REVIEW:
When I set up the DRIVE II and the companion TUBE-DAC IISE from ACCUSTIC ARTS, a red light on the back of the transport lit up. Red lights are never a good thing. According to the manual, it was an AC Polarity Indicator. If it lights, polarity is inverted. The manual instructed me to push the adjacent button to reverse it. The light dimmed, but didn't go out. This occurred with both ACCUSTIC ARTS components plugged into my TARA Labs IDAT power conditioner.
 
When I disconnected both from the IDAT and plugged them into the wall via an Ensemble power strip, the light went out. Hmmm, I wondered, what does that say about my TARA conditioner?
 
I've never seen a Polarity Indicator on a transport before. Likewise the DRIVE II's Integrated Mains Filter. This feature came in handy, as it gave me the option of power conditioning without using the "red light" TARA IDAT unit. However, it wasn't as if the AA front-end needed any conditioning at all.
 
Plugged into the Ensemble power strip without any conditioning, I had a definite impression of less "improvements" being made, of less "goosing" of the signal. It was fast and focused and, interestingly, there was no appreciable increase in noise—noise being what conditioners principally address.
 
This speaks quite commendably about AA's power supply and circuit designs. It also reinforced the impression I got when I reviewed their Preamp I - Mk 3 a short time ago. That component was keenly sensitive to the power messenger. ACCUSTIC ARTS pays more attention to the power line than most companies.
 
But I was catching a chill and the AA's laser-like focus was bothering me. Contrary thinking mandated I should try engaging the DRIVE II's built-in conditioning. As expected, it became smoother, warmer and less forward. Still, in my solid-state system, I wanted more flesh on those bones and even more warmth, although some listeners really liked the direct and honest quality from straight into the wall. "Direct and honest" would keep cropping up in my listening notes.
 
I wanted the sound to be more like the way my reference mbl 1521A transport and 1511F DAC front-end does it. I knew I could get there largely by swapping to more synergistic wires. What I didn't care to know about were the other insights into the mbl's presentation that the AA made apparent.
 
What's Musical?
 
In a quick A / B, you'd probably say the mbl "sounds more musical." What does that mean? In pondering this question, I experienced another of those "ah-ha!" insights.
 
During the course of reviewing the McIntosh Mc501 monoblocks, it became obvious that transients in my current setup had lost their snap. As the amps were the only variable in play, I was able to trace back that persistent softness to my reference mbl 8011 AM amps. Now, guess what? Thanks to the AA, I'm hearing the same thing in the mbl digital front-end.
 
Remember how digital sounded back when it was first introduced? Like chalk on a blackboard. (Even today, the thought of it makes me wince.) Twenty-five years later, we're into the second (or third) generation of these products and designers have addressed those digital nasties. Typically, they opted to voice their products to sound more like analog or tubes. So, now we have the answer to why my mbl front-end "sounds more musical."
 
It has a degree of softening applied. Its sharpness has been moderated and its edges have been smoothed over. It has a round sound. And it has the same scooping transients and lingering tails as the mbl 8011 amps. One effect of this is that instruments make their entrance without "breaking" the silence.
 
I have to believe the voicing is done deliberately to address the problems of the medium. But at what cost?
 
Too high a cost for the designers at ACCUSTIC ARTS. This respected German high-end manufacturer doesn't buy into the softening strategy. And for their top-of-the-line digital product, they reject most of the other common solutions, too. Instead, they came up with their own approach. In the process, they created a front-end that doesn't sound like all the rest. I'll cover some of this when we get to the Technical Discussion below; more is available on their website. But solve the digital nasties they did all right—I can vouch for that.
 
Transient Quality
 
Let's start with speed. The AA front-end is fast as blazes. Its transient has a beautiful shape. It doesn't soften the onslaught. It also has excellent coherence. My mbl front-end doesn't approach its speed and sounds comparatively sluggish. I tell ya, I didn't need to know about this. But enough on the mbl front-end—let's get back to the AA.
 
Most often, when we talk about the leading edge we have the treble frequencies in mind. Our ears are keenly sensitive to timing aberrations in this band. This might sound silly, but did you know that a piano, for example, has the ability to produce low frequency notes with sharp attack? The closer you get to the instrument, the more pronounced this becomes as you're getting more direct sound, less hall reinforcement and decay. Certainly this is what the microphones register, since they are typically placed in the near field.
 
The AA is the first digital front-end I've heard that handles sharp low-frequency transients.
 
The Tail End
 
It's the same at the notes' tail. From a close orchestra seat, the tail of the note doesn't hang around, like it does in the balcony. And the closer you get to the stage, the shorter it becomes. On occasion I've heard languorous decays through the AA, as when the piano's sustain pedal is intentionally engaged, but I've never heard truly short ones from the mbl. The AA places you in the tenth row in terms of decay.
 
The Sustain
 
Even more exciting is what's happening in the sustain—there's actually resolution there! Digital playback never does this. Typically, it gives you a homogeneous and textureless span of time. With my mbl, for example, you get a beautiful tone, but it is smooth and glossy (again "musical," like old-fashioned tubes). Analog always gives you little variations of tone or timbre or texture. This goes a mighty long way towards establishing analog's vaunted credibility—it is one of the major feathers in its cap. The AA has this quality. (But it still doesn't sound like good analog. Analog brings other things to the table.)
 
Timbral Quality
 
In terms of timbre, the AAs is complete, but because it is so focused, it doesn't sound rich or robust. "Which one did you say has the tubes?" you might ask. The DAC II is a hybrid employing a pair of 12AX7 tubes, but it is not the one that sounds "tubey." It doesn't make timbres beautiful or lush. However, it succeeds in no small way in nailing the distinctive harmonic clusters of each instrument.
 
Neutrality, Benefits of
 
The AA is a very neutral front-end. Neutrality means, among other things, you don't hear the same-old, same-old all the time. Let's start with the Richard Strauss Sonata for Cello, with Johannes Moser (hanssler Classics 93.207), a young cellist I would recommend keeping an eye on. From his very first CD, he's been garnering awards left and right. On this recording of the Strauss sonata there's no imaging to speak of. Both instruments are bunched up in center stage. Perspective is approximately what you might hear from mid-hall seats. Decay is modest.
 
Contrast that with Johannes Moser doing the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No. 1 (hanssler Classics 93.222). I was tipped off to this CD by a short review I read on www.allmusic.com. The performance is excellent; the sound is demonstration quality. The orchestra doesn't have a lot to do in these concertos. Sections come in and out, occupying appropriate stage locations, which sometimes stretch clear across the width of my room. Imaging is quite discrete with no overlap. The perspective on this CD is close, approximately from tenth row orchestra seats, and it is a bit dry. I refer to it often to get a baseline.
 
Demonstration sound of an entirely different order can also be found on the RCA SACD reissue of the Richard Strauss Symphonia Domestica (RCA 88697-08282-2). Here the aural space literally explodes, pushing up and out in all directions, bearing no resemblance to the two previous CDs (or any hall I've ever been in). The reissue impresses in a hyped-up way.
 
The point is that you're not put into the same space all the time. Just a curious aside, but a lot of guys judge their music software by how well the new CD measures up to their most impressive one, impressive being defined as having the widest, deepest stage and dynamic range, among other things. Well, there are other things in life. There are tons of compositions in the repertory that are scored piano over long stretches.
 
Macro dynamics are exceptional. I had not met my mbl Noble front-end's match… until now. The AAs dynamics are on par. You can tell they're out of the ordinary because I've been spending inordinate time with the likes of Rimsky-Korsakov. While he is known principally for Sheherazade, there's much more to explore (admittedly, much of it is reminiscent of, and not as good as, that classical war horse). I have a four-disc set of his orchestral works (BIS-CD-1667/68) and I put one disc in each front-end. It makes for easy comparisons.
 
An interesting point—the AA's treble is wholly unrestrained, yet it almost never sounds harsh. How do they do that? As this is a well-known problem area for digital, some kind of band-aid must be in place. It sounds as if a degree of sweetening has been applied to the top end. This is the only frequency band with such a treatment that I can detect.
 
Just for the record, in case you're getting the impression the AA's honesty comes bundled in an analytical envelope, you do have to choose ancillaries carefully. But pair it with synergistic wires and gear leaning to the musical side and it produces correctly-sized images with good body and satisfying weight.... .
 
Caveat
 
Also, please understand that my task is to highlight differences in the two front-ends. While the AA compares favorably or equally to my mbl Noble Line front-end throughout this copy, it's not as if it renders the mbl unlistenable. When I come home and put on the mbl, I'm quite content. It's only when I do A/Bs in quick succession that my grumbling begins and I stay with the AA for the rest of the session.
 
Design and Features
 
The DRIVE II and DAC II belong to ACCUSTIC ARTS' reference line. They share cosmetics with the AA Preamp I Mk3 I reviewed a few months ago. All three exude the same quality, attention to detail and build quality. This is well-made stuff.
 
Basic functionality is provided on the front panel controls of the DRIVE II. Additional functions are accessed via the matching aluminium remote. Everything operates with a silky, quality feel, except the CD drawer cover mechanism.
 
The top-loading DRIVE II sports a solid aluminium chassis of substantial weight—40 lbs. To operate, you slide back the drawer cover (which weighs 3.5 lbs on its own) and place the CD on the spindle of the CD-Pro2LF die-cast metal CD holder. Then stabilise it with the magnetic puck and close the cover. The drawer cover rails give the unit a sporty appearance, but the sliding action of the drawer cover has the feel of the flywheel on an inexpensive analog tuner, the ones you have to push, unlike the ones that glide.
 
The well known and highly regarded CD-Pro2LF is mechanically decoupled by steel springs and rubber bumpers, forming its own sub-chassis. Special attention is paid to the power supply, which has approximately 61,000 uF of capacitance available. Other nice features are the built-in conditioning and the Polarity Indicator.
 
Technical Discussion
 
In the TUBE-DAC II, the common solution of using oversampling was rejected in favor of something quite original. Oversampling typically generates a degree of high frequency noise. The higher the sampling rate, the more noise is generated. This necessitates the introduction of filters to clean it up, which bring their own set of issues. AA developed a new algorithm.
 
Instead, AA uses 26 "multiplying processors" working in parallel on the incoming signal. The arithmetic mean value of these 26 processors is computed and that is the bit stream sent forward. No noise is generated, no filters are needed, and more precision is the claimed result. The newly computed bit stream is also boosted to 32 bits. Moreover, left and right channels are separated at this point to become dual-mono—two 32-bit streams are generated from the original 16-bit one. From here forward, left and right are processed separately, requiring two DA converter chips, etc.
 
TUBE-DAC IISE Ref
 
The Tube DAC II I'm using is the Special Edition. The 12AX7 tubes in the SE version are military grade and are matched after 200 hours of burn-in. The SE version also has gold-plated tube and fuse holders and closer tolerances for parts and pcb boards. The SE costs $500 more.
 
Conclusion
 
I'm happy to report the coronation of a new bits and bytes king. The ACCUSTIC ARTS DRIVE II and the companion TUBE-DAC IISE comprise a major contender in digital front-ends. At its price point, it is the best I've come across.
 
ACCUSTIC ARTS opted not to follow the pack and pursued an original route to solving the digital nasties. For one thing, in their reference level product, they didn't buy into oversampling. For another, the DAC II may be a hybrid employing a pair of 12AX7 tubes, but it is not "tubey" sounding. And the trump card is they don't buy into the softening cover-up most designers use. Consequently, their top-of-the-line digital front-end does not sound like the rest of them.
 
The Accustic Arts combo equals or betters my reference mbl 1521A transport (MSRP US$10,950) and 1511F DAC (MSRP US$10,650) in every grade on the audio report card, but the difference is not huge. It is only when I do direct A / Bs that I start to grumble. Then I'm forced to swap to the AA for the rest of the session.
 
While the ACCUSTIC ARTS DRIVE II and TUBE-DAC IISE still doesn't sound like good analog, it brings you closer to the truth than any comparably priced digital front-end.
..........Marshall Nack
Perhaps some of you wonder I’m smoking. But I can't find better descriptors. To me it was very strong tobacco indeed how this machine managed to draw voices in believably embodied concreteness. Dynamically the Accustic Arts left nothing to be desired...
Ralph Werner

REVIEW SUMMARY: Perhaps some of you wonder by now just what I’m smoking. But I can't find better descriptors. To me it was very strong tobacco indeed how this machine managed to draw voices in believably embodied concreteness. Dynamically the Accustic Arts left nothing to be desired. Some converters emphasize the leading edge more to tease out Garwood’s guitar picking in sharper relief – Moon’s Neo 380D comes to mind. Others play it softer than the German, say NAD’s M12. This reiterated how the Schwabians prioritize the gestalt of wholeness over extremes in any one possible direction. You could call the result tonally balanced but veering toward the sunny; or dynamically charged without sacrificing flow. Nobody who shops these leagues is purely concerned by cost/performance ratios. It takes advanced HighEnd passion, a few rolls of real cashish and, let’s be honest, a desire for luxury. And the Accustic Arts delivers in full measure. Such a massive and beautifully finished converter I’ve not hosted before. Its gleaming bank vault casing cashes in heavily on the Made in Germany cliché - and in the best meaning.

Don’t expect sonic spectaculars but instead, a properly balanced, self-assured realistic and natural panorama of excellent long-term suitability. The Tube DacII Mk2 plays it on the sunny side of the street and excels at rendering voices and instruments in true 3D extraction. Most of all, it’s a true all’rounder whose many talents sum into a very non-technical total sound.

EXTENDED REVIEW: Others use this amount of metal for a pair of monos without risking a jittery foundation or ringy covers. Our DAC tester stems from the Reference range of Accustic Arts who work with a different set o' rules. Remember the Amp II/AMP III transformer häuser? Or the MONO II we reviewed last year? Mentally prepped, I took in stride the 12kg pulling out my arms whilst I unpeeled the Schwabians’ top digital deck from its carton. Tube Dac II Mk2 is its proper title. In for a pound, out with a kilo. But forget brutish material excess. This deck exudes luxury no matter what angle you ogle it from. The surface finish of the brushed aluminium is perfection. So is the fit of all seams. Bomb-proof socketry adorns the business end. Brass knobs turned from solid and dipped in chrome transfer tactile feedback on the front.

Sure, sour pusses and minimalist sticklers will point out that the stylized valve symbol cut out of the top panel à la Tube Preamp II serves no real function. But hey, hasn’t one already chased those bitchy Calvinists away by mere consideration of this type sticker in the first place? Of course it’s glamour, not Bauhaus sobriety. This is a luxury machine, dammit. Anyone shopping this price range demands special optics and fit’n’finish sans pareil. Hence any such expectations are met head on by this posh player. I’ve not met anything quite as deluxe in the DAC sector yet.

True, this house’s top converter is nearly a classic by now. Its predecessor launched in 2007. The core circuit remains in place. To sketch it on a napkin, focus on three points. One, the over- dimensioned power supply would suit many an amplifier. Two power toroids of 100 and 50VA respectively gang up with 84’000µF of filter capacitance. Deux, digital goes deux mono with two parallel paths, two chips and a 32-bit microprocessor entrusted with signal prep and upsampling (which, say the Germans, operates significantly more accurate than the typical on-chip SRC). Finally, nomen est omen, a hybrid valve/transistor output stage with balanced and single-ended legs. Fixed gain only. That's because, or so feels developer Martin Schunk, shoppers in these strata tend to be married to a separate pre/power combo already. Where the Mk2 does the original one better is the HD input card with its asynchronous USB. HD obviously is short for hi-def, i.e. 24/192 (though not 32/384 or DSD). "We might offer a future upgrade. It’ll depend on demand." Martin Schunk shrugs. I’m personally amused by the present DSD hype. Never mind the excessive dearth of relevant music catalogues [amen and hallelujah to that – Ed]. For equally good reasons, I’m only marginally interested in how makers and distributors describe the sonics of their own kit. "Rendering all else broken by comparison" is all so… well, boorishly boring. Still, I readily remember the words which did accompany the Tube Dac II Mk2. Something like, "designed for the audiophile gourmand" but "minus any FX". Yeah, here I’ll sign my own Kaiser Wilhelm on the dotted line!

That’s because any true gourmand couldn’t give a fork about identifying specific ingredients. She wants their masterful combination to melt on the tongue in unison. A proper chef better remember that. And that’s exactly how our DAC chef has cooked his deck. Does it deliver unheard of resolution? BMC’s UltraDAC plays no second fiddle. Extreme depth layering? Perhaps. But my Luxman D-05 does it too. Punchy bass? Definitely. Though I do recall a CD player which dished it out even harder, Gryphon’s Scorpio. So no, don’t expect gold medals to step out of individual disciplines. That’d mean special effects all over again. And that's really the last thing anyone would ever accuse our German of. It’s the particular mix which is so tasty (and to finally wear out the foodie parallel). This machine plays it so integral, so effortless and 'right' that individual aspects are synthesized into and absorbed by a wholosity which eludes lead-pencil analysis. You simply listen to music. But fear not, I’m not about to drop my ball point just yet!

Pegging tonality was easy. I had BMC’s UltraDac which drew quite the contrast. It plays on the lighter side of neutral whilst the Accustic Arts does it juicier and more fulsome. That’s true not just for the extra portion of bass but also the lower midrange. It was more developed to make the vocal range more sonorous. Ditto versus the Luxman SACD/DAC though that split the bill when it set up shop between BMC and Accustic Arts. But even here the Tube Dac was fatter in the bass, slightly warmer in the mids and a tad more polite in the treble. That came to the fore with femmy vocals to net a basic observation: they sounded a bit fuller, more fetching; and a bit less open. One example was Ofrin’s "Give it a shot" from the Jazz/Pop album On Shore Remain with its electronic seasoning. Ofrin Brin’s voice had more chest volume and a bit less breathiness. The bass underpinnings were more massive and a tick softer than I’m accustomed to. The lower registers still were defined and clear, simply not ultra-dry. Semi-sec perhaps. Particularly with acoustic instruments, this can be advantageous.

What else? The sonic panorama came off noticeably broader than I tend to enjoy for this Ofrin song. The electronic spider webs which drift or flicker across the stage occurred more outside the speakers and toward me than I knew and thereby created greater involvement. It filled more room space with music. This grew quasi enveloping in fact.

Still, the true key to this converter opened yet another domain at least for me. Where this valve deck truly excelled was with the dimensional extrication of individual sounds particularly in the vocal band. This was the 3D glasses version of Ofrin Brin. No longer a flat if singing layer, I now had a musical sculpture in my digs. I’d acquired the earlier mentioned Luxman D-05 because it too covers not just resolution plus bass/mid/highs but also grippy embodiment. Just so, the Accustic Arts elevated this particular art to a higher octave. I’m not keen on calling digital sources ‘analogue’ but if this term should signify a relaxed gestalt, slight warmth and extreme dimensionality, then we’d have reached a proper analog. Here the Schwabian has really got it going on.

An exemplary demo thereof repeated with Marc Lanegan & Duke Garwood’s Black Pudding disc, a kind of gloomy Indy Blues albeit blessed by high production standards. "Pentacostal" sports an acoustic guitar, Lanegan’s nearly shot vocals and one subdued rattle. In short, sparse action but still an intense number. Relative to pure data mining, it was irrelevant whether I leashed up the Tube DacII Mk2 or the previously reviewed BMC UltraDAC. The latter retrieved more in the treble, today’s tester more in the mids. The Accustic Arts managed the more complete in-room projection of the guitar. In fact, I thought that I could better hear how the instrument sounded different at different junctures. Usually that quality gets obscured by spatial homogenity; by less three-dimensional cues; by more total point-source sound. I thus tend to listen more to music’s progression over time than its spatial layout.

Perhaps some of you wonder by now just what I’m smoking. But I can't find better descriptors. To me it was very strong tobacco indeed how this machine managed to draw voices in believably embodied concreteness. Dynamically the Accustic Arts left nothing to be desired. Some converters emphasize the leading edge more to tease out Garwood’s guitar picking in sharper relief – Moon’s Neo 380D comes to mind. Others play it softer than the German, say NAD’s M12. This reiterated how the Schwabians prioritize the gestalt of wholeness over extremes in any one possible direction. You could call the result tonally balanced but veering toward the sunny; or dynamically charged without sacrificing flow. Nobody who shops these leagues is purely concerned by cost/performance ratios. It takes advanced HighEnd passion, a few rolls of real cashish and, let’s be honest, a desire for luxury. and the Accustic Arts delivers in full measure. Such a massive and beautifully finished converter I’ve not hosted before. Its gleaming bank vault casing cashes in heavily on the Made in Germany cliché - and in the best meaning.

Don’t expect sonic spectaculars but instead, a properly balanced, self-assured realistic and natural panorama of excellent long-term suitability. The Tube DacII Mk2 plays it on the sunny side of the street and excels at rendering voices and instruments in true 3D extraction. Most of all, it’s a true all’rounder whose many talents sum into a very non-technical total sound.

Psych profile for the Accustic Arts Tube DacII Mk2...

• Plays it on the somewhat warmer side of neutral.
• Bass is properly developed, its texture more juicy than wiry. Definition and pitch are high, dry-as-dust violence isn't. Especially unplugged, this is mostly the more natural take. For electronica with gnarly infrasonics, some may wish for more incision.
• In a certain way, the midband sounds 'precious'. Cause for that is a relatively rare combination of 'somewhat warmer' with high resolution. Vocal renditions are the hammer.
• The treble is a natural elongation of the mids, i.e. perfectly integrated and never explicit. Others play it more spot-lit but nothing is really missing.
. Macro and micro dynamics are in the pocket. When in doubt, the machine prioritizes musical flow over robotic attacks.
• This luxo converter cast a wide panorama which doesn't hesitate to get forward when the recording asks for it. Good depth layering. The special virtue is the exceptionally extricated three-dimensional sound sculpting. This creates a very grippy performance.
• Fit and finish set new standards for the upscale sector.

…….. Ralph Werner

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