DarTZeel LHC-208 Danalogue Streaming 200w Integrated amp PCM-24/384 DSD256 DAC

DZ 01 IA LHC208
NZ$ 34,500.00 ea (incl. GST)
DarTZeel

Passion for Sound "The human being himself, to the extent that he makes sound use of his senses, is the most exact physical apparatus that can exist."

New

LHC-208 - The LHC-208 is an integrated amplifier, network player and ultra-high-resolution digital converter in one modern and elegant chassis.

darTZeel has opened up a new world of digital audio reproduction possibilities with the LHC-208.

Designed to handle high-quality digital music, the LHC-208 is in fact a « danalogue » integrated amplifier, with built-in streaming system and DAC.

darTZeel has ventured into the world of digital to offer its signature brand of unparalleled sound reproduction, through its groundbreaking approach to signal processing.

With an active Ethernet connection, the LHC-208 decodes and reproduces digital audio files, including DSD256 and 24/384 formats.

The LHC-208 can be operated using its remote control or any DLNA-compatible UPnP application.

The LHC-208 offers excellent digital conversion quality, ease of use, a compact and elegant chassis, powerful output stages and development potential with its modern interface.

Attention to detail
Before it could offer an unforgettable musical experience, the darTZeel LHC-208 was developed gradually over more than three years in our lab, where attention was paid to every last detail. For the first time, you can listen to very-high-resolution music with non-PLL clock distribution, for an unparalleled analogue listening experience.

Future-proof
The darTZeel LHC-208 offers regular software updates, a single cooling system, a groundbreaking clock system and an upgradeable digital platform.

All for music

With five analogue inputs, six digital inputs, a dedicated headphone amplifier, and a touch screen, along with analogue circuits modelled on the NHB-458, the LHC-208 really has everything.

Except a pair of speakers and your music library.

Specifications

Reviews

Specifications

Nominal Output Power
200 watts RMS (220 watts peak) @ 8 ohms
300 watts RMS (330 watts peak) @ 4 ohms
Line Gain
0dB nominal, up to + 12 dB
Power Stage Gain
26 dB @ 8 ohms
Analog Input Impedances
1 x Zeel BNC 50 ohms
3 x RCA line > 30 kohms
1 x Aux 3.5 mm front panel jack > 10 kohms
Digital Inputs
1 x RJ45 Network
1 x USB
2 x SPDIF (RCA 75 ohms)
2 x TOS Link
Analog Line Output
1 x Headphone 6.35mm front panel jack
Speaker Output Impedance
< 0.33 ohms from 20 Hz to 20 kHz (measured under 8 ohms)
Frequency Response
7 Hz - 170 kHz, +0, -3 dB
Rise Time
< 0.8 µs
Slew Rate
> 100 V/µs, peak-peak
DC Output Voltage
< ± 15 mV max
Total Harmonic Distortion (THD)
< 1 % from 7 Hz to 77 kHz within the output dynamic range
Temporal Distortion
None, at any level and load, as specified above
Crosstalk
< -60 dB @ 1 kHz
Signal to noise ratio
> 105 dB (A) @ nominal power
Power consumption
2 watts Standby, 40 watts @ idle, 900 watts @ maximum output power
Size in mm
440 x 350 x 130 (WxDxH)
Size in inches
17.32 x 13.78 x 5.12 (WxDxH)
Net weight
16 kg

Reviews

What did all this mean when it comes to reproducing exquisitely recorded music? I became mesmerised.........
Paul Millar
REVIEW SUMMARY: Fed high quality recordings, the LHC-208 proved capable of tremendous fine detail retrieval and bewitching image dimensionality. There is an impressive naturalness in the way it presents images of musicians in space and the soundstage always appears deep and wide.

The sound is charming and inviting in its overall balance – with thrilling dynamics when the music commands – and as others have observed with darTZeel’s costlier amplifiers, its tone is vibrant without ever appearing ‘coloured’. It seemingly never fails to draw you in, making you want to relax and listen to the music rather than analyse its constituent elements.

Using a squeaky-clean Melco N1A server [HFN Aug ’15] for playing CD rips and hi-res downloads, we listened to the LHC-208 driving a pair of Focal’s lovely Sopra No 2 floorstanders in the editor’s media room. Bass was extended and rich, perhaps not as tightly controlled as with some muscle amps, yet nicely integrated and always self-assured.

Midrange and HF was what many might describe as ‘valve-like’, so what you hear as a result is almost always easy on the ear unless bashing out Metallica at full throttle!

I don’t want to paint an impression that the new ‘baby’ darTZeel sounds soft and cuddly. Interestingly, The Fab Four’s ‘And I Love Her’ [2009 remaster at 44.kHz/24-bit sounded eerily stark and calmly uncluttered, allowing forensic observation of the performers and the subtle inflections in their phrasing that often go unnoticed. Certainly the LHC-208’s strong suits appear to be its convincing speed and attack through mid to-high-frequencies – making acoustic guitars wholly believable – together with seemingly effortless transparency. So while its midrange wasn’t warm and ‘tubey’, neither was it ever wiry or artificial sounding, Indeed, in that regard it almost could be described as sounding like a tube amplifier!

What did all this mean when it comes to reproducing exquisitely recorded music? I became mesmerised listening to guitarist  Antonio Forcione’s and singer Sabina Sciubba’s version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Visions’ from their album Meet Me In London ....

Offering fine sound quality and enough inputs to satisfy most system set-ups, darTZeel’s LHC-208 is a highly desirable integrated amp/network player/DAC solution for audiophiles determined to stand out from the crowd. It might not drip functionality, but what it does it executes exceedingly well, with promises of many software updates in the pipeline for those privileged to own it.

EXTENDED REVIEW: You’ve got to hand it to darTZeel: the boutique Swiss brand barely registered in the consciousness of audiophiles a little over a decade ago, yet it now represents one of the most desirable marques in high-end audio. An analogue replay stalwart to the core, the fi rm hasn’t had a single digital product in its portfolio… until now 

Priced at £13,500 (NZ$19995 incl GST) the brand new LHC-208 integrated stereo amplifier, rated at 175W/8ohm and designed to provide a flavour of the company’s headier pre/power offerings at a more affordable price than its ‘close to heaven’ CTH-8550 integrated amp [HFN Jul ’09], features analogue and digital inputs – with not only a built-in DAC but also a network music player on board.

BREWED SLOWLY

Refer back to our interview with company founder and maverick designer Hervé Delétraz [HFN Mar ’09] and you’ll see that nothing happens overnight at darTZeel. Hervé spent almost 20 years developing the first NHB-108 power amplifer. No surprise, then, that this new LHC-208 has been several years in the making too – and it continues to be ‘work in progress’ with various software updates planned for the near future.

In Hervé’s words: ‘When this project began we didn’t have any digital features in mind whatsoever. My intention was to produce a more affordable darTZeel integrated amplifier with a motorised potentiometer, a simple remote handset and perhaps three line inputs.’

Step by step, the idea of including a digital input in a darTZeel machine began to germinate but Hervé was determined to fashion something uniquely darTZeel in design. He employed very simple digital circuits, with no unnecessary oversampling, while, crucially, source formats are handled natively, with no conversion from DSD to PCM or vice versa.

For its USB input the LHC-208 employs the latest XMOS interface that offers compatibility with 384kHz/24-bit and DSD128 sources. Furthermore, removing the amplifier’s bonnet reveals that all circuits are on bespoke darTZeel PCBs, its streaming board developed in conjunction with one of the company’s longstanding technology partners.

While, as we’ve said, there are updates planned for later this year and next, streaming functionality is currently limited to playing music fi les stored on a server – a computer or NAS – with no access to internet radio or web streaming services such as Spotify or Tidal. Also, as the DAC is TI’s DSD1796, incoming 384/352.8kHz PCM fi les are necessarily down sampled to 192/176.4kHz, respectively.

Naturally it comes dressed in darTZeel’s familiar gold and burgundy red livery, the amplifier’s front panel dominated by a TFT touch screen. Swiping a finger across it brings the unit out of standby.

The company’s whimsical eccentricity remains evident not only in its calling the product a ‘danalogue’ amplifier but also the on-screen messages saying ‘Entering/Leaving little heaven corner’ when you turn it on/off. This is the fi rm that labels its preamp’s volume knob ‘Pleasure Control’…

DEDICATED HEADPHONE AMP

The touch screen offers good legibility and access to all on-board functionality, the plus and minus signs on the left and right portions of the screen to govern volume up/down proving satisfactorily responsive to deft finger taps. The display also shows the sampling frequency of incoming data as well as the current volume setting, but it doesn’t show album artwork. I did mention that it was work in progress…

What appear at first glance to be small rotary controls on the fascia are actually styling details disguising the unit’s IR receiver and front panel sockets in their centres. On the left is a 6.35mm headphone socket, on the right a minisocket handy for temporary hook-up of visiting portables, with the IR receiver eye centre most of the three. The LHC-208 features a dedicated headphone amplifier with headphone volume controlled independently of the main output; the speaker output is automatically disabled once cans are connected.

At the rear there are three line-level RCA inputs, a 50ohm BNC ‘Zeel’ input (ready for any future darTZeel source components with a matching ‘darT’ output), an Ethernet port, USB-B connector for pushing data directly into the on-board DAC from a computer, and four S/PDIF inputs (two optical, two coaxial). A further USB-A connector is for fi rmware updates and serial-code activation via memory stick, while a single set of Cardas-style ‘clamps’ provide speaker cable connection.

Determined to maintain the sonic signature of its more expensive amplifiers darTZeel has employed the same analogue audio circuits featured in the dual-mono CTH-8550, save that the LHC-208 has all left and right preamp and power amp stages on the same printed circuit board, and both channels share a common power supply and capacitor bank.

And the LHC-208 employs a new custom designed heatpipe cooling system, made for darTZeel by Swiss company Arctic (which specialises in cooling devices for hot-rodded computers in the IT industry). You don’t get a chunky handset hewn from an aluminium billet with the LHC-208, instead a lightweight plastic controller is supplied (A serious remote is in the winds). This helps keep manufacturing costs down, but was also a deliberate and eminently sensible decision since most owners will surely control playback of their music libraries via a tablet.

A unique darTZeel app for iOS, Android and Windows 10 is in the works which will make the RCU redundant anyway, since it promises to duplicate the functionality of the amplifier’s front panel touch screen and provide access to all menu and control settings. The app is scheduled for release next year. In the meantime, when using a tablet as a control point for browsing a music library darTZeel recommends using BubbleUPnP for Android devices and PlugPlayer (or similar) for iPads.

SIMPLY DRAWS YOU IN

Fed high quality recordings, the LHC-208 proved capable of tremendous fine detail retrieval and bewitching image dimensionality. There is an impressive naturalness in the way it presents images of musicians in space and the soundstage always appears deep and wide.

The sound is charming and inviting in its overall balance – with thrilling dynamics when the music commands – and as others have observed with darTZeel’s costlier amplifiers, its tone is vibrant without ever appearing ‘coloured’. It seemingly never fails to draw you in, making you want to relax and listen to the music rather than analyse its constituent elements.

Using a squeaky-clean Melco N1A server [HFN Aug ’15] for playing CD rips and hi-res downloads, we listened to the LHC-208 driving a pair of Focal’s lovely Sopra No 2 floorstanders in the editor’s media room. Bass was extended and rich, perhaps not as tightly controlled as with some muscle amps, yet nicely integrated and always self-assured.

Midrange and HF was what many might describe as ‘valve-like’, so what you hear as a result is almost always easy on the ear unless bashing out Metallica at full throttle!

I don’t want to paint an impression that the new ‘baby’ darTZeel sounds soft and cuddly. Interestingly, The Fab Four’s ‘And I Love Her’ [2009 remaster at 44.kHz/24-bit sounded eerily stark and calmly uncluttered, allowing forensic observation of the performers and the subtle inflections in their phrasing that often go unnoticed. Certainly the LHC-208’s strong suits appear to be its convincing speed and attack through mid to-high-frequencies – making acoustic guitars wholly believable – together with seemingly effortless transparency. So while its midrange wasn’t warm and ‘tubey’, neither was it ever wiry or artificial sounding, Indeed, in that regard it almost could be described as sounding like a tube amplifier!

ENHANCEMENT TO COME

But it was the darTZeel’s innate ‘fluidity’ that became increasingly obvious the longer I listened, its ability to make sense of the musical message whatever the challenge. Playing the heavily processed Papercutz remix of Lucrecia Dalt’s ‘Escopalina’, the bonus tracks from the Barcelona-based singer/composer’s Commotus album of 2012 [Human Ear Music HEM019], proved a case in point, as the amplifier exposed the track’s many layers of electronic compositional collage while magically obviating the recording’s intrinsic shrillness.

Again, the bass wasn’t tightly contoured or as controlled as it might be, possessing a slightly thickening ‘bloom’. Nevertheless this is something that many might judge advantageous when spending time listening to ‘ordinary’ recordings ie, most of the time!

What did all this mean when it comes to reproducing exquisitely recorded music? I became mesmerised listening to guitarist  Antonio Forcione’s and singer Sabina Sciubba’s version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Visions’ from their album Meet Me In London [Naim Label, 192kHz/24-bit download].

The transient attacks of Forcione’s nylon guitar strings were appropriately fast and clean (but not ‘hyped’ to make them sound more like steel strings), his acoustic instrument appearing carved brilliantly in three-dimensional space. Sciubba’s voice was also rendered gorgeously, if slightly reduced in the warmth to which I’m more usually accustomed. Still, I couldn’t fail to conclude it was a complete and delightfully composed sonic picture.

Despite the LHC-208 being fresh out of the starting blocks and waiting for its streaming functionality to be enhanced via future updates, its charming sound quality is very much all of a piece. We’re told the first free update will be an improved menu layout to make the screen more readable from a listening seat – with more status information visible simultaneously, despite the use of larger fonts. Displaying album cover art as well should follow soon thereafter. 

…….. Paul Miller

it was the darTZeel’s innate ‘fluidity’ that became increasingly obvious the longer I listened, its ability to make sense of the musical message whatever the challenge
John Bamford

REVIEW SUMMARY: But it was the darTZeel’s innate ‘fluidity’ that became increasingly obvious the longer I listened, its ability to make sense of the musical message whatever the challenge. Playing the heavily processed Papercutz remix of Lucrecia Dalt’s ‘Escopalina’, the bonus tracks from the Barcelona-based singer/ composer’s Commotus album of 2012 [Human Ear Music HEM019], proved a case in point, as the amplifier exposed the track’s many layers of electronic compositional collage while magically obviating the recording’s intrinsic shrillness. What did all this mean when it comes to reproducing exquisitely recorded music? I became mesmerised listening to guitarist Antonio Forcione’s and singer Sabina Sciubba’s version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Visions’ from their album Meet Me In London [Naim Label, 192kHz/ 24-bit download]. The transient attacks of Forcione’s nylon guitar strings were appropriately fast and clean (but not ‘hyped’ to make them sound more like steel strings), his acoustic instrument appearing carved brilliantly in three-dimensional space. Sciubba’s voice was also rendered gorgeously, if slightly reduced in the warmth to which I’m more usually accustomed. Still, I couldn’t fail to conclude it was a complete and delightfully composed sonic picture. 

EXTENDED REVIEW: You’ve got to hand it to darTZeel: the boutique Swiss brand barely registered in the consciousness of audiophiles a little over a decade ago, yet it now represents one of the most desirable marques in high-end audio. An analogue replay stalwart to the core, the fi rm hasn’t had a single digital product in its portfolio… until now

Priced at £13,500 the brand new LHC- 208 integrated stereo amplifier, rated at 175W/8ohm and designed to provide a flavour of the company’s headier pre/power offerings at a more affordable price than its ‘close to heaven’ CTH-8550 integrated amp [HFN Jul ’09], features analogue and digital inputs – with not only a built-in DAC but also a network music player on board. 

BREWED SLOWLY

Refer back to our interview with company founder and maverick designer Hervé Delétraz [HFN Mar ’09] and you’ll see that nothing happens overnight at darTZeel. Hervé spent almost 20 years developing the first NHB-108 power amplifier. No surprise, then, that this new LHC-208 has been several years in the making too – and it continues to be ‘work in progress’ with various software updates planned for the near future. 

In Hervé’s words: ‘When this project began we didn’t have any digital features in mind whatsoever. My intention was to produce a more affordable darTZeel integrated amplifier with a motorised potentiometer, a simple remote handset and perhaps three line inputs.’ Step by step, the idea of including a digital input in a darTZeel machine began to germinate but Hervé was determined to fashion something uniquely darTZeel in design. He employed very simple digital circuits, with no unnecessary oversampling, while, crucially, source formats are handled natively, with no conversion from DSD to PCM or vice versa. 

For its USB input the LHC-208 employs the latest XMOS interface that offers compatibility with 384kHz/24-bit and DSD128 sources. Furthermore, removing the amplifier’s bonnet reveals that all circuits are on bespoke darTZeel PCBs, its streaming board developed in conjunction with one of the company’s longstanding technology partners. 

While, as we’ve said, there are updates planned for later this year and next, streaming functionality is currently limited to playing music files stored on a server – a computer or NAS – with no access to internet radio or web streaming services such as Spotify or Tidal. Also, as the DAC is TI’s DSD1796, incoming 384/352.8kHz PCM files are necessarily down sampled to 192/176.4kHz, respectively. Naturally it comes dressed in darTZeel’s familiar gold and burgundy red livery, the amplifier’s front panel dominated by a TFT touch screen. Swiping a fi nger across it brings the unit out of standby. The company’s whimsical eccentricity remains evident not only in its calling the product a ‘danalogue’ amplifi r but also the on-screen messages saying ‘Entering/ Leaving little heaven corner’ when you turn it on/off. This is the fi rm that labels its preamp’s volume knob ‘Pleasure Control’…

DEDICATED HEADPHONE AMP

The touch screen offers good legibility and access to all on-board functionality, the plus and minus signs on the left and right portions of the screen to govern volume up/down proving satisfactorily responsive to deft finger taps. The display also shows the sampling frequency of incoming data as well as the current volume setting, but it doesn’t show album artwork. I did mention that it was work in progress… 

What appear at first glance to be small rotary controls on the fascia are actually styling details disguising the unit’s IR receiver and front panel sockets in their centres. On the left is a 6.35mm headphone socket, on the right a mini socket handy for temporary hook-up of visiting portables, with the IR receiver eye centre most of the three. The LHC-208 features a dedicated headphone amplifier with headphone volume controlled independently of the main output; the speaker output is automatically disabled once cans are connected. 

At the rear there are three line-level RCA inputs, a 50ohm BNC ‘Zeel’ input (ready for any future darTZeel source components with a matching ‘darT’ output), an Ethernet port, USB-B connector for pushing data directly into the on-board DAC from a computer, and four S/PDIF inputs (two optical, two coaxial). A further USB-A connector is for firmware updates and serial-code activation via memory stick, while a single set of Cardas-style ‘clamps’ provide speaker cable connection. 

Determined to maintain the sonic signature of its more expensive amplifiers,  darTZeel has employed the same analogue audio circuits featured in the dual-mono CTH-8550, save that the LHC-208 has all left and right preamp and power amp stages on the same printed circuit board, and both channels share a common power supply and capacitor bank. 

And the LHC-208 employs a new custom designed heatpipe cooling system, made for darTZeel by Swiss company Arctic (which specialises in cooling devices for hot-rodded computers in the IT industry). You don’t get a chunky handset hewn from an aluminium billet with the LHC-208, instead a lightweight plastic controller is supplied [pictured on p35]. This helps keep manufacturing costs down, but was also a deliberate and eminently sensible decision since most owners will surely control playback of their music libraries via a tablet. 

A unique darTZeel app for iOS, Android and Windows 10 is in the works which will make the RCU redundant anyway, since it promises to duplicate the functionality of the amplifier’s front panel touch screen and provide access to all menu and control settings. The app is scheduled for release next year. In the meantime, when using a tablet as a control point for browsing a music library darTZeel recommends using BubbleUPnP for Android devices and PlugPlayer (or similar) for iPads. 

SIMPLY DRAWS YOU IN 

Fed high quality recordings, the LHC- 208 proved capable of tremendous fi ne detail retrieval and bewitching image dimensionality. There is an impressive naturalness in the way it presents images of musicians in space and the soundstage always appears deep and wide. 

The sound is charming and inviting in its overall balance – with thrilling dynamics when the music commands – and as others have observed with darTZeel’s costlier amplifiers, its tone is vibrant without ever appearing ‘coloured’. It seemingly never fails to draw you in, making you want to relax and listen to the music rather than analyse its constituent elements. 

Using a squeaky-clean Melco N1A server [HFN Aug ’15] for playing CD rips and hi-res downloads, we listened to the LHC-208 driving a pair of Focal’s lovely Sopra No 2 floorstanders [also HFN Aug ’15] in the editor’s media room. Bass was extended and rich, perhaps not as tightly controlled as with some muscle amps, yet nicely integrated and always self-assured. Midrange and HF was what many might describe as ‘valve-like’, so what you hear as a result is almost always easy on the ear – unless bashing out Metallica at full throttle! 

I don’t want to paint an impression that the new ‘baby’ darTZeel sounds soft and cuddly. Interestingly, The Fab Four’s ‘And I Love Her’ [2009 remaster at 44.kHz/24-bit] sounded eerily stark and calmly uncluttered, allowing forensic observation of the performers and the subtle inflections in their phrasing that often go unnoticed. Certainly the LHC-208’s strong suits appear to be its convincing speed and attack through mid to-high-frequencies – making acoustic guitars wholly believable – together with seemingly effortless transparency. So while its midrange wasn’t warm and ‘tubey’, neither was it ever wiry or artificial sounding, Indeed, in that regard it almost could be described as sounding like a tube amplifier!

ENHANCEMENT TO COME 

But it was the darTZeel’s innate ‘fluidity’ that became increasingly obvious the longer I listened, its ability to make sense of the musical message whatever the challenge. Playing the heavily processed Papercutz remix of Lucrecia Dalt’s ‘Escopalina’, the bonus tracks from the Barcelona-based singer/ composer’s Commotus album of 2012 [Human Ear Music HEM019], proved a case in point, as the amplifier exposed the track’s many layers of electronic compositional collage while magically obviating the recording’s intrinsic shrillness. 

What did all this mean when it comes to reproducing exquisitely recorded music? I became mesmerised listening to guitarist Antonio Forcione’s and singer Sabina Sciubba’s version of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Visions’ from their album Meet Me In London [Naim Label, 192kHz/ 24-bit download]. 

The transient attacks of Forcione’s nylon guitar strings were appropriately fast and clean (but not ‘hyped’ to make them sound more like steel strings), his acoustic instrument appearing carved brilliantly in three-dimensional space. Sciubba’s voice was also rendered gorgeously, if slightly reduced in the warmth to which I’m more usually accustomed. Still, I couldn’t fail to conclude it was a complete and delightfully composed sonic picture. 

Despite the LHC-208 being fresh out of the starting blocks and waiting for its streaming functionality to be enhanced via future updates, its charming sound quality is very much all of a piece. We’re told the first free update will be an improved menu layout to make the screen more readable from a listening seat – with more status information visible simultaneously, despite the use of larger fonts. Displaying album cover art as well should follow soon thereafter. 
........  John Bamford

HIFI NEWS VERDICT: a very HIGH for an INTEGRATED AMP - 84%
"Offering fine sound quality and enough inputs to satisfy most system set-ups, darTZeel’s LHC-208 is a highly desirable integrated amp/network player/ DAC solution for audiophiles determined to stand out from the crowd. It might not drip functionality, but what it does it executes exceedingly well, with promises of many software updates in the pipeline for those privileged to own it." 

HIFI NEWS COMMENT - DARTZELL GOES DIGITAL:
"It’s a sign of the times that even bastions of the analogue replay world are embracing digital networking as it becomes increasingly ubiquitous in modern homes. Your mileage might vary (mine certainly does), nevertheless darTZeel’s Hervé Delétraz is correct in observing that many audiophiles consider analogue master tape, followed by vinyl LP, to be superior to any digital source. Says Hervé: ‘It’s not that we didn’t want to enter the digital world before now, it is just that it’s taken time for us to turn our ideas into the real thing.’ ‘Whatever the digital source, some fatigue is perceived compared to analogue which fl ows like a quiet river without turbulence. Digital is a metronomic way of playing music, as if a robot was imposing the beat instead of musicians. In keeping our digital section “simple”, paying due care and attention to internal layout and avoiding any switching power supplies, I’ve found for the fi rst time I can now listen to digital for more than 30 minutes before switching back to LPs. I’ve found that digital can be “liquid” too.’ By heck, Hervé... D’ya mean to say that in today’s high-end audio world the future sure ain’t what it used to be"?