Curious about older "world class" D/A converters

Good day, all.

Recently, I’ve become a little obsessed with the idea of purchasing/employing an older DAC. The few that’ve been swirling in my mind are the Mark Levinson 360s, dCS Elgar and Spectral SDR-2000/Pro. Here’s what I have in place now (and I’ve been through many systems over the years):

- MacBook Pro / SSD / AIFF’s, over the air
- ModWright Transporter (Emission Labs 5U4G / 50’s Sylvania 6SN7’s)
- Duelund DCA20GA
- Line Magnetic 218ia (Shuguang 845B’s, Gold Lion KT-77’s and 12AX7’s)
- Kimber 4PR
- Omega Super 7XRS

I listen to all types of music (99.9% of my digital library is Redbook), favoring acoustic anything - as much as possible, I attempt to get the effect that the instruments are in the room. As is, everything is dialed in pretty darn nicely, but I feel as though I could use just a bit more focus - if I could have a sharpness dial... Anyhow, you get what I mean. And just so you know, I chose the Transporter over a Berkeley Alpha 2 (had both in the system for 8 months or so, with the former feeding the latter via AES). In the end, I feel there’s just something organic about the Transporter. The Alpha certainly did everything right, but the Transporter just seemed more "natural" (for lack of a more elaborate description). I will say, though, that in some cases, depending on the material - if I’m being completely honest with myself - I wasn’t able to tell them apart and actually got them mixed up in my own exhaustive comparisons.

So, all that said (and sorry for the long-windedness) would any of the three I mention above be worth a shot? I will admit that I’m smitten with the engineering, design and build quality of these pieces without even having an idea of what they might sound like.

Thanks for your time,
Mark (ballywho, since 2003)
jond -

I'll add it to my list - thanks!  And you know what? - it's the darn Spectral that got me going again on this whole thing.  I was checking AudiogoN from my phone (for the heck of it) as I was getting up yesterday - by the time I was able to get out to the computer, it had been snatched up.  The cheapest one I can find now is $2700.  Someone got one heck of a deal @ $1500!

- Mark
Hi Mark,

I think older DACs have gotten an unnecessarily bad rap in this age of higher resolution audio, and a number of these older DACs, on 16/44 CD quality recordings, still sound quite wonderful.  To give an example, my reference DAC is a Stahl Tek Vekian Opus.  However, I also have both an EMM Labs DCC2 and a Dodson DA-217 MkII.D.  While the Vekian is clearly the highest performer (at $35k retail, it better be), both the EMM Labs and the Dodson acquit themsleves quite well, and I in fact prefer them to a number of the newer DACs that are getting a lot of print these days.  

Of the DACS you mention, my experience with them is quite dated. I was not a big fan of the Elgar at the time, finding the EMM Labs superior (more natural presentation with more air surrounding instruments, for example).  I really did like the Spectral combo when it came out, but this experience goes back more than 15 years.  I don't recall hearing the ML 360s, but did hear the 30 / 31 combo on a number of occasions, which I enjoyed as well, although I recall preferring the Spectral combo.

In short, I think there are some great older DACs out there, and encourage you in your search. The EMM Labs in particular, at their current prices, are ridiculous bargains.  (And don't get me started on transports - if you are still spinning any discs, most of the actual transport mechanisms still in manufacture today are poor quality).

Best of luck.

rzado -

Thanks so much for the thoughtful response.  I really appreciate that.  The Spectral is the most fascinating to me, as I guess I see it as being the most "pro" unit.  And speaking of EMM Labs, I've seen that the DAC6e SE is now in a palatable range - I may need to be looking in that direction, as I've heard nothing but good things about anything they've ever done.

Have a great weekend!

- Mark
My comments would be towards the build quality of the DAC.  What is inside would be what matters.  Plenty of opinions on different products but what parts are inside and can you upgrade the units with newer parts.  Someone mentioned higher resolution but my thought is what sounds good.  For example some of the newer DACs have R2R discrete designs but they all don't sound the same.  What are you looking to improve in your system.  Soundstage, separation, instrument tone, air, etc.  IMP only a few DACs actually can do all of them.

Happy Listening.  
In real only 16 bit base TDA1541 and TDA1545
  and1545A and denser bit you are less.