Review: Concert Fidelity DAC-040 DA converter

Category: Digital

Starting in 2005 I worked myself up the chain of the very fine DACS built by Accustic Arts of Germany, finally ending up with their Reference Tube Hybrid. I have auditioned over six very highly regarded DACS in the last couple of years and found them to be quite good, but none of them exceeded the performance of the AA Reference Tube Hybrid in my system. I do not use high resolution material, only Redbood CDs, so these auditions were only based on this format because my large collection of music is composed totally of this material. Well, I know nothing is the "BEST" in high end audio, there are many fine pieces of gear when you get to a certain level of excellence. However, I thought that maybe the evolution of DACS that play the standard format had got to the point that it could not get really that much better. Each DAC might offer different slight flavors but not a qualitative shift to a much higher level of performance. It has turned out that I was very wrong regarding this assumption after auditioning what has become my new reference, the Concert Fidelity DAC-040.

The designer of the CF DAC-040, Mr. Masa Tsuda believes in very short and clean circuits in all of his designs. The analog section of this DAC is very similar to what he uses in his highly regarded reference LS-080 linestage. They both use 12AU7's and a 6CA4/EZ81 full-wave rectifier tube. It took over two years of on-going listening tests for Mr. Tsuda to find the NOS DAC chips to use in his DAC, there is no over or up sampling and any type of digital filters to be found any were in this piece, that delivered the sonics he was looking for. Which DAC chips he finally decided on are confidential and not disclosed. All the Concert Fidelity and Silicon Arts, same company, pieces are beautifully built to an exemplatory level including the DAC-040.

Why was I taken so aback by the sonic performance of the CF DAC-040, here's the reasons:

1) By far the most natural timbres and harmonic colors I have ever heard coming from a digital front end.

2) The microdynamics and prat of this DAC are amazing, yet it still allows the listener to relax into the music without giving up the punch and kick of the music.

3) What I refer to as image density or a 3D quality, what most would just call palpability, of each player with air around them on a layered soundstage was the best I have ever had in my system.

4) The CF DAC-040 creates a very open and deep soundstage with great layering in a natural way that allows you to have the illusion that your in that acoustic space.

Believe me, the AA Reference Tube Hybrid DAC is no slouch in these sonic qualities, yet, it was no were close to having these special attributes that the CF DAC-040 was providing in my system. To use very subjective terms this DAC has the most musicality/naturalness that I have experienced that just draws you into the music. Dare I say that a lot of listeners could be fooled into thinking that they were hearing an analog front end, instead of a digital source, I think so.

I end all my reviews by sharing that there is no "BEST" piece of any kind of gear, but many terrific ones. Personal taste and system synergy always comes into play. If your looking for one of the best Redbook DACS around today I highly recommend you audition Mr.Tsuda's "baby", you will be in for a sonic treat.

Associated gear
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Dear Branislav,

I’ve auditioned the MPD-5 at my house in my system and it is an amazing DAC in High Rez (among my favorite) but compared to the CF-040 I confirm Teajay’s evaluations.

Best regards,
Im thinking of getting this DAC but just 1 SPDIF input really is a worry for me. Why no AES ? Why not 2 x SPDIF ?
Hi Badwisdom,

I believe that Mr. Tsuda's philosophy of having the shortest/cleanest circuits possible lead to his decision of only having one input.

I would be curious about what your worries are because of this DAC only having one input. I would love to hear from you if you have a chance to audition and what you thought.

I just got reviewing another DAC for my website that is quite good, but no were close to the musical beauty of the CF-DAC-040. As you know this DAC only does redbook, yet the performance equals alot of high rez formats that I have compared it to.

So, let us know what you think if you do audition it.
Hey tea jay,

well I've been in contact with CF over email and I'm close to trying this thing out.

Im worried because if i want to plug several sources, i.e. a CD transport and a Computer based transport (with a USB/SPIDF Audiophilleo adaptor), then i can't. Ill have to plug and unplug.

A small price to pay i guess for a superior sound, but still it has to be taken into account.

Im also worried with the enjoythemusic review which states that unless you're using state of the art transport, then the CF DAC 040 will sound ordinary.

Ill be mostly using a computer source, MAC base with Audiophilleo adaptor, so i have no idea if this will work out at all.

Maybe this is the wrong equipment and i should be looking to a USB DAC, but I'm a sucker for old ladder DAC tech.