Audial Model S review:
Every now and then you're rewarded for all the online research you've done and the knowledge you've gained from the subsequent trial and error experimentation. It leads you to a product that is relatively undiscovered, sounds better than every thing else out there, costs less, and has never been reviewed. The Audial Model S is that product.
Audial's owner/operator, Pedja Rogic, is one heck of a nice and knowledgeable guy and has quite a reputable following. From the moment I began corresponding with Peda his expertise in the digital arena was never questioned. Having never heard this DAC prior to purchasing it, I was going out on a limb here. The poor guy (Pedja) deserves a gold star for putting up with me for over a year while I made the decision to pull the trigger on his DAC. He always responded promptly and provided me with well educated explanations. on several occasions, I attempted to have him make sonic comparisons to other DACs he and I have auditioned and owned (ie. Altmann Attraction and Wavelength Consecant). Pedja never would never make negative remarks towards other manufacturer's products. He just would continue to say that he thought I would like what the Model S has to offer. He was right and I wish I had bought it a year earlier.
Physically, the DAC is built as good as it sounds. At the heart of the DAC is a vintage 1980's TDA1541 chip. If all the technological breakthroughs we've endured over the last few years have resulted in more musical D to A conversion, I'm not hearing it. The TDA1541 sounds pretty freaking remarkable when implemented correctly. After gazing at the internal components and the meticulous manner in which they are assembled, this DAC appears to be a true bargain if there ever was one. The chassis is built like an aluminum tank. Most of the unit's weight is due to the two enormous power supply transformers. Looking under the hood, one finds that things are simple and methodical. No space age components and wizardry here; just good old meat and potatoes. The DAC has two selectable BNC inputs; however it is supplied with BNC to RCA converters for experimentation purposes. Pedja says that only BNC connectors guarantee a true 75 ohm connection.
The Model S has a connector for externally grounding the unit. Since my Shindo Lafon amplifiers and Monbrison preamplifier do not utilize an A/C ground wire, the Model S is connected directly to the external ground connector of the Shindo Monbrison. Pedja was nice enough to supply it for me at no additional cost. The Model S has a selector for lifted vs. coupled ground selection. I utilize coupled grounding since the Model S is directly connected to the Monbrison via the external ground wire.
The Model S typically employs a set of output transformers as its outputs. I elected not to employ them since the Shindo Arome CD matching transformer already does a good job of performing this duty. The fact that Pedja realized the potential of the output transformer helped to influence my decision to purchase this unit since Ken Shindo obviously realized they value of output transformers as well and I was inherently familiar with their positive results related to the reproduction of digital audio. I sensed synergy here between Audial and Shindo... I was right!
So how does it sound? Like there is righteousness in the universe and all the planets within are peacefully spinning on their own axis throughout time. Two words describe it: peace and harmony. The Model S is one of those components that allows you to sit back, relax, and just forget about DACs and focus on the music presented before you. The descriptors I jotted down while listening to the Model S include:
1. Midnight black background
2. Deep, deep, deep depth of soundstage
3. Elegantly detailed
5. Tight bass notes
6. Distortion at record low levels
7. Inherently listenable
8. Seductive, sexy. Hurt me...
9. The best digital has to offer
Notice I did not mention imaging and other similar audiophile terminology; it just simply doesn't matter when it comes to the this DAC. The Model S is only about one thing: music! If you're looking for a musical DAC to mate with musical gear like Shindo, don't be afraid to pull the trigger on this one. If you have a high resolution system that is capable of allowing the listener to hear every last detail through a loudspeaker system similar to my Altec horns, this is a match made in heaven.