Using a pair of AKG 701 headphones (because, again, the Stello HP-1 is a headphone amp) I heard again how close the V-DAC II’s performance came to the Empirical/Wyred4Sound combo. Once more, depth, image specificity, and dimensionality were the primary areas where the V-DACs performance fell slightly short of the Wyred4Sound. In terms of resolution and low-level detail I couldn’t discern any difference between the two rigs. Using the Wyred4Sound’s own USB input gave similar results—the principal sonic differences were spatial rather than harmonic or dynamic.
When I compared the V-DAC IIwith the Wyred4Sound using the Matrix USB converter connected to its S/PDIF input, much of the spatial differences between the two set-ups vanished. Even when listening to my own recorded material I was hard-pressed to hear any differences in A/B matched-level comparisons. Again, by using Pure Music the switchover took less than 15 seconds, and since I wore headphones my position vis-à-vis the transducers didn’t change from A to B.
When I was not involved in real-time A/B comparisons, but instead listened to the V-DAC II by itself with no left-brained distractions, it was hard to fault the Musical Fidelity V-DAC II’s sonic performance. I tried the V-DAC II with both the April Music Stello HP-1 and Musical Fidelity V-CAN II headphone amps as well as with the April Music Eximus DP1. In every case the V-DAC II performed without any technical issues or ergonomic glitches.
Harmonically, the V-DAC II is as neutral as I’ve heard, and through the Stello HP-1 the V-DAC II’s sound was warm, full, and harmonically complex. Through the V-CAN II the sound was slightly thinner and less robust, but still involving and musical. Bass slam, dynamics, and resolution were also better with the Stello headphone amp driving either the AKG 701 headphones or Sony XBA-3 earphones.
But what does the V-DAC II sound like alone? I connected it directly to a pair of powered PSI A-14 powered professional monitors and it impressed me once more. Benjamin Zander and the Philharmonia Orchestra’s recording of Mahler’s 1st Symphony on Telarc had a spacious and very three-dimensional quality to its soundstage. The V-DAC II convincingly preserved this sense of air and space. When the bass drums entered around the 8:20 mark, the V-DAC II delivered the low frequencies cleanly and with a genuine feeling of moving air, even through headphones.
On rock recordings such as The Bottle Rockets’ “White Boy Blues” from their Brand New Year album [New West Records], the V-DAC II was a bit kinder than some DACs I’ve heard. The nasty edge was there, but it was tempered by the V-DAC II’s musicality. The crisp and crunchy electric guitars on “Something Better” from The Dirt Drifters’ album This Is My Blood [Warner Bros.] stayed crisp and crunchy through the V-DAC II. It also preserved the textural differences
between the six-string electrics and the pedal steel, even when they played the same lines.
As I stated earlier in the review, the Musical Fidelity V-DAC II is a VERY good DAC. For anyone looking for a DAC that supports both USB and S/PDIF digital sources and only needs one pair of RCA analog outputs, the V-DAC II should be on your short list. If you connect to a headphone amplifier, such as the equally diminutive Musical Fidelity V-Can II, you have the makings of a fine sounding and reasonably priced personal computer audio system.
Consider this DAC if:
• Sound quality is your primary criteria for purchase.
• Size and easy portability matter.
• You want a simple way to improve your computer’s sonics.
• You want a DAC that offers 192/24 capabilities via its S/PDIF inputs (but not via USB inputs), and that features internal upsampling to 192/24.
Look further if:
• You need a USB DAC that also has a digital output.
• You require a USB DAC capable of handling 192/24 digital audio files.
• You want a DAC with a variable output.
Ratings (relative to comparably-priced DACs):
• Design & Features: 7
• Tonal Balance: 8
• Timbral Purity: 8
• Detail & Resolution: 8
• Imaging/Soundstaging: 8
• Dynamics: 7
• Value: 9