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|I only feel confident after almost two months of investigation and learning have passed on the merits of the Heritage DAC in my own and numerous other systems and environments to now summarize my impressions. I would like to express my sincere thanks to Marvel, Doctor Kenneth, Richard and David who constantly shared with me their experiences of this super DAC over these past eight weeks.
This is not a DAC that will grab your attention at first listen. It neither possesses the lustrous midrange of the Jadis nor the silken smooth treble of the Weiss. Its imaging of musical objects belongs not to the freeze-frame type, an attribute some audiophiles find indispensable and which often gets applied as one of the main evaluation criteria of any given component's performance. Doctor Kenneth who used the Orpheus One Special Edition for 6 months once commented that the Heritage did not strike him with a very strong initial impression because, in his view, the bar was probably raised too high by the O1SE as a stable mate DAC for around $10,000.
|Richard -- a recording engineer with a local record company -- believes on the contrary that he has not heard a better DAC in his profession that could achieve this accuracy of spatial resolution. Of all Heritage users in Hong Kong, his speakers are placed|
|the farthest from the front (2.5 meters) and side walls (2 meters). His comment caught my attention. I began to systematically reposition my speakers farther from the back wall and side wall, gradually and inch by inch due to physical constraints. It was only then that the true magic of the Heritage DAC began to be unveiled step by step. In short, this DAC demands a larger acoustic space to perform. As spatial resolution expands, the leading edges and harmonic decays of tones in the sonic landscape get better and better defined. As a result, different timbres develop, communications among performers enhance and the soundstage expands. Yet the size of the musical object does not inflate while the soundstage expands and becomes more enveloping.
One may argue that repositioning the speaker farther away from the front wall invariably improves depth. I won't dispute that. However, if we replace the Heritage converter with the O1SE in this new speaker placement, the immediate difference between the two is a dramatic reduction of energy with the latter. There are now many holes in the soundstage. Location of musical objects in the z-axis is foreshortened and overpopulated. This is especially apparent in orchestral and symphonic scores and with big band Jazz numbers. Delineation is present but in a spatially compacted manner. The energy scale of bass instruments in particular is much smaller than over the Heritage. When big brother returns to action, the diminished palpable dimensionality immediately returns.
Music of course does not come to life simply because of enhanced spatial resolution. What really makes the Heritage tick is timing - the twin aspects of rhythm and temporal inflections. Bass delivery is not the one-note type that is quite often equated with stronger bass impact. Provided the acoustics and hardware are up to snuff, bass delivery is tunefully presented with multi-note structures surrounded by ambience. The Heritage fully captures the dynamics of The Dave Brubeck Quartet Live at Carnegie Hall. The drum impact of Joe Morello is presented with velocity followed by the energy recoil after the stick hits the drum skin. The degree of energy recoil varies with the intensity of the drummer and can be clearly distinguished. Eugene Wright's double bass goes deep yet never intrudes with Dave's piano bass lines or the metallic sheen of Paul's alto sax. All of them are clearly playing music joyfully in their own respective space and in a spontaneous manner.
|I tested live recording after live recording, including Weaver's Live at Carnegie Hall, Belafonte Live in Carnegie Hall, Eva Cassidy's Live at Blues Alley, Eason Chan's Live A Life concert as well as Joey Yung's One Live One Love concert. What the Heritage constantly impressed me with the most was how it handled audiences. In a live concert, the audience plays a big role. Their emotions are captured in the rhythm of their applause and their collective chorus efforts. Of all the reference DACs in my audio journey, I've always felt the audiences as detached from the main performer. It seemed as though they were merely intersecting in two virtual spaces. With the Heritage, the audiences always plays a key role in yielding an ultimate concert experience. I I'm certain fellow readers know well the "Matilda" track in the Belafonte Live in Carnegie Hall. It brilliantly captures the atmosphere as Belafonte instructs the audiences to sing with him in various humorous ways. In|
|about 10 or 20 seconds, my father and I both felt as though we were sitting there too. Such a close-to-live experience was repeated just as intensely with Eason Chan's Live recording and confirmed by ten other audiophiles who attended different listening sessions with me.
The evaluation of the Heritage converter would not be complete without Opera recordings which involve intense vocal artistry on the move, with physical stage action alongside a stationary chamber orchestra. Bryn Terfel's latest recording Tutto Mozart! on DG is such a perfect record to test the Heritage with. It is an excellent recording to begin with, performed by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra under Sir Charles Mackerras. The test track was "Aria No. 10" from Act One of Le Nozze di Figaro. The bass baritone of Bryn was filled with controlled energy. Each lyrical line with its enunciation was delivered with twists and turns alongside varying breath energy in a three-dimensional space filled with ambience. It made Bryn seem as though he were standing in front of me singing in my apartment.
The buildup to the anticipated climax didn't miss a step including the phenomenal breath control at several critical suspension points. The chamber orchestra integrated perfectly, neither pressuring the vocals to finish the songs nor playing too loudly to steal the spotlight. The chamber orchestra follows the tempi imposed by Bryn well, heightening Figaro's emotional outbursts when called for by their parts. When this track reached about 3:00 -- near its conclusion -- a layer of orchestral bass energy shot through my room to the listening position without compromising the lyrical articulation of Bryn emoting at the top of his lungs. (This bass explosion did not seem to be a standing wave excitation as it did not interfere with the clarity of the vocals.)
I moved on to an operatic duet between Anna Netrebko and Thomas Quasthoff in the latest Mozart album by DG. In "La ci darem la mano" from Don Giovanni, the DAC must be able to control the high-frequency energy of the soprano without overshadowing the lower male register. The Heritage once again met the challenge. The enormous faculties of Anna with her interpretative insights applied to the role of Zerlina were strongly conveyed by the Swiss machine.
I won't describe the individual characteristics of treble, midrange and bass since this converter does not selectively address any specific frequency section save to say that I find this DAC to do everything right more from the music lover's perspective than the audiophile's.
|I find a large space an essential precondition for this DAC to really strut its stuff. Marvel, another Heritage owner, has also repositioned his Mosquito Neo speakers farther away from the front wall. He was instantly rewarded by more tuneful bass and bigger slam. In his personal experience, this improvement kept growing with each passing inch from the wall. The soundstage expands in all direction without a collapse of energy. The whole soundstage always remains fully saturated with details.
In my own case, I finally moved my speakers by exactly 6 feet. Too bad I could not move them away from the sidewall too much. The maximum I can manage there is only 1.5 feet. Surprisingly, soundstage depth remains stable even in the case of a solo vocal with one guitar. That is the recorded space behind the microphones. The unseen details in the longitudinal axis can always be felt. This is a truly remarkable experience especially on minimalist fare.
|Heritage owners also report substantial improvement in imaging if the main unit is placed separately from the power supply. (Frankly, imaging is superb already even without such physical isolation.) Yet it only makes sense because stacking two heavy machines will always transmit a certain degree of|
|mechanical vibration. I apply the Reference Feet by Acoustic System Int.l from France to isolate both chassis from each other. The improvement is not subtle. There is more air surrounding each musical object and bass becomes cleaner without losing weight.
It is also advisable not to place the Heritage on glass or metal surfaces. The feet of the Heritage are milled high-quality steel. When steel couples to glass or other metals, the mids and highs start to ring. Midrange harmonics are reduced and bass notes are blurred. Doctor Kenneth uses a wooden isolation platform made by Acoustic System Int.l with great results. Both Marvel and David report similar improvement in their respective systems.
It is indeed interesting to see how different schools of thoughts converge in the service to music. Thierry of Anagram Technologies does not trust the incoming master clock signal. Instead, the ultra-advanced algorithms inside the Heritage derive a new clock signal from the transport's incoming data stream. A master clock directly adjacent to the DAC chips then commands the conversion process. Yamada-San of Zanden on the other hand uses the clock link approach. The 5000S DAC is slaved to the master clock inside the transport. In other words, the Heritage DAC won't accept the master clock signal from the 2000p Zanden transport. Another major difference is that the Heritage applies the latest cutting-edge upsampling algorithm whereas the Zanden utilizes a 16-bit chip last manufactured in the early 80s.
I am sure readers will ask whether the synergy of Zanden's 2000P/5000S combo outweighs the technological advances introduced by the Heritage machine. My answer is yes and no. I am not sure whether my findings are due to synergy, conversion artifacts or fundamental sonic differences between solid state and tube.
In more complicated musical pieces that move plenty of low-frequency air, the solid-state Heritage has better control and greater speed. It delivers the crescendos and decrescendos with more authority and structures them clearer. On soprano recordings, I find the frequency extension as well as high-frequency energy control more flawlessly executed by the Heritage. If there is a slight coloration in the lower treble, the soprano timbre will have less incision and power than what is recorded. One can always compare such recordings with their corresponding DVD releases for reference. Generally speaking, the Heritage background is very quiet though it is not a dead silence but the type of serenity that enables me to feel the silence between musical notes. The overall presentation always conveys a sense of supreme confidence. Even the knowledge of extreme upcoming peaks doesn't stir concerns in the listener.
While the tube counterpart in conjunction with the Zanden transport may not be able to delineate parts of the structure of the crescendo as clearly as the Heritage converter, it never fails the delivery of the very essence of the music. The flow of the music is always honored. And perhaps attributable to the use of the 6922 triode inside the 5000s, my ears spot a slight coloration in the mid to high treble register of several Anna Netrebko recordings, a very thin mist of coloration that does not alter the original musical intent in any harmful way. On most small to medium-scale classical music recordings, I find the differences between the Zanden and Heritage to boil down to individual preference.
When it comes to live recordings that involve heavy participation by audiences, the Heritage DAC takes me into previously uncharted terrain. The audience now is no longer detached from the soloists. I am not describing a High Definition TV experience where you can see the musical pictures in extreme hyper-realist focus. Instead, I am talking about an enveloping experience as if the listener could go back in time sitting among the original attendees. The Heritage indeed possesses such spatial resolution power provided the room acoustics are conducive.
No matter when and where the live recordings were cut, playback via the Heritage -- spanning the Weavers, Belafonte and the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the Carnegie Hall of the 50s and 60s to the Old Friends tour of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel in 2004 in the US to From Beyond/Eason Chan Live in the Hong Kong Coliseum in 1991 and 2005 -- always triggers a tremendous emotional reaction in my mind, particularly during those live recordings in Hong Kong which I attended. The Heritage brings back many precious memories of the past, making me think of old friends whom I met during the olden days. Who knows, my voice could have been recorded as one of the many in the audience section of the Beyond and Eason Chan concerts. I may be sitting together with the old me listening to the very same concert now. How is that for emotional realism?