The AMP212 is equally compact but has a more conventional array of connectors with analogue inputs on XLR only and speaker outputs of the regular variety. It’s a Class D design that they call HyperAmp which was designed in house by Sebastiaan de Vries. Creating a Class D amplifier module is a very unusual and time-consuming thing to do; pretty well all of the other examples on the market are based on modules made by third parties such as Hypex or ICEpower. I’m told that the DiDiT module took years to fully develop and originally only worked in simulations but with a lot of prototyping and research, it has been optimised. That said the first sample I received had a fan in that was audible from the listening seat; the second unit makes a fan noise at startup but is essentially silent thereafter, it does, however, get unusually hot. The power supply is limited to 300 Watts in order to avoid excessive temperature, but this is good for a 100 Watt specified output which can’t be bad for such a compact box.
The DAC and AMP both have capacitive on/off switches which is a nice touch and the DAC212SEII has a wide range of variables that can be accessed via a dot matrix display and the sonic screwdriver style remote handset. It’s a drill-down menu system with lots of options but names are limited to five characters so it’s a struggle to figure things out without the set-up manual to hand. Variables include display, output, input, headphone (which includes gain and volume options), DAC with jitter reduction, de-emphasis, bandwidth, FIR roll-off and oversampling filter options, etc. So if you like to tweak there is a lot to play with. Some options are essential; if you want to convert the balanced XLR outputs to single-ended with adaptors it’s necessary to convert the output via the menu as well in order to get it working.
I started out using the DAC212SEII with an AURALiC ARIES G1 streamer and converting the outputs as described above so that I could run it through the Allegri preamp. It followed an MSB Discrete in the system, which costs more than twice as much, but the DiDiT didn’t concede a great deal to it. It seemed a bit less clear-cut in the bass but well extended, possibly even a little colourful at this end of the spectrum. When I later started using the balanced outputs this completely changed to some of the best defined and most substantial low end I have encountered with a DAC/pre, so the adaptors were clearly not doing any favours. But they were good enough to reveal that the DiDiT has excellent precision of timing and a revealing, refined character that is essentially neutral. I like the way it can (usually) switch from PCM to DSD without squawking and particularly enjoyed Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ [Miles of Aisles, Asylum], a live track that was to become even more live when I added the AMP212. But with my regular ATC P2 amp things were pretty engaging, the multi-track layers being peeled open on Radiohead’s ‘Burn the Witch’ [A Moon Shaped Pool, XL] and providing more to listen to and enjoy. Lyrical intelligibility is also very strong as was proved on Espearanza Spalding’s ‘Ebony and Ivy’ [Emily’s D+Evolution, Concord] where the song was making a lot more sense than usual.
It started to become apparent that this is a rather good converter especially when it comes to separating out the characters of the various instruments and voices in a mix without sacrificing timing clarity. The more I listened the more this DAC grew on me, largely because it is so revealing yet also musically coherent. Some products manage the musicality side of things with subtle tweaks to the frequency response, but that always gets in the way of fine detail and ultimately tends to favour certain types of music. More neutral DACs have the opposite problem, they struggle to present music in a coherent and engaging fashion because the timing isn’t quite right. The DiDiT really does seem to do everything rather well, revealing that the Doug MacLeod release Break the Chain sounds better than Fiona Boyes’ Professin’ The Blues even though both were recorded by the same engineer for Reference Recordings. There are always variables with that sort of thing and taste of course. But taste shouldn’t be dictated by audio equipment, it should be something that it reveals and this does that rather well.
It also does image scale with some aplomb. I put on Sly and Robbie’s A Dub Experience [Island], a release that I’ve often enjoyed on vinyl but have never been overly impressed with on digital. It seems that I had failed to play it on a good enough system. On the DiDiT it is massive in all respects with phasey effects thrown out left and right of the speakers and very tight timing underpinned by beautifully muscular bass. There is an electric sense of immediacy that makes for maximum thrill power. A more relaxed recording in The Silver Jews’ Bright Flight [Drag City] was imbued with a vitality that it rarely delivers. Both these results suggest that the DAC is a little bit on the over enthusiastic side but with a clean ECM recording by Michael Benita – ‘Ethics’ from River Silver – it was calm with lovely depth and realism of tone. Listening to an interview with bass prodigy and sometime Jeff Beck side woman, Tal Wilkenfeld, inspired the streaming of her track ‘Killing Me’ [Love Remains, BMG], which is superbly played and composed, though the recording is a bit heavily compressed, on Tidal at least. It is, however, the best new rock track I’ve heard for a while. What all of this and further listening indicated is that this DAC is highly revealing of each recording it converts; it really lets you hear just what the original sounds like to an extent that is uncommon.
The next step was to add the AMP212 and see whether this could match the ATC P2. The transition suggested that the 212mm wide amp has a fuller low end and less clarity through the mid, but further listening made me start to wonder if the ATC has the less flat response. Now the soundstage with Sly and Robbie was not only wide but hugely deep with proper dubstep style explosions and remarkable depth and weight to the percussion. That was with USB from the Aries G1. After switching to coax from a Rega Saturn-R I was struck by the intensity and sheer physicality of the sound produced, and was also rather enjoying it. Continued listening had me totally hooked on the DiDiT pairing which is so open and revealing that I have rarely encountered better. It pulls out so much vitality but no glare from Van Morrison’s ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’ [Astral Weeks, Warner], which is still tonally thin but musically as compelling as it’s ever been without vinyl as the medium. Putting on more and more tracks convinced me that this is one of the most open, well separated, and transparent digital systems I’ve enjoyed in a long time. So, I decided to remove the ARIES streamer and connect directly to the Innuos Zenith SE server to see if it would collapse, which often is the case but here the goalposts have been moved. Connecting the DAC212SEII straight to the server via a CAD USB cable relaxed the presentation and increased transparency – not much but enough to make it even harder to put down and get some work done. The AMP212 clearly works very well with PMC Fact.8 speakers; both are very strong when it comes to openness and the grip that the former has on the low end is positively inspiring. Class D has always been good in the bass but I don’t recall this level of nuance and clarity. But it’s helped in no small measure by the DAC sending the signal.