Computer Audio Design CAD 1543 MKII Digital converter

Digital-to-analog converters
Computer Audio Design CAD 1543 Mk II

There is one more change to the appearance of this DAC, and that’s the feet. In the past, the 1543 was supplied with four ‘free range’ feet; they weren’t attached to the chassis and could be placed wherever you like. The 1543 MKII has four feet firmly attached, and these are supplied by Black Ravioli.

I had hoped to review this DAC with the Melco N1-A that I use as a USB and network server, but the 1543 requires a dedicated driver and does not confirm to Class 2 USB spec so the two could not be paired. This left me with my Macbook Air, and good as it is when only Audirvana Plus is running it’s not a patch on the Melco, so Scott leant me a CAD CAT. This is a dedicated audio PC that runs JRiver with JPlay Streamer on a Windows platform. Scott builds the CAT specifically for audio purposes and, as with his other products, it’s a no compromise, no expense spared digital transport that has no peer in my experience. It’s worth bearing this in mind when reading the following review because a DAC is only as good as its source.

It’s been over 18 months since I last heard the CAT/1543 combination and my system has changed in that time so I didn’t think that I would hear a difference. But, the more music I played, the more apparent it became that the changes made have had a significant and positive effect on what was already a remarkable DAC. Essentially you can now hear more, in fact a lot more of what is in the mix. The converter has got quieter and the distortion has gone down; you can tell as much by the sheer amount of detail that appears on familiar pieces. The better you know the music, the more you can hear; I was frankly astonished at the sonic riches that appeared on ‘Wardrobe Master Of Paradise,’ from Conjure’s Music For The Texts Of Ishmael Reed [American Clavé]. It really is quite uncanny when you discover what seems like a doubling of detail on something that’s been played on some very impressive systems indeed. Yet there it was, every note seemed to be better fleshed out, more solidly presented and more coherently in synch with the rest. This is not a particularly great recording in the scheme of things, yet it contains so much more than is usually audible that you have to start wondering what’s going on. A snare drum appeared on the track, ‘Oakland Blues’: it was quiet I’ll grant you, but it was there in the studio and it’s there in the digits, yet it has not been apparent before.

This naturally turned out to be an experience that was to repeat itself with every familiar piece I played. Most of the time there is more space in the recording than is usually apparent; the acoustic characteristics that expose depth seem most readily exposed by this converter. It must be something to do with the reduction in high frequency noise because even older, more commercial releases have more of it than expected. ZZ Top’s ‘Jesus Just Left Chicago’ [Tres Hombres, Warner Bros] is a case in point. This is classic blues rock; it’s not for audiophiles, but rather for rednecks (and wannabee rednecks like me), yet the acoustic of the drum booth is all there waiting to be unveiled.

All too often with highly detailed audio components, the obsession with resolution can blind (deafen?) designers to the fact that the timing is awry and musical coherence has been thrown out with the bathwater. The CAD 1543 MKII skilfully avoids that pitfall and delivers timing that you wouldn’t believe digital audio to be capable of. And it does so in such a transparent fashion that the only way you can tell it is digital is that it doesn’t have the colorations associated with analogue sources. In other words, it has a flat response and it’s quiet.

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