Two years ago, Scott Berry unleashed his 1543 USB DAC on this unsuspecting music nut. It made quite an impression. Rarely has such a hairshirt product come my way; a converter with one input, a fixed mains lead, and a non-oversampling chipset. It makes absolutely no concession to commercial potential, and no-one else makes a USB-only DAC at anywhere near this price. No-one else went to the lengths that Scott did to eradicate compromise in its design and execution. I’m amazed he’s hasn’t totally burned out, but the CAD 1543 sounds pretty remarkable. It’s among the very best, especially if you value a natural, effortless sound that is devoid of digital audio characteristics.
The issue from day one was that few enthusiasts have the source components, the computers, to do it justice. Scott put tons of information on his site about how to get the best results out of Windows and Mac platforms but many hardcore hi-fi enthusiasts are not all that keen on computers, so his market was distinctly limited. Anyone that visited the CAD room at the Bristol Sound & Vision show in 2013, where it won best two-channel sound of the show, would have realised the potential of both computer audio and his DAC, but not many could have emulated his laptop ‘transport’ at home. The CAT (CAD Audio Transport), was launched at Bristol Sound & Vision this year to provide the solution. This, as I have come to expect from Scott, is a no-holds barred piece of kit. In essence, it’s a Windows computer that runs JRiver and outputs PCM via a dedicated USB board, but in practice it’s a digital transport like few others.
For a start it, has an outboard power supply made by Teddy Pardo, the company that makes alternative supplies for Naim products among others. This contains two 12V DC linear power supplies that have low output impedance and high slew rate: one feeds the CPU and the other supplies four regulators. These are low noise/ripple devices of Scott’s design that power the SSDs (solid state drives), the USB board (that needs both 5V and 3.3V), and the CD-ROM drive. The choice of hard drive is up to the buyer; Scott recommends SSD because it sounds better, but in practice you can use any commercial SATA drive because at heart this is a regular computer – a massively over engineered PC, but one that has standard connections inside.