My listening started off with an Innuos Zenith SE server connected to an Auralic Aries G1 and the USB output of that hooked up to the Fidelice, I used fixed output to begin with and noted that that output is pretty high although it is specified as a Red Book 2V RMS. Playing EST’s Live in Gothenburg [ACT] revealed wide dynamic range and clearcut leading edges, the sound is solid and taut with strong dynamics and excellent low end extension. Given that bass is a clear strength of digital audio you would think that it was the easiest bit to get right, but clearly the efforts that many engineers make to voice the critical midrange and treble have a softening/smoothing effect on the bass. That is not the case here, it’s not hard or edgy but it doesn’t hold back and the result is glorious, especially with live recordings where the bass is what gives such events their power, or, the bass isn’t carefully tailored as it often is in the studio.
I tried one of the alternative filter settings to the standard slow roll-off/standard group delay at this point, not realising that the DAC still wasn’t at optimum operating temperature and thus a little more hard edged than it could be. I opted for super-slow roll-off because the graph showed this having a more (but not very) rolled off treble, which did sound more relaxed but ultimately lacked the energy to bring music to life. So I returned to the standard setting and enjoyed the cavernous scale of Leifur James’ A Louder Silence [Late Night Tales], this contemporary piece of electronica has acres of reverb and juicy bass, which sounded very nice indeed on the Fidelice.
In an attempt to focus on the hardware and not be distracted by the music I checked out how the volume control compared with a Townshend Allegri+ passive preamp. The comparison made the passive Townshend sound very clearcut and well defined, the Fidelice volume being relatively soft and vague by contrast. Later on I did the same thing with a Moon 700i integrated by setting one of its inputs to bypass mode, this time the DAC sounded a little congested compared to the onboard volume, but the Moon is a £13k amplifier so you’d expect it to have a decent volume control.
I also contrasted the USB and coax inputs from the same source but not with same brand cables, so the fact that USB sounded quite a lot more revealing, better defined and timed more precisely could be put down to the CAD USB cable. The result with an Atlas coax cable was very musical however, a bit short on detail but very enjoyable thanks to a warmth that might appeal to some ears.
Some of the other filter settings were also tried and while the changes were subtle it was always preferable to come back to the setting that Fidelice have chosen for the default. This was also true with DSD where the DSD high pole filter seemed to make the balance more forward leaving the default option sounding more natural. I tried contrasting DSD and PCM versions of Kind of Blue but the difference in mastering outweighed any differences in sound quality, the 192 PMC having a much heavier bass and clearer cymbal work (‘So What’), but it did seem to time better which is something I’ve noted with this contrast in the past.
I really like the way the Fidelice brings out the power and vitality of a good live recording, the EST album mentioned above has an electricity about it that you don’t get with many studio albums and the Fidelice goes a long way to placing the listener in the time and the place of the original event. This is to do with the extension in the bass but also because of its even handed resolving powers, Zappa’s Roxy Performances (Zappa Records) is an ancient recording, but there’s an awful lot of the energy on the tape and this DAC brings this out to compelling effect.