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Channel Islands Audio VDA-2 DAC Review Print E-mail
Wednesday, 29 September 2010
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Channel Islands Audio VDA-2 DAC Review

Ultimately, I really enjoyed endless hours of fatigue free listening sessions, and differences between various recordings were very apparent. Besides my cache of live recordings, I do have a small folder filled with purchased downloads, the two most recent being Sufjan Stevens digital only FLAC EP, All Delighted People, and various tracks by favorite band from the past five years, The Clientele, from the Merge records website. These studio recorded FLAC’s sounded as good as any CD player I have had in the system through the Squeezebox and CIA combo. Really. In my opinion the death of physical media may be over hyped, but downloads are definitely going to be part of the future. As a matter of fact, they are here.

One thing of note is that I did extensive comparisons between the optical input and coaxial input when connected to the Squeezebox specifically. This very easy to do, as the VDA-2 has a toggle switch on the front panel that allows you switch inputs.With out question I preferred the sound of the optical cable. I felt the sound was more refined; more detailed, and offered a deeper soundstage through the optical link with 16 bit/44k files. Others may come to a different conclusion, depending on the partnering equipment, environment, and other factors. I should also mention there is a phase switch on the front panel that can be used on the fly. There is a small, yet intense group of audiophiles who seem to want this feature. The Marantz SA-11S2 SACD player I reviewed also offered a phase switch..

Power Front
The VDA-2 handles 24 bit material with sampling frequencies up to 192 Khz, through the coaxial input. I happen to have a small collection of 24 bit 96 Khz FLAC's and they came through perfectly, and sounded quite stunning by the way. Most of these FLAC's consist of chamber music recordings, and the amount of texture and natural ambiance was incredible.  I can't even imagine if my entire collection was recorded at 24/96, but I am sure the golden eras of the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, and Miles Davis, and many others were over before any one had ever heard of recording in digital, let alone “high resolution”.


The Channel Islands Audio VDA-2 24 bit DAC performed flawlessly in my listening room in conjunction with my Logitech Sueezebox, and when connected to a Marantz transport. I loved the sound, and the ease of operation. It can be used in balanced mode with an optional adaptor, has one optical TOSlink and one coaxial digital input, and can be upgraded with the VAC-1 external power supply. I would strongly suggest this upgrade, as wal wart power supplies may introduce noise that could effect the generally low level signals that pass through a DAC.

The VDA-2 is also future proof, handling signals up to 24 bit and 192 Khz through its coaxial input. The one thing readers may notice is no USB input. For me personally, USB is a non starter. I really don’t want my computer interfacing with my audio equipment, except through a network.  I know I may be behind the times, for now, I use only high quality S/PDIF connections.

Power Rear
A DAC was considered a luxury ten years ago, as a way to upgrade your digital setup by sending out the signal from your CD player to a separate converter.  The thought was that the signal being sent was being improved as it was not subject to any power supply noise, jitter, or other problems that a one box solution might introduce. Of course the downside was it was a bit more complicated, and an now an extra cable and component was being put into the mix. However, today, a DAC is a no brainer for a serious music lover as media storage has become dirt cheap,  and new loss less file formats such as FLAC (plus others), and broadband internet connections have changed the game.

All CIA products are made in the USA, and are superbly built. They leave a small foot print, and are easy to fit into any rack or shelf. You can try the VDA-2 in your system almost risk free, with a 30 day in home trial, with a 10% restocking fee if returned. I think this is very reasonable.  Readers should take note that I have decided to make the CIA VDA-2 with the VAC-1 my reference DAC under $1500.  Until something comes along that beats it based on the parameters I outlined in the body of the review, on my rack it will stay. I purchased the VDA-2 at full price, and I have no regrets. Highly recommended, and those shopping for a DAC in the $1000 price range would be smart to put the VDA-2 up against all the other contenders.

  • VDA-2 24 Bit DAC: $599
  • VDC-1 Optional External Power Supply: approx $199 
  • Inputs: Toslink Optical, Coaxial SPDIF
  • Locking Frequencies: 44.1k-192k (Coaxial), 44.1k-96k (Toslink)
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz +/- 0.1db
  • THD: <.03% 20Hz-20kHz
  • Output Level: 2.25vRMS (Single-ended), 4.5vRMS (Balanced)
  • Dimensions: 4.40"w x 2.65"h x 4.40"d
  • Warranty: 1 Year Parts & Labor

CIAudio Info:

Reviewers Associated Equipment System 1:

  • CD Player: Naim CD5 XS with Flatcap 2X,
  • Preamp: Audio Research SP16
  • Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
  • Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3, Audience 2 + 2
  • Cables: DH Labs, RS Cables, Kimber/QED/Acoustic Zen (AC)/Transparent (AC)/Element Cable, Shunyata, Pangea
  • Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Sound Anchors stands, Timbernation platform, CablePro Noisetrapper
Reviewers Associated Equipment 2:
  • CD Player: Marantz 5003
  • Music Server: Squeezebox 3
  • Tape Deck: Revox A77, HHB CD Recorder, Edirol 96/24 WAV recorder
  • Preamp: Belles Soloist 3
  • Amplifier: Revox A722, Belles Soloist 5
  • Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3, Audience 2 + 2
  • Cables: Kimber/QED/Transparant/Shunyata(AC)/PS Audio(AC), Pangea Audio, RS Cables, Element Cables.

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