CLONES Audio Asher DAC Review 
Home Theater Accessories Acoustics, EQ & Room Tuning
Written by Andre Marc   
Tuesday, 31 May 2016

CLONES Audio, based in Hong Kong, has been one of my favorite small, artisanal hifi purveyors for a few years now. I was turned on to CLONES Audio by some very knowing ears. In my direct experience, their Gainclone amplifiers are something special. The products are superbly made, and the product line is well thought out.  The best part is the products are affordable. The proprietor of CLONES Audio calls himself Funjoe, and he is an especially talented designer and a very passionate individual.

I’ve been around the block with a CLONES Audio components, including their 25p power amplifier, 25iR integrated amplifier, and others. I found the components to offer exceptionally high value considering the price, build, and sound quality.  CLONES currently has a very capable American importer with Mark Sossa of Well Pleased AV on board. This is most welcomed news for those interested in the brand.

Funjoe recently poured much of his talent and resources into developing his statement digital component, the Asher DAC. The DAC retails for $2300. It covers all bases resolution wise, and delivers all the currently in demand features. On paper, it even seems future proof. So what do you get with the Asher?

-DSD 64/128/256 and DXD (384KHz 24bit PCM)
-Galvanic isolation module for USB section
-Ultra­Low Phase Noise Femto Master Clock Module
-High quality power supply with separate toroidal transformers for Analog and Digital section -Ultra­Low noise discrete regulator modules for digital part
-ESS Reference audio (ES9018) 32 bit DAC (4x per channel)
-VFD display for input, sample rate, volume control, and configuration
-Remote control with features such as control and phase inversion
- Defeatable ­ 32 bit volume control
-1x Coax input • 1X BNC input • 1x Toslink input • 1x -AES/EBU input • 1x I2S input
-Proprietary drivers for 32/64 bit Windows XP, Vista, 7 and Mac OSX

http://www.avrev.com/images/stories/equipaccessories/clones/clones_audio_asher_dac_internals.jpg

My job is to be objective, but I can’t help but be impressed at the feature set at this price point. Femto clocks are generally very expensive options, seen in far costlier digital components. Built-in volume control, phase inversion, a remote control unit, AES/EBU inputs, as well as I2S inputs makes the package very attractive. I believe Funjoe can do this because he really believes in building the very best product he can, with few compromises, yet still making it affordable.

To sum up Funjoe’s philosophy in what he wants to give his customers, he says, “I know some of you might think I do things in an obsessive way. Not many of you will care. But I want to say I insist on those obsessive ways just because I really want to do the best that I can! You all may not know the difference but I do. So I can’t cheat myself if there still is room for improvement. Details are everything…


As impressive as the inner workings of the Asher are, its construction is very solid and the case work, connectors, and support feet are absolutely first rate. The prospective owner will have no complaints about the quality of the workmanship.

Set Up & Listening

Setting up the Asher was uneventful, aside from running the excellent Wireworld Gold Starlight 7 AES/EBU and Platinum 7 USB cables from my Bryston BDP-2 file player. The volume knob also doubles as menu selector, where you can select fixed or variable output, the digital input, the preferred PCM and DSD filters, the display brightness, among other things.

I selected fixed output, using my Aric Unlimited tubed preamp for volume control, driving a Simaudio 760A power amp, in turn driving Bryston Mini T speakers. Signal and power cable were Wireworld all around, with a full review in process. From previous experience with CLONES products, I let the DAC play music for a week before sitting down for serious listening. I left the DAC on 24/7, and it ran cool to the touch.

http://www.avrev.com/images/stories/equipaccessories/clones/clones_audio_asher_dac_rear.jpg

When I sat down for what turned out to be numerous, long listening sessions, I was able to rather quickly determine sonic personality of the Asher DAC. I heard a very precise sound stage. With superb separation of recorded elements, and near perfect tonal balance. During the review period I was going through a serious archeological dig into my classic progressive rock library. I streamed literally dozens of so called Krautrock, or German experimental bands, as wells as staples of the Canterbury scene, like Gentle Giant, Soft Machine, and space rock kings ike Hawkwind. I did this not only because I love the music, but it is also a great test for a DAC as the music is complex, challenging, and generally has lots of dynamic range.

First up were a pair of monumental German progressive rock albums by A.R. & Machines, Echo, and IV. The music is cosmic, filled with alternating points of subtly and explosiveness. The snaking lead guitar lines, synthesizers, and trippy arrangements are entrancing.  The Asher allowed me to follow hidden elements, and to precisely hear where everything was positioned in the mix.

I ran through a number of albums from other esoteric early 70’s German progressive rock from Agitation Free, Anonima Sound Ltd, Brainticket, and better known acts like Can. I was immensely pleased with the Asher’s presentation across the board. The tonal balance struck me as being right down the middle, with no emphasis on any part of the frequency spectrum.  This is what I have come to expect from the best DAC units on the market. No editorializing, just the most accurate digital to analog conversion the designer can muster. I believe once you start with an accurate source component, you can then tailor the sound to your liking with your choice of amplification and speakers. That is not the gospel, just my take.

It was not all vintage progressive rock however. The excellent self titled debut from Son Little, is addicting. His music is a melange of Brian Wilson symphonic pop, Curtis Mayfield style soul, and minimalist pop funk that pays tribute to the late, great Prince. The 24 bit download is a real treat, and having just seen Little live, the Asher presented his supple voice just like I remembered it. The clever arrangements, Mayfield like guitar parts, and Little’s layered vocals unfolded perfectly with the Asher decoding the bits. 

I made sure to listen to music all at resolutions, and the recent 96 kHz remasters of early Deep Purple titles just slammed out of the speakers, and there more recorded detail and punch than I could ask for. So not only does the Asher decode esoteric Krautrock, but it can hang with the heaviest music you can throw at it. The title track to Purple’s 1976 tour de force, Burn, was pure adrenaline. Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar and Jon Lord’s organ lines are a thing to behold and David Coverdale’s lead vocal on the title track is one of rock music’s greatest ever. The Asher, in my opinion got the perfect balance between total abandon and controlled professionalism the band was after at this point in their career.

DSD sounded wonderful via the Asher, presented in a way that reminds one of what makes DSD so appealing. Namely, the analog like ease and the added bit of naturalness. I enjoyed a slew of ripped SACD titles including various Moody Blues, Miles Davis, and Bob Dylan albums. One that stood out was the Japanese SHM import of B.B. King’s Live At The Regal.  The recording puts you right in the club with King and his extraordinary band, and the Asher brought the full power of the performance and the ambience of the venue to the listening room.

With only a handful of DSD128 albums in the library, I chose the wonderful Suryodaya by Robert Gupta and Badal Roy, and the excellent Seminole Star by Quiles & Cloud.  To my ears, DSD128 is the sweet spot for DSD, and the Asher only strengthened this view. These all acoustic recordings were just amazingly present.  Both these albums are recommended, not just for the immaculate sound, but for the content.

I tried to the various filters for both PCM (Fast/Slow) and DSD (50/60/70 kHz) and ultimately left it at the Fast setting for PCM, and at 50 kHz for DSD. I did not experiment with the Polarity setting. I briefly tried the built in volume control and it was indeed of very high fidelity. Tons of usable range there was an amazing immediacy when plugged directly into my Simaudio 760A power amp. I did ultimately prefer running the DAC through my tubed preamp because of the added tube magic, and because I also have reel to reel sources.  But I have to say, If you have no other sources, I see no reason to run a preamp. It will eliminate a second set of interconnects and will require one less box. The Asher comes standard with a remote control, by the way, which tips the balance even further.

http://www.avrev.com/images/stories/equipaccessories/clones/clones_audio_asher_dac_remote.jpg

Conclusion

There are a lot of DAC models on the market to choose from. And just about all them now decode DSD, even higher sample rate DSD. When deciding on a DAC for your system I believe that sonics come first, and then feature set, build quality, and the design follow. Funjoe of CLONES Audio has hit it out of the park on all fronts in my humble opinion.

The sound of the Asher DAC is absolutely on par with DAC models I have had in my system over the past year costing more. In some cases it outflanks them on feature set and definitely equals them in build quality.  I make no claim it is the last word,  spending much more may get you more, but boy, I can see most astute listeners being quite impressed.

If you are searching for a smartly designed and implemented DAC, that decodes all known resolutions, with built in volume control and user selectable filters, the Asher DAC should be on your very short list. It sounds excellent and is supported by a reputable US importer/dealer. Contact Mark Sossa at Well Pleased AV if your curiosity is piqued. Very highly recommended product.



Specifications



CLONES Audio Asher DAC: $2300

http://wellpleasedav.com/

www.clonesaudio.com

  • DSD 64/128/256 and DXD (384KHz 24bit PCM) compatible
  • Galvanic isolation module for USB section to eliminate computer noise from the audio signal
  • Ultra-Low Phase Noise Femto Master Clock Module
  • Power supply has separate toroidal transformers for analogue and digital section
  • Latest Ultra-Low noise discrete regulator modules for digital part
  • Remote Control Feature
  • AES/EBU, COAX, OPT up to 192kHz
  • USB/I2S: PCM 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192, 352.8, 384kHz; DSD64, DSD128, DSD256
  • ESS Reference audio (ES9018) 32 bit DAC (4x per channel)
  • Automatic oversampling for precise output filtering
  • VFD display for input, sample rate, volume control, and configuration
  • Remote control with features such as control and phase inversion
  • Defeatable – 32 bit volume control
  • 1x Coax input
  • 1X BNC input
  • 1x Toslink input
  • 1x AES/EBU input
  • 1x I2S input
  • Proprietary drivers for 32/64 bit Windows XP, Vista, 7 and Mac OSX
  • Factory selectable mains  115/230VAC
  • Dimensions: 12.5 x 10 x 3.5
  • Weight: 6kg
  • 2 year warranty




Review System 1


DAC: Bryston BDA-3
Server: Bryston BDP-2
Tape Deck: Revox A77, Revox B77
Preamp: Aric Audio Unlimited
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Simaudio 760A
Speaker:  Bryston Mini T
Cables: WireWorld analog and power, Acoustic Zen, Element Cable, DH Labs, iFi
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks and Svelte Shelves, Shakti Stone, Bryston BIT-15, Salamander rack

Review System 2


Music Server: SOtM sMS-100 w/ Battery XPS
Preamp: Aric Audio Expression, Belles Soloist 3
DAC/Streamer: Simaudio 280D w MiND
Power Amplifier: Onkyo M5000R
Tape Deck: Sony TC-350
Speaker: Magnepan MMG, Spendor S35R
Cables: WireWorld analog and power, DH Labs
Accessories: Cable Pro Noisetrapper, iFi iPower, Audience aR6






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