Musical Fidelity V-DAC II Review 
Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps
Written by Andre Marc   
Thursday, 08 December 2011

Legendary British HiFi firm, Musical Fidelity, has been at it for about 25 years now. They have been widely praised for decades for their amplifiers, hybrid tube designs, and digital source components. Musical Fidelity’s head honcho, Antony Michaelson, is very well respected as a designer, engineer, and is even a professional musician. It's fair to say that many Musical Fidelity products set new standards of performance and value.

Musical Fidelity has produced products at a wide range of price points, but they have always been known for value. In the last few years, they have produced entry-level products that are well designed, extremely affordable, and by all accounts, perform beautifully. The current crop of products in this category includes the second generation V Series. There is the 24/96 V-Link II USB converter (also available with 192 Khz capability), the V-LPS II phono stage, the V-CAN II headphone amp, and the V-DAC II. Up to three V-Series components can be powered by the V-PSU II power supply.

I was most excited to receive a review sample V-DAC II from the great guys at Tempo, who import and distribute Musical Fidelity in the US. The V-DAC II is priced at $349. The first V-DAC was a big hit, and was well reviewed across the board. According to Musical Fidelity, the design brief for the V-DAC II is as follows:
  1. Improved appearance and finish
  2. Add asynchronous USB input
  3. If possible, improve the technical performance
Musical Fidelity decided to add new features and, as you can see, address the one criticism of the first V-DAC: its rather plain appearance. The V-DAC II is now housed in an attractive silver case, with stylish logo lettering and the marking of inputs and outputs. On the inside, Musical Fidelity says “the V-DAC II improves upon the original V-DAC’s benchmark performance. We have halved the distortion (0.002%) and improved the stereo separation to an incredible –105dB.”

The most interesting change is the addition of an “asynchronous” USB input, the same technology found in the raved-about V-Link SPDIF to USB converter.  The V-Link allows you to use connect your laptop or desktop computer via USB to any DAC using proprietary technology. In including this, Musical Fidelity has really upped the value proposition on what was already a high value product, while only increasing the price modestly from $299 to $349.

Set Up and Listening:

The V-DAC II was a snap to install. Simply plug in your USB, Coax, or Toslink cable, connect the wal wart power supply and off you go. I first used my Squeezebox Touch, connected via DH Labs Toslink cable, and then my Marantz 5003 CD player connected via DH Labs coaxial cable.  Functionally, there is a toggle switch between SPDIF and USB inputs.  The V-DAC's layout is a bit unusual in that the digital inputs and analog outputs are on opposite sides of the brick shaped chassis. I ended up laying it on its narrow side, with the digital inputs facing me, so I could see the LED indicators for power and incoming signal.  I later decided to lay it on its broad side as well. I used a pair of Kimber HB Hero interconnects, which fed a Marantz PM6004 integrated amplifier (review forthcoming).

Switching between the generally good sounding analog outputs of the Squeezebox Touch to the V-DAC II was like going from a distant AM radio signal to full on High Definition Digital FM. There was loads of space around instruments, a delicate, detailed top end, and a beautifully transparent midrange.  It was obvious to me there was no going back to the Touch’s analog outputs. I did multiple comparisons using various recordings, and the results were the same.

Music Fidelity V-DAC II & Squeezebox Touch


Using the Marantz CD5003 yielded similar results. Switching back and forth between the player's analog outputs and the V-DAC II, I was able to pick out the V-DAC II’s superior transparency every time. On discs ranging from Olabelle’s Neon Blue Bird to Anoushaka Shankar’s Traveller, there was an improved delicacy on acoustic instruments and voices, and deep bass was taught and articulate.  On heavier, rocking albums like The Who’s Quadrophenia (2011 Super Deluxe Version), and Queen’s The Game (2011 remaster), the drums had visceral impact, and electric guitars had real crunch and presence. Roger Daltry’s and Freddie Mercury’s vocals were amazingly detailed and present.

Routing various digital sources through the V-DAC II seemed to remove a layer of haze, and it was like looking through a newly cleaned window. This effect was consistent no matter the source material or component. A pretty neat trick for a $350 DAC, but I should not be surprised considering what Musical Fidelity has done in the past.

Using the USB input was also a snap. I ran a Belkin Gold USB cable from my Dell Netbook, using the Windows XP dbPoweramp for playback of FLAC files.  I simply selected the V-DAC II as the output device and decided what music to play.  I had the HDTracks.com 96 Khz / 24 bit download of Fleetwood Mac’s classic Rumours, and a sampling of high resolution files from MA Recordings. I was not prepared for how good the USB input sounded.  There was a solidity, dimension, and authority to the sound that was easy to hear. It is hard to believe this level of sonic performance is possible at this price point.


Conclusion:

Musical Fidelity has been in the game of high-end audio for decades, and as a matter of fact, they are also pioneers in digital playback. They brought to market one of the first outboard DAC units, and their disc players have always been cutting edge. The V Series is clearly a resounding success, and has allowed budget audiophiles to experience true high-end sound. Musical Fidelity has done this by dispensing with fancy casework and luxury features, which has allowed them to focus on parts quality and circuit design.

I had heard through the grapevine that the V-DAC II was a great sounding DAC, but it actually surpassed my expectations, and then some. All three inputs performed superbly, and quite frankly, it brought my Squeezebox Touch up to the level of a really fine CD player or computer audio set up. I don’t see any other product on the market at the $350 price point that is offering asynchronous USB, upsampling to 192 Khz and 24 bits on all inputs, and has the V-DAC II's measurement specs.  For tweakers, Musical Fidelity offers the V-PSU II external power supply upgrade as well. There is also a third party power supply available from Audio Advisor.

 Music Fidelity V-DAC II


I hope to review more Musical Fidelity products in the future.  If they are as fun, great sounding, and as easy to integrate as the V-DAC II, it will hardly be work. Musical Fidelity has already begun to establish itself in what most in the audiophile community consider to be the future of music playback: streaming audio. Their new M1 CLiC digital hub looks incredibly interesting, and we can only guess what else is coming down the pike. As for the V-DAC II, it would be a steal at double the price, and can only bettered by spending four or five times as much. 

Highly recommended, and a candidate for audio product of the year in my book.

Specifications



Musical Fidelity V-DAC II

●      Asynchronous USB Input Filter
●      24 bit/192 kHz Upsampling
●      Burr Brown DSP 1796 Chipset
●      Upgraded Power Supply
●      Inputs: RCA Coaxial, Toslink, USB
●      US Importer and Distributor: Tempo
●      Price: $349



 

Review System 1



CD Transport: bel canto CD3t
Server: Squeezebox Touch with CIA  VDC-SB power supply
DAC: Bryston BDA-1
Preamp: Audio Research SP16
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
Integrated Amplifier; McIntosh MA6600
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4
Cables:  Stager Silver Solids, DH Labs Revelation (IC), Kimber KCTG (IC), Transparent  MM2 Super (IC),  Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Element Cable Element Cord, (AC)  Shunyata Venom (AC) Pangea AC-9 (AC) Audience powerChord e.(AC)
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Sound Anchors stands,  Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner, Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Salamander rack

 

Review System 2



CD Player: Marantz 5003
Music Server: Squeezebox Touch, Marantz NA7004
DAC: CIA VDA-2 with VAC-1 Power Supply, Lindemann  192 Khz
Computer: Dell netbook running Windows XP
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Integrated Amplifier: Maratnz PM6004
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
Cables: Kimber/QED/Transparant/Shunyata(AC)/PS Audio, Pangea Audio (AC), DH Labs (digital)



 

 

 

 






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