DAC of the Year

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There was a lit­tle cat­e­gory con­fu­sion around here this year — so many prod­ucts do­ing more than one thing, and later on you’ll en­counter an­other ‘DAC’ in our pream­pli­fier cat­e­gory, be­cause amongst other things it has in­puts and a vol­ume knob, so it’s clearly more than just a DAC. Nor should one de­scribe the $2695 Prism Sound Cal­lia as “just a DAC” — the UK dig­i­tal spe­cial­ist knows a thing or two about dig­i­tal con­ver­sion, be­ing an old hand in the pro­fes­sional au­dio sphere. Prism Sound’s first pro­fes­sional DACs and ADCs rapidly be­came pop­u­lar in record­ing stu­dios around the world, and its world-first AES/EBU in­ter­face anal­yser be­came the stan­dard tool for broad­cast­ers around the world, in­clud­ing the BBC, NHK, NBC, CBS, ABC and CCTV.

It is a rel­a­tively new name in home au­dio, but with prod­ucts like the Cal­lia, it should be­come known in this arena pretty fast as well. The Cal­lia is phys­i­cally quite small (285mm wide) and cor­re­spond­ingly light, at 2.1kg. As with our preamp win­ner it has a vol­ume knob (and a lovely one, sur­rounded by a ring of blue LEDs that il­lu­mi­nate to give a vis­ual rep­re­sen­ta­tion of vol­ume set­ting) in con­trol of its line out­puts, of which there are both un­bal­anced and bal­anced — so you could use it as a preamp, but a fairly lim­ited one, given only three in­puts, all dig­i­tal: one USB-B for con­nec­tion to a com­puter, plus one coax­ial dig­i­tal and one op­ti­cal dig­i­tal in­put. In­put switch­ing is man­aged au­to­mat­i­cally, with the Cal­lia au­to­mat­i­cally de­tect­ing an ac­tive dig­i­tal in­put and switch­ing to it, af­ter which it ‘locks’ into position and shows the for­mat of the data stream on the front panel.

In­ter­nally, Prism Sound does most of its pro­cess­ing us­ing in-house al­go­rithms, via a Spar­tan-6 FPGA and 32-bit ARM Cor­tex mi­cro­con­troller along with Prism Sound’s own clock­ing cir­cuitry, which it calls a ‘Clev­erClox’. This is a hy­brid phase-locked loop that locks the Cal­lia’s clock to the selected SPDIF source with bet­ter than ±50ppm lo­cal clock ac­cu­racy, re­sult­ing in ul­tra-low jit­ter, claimed to de­liver >60dB/decade above 100Hz jit­ter re­jec­tion. Al­though some Cir­rus Logic CS4398 DACs are on the PCB, Prism Sound re­port­edly uses only their fi­nal switched-ca­pac­i­tor stage.

The re­sults are thrilling to hear, with even the most com­plex mu­sic de­liv­ered with the ‘weave’ of the mu­sic in­tact while at the same time unit­ing the threads into a glo­ri­ous ta­pes­try of sound. It was al­ways en­joy­able, and fre­quently jaw-drop­ping in com­par­i­son to our pre­vi­ous ref­er­ences at the price... and an ad­di­tional bonus in its awe­some head­phone out­put, which has its own ded­i­cated vol­ume con­trol, and drove the tough­est of our head­phones with out­stand­ingly trans­par­ent sound.

Given its po­ten­tial mi­nor role as a preamp, a re­mote con­trol might have been a nice in­clu­sion... but the Cal­lia’s mu­si­cal prow­ess sweeps away any such nig­gles. More info: www.prism­sound.com

“A pro dig­i­tal com­pany turns to the au­dio­phile market and de­liv­ers a doozie of a DAC in the Cal­lia. Its con­ver­sion of dig­i­tal sources is thrilling to hear.

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