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Channel Islands VDA-2

 

Bronze Member
Username: Hawkbilly

Post Number: 29
Registered: Jul-07
Well, after a ton of reading and listening, I've ordered the CI DAC and power supply (VAC-1). They should be here next week. Absolutely can't wait. I'm going to put my NAD on transport duty. Although I doubt it will happen, I've got 30 days to listen and decide whether to send it back.

I'm exhausted. I don't think I've ever researched anything so much in my life. It was a relief to finally make a decision. I'll add this into my existing system for now, but as soon as I can I'm going to get another amp and new speakers and setup the new system in a dedicated listening room in the basement.

If anyone is interested I can post how the new addition sounds after a little burn in. I will say that dealing with Dusty Vawter at CI is a pleasure. His reputation was certainly a big factor for me, as after sales service and support is very important to me.
 

Gold Member
Username: Nuck

Post Number: 8581
Registered: Dec-04
Congrats, CH.
If you have a couple of links from your research, I would like to see them.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Hawkbilly

Post Number: 30
Registered: Jul-07
Sure Nuck, see below for a couple. The VDA-2 was hard to get "professional" reviews on. Lots of older reviews on the VDA-1, which was a nice DAC, but the VDA-2 is quite a different beast. I asked Dusty about this and basically he's been hard pressed to satisfy customer requests, although he has a few units out now for review.

Everything else out of Channel Islands has had tremendous reviews ( monoblocks, passive pre-amps, phono amps, etc ) and seems to have a common theme. Minimalist approach, tremendous sonics and soundstaging, outstanding value, and Dusty Vawters rep for Customer Service.

I listened to a number of different units. I almost bought the Simaudio Moon Eclipse player a number of times. It's a solid player no doubt, and I can't fault it for much, but it didn't inspire me to pay the $2800 CDN to take it home. The Cambridge Audio players were less expensive, but again too lean for my liking. I heard the Eastern Electric Minimax once, and loved it, but I'm a low maintenance guy and I didn't want to get into the tube rolling business.

So, I ended up here. Worst case scenario, I'm out about $100 bucks in shipping and re-stocking fees.

http://www.audioreview.com/cat/digital-sources/dacs/channel-islands-audio/PRD_33 4848_2738crx.aspx

http://www.audioasylum.com/cgi/m.mpl?forum=digital&n=126982&review=1
 

Gold Member
Username: Nuck

Post Number: 8610
Registered: Dec-04
On the opening track of Roger Waters Amused to Death, both DACs created the illusion that a dog was barking in my neighbors yard. My speakers (Green Mountain Audio Europa Max's) just dissappeared.

That is a good example for me, having just come away from an analog/cd A/B of the recording.

Doesn't seem to be anything missing from this unit, Chris.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Hawkbilly

Post Number: 31
Registered: Jul-07
Well, here's hopin'. At some point you just have to go with your gut. I really wanted to buy from the local dealer here, as they spent a lot of time with me. But my ears weren't hearing what their ears did, or at least they weren't liking what they heard as much.
 

Gold Member
Username: Nuck

Post Number: 8620
Registered: Dec-04
Friends, Countrymen, lend me your ear...
 

Bronze Member
Username: Hawkbilly

Post Number: 32
Registered: Jul-07
Still waiting.....sigh
 

Bronze Member
Username: Hawkbilly

Post Number: 34
Registered: Jul-07
Finally got it today. It's all wired up and burning in. I transgressed the unwritten law and listened to it right out of the box. Good first impressions, but I'll let it run for 24 hours before I do any extended listening.

A noticed a couple of things right off. Things that were lost before have been found. On the few tracks I listened to I noticed a number of things that were not audible to me before. I also noticed that male baritone voices sounded hugely full and rich.

Dusty said after a day or two things would really start to come around, although it would be about 300 hours for full burn-in. After I get home from work tomorrow I'll sit down for a more extended listen.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Hawkbilly

Nova Scotia Canada

Post Number: 35
Registered: Jul-07
It took about 75 hours of run-time before things really started to open up, and that new electronics stress started to leave the unit. In general terms, this is a huge upgrade to my NAD 541i. Texture, dynamics, detail...all significantly improved.

The one particular thing that shows the refinement of this DAC, is how it is able to preserve delicate notes, allowing you to hear both the subtle strike AND decay of a softly played note on piano, or a soft plucking of a guitar string. On the NAD you would often here the strike or pluck of a note, but would miss the note itself.

When I started shopping for a new digital source, I decided I didn't just want improvment....I wanted significant improvement. Well, mission accomplished already, and I know that the sound will continue to get better for quite a while yet. After the 300 hrs is up I'll post final thoughts.

One other thought. I know the whole "source first" debate rages here and elsewhere regularly. This exercise proves to me that if you find the right source, you'll be amazed at how good your amp and speakers are. I was concerned that I'd need to upgrade my amp at least before I could truly appreciate, or evaluate, this DAC. Not at all. If you get the right source, the differences are not subtle. The one thing you will need to do though is ensure you've got good cables and interconnects. They're really the great enablers.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Hawkbilly

Nova Scotia Canada

Post Number: 36
Registered: Jul-07
OK. I've had the VDA-2 for over 2 weeks now, and have had it running non-stop since I got it. I think it is pretty much run-in, at least to a very large degree, and I have to say I'm absolutely delighted with this DAC. It has improved the sound of my system dramatically, which is really something I didn't expect without upgrading my amplification and speakers as well.

This DAC has improved all aspects of the listening experience. Overally sonics, texture, detail and imaging are all improved signifantly. The CD's that used to sound good now sound awesome. Further, many of my CD's I seldom listened to due to the how they sounded, now are very listenable. Some even sound damn good. My Bonny Rait CD, Longing in Their Hearts, sounds brilliant now. I love the CD, but rarely put it on except for background listening due to the very average tonal aspect of the disc. I put it on the other day while I was cooking and was drawn back into the living room. I couldn't believe how good it sounded.

Same for any Phil Collins CD's, which I find sounded harsh and sometimes piercing. They are much improved, some even to the point you could sit down in front of the speakers and enjoy them.

I flipped back to the analogue outputs of my NAD just to compare, and the difference is night and day. All of the harshness and stress came right back into the music.

For anyone with a NAD 541 or 542 cdp, this is one heck of a step up for less than $800. I'm not aware of any place you could put that little amount of money that would get you that much benefit in your system. The DAC is very laid back, detailed, with great dynamics. There is absolutely no harshness or brightness to the sound at all, but it still feeds you all of the detail and textures.

I can only hope that I get this much improvement when I upgrade my amplification, which will come next.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Rick_r

Tucson, AZ USA

Post Number: 52
Registered: Mar-08
Hi Chris,
Thanks for sharing your experience and I'm glad you reconfirmed some research I did about seven months ago. I was looking at a few CD players and DACs and ended up getting an Oppo 983H thinking I'd get a CI VDA-2 with the VAC-1 to front end it later. I've had the Oppo about six months and it is a good player, but I'm hoping to see some more improvement with the Oppo+CI DAC. I'm still running through budget cabling/interconnects so interested in any experience you have here - did you use CI's Harmonix cabling? My amp will take a balanced input so I was thinking of going down that path.

Glad to hear that you are very positive about it. My funding/WAF issues have probably settled enough to allow for the DAC purchase. I'll re-post here if I end up making the plunge.

BTW - have you (or anyone) spent any time researching Cambridge Audio's new DacMagic offering (not due out till November)? It looks like it might be a delta off their CA 840c player. My prior research lead me to select the Oppo+CI DAC over the CA 840c though the CA 840c and Rega Saturn were both contenders - but more expensive and perhaps less appealing. The DacMagic appears to be only $400.
 

Silver Member
Username: Hawkbilly

Nova Scotia Canada

Post Number: 384
Registered: Jul-07
Rick, when I purchased the DAC I went with Kimber connections everywhere. After I replaced my amp and speakers there was still a little brittleness to the top end, a little vagueness to the bass, and I wasn't quite getting the detachment from the equipment I wanted. These were all pretty picky things since I had come miles from where I started, but hey, I knew what I wanted.

I purchased isonodes for Oppo, dac, and amp, and this helped quite a bit with the bass, and significantly helped the music detach from the equipment around it. I susequently won a bid on ebay for a set of Zu cables (Gede,Ash,& Wax). I replaced the Kimber cables one at a time. After switching back and forth a few times, I ended up deciding that it sounded best with the Zu cabling in all spots. Slow burn-in on the Zu cables though.

I'm not at all familiar with the CA offering. It would have to be pretty special to stack up to the VDA-2. You will hear an incredible difference from the Oppo. The VDA-2 is also a very slow to burn-in. It takes a good 100 hrs of steady play for it to really shift gears, and then for a couple of months it sounds better every time you turn it on. I listened to a lot of cdp's and a few dacs, all of which more expensive that the VDA-2, and none of them produced the rich, full, spacious sound that it does. Very undigital.
 

Platinum Member
Username: Nuck

Post Number: 11089
Registered: Dec-04
I second the Zu cables, although I got my sets on consignment, never heard a difference in them from first note to latest...which is a good thing in balanced cables, IMO.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Rick_r

Tucson, AZ USA

Post Number: 58
Registered: Mar-08
Well I did buy my VDA-2/VAC-1 and also got their VRX-1 (Harmonics) cable set which has two RCAs going to a balanced XLR.

I have the Oppo's analog out hooked up through a single ended input and Oppo's SPDIF going to the VDA-2 to a balanced input. I was assuming they would be 6 dB apart due to the 2x difference in input range so I was doing some A/B testing switching channels and volume. My Rowland's volume scales in 0.5 dB increments so it was pretty easy to dial in the 6 dB. It was a little dicey testing because it took a bit too long to switch. But the 6 dB seem to be giving about equal volume without analyzing it too much.

Left the box running overnight and got back to it with a friend the next night. We were thinking that it was a little hard to tell the difference at first (with the 6 dB adjust) - perhaps a bit more base and a little better sound stage - but again hard to tell with the delay. After several hours of listening, the DAC seemed to lock up - making a clicking noise a bit like a stuck CD.

Sent CI a note that night and got a response from Dusty the next AM and in one sentence told me that I needed to go set the Oppo's output back to PCM (it had pop'ed back to "Raw" when I hit the menu button while watching Led Zepplin's DVD (good DVD by the way)). I'm still running one level down on the Oppo's firmware and I've had issues with other menu functions changing for unexpected reasons (like movies switch aspect ratio in my configuration when you stop the movie).

Anyway after futzing with the Oppo menu I noticed the right channel was at half volume when running through the DAC - quickly isolated this to an intermittent open in one of the new cables. With a bit of repositioning, could get nothing, half volume, or full volume - and quickly opted for the full volume mode. I've sent another note to CI deal with the cable.

In a conversation with Dusty at CI, he said they had Oppo's there and he thought that I'd hear quite a difference with the VDA-2 and that with the 98x Oppo's it might sound a little bright through the VDA-2.

Anyway, I checked into my Roland's a bit more and discovered that it is compensating for the differences between single-ended and balanced inputs. So back to a few A/Bs with this assumption and it is night and day different at equal levels. Still sounds like the balanced input is louder to me, and perhaps it is, but it might also be that the extension in base and high end is actually putting more power out to the speakers so that they sound louder. It may also be that my ears are getting more aware of what the differences are and I've tried a lot more CD's - on good recordings, there is definitely more base extension, more depth and air between instruments, much bigger sound stage, less 'digital' and overall just more engaging sound even when adjusting the volume to try to make them sound the same level.

I'm about on day 4 now (not necessarily running it 24x7) and thinking the sound is already getting better than it was and it was already great on day 2. I'm really jazzed. I keep running through CDs only to find how good they sound.

With so few options to hear high end gear and even fewer to obtain loaner equipment to try at my home, I wonder how much better can it get? I've upgraded my amp (Roland Concerto), speakers (DALI MS5), CD (Oppo 983), and now put the VDA-2 in and each step I've made so far has been a really BIG improvement.

I've got my Dali's wrapped around an entertainment center (too close together, too close to the wall, and butted into a corner to boot). I think I'm even probably noticing a bit of base bloom at some frequences (even so - the house is not rattling even at very high volume and very low frequencies). I'm thinking that I might be better off fixing the placement first before I start worrying about cables and/or room treatments. Does this sound right?

I understand the details of how to do the placement correctly, but once I get there physically, is there a good place to read up on checking out whether the room is causing any issues. Any test CDs or equipment that you'd recommend?
 

Silver Member
Username: Hawkbilly

Nova Scotia Canada

Post Number: 385
Registered: Jul-07
You've got some nice gear there Rick to go with the VDA-2. I think when all is said and done you'll have something pretty special.

Definately placement first. There are a number of threads on this site related to that. Jan for one has posted many entries and links to speaker positioning and room acoustics, so check around and do some reading.

There aren't many speakers (that I know of) that sound their best in a corner. Even if you did it temporarily just to experiment, pull them at least 2' from the back wall and 3' from the side wall, and have them 6' apart (inside corner to inside corner) toed in only slightly. See what you get. Push it back to the wall to add bass, and experiment with the distance between them and toe-in to dial in presentation. Move your listening chair in and out.

If you have hardwood or tile floors, or other challenges in the room, there are ways to adjust for that, it's just more time, reading, and experimentation. What are the dimensions of your room ? How far is the back wall from your listening position ? I don't have any test cd's, but I'm sure some others here would have some recommendations in that area.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Rick_r

Tucson, AZ USA

Post Number: 59
Registered: Mar-08
Chris,
I'll start crawling the forums for more info. Thanks for the references.

It would be easier to draw this than to describe it (and I tried but it didn't work very well) .....

The room is 14'x22' family/breakfast room with 8' ceilings and an adjoining kitchen area that is about 16x14 with two other 3' walkway/hallways on either side of the kitchen. The area is roughly "L" shaped with the kitchen being the short leg of the "L". If I call one of the 14' walls the "front" (where the kit will go), then one of the 22 ft sides only has an 11' wall at the front end and the "rear" side has only a 11' wall (e.g. the openings are into the kitchen/hallways). About 1/2 of the room is the family area where the listening area will be located (roughly 11x14 with a sofa facing the "front" wall at the top of the "L").

The Dali's are 22" deep and rear ported. Dali recommends at least 10" to the rear wall, preferably more. They also suggest an equilateral triangle between listener and speakers with no toe-in unless they are widely separted. So if I say the speaker fronts are 36" from the rear wall, I'm probably looking at either a 6 or 7 foot equilateral triangle. This will give at least 3 feet from the side walls and 14" from the real wall.

The floor is tile, and there are glass windows on the "front" wall and along the 22' wall. But there is a surface area rug in the listening area and the windows have curtains on them right now. There will be a flat screen TV between the speakers(z). The room is not overly 'live', possibly due to the irregular shape.

Right now, there is an entertainment center (with a not-flat TV) in one of the corners on the front wall and the speakers are on either side almost 5' apart with their backs nearly touching the wall (at a 45deg angle) so they are backloading into the corner. All in all, the sound still seems pretty good but I think getting out of the corner is only going to help. Also, with the current positioning, the listening spot is a bit far for the spacing so the imaging is probably not is good as it could be.
 

Silver Member
Username: Hawkbilly

Nova Scotia Canada

Post Number: 387
Registered: Jul-07
Here's an article that might help.

http://www.decware.com/paper14.htm

You'll find others on the decware sight that are very interesting. If you can get the speakers out of the corners (one way or the other) and a little further apart I'm certain you'll notice improvements. If it sounds that good now, your in good shape.

With my rig, I find that I can sit either in the true "sweetspot", or back a few more feet, and still get very good presentation. I still have several feet from the wall behind me in either spot which helps I think. I've actually grown to enjoy the slightly "back hall" presentation when I sit back further, as it seems more like a true live presentation with the stage up front.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Rick_r

Tucson, AZ USA

Post Number: 60
Registered: Mar-08
Hi Chris,

That article was VERY interesting. The suggested diagonal placement is not too far from my setup except I'm too close to the walls and don't have enough separation. Even more interesting, since my room is L shaped and has a few other openings into it, I can tell that some of the direct reflection paths are leaving the listening area and vectoring into other rooms where it is unlikely they will find their way back or will have quite a few more bounces before getting back. I think that is actually helping things.

I'll have to look at it some more, but just for fun, I experimented with toe in a bit and moved one of the speakers over to get some more separation (I can't leave it there because it's in front of a fire place - but was fine for a test). I ended up with about 7' of separtion (equilaterally between the speakers and me) and toed the speakers in to focus on where I as sitting or maybe a tad behind me. I also pulled them out from the wall a few more inches so that I'm probably closer to Dali's (and probably anyone else's) recommendation of having at least 10" between the wall and the speaker rear (with the wall at 45 degrees).

Without too much surprise, the sound stage widened to at least the separation of the speakers and perhaps a few feet beyond on each side. Also the stereo imaging was much more precise with the toe in. This persisted even after moving them back into their original place (except with a toe in) with about a 5 foot separation between the speakers and me at about 7 feet. I'm also noticing that there is a big sweet spot - the Dali's have both a dome and a ribbon tweeter and brag about their HF dispersion so that might account for this. Also the base seems a bit more under control now - more even and less boomy.

So much improvement already with no investment other than time. I'm still trying to figure out how to jigger the furniture placement. The original attempt at putting things so the speakers could be head-on on one wall ended up too crowded and I was excited to see in the article that I might be better off with the diagonal set up anyway. I'm going to see if I can just tweek the sofa's to match the existing diagonal placement so I can get more separation without compromising the fire place (besides losing the view, I don't want to bake my left speaker).

The isonodes on the CD at least seem to make sense and at the entry price are probably another easy decision to try without worrying about whether it works or not. Did you notice that they helped DAC and amp? (e.g. did you try with and without and notice a difference?)

The prices on the Zu's look reasonable enough - and I was happy to see that they were not into a lot of pooky-pooky-dust claims about things that give engineers the willies. My Dali's have three binding posts (tri-ampable). I was interested that Zu recommended spending more on a single cable and using jumers rather than bi- or tri-cabling. Again - sounds like sensible stuff. I'll have to start looking around for what I can find. I'll probably have to buy from Zu to get a setup for the VDA-2 that has XLR to two RCA's like the Harmonics cable that CI sells.

Thanks again for your suggestions.
 

Bronze Member
Username: Rick_r

Tucson, AZ USA

Post Number: 61
Registered: Mar-08
By the way - any thoughts on Zu Wax vs Zu Libtec vs Zu Ibis?
 

Silver Member
Username: Hawkbilly

Nova Scotia Canada

Post Number: 400
Registered: Jul-07
Glad you enjoyed the article. Steve Decware's quite a cat. One of these days I'll snag one of his SET amps, as I'm quite sure I'd enjoy it.

As for the Zu cables, I have the Wax cables. I didn't pay anything close to the list price on their website. Have a look on ebay or audiogon. You might get lucky and get a set already burned in at a significant discount.

I can't speak to the IBIS or Libtec versions. Out of my price range by a fair bit. I'm sure they are fine cables, but the price is beyond what I paid for any of my main components, so I'm not prepared to spring that much coin for cables, no matter how good.

As to the isonodes, I put them under my amp, dac, and transport all at the same time, so I'm not sure where the main benefit was achieved, but the improvement was significant. I'd guess placement under the tube amp was the biggest benefit, but I'm speculating.
 

Gold Member
Username: Dmitchell

Ottawa, Ontario Canada

Post Number: 1845
Registered: Feb-07
You gonna order anymore CI gear Chris? I'm still interested in their 200w mono's.

What was shipping and import duties like on the DAC?
 

Bronze Member
Username: Rick_r

Tucson, AZ USA

Post Number: 85
Registered: Mar-08
Chris,
I put some Bright-Star IsoNodes (http://www.brightstaraudio.com/isonode.htm - $24 for set of four) on my Oppo and it has made a world of difference. Significant bass increase and bass extension, better focus, wider sound field - but most importantly - even old CDs that used to sound lack luster are sounding like I remember my old phono setup to sound with albums. I am amazed.

I used the large isonodes. I tried four isonodes in various places and got the bass improvments but lost some of the highs and had a bit overemphasis in the middle. I tried three iso-nodes and then everything was right - highs, mids, and lows. The shelf my CDP sets on is a bit warped so that might have had something to do with why four were not working as well. I haven't put any on the DAC, the DAC - PS, or my amp as of yet but will probably try that too.

It sounds like a brand new source that is unbelievably better.

If you try this (and for the price it is almost a no risk proposition), let me know if have similiar results.
 

Silver Member
Username: Hawkbilly

Nova Scotia Canada

Post Number: 453
Registered: Jul-07
Rick, already did. I have them under my amp, dac, and transport (Oppo). I liked the result a lot. The only thing I don't like about them is trying to separate my gear from the stand after they've sat there for a few months. They hang on pretty good, and don't adhere as well the second time around.

But for $25, I'm not complaining at all. I'm going to design and build a new stereo stand that's better than the Zeller's job I have now, and I think I'll incorporate some isonodes into the design.

David, more CI gear would be a pleasure, especially the mono's. After the xmas splurge though, I think I'll lay low for a while....well, other than one of their power supplies for a SB3 if I go that route. They sell the SB3/VDC 9.0 combo right on their site.
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