Boulder 1012 D/A preamplifier Page 4

All these acoustic elements sounded quite different on the Boulder's digital inputs direct from the Wadia 270 transport. Yes, the sound was incredibly transparent and made me jump with dynamics. But it lost something of the velvety quality in the mids, even with the Krells. Nevertheless, the sound was big, huge, wide, attractive, and deep as the blue lagoon. Going direct in digitally, I lost something of that midrange magic I'd heard through the analog inputs fed by the dCS and, to a lesser degree, from the Linn CD12. Male vocals, like Lou Reed and John Cale's Songs for Drella (Sire 26140-2) or Air's 10,000 Hertz Legend, were so without chestiness and bloat that, for me, the way the dCS Purcell/Elgar Plus did it was simply more real.

Perhaps it's because I keep my system balanced on the knife edge between the musical and the not too analytical, so I can hear the differences between components. In any case, if you're a Formula One fan and like blasts from 0 to 200mph and back again in under 5 seconds, the Boulder's for you!

It was obvious that the Boulder has a superbly transparent line stage to complement its DAC, those analog inputs flying through unimpeded. That's why, when paired with those remarkably fast Klimaxes, the transparency and speed were enough to blow me out of my seat, while the Krells fleshed the sound out more and gave a beautiful weight and bloom to the midrange and bottom end. I'd guess that's because of the transparency of the line stage, much like the Boulder's DACs. The Linn CD12, the Accuphase DC-101, and especially the Purcell/Elgar Plus, all sounded so much like themselves through the 1012. In fact, that slightly bright piano sound on the This One's for Blanton CD sounded its best into the Accuphase DAC. (I ran it with a BNC-in option board the importer sent me so I could use it in this review. The Wadia transport has but AT&T glass, BNC, and AES/EBU outputs.)

In fact, I'd almost call the piano sound through the Boulder's digital input (direct from the transport) objectionable, especially in comparison with the dCS gear. In the final analysis, the Boulder's DAC sounded much more clear and transparent than the Accuphase, which is a bit polite at 16/44.1; the closest in performance was the double-quick-time Linn CD12.

1012 at 768
It wasn't easy, but I got the Boulder to play Classic DADs and Chesky 24/96 SACDs at 24-bit/96kHz, which provoked the highest speed from the 1012's DACs: a blazing 768kHz.

For a variety of reasons, most contemporary DVD machines are hobbled at their S/PDIF outputs and downsample to 48kHz and truncate to 16 bits. The only machine Boulder could recommend for playing these discs was the new Pioneer SACD/DVD-A machine (review coming up), but what about an old DVD machine? John Atkinson lent me his old Panasonic DVD-A120, et voilà: 96kHz output at 24 bits.

I tried the Panasonic straight into the Boulder via the DABL adapter and got a lock, but I was sure the sound wasn't all it could be. JA suggested I try going through the Purcell with everything shut off: no noise shaping, dither, or any other processing. That way, the Purcell would act as a format converter and jitter filter only. I made all the necessary choices on the menus of the Purcell, set its input and output to 96kHz, ran an XLO The Limited RCA-tipped S/PDIF coax cable to the Purcell and a single XLO AES/EBU to the Boulder, and guess what? Lock—and significantly better sound. It's likely the Purcell's dejittering of the rather long-in-the-tooth Panasonic did the job. Ergo, that's the path I used for the review. And what of it? The sound of the Boulder's DACs running at 768kHz was fantastic.

I concentrated on several Chesky 24/96 SACDs and several Classic DADs that I also had in "Red Book" CD versions. One track in particular, "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing," from Art Davis' A Time Remembered (JPCD-4001 on CD, DAD 1001), permitted a comparison between the two formats.

Via the Panasonic through the Purcell and into one of the Boulder's digital inputs, the sound was wonderful in all respects. As clean and clear as the 1012's DAC section sounded, this was an order cleaner...and clearer. The bass was better: tauter, more in control, and deeper. Ravi Coltrane's tenor and soprano saxes were just that bit more sonorous, and the highs were sweeter. Everything seemed more delicate, and came through the JMlab Utopias with greater musical ease.

3235 Prairie Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301
(303) 449-8220