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MarkS

Article: Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB Review

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Yes, I thought you were saying the device should be much much cheaper. I misunderstood what you were saying. <br />

<br />

Most people I know that have actually heard the beastie think it is worth the cost. A few folks have said it is a "bargain" at that price. <br />

<br />

It sounds like about the best one can do. I do understand some folks feel that Off Ramps and SonicWelds are better, but I have the feeling that at this level, it is going to be personal preference more than anything else. <br />

<br />

-Paul<br />


Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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It is a hand built device using the best components Steve can get a hold of. He doesn't say for example use standard Paul Hines regulators, which are already top notch, but rather licences the technology and improves on it himself. He does that with much of the stuff in the product. He then sells direct - that's the real key. A product like the Berkeley has dealer margins etc. Its why you can go and audition the Berkeley down at a Hi Fi store and compare it to other stuff. A nice way to buy gear - but you pay big for the privilege. That's the reason small guys can produce a cheaper better product - different sales model. Take your pick which you prefer.<br />

<br />

BTW this is not to poo poo the Berkeley - its a close third in the list of best products I have heard of this type. Nor is it in any way a reflection on Chris's excellent review. But I have to tell it like I see it.<br />

<br />

Why is the Hiface built into the PDX on a par with the Off-Ramp. That is a mystery - a big one. Steve has a few ideas and could make some changes to test it out but I have a few other irons in the fire right now and can't look into it for a while. The suspicion is the short leads of the inbuilt device that lifts it.<br />

<br />

Thanks<br />

Bill

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Considering the $$$ you are spending to electrically isolate your Mac from the DAC, I don't understand why you would then put the Mac on top of the DAC. It likely radiates RF and EMI. A short distance away would be better and might even be audible. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this would also wise for any device with a switched mode power supply.<br />

<br />

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@chris,<br />

<br />

Thanks for the review. Did you have a chance to evaluate this with the spdif input instead of usb?<br />

<br />

I'm wondering what kind of improvement this could make to something like a logitech Touch's digital output, which is my favored method of streaming music from an NAS to my audio system.<br />

<br />

cheers

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Good stuff on the Naim, I have been tempted to try out the ND5XS. <br />

<br />

Being a Naimee and an early adopter of the Squeezebox and Transporter, I have been waiting years for a naim streamer streamer with the right features. In fact, I moved away from Naim getting tired of waiting for them to get their gears together.<br />

<br />

The ND5XS seems to be that box but may be a bit too late for me. <br />

<br />

I would be very interested on your findings on its sound Vs the PC, and more importantly, its user interface which to me would make or break a Computer based audio experience.


Macbook Pro/MacMini/dCS Debussy/Cambridge 650BD[br]Vitus Audio SS-010/Living Voice OBX-R2 Speakers/Ultrasone Edition 8 phones[br]Airport Express/Meridian AD88[br]

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Thank you.<br />

You are probably right I will get meter and check it.<br />

I have a limited space because everything is supposed to be hidden.<br />

I have finished my little comparison and my conclusions/opinion apply to my system only.<br />

Debussy has better sound when connected to computer via Alpha DAC:<br />

Music seems to be more spacial yet clear via alpha, while Debussy sound is linear.<br />

Comparing Alpha USB plus Alpha DAC series to Alpha USB plus Debussy I prefer the former.<br />

Alpha combo seems to be more pleasant and again deeper.<br />

I did not notice any suppression of sound or dullness.<br />

Berkeley combo stays and Debussy goes back to dealer or I sell it for 8k.<br />

It is only my personal opinion and I do not want to upset anybody.<br />

Both choices are good and system dependent<br />

There are minute differences playing Amarra and Pure Music.<br />

As of Alpha USB being rip-off I disagree.Offramp with options would be more expensive and sonicweld diverter is about 1000.00 more.Maybe they are better.<br />

My next stop could be incoming Soulution 590 USB ( 4k)no DAC power needed<br />

I was not impressed with Puccini U-clock(5 k)<br />

Hiface is also good.<br />

I do not know all the audiophile terms-sorry.<br />

I listened mostly to Adele 21,old Boney M and some Italian music but no classical.<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

<br />

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Thanks pawel8, that was quick. Even though you did not try classical music, given your assessment I am increasingly wanting to try out the Berkeley option. I am unlikely to change though since I am even more curious about the Debussy DSD upgrade.


Macbook Pro/MacMini/dCS Debussy/Cambridge 650BD[br]Vitus Audio SS-010/Living Voice OBX-R2 Speakers/Ultrasone Edition 8 phones[br]Airport Express/Meridian AD88[br]

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Naim ND5XS<br />

<br />

The sound quality is, I would say, marginally superior to my thoroughly 'optimised' laptop/JRiver setup, but there is not much in it. I mainly purchased it for convenience and its remote control control as I have grown to dislike having the laptop and mouse in front of me all the time. To avoid this I at first connected my TV (which is between the speakers) to the laptop and used that. But I find having the JRIver interface on a large TV screen rather a distraction.<br />

<br />

Then, only a week ago, I purchased an iPhone (I am not an Apple guy) purely to use as a remote for JRiver as they provide a very good app. This works really well, but of course I still have to have the laptop running, but not in front of me and with its lid closed. JRiver also do an Android app for the same purpose. <br />

<br />

Back to the Naim. It comes with a simple 'button' remote which works well, but the ND5XS screen, though clear, is rather small to see at a distance. But Naim also do an iPhone app. I have not tried this. They do not (so far) do an Android app.<br />

<br />

Shortly I will download their iPhone app and then I will be able to use the iPhone for both JRiver and the Naim. This was my reason for buying the (much more expensive) iPhone rather than an an Android one.<br />

<br />

That way, as the Naim plays off my NAS I can totally free up the laptop for other purposes as I will only need it for ripping and downloading. I think the Naim app works on all three iDevices but am not sure about that. Having only just purchased the iPhone and been using it with JRiver I have not tried the Naim app at all yet.<br />

<br />

Sound quality. Yes, it is better, but not by much. I purchased it for convenience.<br />

<br />

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Thank you, I also found your comments interesting and useful. Re the Puccini U-clock, I too did not find it to give enough improvement for it to be worth buying.<br />

<br />

Boney M? I have got all their music on the original vinyl. I purchased it when I was a teenager. Everyone laughed at it, but now, being 60 years old, I find it quite good :)

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Julf, I think the hack is only "simple" if you're pretty much a geek. There is a long discussion thread about it at forums.slimdevices.com. <br />

<br />

It isn't perfect, and the results don't always work with every frequency and every DAC.<br />

<br />

BTW, I have corresponded with Goodman's in Boston about using the Berkeley USB with Linux devices (either PCs or devices like the Touch); Linux isn't officially supported by Berkeley for the device, but it should work with more up to date versions of Linux with later versions of ALSA. I'm guessing that the stripped down version of Linux embedded in the Touch won't be up to the task. Just a guess.


Main listening (small home office):

Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>CAPS IV Pipeline Server + Sonore 12V PS>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.
 

Secondary Listening: CAPS Pipeline>IFi iOne DAC>Schiit Freya>Kii Three . Also an SBT and a RB Pi 3B+ running piCorePlayer as an SBT emulator. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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"<i>Linux isn't officially supported by Berkeley for the device, but it should work with more up to date versions of Linux with later versions of ALSA. I'm guessing that the stripped down version of Linux embedded in the Touch won't be up to the task. Just a guess.</i>"<br />

<br />

Ah, good point - didn't realize the Berkeley USB required updated drivers.

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That even when you add the Berkeley USB it is still roughly half the price of the Debussy. And that is dCS's lowest cost DAC by far.<br />

<br />

PS: I would like to hear one of these things. But according to their site the only representation they have in all of Europe is Switzerland and Croatia, where they no doubt sell millions.<br />

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to be accurate, i called it a hypothesis. but who cares. <br />

<br />

I mainly just want to demonstrate the process of understanding the technology, hypothesizing and then comparing against actual results, which I don't think is done enough amongst audiophiles. And I think I've shown that as far as can be done in a forum.<br />

<br />

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I bought the Debussy for all sorts of reasons, mainly its easy upgradeability by firmware, as in the recent change from 96K to 192K, which I have had done, and the just announced DSD over USB, which I will probably not bother with. Apparently dCS method of doing that is being accepted as a new 'standard' by other manufacturers.<br />

<br />

I'm in the UK, which is a big market for high quality audio, and it is odd that Berkeley have no UK representation.

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<cite>I'm in the UK, which is a big market for high quality audio, and it is odd that Berkeley have no UK representation.</cite><br />

<br />

I believe the Berkeley doesn't comply with RoHS directive required by the UK. See second post in the link below:<br />

<br />

http://www.whatsbestforum.com/showthread.php?2794-Berkeley-vs.-DCS-Debussy-vs.-etc./page4<br />

<br />

Andy

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Here is a good review ow the following DACs if anyone is interested:<br />

<br />

Bel Canto 3.5VB DAC, Berkeley DAC ($5000), Ayre QB-9 DAC($2500), and original Benchmark DAC($1295)<br />

<br />

http://positive-feedback.com/Issue55/belcanto_dac.htm<br />

<br />

Bel Canto has since come out with the 3.5VB MKII<br />

http://www.avguide.com/article/bel-canto-introducing-multiple-new-products-ces-2012<br />

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The new 'RoHS compliant' solder is horrible. It destroys soldering iron tips, even the best quality ones, in just a hour or so use, and every joint looks like a dry joint. These EU bureaucrats are a pain. No cellulose paints anymore, and (I fish for trout) the manufacturers even had to change the water repellent liquids we use to float the imitation flies. Now it apparently comes from dead ducks. It is all total nonsense.<br />

<br />

I now see why Berkeley are represented in Switzerland and Croatia. They are not in the EU. When the UK voted 'yes' many years ago we voted for free trade, not all this garbage.<br />

<br />

Can I come to the US if I promise to keep quiet? :)

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I found the direct quote about the Berkeley and Linux from Goodwins High End:<br />

<br />

<br />

"Berkeley does not support Linux, but in order to use it on a Linux based unit, it must be ALSA 1.0.23 or above and be able to select output device."<br />

<br />


Main listening (small home office):

Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>CAPS IV Pipeline Server + Sonore 12V PS>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.
 

Secondary Listening: CAPS Pipeline>IFi iOne DAC>Schiit Freya>Kii Three . Also an SBT and a RB Pi 3B+ running piCorePlayer as an SBT emulator. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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I was surprised by my experience with Berkeley USB. I have been worrying about how to get low-jitter signals from a computer to a DAC since 2004 or 5, when I had a sound card with a SPDIF out on a PC driving a Genesis Digital Lens--an early anti-jitter device. I genuinely thought the Berkeley converter would be the solution. <br />

<br />

I had a Berkeley USB, an Audiophilleo 2, an AR-T Legato, and a V-Link 96 available for comparison in my system: a Mac G5 with 4gb RAM and an SS drive and a Berkeley Alpha DAC to an Eddie Current Zana Deux and Sennheiser HD800 phones--all in all, a revealing system. The V-link was clearly inferior, but it was useful to have it for the comparison. One could hear what not sounding good sounded like. What sounding good sounded like was not so obvious. The differences among the others was subtle. The Berkeley was better than the AP, not hugely better, but better. Most of the time, I thought it was better than the Legato, though it is limited to 44.1. <br />

<br />

At any rate, I returned the Berkeley unit. It was good, but even at a time, when I was lucky to get my hands on one, it did not convince me. One would have guessed that the scarcity might have enhanced the placebo effect. I understand that there is a forthcoming battery power supply for Audiophilleo, which should be better than power off the USB bus, and I am interested in the Empirical Audio Off-Ramp 5. I used an early Off-Ramp, perhaps the original one (I think I replaced the Digital Lens with it, if I remember correctly), and it was the best solution that I could find at the time. <br />

<br />

For complicated but uninteresting reasons I ended up only with the V-Link. For the time being, I am enjoying listening to vinyl, which I haven't done much of recently, and still looking. <br />

<br />

I am sure some of you would like much fuller reports on the sound, but I am not patient enough to do serious A-B'ing. If the component is decent enough to deliver the music, I too easily forget to listen to the equipment. I have sometimes found the placebo effect a cost effect way to make my system sound better. In lieu of a serious, comparative report, I will only say the placebo effect didn't do it for me this time. <br />

<br />

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A question on Mark Powell's comment: <br />

<br />

"Re the Puccini U-clock, I too did not find it to give enough improvement for it to be worth buying."<br />

<br />

Did you compare the U-Clock to the Alpha USB to determine which sounded best as a USB converter, or are you saying that you felt the Debussy direct sounded better than with the U-Clock. <br />

<br />

When you used the U-Clock with the Debussy, were you using it just as a clock or did you use the U-Clock also to convert USB, then feed the Debussy via spdif. Admittedly, it would seem odd to use the U-Clock as a converter in a Debussy based system, but I was just wondering if you listened to a setup that way to compare the impact of conversion on the sound, which would be interesting. <br />

<br />

All the best!


- Mark

 

Synology DS916+ > SoTM dCBL-CAT7 > Netgear switch > SoTM dCBL-CAT7 > dCS Vivaldi Upsampler (Nordost Valhalla 2 power cord) > Nordost Valhalla 2 Dual 110 Ohm AES/EBU > dCS Vivaldi DAC (David Elrod Statement Gold power cord) > Nordost Valhalla 2 xlr > Absolare Passion preamp (Nordost Valhalla 2 power cord) > Nordost Valhalla 2 xlr > VTL MB-450 III (Shunyata King Cobra CX power cords) > Nordost Valhalla 2 speaker > Kaiser Kaewero Classic /JL Audio F110 (Wireworld Platinum power cord).

 

Power Conditioning: Entreq Olympus Tellus grounding (AC, preamp and dac) / Shunyata Hydra Triton + Typhoon (Shunyata Anaconda ZiTron umbilical/Shunyata King Cobra CX power cord) > Furutec GTX D-Rhodium AC outlet.

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