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Bel Canto REFlink in the house


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Freshly picked from Stereo Exchange in NYC, just finished the first critical listening session (4hrs) comparing my reference so far: the Chinese designed Audio GD DI-V3s TCXO + DI-PSU, which costs $1200 less than the REFlink.

 

In my first listening night I controversially would say that its a tie, with a slight preference to the Audio GD. To summarize, the REFlink can extract a bit more detail but in doing so, I felt that it over focuses and narrows the depth and soundstage, almost like taking the instruments in a single flat plane, of course, this flattening effect is very minimum but enough to make me want to keep the Chinese counterpart and save $1200. So far Im not impressed enough... Lets see what more warmup hours do to the Bel Canto, burn-in shouldn't factor in as the dealer told me that it had at least 200hrs of use. I might change my mind after the 2nd critical listening session.

 

Another meh first impression was when I found out that most of the unit's weight came from the top metal plate and not from the SOTA power supply that Bel Canto emphasizes in their marketing, most of the interior, as you see in the photos, is just air. I am aware that this impression is just visual, but I was expecting a much more robust power supply.

 

Im expecting to pickup the BADA tomorrow, I have a feeling it might be the one that finally trumps the Audio GD. More to come on the REFlink...Photo7.jpg

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PMC MB2S-A / Event Opal ← Audio Horizons TD3.1Sv custom Control DAC ← Berkeley Alpha USB ← Pure Music + ARC 2 ← MacMini i7 ← PS Audio P5 ← Xentek Extreme isolation transformer. Click here for cabling and other details

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I have had my RefLink for a week but haven't had much time to listen. In comparison to my Musical Fidelity V-Link (v1) it's definitely a step up. What surprised me was how much better the ST optical output was than the BNC.

 

I went into the demo planning to get a uLink but the RefLink convinced me to make the jump even though it means another power cord to the mix :)

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Thanks for the pictures and thoughts. Looking forward to your additional comments. The Audio GD must be pretty good as I recall you have a very high-end system. Have you moved to the active speakers you were considering, or are you still using your Kharma's?

 

Steven Stone of TAS recently reviewed the REFLink and compared it to the Off Ramp 5 with Short Block. Using the S/PDIF outputs and four different DAC's (April Audio, W4S, Bel Canto DAC 3.5 and NAD C 390 DD) and listening extensively over weeks, he found the REFLink and OR 5 to be "sonically indistiguishable" with all 4 DACS and later summarized by writing that the REFLink equaled or exceeded the OR 5 in every category. The OR 5 is Steven's current reference converter.

 

The twist was that he found that using the REFLink's ST Fiber (AT&T Optical) output to the DAC 3.5, it bettered the OR 5/REFLink performance with S/PDIF. He also found the OR 5 using the OR 5's I2S output into the W4S to be superior to any converter/dac combo using S/PDIF.

 

I still have my REFLink demo unit and I am very impressed with it. However, I have never tried the BADA.

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...oh, forgot to mention, the REFLink owner's manual says the unit sounds optimal after being on continuously for something like 150-200 hours (I don't have the manual in front of me at the moment). I am sure you are leaving it on all the time so that may not have been the issue on your first listen.

Home: Melco N1A/2 | EtherRegen+Farad | UltraRendu+Farad | Denafrips Gaia | Denafrips Terminator Plus | Jeff Rowland Coherence II Series 2 pre | Blue Circle Audio BC-202 amp | Raidho XT-1 | 2 Revel Performa3 B112 subwoofers  | PS Audio DS Power Plant 12 

Home Office: IsoRegen+LPS1.2 | Denafrips Iris | Denafrips Venus 2 | Blue Circle Audio SBT preamp|  Eddie Current Zana Deux Super | Hifiman HE-1000SE | PS Audio DS Power Plant 12

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That is great news!!! :)

 

Audio-gd DI-V3 + TeraDak PSU is my first DDC, and my initial impression it made a very great improvement to my DAC.

 

Looking forward to see your opinion about BADA... ;)

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Thanks for the pictures and thoughts. Looking forward to your additional comments. The Audio GD must be pretty good as I recall you have a very high-end system. Have you moved to the active speakers you were considering, or are you still using your Kharma's?

 

Steven Stone of TAS recently reviewed the REFLink and compared it to the Off Ramp 5 with Short Block. Using the S/PDIF outputs and four different DAC's (April Audio, W4S, Bel Canto DAC 3.5 and NAD C 390 DD) and listening extensively over weeks, he found the REFLink and OR 5 to be "sonically indistiguishable" with all 4 DACS and later summarized by writing that the REFLink equaled or exceeded the OR 5 in every category. The OR 5 is Steven's current reference converter.

 

The twist was that he found that using the REFLink's ST Fiber (AT&T Optical) output to the DAC 3.5, it bettered the OR 5/REFLink performance with S/PDIF. He also found the OR 5 using the OR 5's I2S output into the W4S to be superior to any converter/dac combo using S/PDIF.

 

I still have my REFLink demo unit and I am very impressed with it. However, I have never tried the BADA.

 

Blake, I already sold the Kharma's, I thought I would keep them forever, they were trully amazing, but... I listened to the actives I have now and in an instant I decided to change my system. I bought the PMC MB2S-A active monitors which are in another league, I am also demo'ing the Event Opals (for a smaller room) whose quality amazingly gets very close to the PMC's. I would say I have a very revealing system.

 

The REFlink audition continues tonight, more impressions to come, I won't have a way to test the ST fiber connection, only spidf and aes . Cheers!

PMC MB2S-A / Event Opal ← Audio Horizons TD3.1Sv custom Control DAC ← Berkeley Alpha USB ← Pure Music + ARC 2 ← MacMini i7 ← PS Audio P5 ← Xentek Extreme isolation transformer. Click here for cabling and other details

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After three extended listening sessions, I concluded by returning the REFlink. In some cases, especially when playing high resolution files I was leaning towards the Bel Canto, it does present a clearer picture but with some compromises, thus I could not justify the expense. If the Bel Canto's price difference with the Audio GD was less than $200 I would perhaps consider it; it is, if you listen very carefully, a bit more detailed, expansive than the Audio GD, but the Audio GD was to my ears more musical, smother, a quality I value over more detail extraction, in a way, the REFlink was more hi-fi and I can perfectly see why many would prefer it, especially if its part of a mid-fi or overly warm system or for those with speakers that boom, it can really help extract some air and clarity, but in my system all that clarity made it sound clinical with some recordings, a problem I never had with the Chinese counterpart. Perhaps the ST Fiber output will make it better, sadly its a proprietary thing and most of us dont own a Bel Canto DAC, for those with one, it may really make a big difference.

 

My rule for upgrading equipment is very simple, if you hear a positive difference without over-analysis then its a go, if I need to do careful comparisons to detect positive differences I most certainly wont go for it, I have been to long in this hobby to fall into measuring my enjoyment of music.

 

The BADA is a different animal, more to come....

PMC MB2S-A / Event Opal ← Audio Horizons TD3.1Sv custom Control DAC ← Berkeley Alpha USB ← Pure Music + ARC 2 ← MacMini i7 ← PS Audio P5 ← Xentek Extreme isolation transformer. Click here for cabling and other details

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If you want to try out a RefLink with fiber you would be welcome to come over to my place some day. I have the RefLink going into the DAC on my Wadia via fiber. As I said earlier I have found that the fiber is better than the SPDIF BNC in the same configuration. It's not night and day but I do prefer the fiber. Looking to possibly get the 3.5 but still on the fence about whether to get a DSD compatible DAC. Still feeling a little like VHS/Betamax right now where DSD is concerned. Most of my digital is still 16/44.1 as I haven't seen the cost benefit of wholesale changing over to hi-res, that's what my turntable is for :)

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If you want to try out a RefLink with fiber you would be welcome to come over to my place some day. I have the RefLink going into the DAC on my Wadia via fiber. As I said earlier I have found that the fiber is better than the SPDIF BNC in the same configuration. It's not night and day but I do prefer the fiber. Looking to possibly get the 3.5 but still on the fence about whether to get a DSD compatible DAC. Still feeling a little like VHS/Betamax right now where DSD is concerned. Most of my digital is still 16/44.1 as I haven't seen the cost benefit of wholesale changing over to hi-res, that's what my turntable is for :)

 

Thanks! I would definitely love to listen to it, I could even bring the A-GD and Berkeley for comparisons, Im also in Brooklyn which makes it easy.

Regarding DSD, here is a quote from Peter Qvortrup, the head engineer of Audio Note whose products I consider at the top of the pyramid:

 

"The high “resolution” formats like SACD and DVD-A are no better, just different versions of the same problems that beset Redbook, but unlike standard Redbook, the SACD/DVD-A converters are virtually impossible to improve upon as the 1Bit system they use do not allow removing the oversampling and digital filtering, for example, so we are reduced to playing with component choices and power supply configurations, which is like putting lipstick on a bulldog, to use a currently popular phrase!"

Its a bold statement, but there is a lot in it. Plus DSD can be the best, but if the music I enjoy the most was not recorded in the proprietary format (99.99% of it), is as useless as a reel to reel deck or a DAT master tape. The future? well... SACD has existed for a while, its incredibly expensive as consumption medium, to record/master and to manufacturers to license, why would it pick up? If a new format replaces PCM, it will need to have mass accessibility and more flexibility, this is certainly not DSD.

 

For those that only buy their music according to their recording fidelity (Chesky, Blue Coast, 2L or similar) and are obsessed with how well details sound, then DSD serves a purpose. I just want to be able to listen to a Leonard Cohen anthem, a Moondog classic or to Ciccolini playing Satie and enjoy it the best way possible, DSD wont help in this department.

PMC MB2S-A / Event Opal ← Audio Horizons TD3.1Sv custom Control DAC ← Berkeley Alpha USB ← Pure Music + ARC 2 ← MacMini i7 ← PS Audio P5 ← Xentek Extreme isolation transformer. Click here for cabling and other details

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The Berkeley Alpha USB interface is in a league by itself, I just called the dealer to let him know that Im keeping it.

I will be writing a short comparative review between the three devices I tested soon.

PMC MB2S-A / Event Opal ← Audio Horizons TD3.1Sv custom Control DAC ← Berkeley Alpha USB ← Pure Music + ARC 2 ← MacMini i7 ← PS Audio P5 ← Xentek Extreme isolation transformer. Click here for cabling and other details

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The Berkeley Alpha USB interface is in a league by itself, I just called the dealer to let him know that Im keeping it.

I will be writing a short comparative review between the three devices I tested soon.

 

:)

Adam

 

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Guess I just have some scars left as well as an early Betamax deck!! :)

 

Now I am rethinking my digital path as the dealer who sold me the Bel Canto has made an interesting proposition for a DCS Debussy. Luckily I am going away for a couple of weeks so I will have some time to think.

 

For all I know in a couple of year we could all be listening to XXX files that make even DSD obsolete.

 

 

 

Thanks! I would definitely love to listen to it, I could even bring the A-GD and Berkeley for comparisons, Im also in Brooklyn which makes it easy.

Regarding DSD, here is a quote from Peter Qvortrup, the head engineer of Audio Note whose products I consider at the top of the pyramid:

 

"The high “resolution” formats like SACD and DVD-A are no better, just different versions of the same problems that beset Redbook, but unlike standard Redbook, the SACD/DVD-A converters are virtually impossible to improve upon as the 1Bit system they use do not allow removing the oversampling and digital filtering, for example, so we are reduced to playing with component choices and power supply configurations, which is like putting lipstick on a bulldog, to use a currently popular phrase!"

Its a bold statement, but there is a lot in it. Plus DSD can be the best, but if the music I enjoy the most was not recorded in the proprietary format (99.99% of it), is as useless as a reel to reel deck or a DAT master tape. The future? well... SACD has existed for a while, its incredibly expensive as consumption medium, to record/master and to manufacturers to license, why would it pick up? If a new format replaces PCM, it will need to have mass accessibility and more flexibility, this is certainly not DSD.

 

For those that only buy their music according to their recording fidelity (Chesky, Blue Coast, 2L or similar) and are obsessed with how well details sound, then DSD serves a purpose. I just want to be able to listen to a Leonard Cohen anthem, a Moondog classic or to Ciccolini playing Satie and enjoy it the best way possible, DSD wont help in this department.

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The Berkeley Alpha USB interface is in a league by itself, I just called the dealer to let him know that Im keeping it.

I will be writing a short comparative review between the three devices I tested soon.

 

Still hoping for a short review and especially comparing it to the Audio-gd. I'm assuming by your above comments that Bada is better but perhaps, in what ways and by how much.

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  • 2 weeks later...
The Berkeley Alpha USB interface is in a league by itself, I just called the dealer to let him know that Im keeping it.

I will be writing a short comparative review between the three devices I tested soon.

? :)

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  • 4 weeks later...
I have had my RefLink for a week but haven't had much time to listen. In comparison to my Musical Fidelity V-Link (v1) it's definitely a step up. What surprised me was how much better the ST optical output was than the BNC.

 

I went into the demo planning to get a uLink but the RefLink convinced me to make the jump even though it means another power cord to the mix :)

 

Has anyone had any experience or success using aftermarket power cords with the REFLink? This is something I have been thinking about lately and would love to hear some feedback on this.

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