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Article: Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC Reference Series 2 Review

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Thanks Chris. Can you describe how the sound profile of the RS2 differs from the DAC2x? Not asking you to pick a "winner", just to describe the sound differences to understand if one would appeal to different tastes than the other.

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Right now I have other things on my plate, o'wise I'd upgrade from the Series One to the Series Two in a flash.

 

But it's good to hear, as Chris wrote: "Objectively there will be no difference between an RS1 upgraded to RS2 spec and a DAC that started its life as an RS2."

 

Dave, who is selling a pristine RS1 right here


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Music is love, made audible.

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No offense intended, you are an excellent writer. But you write very long paragraphs--in one case above, over 800 words. Unless your name is James Joyce that's a major no-no. Tough to read on a regular computer screen, almost impossible on a cell phone. Take a look at the NYT or WP: short, punchy paragraphs.

I won't be offended if you delete these comments. Just offering some constructive criticism. I wouldn't have said anything if I wasn't interested in what you are writing!

PS--I'm a (successful) professional writer and I teach writing at a university.

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No offense intended, you are an excellent writer. But you write very long paragraphs--in one case above, over 800 words. Unless your name is James Joyce that's a major no-no. Tough to read on a regular computer screen, almost impossible on a cell phone. Take a look at the NYT or WP: short, punchy paragraphs.

I won't be offended if you delete these comments. Just offering some constructive criticism. I wouldn't have said anything if I wasn't interested in what you are writing!

PS--I'm a (successful) professional writer and I teach writing at a university.

Thank you very much. I appreciate the constructive criticism. I take every opportunity I can to learn about becoming a better writer.

 

I at first thought you were talking about an HTML formatting issue.

 

P.S. The NYT is my gold standard for writing (opinions aside).


Founder of Audiophile Style and Superphonica

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Unless your name is James Joyce that's a major no-no.
You're not James Joyce until you take 17 years to write a review and end it in mid-sentence.

NUC7PJYH/AL --> Berkeley Alpha USB --> Jeff Rowland Aeris --> Jeff Rowland 625 S2 --> Focal Utopia 3 Diablos with 2 x Focal Electra SW 1000 BE subs

 

i7-6700K/Windows 10/HDPLEX 200W/HDPLEX 400W DC-ATX --> ISO REGEN/LPS-1.2 --> iFi iDSD Micro --> Focal CMS50's 

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Personally I like a bit of stream of consciousness in writing, especially reviews, and particularly those involved in a highly subjective space like home audio.

 

As for the Berkeley decision to keep the DAC separate from the converter, I think it's great. The Alpha USB helps to separate the issues surrounding a USB stream from the core D to A conversion. And, I'm hoping, we may see other Berkeley Audio Design options in the future, for a box that could take in an Ethernet stream and output to AES/EBU or S/PDIF for the DAC. 'Course today we've got the microRendu. And maybe Sonore would do a version that similarly outputs to AES/EBU or S/PDIF.


Steve Schaffer

Roon Nucleus/ WD USB Drive / dCS Vivaldi Upsampler  / dCS Vivaldi DAC / dCS Vivaldi Clock / Spectral DMC-30SV preamp / Spectral DMA-500 monoblocks / Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 speakers

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I'm hoping we may see other Berkeley Audio Design options in the future, for a box that could take in an Ethernet stream and output to AES/EBU or S/PDIF for the DAC.

 

I wouldn't be surprised to see Berkeley Audio Design do exactly that! I own the microRendu, Alpha USB, Alpha DAC RS2... and would be very interested in a product with that design.


“We don’t like their sound … and guitar music is on the way out!”

– Decca Records, 1962

 

SOtM sNH-10G > Innuos Zenith SE  > Berkeley Alpha DAC RS2 > Crayon Audio CHA-1 > Lazuli Nirvana > Focal Utopia

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Despite all the good things folks seem to report about this DAC (in REV1 Form) it intrigues me why so many owners seem to dump them like yesterdays newspaper on AGON all the time for a big loss.

 

These things turn up for sale as often as the PS Audio PWDAC does which was supposedly another magical DAC not that long along.

 

Who knows, maybe there are just that many people with money tree's in there backyard who can afford to buy things on the bleeding edge, listen to them for a few months, and dump them for half price. It seems I choose the wrong career..Sigh!

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I'd like ot see comparison reviews - best 2 or 3 under $2k; under $1k, under $10k


"The overwhelming majority [of audiophiles] have very little knowledge, if any, about the most basic principles and operating characteristics of audio equipment. They often base their purchasing decisions on hearsay, and the preaching of media sages. Unfortunately, because of commercial considerations, much information is rooted in increasing revenue, not in assisting the audiophile. It seems as if the only requirements for becoming an "authority" in the world of audio is a keyboard."

-- Bruce Rozenblit of Transcendent Sound

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"The difference in sonic quality between Series 1 and Series 2 is substantial. This difference makes the decision to upgrade from from S1 to S2 a no brainer"

 

An excellent review of what apparently is an awesome DAC. My one little nit with your review is the description of the purchase as a "no brainer" without considering the increase of price to $20k from the $5k price of the previous version. I'm not suggesting that it's not a screaming bargain at the current price, it may very well be. But I suspect for many followers of your site the price might give them pause if not put the purchase completely out of reach. I'm not trying to raise the "why do you cover the such stupidly expensive gear" argument, as I said, it might be worth every penny. But to me the phrase "no brainer" means, well why wouldn't you? I'm just suggesting that it's cost might be a valid response.

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Despite all the good things folks seem to report about this DAC (in REV1 Form) it intrigues me why so many owners seem to dump them like yesterdays newspaper on AGON all the time for a big loss.

 

These things turn up for sale as often as the PS Audio PWDAC does which was supposedly another magical DAC not that long along.

 

Who knows, maybe there are just that many people with money tree's in there backyard who can afford to buy things on the bleeding edge, listen to them for a few months, and dump them for half price. It seems I choose the wrong career..Sigh!

 

I think with few exceptions in the digital world that is the case. The thing about the Berkeley is that it doesn't hit all the "propeller heads" buttons as not doing DSD or having a built in USB port. I understand that people see this as an expensive DAC but those with bucks see it on the "cheaper" end of the spectrum of what they are comparing it to such as Msb, dCS, the big Lampi etc. that do push all the buttons. While I haven't heard it for myself many I trust absolutely rave the DAC but those are people who listen to music rather trading one product for another. No doubt along with a couple of others it is a DAC I would love to audition despite being sold on my MSB.

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I wouldn't be surprised to see Berkeley Audio Design do exactly that! I own the microRendu, Alpha USB, Alpha DAC RS2... and would be very interested in a product with that design.

 

Been using the Audio Alchemy DMP-1 with Roon to go from Ethernet to AES with my recently updated RS2. Very impressed with the results as this is by far the best sound I've had in my home. That said, a Berkeley Ethernet Roon endpoint with AES out would surely be quite interesting.


Audio Alchemy DMP-1 / Roon / Berkeley Alpha RS 2 / Constellation Monos / TAD R1s

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"The difference in sonic quality between Series 1 and Series 2 is substantial. This difference makes the decision to upgrade from from S1 to S2 a no brainer"

 

An excellent review of what apparently is an awesome DAC. My one little nit with your review is the description of the purchase as a "no brainer" without considering the increase of price to $20k from the $5k price of the previous version. I'm not suggesting that it's not a screaming bargain at the current price, it may very well be. But I suspect for many followers of your site the price might give them pause if not put the purchase completely out of reach. I'm not trying to raise the "why do you cover the such stupidly expensive gear" argument, as I said, it might be worth every penny. But to me the phrase "no brainer" means, well why wouldn't you? I'm just suggesting that it's cost might be a valid response.

I think you're confusing the S1 with the non-reference series DAC that sold for $5k. S1 was around $16k, so the upgrade is about $3.5k.


Founder of Audiophile Style and Superphonica

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I think you're confusing the S1 with the non-reference series DAC that sold for $5k. S1 was around $16k, so the upgrade is about $3.5k.

Yes, apparently I was. I suppose if you're shopping in that price range to begin it's possible the upgrade might be a "no brainer".

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Been using the Audio Alchemy DMP-1 with Roon to go from Ethernet to AES with my recently updated RS2. Very impressed with the results as this is by far the best sound I've had in my home. That said, a Berkeley Ethernet Roon endpoint with AES out would surely be quite interesting.

 

What is your Roon Core hardware platform? Which OS - Apple or Windows or Linux?

 

Would be interesting to compare SQ of your setup with Berkeley Alpha USB in the mix. I've had experience with both AES/EBU direct to Berkeley Alpha DAC series 1 as well as with the Alpha USB and always found the latter to sound better. Seems the USB isolation, master clock and LPS, among other things in the Alpha USB must contribute quite a bit to making this piece of significant sonic value.

 

I'm eagerly awaiting my Reference upgrade. Been quite happy with MacMini running Roon Server w. USB attached music drive. Ethernet connected to Cisco switch which in turn has microRendu connection that feeds the Alpha USB. Only issues are the very rare cases of bit chain from disk through Mac. Exhibits short sudden loss/distortion of music. Hoping to find an alternative "server" to fix this. In the absence of knowing just where the problem lives, I'm holding off.


Steve Schaffer

Roon Nucleus/ WD USB Drive / dCS Vivaldi Upsampler  / dCS Vivaldi DAC / dCS Vivaldi Clock / Spectral DMC-30SV preamp / Spectral DMA-500 monoblocks / Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 speakers

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I sold my Berkeley USB to a friend when I got the Aurender W20 since that has an AES out that's pretty good, although perhaps not as good as a Berkeley USB. So I'm not able to directly compare the DMP-1 AES to a Berkeley USB AES. Also upgraded the DAC recently when I got the DMP-1.

 

But regardless I can say the DMP-1 AES is superb with an RS2, and I'm not missing the Berkeley USB as I did miss it when I had the W20, but any comparison would be from memory.

 

My first attempt at Roon was with it running on a 2008 Mac Pro. The user interface sold me, but that old computer is just too slow and I got occasional drop outs. The music, 240,000 tracks, is on a QNAP NAS.

 

I now have an HP Elitedesk 800 G2 Mini i7 with Windows 10, a 256G SSD and 8G memory that only runs Roon. This little computer is amazingly fast and the 65 watt versions are on sale at very good prices. The performance is flawless, no dropouts or noises as far as I can tell, although occasionally I have to restart Roon.

 

Hope this helps.

 

Paul


Audio Alchemy DMP-1 / Roon / Berkeley Alpha RS 2 / Constellation Monos / TAD R1s

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I sold my Berkeley USB to a friend when I got the Aurender W20 since that has an AES out that's pretty good, although perhaps not as good as a Berkeley USB. So I'm not able to directly compare the DMP-1 AES to a Berkeley USB AES. Also upgraded the DAC recently when I got the DMP-1.

 

But regardless I can say the DMP-1 AES is superb with an RS2, and I'm not missing the Berkeley USB as I did miss it when I had the W20, but any comparison would be from memory.

 

My first attempt at Roon was with it running on a 2008 Mac Pro. The user interface sold me, but that old computer is just too slow and I got occasional drop outs. The music, 240,000 tracks, is on a QNAP NAS.

 

I now have an HP Elitedesk 800 G2 Mini i7 with Windows 10, a 256G SSD and 8G memory that only runs Roon. This little computer is amazingly fast and the 65 watt versions are on sale at very good prices. The performance is flawless, no dropouts or noises as far as I can tell, although occasionally I have to restart Roon.

 

Hope this helps.

 

Paul

 

Interesting. Sounds like you've found the DMP to be a better server than the W20, which is saying a lot. I had the Aurender N10 for about a year and recently sold it. However, I did test its AES/EBU output to the Berkeley Ref and found it wanting against using the Alpha USB. 'Course now the Mac/microRendu/Alpha USB feeding the DAC tops it all.

 

Which QNAP are you using? Is it quiet enough to keep in the same room as the audio system? Reason I ask is that my environment precludes wiring a NAS from another room.


Steve Schaffer

Roon Nucleus/ WD USB Drive / dCS Vivaldi Upsampler  / dCS Vivaldi DAC / dCS Vivaldi Clock / Spectral DMC-30SV preamp / Spectral DMA-500 monoblocks / Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 speakers

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The QNAP NAS is a TVS-682. It's in garage where I also have a Synology. The QNAP is the quieter of the two but not totally silent. The HP mini has a fan that is not totally silent but I barely hear it.

 

Not sure if I mentioned it, but I do also have the upgraded Audio Alchemy power supply. The AES output of this setup on par with anything else I've heard so far. The Berkeley USB is an excellent unit but it does require extra steps and components to go from Ethernet data to USB then AES, versus a DMP-1 that's doing all this in one box.

 

As you may know, the engineers at Audio Alchemy also are involved with Constellation Audio. The DMP-1 is a true bargain given the performance level.


Audio Alchemy DMP-1 / Roon / Berkeley Alpha RS 2 / Constellation Monos / TAD R1s

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The QNAP NAS is a TVS-682. It's in garage where I also have a Synology. The QNAP is the quieter of the two but not totally silent. The HP mini has a fan that is not totally silent but I barely hear it.

 

Not sure if I mentioned it, but I do also have the upgraded Audio Alchemy power supply. The AES output of this setup on par with anything else I've heard so far. The Berkeley USB is an excellent unit but it does require extra steps and components to go from Ethernet data to USB then AES, versus a DMP-1 that's doing all this in one box.

 

As you may know, the engineers at Audio Alchemy also are involved with Constellation Audio. The DMP-1 is a true bargain given the performance level.

 

Guess I'll stick with my WD USB drive as it's dead quiet and seems to work well with the Mac Mini. I didn't mention it, but I purchased a DDP-1 and PS-5 a number of months ago. They're in my upstairs home theater setup. Got them in prep for the time I'd have to send my Berkeley Ref 1 off for upgrade. That's been far longer than I'd hoped. Meanwhile I'd also learned of the microRendu and brought that into my environment, with initial testing in the home theater, and now firmly ensconced in the downstairs audio system, along with the Sonore Signature LPS.

 

Another bit: since my long wait is coming to an end in receiving an LH Labs Geek Source, I'll be testing that out against my current Mac Mini setup, to see if it betters or at least equals my current Mac Mini in SQ. It will have a 5TB drive for the music and, according to Larry at LHLABS, it will allow me to run Roon Server. Hopefully it will have the necessary performance and memory to do so.

 

Given my in-house options I don't see any particular value in the DMP-1, unless it can better the Alpha USB in my setup. As I understand it, the DMP would replace both microRendu and Alpha USB and receive the Roon managed bitstream and hand it over AES/EBU to the Berkeley DAC. I'm also waiting on a second microRendu for the home theater, along with the Uptone Audio Ultracap LPS-1.

 

Certainly would be nice to simplify the audio chain, but at this point, with all the SQ trade-offs, its hard to do so. Keeping noise out of the system and still ensuring all the bits are delivered and properly timed is hard. In many cases we're at the mercy of the software I/O drivers in the various components. In my case, the Mac Mini is the least trustworthy manager of that aspect. It does reasonably well, with only occasional hiccups.


Steve Schaffer

Roon Nucleus/ WD USB Drive / dCS Vivaldi Upsampler  / dCS Vivaldi DAC / dCS Vivaldi Clock / Spectral DMC-30SV preamp / Spectral DMA-500 monoblocks / Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2 speakers

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