Bel Canto Design DAC3VB & Virtual Battery Supply (DAC3VB $2695, Virtual Battery Supply $1495, Upgrade board for DAC3 $595)

I've been a fan of Bel Canto Design since...well, it's been many years since I bumped into an effusive review of their DAC1 and, atypically, turned around and bought one. Just to see if the newer technology – in a conspicuously smaller package than my Parasound DAC1100HD – would sound better. It did, and not by a small margin. Not only did that diminutive extruded aluminum case contain the latest and greatest integrated circuits, but it seemed obvious to me that a lot of engineering acumen had gone into all aspects of its design, layout and manufacture.

My third Bel Canto DAC recently went though major surgery in Minneapolis and emerged with a lengthened name, DAC3VB, and a new playmate, the Virtual Battery Supply (reviewed in StereoTimes just a few weeks ago). I won't repeat what I said there, except to reiterate that the effect of super-clean AC power is simply extraordinary.

I've praised a number of audio devices and accessories over the years, but of the two that are outstanding – LessLoss power cords and the VBS/DAC3 combination – the latter is extraordinary, providing even more of the benefits of the former: the reduction of subtle noise. And if we tend to “get used” to changes in the sound of our stereos over time, this combo has continued to offer up delight and surprise longer than anything before. If one were to act on all the positive reviews one reads, only the very wealthy would emerge financially unruined. But I wish you could hear this combination and share my experience. If power cords are the foundation of good sound, the power supply is next in line. And the VBS (which tends of obviate the differences between expensive and inexpensive power cords!) lets us hear what a brilliant and original power supply design can do for the sound. [Russell Lichter]


Classe’ Audio CDP-502 CD Player ($8,500)
Classe’ Audio has done it again! The “Delta Series” CDP-502 is a player that not only offers excellent music reproduction performance on a variety of digital formats, but it also provides state-of-the-art video capabilities as well. This is the perfect component for the serious “videophile” and “audiophile.” Though it does not play SACD or Blu-ray discs, I’m not convinced that this is a bad thing. When music and movies are rendered as well as this player does it, the differences in those other formats seem negligible. [Dave Thomas]

Nova Physics Memory Player/Transport Mk II ($13k/transport only - $18,500 with DAC and volume control)

The new Memory Player by Nova Physics is based upon a significant rethinking of the reading, storage and playback of digital information. The original Memory Player, a groundbreaking product when released back in '06, bears little sonic or visual resemblance to the latest version. This is the result of several revisions and new approaches taken by inventor, Mark Porzilli. In terms of playback, the new MP can handle hi-rez mediums like DVD-A, Blu-Ray (24/192kHz), HRx, and WAV files.

Performance-wise, the new MP is quite a step up over the original which is saying a lot considering I've not heard anything as good as it in the three-plus years I've owned it. Most impressive is the timbre accuracy and authenticity (particularly on the human voice, piano and strings). Dynamics are noticeably improved while soundstage (width and depth) spreads out in layers with no exaggeration of individual instrument and/or size. This, I remind you, on standard 16/44 Redbook CDs (I'll discuss my amazement of hi-rez material in my upcoming review).

What's under the hood?

First, the newest Memory player incorporates a new “Read Until Right” technology (RUR) which increases the standard reading of each bit on a CD to over 750 times (this can be further increased by the user). By taking this approach and by eliminating error correction, the user is assured that every possible bit of information stored on the CD is recorded by the Memory Player and without bits being filled in by some form of interpolation.

The second change in the MP is based upon something Porzilli terms “I.D.E.A.S.” which stands for the Impulse Discharge of Events in Atemporal Space. Until patents are filed on this new technology lips are sealed as to exactly what this new system does. Suffice it to say that the IDEAS system works on the fundamental structure of how bits are stored in memory resulting in a typical reduction of jitter by a thousand-fold or more. A mathematical extrapolation of this new system could be expected to see jitter levels down to a femtosecond  (one quadrillionth of a second) accuracy.

The third big change to the MP is its new user interface which is much easier to use and includes time saving macros that enable one touch playback and storage of CDs.
(review in the works). [Clement Perry, Dennis Parham]


PS Audio PerfectWave Transport ($3k)


After years of delays and stutter steps this unique playback machine has finally arrived and thus far delivers the goods beyond what I expected from standard Red-Book recordings. This digital dynamo outperformed my beloved (and three times more expensive) Holfi battery-powered CD player. Another one of the PWT's amazing features however is its ability to play back almost anything you throw at it (minus SACD). This includes WAV files (any resolution), and DVD discs such as the new and exciting HRx discs from Reference Recordings.

PS Audio's website, in regard to the PWT reads, " accomplishes this task in a manner quite different than other CD transports and players. Using an optical ROM reader, the PWT extracts the data off any CD or DVD in bit-perfect condition without using error correction and places that data into a special version of the PS Audio Digital Lens. Once inside the Digital lens, the musical information is stored in pure form without clocks or any reference to time. The stored musical information is then retrieved by the PWT's asynchronous fixed timing clock and output to your DAC with perfect timing and extremely low jitter..."

Not the sonic equal of the original Nova Physics Memory Player but, as far as I'm concerned, the PS Audio PWT IS the only worthy alternative for those who don't want to spend big dough on the Nova Physics Memory Player. [Clement Perry]


Wadia 381i ($8,950 w/USB input, Standard 381 is $6,950 w/o USB)
The Wadia 381i is not only a wonderful sounding CD player but it is also one of the most flexible digital source components I’ve used. Not only does it have digital outputs that give you the ability to use an array of DACs and Wadia’s own decoding computers, but it is also equipped with multiple inputs for its own internal DAC that can be used with other digital sources like Wadia’s 170i iPod Transport. A volume control also allows you to do away with using a preamp which gives you even better performance. But along with all of this functionality is a top-notch player that does not compromise performance. Its strength is still the musically satisfying sound that is a hallmark of all Wadia components. [Dave Thomas]