Extra! Extra! Read All About It! Mad Scientist Makes Audiophile Very Happy!
Here are the unique features Ralph has implemented in the DA-218:
- Cryogenic treatment- Eliminates crystal boundary
formations and stresses in solder joints throughout the circuit boards and
- Cutting edge upsampling and oversampling. All input signals are upsampled
to 96kHz via an algorithm that produces a s/n ratio of -117db digital filters
oversample to 768kHz sampling rate and 24-bit word lengths.
- Bybee Quantum Purifiers remove noise at the
- Extensive use of internal non-magnetic shielding throughout the chassis,
power supplies and circuits.
- Individual power supplies for analogue and digital sections
- balanced four layer printed circuit boards
- Custom capacitors made to Dodson’s specs
- 100kHz wideband analog filters
- No-jitter re-clocked signal to the 24-bit/96kHz DAC chips.
Visually, the DA-218 is rather under whelming, reminding me of an entry-level
high-end component rather than the cutting edge piece that it is. For nearly
$8k, I would beg Ralph to give the DA-218 a cosmetic overhaul. I understand
that this is a limited production product, thus raising the price for machining
fancy casework, but if there is something that could be done, to spruce up
the looks I believe it would draw the attention that it so richly deserves.
Despite its utilitarian appearance, the interior treatment mentioned above
is truly cutting edge and I am glad to report that the DA-218 is solidly constructed
and operated without a single glitch. Luckily, my unit had several hundred
hours on it before it arrived and that is a good thing. According to Ralph,
the DA-218 takes a very long time to burn in, somewhere between 300 and 500
hours to maximize. Connections include one set of XLR and RCA analog output
jacks. Digital connections are one RCA, one BNC, one Toslink, and one XLR.
The front panel also has phase, signal lock and de-emphasis indicators. There
is a button dedicated to each function including a standby feature, which acts
as a power on/off switch.
impression of the DA-218 was as immediate as it was favorable. The
Model DA-218 has an extremely lively feel,
accentuating rhythmic propulsion on both small-scale dynamic contrasts
as well as “the broader fundamental rhythm. Listening
to Tommy Flannigan play “Verdandi” from Sea Changes (ECD22191) as I
have thousands of times, I was set into a full body mojo as the Flannigan
Trio was seriously on the same musical page. In particular, George
Maraz’s frenzied bass runs were nicely resolved, with one note seamlessly
connected to the other while preserving each notes fingering and transient. If
that didn’t convince me, Extreme playing “War Heads” from III Sides
to Every Story (A&M31454), left absolutely no doubt. This track
has a ferocious kick drum driven pace that when properly reproduced,
can lay waste to an unsuspecting driver. The DA-218 did a very good
job at allowing the power and control of the drum while preserving
whatever natural timber of the bass drum that one may find on a rock
recording of the early nineties. Hungering for more, in went Stevie
Ray Vaughn’s Soul to Soul, which despite it’s many sonic failings,
The DA-218 dug out the swagger of Stevie Ray which had to that point,
been MIA .The music on this disc. On track three “Look at little sister” the
DA-218 manages to turn hamburger back into a cow (or digits back into
an analog waveform if you will) allowing not only the lower registers
to sync up, but keeping all the transients of the, drums, guitar and
cymbals superbly clean leaving a “happening in real time” feel
in it’s wake. It should be said that with the CD12 as a transport,
the bass of the DA-218 is rounder and warmer, while the inclusion of
the Gryphon Mikado gave the bass a tighter and faster presentation.
Now Mr. Dodson was adamant that the DA-218 captures the analog experience
in a way no other digital processor can. Discounting for manufacturers
was expecting at least a good measure of this quality considering the very
dear $7,995 price tag. While I cannot ultimately testify that the DA-218 bests
all processors in the quest for the “tastes like analog” crown, I can safely
say the DA-218 has a way with dimension, timbre and color, high frequency sweetness
without the loss of detail and space which are all hallmarks of great analogue.
Recording after recording reveals a wealth of space and air that one hardly
associates with even the better digital available. Listening
to the Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmons sing “Something More” from Lay it down (GEFD24953)
I was struck by how open airy and down right ethereal her voice was. The same
holds true when reproducing the trumpet. Getting the horn right is one of the
hardest things a system can attempt, especially if you are expecting realistic
dynamics without the penalty of compression, flattening of image dimension
and hardening of timbre. With the DA-218 in the chain, Roy Hargrove’s trumpet
on “Laura” from the Roy Hargrove/Christian McBride/Steven Scott Trio CD
(Verve 314 527 907-2) entitled Parker’s Mood is kissed with a sweetness and
seamless dynamic scale. The
mechanical nature of the system sounds less hard and the illusion of a real
trumpet remains complete and intact. This, in turn, kept my attention and involvement
in the music intact.
The main complaint with digital is that its distortions being of a non-harmonic
nature, yank the listener by the scruff of the neck right out of the musical
flow. As a result, listener fatigue sets in quickly sending them scurrying
back to the turntable. The DA-218 goes a long way toward curing those ills.
On a recent visit, Mike Farnsworth of Talon Audio commented that the system “sounded
like analog and nothing like digital.” Those were his unprompted words. Soon
after our beloved publisher Clement Perry made his bi-monthly visit with a
few new music samplers in hand. After several tracks, Clement was rather stunned
as to the analog-like ease and naturalness of the system. Yes, the deck was
stacked in favor of the DA-218 as all the components I have allow for a fairly
good measure of transparency and neutrality without the sacrifice of musicality.
Some would argue that transparency inherently defines musicality, and in theory
I would agree, in practice however, most systems that are claimed to be transparent
first and foremost usually don’t sound much like music to these ears. That
said, the DA-218 does allow for both great overall transparency and seamless
tonal neutrality, which in conjunction with my system, produces greater musicality
and yes, a far more analog than digital experience.
A comparison to the Linn CD12 powered by its own internal DAC is well worth
a go. On its own merits, the CD12 is unparalleled for its treble smoothness,
truth of timbre and resolving power without the penalty of forwardness or brightness.
It also images in a totally natural way, avoiding any flattening or etch. The
knock on it would be that it can be a tad dynamically polite and laid back,
though no one who has heard it in the last five years has really complained.
However, by adding the DA-218 to the signal via the Virtual Dynamics balanced
digital interconnect and partnering Master series power chord, the sound became
more incisive and “visible”. Instrumental color improved, but it was the sound
stage that really shocked me. Images seemed to burst forth, creating an almost “exploded” view
into the stage. As a result, I was compelled to spread the Talon Firebirds
apart an extra foot or two in order to accommodate the robust soundstaging.
Another quality truly unique to the CD12 is its ability to “see through” instrumental
textures. Here the DA-218 proved the CD12 to be rather ghostlike or vague compared
to the densely colored images presented by the DA-218.
Late in the game, as mentioned earlier, I received the new Gryphon Mikado
CD player, what a beauty. Used as a transport the combo yielded spectacular
The shocking level of realism and flat out musical magic has elevated the performance
of the system to a level I never thought possible. I will get into the specific
traits the Mikado brings to the table in a follow-up to Clement’s review. Also
shortly afterward, Silversmith’s Palladium digital cable showed up at my door.
What an embarrassment of riches!. My positive reactions to the Palladium line
stayed true with the digital link. Capturing an uncanny level of information
while revealing such natural texture and color moved the performance of the
Dodson/Mikado combination in the direction of the organic, if a tad less incisive.
As I was wrapping up the review, several sets of Final Labs Durama-II isolation
devices arrived. I realized the DA-218 enjoys being isolated from bad vibes
pretty early on in the review (I guess I should have mentioned that). These
little brass jewels use a ball bearing sandwiched between two puck shaped “cups.” When
placed under the DA-218, the sound gained focus and opened up, yielding a smoother
treble and greater overall ease. At $99 for a set of four, these are a no brainier.
The DA-218 has another trick up its sleeve: the ability to process DVD audio.
Now I have not been a huge proponent of the new medium, as I have not heard
a product with the pedigree of the DA-218. With the help of the much-heralded
Linn Unidisk 1.1, I
would get a full measure of the DA-218. Popping in Red Rodney 1957 (DAD1003)
I was immediately struck with the level of palpability and color rendered.
Compared to the red book standard, the DVD Audio was clearly superior. All
the traits of the DA-218 held true, there was just more of a good thing, and
in this case more was better.
Next came Deep Purple’s Machine Head (R97664). I have been listening
to this disc since I was 12 years old (Oh my God, that’s thirty years!). The
red book version is excellent, great impact, swing to spare, and a grain and
glare free high end. Through the DA-218, it was like being there in concert.
My personal anthem “Lazy” was just a hoot. “Highway Star” brought me back to
my bass playing days in high school and college. Who ever thought Deep Purple
could be so sentimental. The direct connection to the music was stunning. This
is high-rez done right, finally! I look forward to sampling many more DVD audio
discs in the very near future.
DaDaDaDa DAC’s All Folks!
Yes, I love the Linn CD12. We have had a great relationship over the years
and may well stay together for some time to come. But I have to admit,
it was great fun working the Dodson Audio Model 218 into the mix. Call
it the three-way I will (probably) never have in real life.
As for its application, I can’t imagine a front-end short of the highest
of high-end esoterica that the Model 218 couldn’t improve upon, and possibly
by a large measure. Even top of the heap rigs may well find the DA-218
an unexpected step up. As I sit here listening to Tommy Flannigan, this
time on Live at the Village Vanguard, it dawns on me yet again, I could
sit here and listen to music all day and well into the night. Analogue?
Digital? With the DA-218, those questions evaporate into the ether replaced
by what to listen to next? What music to explore next? If you are a well-healed
analog devotee who has adopted digital more as matter of convenience than
ultimate musical enjoyment, or a digiphile looking to make the leap from
the ordinary to the extraordinary, you may find a one-two punch for both
red book CD and DVD audio in the Dodson Audio DA-218, I sure did.
Three Digital Inputs, Standard (Coax-1) S/P DIF input via RCA
(Coax-2) S/P DIF input via BNC
(Optical) EIAJ Plastic Fiber Optic TosLink
Fourth Digital Input, Optional (AUX) AES/EBU Balance via XLR
Two Analog Outputs Left & Right Single-ended via RCA
Left & Right Balanced via XLR
Output Level 2.3 Volts RMS Single-ended
Frequency Response 10 Hz to 100 KHz
Output Impedance 75 Ohms Single-ended, 150 Ohms Balanced
Channel Separation >120 db @ 1 KHz
Signal Inverting Digital Domain
Sampling Frequencies 32 KHz, 44.1 KHz and 48 KHz, 96 KHz
Modularity/Upgradeability The Upsampler module, Microprocessor,
filter and Analog IC's are Socketed for future format upgrades
Power, International 105/220 VAC 50/60 Hz via IEC connector
Power Consumption 58 Watts @ 120 volts, 60 Hz
Dimensions 3" High, 17" Wide, 12" Deep
Silver front faceplate is standard.
A black front faceplate is available with special order request.
Weight 18 lbs.
Warranty Three (3) Year, Transferable Warranty
Price: $ 7,995.00
Contact: Dodson Audio, Inc.
14340 Marianopolis Way
San Diego, CA 92129
Phone (858) 484-8199