For anyone considering investing in a high quality DAC and is fortunate enough to be invited by Steve to visit him in Black Butte Ranch, OR, do take him up on the offer. I found Steve to be very transparent, easy going and open to discussing any aspect of his craft. He never seemed to tire of the dialogue, and like a professor addressed my questions with a clear understanding. The visit was exceedingly educational and necessary to make an informed decision.
What struck me was how small the DAC actually is and how meticulous he is engineering a quality product…of the finest material and workmanship. I did not visit Steve with the intent of writing this response, nor do I write reviews or am associated with Steve or the industry. How I judge and interpret music may be vastly different than anyone reading this.
In my opinion the stock Overdrive SE is a stellar product in itself. Hearing the addition of the Final Drive Transformer Buffer, I believe this is a *must purchase* product offered at a very reasonable price. I would value this far above all other upgrades. Personally, I will be using this in place of my Pre-amp. The difference was hearing what my brain interprets as a live performance in Steve’s listening room. The volume control of the SE attenuates the amplitude creating an effect where I am not just lowering the volume, I am moving the performance away, 10, 30, 50 feet away. The depth and detail was still there regardless of volume. Steve has a good explanation for this. Distortion remains a small fraction of the sound, so at any volume you do not interpret it.
As for the Short-Block USB filter. I have difficulty describing the quality of the improvement. It was more detailed and crisp, but there was something more. For $200, in IMO the best per dollar benefit to your system.
Regarding the Overdrive SE stock vs. upgraded Analog Hynes Regulators and CUTF coupling caps: My impression was Steve himself preferred stock over the upgrades. The differences were subtle for rock performances, with stock giving a more stage presence allowing my visceral experience of being at a Bonnie Raitt concert. Personally, for what I listen to, I much preferred the upgrades. To me this sounded like the performer was 5 – 10 feet away with a very real 3d effect. I would move to different aspects of the room and that person is still playing in the same spot. The other detail I would sense is when a musician will pluck a chord flat or not. Very often at musical events that are really impressive, I close my eyes and enjoy the music. Eyes closed, this performance seemed no difference. Also, if you enjoy piano, go with the upgrades…I have never heard piano in any reference system sound like this.
The question I asked myself is $2500 in upgrades worth the investment? Final Drive, yes. It made a profound difference on Steve’s system. USB filter…for the price, absolutely. The Hynes regulators and CUTF caps warrant a visit and listening for yourself. Neither one sounded better than the other. They sound different and depending on your taste, you will prefer one. My impression: if you enjoy a small intimate venue or acoustical music, go with the upgrades. If you like larger venues…go stock.
This dac is the culmination of experience from a talented engineer devoted and passionate about his field.