Frank let me take home his new DAC to review and compare to my Luxman DA-06 DAC last week. I had 3 audio friends and my 25 year old budding audiophile son over last Sunday. All know my system very well.
The new DAC does Hi Rez up to 192khz and 2x DSD. It is built like a tank. It has a very nice, thick brushed aluminum face plate with an attractive bevel. The unit has some weight to it, about 16 pounds. It is very easy to set up, you just have to download the drivers and it is plug and play.
My system consists of a Pass X250 amp, BAT VK-51se tube preamp, Magnepan 1.6 speakers with dual Martin Logan subs crossed over at 45hz and the Maggies running full range. My DAC is a Luxman DA-06 that retailed for $6,000 a few years ago, and it was just rated a Stereophile Class A+ for 2017. I purchased the Luxman because of its analog, smooth and slightly warmer sound. I have owned a Cary Audio 200ts DAC, Marantz NA11s1 DAC and an AVA Ultra SL Plus hybrid tube DAC. I have also heard a PS Audio DSD, Hugo Chord, Wyred 4 Sound DSDse with Femto clock upgrade and the outgoing AVA tube DAC in my system paired with my current gear.
My music source is a dedicated audio computer, a Dell laptop with an I7 6700HQ processor with 16gb Ram running Windows 10 with Bug Head Player (several versions-7.88 through 8.05.) connected to an external Western Digital Red 4TB Hard drive in an external HD case via usb 3 connection. My usb cable is a Wire World Starlight Red. This is all controlled remotely using another laptop using Splashtop Personal remote interface. My system is fully balanced and unfortunately I had to use single ended to XLR adapters as the MK5 is only single ended and my BAT preamp is only XLR.
We played various types of music- London Grammar, Pineapple Thief, George Winston, Various Blue Coast and Sound Liaison recordings. Some at native 44K, 96K and 192K. I also played some native DSD- Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughn among others. In addition I used Bug Head to up sample some music from 44K to 96K and 192K.
Just a little background about the Luxman, it does 44k up to 384khz/32bit and DSD 5.64 MHz. The pro reviews are spot on. It is very analog and liquid sounding and leans a bit to the warmer side. It is very musical and has a very wide and deep sound stage with just the right amount of air and transparency. The mid range and bass are its strong points.
Enough about gear, lets get to the sound. When I put the AVA DAC in the system playing 44K to 192K music, we were all impressed. A difference was noted immediately. We all commented on how much smoother and liquid the AVA was compared to the Luxman. The background was blacker. It was more analog with no hint digital edginess, grain or glare. There were little to no sibilants on vocals. The bass was tighter and had a bit more punch. There was just a bit more detail and texture. This was noticeable on vocals, piano and horns. Strings also had a bit more pluck to them on the leading edges. It had a nice wide sound stage and good transparency. There was good space between instruments. It's musicality was on par with the Luxman and one guy thought it was more musical. It did lean just a hint to the warmer side like the Luxman but it was not overly warm. My Luxman presents a sound that is just midway between the speakers to slightly forward. The MK5 was just a bit further back in presentation and sounded about right to me. (I don't like an in you face sound, that was one of the reasons I returned the Marantz NA11s1 which had some of the most realistic texture that I have heard on vocals and piano). One other thing I liked about the MK5 was that there was no relay noise when changing resolution like my Luxman which makes a click.
There were some things that the Luxman did better than the MK5. The depth and height of the sound stage was a slightly better with the Luxman. I felt that there was just a bit more air and transparency and there was a little more space between instruments. The Luxman was also better with native DSD played through Bug Head. It was more musical and there was more depth and body to the music. I wish I had more time with the MK5 to try DSD with other music players like HQ player and JRiver to see how they compared. I have found that some programs do better with certain DAC's.
For $1899.00 the MK5 held its own against a DAC that sold for 3x its price. It is a huge step up from the out going AVA tube DAC and I think that it is a bargain.
By the way, Frank let me take home his new DVA 700 power amp to compare to my Pass X250. I will not be able to get to it till next weekend. I will post a review afterwards and then I hope to take home his new upgraded phono preamp.