“Audio Analogue has a long and illustrious career making audio electronics of all shapes and sizes, and at all price levels,” writes Hi-Fi Plus editor Alan Sircom. The new AAdrive and AAdac, which complement the existing AAphono and AAcento integrated amp, “all combine to offer a delicious-looking system” and are both “something of a high-end star combination in the making”.
“A new CD transport is a rare and useful thing to see in today’s audio world,” writes Sircom. It’s particularly useful, and yet particularly rare, to find one that’s priced at a reasonable level while still being “damn good” – which is exactly what we have here.
The AAdrive is a modified Teac CD5020A CD transport with custom parts to further improve sonic performance and reliability. It has RCA S/PDIF and an AES/EBU outputs, and separate power supplies for digital and control sections.
The AAdac, meanwhile, is far more than “Robin to the AAdrive’s batman,” being well specified in its own right including an increasingly important aptX Bluetooth receiver as well as S/PDIF inputs (two RCA and one Toslink optical), an AES/EBU balanced XLR input and USB-B.
“Where it gets fascinating is the AAdac also has a surprising degree of flexibility in set-up and operation,” notes Sircom. This includes a choice of seven different filer options, and a remote control where you can change the intensity of the front panel LEDs, control channel balance and allocate that volume control to headphones only or, if you want to, use the AAdac as a DAC/preamp in a conventional two-channel system.
“What the drive and DAC together brought to the party was at once a sense of poise and solidity to the sound. Such a performance works exceptionally well because usually poise and solidity are contradictory (think ballet dancer in hob-nail boots). Still, here the two are in a kind of dynamic balance.”
But the big question is, how does the AAdac work as digital converter when dealing with the wider world of digital?
Extremely well, is the answer, “because the AAdac has a unique combination of being at once insightful of good digital sounds and surprisingly forgiving of bad ones. The rarity here is that the AAdac doesn’t flatten the life out og good recordings in the hope of making the bad ones sound less vexatious.”
Sircom likes to think of good digital audio performance as a Venn diagram with ‘grace, pace and space’ as the individual sets. The better the device, the closer it gets to the mid-point. In reality, “few DACs are equally adept in all three areas. The AAdac is definitely towards that middle point, although it scores exceptionally well on the grace and space sides.”
“I think the AAdrive and AAdac are both “something of a high-end star combination in the making. They deserve to be at the front end of some extremely high-grade audio… making this one of the go-to digital front-ends to beat at a price.”
“The AAdac in particular takes on an extremely contended market. And wins.”
Read Alan Sircom’s full review in the March 2021 issue of Hi-Fi Plus.