Before it even arrived, I knew I was going to dig this DAC. Like equivalent models by Perpetual Technologies, MSB and Bel Canto Design, the original Birdland Audio Odeon-Lite enjoyed an enviably strong reputation: For topnotch performance without hobnob pricing.
Was I ready though? You see, for the last few years, I'd made do with a Marantz CDR-630 for my principal source. As a semiprofessional CD recorder -- semipro referring to accepting computer blanks and allowing endless copies of copies -- its laser tracking precision is probably above average. It burns CDs after all. I always figured it'd make a good transport - one day when I got around to adding that killer DAC.
But, I really prefer one-box solutions. Less clutter, greater cost effectiveness. No self-inflicted diseases that mandate otherwise unnecessary engineering solutions - like defeating jitter that's added by routing fragile digital datastreams offboard. So I was still listening to the Marantz vacillating on what to get. Meanwhile the main rig's other components were upgraded out of proportion with the source's relative modesty: Avantgarde DUOs, AUDIOPAX Model 88s (yes, my personal pair's arrived), Bel Canto PRe1, inSound/Mapleshade Excalibur ICs, Analysis Plus biwire Oval 9, Audio Magic Stealth and Digital Stealth Power Purifiers & Clairvoyant powercords, WorldPower double-cryo'd Hubbell wall outlet... long on everything but short on digital.
How short was brought home when the Odeon arrived. Gawd was I behind the times. High tide to gather my things and run up that slippery dune of better sound. I contacted VMax-Services. Their Richard Kohlruss had sold me three pairs of Triangle speakers, first the Lyrrs, then the Ventis XS, then the Ventis 222. From experience and trade shows, I knew his tastes. When he describes what something sounds like, we agree. His Cairn Fog v2.0 24/192 CD player had the features, appearance, build quality and pricing I wanted.
Presumably it also had the sound. He described it just the way I like it. Ditto for Sam Tellig's review of the piece. Sam's reviewed plenty of Triangle speakers. I know we hear the same things with 'em. I wasn't worried about auditioning the Cairn first. I mailed out a check and waited for my FedEx guy to -- for once -- not pass by my driveway in dust-kickin' haste (he hates those heavy boxes I sometimes get).
I believe that 16bit/44.1kHz digital has become a very mature medium. Hairs split the differences between good, equivalently priced players. Go for the look and features you want, at the price you can afford. The overall sound is more a function of the analog output stage and power supplies than the silly numbers' wars. Manufacturers feel coerced to "do" 24/192 whether it's really necessary or not.
Case in point. Just a week ago I heard a 10-year old EAD DAC. It had been expertly modified by a private party specializing in digital mods - new output stage, new current-to-voltage conversion, same old 20-bit chips. I compared it to the Birdland. Surprise. The antiquated chip set not only held its own in the resolution department, but the whole package sounded more analogue-like and threw a deeper stage.
This is no backhanded criticism of the Odeon. The modded EAD was a precursor of an anticipated from-the-ground-up production piece under its own brand name that should enter the market late this year for around $1,700 - i.e. a natural competitor. As we shall see, the Ag is a fabulous product with some very trick functionality that's usually reserved for much dearer units. It simply means that upsampling to 192 is not the magic bullet it's often made out to be. It's just the newest buzzword. If you want to sell digital, you better get a buzz cut, step in line and salute.
What if a manufacturer upgraded his firm's newest entry in the aforementioned areas and perhaps even threw in a current chip set (but not 192, and not upsampling either)? The results could be identical or better. But where's the sex appeal in invisible innards? 24/192, on the other hand, looks like a heckuva lot more than 20/96 or 16/44. It's like being a kid and getting 100 one cent coins. You feel rich while daddy smiles and pockets his single dollar bill.
But back to the review at hand. Obtaining the purpose-built Odeon-Ag for review was bound to kick butt and polish my Italian floor tiles with the Marantz' leftovers. That much was a given. It turned out exactly so. The reviewer's challenge was putting it into context. How'd it compare against other high-ranking contenders?
The Cairn ($1,595) was enroute and would or would not make my deadline for inclusion. Regardless, I needed a proper stand-alone DAC for comparison. I requisitioned for what I assume is one of the Odeon-Ag's most capable competitors - the Bel Canto DAC-2. Both pieces are 2nd generation 24/192 revisions of the 96kHz originals. Both are priced within spitting distance. Both will undoubtedly gain many reviews.
The Odeon-Ag has already been hailed as #2 Best Buy of the Year 2002 by Stereo Sound of Japan (issue #141). I know of a pending DAC-2 review on SoundStage!. Others are bound to follow in due time.
Such a juxtaposition would be useful for future reviews on either piece. Based on this one, deduce what one sounds like by reading further descriptions on the other. Also, I didn't want to plagiarize Art Dudley's brilliant and brilliantly honest opener of his Listener Shigaraki DAC article: "Consumer Alert! While I can tell you what this thing sounds like, I have no idea what it means". I can't claim to really know what today's report means either in the greater context of sub $2,000 DACs. But at least I can be specific about how it compares to one.
The Birdland Audio Odeon-Ag is one of two products currently comprising the firm's Silver Series. It's named for the 5/8" clear-anodized bullnosed and grained 6063 aluminum panels that front the clamshell hard plastic casings with their inserted aluminum rears. The second entry is dubbed the Pleyel-Ag, an 18/60 watts stereo/mono amplifier with digital bias control. Both use what designer Gilles Gameiro calls Solid-Tube output stage. That's a proprietary take on cascading Bipolar, JFet and MOSFet transistors to "mask the shortcomings of each other while leading to extreme linearity and a very natural, realistic sound".
The reference to tubes is purely allegorical. It's meant to denote a certain sonic signature - no tubes are in either piece. Looking at the Odeon-Ag, this doesn't surprise. At 8.9" wide by 6.75" wide by 1.6" high and 3 lb., it's positively tiny. Even horizontally mounted, a 12AX7 or 6DJ8 would barely fit, never mind melt down the crammed quarters' other inhabitants.
When the UPS box first arrived, I was dumbfounded. The generic small white carton gave no indication of contents. The female sender's address stated Pebble Beach, California. Since when had I high-rolling lady golf admirers? Until I opened the box, I had no clue what was inside. I certainly didn't expect the DAC. From the photos, I had come to believe it was a full-size component. Not. It's in the Audio Alchemy / Perpetual Technologies vein - half-width, single rack space profile.
Like with those predecessors, there are lots of tiny indicator LEDs but thankfully not in all the colors of the rainbow. From left to right (and with corresponding pilot lights) there is the power button; buttons for inputs 1 thru 3; a row of five LEDs to indicate input frequency lock at 32K, 44.1K, 48K, 96K and SACD/192K; a motorized analog volume control; and a thru-hole for the IR sensor that is mounted behind the actual front panel.
In operation, the bright and non-defeatable illumination includes two small green lights (power and one input) and one red for frequency lock. On the back, and from left to right, is a pair of high-quality RCA analog outputs, an XLR/BNC duo for input 3, two TOSLINKS for inputs 2 and 1, two computer-modem type "Data In" and "Clock Out" ports and the IEC power inlet.
For promotional purposes, my unit included a generic Zenith remote control with concise instructions on how to program it for code 807 to control the DAC's output voltage via the servo-assisted motorized ALPS pot. It yields a maximum output impedance of 5kohms. If connection to a preamp is desired, Birdland recommends to set this attenuator to its 3 o'clock position for optimum impedance and an output voltage of 1.5V. Maximum output voltage (attenuator wide open) is 2.7V RMS at 7.68 volts peak-to-peak.
Programming was straightforward - hold "power" and "mute" simultaneously until the red LED turns solid, then press the "vol -" button 8 times and the "vol +" seven and finish off with "mute" to save. The red LEDs goes off to confirm success. The Odeon now acknowledged receipt of remote commands with a blink of its green power LED - a thoughtful touch.
I grilled Gameiro on the somewhat dinky -- but flawlessly functional -- remote. He was nonplussed. To include a fancy purpose-designed custom remote would have significantly impacted the $1,390 retail of the DAC, easily adding a few hundred dollars. Why? Gameiro -- rightly in my opinion -- counts on the user to already own a nice system remote that, with Birdland Audio's assistance, can be easily programmed to control the DAC. Perfectly sensible!
Bravo then for including this amplifier-direct feature without driving the price up. And bravo again for going analog rather than digital-domain lose-bits-as-you-attenuate. And bravo one more time for making this unit SACD-ready if/when such players output a DSD digital data stream.
Specs not of dust but perhaps leaving -- in -- the dust
Frequency response is given as DC to 38kHz +0/-1dB, dynamic range >118dB, S/N ratio >118dB, channel separation 112dB. Add-on cards include a "hyper-stable jitter-free 20ppm reclocker" and a pending SACD module.
With these technical and introductory potatoes and green leafy veggies out of the way, we now get to the real meat. How's it sound
Seeing that the Odeon-Ag allocates two of its four input options to Toslink, I thought it prudent to explore the fiber versus S/PDIF debate. Common Knowledge insists that by comparison, Toslink sucks like an Oreck vac. But there's evidence this could be a misspelled hence ineffective mantra by now. A quick query on Audio Asylum generated three solid Toslink cable recommendations: Wireworld Supernova III+, Audioquest OptiLink 4 and Van den Hul Optocoupler II.
Quite a few of the correspondents had experimented extensively between both formats. In their rigs, some actually obtained better results with the right fiber cable than with the ubiquitous RCA interface. As for me, I was the unwashed heathen and had no allegiance either way. Naturally I knew all the hearsay on the S/PDIF (RCA or BNC) superiority over plastic/fiber. Would it validate itself in such stark contrast? To find out, I contacted Wireworld, Audioquest and The Cable Company with a request for short-term loaners and started my listening using Acoustic Zen's finest S/PDIF digital IC.
With the analog outs of the Marantz on input 1, I connected the Odeon to my PRe1 on input 2 and set its attenuator slightly above the recommended 1500 hour position for perfect level matching. The PRe1's slick remote now allowed endless A/B toggles from my seat. Yes sir! Start the cannons. I began with something simple to get a feel for the lay of the land: Adam del Monte's Ezordio [GSP 1020, 1999], an album of acoustic solo guitar that recalls the elegant legacy of Julian Bream.
The differences were silly obvious and potent in the way a shot of premium Mescal will make a nondrinker happy in a hurry or risk Code Red for a soldier on duty: Significantly more air and ambient information. By comparison, the analog-direct feed had a slightly edged quality. Think shadow puppet theater - sharp black and white contrast without gray scale.
The Odeon rendition sounded like an instrument performing in space while the Marantz erased most this space and portrayed the instrument flatter against a white background.
The curtailed hall reverb robbed the guitar of some of its singing quality. This made for a drier, matter-of-fact statement, not this more poetic and "ensouled" expression trapped inside the very selfsame pits. The Odeon also increased the sense of width, not by stretching out the Pedro de Miguel custom creation but by unearthing subtle venue reflections.
Time for more complex material. Same artist, but now donning his fiery flamenco alter ego: "Blue Rumba" on Viaje a un nuevo mundo [Lyricon 21113, 1997] that adds Andre Manga on bass, Paul Tchunga on percussion, Milcho Leviev on piano and Hugh Levick on alto sax.
Same differences, but significantly compounded. Now that bass energy was present, it was definitely lower, stronger, more powerful. An all-around sensation of heightened juiciness, denser colors, increased drive and urgency. "This is interesting", my notes say. "Enhanced resolution in this instance equals more excitement, not more relaxation. There's also a distinct impression of taking off one's hat, replacing the confined space around the scalp for communion with the sky above. Must be that 38kHz high-end. You can't hear it but definitely sense a tactile hat's-off presence."
An image now comes to mind - angled sunlight filtered through air dancing with dust motes. You can see the actual light beams rather than just observe their brightness effect. The dust particles act like dither - subliminal noise of sorts but definitely enhancing the "visibility" of the light. The Odeon's HF energy is like that - a kind of pressure or presence, an aural MSG contrast agent.
Jacques Loussier's Bach Book [Telarc 83474, 1999], on the Andante of the harpsichord D major Concerto, opens with extremely lucidly recorded triangle accents. The Marantz portrayed the endless decay trails every bit as long. The difference? Via the Odeon, it was far easier to hear how the lower harmonics of the struck triangle faded out consecutively one after the other until only the very highest ones remained.
Amongst this album's many stellar highlights are surely Vincent Charbonnier's wonderous bass exploits - rotund, woodsy, sonorous, extended, at times massive, at times nimble, but always an absolute delight to follow and recorded in reference-quality clarity by Loussier himself.
2:53 minutes into the track come two open string pulses on the bass' lowest notes. The Odeon's portrayal was firmer, weightier, with more growl. Repeated A/Bs confirmed that the Marantz's more subdued bass performance throughout the track wasn't a function of less extension but simply less weight - a light morning eater versus the Odeon's lumberjack breakfast.
The concluding Allegro and album's last track features a marvelous one-minute bass/percussion solo between Charbonnier and Andre Arpino working out his circularly spaced drum kit. The added dryness of the Marantz caused his cracks, snaps and other transients to be harder and edgier. The Odeon once again added that certain spatial bloom yet didn't undermine rhythmic coherence. The sense of "space behind the performers" was a lot stronger than with the 630.
To inject perspective at this juncture: My flatland hoi polloi Marantz acquitted itself surprisingly well against the chichi Pebble Beach native. It wasn't quite the Cro-Magnon primitive I had feared. For someone whose overall system is comprised of high-quality components capable of fine resolution, the improvements offered by the Birdland DAC are plain and bring one that much closer to the desirable suspension of disbelief. However, a less optimized system might achieve greater initial returns by securing the absolute best loudspeaker performance one's budgetary and room restraints can wring out.
"Spente Le Stelle" of Emma Shapplin's hiphop/opera crossover album Carmine Meo [EMI/Pendragon, 1999] could rip your ears off - the lady's got reach and power in the high soprano register. Backed by massed strings, the French Opera Choirs and phat beats by Christophe Deschamps, this stuff hovers on the edge of kitsch. But is great fun if, like me, you crave the occasional dose of operatic soprano without the usual operatic excesses.
The instant sensation of switching from the Marantz to the Birdland was that of a movie theater getting ready for the widescreen feature. The projectionist widens the curtains after the trailers finish. Translation? Left-/right expansion in space, depth and presence expansion through stronger colors and more image density. Emma's voice lost none of its intensity or slight edge - but it filled out. The Odeon didn't smooth out the harmonic sharpness in her hair-raising pipes. Rather, by becoming more full-bodied, it took out some of the former thinness within this "on-edgeness".
The sonic contributions noted thus far turned out to be repeatable on everything I threw at the DAC. They grew more pronounced on lesser -- or what I thought were lesser -- recordings, and remained appreciable but less acute on the choicest cherries in my CD collection.
It was time to explore the Odeon's ability to stand in for a first-rate preamp and let it drive my long-term SET direct.
The moment I ran direct, I was struck by an epiphany - I hadn't at all gotten the full measure of the Odeon-Ag yet. This insight was instant the moment the very first track cued up. Yet for all its directness, the actual taste of this change was somewhat harder to quantify.
Sleepless poet it thinks itself, the right brain of course didn't hesitate. It indulged in its usual and exaggerated imagery right off the bat like a rabid End Times preacher: "It's entering a jungle at midnight. You're on foot and alone. The safety of the Range Rover's behind you. It's pitch black. Your senses are on full alert. Since eye sight is useless, your ears are like antennae. The cells in your exposed skin turn heat sensors.
Each aural event, each rustle, each creaking, slither and muted call, each subtle change in air pressure - each event no matter how small becomes acute like a sharp skin prick. The obviousness of daylight with its attendant lessening of sensory alertness; its softening of participation - all that's left behind in the vehicle. Damn does it feel alive. Oh shit... (a fed-up anaconda got even more fed up)".
Poetry tends towards the dramatic and broad brush strokes - I apologize for the beast. But it does capture the overall gestalt. It goes right for the jugular like the primitive animal it is.
The left brain's a bit slower. It's more careful to assess what's really happened. It's somewhat clumsy coming to terms, argumentative thrust and counterthrust preparing to subdue the beast. Appealing to logic and reason, it said: "The noise floor just dropped pretty significantly. And now this Solid-Tube thing is beginning to make sense. There is this SET-like transparency. It's a very tacit immediacy. It doesn't sound like tubes, really. it's just too eerily quiet for that. Yet it isn't flat or dry at all.
Something about freedom from texture and grit. That suchness - the thing that micro-power tubes do -- it's there in spades. It's elegant and nimble, yet the bass has been stripped of an unknown layer of murkiness or constriction. The voice is more present. The soundstage is more alive yet there's no tension. Things are quite at ease."
You should get the drift before this civilized left side caves in to the loquacious right. This improvement's gravitas seemed the equal of going from the analogue outputs of the Marantz to the digital feed via the Odeon. Yet while the first step was additive -- more bass weight, more fullness, more color, more density, more air, more ambient cues -- the second subtracted: Smaller textural grain, less tension, lower noise.
Revisiting the Marantz on its own merely confirmed this two-step. It sounded far more disappointing in this juxtaposition than in the previous A/B between it and the DAC. It thus appears that our Gallic friend Gilles Gameiro (that's three G's for good, gooder & goodest) has concocted a superior analog output stage. It's plainly outfitted with the requisite drive and transparency to get the better of my very good $2,400 preamplifier.
There's a common worry. Going amp-direct from a digital source, while possibly raising the stakes in the transparency race, also carries in its darker shadows a leanness or relative wussiness that can only be ameliorated by the fresh blood infusion of a preamp.
In a previous review against the same SET (using its optional attenuator as the bypass to determine coloration or loss of transparency with the PRe1 in the loop) I had called this very preamp "superior table water - crystal clear and no self taste at all, my idea of the ideal preamp: Do nothing but control volume and switch inputs".
Perhaps there's enough evidence to support the no-preamp worry as a likely general shortcoming of the direct approach. It's akin to the passive versus active preamp dialogue. But - the Odeon-Ag, at least in my system, clearly transcended these limitations. It made a superior solid-state preamp -- dead-quiet, neutral to a fault and in this particular comparison mated to the impedance-optimized 3 o'clock setting of the Odeon's volume control - well, not only redundant but clearly inferior. As though adding it to the chain dampened things. And I'm not getting rid of it. It's functionally way too cool with its volume-memory per input, its precise attenuation and balance control via remote. It's usually invisible. And I'll need it for my Cairn Fog.
Yet while this review now concludes with the DAC-2 comparison to run its final course (with a brief pit stop in the Toslink camp), I feel compelled to make a conclusive point already. Regardless of the next findings, the total performance gains of the Odeon-Ag, used as a $1,390 triple input digital preamp/DAC, were proportionately far more pronounced than just feeding it into an analog preamp. Perhaps that's also because, unlike Wadia's much pricier variable direct outputs in the digital domain, the Birdland doesn't throw bits away when you throttle way back as I had to with my super-efficient hornspeakers.
To verify that, I alternated attenuation procedure between running the Birdland wide open and cutting gain on the PX-25's volume control, or bypassing the amp's attenuator and adjusting the Odeon's instead. Same difference - the Ag's sonic quality was independent from where I parked its pot (with the amp wide open, this equated to about 8:30 to 9:00 o'clock, i.e. heavily attenuated).
Any prospective Ag owner must evaluate the Odeon in direct-mode to ascertain its complete performance potential. That functionality is there for a reason. Your mileage may vary, that's how it goes in audio. But I'll say this: From retail and writer friends, I gathered post-review feedback on the PRe1's stature against further competitors. That only underscored my already very strong personal regard for it.
I thus feel reasonably certain that in order to not hear an improvement via the Odeon-direct route would require quite the monster preamp - likely a rather expensive proposition that only becomes a concern if you have analog sources that the Birdland can't accommodate. The only other obvious scenario for preamp preference? If you've opted for a tube preamp with a recognizable valve sound. In my case, zee toobs are in zee amp - I wanted crystalline neutrality and transparency in the pre to not muck up the SET aroma. For sonic reasons, I thus don't really need a preamp. But in my second system I run the eVo 200.4 preceded by the valved Art Audio VPS-DM. I enjoy the latter's tube-induced minor harmonic enhancement and injection of dynamics. I would lose these particular added qualities going Odeon-direct.
... WireWorld Supernova III+ ($125/1m) glass-fiber Toslink with the firm's proprietary Globegrips metal connectors (muchos gracias to David Salz for his quick response!). By simply toggling between the Odeon's inputs 2 (Toslink) and 3 (S/PDIF), I could evaluate the differences between either feed since -- unlike balanced connections that usually double output voltage -- they were perfectly level-matched.
I could evaluate the differences. Really? What differences, pray tell?
There were none - zip, nada, nilch. Try as I might, regardless of album, track, time of day or phases of the moon(s), there wasn't one measly iota of difference. The performance of either cable was identical. Perhaps this toss-up was unavoidable? After all, the Supernova III's lime-green garter snake jacket veritably reeks of fresh salad which you're supposed to toss before consumption.
Okay, okay. But - this result plainly is not what Common Knowledge predicted, is it?
Frankly, already based on this one solitary, repeatable, open-to-all and certainly inconclusive experiment, I feel compelled to pronounce that those folks who categorically dismiss Toslink as an inferior and flawed medium (based on the optical converter, reputed bandwidth limitations, the actual terminals and then the cable interface) are talking out of their arse.
Yes, it's very possible that inferior Toslink terminals or their peculiar mounting to the boards of components could handicap or limit their ultimate performance potential. It's equally possible and rather likely in fact that a run-of-the-mill plastic-fiber Toslink would sound starkly inferior. It's also possible that with a different converter and different cables, one or the other interface would have emerged victorious rather than end in a tie.
But to come to any kind of blanket conclusion (impossible and dangerous anyway) wasn't the point of today's mini experiment. All I'm saying thus far is that results with Toslink can be the spittin' mirror-image equal of the supposedly much superior S/PDIF format. And simply considering the odds, did I, by some strange circumstance of fate, stumble upon the one and only case where Toslink would acquit itself this honorably? No, that isn't likely at all.
To add to this subject, the forthcoming DAC-2 review will investigate multiple cable pairs and combinations. It will even include a Siltech state-of-the-art S/PDIF digital interconnect to make Toslink's keeping-up as tough a proposition as possible (not that the Acoustic Zen seems to be any slouch, but I'm told the Siltech may be the one to beat).
For today, let's just say this: If my $800 CD recorder's Toslink output could perform as well as its S/PDIF port and save me $175 in the process (the differential between the two cables I tried), you needn't by necessity feel damned if your transport, CD or DVD player of choice was outfitted only with Toslink. Furthermore, if you have both options, try them and level the playing field by obtaining a superior quality Toslink, something equivalent to whatever S/PDIF you're using.
I'd wager a bet that even if S/PDIF sounded better in your instance, you wouldn't feel prompted to declare the Toslink feed "sucks" by comparison.
The greater picture of the duck universe
Here's where I have to cheat. I'll do so by relating the quacks of a retail friend whom I share plenty of similar notes with on a regular basis. He sells the DAC-2 and MSB Platinum Plus. I showed him this review as it stood until this concluding paragraph. I indicated curiosity about how a significantly more expensive product would improve things. He stated that comparing his two DACs ends up reasonably close when he runs the MSB single-ended. In balanced mode, the Platinum Plus vanishes to an altogether higher plateau of performance and leaves the 2 behind in the foothills.
And what does that sound like? He pointed at a larger soundstage, more air on top, expanded macrodynamics and perhaps a millisecond longer decays on notes, the latter a quality he feels edges the Platinum Plus closer to convincing analog vinyl performance. He also concurred with my descriptions of the DAC-2. It apparently exhibits the same kind of slightly warm demeanor in his system. He conjectured that the MSB's trump card was its monstrous power supply and admitted that despite its excellent sonics, the DAC-2's smaller physical wrapper and "injured bragging rights" asking price had most his customers overlook it.
With its airier top end and more elegant/less meaty but otherwise very similar sonic performance, it stands to reason that the Odeon-Ag would acquit itself equally well in a comparison with MSB's top $3,995 DAC offering. The dedicated yet still sane audiophile and music lover who can't or doesn't want to spend thousands of dollars on a few additional percentage points of performance gains should perhaps acknowledge that the neighborhood of the Odeon's asking price could well be the ideal place to drop anchor. You'll enjoy topnotch DAC glory scarily close to cost-no-object efforts indeed. Is that why Stereo Sound of Japan opted for the Best Buy recognition of the Birdland Audio Odeon-Ag?
When I add the Odeon's direct-drive feature into today's equation which only ups the ante in the transparency races, spending more than its $1,390 for a world class converter suddenly looks a mite - excessive and unnecessary perhaps?
I've already put in a request with Gilles Gameiro to review his forthcoming Pleyel-Ag 18wpc stereo amplifier. Could it be the low-power solid state amp I've been trying to meet to recommend unreservedly for Avantgarde hornspeaker owners who, for whatever reason, insist on "no tubes"? If Gameiro were interested in following up, I'd request to revisit the Odeon-Ag in that context. Simply adding a decent transport would complete the electronic package necessary to likely do serious damage to preconceived notions about how much one must spend to see the light.
This is my cue to wrap it up now: Light on price, seriously heavy on performance and features - that's my verdict on the Odeon-Ag. If you're building a digital-sources-only system and haven't committed to a preamp yet, don't shop for one until you've laid ears on the Odeon-Ag first! You could save a bundle. And if you insisted on spending it anyway 'cause it's burning a hole in your pants, buy a few hundred CDs instead. You'll be that much farther ahead and demonstrate to one and all of us audio nerds that you are into this for the real reason - the tunes. Beam me up, son of Scotty, I've said my peace for today.
Srajan Ebaen - 6 moons