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Furutech ADL Esprit preamp, DAC and ADC
Sound quality
Recording analogue
Conclusion
Measured performance
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RECORDING WITH THE ESPRIT
We are often asked by readers how best to archive LPs. The Esprit's ADC looked very good under measurement with our Rohde & Schwarz UPV analyser, right up to 24/192 resolution. So I spent many happy hours recording LPs to a MacBook Pro to see what issues arose and assess sound quality. PC users will have to install Windows drivers, but otherwise my observations should apply equally to PC, but I did not check this.
    The MacBook saw the Furutech as ‘ADL ESPRIT USB DAC’ in the Sound control panel, where it must be selected. The Audio/Midi control panel in Utilities must also be set to 24/96 on input and output, because Macs re-sample to the frequency selected so you may get CD quality (16bit/44.1kHz sample rate) unless this is set properly.
    You need a recording programme like the free Audacity programme I used, available for Mac and PC. This takes a little learning and is fiddly, and you do need to be careful about level and resolution settings; best to go to Preferences and set default as 24bit, and 96k sample rate.
    To spin vinyl I used a Rega P3/24 turntable fitted with an Ortofon 2M Black as a test mule, because the 2M Black has high output. It fed an Icon Audio PS1.2 valve phono stage which has plenty of gain and a ground lift in case a ground loop produced hum.
    Hum did not occur using the PS1.2, with the MacBook on battery power or connected to its mains charger. So there were no issues here, at least in my set up.
    At full gain on the PS1.2 this phono stage overwhelmed the Esprit’s recording attenuator even when it was set to maximum attenuation of -12dB; the red LED winked away busily. A valve phono stage can swing up to 40V out, unlike 10V for transistor stages. An input record level control would solve this and improve flexibility. I turned down output on the PS1.2 as it has adjustable output level. Record level needs a re-think on the Esprit.
    Switching repeatedly between inputs when recording from CD highlighted the fact that the input selector isn’t clearly marked. A tiny indent shows position and it isn’t easy to see, especially in dim light. 
    Other drawbacks are lack of remote control and absence of balanced XLR outputs, but doubtless these will appear later on a premium version.
    I used the Esprit to directly feed our in-house Icon Audio MB845 MkIIm valve monoblock power amplifiers driving a pair of Quadral Wotan VIII loudspeakers that have revealing ribbon tweeters. There was plenty of gain in the system: volume had to be kept down on the Esprit.
    Playing CDs with a Cyrus CD-t transport through the Esprit, using it as a DAC, revealed a nice clean sound with crystalline but clear cut treble. I heard lovely clarity and cleanliness: the Esprit is not soft sounding. Spinning the difficult 'Rockferry' (it had digital distortion added for ‘graunch’) underlined that the Esprit is very clean subjectively. With ‘Syrup & Honey’ though, I heard some quite pronounced sibilants fly at me as Duffy hissed “spend your time” into the microphone. This is a take-no-prisoners DAC but it is crystal clear too and impressive.
    I recorded digitally from CD, via electrical S/PDIF from the transport to the Esprit, then out to the computer via USB. This invokes a change of digital format, as S/PDIF is contiguous but USB packetised. Playing back imposes a reverse procedure and there was a slight loss of body to the Stranglers singing ‘Always the Sun’ from their Dreamtime CD.
    The slight lightening of the sound was perceptible with Nigel Kennedy playing Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ from Spring, recording digitally from CD, but the recording was again sparklingly clean and clear.
    There were no problems either with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing ‘Scheherazade’; scale was maintained, there was plenty of space around instruments and sections, and the lone violin playing a lilting solo sounded pure.
    Recording LP was interesting and the results impressive. Spinning Mark Knopfler’s beautifully recorded and cut ‘Kill to Get Crimson’ LP gave a recording that on playback in a way sounded a trifle better than the LP. It had lost a little of the vinyl warmth, sharpened up and hardened up in the treble to sound a tad clearer and better defined. Treble quality was superb and the sound a trace drier than the LP played back alone,  A/B comparisons showed.
    But the basic quality and spirit of the LP remained; the ADC, USB convertor and what have you in the digital transmission path did a good job in retaining a sound that was quite lovely and far better than I have heard from CD, as you would hope. The chiming chords from Knopfler’s guitar were lush in harmonics and completely free of that bleached quality of CD. Of course, this is a 24bit system with far more resolution and less quantisation noise than CD, but all the same whilst I could hear a certain digital-ness had been added (this could well come from the Mac, so I hesitate to pin blame on Furutech) what I heard was still very much ‘analogue’ in the loveliness of its timbral breadth and believability.

 



 

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