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Art DI/O mini-review (more practical than audiophile)

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
Sorry about the previous post, put the cut and paste function of my brain short circuited.

General Impressions:
I received my Art DI/O about two weeks ago. The night before I had been listening to Eva Cassidy "Live at Blues Alley" for the first time and thinking that it was a well recorded live performance of a woman with a great voice. When I received the Art DI/O the next day and hooked it up and listened to the same recording I was amazed at how much better it sounded. My hearing isn't great, and I don't know much about trebles and bass, but what the DI/O did was open the mucic up. It was like you were sitting at a good table at the Blues Alley, having a drink, and listening to really good music. I think this might be what people call increasing the "soundstage". I have since listened to other recordings including Cassandra Wilson, The Chieftains, Mahler, K.D. Lang, Jimi Hendrix, etc. The DI/O has the same effect of opening up the "soundstage" on all of these recordings. I am using a Cambridge Audio D500SE CDP, Cambridge Audio Digital cable, Cardas 300 B interconnects, Art DI/O DAC, Corda HA-1 Headphone Amplifier, and Sennheiser HD-600 headphones.
I don't have any other DAC to compare the DI/O against, so I can't make any claims to it's performance copared to other DAC's. I was not willing to buy a DAC because of the prices until I saw some reviews at Audio Asylum of the Art DI/O. I figured that I could afford a couple of hundred as an experiment. It was well worth the money, much better than cable upgrading (I have tried DH Labs BL-1, DeMarzio, and Cardas 300 B cables, and going with the Cardas because they seem to be less "bright" than the others). I purchased the DI/O from Musicians Friend at www.musiciansfriend.com for $199.99.

Getting Started:
The DI/O, because it was made for the recording industry not the audiophile industry, uses 1/4" phono jacks as it's analog output. Most people using the unit will probably need converters from RCA to Phono Jack. I purchased mine at Radio Shack, part number 274-884 for $2.49 each. I also had to buy a BNC to RCA connectin for my digital cable from Radio Shack, part number 278-301 at $3.99.
The DI/O's output voltage is 7volts. When I plugged it in to my Corda I could only turn the volume up to about 1/8 of a turn before it got to loud for me to listen to. I suspect that if you turn the volume up more, that at some point it would start to clip. I ordered two 9db attenuators and two 12db attenuators from MCM Electronics at www.i-mcm.com at $5.99 apiece. The part number for the 9db's is 27-4055 and for the 12db's is 27-4060. I tried both sets individually and neither seemed to have much affect. I then tried them in series, 9 + 12, and this made the listening level comfortable at medium to low mid range on the volume control. I think that you are supposed to get the best linearity somewhere in the middle of the range of a pot, so the combination of the two attenuators seems to work. I don't know it this is a true 21db attenuation or not, it seems like quite a bit of attenuation to bring a 7 volt signal to a reasonable level.

The DI/O operates at 24 bit with four internal sampling rates, 44.1, 48, 88.2, and 96 kHZ. It also has the ability to bypass it's internal sampling rates and use the sampling rate of the input device (in my case the CDP). You cycle through these using a push button on the front panel. A series of 3 led's on the front panel tell you what sampling rate you are at. The 48 and the 96 generated quite a bit of noise and static on my system ( I later read at Audio Asylum that this was common and not really a problem of the DI/O but rather of sampling rates in general, I didn't quite understand but at least it wasn't a problem with the DI/O).
Of the two internal sampling rates (44.1 and 88.2) that worked, the 88.2 sounds much the better.
At first I could not get the Ext Sync to work, the little green led just kept flashing and I was getting no ouput signal to the Corda (when the DI/O does not have an external sync it cuts the output off internally so that you don't blow some other component out with the distortion that might be generated). I went back to the Audio Asylum board and found out that to get the Ext Sync to work you need to cycle through until you get the green flashing light and then power down the DI/O and power it back up. The DI/O remembers what sampling rate it was turned off at. Worked like a champ. Now I always power down the DI/O last and power it up first. The 88.2 kHZ sampling rate and the Ext Sync both sound a little different, I don't know which I prefer, I guess a little more listening will tell.
The DI/O also has two other controls on the front panel, a input gain pot, and a tube warmth pot. From what I have read, these are both for analog to digital conversion or digital to digital conversion and have no affect on digital to analog conversion. Using the DI/O as a DAC only is probably using only a third of its features, which is pretty good for such a reasonably priced unit.

As you can see from the above comments I used the message board at Audio Asylum quite a lot in figuring out how to work the DI/O. This board was very usefull, but there are about a blue billion posts on the DI/O. While reading through these posts I found many tweaks to the unit. I have tried three reversible ones on my unit.
The first tweak is removing the tube. Since I use the unit as a DAC only the tube has no function except as a heater. Some of the folks at Audio Asylum think that by removing the tube it gives more power to the DA converters and improves the sound. I can't really tell if it made difference, but it does make the unit run quite a bit coller, and since I have it stacked on top of my Corda cooler is better.
The second tweak was grounding the chasis. I just ran a wire from one of the screws on the DI/O chasis to the screw in my power outlet. Don't know if it helped, but it didn't hurt.
The third tweak, and the only one that cost anything, was upgrading the 120 volt ac to 9 volt ac 150 ma wall wart that is supplied with the DI/O. I upgraded to a 9 volt ac 3400ma power supply from Radio Shack(part number 980-0900 at $27.99). I don't know if this helped, but at least it is not a wall wart hanging from my AC outlet.
There is a company called Bolder Cables (www.boldercables.com) which seems to have a cottage industry of selling cable specifically for the DI/O. They build an 1/4" phono to rca interconnect that has a voltage divider built in to the phono jack that attenuates the DI/O output to 2 volts. They say that these are John Risch designed twisted pair of Belden 89259 and Belden 89248 cable. I think I have read about this type of cable as a DIY project. Has anybody tried this type of cable? I was wondering if they sound as good or better than the Cardas 300 B's that I have? I get a strange feeling that I am losing something through the Rube Goldberg patching of adaptors and attenuators that I am using now.

The END:
Sorry about the long, rambling, and not very technical post, but I am really impressed with this unit. I don't know how it compares to other DAC's but for the price (including hookups and tweaks) it sounds
really good to me. The only consolation for reading all this is it might save somebody who has bought, or is thinking of buying the unit some time in figuring out how to get it to work properly, assuming that I have got it to work that way, which is a pretty big assumption.
post #2 of 6
Thanks for the thoughtful review.
This is undoubtly the darling of many at the Asylum, as they are always looking for products that sound the same as the big boys for a fraction of the cost.

There is a recent "professional" review of this product at stereotimes.com, I skimmed through and recall the author was positive but had some caveats since this is a unique product.

I use a Bel Canto Dac 1.1 in my main system and really have not listened to any new DACs in almost a year, but this category of product is rapidly changing/evolving, glad this worked out good for you.
post #3 of 6
Very nice review.....thanx for the drool fodder.....
post #4 of 6
Arrgh, as if I wasn't tempted enough before...

Must not... get out... credit card...
post #5 of 6
"The DI/O's output voltage is 7volts"

That will work nicley for metal fans

Seems like they should make a consumer unit that includes optical/coaxial and RCA since this thing is so popular.

If you're using optical(yuk) is there an adapter for that?
post #6 of 6

ART DI/O Initial Impressions

Here are some initial impresions about the ART DI/O from Tyson over at HarmonicDiscord.com comparing the ART to a nOrh tubed CD player.
ART DI/O shootout
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