I do miss the Ref. 7. Very clear and clean sound. I did this program because I hadn't really noticed a huge difference in sound at meets between today's dacs and decent older ones. The Ref. 7 is considered among the top dacs in the $2000 range. I use this price as a dividing line from decent mid fi and the beginning of hi fi. (my view of the world, just go with it) If I could live with a dac for a bit, I could determine what value that range provides. The gang at A gd should be proud of what they have accomplished with the Ref. 7 V5. It could be used for a coffee table but what a spread of components. Very nice. The electronics geek in me is impressed with the layout and quality of workmanship. When the unit got to me, the V5 board needed to be swapped. We opened it at the meet and was easily replaced. If all upgrades were so easy.........
Sonically, I now have a little better idea of the value of dacs. The Ref. 7 is an audio microscope of sonic clarity. It gives you everything in the material and with an ease I was surprised to hear. I was afraid a neutral SS dac would be too dry in the high end. On a tube or SS amp, the Ref. 7 just sounds right. Bass is better resolved with solid weight, the vocals are smooth yet powerful and the highs were awesome. The upper ranges with different dacs have different presentations. Some are tinny, some subdued, others too energetic. It was in this area that the Ref. 7 earned it's reputation to me. After a week of listening through all my test/favorites, I just let "random" select my music. I was listening to music I seldom do because of it's terrible sound. What I found is that while the Ref. 7 is razor sharp, it also improves bad recordings. It does this by separating each component of the music and presenting it in an open soundscape. Other dacs would present this music with the hash blended in the music. With the Ref. 7 the hash was still there but separated from the music enough to open the sound. My attention was focused on the music instead of the hash. (yeah, that's the definition of an audiophile)
I've had a couple days to go back to my dac and I still feel that while the sound of the Ref. 7 is better than all but a couple I've heard, it's the fever of the hobby that would move me to get one and not the big jump in sonic improvement. I think that says a lot for the pioneers of the hobby. Technology has made a lot of marketing noise and gains have been made but many wouldn't consider it worth the investment. The gear slut in me is screaming every reason why it's worth it. The one who must be obeyed balances my slutty impulses so any purchase is tempered by reality.
For anyone looking for a dac in this price range, you should get the chance to audition one at a meet. It is better (IMO) than the Benchmark, Buffalo, Monarchy level of dac. Mikey's Opus still carries my reference for high end performance but the Ref. 7 is half the price and gives as good. The only area that made more of an impression from the Opus kit was soundscape.
Thank you A gd for giving us a chance to hear this reference piece of art. Made in China carries more esteem and value due to this experience.