Last week DHL dropped a Reference 10.2 at my doorstep and I want to share my reference experience with you.
A little history; this is my third DAC from Audio-GD and I have also the DI with power supply. The first one was the NFB11. Beautiful with a very good sounding DA converter but not balanced. Next was the NFB10SE used together with the DI (for sale now!). More body, power and a bigger soundstage but I missed the clean sound of the DA converter of the NFB11 so I thought the Ref 10.2 could combine both because of the 1704 DA convertors.
My gear; I mainly listen to music through my speaker, the active near field monitors Klein & Hummel O300. Source is a Dell Inspiron 24 inch touchscreen only used for music. Tuned for performance and as software Foobar2000 on USB with kernel streaming.
Interlink is balanced and pure silver, USB is Audioquest Forest. My room is measured with REW and I use some acoustic panels against some unwanted echoes.
My first thought when I opened the box with the Ref 10.2 “Sh…, this is heavy!”. The DAC is very well build with good materials and can’t be compared with my earlier DAC’s. Even the remote is heavy ;-)
I listened to it for a week now and the first few days the sound got better but I didn’t notice any difference the last 2 days so I think it’s time to say something about the sound.
My expectations where quite high because I had good experience with the other DAC’s from GD and second because it’s build like high end gear should be build (my opinion).
The Ref 10.2 sounds absolute impressive! It has an extreme good 3d soundstage (without needing glasses) with lots of space between instruments. Silence is really black and when I played Patricia Barber’s Verse (24Bit recording) I got the feeling there were no speakers in the room and I could smell here breath.
Bass is tight with punch and power, highs are smooth and you can hear metal shine. It’s also so easy to hear details in the music like the squeaking of the piano chair of Diana Krall’s A Case Of You.
Electronic music like Yellow sounds very dynamic and powerful.
What’s also important to mention is that rhythm and pace are excellent which makes music more real and human, especially when you play more complex jazz pieces.
Audio-GD states that the Ref 10.2 sounds neutral and I think that’s correct. I did not measure my room again because the sound feels right. Voices, piano’s drums, it doesn’t matter, if the recording is good, it sounds good. But the opposite is also true, it’s not a magic box.
Does the ref 10.2 have a downside….? Yes, I noticed that I began playing louder and louder. Luckily I don’t have neighbors and my girlfriend likes music!
I can’t tell you if the Ref 10.2 is the best you can buy, if separated DAC’s and preamps sound better or that vinyl can’t be beaten. But what I can tell you with 100% certainty is that the Reference 10.2 is a bargain compared to other high-end gear. And that it is definitely a high-end music machine!