There are a few threads and posts floating around here discussing the V-DAC II, but I couldn't find a dedicated review thread. So, I'm starting one.
I recently took delivery of the V-DAC II and put it through the paces. I have a good feeling for its sound and wanted to share them here.
First, a word about how I review gear. I don't spend weeks going back and forth doing A/B comparisons. Rather, I use a certain set of gear for quite some time and really get to know how it works. I know how my favorite songs sound inside and out. Then, I put a new component into the chain and listen to my favorite songs. I'll immediately form an opinion of the changes. I'll listen for a while to the new configuration and further develop that opinion. Finally, I do some brief A/B comparisons with my previous setup to really lock in my impressions. You could say it's a mixture of memory and A/B at work.
My brief summary of the V-DAC II:
-Smooth and musical
-A hint of warmth while preserving good detail retrieval
-Realistic bass response
-Not much grain in the highs
-Has a very analog flavor to it, much like vinyl
Now, for some more in-depth discussions. I used these components to test:
-Trafomatic Experience Head One Amplifier
-Onkyo C-S5VL cd player
-iTunes 10.6, Windows 7 64 bit, Apple lossless files, usb output at 24/96
Compared to the analog out of the Onkyo, the V-DAC is/has:
-Slightly wider soundstage
-Slightly more refined bass, being tighter and deeper
-Slightly better instrument separation and imaging
-Noticeably less forgiveness for poorly mastered recordings
Compared to the usb/Apple lossless, the opitical out of the Onkyo is/has:
-Slightly wider soundstage
-Slightly better imaging
-Slightly less smearing
-Slightly blacker background
-About the same bass response
Ranking of performance:
1) Onkyo--optical--V-DAC II
2) Usb--V-DAC II
3) Onkyo analog out
The V-DAC II is a nice piece of equipment. It is musical, smooth, and has good imaging and very black background. It performed the best when feeding it an optical signal from my cd transport, but usb wasn't too far behind. The upgrades it brings to my system are subtle, but noticeable. The biggest difference was the optical signal from the Onkyo vs. the analog signal from the Onkyo. I always thought the Onkyo had a very good onboard dac and produced very musical sounds, but the V-DAC II makes slight, but detectable upgrades to my ears. The first thing I noticed was how much more black the background was compared to the Onkyo. Secondarlily, I noticed that the Onkyo's analog out was considerably more forgiving of poor recordings than the V-DAC II. This is clearly linked to detail retrieval and imaging. Next, I noticed the V-DAC's soundstage was ever so slightly wider. Finally, I wrote a review of the Onkyo some time ago and I concluded that the Onkyo was very analog sounding. The V-DAC is also very analog sounding. In fact, I'd say it is just a hint smoother and more musical because it preserves details while still being smooth. I think for the price, it is a very good dac and will provide slight upgrades to certain peoples' systems. I'm happy with it, especially considering its modest price.
Perhaps the biggest thing I can say about it is I finally have no problem using iTunes. I might get addicted to the genius playlists. Of course, those poor recordings might get skipped over though!