Given that I will soon start to publish my review website in English, I'm starting to translate the new reviews, so I reckoned I'd post it here. It's about the new B.M.C. PureDAC, and I hope you guys like it!
I still remember when I first saw a B.M.C. equipment. I’m not sure if it was an ad or a review, but it said that they were true high-end designs at an affordable price. That drew my attention, having in mind that it’s a German company (something that’s usually good), and the picture showed an M2 monoblock, which is exceptionally attractive.
Later on I saw the launch of the PureDAC, a fully balanced DAC that also acts as a headphone amplifier and pre-amplifier. I was quite curious – more so when I found out that it was going to cost about 1.700 dollars. This puts it in an interesting price bracket, because it’s relatively affordable but also faces it with fierce competition.
An interesting detail is that usually this kind of equipment has sort of functional blocks: a DAC, a headphone amp and a pre-amp. This is not how the PureDAC works, apparently. According to the brand, it’s a digital-to-analog power converter, which uses the DAC’s I/V converter to power headphones or a power amp with no extra gain stage. An interesting receipt, as the non-existence of an equipment – at least “philosophically” – is hard to beat. For example, the best cable is a non-cable, something that just does its job utopically without imposing any of its own personality.
PHYSICAL ASPECTS AND FUNCTIONALITY
One thousand and seven hundred dollars is not a small amount of money, but the truth is that it’s not that much for a sophisticated piece of audio equipment. The PureDAC can be considered accessible, but in aesthetical terms it seems to cost a lot more than it actually does.
It’s pretty large and all build from metal, with B.M.C.’s traditional circle motif on the front. The front panel is mirrored, and all the writing only appears as a white glow when the unit is turned on. It exudes class and sophistication. The only issue is that the mirror finish needs looking after, as it wildly attracts fingerprints.
An interesting thing is that there are independent mute and volume controls for both the pre-amp and the headphone amp. So we get two volume indicators in the front circle and a volume and mute control on each side. There’s also an input selector and two headphone outs: a regular P10 and a 4 pin XLR.
A slightly annoying thing is that it does not’t memorize the volume position used during the previous use, so every time I power it on I have to set it to where I want it again. It’s much like my Abrahamsen V6.0, but this one does this with the input selection.
At the back there are the USB, Toslink, AES/EBU and coaxial inputs, the analog outputs (both single-ended and balanced) and the B.M.C. Link connections.
The list of supported formats is extensive. It handles everything from 16 to 24Bits, supporting frequencies from 44.1 up to 384kHz. It’s also capable of decoding DSD64 and DSD128. I don’t really believe in the benefits of using high-resolution formats for listening purposes, but as you all probably know DSD is a whole other matter, as it’s a completely different format altogether, and not just (potentially inaudible) extra information.
I did do some tests with DSD, but found many difficulties. First, there is not much out there that can be downloaded in this format (mostly just stuff to show off your system and not things that you would regularly listen to), the files are huge, and the reproduction is still rather complicated on a Mac. Very few pieces of software are capable of handling DSDs, they’re mostly paid, the setup is rather complex and, at the end of the day, I didn’t find a difference that was big enough for making me want to go through all that inconvenience. Nevertheless, it’s nice to know that this is a pretty much future-proof DAC.
Lastly, something that is frequently forgotten in the high-end audio realm: a remote control! It’s still not capable of turning the PureDAC on and off, but it can adjust volume and turn-on the mute function. The time I spend with equipment without remotes makes me forget how convenient they are.
Everything I read about the Sabre chips and the DACs that use them indicate that they use a more analytical approach, with noteworthy detail retrieval capabilities and more treble activity. In the PureDAC, however, I found quite a bit more than that.
It is indeed colder than my Abrahamsen V6.0, but it’s impressive how much more smooth and tonally correct it sounds to me – and this is even more impressive when I remember when I compared my DAC to an EMM Labs unit and found no differences whatsoever in tonal balance.
There is a more linear personality, one that reminds me a lot of the HeadAmp GS-X. Everything sounds logical and coherent. Comparing it side-by-side to the Abrahamsen shows me that the mids are less aggressive (a character that I never heard in it before, but becomes evident when pitting it against the B.M.C.) and the sound is overall less full, but also more correct in a way. It reminds me a lot of my HM-801 and DX1000 comparison, using them as discreet DACs: the latter sounded colder but a lot more linear, while the former was warmer but, surprisingly, more aggressive.
With the PureDAC, I get an increased bass and treble activity, while I also hear more laid back mids, which are less warm but sweeter. The only upside with the Abrahamsen is that it seems to be more competent in spacial terms. The presentation has more depth and, consequently, a more tridimensional portrayal of the soundstage. The B.M.C. is just less impressive in this regard.
With my headphones, I really liked the result. I expected to get a colder personality, possibly undesirable with headphones like the Sennheiser HD800, but I really liked what I heard and found the whole system to sound very natural and correct. For this particular headphone I end up preferring the musicality of the Abrahamsen, but with the HiFiMAN HE500s, the Grado HP1000s, the Audio-Technica W3000ANVs and the JH Audio Roxannes in particular, I would rather have the PureDAC’s presentation.
This happened again with my speaker system. Synergy must never be overlooked, and in that system, the B.M.C. gave me a much more interesting performance than the DAC I currently have there. The problem is that that system’s electronics were chosen for a pair of KEFs XQ40, which are exceptionally transparent and considerably cold, so they are more musical and euphonic: a Marantz PM-11S2 and an Electrocompaniet ECD-1.
A while ago I upgraded to a pair of Jamo R907s, which are a lot more musical than the KEFs. Because of that, the overall sound of the system became exaggeratedly warm and slightly veiled, and I still haven’t had the time/willingness/money to rethink the electronics. The PureDAC gave me a much more appropriate sound for the Marantz and the Jamos, giving me an extra dose of apparent information and a generally more balanced sound.
The next step was listening to the single-ended headphone out, and the whole situation changed quite a lot. The good news is that it has a chameleonic ability – such as the GS-X – to power most headphones, from the sensitive JH Audio Roxanne with no noise at all up to the HD800 and HE500 with all the authority that they demand. The bad news came when I heard a completely inversion of personalities. Everything I said about how the Abrahamsen is more mid-centric and aggressive than the PureDAC, which sounded more natural and coherent, was inverted and reached a whole new level.
The headphone out, compared to when I used the PureDAC feeding the GS-X, sounded strongly mid-centric and lacked the refinement that the DAC on its own has in spades. This is confusing, since in theory there’s no extra amplifier stage, so what could be happening?
I know that it isn’t the GS-X that is coloring the sound, since it’s one of the most neutral headphone amps ever designed – and I’ve been increasingly able to stand by that. It really shines a light on the source, showing exactly what it’s doing. No amplifier I’ve ever listened to was able to show differences between sources as evidently as the HeadAmp, while giving any headphone precisely what it needs in order for it to perform to its full potential.
When I switched to the XLR outputs, the situation improved considerably, but I still hear a less correct sound than when I use the GS-X with the Abrahamsen or with the PureDAC as a stand-alone DAC. The sound is slightly mid-centric, a bit more aggressive and less refined. This is curious to say the least, since it’s a personality that’s the complete opposite of when I use it as a DAC feeding the GS-X, and there is no extra amplification stage. I should be hearing exactly what I heard when I used it with the HeadAmp, but the result was completely different.
With the PureDAC, it is mandatory that the balanced out is used. The single-ended out is seriously deficient, a fact that to me represents a versatility problem – not many headphones are factory balanced, and how many of us are willing to recable all of our headphones? Only my HE500 is balanced. One of the things that I like the most about the GS-X is its versatility, and it bothers me to know that with the B.M.C. it is pretty much necessary to use the XLR out – possible only with my least sophisticated headphone, by the way.
It still confuses me that the balanced out is less competent than the GS-X – as in theory it represents only the excellent DAC, and not an extra gain stage –, but when I factor in the fact that the HeadAmp costs a thousand dollars more and is just an amplifier, this becomes a lot easier to accept. Consequently, I think that this is a justified performance difference, and if I did not know that there is no dedicated amplification in the PureDAC, I would not be this confused. It is the “non-existence” of amplification that gave me high hopes.
The B.M.C. PureDAC has proved to be a really fantastic DAC. It’s not particularly easy to find equipment that are capable of extreme transparency and detail retrieval tied to a smooth and musical presentation. This DAC is one of the few that can do it in spades. It has a very natural, coherent and balanced personality, with high levels of resolution and transparency.
Physically it appears to be a lot more sophisticated than it already is and is also very versatile in terms of connections and, mostly, in terms of supported file formats.
My only gripe comes with respect to the headphone outs (especially the deficient single-ended out), which seem aggressive and mid-centric, which is curious since this is the complete opposite of what the DAC itself presents. This does not mean that it’s not going to do a good job powering headphones – synergy comes into play and we cannot forget its ability to power pretty much anything. I would, however, like to hear more of the extreme refinement that I got from the PureDAC feeding the GS-X in the headphone outs.
This does not, however, diminish this B.M.C.’s prowess as a digital-to-analog converter. I really like my Abrahamsen V6.0 and didn’t think I was going to say something like this very soon – but I will really miss the PureDAC in my system.
- Headphones: Audio-Technica W3000ANV, Grado HP1000, HiFiMAN HE500, Sennheiser HD800, Sennheiser HD 25-1 II, Shure SRH840
- Earphones: JH Audio Roxanne, Sony EX1000, Etymotic Research MC3
- Speakers: Jamo R907, Dali Lektor 2
- Headphone amplifier: HeadAmp GS-X
- Speaker amplifiers: Marantz PM-11S2, JVC A-S5
- DACs: Electrocompaniet ECD-1, Abrahamsen V6.0
Edited by Leonardo Drummond - 3/17/14 at 7:51am