Angstrom 200 Home Entertainment Director '90's DAC - info and impressions
May 15, 2015 at 1:08 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 5

mikoss

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Preamble
With all of the buzz of Mike Moffat/Schiit releasing the Yggdrasil killer DAC this year, I became interested in picking up something else that Mike designed. The Angstrom 200 was released in 1996, and retailed for around $3500. I will update this thread will more info as I find it out, but for now here is what I do know...
 
Looks
The Angstrom 200 came in a black case, and it is very big, by todays standards. The case measures about 10.5" in depth, by 16 5/8" wide. (The front also has a plate which is a bit wider, at 19" across). The front panel has numerous red LED's, as well as small round push buttons, for changing selection options. There is also a remote control, which my unit did not come with. Overall, it doesn't look too bad... a bit dated perhaps, but still decent. I should also mention that it is heavy - I would guess about 20 lbs.
 

 

 

 
 
 
Functionality Options
The unit has numerous inputs, both analog RCA and also some optical inputs for digital functionality. There are also different processing modes, and volume controls. Since I'm using it as a DAC only, I haven't played around with the processing modes (I leave the unit in Stereo mode). There are also what appear to be a "noise test" button which as far as I can determine, sends white noise to each speaker channel. This is probably to confirm that the speakers are hooked up correctly.
 
As far as the volume control goes, there are two sets of buttons related to setting the volume. On the far right, an up/down set of buttons to set the volume output of the unit. There are also two LEDs to indicate Min/Max level. To the left of those buttons are two more up/down buttons which adjust the input level. The LED's above those indicate -6dB, -3dB, or max. I set my volume controls such that the unit is receiving full volume without clipping, and putting out full volume without clipping.
 
If I get the manual, I will add more information to this section as well.
 
Sound and Performance
I bought this unit after Purrin started his (now famous) DAC thread. My main reason to buy this 1990's DAC was his impression of Delta-Sigma DAC chips, and their inherent flaws. This is a hotly debated topic, and many members believe that filtering can alleviate the issues that plague some of the implementations of Delta-Sigma DAC's. Others believe there are no issues inherent to Delta-Sigma DAC's. Personally, I hear problems with digital music, in the form of fatigue, and sensitivity to upper midrange emphasis and treble. I personally find many DACs to be bright/crisp and generally intolerable.
 
This is the basis of my investment into vinyl, although it is has its own problems. Where I hear compression and digital noise in cymbals and percussion on a DAC, I hear clarity and realistic sounding cymbal crashes from my turntable. This is extremely apparent to me on songs such as "Take Five" - I regularly put that record on for skeptical friends who wonder why I bother buying records and gear. I am not a crazy man, but knowing that a recording can sound that way, I simply can't deny myself the experience.
 
With all of that in mind, I simply could not afford the Yggdrasil, so I searched for another non D-S DAC that Mike engineered...
 
Clarity, clarity, crystal clear clarity...
The first thing that is apparent with the Angstrom is an overall clarity. I recognised it with the very first track I put on, a fairly acoustic vocal track by the Weepies (Sirens). Vocals immediately sound different - I hear them for what they really are, without the "smear" that other DACs introduce. This is a profound experience worthy of the price of the Angstrom alone... and the decay of the vocals is also superb. I've never heard such a natural, precise decay. The tonality of vocals also gets "dialed in" - natural vocal nuances that were smeared over became apparent at first listen. This clarity also extends beyond just the vocal range... bass is well defined, as is percussion. In fact, the entire treble region is cleaned up. Cymbals and percussion really start to shine with this DAC... their ability to cut through without piercing or distorting is also very apparent. This clarity for me is the signature of this DAC.
 
Depth, layering, atmosphere...
So we've established an overall clarity, but how does the overall atmosphere improve? In a word, immensely. I hear so many aspects in the presentation of this DAC related to atmosphere that my music takes me somewhere else. The tonal weight is dialed somewhere just above being what I'd consider thin... that thin region which I associate with as being "completely neutral/transparent". I believe DACs with a musical presentation have more tonal weight, but often at the expense of being overly thick/crowded. The Angstrom achieves its musicality by presenting a tonal weight which is just a touch above what I consider that overly thin region. There is also a linearity that becomes apparent once the unit has had a chance to completely warm up. 
 
After my unit was on for about 80 hours, there were two stark improvements I heard... the bass being the first. It became slightly more pronounced, but also tighter. The weight of the kick drum was dialed in, to a satisfying, resolving place. There is absolutely no muddling of the bass into the midrange, which I believe is paramount to the height and width of the soundstage. The bass is left deep down where it belongs, with absolute clarity and expression of the most minute detail. This is the second improvement as the unit warms up; more overall resolution and clarity which somehow turns the presentation into an emotional ride for me. The initial clarity of the vocals and percussion somehow extends far beyond just that region, and into the entire frequency response. Combined with the linearity and tonal weight, this is an absolute knock-out DAC.
 
Musicality... and the "Digital Vinyl" dub...
I am a fan of tube amps, for the fact that they seem to unleash sonic layering in my music. At the best of times, it can sound organic; at the worst of times, it can sound artificial, and detract from the presentation. I'll be the first to admit that tubes generally tend to remove a layer of clarity, but I will also argue that they introduce something "more" to the music... a layer of harmonic distortion that creates atmosphere. The Angstrom gets me to the same place, only instead of removing that clarity to produce atmosphere, it simply allows me to hear the layers as they naturally exist.
 
There is no bloom, there is no roll-off, the digititis and distortion of other DACs is gone. Is it exactly the same as hearing a record on my turntable? No... this is different. It's more precise, and intricate. It's refined, yet has the satisfying smoothness that takes music beyond being examined. It creates an emotional response in me that reminds me of putting on headphones in my parents basement as a young kid, listening while my dad mixed and recorded local bands. I simply want to close my eyes and be connected with my heart.
 
 
In conclusion, I highly recommend the Angstrom 200... I would gladly pay up to $1000 for this DAC. I hope my comments are helpful, and as you can imagine, I am enamoured with the presentation, but am open to any comments anyone may have. I would also love to invite everyone over to have a listen... I am also looking forward to hearing the Yggdrasil myself, but I can say at this time that I don't think I'm interested in going any further in my quest to find the right DAC for me. This is it.
 
Mar 30, 2016 at 8:17 AM Post #2 of 5

davesa

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Wow, that is a blast from the past. I bought one of these when they came out and it was the center piece of my home theater and music system for quite a while.
 
Originally it had some amazing surround support, and always sounded great when listening to music.
 
Over time it was overshadowed by all the new surround formats, and video switching that were becoming available and it was swapped out of my system. At the time I never thought about keeping it around for just its DAC capabilities, but that would make a lot sense.
 
Feb 14, 2019 at 7:40 AM Post #3 of 5

Dalgas

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I now - I´m kick-starting an old thread.....

I just picked up an Angstrom 200/205 combo for just 300 dkr (25 USD). The Angstrom 200 have replaced a Cambridge DAC3 sitting between my Pioneer 304 mk2 cd-player and my amp (Myst TMA3 ) driving a pair of Evox speakers. I must say I´m shocked. The Angstrom 200 is good - very good! I will insert it in my main-system soon where it will be up against my Gumby. I only listen to Redbook (16bit/44 kHz) so the Angstrom could be a serious contender. I will however need an USB-spdif converter if this should be the case.
 
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Feb 17, 2019 at 9:43 AM Post #4 of 5

Dalgas

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I have now inserted the Angstrom 200 in my main system. (Dynaudio Coumpound 4 and a very modified Stemfoort SF 60) Using Angstrom as a dac - hooked up to a modified Philips cd 304 MK2 player. I can now compare the Angstrom 200/Philips cd to my Schiit Gumby Gen. 5/SOtM-sMS 200. Not at all a fair competition? Well to my surprise it is a very close race. Gumby/SoTM sounds perhaps a little sweeter and more detailed. The soundstage of the Angstrom 200/Philips cd is however wider/deeper, bass-punch is better - and so is the feeling of being present in the same room as the musicians.

Next step will by a Schiit Eitr so I can try my SOtM with the Angstrom. Since I only listen to Cd/flac-rips (16bit/44kHz) I am seriously considering selling my Gumby.
 
Feb 17, 2019 at 11:55 AM Post #5 of 5

Dalgas

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Well I had to do it - otherwise would not be fair: Gumby vs Angstrom 200 using the Philips Cd 304 mk2 as source has a clear winner: Gumby! My Philips cd 304 mk2 has been modified with a new NOS-dac board. I dont like the sound of that NOS dac but the coax-spdif out is clearly very good.

I still think the Angstrom is very good. Gumby is just better. Not surprising when you think it through.

BUT I am surprised that SOtM sMS 200/Gen. 5 USB is beaten by the modified Philips CD player. Maybe I need to check the setup of the SOtM/modem etc.

BUT AGAIN - what could ever beat a good cd-transport/DAC? Certainly not a flac-file ripped with and played from a laptop through a networkplayer and a USB -spdif converter. It is convenient to have all your CDs on a HDD but I am beginning to suspect that it is all it is...convenient.
 
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