CD player/DAC/preamp
Made by: Loudspeaker Technology Ltd, UK
Supplied by: ATC, Gloucestershire
Telephone: 01285 760561
Price: £2950
With an upgraded specification including an asynchronous USB input with DSD
capability, ATC’s CD player/DAC/preamp aims to be a complete system front-end
Review: Andrew Everard Lab: Paul Miller
s this a new twist on the CD player? Or
yet another new variation on the DAC?
Well, neither actually, for as that ‘Mk2’
suffix suggests, this is a revised version
of ATC’s innovative CDA CD player/DAC/
preamp combination, selling for £2950
and designed as the perfect partner for the
company’s £3375 P2 power amplifier [HFN
Mar ’17], or its range of active speakers.
Combine the CDA2 Mk2 with the P2,
which has a more-than-healthy 300W per
channel output, and you have a simple
two-box system with both CD playback and
plenty of inputs – both analogue and digital
– able to drive a wide range of speakers.
Combine it with a pair of ATC’s active
speakers, the company suggesting the
SCM19A as a starting point, and you have
a minimalist set-up, albeit one capable of
very high standards of performance.
As a result, the CDA2 Mk2’s mixture of
facilities is something of a masterstroke
in simplifying what could be a multicomponent system. Then again, there will
be those who sound a note of caution,
as they would with any multifunction
device of this kind: in what is still a rapidlyevolving digital audio market, buying such
a product might be putting too many eggs
in one basket. After all, while the CDA2
Mk2 might be convenient, it is prey to the
appearance of future formats requiring
decoding or processing beyond its
capabilities, and appears to have no clear
upgrade route through modular design or
firmware updates.
And, of course, there are formats and
services already available to which the
CDA2 Mk2 doesn’t provide access. So
it may handle files up to DSD256, but
it won’t play SACDs, and neither does it
have any streaming capability onboard. If
you want to play music from network or
RIGHT: The CD transport [lower left] is
sourced from TEAC, the USB input board [top
left] is powered by an Atmel processor and
the (balanced) analogue stage [top] features a
premium AKM ‘Velvet Sound’ AK4490 DAC
Reprinted from Hi-Fi News |
Internet sources, then you will have to do
so via a computer connected to the USB-B
input provided, or add a dedicated network
music player. And with line analogue inputs
only, turntable users will have to add an
offboard phono stage, too.
So the CDA2 Mk2 is a comprehensive
solution, if not a complete one. Mind
you, it compares favourably on price with
contemporary products. For example,
the AVM Evolution CS 5.2 offers a similar
specification, plus onboard 330W
amplification, and is about twice the price
of the ATC unit – or a bit less than the
CDA2 Mk2/P2 combination.
The CDA2 Mk2 uses a Chinese-made
TEAC drive to spin the CDs and includes
the celebrated AK4490 DAC from Asahi
Kasei. Part of AKM’s Verita Series, and using
what the company calls its ‘Velvet Sound’
architecture, the AK4490 supports up to
768kHz/32-bit PCM (the CDA2 Mk2 uses
this capability up to 384kHz) and 11.2MHz
DSD, and offers a choice of five digital filter
settings. However, ATC has decided not to
give the user direct access to these filters,
choosing what it thinks sounds the best
and making this the default mode [see PM’s
Lab Report, p65].
The DAC also receives data from the
CDA2 Mk2’s range of digital inputs,
including USB-B, coaxial and optical. The
USB audio input requires downloadable
drivers for use with Windows computers,
but is driverless with Macs – what is
unusual, however, is that it will support
DSD256 when used with Windows, but
only DSD128 with OS X machines.
The output of the DAC stage, and the
three analogue inputs (one of which is
of higher sensitivity, and provided on a
3.5mm stereo socket instead of a pair of
RCA phonos) feed into a fully-balanced
preamp stage on the main board stretching
the width of the rear of the housing. Even
the 6.35mm headphone socket, driven by
its own amplifier, is on the rear panel to
keep signal paths short, and the front panel
controls are ‘fly by wire’ rather than being
coupled mechanically to the audio board.
Also notable is the abundance of fresh
air inside the CDA2 Mk2 [see picture, p62].
While sometimes derided by those who feel
they’re only getting their money’s worth
if the interior of a product is crammed
with circuitry, this actually has advantages
when it comes to keeping sound-critical
components away from potential sources
of interference.
As an aside on the
same subject, it’s worth
noting that the main audio
board has a clear circular
‘landing pad’ marking for
the toroidal transformer,
complete with a hole
drilled for its mounting
bolt. In the original CDA2 this is where the
transformer was mounted, but in the Mk2
the location is unoccupied. Instead, the
transformer is bolted in vertical orientation
to the right-hand side-panel of the unit –
presumably as this location distances it
from the audio circuits, further reducing
interference and noise.
Outputs are provided on both balanced
XLRs and conventional RCA phonos,
and the CDA2 Mk2 is built on a chassis
combining steel and aluminium and using
constrained mass damping to control
resonances, with the front panel machined
from a 13mm aluminium extrusion with a
brushed and anodised silver finish.
What’s new here? Well, the obvious things
are on the input side – both the USB and
the 3.5mm stereo socket have been added,
but the CDA2 Mk2 is also the result of
extensive reworking
under the lid. The AKM
DAC is new, as is the
TEAC-supplied transport,
chosen for faster seek
times, lower mechanical
noise and improved error
correction, while the
power supply has gained
nine extra voltage regulators and better
decoupling. The input/output gain stages
have been upgraded with discrete op-amps
in six blocks – two for input buffering and
four to deliver the balanced output.
The output section is also designed
to drive long cable runs, as might be the
case when, for example, the CDA2 Mk2
is connected directly to a pair of active
speakers. ATC says it’s good for balanced
cables of up to 50m, which should be
adequate for even the largest room.
Other gains are brought about by more
‘It’s amazing how
can prove so
very addictive!’
The CDA2 Mk2 is the latest arrival in a
range of ATC electronics, originating
with its own electronic crossovers for
active operation of the company’s
speakers: these first appeared 36 years
ago, just eight years into the life of ATC. While the Gloucestershire company is
still best-known for its speakers, which are widely used in studios, it has long
had amplification components to back them up. All its products are grounded
in the company’s heritage – after all, it was founded by Billy Woodman back in
1974 to make drivers for the pro audio industry, most notably in high-quality PA
applications. Its first model was the PA75-314 12in bass unit, designed for high
power, low distortion and – above all – big SPLs. Today, its drive units are still
made in-house, both for its ‘domestic’ and widely-used professional monitors.
Having joined the catalogue in 1996, the standalone ‘hi-fi’ electronics line is a
relatively recent arrival, beginning with the SCA2 preamp and SPA2-150 power
amp, closely followed by its first integrated amp, the SIA2-150.
ABOVE: No frills sound meets functional style:
buttons below CD drawer operate transport
functions, while those to the right cover input
selection and on/standby. And that’s about it!
meticulous construction, including handsoldering of components, each unit being
assembled by a single ATC employee,
while the headphone amp has also been
upgraded, to give it better drive for tricky
loads. The package is completed by a
comprehensive IR remote control, handling
all the CDA2 Mk2’s functions, a neat touch
here being a ‘CD standby’ button to turn
off the disc section when listening to other
inputs, thus reducing the potential for
noise and vibration.
ATC recommends J River Media Centre 22
for playback on both Windows and Mac
OS X, and provides illustrations in the
user manual for the optimum set-up for
the best possible sound. Mind you, it also
recommends Windows 7-based PCs, and
El Capitan for Macs, saying that was how
the CDA2 Mk2 was developed, but I had
no problems running it with Windows 10
and more recent OS X versions – most of
my Macs now run either Sierra or High
Sierra – along with
playback software
including Amarra
and Audirvana.
What’s clear,
however you feed
the CDA2 Mk2, is
that this unusual
hybrid device
sounds very special indeed, whether
playing discs, receiving audio via its S/PDIF
inputs, connected via its analogue ins or
handling hi-res audio from a computer.
Simply, there is a rightness and directness
about the sound, with tight, powerful
bass, a clean, informative midband and
a treble that’s as explicit as it is sweet,
all suggesting that the CDA2 Mk2 is
just letting the music through, and not
messing with it in the process. It’s this
neutrality that makes it a joy to use – it is | Reprinted from Hi-Fi News
ABOVE: Digital inputs are covered by DSD-compatible USB-B and S/PDIF on coax
and Toslink optical, with two sets of line-level analogue inputs on RCAs, alongside a
6.35mm headphone socket, balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA) preamp outputs
amazing how its ‘nothingness’ can
prove highly addictive! You could
pay a lot more for a CD player,
DAC and preamp and still find the
components imposing something
of themselves on the sound.
That this (relatively) affordable
combination offers so much and yet
adds or removes so little is a major
achievement by ATC’s engineers.
For an indication of that in action,
I needed look no further than the
eponymous debut album by The
B52’s, already eight years old when
it appeared on CD in 1987 [Island
Records CID 9580]. Yes, some saw
the ‘High Fidelity’ logo on the cover
as a joke, given the snappy, jerky
rhythms, dense mixes and campy
vocals, but the album lives up to the
description right from the opening
riff of ‘Planet Claire’, and the CDA2
Mk2 delivers it with real drive and
a wide open view of the layers of
the recording, charging through the
album’s paltry 39-minute playing
time with such verve that it seems
to be over almost before it’s started.
This front end may come out of
a studio heritage, but it knows how
to have a good time, and there’s
nothing anonymous or ‘technical’
about the way it plays music.
The same is very much in
evidence with Pink Floyd’s Wish
You Were Here, in DSD64 [from EMI
5099952243325], played in via the
USB input. The crisp resolution of the
CDA2 Mk2’s digital section allows
the lumbering rhythms of ‘Have A
Cigar’ to power out into the room,
while making every detail of the
lyrics and recording plain to hear.
Meanwhile its unfettered dynamics
are perfectly suited to the slow burn
of ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’
before it lets the guitar riffs scream
out with fine attack.
Get somewhat spikier with Elvis
Costello And The Attractions’ Armed
Forces album [Imp Records FIEND
21], now unfathomably almost at its
40th birthday, and the gutsy Nick
Lowe production combined with
the still punky charge of the band
on tracks such as ‘Oliver’s Army’ and
‘Goon Squad’ is meat and drink for
the wide-open ATC sound.
It’s an album on which you can
hear Costello’s sound changing,
his voice opening up, the songs
still hard-hitting lyrically but now
becoming more layered with
keyboards, more guitars and
harmonies. Here it comes up fresh as
a daisy, reminding you what all the
fuss was about back in 1979.
Come bang up to date with
Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa’s Black
Coffee [Provogue PRD75445], an
album that looks dynamic range in
the face and laughs, and the CDA2
Mk2 lets the full-on, ‘bouncing off
the limiters’ effect thunder through
with all its melodrama intact. It ain’t
pretty, but boy is it effective!
ATC has extracted an exceptional performance from its choice
of AKM’s 768kHz/32-bit AK4490 ‘Premium’ DAC although the
player’s massive 14.5V (balanced) output with CD/digital inputs
is still rather higher than typical. The maximum achievable
output is 18.4V (via the analogue input) and, with its low
9.85ohm source impedance, the CDA2 Mk2 will surely drive
the most adventurous interconnect/power amp combinations!
The response via digital sources, and its favourable time domain
behaviour, is governed by ATC’s choice of the ‘Short Delay/
Sharp roll-off’ digital filter – one of five algorithms offered by
the AK4490 DAC that we explored in depth in our review of the
TEAC UD-503 DAC/headphone amp [HFN Apr ’16].
This minimum phase filter offers a 100dB suppression
of stopband images with CD and a response that rolls-away
very gently to –0.3dB/13kHz and –0.6dB/20kHz. With 48kHz,
96kHz and 192kHz digital inputs the response is –0.5dB/20kHz,
–1.15dB/45kHz, and –1dB/48kHz to –17.6dB/90kHz respectively,
although the inherent (analogue) response of the preamplifier is
–1dB/4Hz to –0.04dB/20kHz and –0.7dB/100kHz.
The A-wtd S/N ratio is 110.7dB (digital, re. 0dBFs) and
101.7dB (analogue, re. 0dBV) while ‘digital’ distortion is as low
as 0.0001%/1kHz and 0.0009%/20kHz at –10dBFs [see Graph 1,
below]. Distortion via USB and S/PDIF inputs is 0.0006-0.004%
from 20Hz-20kHz at 0dBFs (measured at 4V balanced output)
while the inherent THD of the preamp stage is 0.0001-0.001%
over the same span. Digital jitter is well managed although
not entirely eliminated at 55psec (48kHz/24-bit) and 35psec
(96kHz/24-bit) [see Graph 2, below]. PM
ABOVE: Distortion vs. digital signal level over a 120dB
dynamic range – 48kHz/24-bit LPCM (1kHz, red;
20kHz, cyan) vs. CD (1kHz, black; 20kHz, blue)
The music centre, ATC style: the
CDA2 Mk2 may have all the air of
‘a horse designed by committee’,
as it does so much, but this is
more thoroughbred than camel,
with a wide-open sound, masses
of detail and unrestrained slam.
It makes a fine partner for power
amps and active speakers alike,
getting on with the business of
delivering the music without
adding or subtracting anything. If
it does all you need, it’s a bargain.
Sound Quality: 84%
- 100
ABOVE: High res. jitter spectrum with 48kHz/24-bit
data (black) and 96kHz/24-bit data (red, w. markers)
Maximum output level / Impedance
18.4Vrms / 9.85ohm (XLR)
A-wtd S/N ratio (LPCM / CD / Preamp)
110.7dB / 110.7dB / 101.7dB
Distortion (1kHz, 0dBFs/–30dBFs)
0.00064% / 0.00035%
Distortion & Noise (20kHz, 0dBFs/–30dBFs)
0.0043% / 0.00075%
Freq. resp. (20Hz-20kHz/45kHz/90kHz)
+0.0 to –0.5dB/–1.2dB/–17dB
Freq. resp. (Preamp, 20Hz-20kHz/100kHz)
+0.0dB to –0.05dB / –0.7dB
Digital jitter (48kHz/96kHz / CD)
55psec / 35psec / 145psec
Power consumption
10W (9W standby)
Dimensions (WHD) / Weight
445x90x330mm / 7kg | Reprinted from Hi-Fi News