If you’re going to listen to great CDs, you’ll need a worthwhile CD player, and they tend to run in the $4,000 range (take the Bryston BCD-3, for example). But how about if you already run a pretty decent transport, such as the Pioneer BDP-09FD universal player, and you want to improve on the sound?
In my case, I was using a Parasound ZDAC. Not only does it sound great and accurate, but it’s super affordable at just US$549 at the time of its release. With my background in sound production, I know for a fact that some of the CDs I produced were made sweeter by the Cambridge Audio DAC Magic (about $300-$400) I had used prior. I wanted something closer to perfection: no sugar-coating, just garbage-in garbage-out. After all, the job of a DAC is to convert whatever signal goes into the box to analog without adding or reducing anything.
So using my current setup of a Pioneer BDP-09FD as the transport, NAD C316BEE integrated amplifier, and System Audio Aura 30 speakers, I decided to do a comparison between the original Parasound ZDAC and the Parasound ZDAC Version 2. It was originally released a few years ago in silver, but was re-launched this year in a limited edition black finish to celebrate the company’s 35th anniversary.
Compared to the original ZDAC, the Parasound ZDAC Version 2 is supposed to sound faster, tighter, more aggressive, and produce a taller but narrower soundstage with more pin-point-able sonic images. And that’s exactly what I observed.
It wasn’t a huge improvement over the original ZDAC, but it was noticeable. Compared to the ZDAC Version 2, the original ZDAC sacrificed speed and jump factor, but produced more graceful decays, had more width and 3D texture, and created a much more deeply layered soundstage. Through the original ZDAC, even the songs that don’t have rounded vocals and a less than 180-degree panorama sounded absolutely sublime with a decidedly rounder, sweeter quality of the vocals and a panoramic soundstage beyond 180-degrees. It is sweet and beautiful, even though I know the original recordings I created and used for this testing are not that sweet and beautiful.
With the Parasound ZDAC Version 2, however, I heard all the mistakes I created in the original recordings even more clearly. From the slightly off-centre vocal in one song, to a narrower than 180-degree soundfield imaging in the other, to that one digital clipping, I could hear it all.
If you claim to be an audiophile, you will want to hear everything as it is recorded in the studio. While the original Parasound ZDAC delivers that honesty and accuracy I’m looking for, the Parasound ZDAC Version 2 is even more brutally honest, and faithfully reproduces anything you put into it without adding any sweeteners or sonic enhancement. Plus, you can grab one for about $500.
If you already own the original ZDAC, perhaps you don’t need to upgrade to Version 2. But if you’re currently using any other DAC in the $1,000 price range or lower, the Parasound ZDAC Version 2 might surprise you as a competitive option at half the price.