CAD 1543 Review. Designed by Scott Berry, the 1543 is the ultimate premium USB digital to analogue converter for high end hifi systems. Using top shelf components and a minimal output signal path clutter this high resolution DAC sports an out of this world performance.
CAD, also known as Computer Audio Design, is a new company to the audio world. Headed by the American born, UK residing, Scott Berry, this extraordinary brand fastidiously executes every element of design under a no-compromise basis. Indeed you will have to receive one of these special units, but ultimately this results in the ownership of one of, if not, the best DAC’s in the world; a claim that is substantiated by quite a complex mix of qualities that we shall unravel throughout this review.
Contents and Build Quality:
Having wakened the 1543 from its slumber you are greeted with an impeccable unit of astounding external simplicity of design. It features the CAD logo lit by a evenly distributed constant green led, an non-detachable premium Eos Atlas IEC mains socket, a Type-B USB input, and a gold plated stereo RCA output. No USB is included.
In our interview with Scott Berry he wanted to highlight that, during the process of design, his company was fanatical about sourcing only the very best high specification components from a cornucopia of small British manufacturers. This evidence is instantaneously radiated from the most flawless single block custom laser cut smooth acrylic shell that is lovingly made in Cambridge. Available in either a black or white finish, the 1543 certainly is a thing of beauty, so much so that you would be fooled into thinking that the image is computer generated whilst researching this fabulous no-holes-barred DAC.
Whilst the exterior serves as a striking critical component in reducing the transmission of high frequency waves from interfering with the operation of the sixteen DAC chips, CAD have included four loose 5” circular honeycomb isolation feet. Although they are strictly not attached to the unit, their method of execution empowers the user to experiment with positioning to achieve greater isolation. During our time with the 1543, we literally tested the isolation effectiveness of the honeycomb feet to the extreme. On the whole we experienced positive benefits from the feet being detached, and we were able to best adapt the unit to a variety of placements. Typically, we felt that three feet arranged into a backwards triangle position appeared to be most effective for a large number of settings. Obviously this will entirely depend your environment, but the best advice really is to just use your ears, never place the unit on a thin or glass surfaces, and to never strap it down – that goes without saying.
Moving further from the allure of the external build quality, we feel it necessary to address the untapped refining glamour that lies beneath. Mentioned previously, the 1543 comes reinstalled with a fixed into chassis Atlas Eos IEC mains cable that is absolutely chunky and loaded with a design that actively eliminates a significant amount of radio frequency interference. It strongly functions on its own before it enters the inbuilt power supply and conditioner, which irons out the ‘kinks’ across various incoming frequency disturbances. Following this the power enters no less than five transformers to inhibit any possible noise disturbances. In fact the 1543 does not rely on any software to ‘upsample’ from increments between 44.1kHz and 176.4kHz, it relies on an Class A shunt resistor ladder configuration before the incoming signal enters an insane sixteen individual DAC chips, once again limiting noise into the circuit. During the design process of the 1543, it was vital to ensure that the internal signal path was as short as possible, and this immense DAC employs no powered devices on the output signal path. The resulting output signal quality is as pure as can be. From extensive tests, we found that the output signal is more than adequate to not require the use of a preamp. This is undoubtedly thanks to the sum of those sixteen chips, and logically their power enables a clearer, shorter, signal path.
In an interview with Scott Berry, he was keen to make it very aware that power from a USB port to the device was ‘dirty’ and non-linear which directly affects the performance of all the components inside. From this research the 1543 does not need or use any power coming from the USB source. Instead CAD already have their own revolutionary USB cable in development which will shortly be on sale to pair with the 1543 to complete the entire package. As said, no stone is left unturned.
CAD 1543 Sound Quality:
The CAD 1543 DAC experience is breathtaking; the experience is unforgettable. But, for the purpose of this review we have based our analysis on both Mac OS X and Microsoft Windows platforms. All files played back are lossless, with the exception of occasional FLAC, and between 44.1kHz and 176.4kHz. Our gold playback standard has been a mix of both Sonic Studio’s ‘Amarra’ (Mac) and ‘J Play’ (Windows). On the output we have used a Chord Electronics Signature Tuned ARAY, and on the input a ‘specialist’ USB cable has been used, which is to be announced later. Finally, we used numerous devices on the output including a Chord Electronics Toucan.
Immediately what is very noticeable with the 1543 is that the noise floor is very, very low. Remarkably, at any output volume, no evidence of underlying distortion was been detected and this sheer ‘absence’ of a noise floor created an excellent environment for dynamic performances to naturally stage well and welcome an openness that was not previously thought as possible with digital music devices. The 1543 is masterpiece of digital playback perfection, it makes a refined performance of astronomic proportions and provides the clearest stage for your digital music to dance on. Truthfully for this stage to take effect it needs to have a specific stereo environment for all genres of music to sing. Luckily, more than ever mentioned before, this sounds just as it should and not artificial, projecting an environment dependant on the producers vision.
Particularly important is that the inherent qualities of the DAC takes nothing away from the music in terms of a sonic signature. Whilst most DAC’s will overlay some signature quality on top of the original sound for one reason or another, Scott’s vision has created a clear-as-can-be engineering triumph. In fact the 1543 excels across the range, and unlike others, handles higher frequencies like an analogue machine. Throughout the duration of our time I never detected any form of top-end distortion. The 1543 sounds light and airy, but with bags of detail, power and stunning from the sub-bass to the ultra-sonic. It just doesn’t sound digital.
More than any other product, the CAD 1543 is an articulate beast that built from the heart. Brimming with passion and love from a mastermind maker, I cannot think of any stone that has been left unturned. This is a magnificent machine. It takes nothing away from the music itself, and presents a stunning performance from start to finish. The Pro Audio Web Blog awards the CAD 1543 DAC with a full five stars, and the editors choice award.