Any new product from AD LABS stirs my curiosity and there are two reasons for that. The first one is referring to the extremely good quality/price ratio proven along the years by the brand’s products and secondly because their gear is 100% designed and produced by a Romanian brand. For the moment it’s the only one at this level and I hope that their achievements will serve as inspiration for others as well.
RD26 is manufactured by AD LABS, a subsidiary of Rockna Audio. They are the same guys responsible for the top-notch Wavequest d/a converter, one of the most advanced digital processors available. RD26 addresses a different market corner, with prices from 449 to 599 euros. The three versions available are RD26/b (basic) with s/pdif and aes/ebu inputs (449e), RD26/u which is the basic version with an asynchrounous USB input up to 192k/24 bit (499e) and RD26/w which is the basic version with a wireless usb dongle (599e). All three versions came with a remote control as an extra option (44e). Today I’m gonna test the most expensive and interesting flavour – the wireless one.
On the outside, the dac is elegant with a sleek finnish. The black chassis of RD26 is built of anodised aluminium which gives a nice and hi-tech look, at the same time shielding it from EMI interferences. The front-panel is equipped with a display, and the input and other setting selection is made via frontal push-buttons or with the remote, which comes as an option. As a matter of fact I recommend the remote option as the glossy front panel is a true fingerprint magnet.
On the inside, things look really well, I haven’t seen many dacs at this price level, stuffed with so many quality components. The power supply is linear mode only, with 2 separate transformers for analog and digital sections. I noticed a filtering bank of over 40.000 uF – as much as into a small power amplifier. The analog section is powered by a proprietary AD LABS module which is said to offer a much better noise/rejection performance than off-the-shelf available chips. I see local power supply chips almost everywhere – indeed these guys don’t like the noise at all . On the digital path I see a marriage between the TI’s SRC4392 which is doing s/pdif reception and upsampling and Wolfson’s WM8741 which does the real d/a conversion. The output buffers are the ultrafast TPA6120 which are dedicated heaphone amplifers. All chosen circuits are top-notch performers. The general layout is well executed, both pleasing for the eye and technically with short traces between critical components.
RD26 is one the most versatile converters I had the opportunity to test. There is a high-performance wireless USB module capable of transmitting 48k/24bit, an amplified heaphone output, single ended and balanced outputs (variable), aes/ebu and s/pdif inputs.
Being very interested by the quality of the wireless link, I intensively tested this option – with surprisingly good results. I had no signal dropouts or interferences, not even when I placed the usb transmitter in a different room. I compared the wireless audio quality with the(wired) coaxial input, using lossless music material 44.1/16 – and I haven’t noticed any difference – this was the proof for me that the wireless link works flawlessly. Among the dac features is a very useful volume control on all outputs, phase invert, channel switch and five filter responses easily available with the dedicated front-button. Combinations between linear , minimum phase and apodising filters are available.
The low-impedance output of the RD26 makes it suitable to drive directly a power amplifier, which is nice bonus.
• Antonio Vivaldi – The Four Seasons
• Beethoven – The 5th Symphony
• Ultimate Demostration Disk – Chesky Records
• Goran Bregovic – Ederlezi
• Jean Michel Jarre – AERO
• Pink Martini – Sympathique
• Celine Dion-Best Ballads
• Francis Goya – Greatest Hits 2CD – 2009
• Dire Straits 1985-Brothers in Arms
• B&W-Demo Disc
Associated test equipment :
• stereo amplifier: Creek Destiny , Anthem 225i, Naim 5i, NAD BEE375
• speakers: Dynaudio Confidence, Dynaudio Contour, Elac FS189, Wharfedale Evo2-10
• transport: USB wireless module, AD Labs Mars
• interconnect cables: Eagle Cable MC90, Chord Crimson
• headphones: Sennheiser HD555, HD800
• headphone amplifier: Burson
• speaker cable: Eagle Cable Calypso, Groneberg
Here we are at the most important part of our evaluation – the sound quality. At this chapter the RD26 met my expectations every moment.
The sound character is on the very detailed side, classical music being a real pleasure to listen. Either in Beethoven 5th Symphony, and in Vivaldi’s Seasons you can feel „the sound of the wood” of which the instruments are made of. The violin and the piano are very natural, with a little auto-suggestion you can close your eyes and imagine the singers on the stage in front of you. The reproduction of the high frequecies is exemplary being one of the dac’s strong points. The violins in Vivaldi’s Seasons on the extremely resolute Esotar2 tweeter is a overwhelming experience.
The soundstage is wide and well defined – all the instruments are correctly projected into the sound-space, with a lot of air between them. The backgrounds are „black as night” – in the moments of total silence in tracks you cannot hear a trace of hiss or other noise.
The bass extension is simply the best I’ve heard on this price level. The bass is precise and short, with a lot of punch. The drums from Ataraxia – Parti de mal are very realistic with a thrilling sense of rhytm. It’s a short and deep bass which challenges the whole audio chain. I have no complaints about RD26, the extra resolution compared to other digital sources is well translated into a very dynamic and realistic sound presentation.
Compared to other dacs I auditioned based on BurrBrown chips (PCM1792,1794) RD26 (Wolfson WM8741) sounds a little bit cold but with more resolution. It’s analytical and unforgiving with recording imperfections, but extremely precise and enjoyable with quality records. Other thing that I liked is the total lack of sibilance, all over the test, which is very important to me.
The mid frequencies are well reproduced, but I would like a little more warmth. Somehow I miss the flavour of a tube output, like the one in MHDT Havana or some analogic „coloured” character found in Simaudio’s Moon 300D. I would preffer a more romantic approach of the mids, with a sweeter timbre. For example, the voices of Celine Dion and Cesaria Evora are ample, well defined and perfectly focused into the soundstage, but I miss some emotion that I felt some other time. I think, a tube amplifier or some sweet sounding speakers will match perfectly the new AD LABS dac.
On Dire Straits – Brothers in arms (1985) – one of my favourites albums – you can hear very well the microdetails – that’s an extremely well made recording. On the same album I carefully listened to the dynamics of the instruments, the ease of perception of the background noises, even for the untrained ear. The instruments around the voice are very well determined and clearly separated all the time.
Stereoplay – The Pink Panther Theme – which I know very well – has a very delicate triangle sound on the background. With RD26 this triangle is pleasant and delicate as it should be, with a discrete presence. I liked the AD LABS dac in every situation where instruments like violin, cymbals, trumpet were present, excellent performance being delivered constantly.
The „surgeon-like” precision of the Dynaudio Confidence C1 speakers and Sennheiser’s HD800 heaphones helped me a lot in revealing of these details.
The amplified heaphone output is exemplary, without making the claim that beats a top dedicated solution. I listened with very good results both Sennheiser 555 and Beyerdynamic DT880 (250 ohms). On both models the sound was very pleasant, without any dynamics loss, with all the details in place. I felt the limits on the headphone side with the demanding Sennheiser HD800 where I lost some of the speed and pace, especially on the crowded musical passages. However, the HD800 are well-known being hard to drive, and definitely one will need a separate amplifier if owns these great phones.
The AD LABS RD26 is a converter with absolutely great quality/price ratio. The solid sonic performance, the built quality and the great versatility makes out of RD26 a best-buy of the 400-600 euro dacs. I especially recommend it to rock, electronic and classical music lovers.
– the built quality;
– very easy to use and versatile;
– wireless connectivity and the remote (option);
– very detailed sound;
– fast and deep bass, high resolution and definition on the hights
– no optical input;
– a little bit cold on the mids;
– glossy front-panel is prone to fingerprints.
Manufacturer website : www.musicaltech.com