ULTRA AUDIO -- Archived Article
 

July 15, 2005

Reimyo DAP-777 Digital-to-Analog Converter

ULTRA AUDIO SELECT COMPONENT


Reimyo’s line of electronic components has won accolades for its technological acumen, realistic sound reproduction, and excellent design and manufacturing quality. Most recently, Reimyo’s single-box CDP-777 player won my heart as the gold standard for "Red Book" CD reproduction, and earned an Ultra Audio Select Component designation, among a shipload of other industry honors.

The DAP-777 digital-to-analog converter, introduced about six years ago, is another Reimyo foray into digital that’s developed a devoted following. With the success of the CDP-777, Kazuo Kiuchi, the driving force behind Reimyo, considered discontinuing the DAP-777. But how do you cut a product for which new orders are still coming in and back orders are piling up?

His answer: Don’t. Instead, make it better. Kiuchi, the ultimate perfectionist, went back to the drawing board to come up with a "new" DAP-777. The result is a DAC that sells for $5195 USD and is similar to its predecessor, including the same model number and appearance, but with enough important internal updates to constitute a new product.

Collaboration pays

Before I go into the few details I’ve been able to pry out of the reticent Kiuchi, here’s some background. In an industry that venerates lone visionaries, the Reimyo story is one of collaborative effort. But even cooperative ventures need that single individual with the inspiration to wield disparate elements into a whole bigger than its parts -- in this case, Kazuo Kiuchi. The Reimyo line is produced and marketed by his Combak Corporation, whose Harmonix division is noted for resonance-control products ranging from room-tuning wall stick-ons and other accessories to interconnects, speaker cables, and tuned power cables.

I first met Kiuchi during his first foray into the US market, in about 1993, when Harmonix was fairly new to the audio scene. The occasion was a demonstration organized by Victor Goldstein of Fanfare International, then Harmonix’s US importer, of what seemed at the time a laughable idea -- that tuning discs could markedly improve the sound of a mediocre violin, and do the same for hi-fi gear. A handful of reviewers and industry folk were roped into what some of us figured would be a waste of time. The violinist was Da Hong Seeto, who’s since become a prominent recording engineer.

As I recall it, Seeto played a piece on his own vintage French instrument. Then he played the same piece on a cheapo violin that produced sounds reminiscent of backyard cats in heat. Kiuchi then took that excuse for a violin and affixed to it Harmonix resonance-control dots in strategically located positions. Seeto played it again, this time virtually matching the sound of his valuable French instrument. Jaws dropped, and dropped again when a similar demonstration involving loudspeakers radically improved the sound of an inferior model.

Throughout the demo, Kiuchi remained an island of calm in a roomful of raucous New Yorkers, gracious and unassuming when we lauded his accomplishment, equally gracious and tolerant of the few grumbling naysayers who refused to believe their ears. Over the years, I’ve heard the positive results of other of Kiuchi’s innovative products, the results of his perfectionism and his tireless attention to detail.

Combak entered the electronics arena with a concept it calls High-Tech Fusion -- a cooperative effort with two other cutting-edge Japanese companies to produce state-of-the-art gear under the Reimyo label. The heart of the DAP-777 is JVC’s 20-bit K2 processing technology, used to produce its outstanding XRCD discs. Harmonix’s acoustic technology and resonance-control products are implemented to get the most out of the D/A conversion process. Kyodo Denshi, a prominent designer and manufacturer of precision measuring devices, does the same for Reimyo products. Overseeing this joint effort is Kiuchi, who has more than 30 years’ experience building musical instruments, tuning concert halls, and mastering recordings.

Balance is a word that constantly recurs in Kiuchi’s conversations, whether referring to the physical and mental balance essential to individual well-being, or balancing technologies to produce realistic- and natural-sounding audio products. With its attention to detail, precision manufacture, and, sound, the DAP-777 illustrates that balanced ideal.

The new DAP-777

Owners of earlier versions of the DAP-777 will want to know what’s different in the new one. As indicated earlier, Kiuchi keeps proprietary information a closely guarded secret, but he’s boiled down the changes to:

  • A redesigned PC board to simplify and shorten the signal path
  • The latest, improved Harmonix tuning feet -- the same as those on the $15,495 CDP-777
  • More thorough internal tuning with Harmonix devices
  • At about 11.5 pounds, it’s about a pound heavier
  • The 1m power cord has been upgraded to a 1.5m-long X-DC-SM cord

Kiuchi’s claims of improved sound, greater clarity, dynamics, depth, and overall musicality I’ll have to take on faith -- I never heard an earlier version of the DAP-777 in my system. (Owners of earlier versions should know that upgrades are not available. Modifying older units to the new version requires a costly, extensive rebuild. New DAP-777s are most readily identifiable through their serial numbers: 0502001 and up.)

The meticulously designed and executed interior of the DAP-777 features JVC’s 20-bit 2K processor chip, which has been used to outstanding effect in the CDP-777. Almost everything in the DAP-777’s innards is custom-designed and -made, including the transformers and wiring. The signal paths are separated to reduce distortion and noise.

Whatever magic’s been wrought inside the DAP-777, its low-slung exterior remains a model of stylish sophistication, and at about 17" wide, 2.5" high (including feet), and 13" deep, it easily fits on a standard rack shelf. The front panel includes a power On/Off rocker, a protruding selection switch for four inputs, LEDs that confirm the selected input, and three LEDs marked Emphasis, Lock, and Error. Emphasis lights up when a high-frequency-enhanced CD is selected; Lock just tells you that "all systems are go"; and the red Error LED alerts you to just that. Three more LEDs indicate sampling frequencies -- 48kHz, 44.1kHz, and 32kHz. The DAP-777 is "Red Book" all the way -- it plays CDs and DATs, not DVD-Audio, and the closest you’ll get to SACD is the CD layer of a hybrid disc. Given the bleak outlook for new formats and the vast improvements in CD sound, especially when played through top-level gear such as Reimyos, that won’t be a barrier for most audiophiles.

The rear panel includes balanced and unbalanced analog outputs, four digital line inputs -- AES, BNC, Coax, Optical -- the ground terminal, and the AC line connector. A Phase switch lets you reverse phase. I’d prefer having this on the front panel, but I admit that while phase adjustment can improve the sound of many CDs, the feature can tempt one to tweak obsessively.

Setup

I auditioned the DAP-777 with a reference system that included the Forsell Air Reference turntable, Plinius M14 phono stage, Wyetech Opal preamplifier, modified Jadis JA-80 monoblock amplifiers, Von Schweikert VR-4 Gen III HSE speakers, and Siltech and Nordost wires. Accessories included the high-performance, high-value Vibrapod Isolators and Cones, Harmonix footers, Audiotop disc-cleaning fluids, and a Bedini Ultra Clarifier.

I fed the Reimyo through my Metronome T-20 Signature CD transport and the Duevel Shuttle Disc, a single-box CD player (review forthcoming). Most of my serious listening was done via the Duevel, but with frequent switches to the Metronome to confirm my impressions of the Reimyo’s portrayals of individual discs. With the DAP-777 in place, the Metronome’s warmer sound and the Duevel’s greater transparency and extension were apparent, confirming the DAP-777’s accuracy in differentiating among source transports. In short, the better the transport, the better the sound was; the better the sound on the disc, the more of it the DAP-777 gave me.

This was also proved when curiosity inspired me to hook up a now-discontinued Philips DVD player with SACD capabilities. This particular model is a good DVD player but awful for serious music listening -- connecting it to the Reimyo was akin to putting a cheap band on a Rolex. I wanted to hear if the Reimyo could work miracles when joined to an inferior source. It didn’t, but it did upgrade the Philips’ sound to mediocre.

Throughout my sessions, Harmonix’s RCA-terminated HS 101 digital cable linked the transports to the DAP-777; the power cord was Harmonix’s XDC2. All listening was done via the RCA analog output connection because that’s the sole option available on my preamp.

Sound

My favorable impressions during the "getting to know you" phase were reinforced once I’d settled down with notebook and pen. It seemed appropriate to start with some JVC XRCDs, as they’d been remastered with equipment using the same JVC 20-bit 2K processor chip used in the DAP-777.

First up was a CD of five Rossini overtures, conducted by Pierino Gamba -- a 1960 Decca/London recording made in Kingsway Hall and engineered by the revered Kenneth Wilkinson. It sounds fresher than ever on JVCXR 0229, boasting a tremendous dynamic range that the Reimyo faithfully conveyed, with an ease and liquidity I had not heard from this disc before the DAP-777’s arrival. I was also surprised by the wealth of detail that emerged from the orchestral texture, the airy lightness of the violins, and the deep, powerful bass. The experience sent me scurrying back to my copy of London LP 6204, which revealed that the CD fully matched it in most parameters, including stage width, and improved on the LP’s dynamics and bass.

JVC’s edition of the Brahms Violin Concerto, with Henryk Szeryng as soloist and a London orchestra led by Pierre Monteux [JM-XR2-4021], made me return to my turntable to play the RCA Victrola LP [VIC-1028, plum label], which sounded rolled-off alongside the CD’s treble and bass energy. With the Duevel transport, the massed violins came to the brink of edginess in the treble region during forte passages, compared to the softer, smoother sound via the Metronome (and the LP), thus vividly illustrating the Reimyo’s ability to differentiate among transports. This is one DAC that never homogenized sources so that they sounded the same; rather, it brought out each source’s unique qualities. It’s important to make the match that suits your preferences.

The DAP-777’s impressive soundstage was confirmed by David Chesky’s Violin Concerto, from his Area 31 album [CD, Chesky 288]. The Concerto is an accessible modern work with a high energy quotient that never taxed the DAP-777, which also faithfully reproduced the solo instrument’s natural size in relation to the orchestra -- something increasingly rare in concerto recordings. Fueled by Latin and jazz rhythms, this musically and sonically outstanding disc also displayed the DAP-777’s hair-trigger timing and its good handling of percussion instruments at all dynamic levels.

The Reimyo’s ability to effortlessly reproduce explosive material was also obvious with James Cotton’s Baby, Don’t You Tear My Clothes [CD, Telarc CD-83596], on which the venerable bluesman is joined by a bevy of big-name "friends," who complement his gritty singing and harmonica playing. Crisp, powerful bass, hair-trigger percussion transients, and in-your-face driving rhythms all sounded remarkably clear and gutsy via the DAP-777, along with an equally remarkable subtlety in reproducing the well-recorded variety of shadings from such instruments as T.C. Chenier’s accordion in "Rainin’ in my Heart," and Cotton’s harmonica in the title song.

I’ve found solo violin and female voice problematic on CD, and was curious to hear how the Reimyo would reproduce the period violin of John Holloway on a brilliantly played disc of solo sonatas by the Italian Baroque composer Francesco Veracini [ECM 1889]. I needn’t have been concerned. The Reimyo sailed through it with ease; even when Holloway played fast and loud in the instrument’s highest register, the sound coming out of my speakers was full-bodied and natural, never turning hard or shrill. And in the Sonata No.6, a playful Capriccio apparently written to drive violinists crazy by testing the limits of their virtuosity, Holloway’s exciting performance emerged with a full range of dynamics, microdynamics, and timbral subtleties.

But that ECM disc was very well recorded; a better test of the DAP-777 was probably an indifferently recorded female voice, such as a new reissue of soprano Mirella Freni singing opera arias [CD, Decca B0004244]. Her rendition of "S, mi chiamano Mim," from Puccini’s La Bohme, dates from an early-1970s session that has not been newly remastered and is no one’s idea of a demonstration recording. But it was quite listenable through the Reimyo DAC, which retained sufficient air around the voice and reproduced most of the bloom of her lovely soprano.

This proves two things: First, that a good performance can captivate even when the original sound is just so-so. Too many audiophiles listen only to super-sounding discs, chasing the sound but missing the music. Second, it proves that the DAP-777 could extract the emotional core of music even when the sound was dated or worse, a point proved time and again as I played CD reissues of ancient monophonic recordings going back to the acoustic era.

In fact, some of my most rewarding listening while preparing this review was an old favorite from LP days, JVC’s remastering of the Modern Jazz Quartet’s Concorde [JVCXR-0203]. It’s a 1955 mono recording, but I never felt the lack of stereo. Details I hadn’t recalled from the now-worn LP grooves sprang out -- the way Ray Brown’s rounded bass tones vibrated as his fingers strummed the strings in a slow piece, the sharp ping of Connie Kay’s sticks and the smooth thrum of his brushwork, John Lewis’ precise articulation at the keyboard, and the ringing liveliness of Milt Jackson’s vibes. All sounded as startlingly fresh as they did a half-century ago.

But far more important than the specifics of any single disc was how the DAP-777 was so emotionally involving -- more satisfying in that respect than the same CDs played via the Metronome’s matching DAC or the Duevel’s internal one.

Wrapping up

To say that the time I spent with the Reimyo DAP-777 in my system was enjoyable would be a gross understatement. The last time I heard such musically involving, "alive" sound from my system was when Reimyo’s single-box CD player, the CDP-777, was putting me in audio heaven.

The DAP-777 sailed through every test I gave it, including some "trap" CDs exhibiting characteristics that only the very best equipment can transcend. It excelled in making great discs sound great and inferior ones sound wanting, albeit more listenable thanks to the DAC’s liquidity and ease of presentation. That sense of fatigue-free musicality is the core of what the DAP-777 did in my system with good but less-than-top-of-the-line transports. It should do the same for your system, so long as it’s matched with a good transport and operates in a well-balanced environment whose electronics, speakers, and wires complement it.

Even if you win the lottery, value should be a basic factor in evaluating audio gear. I’m a believer in the principle that a price tag doesn’t tell you all you need to know about a prospective purchase: a high price doesn’t necessarily connote high quality any more than a low one necessarily means low quality. Had I not known the Reimyo DAP-777’s price, I would have guessed, from its obvious quality and outstanding sound, that it cost somewhere between $12,000 and $15,000. Instead, it bears a $5195 price tag, firmly placing it in the "best buy" category. You’d need to spend a lot more just to be in the Reimyo’s performance ballpark.

…Dan Davis
dand@ultraaudio.com

Reimyo DAP-777 Digital-to-Analog Converter
Price: $5195 USD.
Warranty: One year parts and labor.

Combak Corporation
4-20, Ikego 2-chome
Zushi-shi, Kanagawa 249-0003, Japan
Phone: (81) 046-872-1119
Fax: (81) 046-872-1125

Website: www.combak.net

North American distributor:
May Audio Marketing, Inc.
2150 Liberty Drive, Unit 7
Niagara Falls, NY 14304
Phone: (716) 283-4434
Fax: (716) 283-6264

Website: www.mayaudio.com

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