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December 2008
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Yamamoto Sound Craft YDA-01 DA Converter
Digital at its finest!
Review By Anthony Nicosia
Click here to e-mail reviewer

 

Yamamoto Sound Craft YDA-01 DA Converter  I have had numerous email communications with Shigeki Yamamoto, the founder and inventor of Yamamoto Sound Craft Corporation products. Having previously reviewed his audio bases/isolation devices I must say that I was overwhelmed at the positive impact they had on my audio system. When he told me about his wish to create a DA Converter my interest immediately perked up. Shigeki Yamamoto asked me if I could rearrange me review schedule to include his DA Converter in order to give it more immediate exposure, as he brought it to market slightly ahead of schedule. With perfect timing it comes ready so the holiday shoppers can add it to their list of audio "toys" for December. Of course I readily agreed as I was honored to have the opportunity to experience his new DA Converter, the YDA-01.

Yamamoto-San's factory is in Ono-city, within the Hyogo Prefecture, on Japan's Honshu or Main Island. Honshu is divided into five regions, one of which is Kansai, where the Hyogo Prefecture and Ono-city are located. Ono-city has an estimated population of only 50410 people. For those interested in golf, I am told that the Ono Golf Club is a difficult course to play, with its nice rolling terrains, beautiful greens and numerous ponds. Perhaps it is this tranquil small country setting that has helped inspire Yamamoto-San's use of natural woods, tube amplifiers and hand crafted products.

 

Now On To Something New And Exciting
Yamamoto Sound Craft makes phono cartridges, head shells for those cartridges, a step up transformer; a phono equalizer amplifier plus a whole lot more. As you can tell Yamamoto-San is a true believer in the joys of vinyl. This however is the company's very first exploration into the world of CD playback systems with the introduction of their YDA-01 DA Converter. Looking to their website you will also notice they make exquisite tube amplifiers and preamplifiers, all of which are supplied with very attractive wood enclosures. Vinyl and tubes, it does not get much better than that. However, feeling that CD playback systems are the mainstay for most audiophiles today, Yamamoto-San wanted to contribute to the further advancement of this ever-growing popular medium. Shigeki Yamamoto is of the belief that CD players generally have a tendency to sound hard and lacking in what he refers to as grace. Gathering together his fifteen plus years of experience with designing tube amplifiers he decided that he was up to the challenge. Yamamoto-San approached the production of DA Converters with the philosophy that a simpler design would lend itself to a more natural and pleasant listening experience. Therefore his DA Converter incorporates an output stage with only one single transistor and no negative feedback.

Yamamoto Sound Craft YDA-01 DA ConverterOriginally he was going to go with the idea of putting tubes into the equation but decided that this would make things to complex and so for the moment has put that aside in order to keep the circuitry simple. The YDA-01 uses a CS8416 digital processor on the input, which then goes through two PCM1794A chips, in a dual mono design, into the emitter of a single PNP transistor. Normally the output from the PCM1794 DAC chips would go through a complex filtering or "Analog" circuitry so that all digital artifacts are removed. His approach is done with the belief that this simplicity of design allows the music to sound more "alive" and natural.

Borrowing from his many years of successful amplifier designs is the belief that a good strong power supply will yield a powerful sound with great bass impact. He holds that the same is true no matter what the audio apparatus and has incorporated this design philosophy into his new DAC. Looking inside the YDA-01 you see a custom Yamamoto transformer which helps provide the YDA-01 with its strong bass extension and dynamic swing. Appearance wise the front panel is very clean with only an on/off switch while the rear of the unit has a digital input and two RCA outputs as well as an IEC connector for those of use who love to play with power cords. The fuse is nicely hidden just above this connector and tucked neatly out of the way. You will immediately notice that there are no balanced connections, which was purposely done in an effort to keep the product affordable. The wood trim on both sides of this product is made from Japanese Cherry wood. The use of wood is a common reoccurrence seen throughout the Yamamoto Sound Craft line, which it looks and feels magnificent. If you like wood products please take a moment to look at their wooden audio racks, speaker stands and horn enclosures, as they are certainly beautiful to behold.

 

The Setup
Yamamoto Sound Craft YDA-01 DA ConverterInitially two players were used as transports. These were both the Sony DVP-S7700 (DVD/CD player) and the Samsung HD-841 (Universal DVD/CD player). Digital cables were the Canare Digiflex Gold, Monarchy Audio DR-1, as well as one single and one triple shielded digital Anti-cable. I tried both players as transports using each of the four cables until I finally selected a pair to use in combination for this review. In my system I felt the Samsung player with the Digiflex Gold cable worked just slightly better with the Yamamoto YDA-01 DAC and used this combination for the review. It was however very close as all the cables and both transports were a great matchup with the YDA-01, which seemed at home with either combination.

For power cords I substituted a Monarchy Audio AC-1 in place of the stock cord. Connecting the YDA-01 to the preamplifier were PS Audio Transcendence Silver interconnects. This DAC was never finicky or demanding as to which digital cable, interconnect, transport or power cord was necessary in order to sound its best. Talking to Brian Bowdle of Venus HiFi, Yamamoto's North American Importer, he recommended I try the YDA-01 with an inexpensive transport, as that is really all it needs. The funny thing is that I had already discovered that on my own and therefore agreed with him. It is not necessary to find a transport costing as much as a good used car to pair with this DAC to produce great digital sound. I did however place underneath the transport some Yamamoto audio bases that I have found to make excellent isolation devices. The YDA-01 itself comes with its own African Ebony footers (just like Yamamoto's amps), which is made from the same wood as many of the Yamamoto audio bases. One more note is that I had on hand a Philips DVD 9000S DVD video/SACD player. This Philips player was on loan to me from CC Poon of Monarchy Audio who bought this unit in Hong Kong, as it is not available for the United States market. The Philips was close to stock with the only change being a huge upgraded Jensen capacitor at the AC input that Mr. Poon himself installed. I thoroughly enjoyed this new addition to my system and was considering making a purchase until I heard the more expensive Yamamoto YDA-01. This DAC took my digital playback to a higher level and won me over, the details of which I would now like to share with you.

 

Musical Selections
Being that the holiday season is upon us I decided to start out with one of my favorite CD's, Yo-Yo Ma & Friends Songs of Joy & Peace [Sony Classical 88697-24414-2]. Of particular merit I found is the song, "Familia", performed by Yo-Yo Ma with the accompaniment of the Assad family. For those of you not familiar with the Assads let me provide a little background information. Sérgio and Odair Assad are two Brazilian-born brothers of whom the Washington Post has one time described as "the best two-guitar team in existence, maybe in history." Not to be outdone the rest of the family are accomplished singers in their own right.

The Assad family provides us with three generations of musical heritage as mother sings along with her three grandchildren, two girls and one boy. These three are the children of Sérgio and Odair Assad. As a side note their father Jorge also performs with them on mandolin but he did not play on this particular song. One of the reasons I choose listening to Yo-Yo Ma is that the cello is a unique instrument capable of producing deep warm tones, which some feel to be the most expressive instrument within the orchestra. In 1529 a three-stringed instrument (now of course four-stringed) was made that later was deemed the "violincello" which in Italian means "small double bass". About fifty years later this was shortened to what we now call the cello. Beethoven wrote five sonatas for the cello and perhaps had he heard Yo-Yo Ma perform he would have created more for this modern day master cellist. Listening to "Familia" the YDA-01 clearly places the opening voices of three singers, one at a time as they start singing, first left then right and finally dead center in-between the loudspeakers. I had to stop for a moment checking to see if I had a third loudspeaker somewhere hidden in-between my Legacy Focus 20/20's as the third singers voice was so evident. The five total singers voices are layered quite nicely with each performer distinctly heard within the soundstage. Yo-Yo Ma's cello sounded both detailed and delicate while the YDA-01 allowed you to feel the strings vibrate as the bow glides across them.

Another treat on this CD is the singing voice of James Taylor, a long-time favorite of mine. His voice brings such warmth to his songs that I thoroughly enjoy his performances no matter what he is singing. Here playing with Yo-Yo Ma, together they do a rendition of "Here Comes the Sun", a classic George Harrison piece, which throws out a wide soundstage extending beyond the loudspeakers. The vocal presentation is strong as even the smallest resonance in his voice can be heard quite clearly. There are five background singers accompanying him and the YDA-01 has no trouble differentiating and pinpointed them all clearly in front of us. This DAC has the ability to create space around instruments and vocals that rival some of the best out there.

Moving onto one more song from this album I would like to mention "Invitación al Danzón" performed by Paquito D'Rivera on clarinet. He was a child prodigy born in Cuba playing both the saxophone and clarinet for the Cuban National Symphony Orchestra. With him on this song is the Israeli pianist AlonYavnai. Mr. Yavnai began his journey with the piano at ago four and was playing professionally by age fourteen. Within the song we hear the clarinet floating musical notes lightly before us as AlonYavnai's quick yet distinct piano keys are can be heard playing in the background. TheYDA-01 gave me a feeling of tonal and harmonic accuracy with its reproduction of Paquito D'Rivera's clarinet. As for Yo-Yo Ma the timbre and tone quality of his cello is clear and the resonance from his cello can be distinctly heard. The YDA-01 has this ability to separate individual performers within songs, whether they are two, three, five or more playing together. I found this time and again no matter what music I threw at this DAC. It was quite apparent that it was at ease with handling the music's inner resolution. The YDA-O1 enhanced my listening pleasure by bringing familiar songs to new uncharted levels that I had not previously enjoyed before. As I rediscover old familiar songs I now found them once again to be new and exciting. One note about this CD is that there are many more fine musicians performing within it and Songs of Joy & Peace now has been put on my favorites list for use in future reviews.

Moving on now to Buddy Guy's CD Skin Deep [Silvertone 88697-31629-2], I was quite impressed with the song "Every Time I Sing The Blues". Here we have Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton on guitar and vocals. The recorded performance was astounding and the YDA-01 did its best to let you hear it all. Taking a line from the song, "Just trying to tell the truth every time I sing the Blues" is reminiscent of the way I felt about this DAC's presentation of music. It did not over romanticize things nor did it place any unnatural emphasis on any part of the musical spectrum. It was quite balanced, neutral and very dynamic. Playing music loudly with the YDA-01 was a joy and even at levels that were nearing the threshold of being uncomfortable, still sounded excellent. Being one not to risk damaging my ears, there is a point that I always turn the music down. Hopefully you will also so that many years from now you can continue to "enjoy the music". Not to be outdone the song "Skin Deep", from the same CD, features the work of guitarist Derek Trucks and a host of others. Yamamoto-San's DAC brought out the unique character of Buddy Guy's voice giving an earthy blues presentation to his songs. Once again the layering effect of background vocals, Buddy Guy's singing and guitar work, as well as the rest of the band playing was a pleasure to hear. No matter what I fed the YDA-01 it never got confused or congested.

In order to test this a little further I threw on Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble's The Real Deal: Greatest Hits Volume 2 CD [Epic/Legacy 88697 22629 2]. Listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan's lightening fast guitar playing on the song, "Scuttle Buttin" I was amazed with the YDA-01's ability to not miss a beat and give a lifelike feeling to this all to brief yet incredible set. That and the fast paced "Love Struck Baby" which can sound lacking in energy with the wrong setup made me want to get up off my favorite chair to dance. When I am driven to stand and deliver that speaks volumes about a product. I would also like to mention its ability to produce deep resounding bass wherever it found it. Never did bass sound overemphasized but instead live and natural.

 

In Steps... A Pair Of SET Amplifiers
And the magic continues
I wish I had in my possession any one of Yamamoto's tube amplifiers with which to test the YDA-01. Lacking that I do however have a very good sounding pair of Dignity Audio DA-08SE SET mono block tube amplifiers. This pair produces 8-watts of SET magic while using one 300B and one 6SN7 tube for each amplifier. The mono blocks come with their own gain control that I set to twelve o'clock while leaving further adjustments of volume to my Placette Passive preamplifier. This setup afforded me the luxury of using the Placette's remote control unit so I could be lazy and not have to move from my listening position except to change CD's. It was now time to listen to both male and female vocals with the YDA-01 paired to tube amplifiers. Earlier I had been using two solid-state Monarchy Audio SM-70 Pro amplifiers (set for use in mono operation) for this review. In order to be fair I replaced my Legacy Focus 20/20 loudspeakers with a pair of 1989 vintage Klipsch Klipschorn loudspeakers (unmodified). The Klipsch have a sensitivity of 104dB/W/m and are easily driven by the 8-watt SET amplifiers while driving them with my Legacy Focus loudspeakers would prove to be a little more difficult.

Diana Krall's, The Look Of Love [Verve 314 549 846-2], CD with the opening song "S'Wonderful" threw an expansive deep soundstage that immediately caught my attention. There seemed to be a little extra space surrounding instruments and vocals alike then I had heard with my solid-state amplifiers. Diana Krall's voice was very alive and the overall effect of the combination of tube and DAC can best be described as smooth. It was missing some of the bass impact but not too much. Diana Krall's voice on "Cry Me a River" was so clear and real it was startling. "The Look of Love" came across as sultry and seductive, as it should, with an extra bit of breath in her voice that was quite pleasant.

Lastly I listened to James Taylor's Covers CD [Hear Music HRM-30829-02] where he records songs that were written by various artists. Hearing him sing "Suzanne", a classic Leonard Cohen piece, I was taken by the YDA-01's ability to handle the decay of notes as well as bringing a great holographic image to the song. The slides from his guitar were evident, as they should be, yet not shrill or annoying. James Taylor also sings a rendition of George Benson's, "On Broadway". I had heard George Benson perform live many l years ago in both New York City and one evening in Boulder Colorado. Upon hearing the background vocals with "On Broadway" I was amazed at how well the YDA-01 kept them distant yet oh so clear. This song truly produced a "Wow" moment for me.

 

For the Do-It-Yourselfers
There is a kit version on the horizon that will be made for people with the ability to assemble it themselves. Yamamoto-San wanted to provide the kit so that people can feel the joy associated with making something on their own. This and the fact that you will be saving a little money should make the do-it-yourselfers quite happy and I am glad to see a manufacturer offering two versions like this. The kit will be out sometime in December or January and have a base price of $1950, which is a savings of $500. This kit version will probably have one or more options for ICs as well as being almost completely built as the chassis will be assembled and finished with the printed circuit boards complete and attached. You still however must do some point-to-point wiring between the circuit boards, transformer, switch and terminals. Being that the complicated and precise digital portion of the new YDA-01 will already be assembled will make the project that much simpler. I was sent the factory-assembled version for this review, which I believe, is always better for our purposes here, in order to be fair to the manufacturer. After all I would not want my clumsy hands getting in the way of a fine review from such a prestigious manufacturer. Not being an expert at soldering I personally would buy the ready-made product as I find the factory work to be exemplary.

 

Summing It Up
Yamamoto Sound Craft YDA-01 DA ConverterThis was indeed exciting for me as I was treated to something that I was not completely expecting. The Yamamoto YDA-01 DA Converter took my digital system to greater heights then I would have imagined at the beginning of this review. Music played through the YDA-01sounded quite natural and the bass was superb. First I enjoyed the pleasure of its presence coupled with my solid-state amplifiers only later to find myself overcome with joy at its pairing with my mono block SET amplifiers. There are times when I wanted that extra impact which solid-state amplifiers can impart and other times that I enjoyed what a good SET tube amplifier can deliver. Either way you decide I doubt you will be disappointed as the YDA-01 put a smile on my face with either use.

The nice thing about this DAC was the ease at which it took to matching itself with other gear. It slipped in and out of different systems while I changed from tube or solid-state amplifiers, used a variety of digital cables, power cables and loudspeakers and it did so without any fuss. The YDA-01 was comfortable with male or female vocals, Blues, Rock, Classical, Country Western or whatever music I cared to feed it. This is indeed a user-friendly product that creates great sounds on the fly with whatever music or equipment you care to throw at it. There were a few times when I forgot I was playing a CD and thought I was listening to my turntable, it was that good. Finally I would like to thank Shigeki Yamamoto for giving me the pleasure of experiencing first hand what this top quality DAC can do for the enhancement of my CD experience. He emailed me that almost all of his business comes from Japan while maybe one one-thousandth of it is U.S. driven. Hopefully this will change as more people become aware of this man's talent for creating audio products.

My ratings: Please take into consideration that the equipment under review is being measured in my room, with my equipment and heard through my ears. As always you should be the final judge as to what works for you in your environment and measured against what traits you value most. The following was how I rated the equipment based on a rating system that does not take in to consideration the cost of the product, until the very last question, "Value For The Money". Before that all products are rated against others in its category, regardless of financial considerations.

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear  
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Digital to analog converter
Frequency Response: 20 Hz to 20 kHz (±1dB)
Handling Frequency: 32 to 192 kHz (automatic signal tracking)
Digital Input: Coaxial terminal (RCA)
Analog Output: Coaxial terminal (RCA)
Output level: 3.1V/0dB
8x oversampling digital filter
SNR: ratio: 86dB (IHF-A wtd.)
Output Impedance: 2.6 kOhms
Outside dimensions: 420 x 290 x 94 (WxDxH in mm)
Weight: 11.5 lbs.
Option: Kit set of output circuit board with OP amp. (Complete kit set with all parts and components
Price: $1950, including shipping to all 50 US states

 

Company Information
Yamamoto Sound Craft Corporation
726 Sakaki-tyo, Ono-city, Hyogo 675-1323
Japan

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North American Importer for Yamamoto Sound Craft:
Venus Hi-Fi
East Lansing, Michigan

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