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D-A Converter
Acousticbuoy DAC2488

Price: 3200 euro (4399 USD)

Distribution: Acousticbuoy Products

10 Northolt Cres.
Markham Ontario L3R 6P5


WWW: Acousticbuoy Products

Text: Wojciech Pacuła

Acousticboy is a Canadian company, and I have never heard of it before. I mean I read about it at „Enjoythemusic” a preamplifier's Scorpio review to be exact, but it was in fact post factum. At the moment the range of products consists only of two but it is about to change in a near future. 2488 D/A converter that was delivered for a review had been built in a perfect way. Chassis was made of thick aluminum slabs, and the front panel in a very similar technique to the one used by Jeff Rowland, which makes it's surface definitely not boring. The inside is also beautifully crafted. But the most important are Simon's, company's owner, goals and assumptions for this project. The basic one is: „Simple is Elegant”. With DAC you will get a great manual and there you will find all those goal and assumptions with their reasons. Would it be so hard for other companies to do same thing is such an elegant form?

The device accepts a signal up to 24 bits and 96 kHz that can be delivered via S/PDIF (RCA) or AES/EBU (XLR). It's a pity that I doesn't handle 192kHz – more and more digital sources offer such signal – like Blacknote’s DSS 30 Tube for example. Analog signal is sent out via RCA or XLR (balanced). Output voltage is bit higher than from most CD players – it's 2,5 V here – you have to take it into consideration when making head to head comparisons with other devices. For this review I had two players at my disposal - Ancient Audio's Lektor Prime and CD 8 SE by Cyrus with a fabulous new drive of their own design. I used also two digital cables – Acrolink 7N-DA5100 and Oyaide FTVS-510. DAC has its own three feet but for the review I used CeraPuc Finite Elemente (review HERE). Unfortunately I didn't have any digital stream player at the time.


Discs used for listening sessions:

  • Yoko Ono, Open Your Box, Astralwerks, ASW 88710, CCD.
  • Depeche Mode, Peace, Mute, CDBONG41, SP CD.
  • Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio, What a Wonderful Trio!, First Impression Music, FIM DXD 079, silver-CD; review HERE.
  • Wynton Kelly, Kelly Blue, Riverside/JVC, JVCXR-0050-2, XRCD2.
  • Sonny Rollins, Sonny Rollins&The Contemporary Leaders, Contemporary Records/JVC, VICJ-61337, K2HD.
  • Frank Sinatra, Only The Lonely, Capitol/Mobile Fidelity, UDCD 792, gold-CD; review HERE.
  • Wong San, Feel Like Making Love, Pony Canyon, PCCY-50014, HQCD; review HERE.
  • The Beatles, 09.09.09 [sampler], Apple/Parlophone/EMI, 6844142, 2 x CD, review HERE.
  • Cantate Napoletane Del’ 700, Capella della Pietà de’Turchini, Eloquentia, EL 0919, CD.
  • King Crimson, Lark’s Tongues in Aspic, WHD Entertainment, IECP-30006, HDCD/HQCD.

You can easily fall in love with this sound. The sound reminded me immediately what I heard during the review of Japanese amplifier Tri TRV-88SE. They have very similar sonic signature and if I hadn't known that those two devices come from different parts of the wold I might have thought the same guy designed them both. And the main idea of this imaginable designer would be to achieve very rich, bit warm, full sound that would deny a stereotype of a digital sound in every possible way. When thinking about similarities, looking for products that I would point out as belonging to the same “sonic family” with DAC2488 first thing that came to my mind was … turntable. That happened already couple of times before when looking for parallel sound type. This kind of sound - rich with beautiful timbre and overall high “culture” I got from Kuzma Stabi S with Stogi tonearm and Dynavector Karat 17D3 cartridge. I received this set from Polish distributor - RCM and I had to admit that this combination put together played extremely well (review in August's „Audio”). I really loved this set because for relatively low price (low if you consider hi-end's prices) I received rich, coherent sound, that worked well for every kind of music. I remembered the sound of more expensive model from this manufacturer - Reference with Stogi 313 Ref VTA tonearm (HERE), so I couldn't miss the difference – more precise sound with better resolution and also the less expensive model's sound was a bit colored – but that was the intention of Kuzma's designers. Anyway the conclusion of both reviews was quite shocking for me – I could have lived with Stogi and Stabi S but not necessarily with Reference set. Yes it offered more accurate sound, more information was presented but the less expensive model “communicated” better with me. It simply presented/communicated the information from a record in much better organized way.

That was also exactly my first thought when I started to listen to Acousticbuoy. „Buoy” offers extremely focused, rich sound which on one hand reminds me of my favorite - Audionemesis DC-1 Up-grade and Benchmark's DAC-1 and on the other hand Accuphase DP-700. That's right – not DP-500 but DP-700. Let me explain – DP-500 has many advantages over 2488 – resolution, precision, bass control, great balance between all ranges – but the latter offers more holistic approach to the music, gives you more joy, more emotions. An oxymoron, right? I already mentioned it twice – worse precision and resolution comparing to more expensive products but still I would chose a theoretically “worse” model. Oxymorons are quite common in audio world – in this world important factors are not always decisive or key ones. I think that all devices deform music so it sounds different than in reality and that's wrong. So it is better to present it in a way that we can “feel” it not “see” it. That's a lot of speech marks in one sentence but I don't know how to put it in simpler words.

That is why Acousticbuoy was so much appreciated by some of my friends who came to visit me – two of them liked it even better than my Lektor Prime, which shows you it's qualities. I don't agree with this opinion but I understand why they came up with it. An example - Sonny Rollins& The Contemporary Leaders, a CD in K2HD. Its sound is quite warm, which is characteristic for K2HD technology, but at the same time very realistic. As mentioned before – that is exactly how Canadian DAC presents music. There was no problem with sound clarity or precision. Partially because this DAC differentiates recordings superbly – I was even surprised how well – and while imprinting its own sonic signature still tries hard to show the idea of a recording engineer. That is why Rollinses recording sounded very fully, and leader's instrument sounded palpable and strong. You can hear at once that the back planes are pushed a bit to the front so the accent is on what is going on directly in front of us but it is still presented in amazingly attractive way. On the other hand when I listened in my Lektor to Wong San (Feel Like Making Love), issued as HQCD (HiQuality-CD) so supposingly mastered very carefully, I could not miss sibilants in a vocalist's voice - so somebody had made a mistake after all. Why? I have no idea, it should be perfect but the same flaw comes out sooner or later. Acousticbuoy had no problem with showing mood and quality characteristic for each of those recording. Instruments were full, rich, palpable and presented quite close to a listener. Yes – that is a feature “imprinted” into every recording played with this DAC – first plane would always be close to us and it will be big and rich. You have to get used to it but also, to deep, bold bass that everybody who visited me during review sessions really liked but in fact it is bit bumped-up at the very low end and is not as well controlled as by Ancient's player or by Accuphase’s DP-500. In a way it reminded me Luxman D-08 and mentioned above Audionemesis.

That is why the combination with stand-mount loudspeakers proved to be the best – excellent was combination with ProAc's Response D1, but also Harbeth's HL Compact 7ES-3 (both reviewed in the same „High Fidelity” issue). A very pleasant sound was also achieved with KEF's Reference 201 II. It doesn't mean you have to cross out of the list bigger loudspeakers – with such ones you might get too much bass. It that is your sound – full, rich, with strong foundation and you have a large listening room – great!, give it a shot. But if you don't why don't you think about stand-mounted speakers? The result should be amazing – Proaks got red when stretching themselves to the limits to deliver THIS volume of hiper-rich sound. Never before have I heard these monitors in such a great “shape”. 2488 does something special: it tries to present the sound in the most smooth way with absolutely no “rough” (you would usually think “digital” but my recent experience proves it is not always so) residue. I referred to Kuzma's turntable before – maybe some vinyl lovers will fell offended, but I assure you you shouldn't – Acousticbuoy presents CDs in a way the turntable would with material of such resolution.. It is not nervous but played with verve, no rush but with great pace&rhythm. Comparing 2488 to players like Naim's Nait-5i-2 and CD 8 SE by Cyrus proved that Canadian device offers equally good rhythm but better timbre and “deeper” reality. Of course if you want to buy Acousticbuoy you have to add a price of digital and power cables and transport so both British players are surely less expensive. But since both of them are often recognized as the “kings” of the rhythm so I think the comparison is still fair and justified. Their ability to create the front of the sound, and so called „pitch” is incredible. The point is that the Canadian does all of that but with much better, richer timbre. I really appreciated it when listening to Peace - a single by Depeche Mode (piece no 2 [Sixtoes Remix] in particular), and also to Wynton Kelly’s Kelly Blue. But ultimately the ability to create a mood came handy with classic music – fresh purchase - Cantate Napoletane Del’ 700 by Capella della Pietà de’Turchini presented absolutely beautiful sound, nothing was bumped up and nothing was missing.

Of course this is not an ideal – meaning it is not perfect. Not very impressive depth of the soundstage and not perfect bass were mentioned before. Also part of the upper mid-range is slightly laid back creating an impression of more plastic presentation. But this is good – with most systems it will offer an effect of incredible “depth”. If you compare it to players like my Prime or Accuphase DP-700 you will notice that it lacks openness, instruments are not shown so precisely, nor is their texture. And that's it. On one hand it's a lot , it is just a DAC, but on the other it is no such a difference. After all this is what most good turntables do and everybody is happy with their “analogue” sound. That is exactly what Simon, owner of Acousticbuoy, is pursuing – analogue, smooth sound. He is a man with the plan and all actions are perfect means for achieving his goals. It is not a device for every audiophile, it is not the best in the world but it is extremely attractive. That's what 2488 DAC is. Have I mentioned already that it is beautifully crafted? I have – well sorry...


The Canadian digital to analogue converter 2488 manufactured by Acousticbuoy is built in extremely solid way. Your attention gets caught at first by very rigid, heavy chassis and the finish of a front panel. It's been made of thick aluminum slabs, joint in the corners with screwed angles. I mentioned special front panel – it has been machined in a similar way to those of Jeff Roland's so it looks like them. There are only two small blue LEDs in the front – one indicating power-on, and the other „lock’, which means synchronization between DAC and transport. The name and logo are engraved. Logo is placed in a similar way to this on devices by Wadia. There are excellent RCA sockets made by WBT at the analogue output, Switchcraft's ones at the balanced output, and two inputs - balanced AES/EBU and S/PDIF with RCA socket. The last one is not any special – it would be great if e.g. WBT was used. There is a little switch to choose one of the inputs. On the other side there is a IEC socket with mechanical switch. All writings on the chassis are engraved. The device is equipped with three feet. They are carefully placed so that the cgt (center of gravity) is exactly where it should be.

To get inside you have remove a top panel. It's a massive aluminum slab in kind of blue color. The inside is simply beautiful! The whole circuit is mounted on a single circuit board with the digital section on separate small PCB connected via gold-plated pins. The latter contains three chips: Wolfson Microelectronics WM8805 in the input - digital receiver 24/192, so in theory it is capable of accepting 192 kHz signal from S/PDIF. It handles also jitter reduction. Next there is DSP Latice – a robust chip working as a digital filter, to filter all unwanted parts of the signal. Most likely it is also responsible for oversampling. From there the signal goes to D/A converter – here it is Analog Devices AD1852 chip. It is a multibit sigma delta 24/192 DAC. 2488 uses also outstanding ultra accurate oscillator – namely temperature compensated crystal oscillator TCXO. Analogue circuit is placed on the main PCB. There are three chips there – LT845, Philips NE5534 and AD642 in the output buffer. It is worth mentioning that also one of the best available resistors (e.g. Dale) were used. Also Sanyo's and BC's capacitors. As power source we will find two small shielded toroidal transformers. The power supply is quite complex, with separate stabilization and rectification for digital section and additionally for each separate analogue channel. The design of DAC2488 separated all low-level analog grounds from the digital signal grounds and terminated them at a single designated point on the system’s ground conductor. There is also a big current filter integrated with IEC socket. Really great job!

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  • CD player: Ancient Audio Lektor Prime (tested HERE)
  • Phono preamp: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Preamp: Leben RS-28CX (tested HERE; soon to be changed to Polaris II, tested HERE)
  • Power amp: Luxman M-800A (tested HERE)
  • Integrated amp: Leben CS300 (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • headphones: AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600 Ω version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • interconnects: CD-preamp: Wireworld Gold Eclipse 52 (tested HERE; soon to be changed to Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Velum NF-G SE (tested HERE)
  • speaker cable: Velum LS-G (tested HERE)
  • power cables: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9100 (CD; reviewed HERE) and 2 x Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC7100 (preamp, power amp (reviewed HERE)
  • power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • audio stand Base
  • resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE ) Turntables change continuously, as do cartridges. My dream setup: SME 30 with Series V tone-arm and Air Tight PC-1 cartridge (also in the PC-1 Mono version).