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I personally still believe in SACD due to various releases in the classical music repertoire and also because it seems quite easy today to manage two different ways of distributing the same high-resolution media (downloaded files and compact discs). The association of a versatile DAC with a performance SACD player keeps the door wide open for high resolution formats - not too bad for a classical music lover like your scribe. The main difference with the TotalDac was a more three-dimensional image and a more neutral effervescent sound. There were fewer differences between these two DACs than what I'd previously distinguished between TotalDac and MSB IV Platinum in the former's feature review.

La Source’s DAC can be characterized as pure, clean and natural. The impressive resolution delivers a sonic result without unpleasant digital artifacts. The TotalDac also produces a pleasing and laid-back sound due to exceptional microdynamics but it sounds denser and more vinyl-like. AES-EBU and BNC inputs delivered enhanced transparency but seem to be of limited use. Both my Jadis drive and Trends interface allowed me to test these connections. Given the quality of the Esoteric sled, adding another mechanical drive to this game seems rather superfluous and digital media players with such outputs are still uncommon.

Another important difference was the better integration of the Squeezebox’s digital output with La Source than TotalDac. The Squeezebox Touch was closer to the CD drive than either the TotalDac or Yamamoto YDA-01. In my opinion that difference was due to the exceptional quality of La Source's master clock. This was really palpable. The same tangible differences were highlighted when I used the Fidelia player on my iMac with the Trends UD-01 USB interface. I used a lot of CDs, SACDs and AIFF files during this three-month period but let’s concentrate on two CDs and one SACD.

Queyras & Tharaud – Debussy/Poulenc - This disc is helpful to measure how a system performs in terms of timbre and materialization of density and stereo images. It is also meaningful for quality of attacks, transients and resolution. Here La Source focused on resolution and dynamics. Transients were close to perfection. Note extensions were tremendous, Tharaud’s sustained piano chords always fairly reproduced with no particular harshness, no lacking or exaggerated harmonics and perfectly balanced with Jean-Guihem Queyras’s cello pizzicato. By comparison the Jadis JD2 with TotalDac gave perhaps a bit more diversity of tone but underperformed on precision and dynamics. Also the quality of soundstaging was lower than with La Source which is definitely a killer in this regard.

In comparison with both ‘dematerialized’ drives whose overall performance was quite good, the Esoteric maintained a small advantage on precision and transparency. The USB socket of the La Source DAC is more than a fashion statement. It really makes sense. With coaxial I honestly thought the quality of the Squeezebox Touch’s output was insufficient to explore the limits of La Source’s internal DAC but it still performed better than the TotalDac. In CD mode the comparison between these converters wasn’t as clear. I would say both are first-class contenders, with maybe a bit more liquid and analogue of a personality for the TotalDac and a bit more neutrality and luminescence for La Source.

Pat Metheny Group, Imaginary Day - this disc is useful to measure bandwidth limitations and the dynamics and energy delivered by equipment under review. Imaginary Day also sorts out the precise capabilities of a system for instrumental separation and ability to analyze complex innovative arrangements and instrumentation. This record is sonically one of the richest and most eclectic the group has ever released, mixing hints of flamenco with Celtic and even techno passages. La Source’s neutrality distinguished this diversity precisely. One striking feature of this CD is its poor mastering which has led to so much sonic compression. This becomes completely obvious when your system can enhance resolution. Here La Source made me completely aware of the lack in dynamics. On the solo "Into the dream" the high resolution of my French loaner explored all the subtleties and sympathetic vibrations delivered by Metheny’s 42-string acoustic guitar with stunning accuracy. The TotalDac by comparison was more forgiving.

Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with Julia Fischer - the German violinist benefits from Penta Tone’s accurate production and engineering. SACD playback was absolutely convincing in all aspects: dynamics, soundstaging, detail and timbre. The acoustics with La Source were spacious and clear, the virtuoso Russian National Orchestra conducted by Jakov Kreizberg completely three-dimensional. Fischer’s violin remained clear and intense while delivering a subtle and nuanced interpretation. In all circumstances the sound remained unfazed even during loud passages. While the dynamics and power of the orchestra were striking, the interplay of soloist and orchestral musicians showed rare coherence. Even though Fischer is surely mixed a bit higher than would be the case live, this recording is quite flawless and La Source portrayed it as such brilliantly. That's what makes me fond of SACD. When the recording and electronics are first rank, you forget the playback system. It sadly doesn't happen often but in this case was a very special occasion indeed.

Conclusion: At €30.000 La Source is obviously reserved for the wealthy enthusiast. And while it is quite difficult to find even small weaknesses, those who can afford to partake at this level enjoy many choices of separates yet few truly successful integrated solutions. La Source in my opinion might be the most successful model of digital integration in the high-end sector today. If you only need one digital source or a good SACD player, don’t even consider this. You can find equivalent performers for half the price. La Source is for those who do not want to juggle many costly separates for reason of space, décor and necessary time to identify perfect matches. They will find a stunning preamplifier, a very resolved DAC, a very efficient master clock and an amazingly precise drive unit all in the same box. Ease of use is another really salient feature which contributes to exploiting all its features where competitors like the dCS Scarlatti require special training to penetrate beyond its basic functions. Such simplicity of use does contribute to a pleasant user experience.

Finally, La Source will provide its lucky owner everything except the kind of euphony valve specialists generally provide. Under all circumstances La Source controls the sonic performance with class and elegance but no particular emphasis. This implies that the French deck will highlight the good and bad aspects of your system and not help to compensate any particular weak points. After listening to the Audioaéro for three months, I would probably point at valved partners or pure class A amplifiers with very open and transparent loudspeakers to take advantage of its full potential. 

Quality of packing
: Exemplary.
Reusability of packing: Several times without any problems.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Very easy.
Condition of component received: Flawless.
Completeness of delivery: Flight case, remote control, white gloves and manual.
Website comments: Complete.
Human interactions: Excellent.
Pricing: Cost no object.
Final comments & suggestions: La Source has to be considered as a complete integrated system and really should be used this way.
Audioaéro Design website