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This review first appeared in the September 2009 issue of hi-end hifi magazine High Fidelity of Poland. We publish its English translation in a mutual syndication arrangement with publisher Wojciech Pacula. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end shows an e-mail address should you have questions or wish to send feedback. All images contained in this review are the property of High Fidelity. - Ed.

Reviewer: Wojciech Pacula
Review system: Go here
Review component retail: 1950zł

Mr. Andrzej Stelmach is an electronics engineer, hobbyist and music lover and I did not hesitate for even a second when he approached me to test his D/A converter a few years back. In issue 14 from June 2005, a preliminary version of his DAC in DIY kit form got reviewed and it was great. He continued working on the product and now we have a new improved version as well as a switch to formal production complete with a proper enclosure named DAC-04. I won’t say more as the listening session is the most important part of the review.

Discs used for testing: Compact Disc - e.s.t., Viaticum, ACT Music+Vision, ACT 6001-2, CD; Dire Straits, On Every Street, Vertigo/Universal Music Japan, UICY-93734, SHM-CD; Jimmy Giuffre, Western Suite, Atlantic/Warner Music Japan, WPCR-25160; Chris Connor, Chris Connor, Atlantic/Warner Music Japan, WPCR-2516; Maanam Łóżko, Pomaton EMI, 52718; Miles Davis, Miles Davis All Star Quintet/Sextet, Prestige/Universal Music Japan, UCCO-9294.
WAV, FLAC (LP)  - G. F. Händel, Messiah (Dublin Version, 1742), Dunedin Consort & Players, Linn Records, CKH 312, 3 x 180g LP; G. F. Händel, Messiah (Dublin Version, 1742), Dunedin Consort & Players, Linn Records, CKH 312, FLAC 24/88,2; The Beatles, Love, Apple/Parlophone/EMI, 3798081, 2 x 180g LP; The Beatles, Love, Apple/Parlophone/EMI, 798102, CD + DVD-A 24/96; The Beatles, Love, Apple/Parlophone/EMI, 798102, WAVE 24/96; John Coltrane, Blue Train, Blue Note/Classic Records, HDAD 2010, DVD-V 24/96+DVD-A 24/192; John Coltrane, Blue Train, Blue Note/Classic Records, HDAD 2010, FLAC 24/192; Helge Lien Trio Hello Troll, Ozella Music, OZ021CD, FLAC 24/96.

As mentioned, I knew this DAC from its earlier 2004 iteration. Already then I appreciated Mr. Stelmach’s concept who viewed the main potential of his design as properly processing digital signal while still in the digital domain i.e. prior to the conversion stage. The converter had a very good sound and wasn’t expensive, not to say that it was outright cheap. But it was a DIY project and there could be no talk of formally selling it. This time I received a shop-ready version in a simple yet nice enclosure with the company name on it, to be sold as is. This was the change from the manufacturer’s side. From my side the changes were rather bigger. My reference system had grown far more refined and I had by now listened to many dozens of similar products. This had a huge impact. Only now could I fully appreciate the mastery of this design. Yes, mastery. While many things could still be done better and CD players for 10000zl can sound more precise, certain aspects of the DAC-04‘s sound are unique regardless of price. But only now could I really ascertain that.

The most important characteristic of the DAC supplied with signal from the S/PDIF output of my Ancient Audio Lektor Prime is the incredibly sublime midrange. Incredible for a digital source was its rendering of old recordings which are usually tonally flattened and suffer washed-out timbres even over expensive units. Here voices like Chris Connor’s from Chris Connor or Mark Knopfler’s from Dire Straits’ On Every Street had a deep timbre, a certain velvety border which not only unified everything into a reasonable whole but added a refined patina to the music, a kind of  ‘quality certificate’. There was no room for brightening or sharpening nor was the sound really any warmer. I felt that this was not about any manipulation of the signal, which would allow for extracting midrange aspects to the surface of the mix. This was simply the ability to differentiate timbres and a thoroughness of showing the proper relationships between fundamentals and their harmonics i.e. coherence. That’s what produced this result and while there was no added warmth, everything did sound very natural.

I mentioned vocals and those on Manaam’s Łóżko were beautiful. It is an underestimated disc but together with Róża the essence and culmination for me of the ‘late’ Maanam while still with Jackowski. Both discs are very nicely recorded, clean and with good dynamics. With Mr. Stelmach’s DAC Łóżko had swing and edge but remained on the good side of neutrality. Kora’s voice was warm, did not jump out nor was sharpened. This is how it should sound. Separation from the background was not as good as over my reference player nor was the stage as deep but within the boundaries of the band, the saturation of timbres was fantastic.