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Reviewer: Stephæn
Financial Interests: click here
Analogue sources: Nottingham Analogue Studio Space Deck driven by Walker Audio Precision Motor Controller. NAS Space Arm with The VTAF® from Pete Riggle Audio. Dynavector 17D2MKII, Dynavector 20xl, Denon 103, Audio Technica OC9 cartridges.
Digital sources: Wavelength Audio Cosecant USB DAC v3 (Transcendental 16/44.1 DAC Module) fed by iBook G4 with dual 500GB LaCie Firewire drives; Tube Research Labs fully modified Sony SCD-2000ES (for SACD playback). Secondary: TRL-modified Alesis ML-9600 high-resolution master disk recorder.
Preamps: deHavilland UltraVerve; modified/upgraded Eastern Electric Minimax (larger PS, 12FQ7 ready, gain cut to 9dB); Jolida JD-9, Herron Audio VTPH-1MC and Monolithic Sound PS-1/HC-1 phono stages.
Amplifiers: Wright Sound Company WPA 3.5 mono block and AudioSector AMP-1 integrated amplifiers. Secondary: Outlaw Audio RetroReceiver.
Speakers: DIY Altec 604 MLTL. Secondary: Zu Audio Druid Mk.4; Sound Dynamics RTS-3; REL Strata III.
Cables: DIY WM-XTC; Audience Au24 and Zu Audio Libtec cables; Audience Au24, Audience Maestro [on loan] and TG Audio Lab custom copper interconnects. Secondary: Analysis Plus cables and interconnects.
Stands: 2 x three-tier Grand Prix Audio Monaco units on GPA Apex footers
Isolation: Main: GPA Monaco. Secondary: Lovan Affiniti Pro6 Series rack, Acoustic Dreams Dead Ball Isolators; Neuance platform
Powerline conditioning: BPT 3.5 Signature; cryo'd Pass & Seymour wall outlets; Audience, T.G. Audio Lab SLVR, Analysis Plus Power Oval, and Zu Audio Birth and Bok [both on loan] power cords. Secondary: Brick Wall PW8R15AUD
Sundry accessories: HAL-O® Vacuum Tube Dampers, Herbie's Way Excellent Turntable Mat, VPI 16.5 record cleaner, and Shun Mook Valve Resonators
Music makers: Epiphone Dot (Gibson ES-335 knock-off) and Chet Atkins CE (nylon-strung classical) electric guitars; Fender Blues Jr. amp; Privia PX-555 keyboard and 1906 Ellington upright piano.
Office system: Soundquest R601 Tube Hi-Fi FM/AM Classic Radio and a Gibson J-100 acoustic guitar.
Room size & treatments: 26' x 19' x 9' (a fractured 'L', nominally 16' x 19' with 12' feet of the 19-foot dimension opening to the 20-foot section of the 20' x 12' kitchen/eat-in area); concrete slab, sheetrock walls. ASC Tube Traps and Sound Planks, Echo Busters absorbers, Shakti Hallograph Soundfield Optimizers and Acoustic Revive RR-77 Ultra Low-Frequency Pulse Generator.
Review component retail: from $3500; silver upgrade +$6500; volume control +$500. Upgrade from v2 to v3 between $500 and $1,000 depending on age and configuration of your unit and desired DAC module

In 1975, Gordon Rankin heard his first real stereo: "Marantz tube stuff and AR1s with a Thorens table," sez he. He's since made over 1,000 tube amplifiers and hundreds of tubed DACs, phono preamplifiers and speakers. When asked if he agrees with Harry Pearson's belief that recreating the sound of live acoustic music being played in real space is the ultimate goal, his reply is to the point: "No, I just want to enjoy the music."

It was in fact through Pearson's The Abso!ute Sound that I first heard of Wavelength Audio when that print 'zine granted Gordon's Cardinal SET the Best Component of 1994 award. Of course, the Chief Scientist of Wavelength had been honing his chops since long before then.

After moving to Cincinnati in November of 1981, he formed Wavelength Audio within mere weeks. He had been working all summer on getting his first product completed. "This was a solid-state phono preamplifier based on discrete transistors and it worked really well. The board was laid out with blue and red tape at two times the size and that was sent with a drill chart to the board makers. I think I sold 2 or 3 of them... I still have the board hanging here on the wall."

Products number two and three were a 135-watt solid-state amplifier and a picture speaker system (2-ways that mounted to a wall). In 1985 Wavelength released an EL34 PP stereo amplifier; in 1989 the 845 SET 25-watt monoblocks. "At the time, I didn't think anyone would pay for a sub 10-watt amp." In 1990, Wavelength released the first version of the Cardinal using 5693 and 300B tubes. Two months later, someone was copying the design. So in 1992, Gordon did a second release, this one employing a 6SL7 to 300B configuration. Since then, the Cardinal has not changed electrically though some cosmetic changes were made after 2000. "After TAS reviewed the Cardinal, Wavelength took off from there!"

His design philosophy
"Every morning I design something. I take the back of a Dog of the Day calendar and sketch something out and determine values, capabilities etc .... I usually have streaks of guitar amps, audio amps, DACs, digital stuff and so forth. If something looks really good, I usually spend days going over the design and reworking this or that. But, it has to all fit on the back of the 5x5 page from the calendar. That's because I truly believe in Einstein's quote that "Things should be made as simple as possible but not simpler." Therefore, I would rather spend months working on software or a hardware problem than take the easy way out. I have no problems with component cost being high. I often ask Mike LaFevre at MagneQuest to design something custom for me. He usually thinks I am nuts... but there is a good reason for everything."

His system
"Well, here's a picture of my system du jour. As with many designers like myself, there are very few pieces that stick in a system long. So let's start with the constants. Cables are all Nirvana Audio, SL, SX, power, you name it. Speakers are the prototypes of the Wall of Sound that I designed for Terry Cain (yes, I paid for these). I think of Terry every time I play this system. Black Diamond Racing shelves under everything. Currently, I'm also using a Mac Mini Server with ELO Touch Screen, LaCie 500GB base, two backup 500GB Firewire drives. Cosecant with the Numerator 24/96 DAC module, over 100 high rez and over 500 red book CDs. Royal Directly Heated Triode Line Preamplifier and the Corona VT52 (5-watt) Directly Heated Triode SET amplifiers with custom MagneQuest Cobalt Core output transformers."

Excellent! Let's move on to the topic of the day. Tell us a bit about the Cosecant USB DAC. "The Cosecant is where it all started at CES 2004. At first I did not think this technology would work. Was I wrong! Today, the Cosecant v3 connects the USB controller to a DAC module. The USB firmware to run that DAC module resides there so each module has its own developed code. The output of the module connector is sent directly to the 6GM8/ECC86 dual triode output tube, which drives the transformer-coupled output. The Cosecant has an external power supply with IEC connector to isolate the power from the DAC and its audio transformers. The Cosecant is also available with an optional volume control if you want to control your entire system from the computer output.

"Those are the very basics. Before we go on though, it's important to clarify that the v2 you bought in early 2007did not have an upgrade path. Since I really wanted the line to be forward thinking, I went ahead and totally redesigned the USB engine. This is my own design and I wrote the software (1,800 lines of code for the USB controller to do what it does) like no one else does on the planet. This was a huge undertaking and explains why a number of other companies want to buy or steal it. It is like a small computer... heck it's more powerful than some hand-held computers.

"Now you like any other v2 user who upgrades, will have entirely new electronics. The version 2 did not have modular DACs nor did it have the capabilities of any firmware upgrades. Your version 2 and the newer version 3 have the Transcendental 16-bit DAC electronics. The version 3 has a modular DAC design with upgrades to the circuitry from the version 2. If you like, you now can user upgrade to the Numerator Module and have 24-bit support. So that's it in a nutshell. But some people don't get it. I can't believe the amount of questions and the people who just want to buy the module and put it in their CD players. Like that's going to work."