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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Source: Zanden Audio Model 2000P/5000S; Ancient Audio Lektor Prime; AMR CD-77 [on review]
Preamp/Integrated: Supratek Cabernet Dual; Melody HiFi I2A3 with JJ 2A3-40s; Modwright SL-36.5
Amp: Yamamoto A-08S, Fi 2A3 monos with JJ 2A3-40s [on loan from a friend]; 2 x AudioSector Patek SE; Raysonic M100s [on review]; Coda CX monos and CSX stereo amps [on review]
Speakers: Zu Audio Definition Pro; DeVore Fidelity Nines; Mark & Daniel Ruby w. OmniHarmonizer
Cables: Crystal Cable Ultra loom; Zanden Audio proprietary I²S cable; Crystal Cable Reference power cords; Stealth Sextet BNC/BNC digital cable; double cryo'd Acrolink with Furutech UK plug between wall and transformer
Stands: 2 x Grand Prix Audio Monaco Modular 4-tier
Powerline conditioning: 2 x Walker Audio Velocitor S fed from custom AudioSector 1.5KV Plitron step-down transformer with balanced power output option
Sundry accessories: GPA Formula Carbon/Kevlar shelf for transport; GPA Apex footers underneath stand, DAC and amp; Walker Audio Extreme SST on all connections; Walker Audio Vivid CD cleaner; Walker Audio Reference HDLs; Furutech RD-2 CD demagnetizer; Nanotech Nespa Pro; Acoustic System resonators
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 9' h in short-wall setup, with openly adjoining 15' x 35' living room
Review Component Retail: $15,700/$13,700 for Jason/Medea or ca. €12,300/€10,600
|Ancient Greece. Jason and Medea. An epic but doomed love story full of murder and magic. Also a play by Euripides. Medea was King Aeetes of Colchi's daughter and a great sorceress. When Jason and his Argonautes arrived at the Colchis Court in search of the famed golden ram's fleece, Jason was charged with seemingly impossible tasks to be granted the fleece. With Medea's magic, Jason obtained the fleece regardless and promptly escaped with her and her younger brother Absyrtis, the king in hot pursuit. Medea killed and dismembered her own brother to slow down the pursuers who were honor-bound to collect the body parts for a proper funeral. While Medea bore Jason two children in exile, he eventually abandoned her in favor of the king of Corinth's daughter. Medea extracted due revenge by poisoning the new bride and killing her own children to spite the father. In short, plenty of sex and violence. Nothing much seems to have changed since when it comes to telling saucy tales that hold an audience enthralled.|
|Perhaps that's why Swiss pro-audio firm Weiss named its first consumer audio products Jason and Medea. It suggests spellbinding results full of juice and passion. Led by white magician Daniel Weiss -- weiss is German for white -- his design DNA goes back to Studer Revox in whose digital audio lab he worked for five year designing sample rate converters and DSP code for digital audio recorders. He launched Weiss Engineering in 1985 to focus on digital audio equipment for mastering studios - A/D and D/A converters, equalizers, dynamic processors, sampling rate converters and such. Clients of his pro|
|kit include Abbey Road, BMG, EMI, Telarc, Teldec, Sony, Warner and audiophile celebrities like Bob Ludwig and Bernie Grundman, to name just a few (for a more comprehensive list, click here).
Sleek, of low profile and with very clean and simple lines, the Weiss consumer cosmetics are reminiscent of fellow Swiss company Orpheus, i.e. timeless, uncluttered and an antidote to the nouveau-riche glitz pursued in the audio jewelry sector. The professional mastering studio background meanwhile recalls Ed Meitner's EMM Labs. This spells no-compromise tech. It caters specifically to top professionals who don't mind committing murder to the checkbook to secure the ultimate tools for their trade craft. If Daniel Weiss was first and foremost a consumer audio provider, he couldn't justify this kind of heavy in-house R&D. Dwindling sales for state-of-the-art RedBook consumer machines don't pay for proprietary custom solutions in the DSP arena. No, it's the professional recording engineers who subsidize the high-end arm of Weiss Pro. Still, final retail pricing remains an Olympian $28,000 for the combo. Echoes of golden fleecing from ancient Greece? Weiss would point at hand-made in Suisse for perspective instead.
Based on their pro-arena DAC-1, the Medea DAC was introduced in 2001. It was duly greeted with fanfare in the audiophile glossies. It also measured like a dream. The newer Jason saw the light of day in 2004. To date, it lacks any English reviews though one each in German, Dutch and Chinese is on record. As you'd expect from its profile, Weiss Engineering is big on accuracy. In digital, accuracy depends on equal sampling of the signal every 22.67 microseconds. Wrong time spacing of these samples creates jitter which becomes most audible in the higher frequencies where wave forms are steeper. Hello digital glare. Besides the A/D and D/A conversion processes, asynchronous sample rate conversion used during vari-speed modes of digital audio recorders for example can also introduce jitter (i.e. inaccurate sample timing). Further jitter sources during D/A conversion include power supply crosstalk from spindle or servo motors; capacitive or inductive crosstalk between clock signals; microphony of the sample-rate crystal clock generator; and the connecting cables. With external units such as are under consideration, the received data also has to be sync'd with the send clock in the transport for the most obvious source of jitter.
|The Weiss Jason with its motor-driven lid -- its disc clamp is conveniently fitted to it -- employs the Philips CDPRO2M transport and sports user-selectable upsampling to 88.2 and 176.4kHz. Incidentally, the Swiss company which supplied the lift motor also supplied motors for the NASA Mars Rover. Word length of course increases with upsampling engaged. Here it can be trimmed at the outputs from 24 bits down to 20 and 16 bits, for DACs like my 16-bit Zanden which won't lock to anything else. Word-length reduction from the 32-bit floating point length is accomplished via the POW-R #3 algorithm. That's short for Psychoacoustically Optimized Wordlength Reduction and was developed by a consortium of four companies including Weiss (the others are Millennia Media, Z-Systems and Lake Systems). Apparently it is the standard in|
|professional recording studios as well as with Apple Computer. The DAC+ function on the remote engages spread spectrum technologies to optimize the signal in the jitter domain when used with converters of lesser jitter rejection. "It has the purpose of covering discrete jitter frequencies -- which can be present in less than optimum DAC designs -- with a broad band jitter spectrum. This in effect produces a broader or flatter jitter spectrum, which results in reduced jitter-induced distortions. Jitter is therefore turned into broadband white noise and much less detrimental to the sonic quality than discrete jitter frequencies would be." Like the Medea, the Jason employs a dual-chassis construction, with the inner chassis of steel for superior shielding, the outer chassis of aluminum for heat convection, additional shielding and appearance.
Jason's connectivity bay includes 7 digital outputs - RCA and Toslink fixed at 44.1kHz; RCA, BNC, XLR and ST optical at either 44.1, 88.2 or 176.4kHz; and twinned XLRs at 88.2 and 176.4kHz (muted at 44.1kHz). There's also the ubiquitous IEC power inlet and a USB port for future software upgrades via downloads. The included custom aluminum remote has a few double-function buttons whose lesser-used commands are accessed by pressing the ALT button first. Those include sample rate and word length options which you'll likely only set once during initial setup. The remote also controls volume, absolute phase and display brightness, the former two manipulated in the DSP domain like the upsampling, i.e. external to the commercial converter chip. The mains voltage can be changed by prying off the IEC cover and turning the internal drum to the desired value.
The Weiss Medea converter uses a dual phase-lock-loop said to be unusually effective into subsonic frequencies where conventional PLLs begin to lose accuracy below 1kHz. Like Jason, Medea performs its upsampling -- here necessary to allow for a shallower, more phase-benign 3rd-order reconstruction filter -- mostly in the external DSP domain. The 8 x oversampling DACs run at 352.8kHz and a Class A output stage with massively paralleled transistors for nearly zero output impedance -- 0.2 ohms to be precise -- follows the converter stage. Several reclocking schemes are combined to minimize jitter while a proprietary MRCS Mutual Relation Correlation System circuit lowers the S/N ratio of the converter yet further. Incoming signal from a disc spinner can be locked at 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 and 192kHz. For connectivity, the Medea offers four front-panel selectable digital inputs carried in parallel on both XLR and RCA (one Toslink) for a total of eight. Analog outputs appear on both RCA and XLR, no servos employed. Output voltage level can be trimmed with dual-mono front-panel pots and a supplied screw driver. Hi-gain or lo-gain mode are selected on the rear panel. Max output voltage is 21/27dBu for RCA/XLR respectively. Upsampling, jitter reduction and deemphasis are once again handled in the DSP domain. No HDCD processing is included.
|With the different upsampling options between Jason and Medea, I asked Daniel for some clarification. "Upsampling basically can be done anywhere between the 44.1 output of the CD transport and the DAC. Modern DACs usually have some upsampling built in to relax the requirements for the analog reconstruction filter after the DAC. The upsampling process is in essence a digital low-pass filter and its quality is crucial to the overall quality of the transport-to-DAC chain. By performing the upsampling in our Jason transport, we have control over the quality of that process independent of the type of DAC connected. If our Medea DAC connects to the Jason, the user can choose between various types of up/over-sampling schemes depending on preference. These are: Jason none, Medea DSP to 88.2, Medea DAC chip to 352.8 | Jason to 88.2, Medea DSP none, Medea DAC chip to 352.8 | and Jason to 176.4, Medea DSP none, Medea DAC chip to 352.8. Technically the most critical part is the 44.1 to 88.2 upsampling." On the subject of which commercial silicon handles conversion duties, Daniel reserved the right not to be specific. He explained that he didn't want any discussions of his Medea DAC to center on preconceived notions over certain chips. He also wants the freedom to switch suppliers if and when this improves performance.
|If this were marketing propaganda, we would spin incessantly. "Hear it on the equipment that was used to record your music". And, "if it was the choice for the performing and recording artists, shouldn't it be yours". Which, truly, doesn't take much spin. If you really want to hear just what remains hidden in the groove code of your silver discs, top shelf professional kit ought to retrieve it. Therein lies the potential rub though. From professional monitors by PMC and Klein & Hummel to source gear by dCS or Benchmark Media, audiophiles often claim|
|such kit to be too neutral, too clinical or sterile to serve the music. The test bench meanwhile responds regularly with superb linearity graphs for just such gear to underline the old dichotomy. Truth and beauty. Clearly, audiophiles must pay at least lip service to data honesty. How else to retain their memberships in Club High Fidelity? Yet when the gavel comes down, many judge in favor of less honesty. They desire more musicality. That's everyone's favorite weasel word. Recording engineers need microscopic honesty. They would tell us that we need the same - if we are truly serious about hearing their work rather than editorialize it arbitrarily. (And to editorialize it with conscious choice of course would rely on intimate familiarity with the untouched source code. Since we weren't present during the recording session, we cannot. Thus the issue is both mute and unresolved). The question is, do we really want the truth? Can we handle it? Like the judge in the pornography case, we claim we know musicality when we see/hear it even though we're otherwise mostly incapable of defining it. Based on the pro-arena connection, the exclusive pricing and the longevity of the company and its resident engineering department, technical excellence at the edge of the art seems pretty much a given. How would all that translate though to decidedly non-technical ears that don't give a twit about specs and theory?|