Audio Mirror Tubadour III SE DAC Review
I was a little slow out of the blocks when it came to adopting the digital format, I didn’t purchase my first CD player until 1985. Hardware from the joint Sony/Philips venture started to materialize in the UK and the US at around the same time, way back in the spring of 1983.
Early Days of Digital Audio – A Little History From A Brit’s Perspective…
By the time I had made my first investment, almost 3 years after the format’s release, there were plenty of artists and recordings from which to choose. Still, I’m pretty sure my first purchase would have been Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits, the first CD to reach the million-dollar sales mark and one that I still have in my collection to this day.
My choice of hardware back then was a Philips CD152, with its bold ‘Fourfold Oversampling’ statement printed under the motorized front-loading disc drawer. I had no idea what fourfold oversampling meant, but it soon became common knowledge that the more oversampling the better the sound.
Perfect Sound Forever.
It was around this time that my audiophile urges were beginning to take hold. I’d moved up from an Arcam integrated with Monitor Audio speakers to a Linn LK1/LK2 pre/power setup with Epos ES14 speakers, and of course the venerable Linn Sondek LP12 turntable.
I recall being underwhelmed with the sonics of the CD format at the time, but couldn’t really understand why. Obviously I’d bought into the hype, along with everyone else, and all my spare cash was now being funneled away from vinyl purchases to the more trendy and technologically superior compact disc.
The Groundbreaking Cambridge Audio CD1 / CD2
I figured the CD format’s inability to elicit a positive emotional response in the way that vinyl could, must surely be something to do with oversampling or bit depth or some other jargon that I was being force-fed by the popular audiophile rags of the day. So when sometime late in 1986 the Cambridge Audio CD2 arrived on the scene, I was poised with cash in hand and eager to get my name down on the waiting list.
The Start Of The Numbers Game.
The CD2’s main talking point was its specification. 16-bit 16x oversampling versus the typical 14-bit 4x oversampling rate enjoyed by most CD players of the day. The audio press was going crazy on its performance, and before the dust could settle, out came the CD1 with its beefy 16-bit 32 times oversampling conversion technology, developed from that used in the CD2. So I guess that was the start of the numbers game, now everything is faster, more powerful, more expensive and therefore better.
It wasn’t long before someone realized that taking an ax to a CD player and hacking off the digital to analog conversion section was a good idea. Now we can charge audiophiles for two boxes instead of one, two power cords, two-component racks. And oh, you’re not an audiophile unless you experiment with all available options for connecting the two boxes one to the other, so let’s invent at least three of those, four or five would be better. And so off I went, tumbling ever deeper down the digital rabbit hole.
The Cambridge Audio CD2 was, of course, British made and lasted about as long as a used MGB GT. It got me out of the parking lot then the transmission went. Incidentally, and it has taken 30 years of me maturing as an audiophile to admit this, I could barely hear any difference between the tacky Philips player that launched me into the digital age, and a functioning state of the art CD2. Nevertheless, the quest had taken hold, and I spun through a variety of gear in search of the ‘golden digital donut.’
I ended that particular chapter with an Audio Alchemy rig consisting of a DTI-Pro Transport, DDE V3.0 DAC, and the DTI-Pro digital interface for jitter reduction. Bits were plentiful in this well-respected digital combo, a selectable 16, 18, 20, 22, or 24 bits on the digital interface to match up with whatever DAC you had strapped to it, the DDE V3.0 in my case. The Audio Alchemy gear was quite enjoyable and served me well as a point of reference through a busy period of gear coming in and out for review.
It took a move to an Audio Aero Capitole MKII CD player a decade later, to make a worthwhile sonic improvement over the old Alchemy rig. Perched upon its $2200 custom SRA platform with a combined retail price approaching $10K, it damn well should sound better, shouldn’t it?
Around 2011 I started to take my poison via a Lyngdorf TDAi-2200 with its fairly respectable digital to analog conversion coupled with room correction; then, in a fit of madness…I pretty much sold everything and took a long sabbatical.
I won’t analyze this dark period here, suffice to say that I emerged with simpler tastes in audio gear (even retained them for a while), and stayed married to a Cambridge Audio Azure 851C for a number of years. (Cambridge Audio? Nostalgia? Maybe).
EQUIPMENT USED IN THIS REVIEW INCLUDED:
Audio Mirror Tubadour MKIII SE DAC
Ayre Acoustics Codex DAC
Cambridge Audio Azure 851C Player/DAC
Sim Audio Moon 380D DAC
Aurender N100H Server
Seagate / Western Digital USB/NAS
Various digital cables and accessories
Thor TA1000 MKII preamp
Thor TPA 60 Monoblocks
Edge NL10.2 Power Amp
Aerial SW-12 Subs (x 3)
Harmonic Technology Pro-Silway III RCA, Bogdan Audio Toto RCA’s, Tara Labs Master Speaker Cables, Anti-Cables 2.1 speaker cables, various isolation accessories etc etc.