I thought I would write a followup review to my original one that I posted a few months back. When I posted the first review, I had only utilized this CD player/DAC combination as a CD player. For that past six weeks or so now I've been using it exclusively as a DAC, since I went to a completely PC-based source solution.
During this process, I've also compared it to a few other DACs as well, and there's something that keeps drawing me back to the Audiolab. This has been the most satisfying, most completely trouble free DAC I have ever used, actually. If you give any weight the WhatHiFi reviews, you may want to check out the review there that gives it 5 stars. I wholeheartedly have to agree with that rating.
So I mentioned putting the Audiolab up against other DACs....
The first one was the new NAD M51 DAC. The NAD was really, really good, but also twice the price of admission than the Audiolab. In the end, though, I found the Audiolab more natural sounding, and less "digital". More musical, if you will. Just recently I back and forthed with the Rega DAC. The Audiolab authoritatively and convincingly smashed the Rega in every aspect. The Audiolab had way better imaging, a much larger soundstage and managed "complicated" music (i.e. metal) much better. The Rega sometimes seemed to get a bit overwhelmed, and sounded a bit congested and warbly.
I've also spent more time trying out the seven different filters. I still thing the Optimal Transient sounds the best, but the Optimal Spectrum is pretty good too. Connections from my PC source were handled both by optical and USB. Optical sounds better, but not by much, so if you have a source that lacks TOSLINK out, don't feel like you're missing out too much by using a USB connection.
If your amp has balanced inputs, be sure to use the XLR outputs on the Audiolab. It really does make a huge difference, at least in my system it does.
Cambridge Audio 840A
Totem Sttaf speakers
Mogami XLR cablesHarmonic Technology Optical One cable
Grant Fidelity PC-1.5 power cable
Unity Audio speaker cables