This review is about the Ross Martin dual pcm1794 w/ ada4898 (aka Bare Beast - “Gearslutz” Unit), which is a 2 channel DA converter.
I placed my order for this handmade unit on 6 August and it was mailed to me on 20 November 2012. Ross Martin was apologetic about the delay. I would have preferred if he would have kept me informed about the expected delivery time. Not all of my emails were answered, which I found frustrating.
The unit arrived well packaged in a sturdy box, which also contained a printed invoice and 1-page manual. Before using it, I opened up the unit to see if any parts had come loose during transit, but all appeared well. I had to chuckle at the liberal use of silicon, presumably for keeping components in place. The layout of the circuit-boards is rather complex, reflecting the complexity and flexibility of the general design. The unit has AES and phono analogue outs, plus USB, AES, 2 X SPDIF and 2 X optical ins. That's pretty comprehensive.
The casing appears to be made from steel with wooden end cheeks. The look is rather utilitarian (see image). Also included was an external power supply which feels quite solid and heavy. On the power supply, there is open access to the 16vac power end points which I find less than ideal - it's an accident waiting to happen.
The switches and dials look a little cheap, but actually feel solid and provide for positive interaction.
So far, I've only used the unit hooked up to my Mac Pro via USB, as an Aggregate Device combined with my Multiface II. The Multiface II currently provides the master clock, but for recording, I will change that to an Apogee AD.
What does it sound like? In a word, great. Until now, I've always been monitoring through the RME, but I also felt something wasn't quite right about the sound. However, without having something "better" to compare it to, I wasn't sure what exactly I didn't like about it. Patching in the Ross Martin converter was something of a shocking experience, really. When I put on one of my favourite CDs and alternated between the two systems, at times it was as if I was listening to two different recordings - the difference wasn't subtle but very pronounced. While the RME seems to smother everything with an additional layer of metallic, "ringing" frequencies, the Ross Martin reproduces the sound of all instruments in the most musical, pleasant, well rounded and importantly, natural fashion. I am reminded of the sound of vinyl - even on small systems, vinyl often manages to convey a sense of realism, in that the musicians seem to perform right there in front of you.