JCF Audio DA8-V by Flagfoot
There is just enough literature and hype out there right now about the JCF DA8-V to make it seem like a cool box. It is. I’m a feeling > sensing person, so rather than regurgitating the product manual or specs (see the website; it's a highly engineered product) this review will focus on the qualities of the DA8-V we have so far discovered.
It weighs a ton. We run a PS Audio P-1000 (the old one) which has a hunk of solid iron inside bigger than a baby’s head, and our DA rack with two DA8-V’s weighs more. Then there are the power supplies- just the analog side is like an iron brick with pretty noisy fans to remind you not to touch it and electrocute yourself. The DA itself has a quieter fan but the PSUs for sure belong in a machine closet. What’s great is that the overlord-factor of the unit’s build is elegantly matched by its overlordish sonics. It really sounds that cool.
The balls factor of the DA8-V is entirely off the chain, so if you are really intent on the ballsiest possible audio, and I’m not talking distortion or edgy or whatever, the DA8-V delivers. So maybe the thesis of this review is that the DA8-V, as advertised, has really, really big balls.
A sideways way of describing it is that once you mix a snare drum through it and try to go back to a conventional converter, it will make you sad.
We moved from a Lynx Aurora converter over to a JCF AD8 (transparent and PEP is super cool) + JCF DA8-V mix backbone, and the comparison between the two is fun. Fun in the sense that the DA8-V makes us smile and go, “oh my gosh” because the balls are so easy to hear. This is seriously what is going through my head when we A/B them. The icy crystal highs are different, nicer. There is a time and place when this is not a good thing. We prepare by mixing into it. The midrange is really, really cool. I can’t believe I’m breaking this sound down by spectrum but somebody’s going to ask. The lows are great, just great. They make the Aurora sound like a toy. I can’t think of a time or place when this would ever be a bad thing. I need to repeat this: the lows are really great. The build of the unit is sort of a metaphor for its sonics.
In terms of quality or audio opulence, these converters are equal to their price point. The power supplies are no joke. There are about forty pounds of iron just on the left side of the actual unit. I usually demonstrate the sound-quality factor with a few pieces of music: “Afraid Of Everyone” by The National, “Sailing To Philadelphia” by Mark Knopfler, “May It Be” by Enya/Howard Shore, and whatever Nine Inch Nails is sitting in my demo playlist. The DA8-Vs make listening to these a much more involving experience, and a lot of that I think is due to the insane bottom end and the luxurious build quality (they’re just better than average converters is what I’m trying to say.) Aside from the different top end and the actual low end, the converters do a good job of what I think of as “raising the emotional ceiling.”
This is the cool part, in my opinion. It has mattered the most for our studio.
The DA8-V is not built to be the most transparent converter on the market. It doesn’t have an insanely low noise floor. If you calibrate it too hot (there is a ton of calibration range) you can saturate the tubes. In my stupid opinion it turns away the customers who don’t deserve to use it. That’s not meant in an across-the-board you’re not good enough to use it; rather, those who don’t understand a use for a unit like this wouldn’t be able to utilize its design. And with such a marvelous design, the unit sort of “deserves” a certain user.
So the cool part is emotional ceiling part. When some people talk about limitations of this or that device, particularly converters, I usually understand those limitations as sort of a “gamut.” The DA8-V extends the gamut where little else can touch. You can use this stuff to your advantage in a market full of music cooked inside of a standard gamut range. The point is that the DA8-V does a really good job of raising the creative (or emotional) ceiling for digital audio. That’s how I use it. You can initially hear it by running program material through it. Then you can get a feel for mixing through it. There are ways to compensate for softer-feeling highs or whatever deviations from the norm you may notice. But the reverse doesn't often end up being true of the DA8-V: you can’t throw bass or slam snare without it.
Not that it’s a trick to use; it’s an environment in which to work, with different rules than most DAW rigs, and in my opinion, with more room in which to play. It’s a good thing.