Aries Cerat Kassandra Ref II DAC Review

Legolas

VIP/Donor
Dec 27, 2015
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455
France
Ok, here is my promised review, to follow on from my teaser on 19th March. Sorry for the delay.


My first impressions in my first review might seem a bit over the top, but it was how I felt on the first few days of listening to the Kassandra. I have been in the hobby at a decent level for 20 years+ and have had incremental improvements along the way. Some things have 'surprised' me a bit, mainly it’s been a slow upward direction over the years.

Right from the first song I played on the DAC, it shocked me. It was very different to what I have heard before or had in my system. My previous DAC was the Audio Note DAC 5 Special (circa 30K new, mine was used) but with Duelund copper cast caps on the line board. That DAC was until then the best I have heard at home, nearest to my ‘ideal’. While I owned that DAC, I also had the CH Precision C1 on a day long demo, the Chord DAVE, the Lampizator Golden Gate (think it was 2017 spec), the Naim CD555 (used example), MSB Platinum and various others. Some of these DACs did some things very well, detail, soundstage etc,. But I always got bored. It was really only the DAC 5 that had my attention for most of that period.

IMG_3954.JPG IMG_3942.JPG IMG_3944.JPG IMG_3946.JPG IMG_3950.JPG

Enter the Aries Cerat Kassandra Ref II
I have been following this DAC for some time. It has some of the design ideas I find interesting such as Non Oversampling, the excellent AD1865 chip (but 16 of them), I/V stage using transformers, tube gain stage, output transformers. It also has a very healthy gain stage design with the E280F ’super tube by*Siemens*with very low output*impedance. My DAC 5 was 1.8v output and 300 ohms, the Kassandra is 10v on 55 ohms, or 6v on 12 ohms - a very good gain stage indeed I thought.

Then those huge capacitors, none of the typical weedy caps in many Dacs here, big mains transformer, huge output transformers. The DAC is BIG, 60 kilos and 540mm wide x 520mm deep, 165mm high.

Anyway, this was all a taster for things to come. When the Kassandra arrived, I was apprehensive. Would it live up to my expectations? Maybe slightly better than my DAC 5? Well - it was a revelation I can tell you, hand on heart, a fantastic sound. I was*very happy as you can tell.

I’ll try and detail my impressions of the sound below

1. The very first bar on one of my favourite test tracks (some EDM) it was obvious, this thing is on another level to anything I have heard before. The amount of information coming right at my listening*position* incredible. I have heard this level of detail in other*‘modern’ Dacs such as the CH, but not with this level of realism, the flow of the music, so smooth and solid, really 3D, and very unlike any digital I heard. The timbre and texture of instruments, I don’t know how Stavros did it, but he has managed to get so much detail out of this Dac without the usual digital payoffs of thin and flat dynamics and a generally cold presentation. It does remind me of the better turntables and how they carry so much body and energy with the music AND detail.

2. The punch and drive to the speakers, it is an iron grip and super charged, really big dynamics. It isn't fake or false either, it just sounds hard wired, nearer live music in energy. The Zingalis are flying off the stands I am not kidding. I can listen to everything going on at a low*level without*difficulty, but playing a bit louder, it is addictive. There are part of the music, tracks I am very familiar with that fly out at you, as though there is another layer revealed, and all this information is stacked up as*separate*entities. In other words, I can so much more even when the music is very busy, nothing seems to faze it.

3. The bass goes so low and has so much texture, my listening room is energised. It has an iron grip on my speakers, as though I have upgraded my power amplifier as well. Obviously the pot is a lot lower for the same volume now with 10v line out, but it also seems to drive and thrust the bass energy with limitless power. I get the feeling my previous Dac was strangled for power, as though it was on it’s limit. The Kassandra seems to be just ticking over, like a big American Muscle Car, tons of torque on tap for instantaneous response to the music.

4. The midrange at first seemed more forward than I was used to, but after a few hours it settled. After a few more weeks of running in the Dac, and getting used to the sound, I find vocals in all types of music sound very natural. I used to hear a lot of female vocals that were a bit pitchy, possibly over processed in the studio, but on this Dac this is no longer an issue. I have no idea why, but the mids are creamy smooth and very detailed indeed. On the LCD4s which already have a superb midrange, the sound of female vocals is just perfect.

5. The treble, oh my. My love / hate thing with digital since I bought my first CD player right back the 1980s. The Kassandra nails it to me. Vocals are very very smooth and natural, the detail is all there, but it has no extra edges or emphasis. Female vocals have no pitching on the chorus. It is all very natural to my ears. Beyonce, amazing. After a few weeks, I think it is even better here. I also bought 2 x Golden Dragon tube rings. Note how close my Dac is to the right speaker.


Review continued.....

So, super super happy with this beast. It is huge, and doesn’t let you forget it is in your system either, it has totally changed my system for the better. I always thought the source is so important, and the Kassandra confirms that to me. It also confirms that not all Dacs sound alike, far from it in fact…..


I can say IMO - Stavros is the real deal
Very highly recommended. It is not easy to demo it, I bought it blind! Ha Ha, yes I know, crazy. But I did talk to some AC owners first, it gave me some confidence. But I am so happy I did risk that. There are dealers in the EU and a new one in the UK, and Joshua in Texas. Feel free to PM me if you want more info, I seem to be glued to my listening chair at*the moment LOL.

BTW the build quality is excellent, as good as the CH Precision but obviously bigger and heavier as well. The faceplate for example, it is engraved in thick smoked glass. Normally that would be printed (cheaper). The source readouts are tubes that glow behind the front panel, it looks fantastic. Thick stainless steel plates for the chassis, no thin bent mild steel sheet here. The graphics are bold on the top plates, I think it works great. I can see the LEDs and tubes glowing inside. On a night it looks superb. Even the back plate with big connections is first rate finish. I can’t fault it. It is even better in the flesh than the photos on the Aries Carat website.
 

LL21

Well-Known Member
Dec 26, 2010
14,423
2,514
1,448
Awesome...I know you've been absolutely focused on this for MONTHS before it finally arrived. Nerve-wracking! Very happy to read this, and absolutely fascinating how utterly loyal the following can be for certain brands...and AC is clearly becoming one of them very rapidly. Quite a few people seem to have transitioned their ENTIRE system over to all AC, and I know you've said you'd gladly do the same if money were no object.

Would love to read (if you dont mind) any comparisons between AC and the other DACs you've heard. Hopefully, people who own the other DACs will take this all in stride as 'one man's opinion and YMMV' and all that. But it would be interesting to hear how you found AC differs from these others if you have the time/desire to do so.
 
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Addicted to hifi

VIP/Donor
Sep 8, 2020
4,610
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Australia
Ok, here is my promised review, to follow on from my teaser on 19th March. Sorry for the delay.


My first impressions in my first review might seem a bit over the top, but it was how I felt on the first few days of listening to the Kassandra. I have been in the hobby at a decent level for 20 years+ and have had incremental improvements along the way. Some things have 'surprised' me a bit, mainly it’s been a slow upward direction over the years.

Right from the first song I played on the DAC, it shocked me. It was very different to what I have heard before or had in my system. My previous DAC was the Audio Note DAC 5 Special (circa 30K new, mine was used) but with Duelund copper cast caps on the line board. That DAC was until then the best I have heard at home, nearest to my ‘ideal’. While I owned that DAC, I also had the CH Precision C1 on a day long demo, the Chord DAVE, the Lampizator Golden Gate (think it was 2017 spec), the Naim CD555 (used example), MSB Platinum and various others. Some of these DACs did some things very well, detail, soundstage etc,. But I always got bored. It was really only the DAC 5 that had my attention for most of that period.

View attachment 43077 View attachment 43078 View attachment 43079 View attachment 43080 View attachment 43081

Enter the Aries Cerat Kassandra Ref II
I have been following this DAC for some time. It has some of the design ideas I find interesting such as Non Oversampling, the excellent AD1865 chip (but 16 of them), I/V stage using transformers, tube gain stage, output transformers. It also has a very healthy gain stage design with the E280F ’super tube by*Siemens*with very low output*impedance. My DAC 5 was 1.8v output and 300 ohms, the Kassandra is 10v on 55 ohms, or 6v on 12 ohms - a very good gain stage indeed I thought.

Then those huge capacitors, none of the typical weedy caps in many Dacs here, big mains transformer, huge output transformers. The DAC is BIG, 60 kilos and 540mm wide x 520mm deep, 165mm high.

Anyway, this was all a taster for things to come. When the Kassandra arrived, I was apprehensive. Would it live up to my expectations? Maybe slightly better than my DAC 5? Well - it was a revelation I can tell you, hand on heart, a fantastic sound. I was*very happy as you can tell.

I’ll try and detail my impressions of the sound below

1. The very first bar on one of my favourite test tracks (some EDM) it was obvious, this thing is on another level to anything I have heard before. The amount of information coming right at my listening*position* incredible. I have heard this level of detail in other*‘modern’ Dacs such as the CH, but not with this level of realism, the flow of the music, so smooth and solid, really 3D, and very unlike any digital I heard. The timbre and texture of instruments, I don’t know how Stavros did it, but he has managed to get so much detail out of this Dac without the usual digital payoffs of thin and flat dynamics and a generally cold presentation. It does remind me of the better turntables and how they carry so much body and energy with the music AND detail.

2. The punch and drive to the speakers, it is an iron grip and super charged, really big dynamics. It isn't fake or false either, it just sounds hard wired, nearer live music in energy. The Zingalis are flying off the stands I am not kidding. I can listen to everything going on at a low*level without*difficulty, but playing a bit louder, it is addictive. There are part of the music, tracks I am very familiar with that fly out at you, as though there is another layer revealed, and all this information is stacked up as*separate*entities. In other words, I can so much more even when the music is very busy, nothing seems to faze it.

3. The bass goes so low and has so much texture, my listening room is energised. It has an iron grip on my speakers, as though I have upgraded my power amplifier as well. Obviously the pot is a lot lower for the same volume now with 10v line out, but it also seems to drive and thrust the bass energy with limitless power. I get the feeling my previous Dac was strangled for power, as though it was on it’s limit. The Kassandra seems to be just ticking over, like a big American Muscle Car, tons of torque on tap for instantaneous response to the music.

4. The midrange at first seemed more forward than I was used to, but after a few hours it settled. After a few more weeks of running in the Dac, and getting used to the sound, I find vocals in all types of music sound very natural. I used to hear a lot of female vocals that were a bit pitchy, possibly over processed in the studio, but on this Dac this is no longer an issue. I have no idea why, but the mids are creamy smooth and very detailed indeed. On the LCD4s which already have a superb midrange, the sound of female vocals is just perfect.

5. The treble, oh my. My love / hate thing with digital since I bought my first CD player right back the 1980s. The Kassandra nails it to me. Vocals are very very smooth and natural, the detail is all there, but it has no extra edges or emphasis. Female vocals have no pitching on the chorus. It is all very natural to my ears. Beyonce, amazing. After a few weeks, I think it is even better here. I also bought 2 x Golden Dragon tube rings. Note how close my Dac is to the right speaker.


Review continued.....

So, super super happy with this beast. It is huge, and doesn’t let you forget it is in your system either, it has totally changed my system for the better. I always thought the source is so important, and the Kassandra confirms that to me. It also confirms that not all Dacs sound alike, far from it in fact…..


I can say IMO - Stavros is the real deal
Very highly recommended. It is not easy to demo it, I bought it blind! Ha Ha, yes I know, crazy. But I did talk to some AC owners first, it gave me some confidence. But I am so happy I did risk that. There are dealers in the EU and a new one in the UK, and Joshua in Texas. Feel free to PM me if you want more info, I seem to be glued to my listening chair at*the moment LOL.

BTW the build quality is excellent, as good as the CH Precision but obviously bigger and heavier as well. The faceplate for example, it is engraved in thick smoked glass. Normally that would be printed (cheaper). The source readouts are tubes that glow behind the front panel, it looks fantastic. Thick stainless steel plates for the chassis, no thin bent mild steel sheet here. The graphics are bold on the top plates, I think it works great. I can see the LEDs and tubes glowing inside. On a night it looks superb. Even the back plate with big connections is first rate finish. I can’t fault it. It is even better in the flesh than the photos on the Aries Carat website.
Awesome dac.
 

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