Introducing Cen.grand: A Chinese Contender in the European High-End DAC Market
Cen.grand, a relatively unknown Chinese company specializing in DAC technology, has entered the European high-end audio stage. Despite being founded in 2011, it remains unfamiliar to many in Europe. However, this could change, thanks to the active sales efforts of audiodomain.de, a German audio equipment distributor, and the impressive quality of Cen.grand’s products. This review looks closer at their flagship model, the Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0 “Deluxe Model.”
A Unique Entry from China
Chinese products have faced skepticism in Europe due to political and sustainability concerns. However, China is also home to numerous high-quality manufacturers in various industries, including high-end audio. Cen.grand Digital Media Technology Co., Ltd. is one such company that has earned an excellent international reputation over the years.
Founded in 2011, Cen.grand is relatively young on the international stage, and this shows in their somewhat eclectic product design, lacking a cohesive brand identity. However, as the saying goes, “The deciding factor is on the pitch,” and Cen.grand has plenty to offer.
|CEN.GRAND DSDAC1.0 DELUXE MODEL|
|Inputs and outputs:||Digital IN: S/PDIF (Coax, BNC, Tos), AES/EBU, USB|
Analog IN: Stereo RCA and XLR
Analog OUT: Stereo RCA and XLR
|Particularities:||Approx. 11.5 kilos|
|Dimensions (W x D x H):||430x360x100mm|
|Weight:||approx. 11.5 kilos|
The Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0: A Closer Look
The Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0, also known as the “Deluxe Model,” is a high-end DAC that immediately stands out due to its solid build and elegant aluminum housing. The substantial weight, around 12 kilograms, is a testament to its quality, with two impressive toroidal transformers inside.
The aluminum housing is finely crafted with a velvety surface treatment. The device runs at a relatively high operating temperature of around 30 degrees Celsius for a DAC preamplifier, which adds to its tactile appeal. The design includes playful elements like irregularly milled side walls, a diagonal front panel, and a large amber-colored matrix display.
Design and Build Quality of the Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0
The design and build quality of the Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0 are essential aspects of its overall appeal and functionality. Let’s delve into more detail about these aspects:
- Elegant Aluminum Housing: The DSDAC 1.0’s chassis is crafted from high-quality aluminum. The housing is not only robust but also exudes an air of sophistication. The choice of aluminum not only ensures durability but also aids in heat dissipation, contributing to the device’s overall performance.
- Distinctive Features: The design of the DSDAC 1.0 is characterized by several unique features. Irregularly milled side walls, a slanted front panel, and tailored head and bottom panels give it a distinct visual identity. These design elements may appear playful but add to the overall aesthetics.
- Amber-Colored Matrix Display: The front panel is dominated by a fairly large amber-colored matrix display. This display provides essential information and adds a touch of elegance to the front fascia.
- Control Elements: The front panel features six square control buttons on the left side and a chrome-plated volume control on the right. These controls are functional and exhibit mechanical precision and a smooth, tactile feel.
- Solid Construction: The DSDAC 1.0 impresses with its solid build. The device’s substantial weight, around 12 kilograms, indicates its robust construction. This solidity adds to its durability and helps minimize vibrations that can affect audio quality.
- High-Quality Components: Inside the device, you’ll find high-quality components, including toroidal transformers for both the digital and analog sections. These transformers are known for their superior performance and low electromagnetic interference.
- Aluminum Surface Treatment: The thick aluminum walls of the chassis have undergone surface treatment with a fine cross-cut, resulting in a velvety texture. This surface treatment enhances the tactile experience and adds a touch of luxury to the device.
- Connectors: The DSDAC 1.0 features high-quality connectors, including WBT NextGen Cinch connectors from Germany. These connectors are known for their reliability and robustness, and their inclusion adds to the device’s overall build quality.
One notable aspect of the build quality is the device’s ability to handle heat efficiently despite its relatively high operating temperature for a DAC preamplifier. This indicates that careful consideration has been given to thermal management within the chassis, ensuring the components operate optimally without overheating.
In conclusion, the Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0 combines an elegant and distinctive design with a robust build quality. High-quality materials, attention to detail, and efficient heat management contribute to a device that looks impressive and performs at a high level. These design and build qualities make the DSDAC 1.0 a compelling choice for audiophiles seeking aesthetic appeal and reliable functionality in their high-end audio equipment.
Connectivity and Features
The Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0 offers various connectivity options, including S/PDIF (Coax, BNC, Toslink), AES/EBU, USB, and both RCA and XLR analog inputs. It supports both balanced and unbalanced output connections. It features WBT NextGen Cinch connectors from Germany, a surprising choice over cheaper Chinese alternatives.
One intriguing feature is a small cover on the digital inputs, suggesting the possibility of a future streaming module. Cen.grand plans to launch the GLS1.0 media player, offering lossless data transfer controlled by the DSDAC.
Inside the DSDAC 1.0
The internal components of the DSDAC 1.0 are impressive. Separate toroidal transformers power the digital and analog sections. The DAC utilizes custom-developed algorithms and FPGAs to process digital audio data, offering native DSD support and PCM upscaling options. Notably, it features “synchronous direct clock technology,” enhancing its independence from the source’s clock signal.
The analog preamp section employs a volume control with IC-based fixed resistors, adding complexity to the circuitry.
Connectivity and Features of the Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0
The Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0 offers many connectivity options and features, enhancing its versatility and usability as a high-end digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and preamplifier. Here, we delve into the details of its connectivity and features:
- Digital Inputs: The DSDAC 1.0 boasts an array of digital input options, including S/PDIF (Coax, BNC, Toslink), AES/EBU, and USB. This extensive range of digital inputs ensures compatibility with a variety of source devices, such as CD players, streamers, and computers.
- Analog Inputs: Besides digital inputs, the device features two analog inputs via Cinch and XLR connectors. This capability directly connects analog source components like turntables, phono preamps, or other audio sources to the DSDAC 1.0.
- Output Flexibility: The device offers both balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) output options, providing flexibility in connecting to amplifiers, active speakers, or other audio equipment. If you use XLR for connecting an amplifier, the RCA outputs can be used in parallel to connect a subwoofer, adding to its versatility.
- Future-Proofing: A notable feature is the small cover with a hologram seal on the digital inputs. This suggests the possibility of adding a future streaming module, which can further expand the device’s capabilities. It reflects the manufacturer’s commitment to keeping the DSDAC 1.0 up-to-date and adaptable.
- Lossless Data Transfer: Cen.grand has plans to introduce a unique media player called the GLS1.0, designed to work in conjunction with the DSDAC 1.0. This player promises lossless data transfer controlled by the DSDAC, ensuring high-quality audio reproduction. While this feature may require retrofitting, it reflects the manufacturer’s dedication to enhancing the user experience.
- Synchronous Direct Clock Technology: The DSDAC 1.0 employs “synchronous direct clock technology,” a precise Femtoclock that delivers its signal directly to the Schieberegister without intermediate conversions. This technology minimizes jitter, ensuring stable clock synchronization independent of the source’s clock signal, which enhances audio quality.
- Display Information: The device’s display provides valuable information about its operation. Regular DAC mode indicates signal information, selected DSD upscaling mode, input source, digital filter settings, and volume level. This informative display ensures users have essential details at their fingertips.
- Output Level Control: Users can easily switch between variable and fixed output levels, adding convenience and flexibility. A safety circuit helps prevent sudden volume surges when switching to fixed output levels, safeguarding connected amplifiers and speakers.
- Digital Filter Modes: The DSDAC 1.0 allows users to select from eight different digital filter modes. These modes vary the stop band frequency, although Cen.grand does not document the exact values. These filters can subtly affect sound characteristics, allowing users to fine-tune their listening experience according to personal preferences.
The Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0 impresses with its extensive connectivity options, forward-thinking features, and user-friendly operation. Its versatility in accommodating various digital and analog sources, coupled with potential future enhancements like the GLS1.0 media player, positions it as a comprehensive solution for high-end audio enthusiasts. Additionally, features such as synchronous direct clock technology and digital filter modes offer users the flexibility to tailor their audio experience to their liking. Overall, the DSDAC 1.0’s connectivity and features contribute significantly to its appeal and functionality in the high-end audio landscape.
In Practical Use
The DSDAC 1.0 is user-friendly, but understanding its various operating modes and features may require referring to the manual. It can function as a purely analog preamplifier, switching off the digital section and allowing control over analog inputs.
In DAC mode, the display provides detailed information about the incoming signal, selected DSD upscaling mode, input, digital filter, and volume. Users can switch between variable and fixed output levels, with safety features to prevent accidental volume surges.
Elaborating on the Practical Use and Functionality of the Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0
The practical use and functionality of the Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0 are critical aspects that determine its usability and performance in real-world audio setups. Here, we explore how this high-end digital-to-analog converter (DAC) functions and performs in practical scenarios:
- Intuitive Controls: The DSDAC 1.0 is designed for user convenience. Its front panel features a set of well-placed control buttons and a precise chrome-plated volume control knob. These controls are easy to access and operate, providing users with a straightforward interface for adjusting settings.
- Informative Display: The device’s display is crucial in providing users with essential information. In DAC mode, it presents a wealth of information, including signal details, selected DSD upscaling mode, input source, digital filter settings, and volume level. This informative display ensures users clearly understand the device’s status and configuration.
- Switchable Output Levels: Users can switch between variable and fixed output levels, offering flexibility in connecting the DSDAC 1.0 to various amplifiers or audio systems. A safety circuit prevents sudden volume spikes when transitioning to fixed output levels, protecting connected amplifiers and speakers.
- Preamplifier Mode: A standout feature of the DSDAC 1.0 is its ability to function as a preamplifier. By long-pressing the P/D (Preamp/DAC) button on the front panel, the device switches to Preamp mode. In this mode, the device functions solely as an analog preamplifier, bypassing the digital section. The display reflects this change by prominently showing the volume level. This mode allows users to control analog line inputs (RCA or XLR) without digital processing, making it ideal for integrating analog source components into the setup.
- DAC Mode: In DAC mode, the device provides detailed information on the incoming signal and processing settings. The display indicates the source signal, selected DSD upscaling mode (such as PCM to DSD128, DSD256, etc.), input source, digital filter mode, and volume level. This mode enables users to leverage the DSDAC 1.0’s digital processing capabilities for high-quality audio conversion.
Digital Filter Modes:
- Filter Customization: The DSDAC 1.0 offers users the choice of eight different digital filter modes. While these filters primarily affect the stop band frequency, they provide a degree of sound customization. However, it’s worth noting that the manufacturer does not provide specific documentation on these filters’ exact values or characteristics. In practical use, the differences between these filters may be subtle, and users can experiment to find the setting that best suits their preferences.
- Listening Experience: When used in practical listening scenarios, the DSDAC 1.0 delivers a sound quality that captivates users. Its delicate, refined, and relaxed sound signature creates an engaging listening experience. The device excels in rendering music with precision and spatial clarity, offering a unique audio presentation reminiscent of tube amplifiers.
- Comparison with Alternatives: In comparative listening tests, the DSDAC 1.0 competes closely with more expensive alternatives, such as the Aavik D-280 DAC. While the Aavik DAC maintains its reference status for its neutrality and micro-detail retrieval, the DSDAC 1.0’s slightly warmer tonality adds an appealing alternative to the audio landscape.
In practical use, the Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0 demonstrates user-friendly operation, intuitive controls, and flexible operating modes. Whether in preamplifier or DAC mode, the device provides informative feedback through its display, enhancing the user experience. The availability of digital filter customization adds to its appeal, allowing users to fine-tune their sound preferences.
Moreover, the DSDAC 1.0’s exceptional sound performance sets it apart, delivering a refined and engaging listening experience that competes with more expensive alternatives. Its practicality and functionality make it a compelling choice for audiophiles seeking a high-end DAC and preamplifier with user-friendly features and outstanding audio quality.
The DSDAC 1.0’s sound quality stands out with its delicate, refined, and relaxed presentation. It offers a unique listening experience reminiscent of tube amplifiers, but with excellent clarity and spatial characteristics. It competes closely with more expensive alternatives, like the Aavik D-280 DAC.
While the Aavik DAC maintains its reference status for its neutrality and micro-detail retrieval, the DSDAC’s slightly warmer tonality makes for an appealing alternative.
Sound Test and Sound Quality of the Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0
The sound test and sound quality evaluation are crucial for any high-end audio equipment review. Here, we provide a detailed examination of the sound performance of the Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0, including its characteristics and how it compares to other reference equipment:
Sound Test Evaluation:
- Initial Impressions: During the sound test, it quickly becomes evident that the DSDAC 1.0 offers a distinctive and captivating listening experience. Its delicate, refined, and relaxed sonic presentation shapes the initial impressions.
- Attention-Grabbing Sound: The DSDAC 1.0’s sound signature notably differs from typical audio equipment. While it doesn’t introduce tonal differences, it captures attention with its relaxed and sophisticated musical portrayal. This unique characteristic prompts listeners to pause and deeply engage with the music.
- Detailed and Spatial Clarity: One remarkable aspect of the sound quality is the device’s ability to convey a high level of detail while maintaining spatial clarity. The music unfolds precisely, allowing listeners to discern intricate nuances in their favorite tracks.
- Warm and Engaging: The device exhibits a slightly warmer tonality, adding to its engaging nature. This warmth imparts a sense of musicality, drawing listeners into the music and making the experience more immersive.
Comparison with Reference Equipment:
- Versus the Aavik D-280 DAC: In a comparative listening test against the Aavik D-280 DAC, which serves as a reference in this context, the DSDAC 1.0 holds its own admirably. While the Aavik DAC is known for its neutrality and micro-detail retrieval, the DSDAC 1.0 introduces a different but equally compelling character to the listening experience.
- Dynamic Qualities: The Aavik DAC brings slightly more clearly defined micro-details and dynamic qualities to the sound. It offers a touch more contrast in the music, enhancing the sense of musical dynamics and impact.
- DSDAC 1.0’s Warmth: On the other hand, the DSDAC 1.0 stands out for its warmth and tonal richness. It embraces the music with a sense of delicacy and refinement, akin to the virtues of tube amplifiers. This warmth contributes to a more relaxed and inviting listening experience.
- Notable Price Advantage: The DSDAC 1.0’s favorable price-to-performance ratio becomes evident in this comparison. It competes closely with the Aavik DAC while offering a more budget-friendly option for audiophiles.
Sound Quality Summary:
- Delicate and Refined: The Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0’s sound quality is marked by its delicacy and refinement. It presents music with grace and sophistication that immediately captures the listener’s attention.
- Spatial Clarity: Despite its relaxed character, the DSDAC 1.0 maintains exceptional spatial clarity. It allows for precise soundstage imaging and an immersive listening experience.
- Warm Tonality: The device’s slightly warmer tonality contributes to its engaging nature. It adds a touch of musicality to the sound, making it well-suited for extended listening sessions.
- Comparative Performance: In comparison to reference equipment like the Aavik D-280 DAC, the DSDAC 1.0 impresses with its distinct character. While the Aavik DAC offers neutrality and micro-detail retrieval, the DSDAC 1.0’s warmth and refinement provide a unique alternative.
In conclusion, the Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0 distinguishes itself with its captivating sound quality. Its delicate and refined sonic presentation and warm tonality offer a listening experience that draws listeners into the music. In comparative tests, it competes admirably with more expensive alternatives, showcasing its excellent price-to-performance ratio. This makes the DSDAC 1.0 a compelling choice for audiophiles seeking a high-end DAC and preamplifier that delivers both uniqueness and outstanding sound quality.
Conclusion: A Velvet and Silk Performer
In conclusion, the Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0 stands as a noteworthy contender in the high-end audio landscape. Its distinctive design, solid build quality, and versatile connectivity options make it a compelling choice for audiophiles seeking a premium DAC and preamplifier. While the playful design may lack a unified brand identity, the device’s performance more than compensates for this minor design quirk.
In practical use, the DSDAC 1.0 demonstrates user-friendly operation with intuitive controls, informative display feedback, and flexible operating modes. It excels as a DAC and preamplifier, allowing users to tailor their sound experience to their preferences. Furthermore, its exceptional sound quality, characterized by delicacy, refinement, and a warm tonality, positions it as a formidable competitor, even against more expensive alternatives. The DSDAC 1.0’s captivating sound performance and its favorable price-to-performance ratio establish it as a compelling choice for discerning audio enthusiasts looking to elevate their listening experience with a touch of sophistication.
Reasons to Buy the Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0:
- Outstanding Sound Quality: The DSDAC 1.0 impresses with its delicacy, refinement, and spatial clarity. Its warm tonality adds a unique character to the listening experience, making it an excellent choice for audiophiles who appreciate musicality and immersion in their music.
- Versatile Connectivity: With a wide range of digital and analog inputs and outputs, this device offers flexibility in integrating various source components and amplifiers into your audio setup. It caters to both digital and analog enthusiasts.
- Preamplifier Functionality: The ability to function as a preamplifier enhances its versatility. It allows you to seamlessly integrate analog sources into your system while maintaining control over volume and input selection.
- Informative Display and User-Friendly Controls: The device features an informative display that provides essential feedback, and its controls are intuitive and easy to use, enhancing the overall user experience.
- Price-to-Performance Ratio: Despite its high-end sound quality and feature set, the DSDAC 1.0 offers a competitive price-to-performance ratio. It provides an excellent balance between performance and affordability.
Reasons Not to Buy the Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0:
- Design Quirks: The device’s design, while distinctive, lacks a unified brand identity. Some users may prefer a more cohesive aesthetic in their audio equipment.
- Preference for Neutrality: If you prioritize neutrality and absolute transparency in sound reproduction, the DSDAC 1.0’s warmer tonality may not align with your preferences. Audiophiles seeking a completely uncolored sound signature might explore other options.
- Budget Constraints: While competitively priced for its performance level, the DSDAC 1.0 is still an investment. Alternative options are available if you have budget constraints or are looking for a more budget-friendly DAC.
- Limited Documentation: The lack of specific documentation on certain technical aspects, such as digital filter values, may be a drawback for users who desire in-depth technical information about their audio equipment.
In summary, the Cen.grand DSDAC 1.0 is an excellent choice for those seeking exceptional sound quality, versatile connectivity, and preamplifier functionality in a high-end DAC. However, its unique tonality and design may not be suitable for all users, particularly those who prefer neutrality or specific aesthetic expectations. Potential buyers should consider their individual preferences and priorities before making a purchase decision.
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