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Ideon Absolute ε digital converter

Saying how much more can be had from a DAC is one thing, but when a DAC gets so far under the skin of music even when in ‘out of the box’ mode, you know you are onto something really, really good. The adjustment of filters, dither, de-emphasis and jitter are not simply window dressing, but make that link between DAC and music get ever closer. This is where reviewers begin to run out of terminology fast, which is, in this case, a very good thing. The Ideon gives music true ‘presence’ as it gets past the ephemera normally associated with audiophilia and gives the music the stature and energy it should demand. Given that it bestows that stature to ‘Toxic’ by Britney Spears [In The Zone, Jive] as much as it does to Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht [von Karajan, Vienna Philharmonic, DG] shows just how much there is buried in digital audio and just how much the Ideon manages to extract.

A perfect example, relevant to both recordings, is the audio definition of ‘dynamic range’. We consider this in terms of the difference between ‘silent’ and ‘the loudest a system can muster without distortion’. While true, dynamic range in music is more nuanced; not just ‘microdynamics’ and a system’s ability to parse relatively small aspects of a performance within the sonic whole. Here, however, ‘dynamic range’ refers to the way the music just flows from the loudspeakers thanks to the Ideon DAC.

My first reaction to this was to think the Ideon was trying to smooth everything over, making the rookie error of trying to make a DAC sound soft and ‘vinyl-like’, but in fact the rookie error was all mine. This isn’t music declawed and sanitised; the energy and vibrant power of recordings is not held in check. It just doesn’t have that steeliness or the bright, forward nature of many top-end DACs. This isn’t a rolled off sound; my go-to Joyce DiDonato recording [Stella Di Napoli, Erato] showed her singing in fine form, to the point where you could hear her diaphragm opening as she drew breath; none of which is possible to hear from a system that softens the impact of music.

This recording perhaps best encapsulated what the Ideon does so right. Her voice is one that raises goosebumps on even the humblest audio equipment, but here you are stilled and silenced by her voice, and to switch to another track while the music is playing seems like an act of musical sacrilege when it’s played on the Ideon, so direct the link between you and the music.

There was no musical passage or genre that troubled the Ideon, and neither was there anything in audio that caused it to stumble. In short, the Absolute ε sets a new standard for reference DAC’s for me as the very best in almost every performance aspect, and close to the best in all others. There are a lot of paths up this digital mountain and those prepared to sacrifice key parts of the musical whole for a more immediate presentation will always find different avenues, but for someone seeking the musical whole will struggle to find anything that comes remotely close to the Ideon Absolute ε.

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Tags: DIGITAL CONVERTER IDEON ABSOLUTE ε

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