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Audio-Note DAC- 4

What can I say. One can not write about audio without running into the Audio-Note story sooner or later.
What is special about their unique marketing proposition is that they are the first company which offered almost the same set of products on 5 different price levels (VERY DIFFERENT PRICES) but made on the same schematics just different parts.
So they made people aware of part quality influence upon music.
For example their first set of DAC boxes were identical schematics from DAC 1 to DAC 4 where the price was going fourfold with each level.
That approach enabled the  users to buy the higher models as their situation allowed, or just upgrade the parts. The whole distribution channel which AN fully controlled was designed to support neverending upgrades.
That was an invitation to TWEAKING backed by their policy of selling the parts as a separate extra business.

I kind of  dig this story - it makes sense. Poor people can start on level 1  (or even at KIT level below the ONE) and enjoy really no nonsense products, and the German dentists can have the best of the best.

Separate story is the Kondo story - the inventor of A-N kept his Japanese business separate from the Danish sorcerer Mr. Peter Qvortrup and the Japanese toys became the ultimate lineup above the UK's numbered boxes. Starting from Ongaku amp, through the silver IO cartridges, AN-VZ cables - till the ultimate Kondo DAC. First they were called Audio-Note, later renamed to Kondo.

I must admit that Mr. Kondo knew something about how good stereo should sound.
If I won the lottery I would buy some of that stuff.

Audio Note DAC-4

When the opportunity appeared I went to listen and challenge the DAC4,5 at Kris' house. He has a dedicated audio cellar so  everything can be heard very well there.

Audio Note DAC-4

The famous red PCB shows a custom toroid input transformer, followed by CS8414 receiver chip (like everyone else, like Lampucera for example). That is connected via i2S to non oversampled unfiltered DAC Analog Devices AD1865 (stereo) and that drives in I out mode the sowter transformers connected to SRPP lampizator kind of output stage with E182CC supertube (unique pinout, don't bother).
The DC is very well regulated and the schematic is on the simple side.
The power transformers are all EI (Audio Note hates toroids) and the black-gates should be separately insured there is so many of these most expenceive capacitors on earth in that DAC. It is a Signature variant, remember ?
The power transformers seem at first look VERY overrated in size.
Nothing is buzzing or humming, the construction is down to earth proper, without this annoying PRETENSION to High End Looks (like MBL,  Forsell, Gryphon, Jadis, Wadia or Accuphase)
Absolutely NOTHING in this extravagantly costly product is made to look good. Not even the case. The case is not even better than in the chinese SATCH dac.

Summing up. with all the technical knowledge I have, that's how I would like to design a DAC. Just simple, elegant, plain, spartan and musical. Not one part too many or too little. Nothing to tweak or to replace.
But if this is the NORMAL bread and butter - WHY IS IT SO RARE,  UNCOMMON APPROACH ? WHY IT HAS TO COST SO MUCH ?  (Voice over: Mr. Fikus - it is easy - lack of competition in the same segment plus people willingness topay so much for good music)
I know the price is decided on the positioning grid versus the SOUND of other products. Compared to the whole ILL rest of the world - the sound of AN is in fact worth that much.
How much? Well, the Danish pricelist quotes 30 000 USD per DAC4,1 signature, and 77 grands for DAC5.

I also know that Peter likes good cars and he needs to make money but why isn't anyone copying this approach to introiduce some competition to his idyllic business case ?

The answer is - because those who could copy this business modell don't have the reputation and trust built in last 30 years by Kondo, Quvortrup and theit pretorians - COUNTRY REPs.  Their cult church which they slowly built  can not be duplicated in a shortcut. That's their barrier to entry. You can't buy time. They are so well protected by the barriers to entry that they give away all their schematics, nothing is secret, and all the parts can be bought too.
There it is - the real Mc Coy ready to resist my barbaric challenge with my stupid Chinese dac married to my stupid Russky tubes.

Audio Note DAC-4

Audio Note DAC-4

When I counted these blackgates I started sweating like a pig .....

Audio Note DAC-4

Audio Note DAC-4

Wow - they even have installed AES-EBU input !!!!! Bravo !


AD-1865 datasheet excerpts :

Dual Serial Input, Voltage Output DACs
No External Components Required
110 dB SNR, 0.003% THD+N
Operates at 16 3 Oversampling per Channel
Cophased Outputs
116 dB Channel Separation
Pin Compatible with AD1864

Multichannel Audio Applications
Compact Disc Players
Multivoice Keyboard Instruments
DAT Players and Recorders
Digital Mixing Consoles
Multimedia Workstations

The AD1865 is a complete, dual 18-bit DAC offering excellent THD+N and SNR while requiring no external components. Two
complete signal channels are included. This results in cophased voltage or current output signals and eliminates the need for
output demultiplexing circuitry. The monolithic AD1865 chip includes CMOS logic elements, bipolar and MOS linear elements
and laser-trimmed thin-film resistor elements, all fabricated on Analog Devices’ ABCMOS process.
The DACs on the AD1865 chip employ a partially segmented architecture. The first four MSBs of each DAC are segmented
into 15 elements. The 14 LSBs are produced using standard R-2R techniques. Segment and R-2R resistors are laser trimmed to provide
extremely low total harmonic distortion. This architecture minimizes errors at major code transitions resulting in low output
glitch and eliminating the need for an external deglitcher. When used in the current output mode, the AD1865 provides
two ±1 mA output signals. Each channel is equipped with a high performance output amplifier.
These amplifiers achieve fast settling and high slew rate, producing ±3 V signals at load currents up to 8 mA. Each output
amplifier is short-circuit protected and can withstand indefinite short circuits to ground.
The AD1865 was designed to balance two sets of opposing requirements, channel separation and DAC matching. High channel
separation is the result of careful layout. At the same time, both channels of the AD1865 have been designed to ensure
matched gain and linearity as well as tracking over time and temperature. This assures optimum performance when used in
stereo and multi-DAC per channel applications.

WOW! I am speechless.
Anyway - looking for the AD1865 DAC on the Vassily list - there is almost NONE !
The DAC chip that is supposed to be Worlds best was not used by anyone ?
How come?
Did they cease it early ?
Did the plant burn down? Was it struck by Kobe earthquake? Did they employ Enron accountants ?  Or GE human resources people?
Was it too expenceive to make?
Was it wrong for the market?
Anyone has any info?
My wild wild guess is that when this chip appeared, the DVD era started and the chip became the last mastodont and quickly extinct.

Or wait a minute - maybe it was used by truckloads in the other devices which they list - namely
Multichannel Audio Applications, Multivoice Keyboard Instruments, DAT Players and Recorders, Digital Mixing Consoles, Multimedia Workstations, etc ?

Anyway, the closest I could get to the Audio-Note dac was the beautiful Romanian ROCKNA DAC. I paid blindly 162 Euros and I decided to lampize it with my own Sowters and SRPP E182CC which i have at hand.
THAT will be interesting - won't it !? But that is the sory for another article.

Vassili list of all other AD1865 machines


AD1865 – SM5843

KSS-210 / SOH-A1



AD1865 – SM5843





2 x AD1865N – XC3042A

Pioneer Stable Platter


2 x AD1865

It’s a DAC

THATS ALL. Two very small niche companies - Wadia and A-N - they surely were not the reason Analog Devices put so much effort to produce this chip. So what is the mistery ?
Did something happen ? Did Quvortrup buy the exclusivity off the AD when he realised what gem he had ? It wouldnt surprize me at all.

Even AD1864 search (with which the 65 is compatible) - does not show many players - again - three niche machines.

DAC pinout

As you can see above, we have BOTH output  types - I and U.
I is the preferred one for DIY lampization.

In this case - float 17, 18, 19, 8, 7 and 6 and use connection from 4 and 21


I was really hoping that the TDA1541 will beat the AN DAC4. Well - not yet, Not this time.

The system we used was extremely revealing of differences.
All SE triode system with all Audio-Note cabling even inside speakers - everything was the best money can buy.
DAC 4 sounded really best, it was like everything we love about the TDA sound but with stronger attack (Sowters ?) more details (E182CC tubes) and over all more halucynogenic soundscape (blackgates ?)
AN has the sound to die for, period.

I am sure that one day I will make a player as good as this, but who knows maybe the only ticket to equalling AN sound will be .... to build AN clone. Maybe who knows - this is a perfection - materialised ? Holy Shit, it may well be.

also see this article of mine:

ROCKNA AD-Labs dac from Romania (AD1865)ROCKNA

AD1865 Clone NOS DAC from CHINA

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