Compare and contrasting: Bel Canto DAC 2.5 & Auralic Altair

As a senior in school, graduation for me is gradually getting nearer, along with all my exams. For now, we just finished working on the Auralic Altair, and so far, it’s really good. In one of our conversations, we were comparing and contrasting two DACs, one of which is a review (Auralic Altair) and the other is our own(Bel Canto DAC 2.5).

The Bel Canto DAC 2.5 is in my dad’s system, and is a DAC which is paired with the Bel Canto CD3t CD transport. In this case the CD3t is also outputing to the Auralic Altair for this review purpose. In our conversation, my dad was comparing and constrasting the two DACs, since they are in a similar price range (in terms of MSRP of course), and should be of similar caliber. There are certain similarities he has noticed though, such as they both perform really well in their own respective ways, with slightly different fundamental purposes.

To put this into perspective, the DAC 2.5 and the Altair both have a headphone jack (not 2.5mm, the bigger 3.5mm) but the DAC 2.5 has it’s own headphone amplifier built-in (which is really good actually, when I tried it with my V-Moda LP) and the Altair does not actually have a headphone amplifier, so it only outputs as without amplification.

A very obvious difference in this case though, is that the Auralic Altair only has digital inputs such as Coax, Balanced, Optical, while the Bel Canto DAC 2.5 has analog inputs along with digital inputs. Another really, really obvious difference, because the Altair is a streaming DAC, is that another form of input for it is wifi streaming of music, while the DAC 2.5 is a completely offline form of music playing, from a source that outputs the audio signal.

I should also mention another thing about the Auralic Altair here, when we tried to stream a DSD/FLAC format to the Altair. What can I say, it went beyond our expectations. The Altair is able to stream quad resolution easily, and when using a lower resolution of the same format, we can definitely tell a difference it makes. In this comparison, the “swiss-army knife” NAD C368 is not up to par, because it could not play or recognize the DSD format from the BluOS streaming app. In this case however, I was not sure if it was the app or just the hardware, that was unable to recognize the DSD format in our files.

A not so obvious difference is actually with one of the inputs. Another one of the Inputs for the DAC 2.5 is USB, while the Altair cannot do so, in comparison. Although the bit rate and sample rate that it can accept is lower than that of other digital inputs, it can still do a decent 24bit/96Ks/s, instead of the usual 24bit/192Ks/s. With my experience not so long ago with a DAC 2.5, the difference in audio quality generated from USB and other inputs is not very different, so it probably does not really matter too much unless you are a very nitpicky about it. For example, the sound generated is slightly less clean sounding and slightly less open, in my opinion.

Although USB may not be an in put option, which I find a bummer for my Laptop, I find that it makes this up in the streaming section, which is passed with flying colors, my testing. When I had it for quite awhile, I had the privilege to experiment with it. I tried a literal A/B comparison to my laptop’s DAC, and I found a striking difference. The sound produce by the Altair is more open, realistic and both side and deep in terms of soundstage. Even when streaming the same song with the same quality and format, it can beat my Laptop’s DAC by a landslide, which says a lot about the DAC and the realized potential of streaming, with a really good DAC. Somehow we got a hold of TIDAL hifi music streaming service for this review, so we used it to our hearts content with the Altair, and found that it was really good as well.

Overall, as I have discussed, there are several pros and cons with both considering their intended functions. The Altair excels as a DAC streamer, able to stream DSD format, and is probably the only one to do so at this moment compared to other streamers, such as the NAD C368 that I had got the experience to try. The Bel Canto DAC 2.5 is an offline DAC, as it was intended for, when it was first produced. Because really, this thing is quite old. Didn’t have the technological advances available as the Altair did. In retrospect, it probably wasn’t that fair of a comparison, but it was a rather interesting one for me, as I hope it was for you.

If you are interested in learning more about both the NAD C368 and the Auralic Altair, you can go to the link attached, so see their reviews by, as you may know it, my dad. For now, it’s been me, your amateur (hopefully not really) writer, a full on audiophile, Hifi sound enthusiast.


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