The Berkeley Alpha DAC Reference Series is not only the absolute state of the art in digital-to-analog conversion; it also goes far beyond even this superlative to redefine what’s possible in digital playback.

This is a landmark product in that it crosses a threshold of sound quality and musical expressiveness that renders moot the idea that digital can only aspire to mimic analog rather than offer its own set of virtues.

The Alpha Reference is simply stunning in its ability to render instruments as real- sounding objects in three-dimensional space. This startling quality is made possible not just by the Reference’s spatial precision, but also by the timbral vividness and extraordinarily high resolution of the tiniest micro-details. What’s more, the Reference performs this magic trick on all instruments simultaneously, even in the most dense
and complex passages. This unprecedented (for digital) quality allows the listener to easily follow individual musical lines in a way never before possible from digital. Bass performance is also outstanding,
and different from other DACs. The Alpha Reference’s full-bodied bottom end not only provides a solid tonal foundation; it is also exquisitely textured and nuanced.

Note that the Alpha Reference omits a USB input and DSD decoding by design so as not to compromise performance. To play music from a computer, you’ll need Berkeley’s also-outstanding Alpha USB USB-to-SPDIF converter ($1895). Speaking of which, this USB converter can significantly improve the sound of your existing DAC by isolating the computer from the DAC, receiving USB data with a state- of-the-art interface, and by reclocking the output with high precision.

The Alpha DAC Reference is an unqualified triumph, and an easy choice for The Absolute Sound’s Overall Product of the Year Award. (246)

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