Van Alstine DVA Digital Preamplifier NEW REVIEW!

The Van Alstine DVA digital preamplifier was designed to function as a DAC/preamplifier while partnering with their DVA 225 monoblocks. Howard Milstein spends some time evaluating the new DVA!

Is there such a thing as a digital preamp, i.e., a unit that can switch between different digital sources feeding into one main DAC, for audiophiles who want to use it with all their various digital sources?

Frank Van Alstine
Frank Van Alstine designer

Many consumers might have a few options that could induce them to prefer a “digital preamplifier” in their system. This may include a few computers, a CD player, a CCA, etc. After all, a few DACs only have a single SPDIF input so changing sources must be done by hand. Hence, plugging them all into one DAC won’t work as the best high-end DACs have no more than 2 coax inputs, in addition to the various other types of inputs.Van Alstine Audio has come to the rescue in this case with their new DVA Digital Preamplifier, as it does all of the above and its cost is not compromising to your wallet. Coming off of their well-reviewed DVA 225 monoblocks, Frank Van Alstine suggested that we give a listen to this new product in their line.

SOME BACKGROUND

Engineer Mithat Konar first had the concept of extending the original MK5 DAC design to allow it to act as a digital preamplifier shortly after that product was released several years ago. Essentially the MK5 DAC as it was then named had a little bit more gain added (with its rotary inputs) in the output section so it could directly feed power amps to full power for the current DVA Digital Preamplifier.

Additionally, the business made the early decision to include support for differential (or “balanced”) outputs. The design was completed swiftly, but a significant fire halted fresh DAC IC production for the product, and the Covid pandemic affected almost everything else while significantly slowing down its introduction. Gratefully, they eventually managed to coordinate everything such that this preamplifier could be released early in 2022.


The DVA Digital Preamplifier is based around an AKM DAC IC. The designers truly love the AKM DACs for their musicality and impeccable specs. Therefore, to support the DAC IC, several advanced circuit techniques have been used to make sure it’s able to perform at its best. Careful implementation of the supporting circuitry around the DAC ICs is critical to eliminating the “digital” sound of this performer.

The units output stage is built entirely around discrete, class-A gain modules specifically tailored to this application. These linear and fast modules (with slew rates over 50V/uSec) represent a significant part of the cost of the DVA Digital Preamp. As of today, Van Alstine has yet to find anything that comes close to long-term, engaging and non-fatiguing music listening of the DVA. The DVA comes with a very discrete and easy to use remote control which is easy to use and nicely built. If needed, you can make use of its front digital display to attain functionality.

In this respect, whether one is listening to the differential (also known as “balanced”) or single-ended outputs, the output signal never goes through more than one gain stage thanks to a creative and quite clever arrangement of these gain modules in the output stage of the DVA Digital Preamp. When both are supported by traditional designs, one of them often requires more circuitry, which can indeed, degrade the outcome and ultimate performance.

Van Alstine DVA digital preamp - back view

SET UP AND SOUND QUALITY

The DVA preamp is nifty looking and not as heavy as it appears. It is also quite easy to set into motion as I connected it to the Audio Note CD3.1X2 digital front-end outputs and then directly into the Pass Labs XA30.8 or the quite enthralling PS Audio M1200 monoblocks which will be fully reviewed shortly. The loudspeakers for this review were the QLN Prestige One (review forthcoming) or my Harbeth C7es/XDs. Gratefully, both speakers were well highlighted when mated to the DVA, and its integrated DAC. I later made some comparisons to the Pass XP.12 and both the Mojo Mystique X DAC as well as the BorderPatrol SE-1.

My initial impressions of the DVA  digital preamp were immensely satisfying and nicely revealing. The midrange and particularly the treble were slightly subdued which was good in a sense with less than average digital recordings. However, transients were strong and well-accented when the music called for them to be so.

Otherwise, the midrange was quite liquid sounding with nice airiness and good tonality to all orchestral instruments in the recordings and digital files used. That subdued quality took on a much more natural, less clouded sound as this unit broke in for a few more days. Now, everything sounded charmingly sweet and very neutral within its full frequency range while it mated particularly well to both power amplifiers that were in use.

The DVA digital upgraded DAC was a good performer without a doubt. Van Alstine has improved on the older MK5 DAC in just about all ways possible. While not as revealing as the R2R ‘Mystique X’ by Mojo Audio, it still did a fine job decoding all the digital program sources that I delved into, providing that the sources were decently recorded to start with.

Speaking of power amp matching, The DVA preamp brought forth a deep and satisfying bass response while the sound was brought to new heights when the PS Audio M1200 monoblocks were put into the mix. Deep low frequencies abounded and the preamp was now totally balanced as it blended within the full component chain of command.

Great results also were displayed with the Pass Labs X30.8 which may also have brought out a touch more soundstage clarity from the DVA. Here, one finds the musical harmonics to be a bit more explicit in tonality and the soundstage displayed excellent locational effects as to its stereo imaging.

Sources used varied from some excellently recorded older discs and files that were recorded with a minimum amount of microphones inserted of Mozart Piano Concertos by the late Paul Bradura Skoda as well as live digital programs by the Cleveland Orchestra and Mitsuko Uchida at the piano. Lastly was the supreme Dame Janet Baker singing arias from Handel, Gluck and Henry Purcell. As noted, I am overtly critical of any components piano reproduction qualities as this is the hardest instrument for any high-definition audiophile system to reproduce. Needless to say, the DVA digital preamp had its work cut out for it—and it came off showing itself in fine form with both speaker systems and for just about all the sources employed.

Also included for pop music was a 1980’s collection of hit songs on Epic Records by REO Speedwagon. Here we had a more reverberant recording technique that showed its face with a decent amount of solid stereo imaging although the ambiance and overall neutrality left a bit to be desired. The DVA held its own, however, and never totally disrespected the overall truths of the reproduction qualities that this disk was portraying….no fault of the DVA by any means!

COMPARISONS

The inevitable comparisons eventually came to full fruition with a detailed juxtaposition of the DVA to the well-respected Pass Labs XP-12 preamplifier along with either the Border Patrol SE-1 DAC or the new Mojo Audio “Mystique X”.

Here, things took a turnaround in a few ways as the sound comparisons were made. These contrasts were not as hard to differentiate as one might expect. As one example, it was quite easy to define certain sonic variations between the DVA and its inboard DAC when switching between the Pass Labs and the Border Patrol or Mystique X. The most notable difference was a miniscule amount of “haze” that hovered over the DVA’s audible soundstage that disappeared when the latter preamp and DACs were inserted.

This was not huge, in effect but it would be comparable to lifting a tiny bit of “fog” when putting on reading glasses in everyday use; particularly when switching to the Pass XP-12 and XA30.8. Though this may well be somewhat minute in theory, it was sometimes noticeable throughout the listening sessions with some program sources.

On the other hand, the DVA preamp and DAC had certain fundamental qualities that were most inviting in comparison and quite audibly admirable upon re-insertion into the system. These included fine ambiance around instruments and the ability to show the recording venue to its utmost. Ultimately, these notable trade-offs in quality (as well as their substantiative design variations and price points) between these components will bear out a few observations that some enthusiasts may notice–any way you look at it.

VAN ALSTINE DVA WINDUP

I would definitely choose the Audio by Van Alstine DVA digital preamplifier if I could only use or needed a preamp for digital sources that could be connected through optical, cable, or USB. Although it is not an R2R ladder design, the unit also has a fairly unusual and distinctive sounding DAC that will surely lower a user’s total system needs.

The DVA preamplifier displays a distinguishing, open soundstage performance with good stereo imaging and ambiance from the most demanding digital sources. Adding to this is an enticingly built and ergonomic preamp that is surprisingly accurate in its tonal neutrality, particularly at this price point.

It is a component that was designed especially with the audiophile and digital enthusiast in mind. What’s more, the DVA offers outstanding value for money, and in that sense, how can anyone look the other way with the above qualities all incorporated into one package? You can not! The Van Alstine DVA digital preamp is unquestionably recommended!

DVA Digital Preamplifier $2,499.00

The system:  Loudspeakers: QLN ONE Loudspeakers~ Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 XD loudspeaker ~ Quad ESL-63, ~ Digital: Mojo Audio ‘Mystique’ X DAC ~ Border Patrol DAC SE-I ~ Innuos Zenith Mk.3 server/streamer ~ Audio Note (UK) CD3.1x/2  Amplification: ~Pass Labs XP-12 preamp, Pass Labs XA30.8 power amp ~PS Audio M1200 / ~ Cables/ Conditioners: Argent/Pur Silver stranded loudspeaker cables, Inakustik AC-3500p power station &, AC-2404 reference Air Power Cord ~ Audience Studio 1 interconnects,~ Clarus “Crimson” 75-ohm digital spdif  and power cords/ Audio Art 1 e” AC Power Cord

Contact : AUDIO BY VAN ALSTINE 2665  Brittany Lane
Woodbury, MN  55125
(651) 330-9871

.

WHERE the MUSIC BEAT meets the AUDIOPHILE ELITE !

Thank you for subscribing.

Something went wrong.

2 thoughts on “Van Alstine DVA Digital Preamplifier NEW REVIEW!”

  1. The MK5 DAC did not have a volume control, instead it had a rotary input selector for its five digital inputs. It was not a preamplifier; it was a DAC with an input selector for multiple sources.

    The DVA Digital Preamplifier has an microprocessor controlled input selector, AKM DAC, digital volume control and Class A solid state gain cell (module) preamplifier. There was no mention of control of the DP by either the remote control or the display touch screen.

    • You are correct! Will be updating the post to include volume control and display screen controls.
      Thanks
      Howard

Comments are closed.