Boulder 812 DAC/Preamp
Last 12 months I reviewed the Boulder 866 built-in amplifier. During that point, I additionally visited the Boulder manufacturing facility. During my go to I handed a small convention space on my solution to Boulder’s fabulous listening room, the place I spied a compact chassis sitting on their own on a desk. When I ducked in to get a greater view, I obtained my first sight of the soon-to-be-released Boulder 812. The first phrases out of my mouth had been: “I need to assessment that!” So right here we’re…
The Boulder 812 consists of the mixed features of an Ethernet and Wi-Fi-aware community DAC with a preamplifier and a headphone amplifier. In addition to its digital inputs, the 812 additionally has provisions for 2 balanced analog inputs. Outputs embrace just one pair of balanced connectors. Physically, the 812 is smaller than the Boulder 866. If you have already got an influence amplifier or powered loudspeakers that you just love, the 812 may very well be a greater possibility than the 866 and was created for simply such a system.
Given the quantity of expertise contained in the Boulder 812, a few of the finer particulars of its building weren’t addressed within the proprietor’s guide or promotional supplies. Unlike most Asian manufacturers I assessment, which embrace full-color Audio Precision check outcomes, images of element interiors, and full lists of elements used, Boulder is much less forthcoming with tech tidbits. Sure, there are some specs on its web site however much less point out of the fundamental constructing blocks that go inside the ultimate consequence. So, I requested questions.
What did I glean from my queries? First, just like the Boulder 866 the 812 employs a Raspberry Pi 4B as its web gateway system. As for its DAC part, it’s not a chip from AKM, ESS, or TI. Boulder refused to say what it’s precisely, besides that it’s the identical part discovered within the 866. Obviously, I may have eliminated the ten hex bolts from the highest panel, cracked the 812 open, and regarded, however that will have been impolite. So, as of now it’s Boulder’s secret, however we will nonetheless make wild guesses.
The 812 employs balanced analog Class AB circuitry all through, utilizing op-amps to attain a most of 19.4 volts of acquire and a most output stage by its balanced XLR outputs of 14 volts. Volume management is dealt with by an optically encoded 100-step management with 1.0dB increments. At 14 kilos, even the bulkiest cables could be onerous pressed to drag it off a desk.
Since the Boulder 812 combines all of the digital performance of a number of elements into one svelte package deal, the controls and menus are advanced. The proprietor’s guide is a must-read to find all of the options and choices obtainable. Boulder additionally developed an app to regulate all of the 812’s features for each iOS and Android platforms. It will discover any Boulder elements in your system and permit you to management them out of your telephone or pill. Boulder additionally provides a RF-based distant management for the 812, however I discovered that I used the app excess of the distant.
Input choices for the 812 embrace Ethernet, one coaxial digital, two optical digital, one USB-B, two analog balanced XLR inputs, and 4 USB host connections. Output choices embrace one pair of analog balanced XLRs on the rear, one 4-pin XLR, one ¹⁄8” single-ended, and one ¼” single-ended headphone on the entrance panel, which might be hidden behind a provided etched-metal cowl.
The 812 can operate as a Roon endpoint, which is how I used it throughout many of the assessment interval. The Roon controller apps on my iPhone, Android Fire pad, and Mac Studio all discovered the 812 with no points. I additionally skilled no dropouts, stuttering, or sluggish loading of information. In brief, Roon proved to be extraordinarily secure with the 812 as an endpoint. You can even join USB onerous drives with further music information to the 812, however they should have their very own energy provides, because the 812 doesn’t help energy by the USB host connections. Since I’ve all my music information on a NAS drive, I didn’t strive attaching a USB drive to the 812. Also, I discovered that almost all of my moveable drives which can be stuffed with music (such because the excellent sampler from Wilson Audio’s Peter McGrath) weren’t self-powered.
As a headphone amplifier positioned inside arm’s attain the Boulder 812 was a pleasure. Festooned with 4 completely different connection factors for both 1/8″ mini-stereo or 4-pin Pentaconn terminations, the 812 simply dealt with every little thing from 115dB-sensitive CIEMs to my least-sensitive headphones, together with the Dan Clark Stealth, Abyss Diana, and Beyer Dynamic DT990 600-ohm mannequin. Even although the headphone connections are all in a recessed rectangular area, there’s ample room for even probably the most outsized headphone-jack barrels. The 812 can energy all 4 headphone outputs concurrently, however until you will have 4 headphones with related impedance and sensitivities you’ll in all probability discover that some will probably be a lot louder or softer than others if all are linked without delay.
The 812 consists of one function I’ve not often seen on a headphone amplifier—a headphone connections cowl. The motive given for this accent’s inclusion is to maintain mud out of the headphone connections. I suppose in case you plan to make use of the 812 in a dusty setting, the duvet could be a wonderful thought, however in my time as an audiophile I’ve by no means personally skilled a headphone connection changing into intermittent or ceasing to work resulting from mud. But then I don’t have any programs arrange in a woodworking store, so I suppose in the best setting mud may be a problem. The cowl is fantastically engraved and suits completely, however I’d have most popular no cowl so Boulder may relegate these price financial savings to including a second pair of analog outputs. You could really feel in a different way, particularly in case you stay in a desert.
Yep, appears like a Boulder. I do know that’s maybe a bit too glib, however I’ve throughout my audiophile lifetime heard, owned, and reviewed fairly just a few Boulder Amplifier elements. My historical past with Boulder goes again to its first consumer-audio gear. I owned Boulder AE500 monoblocks (driving the unique Apogee Fullrange loudspeakers) and the Boulder LA5 preamplifier, heard lots of its 1000 Series choices at exhibits and in listening rooms, and not too long ago completed spending time with the Boulder 866 built-in amplifier, so I feel I’m as conversant in the Boulder sonic signature as anybody. That signature is all about transparency, neutrality, and never editorializing on the sonics in any method.
The Boulder 812 imbues each observe with a particular sense of solidity and cohesive power. Also, the 812 has an outstanding stage of lucidity, so that every recording retains its personal explicit soundstage and environmental traits. Some programs, particularly these with huge audio system in massive rooms, usually have solely a one-dimensional soundstage presentation—huge. The 812 doesn’t impose itself onto a recording. In my room by the Spatial X-2 loudspeakers pushed by both a Pass 150.8 or Orchard Audio Starkrimson Ultra 2.0, monophonic recordings had been seemingly no wider than 1 / 4, whereas huge orchestral items, particularly these made with three spaced omni microphones, had been as spacious because the Grand Canyon.
After a time frame, to make sure that the 812 was performing optimally (some of us may name this burn-in), I tried some matched-level A/B comparability with my present reference DAC, the Goldnote DS-10+. Using Roon, I can group any of the supported endpoints in order that they obtain the similar sign on the identical time. This simplifies an A/B check. I say I “tried” as a result of making certain an actual match of quantity ranges was inconceivable, for the reason that 812 doesn’t present a quantity read-out in dBs. The solely indication of quantity ranges when utilizing the 812’s quantity management is a vertical row of LED lights. However, when utilizing Roon or the Boulder app in variable-output mode, these apps present a numerical quantity show.
In DAC mode the 812 produces 3.95 volts from its balanced outputs in response to its specs. For my exams I attempted utilizing each the Goldnote and the Boulder in DAC mode, however the quantity ranges when receiving the identical observe by way of Roon’s grouped mode weren’t similar in stage, so I switched the Goldnote into preamplifier mode so I may alter its ranges. I selected to regulate the Goldnote as a substitute of the Boulder as a result of the Goldnote has 0.5dB increments of adjustment, whereas the Boulder makes use of 1dB. But for important matching even 0.5dB isn’t a superb sufficient increment for listening comparisons, although I obtained the degrees shut sufficient for WAGs (wild-ass guesses).
After a lot long-term listening and several other semi-sighted A/B classes, I couldn’t reliably inform the distinction between the Boulder 812 in DAC mode and the Goldnote DS10+. I say semi-sighted as a result of, utilizing the Schiit Freya S as my supply selector, I didn’t know which DAC part was which, until I regarded on the little LEDs on the Freya that point out which enter had been chosen. Since the Freya S is about eight ft from my listening spot, I couldn’t inform which enter was chosen till I obtained up and regarded. Through each DACs my very own stay recordings of the Boulder Philharmonic at Macky Auditorium and people I made on the Salina Schoolhouse sounded precisely as they need to have. Depth cues and imaging had been similar as was the rhythmic drive and dynamic distinction.
I’ll add this caveat—I’m 72. My higher listening to restrict eventually check was 13kHz. If there are sonic variations above that frequency, I wouldn’t know. But whereas my listening to’s frequency vary may not be what it was once I was in my 20s, my information of sonic tells and entry to high-quality reference materials (together with my very own recordings) is much larger. So, in case you’re an previous wily audiophile like me, you might very seemingly arrive on the identical sonic conclusions.
Judged solely on its sonic deserves, the Boulder 812 delivers every little thing you may need from a high-performance audio element. Its limiting elements are ergonomic. For some potential homeowners the absence of a show that renders the amount in dBs could also be a problem. For others the dearth of analog outputs may be an issue. But in case you are searching for a superb-sounding platform for a small room, desktop, or nearfield system, the Boulder 812 may very well be an ideal match.
Specs & Pricing
Type: DAC, streaming endpoint, preamplifier, and headphone amplifier
Analog inputs: Two balanced XLR inputs
Digital inputs: Two optical, one coax, one USB, 4 USB Host, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay
Drive capability: Four exterior self-powered USB drives
Formats supported: PCM to 256, DSD to 512, MQA, FLAC, AIFF, MP3
Outputs: One balanced XLR output
Headphone outputs: Balanced four-pin XLR, 1/8″ single-ended connector, ¼” single-ended connector, and Pentaconn
Dimensions: 12″ x 3.5″ x 12″
Weight: 14 lbs.
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February 9, 2024 at 05:58PM
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