In my six years writing about audio products, one of them of the most enjoyable write ups I can remember doing was the CLONES Audio 25i amp. The affordable, diminutive and beautifully built component captured my imagination in the months I spent with it. I knew without a doubt I had to hear more products from the Hong Kong based firm.
Funjoe, the proprietor and designer of CLONES Audio sent me word he had completed work on a new upper line called SHEVA. He is one of the most ambitious individuals I have come across in this industry. The SHEVA line will cover a few bases, but what he was very excited about was the new $2499 SHEVA DSD DAC. I was excited too. The SHEVA DAC arrived at my door in a roadcase, wonderfully packed. My sample arrived in black, and silver is also available. Both finishes are stunning. The build quality is beyond reproach. The darn thing weights in a 14 Lbs.
The SHEVA DAC is seriously feature rich. To be quite honest, there are things that this DAC is equipped with you only see on units costing a minimum of $1000 more, to be conservative. Digital inputs include coaxial RCA, TosLink, BNC, AES/EBU, I2S via Ethernet, and USB. The SHEVA does all known PCM resolutions including so called DXD (384 khz), and amazingly, DSD64, DSD128, 256, and 512. There are RCA and XLR analog outputs, and a 100 step digital volume control. Wait, there is more….
There are several digital filters for both PCM and DSD. There are separate high quality power supplies for the digital and analog sections. Of special note is use of the pricey Femto clocking system, which is known to be the ultimate in precision, and is usually a costly upgrade. One of the things I really admire about Funjoe based on our conversations is that he really knows his stuff when it comes to quality parts. The man has done his homework.
It was obvious to me that Funjoe put a lot of time in this DAC design. Let’s face it, the competition is beyond stiff, and it is global. Aside from attractively priced DAC units from China, Korea, and Taiwan, there are a large number of vendors from Eastern Europe. They are all starting decode digital files of most resolutions. Although I must say the SHEVA is maybe the most comprehensive I have had in my system in this regard.
The SHEVA DAC spent quality time in my reference system where a number of DACS reside. The thing sounds absolutely wonderful. Open, engaging, and it draws you into the music. It really separates itself from pack with its beautifully detailed, liquid midrange. Isn’t that the sweet spot folks? Where musical information we care about resides? Oh, don’t worry, everything else was in its place.
Yes, the SHEVA DAC did all resolutions up to 192 Khz PCM on all inputs without a hitch, from a streamer, transport, and laptop. It did DSD via the USB input from a laptop and a modded Squeezebox Touch. Ok, a note here. I have not, and do not plan to, purchase DSD downloads. I do however, have a collection of my own DSD recordings. I know them well. I used them as a reference. The SHEVA knocked DSD out of the park…rest assured. I did not spend much time with the filers, I am not that tweaky of a digital guy. By the way, the volume control works great, which allows you to drive a power amp directly. No remote control, so for me, limited use, but it is there.
So what makes the SHEVA DAC special? It is built superbly, overbuilt maybe, it sounds divine, and it is future proof. There were, however, some key musical moments that rose above file resolutions, feature sets, and hype. They were vivid. I spent an afternoon listening to the box set consisting of the complete 60’s Vanguard studio recordings of Ian & Sylvia, whose musical treasures I recently plundered. Listening to their voices blend, and Ian Tyson’s sublime guitar accompaniment, and the incredibly tasteful arrangements made for a a temporary trip to heaven. Was I listening to analog? Digital? Who cares? I was connected.
The following day the identical thing transpired with a recording of more recent vintage, the miraculous new release buy The Secret Sisters, Put Your Needle Down. They mine countrypolitan, country folk, and for lack of a better term, Americana, so flawlessly, it defies space and time. It actually may not belong in our time, so pure the harmonies were, with the SHEVA laying out the brilliant production by T Bone Burnett. The clincher was the new masterwork by veteran Joan Osborne, Love And Hate, where she delivers a late career stunning achievement, if not her best recording. Hearing her voice through the SHEVA stopped me cold, I could not do anything else but listen.
CLONES now has solid North American representation, and their operative is building a dealer network. It is all good. Hey, the company is less than two years old. To come out with products as accomplished as the 25i, the new 55 watt monos, and the SHEVA DAC in that time span is darn amazing. When this DAC heads back to the rep I will surely miss it, but longing makes the heart grow fonder. The SHEVA DAC is very highly recommended for all your digital decoding needs.