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View Full Version : Gator, three months later



magiccarpetride
01-04-2011, 18:06
OK, it's been three months (almost) since I've upgraded Caiman with the Gator board. Like many other patients in here, I'm loving the upgrade, and I've now spent enough time with this component to be in the position to give it some much deserved props (now that the ooohs! and aaaahs! of the initial emotional impact and the urge to exaggerate have died down).

This evaluation was also prompted by a friend who came over and brought his Eastern Electric Minimax DAC (EEM), at which point we decided to do a bit of comparative listening to see/hear if there are any substantial differences between two DACs.

The first thing that strikes you when you switch back and forth between the two DACs is very interesting (to me, at least): EEM appears to be somewhat lacking the front-to-back depth of the soundstage that the Gatorized Caiman opens up. This is ESPECIALLY noticeable with sounds coming from the far right and far left field (basically, those instruments/vocals that emanate from the speakers themselves, not from the space between the speakers).

Listening to Mike Oldfield's "Hergerst Ridge, Part II" for example, when the organ comes in from the right speaker, the EEM just plasters it onto the speaker's surface, so that the sound appears two dimensional, as if drawn on a flat piece of paper (although, in all fairness, with lots of intricate details).

Switch over to the Gatorized Caiman, and that same organ becomes hugely three dimensional. It appears slightly recessed behind the right speaker, with substantial volumes of air projecting behind and in front of it. You almost feel as if you would be able to stand up, walk up to the right speaker, and then circumambulate the organ.

That feeling is uncanny, and I believe it is this particular feature/capability that propels this little DAC into the true high-end territory. I'm not sure if others have had similar observations vis-a-vis EEM/Gatorized Caiman, but this palpable three dimensionality in the sound presentation can often be quite breathtaking and seductive.

All of the above, of course, in my own extremely subjective humble opinion.

And so my little rant ends here. The moral? If you like muscular, unapologetically realistic music reproduction, you ought to call Stan and order this reptilian object. Rant over!


Equipment used whilst evaluating two DACs:

- Belkin PF30 power conditioner
- iMac running Squeezebox server converting FLAC to PCM
- Logitech Touch (fully modded, CAT6A ethernet cable, analog outs disabled, USB disabled, screen disabled, jive disabled, wi fi disabled, buffer size reduced to 3,400), digital out via digital coax
- Caiman DAC (Gatorized) and Eastern Electric Minimax DAC (EEM)
- DPA 200s separates
- Nordost Magus power cable
- Nordost Blue Heaven 2 meters bi-wire speaker cables
- Magnepan MG1-IMP (fully refurbished and modded, WAF enabled)
- Dayton Audio ISO-4G Gold Isolation Cone Set under Maggies

Alex_UK
01-04-2011, 18:14
Nice review Alex, and hardly a hyperbole in sight - the tranquillisers are working, then? ;)

I'd agree that the front-to-back imaging is very good - will have to give that track a test.

magiccarpetride
01-04-2011, 18:20
Nice review Alex, and hardly a hyperbole in sight - the tranquillisers are working, then? ;)

I'd agree that the front-to-back imaging is very good - will have to give that track a test.

Tranquillizers? Oh, you mean those pesky little darts I had to pull out of my neck?

But seriously, I think you need to give any upgrade a few months before you can evaluate it in a less emotional manner. At least that's my problem -- I get overly excited when I hear improvements to my system!

What I'd like to try now is compare Gatorized Caiman with a plain vanilla one. I don't believe there is a plain vanilla Caiman owner in Vancouver, and I don't have extra cash lying around to order one for shits and giggles.

You guys across the pond may be in a better position to compare the two and reward us with a review?

Ali Tait
01-04-2011, 18:21
Can you tell us more on the sound of the Minimax dac?

slate
01-04-2011, 18:23
Does it mean that a EEM can be bought cheaply ;-)

magiccarpetride
01-04-2011, 18:24
Does it mean that a EEM can be bought cheaply ;-)

Sadly, I think it still sells for twice the price of Caiman.

slate
01-04-2011, 18:29
Not in the market looking for a cheap buy; more fishing after your friends opinion :)

magiccarpetride
01-04-2011, 18:31
Can you tell us more on the sound of the Minimax dac?

Minimax is much more versatile than Caiman, and we didn't have enough time to go into exploring all the options. My initial impressions is that Minimax sounds quite 'hi fi'. The soundstage appears smaller, more confined, which I personally don't like, but at the same time slightly more precise in terms of left-to-right positioning (not a bad thing; if only we could blow it up while retaining that precision).

I would say (and don't hold me at gunpoint on this), from my superficial first impressions, that Minimax offers silkier highs, overall bit darker sound, and is thus perhaps better suited for harsher sounding digitized music. I may be talking out of my posterior end here; didn't give it enough careful audition time, as I was mostly stricken by the contrast in the front-to-back depth between EEM and Caiman.

Will see if I could do another audition, in order to glean more impressions.

Ali Tait
01-04-2011, 18:35
Did you try both SS and valve outputs?

magiccarpetride
01-04-2011, 18:35
Not in the market looking for a cheap buy; more fishing after your friends opinion :)

Gotcha. My friend is heavily into analog, warm, tube sound. I think he likes the 'hi fi' kind of presentation. Caiman may be a bit scary to him, I don't know (he may be too polite to voice his true feelings).

Like I said, Caiman (and especially Gatorized Caiman) is more about unabashed honesty in music; no sugar coating, no euphonics, just harsh truth in sound.

Not everyone's cup of tea...

magiccarpetride
01-04-2011, 18:37
Did you try both SS and valve outputs?

Only valve (tubes), as that's his preference. There was no time to explore other options (in/out of phase, which interests me a lot, etc.)

slate
01-04-2011, 18:45
Yeah I did spot the valve in a review I just skimmed http://www.sixmoons.com/audioreviews/easternelectric/dac.html

750$ but it does have nice dials ;-)

I think that we are looking for the same sound; lots of air(espace) and minimal coloring for the various bits of equipment.
Granted some might point fingers at my B&W 704, but I like them.... compared to the wave of Vienna acoustics speakers that started to flood the hifi homes here in Denmark 5-6 years back... well not in my house

magiccarpetride
01-04-2011, 18:55
Yeah I did spot the valve in a review I just skimmed http://www.sixmoons.com/audioreviews/easternelectric/dac.html

750$ but it does have nice dials ;-)

I think that we are looking for the same sound; lots of air(espace) and minimal coloring for the various bits of equipment.
Granted some might point fingers at my B&W 704, but I like them.... compared to the wave of Vienna acoustics speakers that started to flood the hifi homes here in Denmark 5-6 years back... well not in my house

Also, keep in mind that I have strong emotional investment in Caiman, and am therefore incapable of claiming any degree of impartiality. I suspect that even if a better DAC crosses my path, I'd be prone to look very hard for its faults, all in defence of the DAC I've invested so much time into (burning it in, upgrading it, etc.)

Same can be said about my friend and his EEM DAC -- he did a lot of research before settling on that one, so he'll be prone to defend his position too.

I just find that Gatorized Caiman works well when it comes to supporting my search for the neutral, lifelike music presentation. My Maggies are very revealing speakers (especially since I've replaced Cardas speaker cables with Nordost), and it's relatively easy for me at this point to spot a component that may be adding a bit of 'maple syrup' type of coloration to the sound signal. So far, I haven't been able to hear a more neutral sounding DAC -- Caiman is brutal!

CentraL
05-04-2011, 08:18
My plain vanilla Caiman gives me the same feeling compared to the SA17S1 playing the same CD.

More space, more air, ability to locate tiny little sounds all around the room.

Which of course is a Great thing!!!