View Full Version : A Beresford Caiman review

02-10-2009, 11:31
(Introduction: please be kind and forgive any unusual "ways of stating" or otherwise "unconventional" phraseology: English is not my mother-tongue and I'm not an audio professional or a reviewer. Thank you. :))

The box
On the front of the Beresford Caiman, there is a on/off button, four input selecting buttons, a headphone input and a volume knob which controls the headphones' and the variable (pre) outputs. On the back there are four digital inputs (2 RCA S/PDIF, 1 toslink and 1 USB) and two pairs of analog RCA outputs, one fixed and one variable. The dac costs 232£ including VAT and shipping (at purchase time, price may vary slightly later on). USB is Windows7 ready. Cool.
Well, no AES/EBU digital input and no balanced analog outputs are included. But, taking into account that it offers a headphone class A amp, an USB input and a variable output, I can't ask for more ! In fact, I'm very satisfied that S.Beresford chose to include these particular features instead of the AES/EBU and the balanced outputs. It fits better my setup.
Ok, let me plug the small dac to the Squeezebox Classic (no mods) plug the fixed outputs to the NAD (C-162) preamp, and on for the test. No burn-in needed, anyway I'm too curious to hear how it sounds, I'm ready for a quick review !

Listening session(s)
I start with something simple: Keb'Mo's "Just Like You" album. The Caiman produced a clean and precise sound, not particularly warm, not cold and uninvolved either. There's enough bass and very controlled tremble, in fact, it sounds exactly as it should be... a bit too much "as it should be" even ! But wait a minute: this doesn't sound like a 200£ dac ! I quickly check my connections : perhaps I'm still listening to the Northstar 192 dac ? No ?! That's really amazing ... I was almost sure that... oh well, nevermind. On for the next record.

This time, I'll make it more difficult: a Live Stereo recording (a SACD hybrid) of F.Reiner & the Chicago Symphony Orchestra : Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. I've had this record for at least 35 years, I still have the Vinyl, I know exactly how it should sound. This time, I'll have a better idea. The recording starts: Promenade... then Gnomus. Everything is there, exactly as it should be : the soundstage precision, the special recording, the instruments' special sound, everything ! I ended up listening to the whole record, I was really amazed ! This dac is a lot more than what its price tag pretends to be.

I ended up listening to all my reference recordings, with increasing pleasure. R.Wyatt's "Rock Bottom", Santana's "Caravanserail", Prince's "Parade" and "Rainbow Children", King Crimson's "Larks' Tongues in Aspic", Philippe Léogé Trio (a private live recording in a near-by concert room), Lyle Lovett's "Pontiac", Porcupine Tree "Fear of a Blank Planet", EL&P, several good SACD hybrids (Dark side of the Moon, and many others), Linn recordings... and the list became longer and longer. I tried every single music type I had (and I own a few), it performed perfectly well. My listening pleasure was increasing accordingly.

The Beresford Caiman decoded everything with an amazing ease. It never appeared harsh or too soft. Two friends of mine (hifi aficionados) who were there part of the time, stated that the Caiman had an “analog” sound. I believe that this is an over-statement: Caiman is a very honest dac. It sounds as any very good dac should sound with good recordings : precice, yet fatigue-free on long sessions. Analog gear has this particularity, but I believe that good digital gear (with low, controlled distortion) should be the same. And my friends know I'm very demanding with dacs, I can't stand certain distortions.

The Caiman dac, never (I mean: not even once!) gave the impression of a “blurred” soundstage, whatever the recording. It never lost track of any particular note or instrument's physical position or specificity, regardless the number of instruments or their placement. And, finally, it never presented an artifact that wasn't already in the recording. I confess that “honest” is the main adjective that comes to mind when I think of this tiny (and so cheap!) piece of electronics.

Additionnal testing
I had planned of making an AB/X test between the Caiman and the Northstar 192 dac. I mean, I already did this for other dacs, why not this one ? I was eager about the result. It was a real challenge, and unusual enough (for me) to AB/X test this dac with my reference one: usually differences are obvious. So, on the next day, I plugged both dacs to the preamp, each with one digital output of the same SB (a quality glass fiber toslink cable), carefully aligned both dacs' output (easy, they have the same), then started A/B testing them (with the remote) to try and catch each dac's “special” character. Having already carefully listened to them, I knew it would have been hard : they were both very good. To my surprise, it was impossible to find any difference, not even a small one. Permuting the dacs, never an instrument moved a single millimeter on the soundstage, horizontally, vertically or in depth. Oh yes, perhaps, sometimes I had the impression that the Caiman sounded a bit more “open” on certain mid-low frequencies, a bit as if there was a slight “reverb” of some kind. But the difference (if any) was so rare, unprecice and fleeting, that I could never really fix it, however I tried. I also permuted the coaxial and the optical outputs to both dacs: no way... After two or three hours of careful listening I gave up. There was nothing to AB/X, finally : they were way too close. And this is a real performance, if you consider the quality of the Northstar dac.

I also did the same simultaneous test between the fixed and variable outputs of the Caiman: there is no quality loss whatsoever. No noise, no additional distortion, nothing. They both sound the same.

At one point, I even thought: “perhaps my gear is not detailed enough for distinguishing the subtle differences” should I try it with better amps or speakers ? Then, I realized the Caiman's price, and thought for myself: “C'mon now, if I need 10000€ gear -or more- to distinguish the differences between a 250€-dac and 'whatever-else', then, there's no point. It's ridiculous”.

I did not do any serious listening through my ATH-W1000 headphones, but I promise I will one day. Same for USB input.

I want to make it clear: I listened to many dacs. I never listened to a dac costing under 1500€ that sounded better than my Northstar 192. Very few managed to come very close, but they were all at the Northstar's pricing range. There were no exceptions. Until now.

The Beresford Caiman decodes music. And what comes out of it's analog outputs is music, no more, no less. Hats off to Stanley Beresford for producing such an affordable pleasure.

-Astonishing quality for the price
-Very high quality variable output with volume knob (you can't blow up your speakers when used directly with a power amp)
-Class A headphone amp
-USB input
-When SB is powered on, it takes one second before the signal is locked into the dac. Subsequent album/song changes don't have this delay.
-It is not given for free
-It doesn't prepare my morning coffee

Other components: NAD C-272 power amp, Sonus Faber Grand Piano Domus speakers, good cables.

02-10-2009, 14:02
Great write-up Dimitri, thanks for taking the time to do it - and looks like "Stan's Fans" has another new member! Not sure if the Northstar 192 is available in the UK, or at what price - (a review from June 2007 on the US Stereo Times website (http://www.stereotimes.com/CD063007.shtml) mentions a price of $2,500 in USA) but it certainly sounds an impressive achievement to have matched this.

02-10-2009, 16:05
... it certainly sounds an impressive achievement to have matched this.I believe it is. You have a very accurate review in TNT: http://www.tnt-audio.com/sorgenti/model192_e.html

03-10-2009, 06:23
Thanks for the review - I have a Caiman on hold for me so am getting rather excited, and your review adds to it loads !

Spectral Morn
06-10-2009, 19:49
Great review Dimitri

I will add you to my list of SOG reviewers. I call on them from time to time if they have something interesting (in the way of kit) to write about. Considering English is not your mother tongue....well done indeed.

Regards D S D L

06-10-2009, 21:10

06-10-2009, 21:45

Son of God?

06-10-2009, 21:56
Strokes of genius, I suppose ?

(Neil, I feel embarrassed, but honored. Thank you for your kind words. :o)

06-10-2009, 21:57

Some other git ?


06-10-2009, 22:01
Stroke of genius, I suppose ?


Do NOT take my last post as being a swipe in your direction - definately not the case.

I think you've cracked the SOG thing - shame that, it could have developed into a creative acronym thread.


06-10-2009, 22:09
I think you've cracked the SOG thing - shame that, it could have developed into a creative acronym thread.

Do NOT take my last post as being a swipe in your direction
Not a single, a slightest, chance. No need to worry. ;)