After languishing since the mid-90s, the consumer DAC market began to blossom again in late 2007. Cambridge Audio and Musical Fidelity were about to launch DACs for the budget hifi market that would later become benchmarks in their class. Another product making waves at the time was the TC-7510 DAC made by little known UK company Beresford Media. It compared favourably to the aforementioned DacMagic and V-DAC, but sported the advantage of pre-amp and head-amp capabilities. For a short while in 2009 I sequentially owned both the Beresford TC-7510 and its successor, the TC-7520. I found them perfectly acceptable units in both build and sound quality, but the TC-7510 especially lacked a sparkle that denied them “keeper” status in the Darko household.
The Beresford Caiman is a crowd-sourced “Special Edition” update of the TC-7520; a benefit of the close ties that Beresford has built with the online hifi community. Opamps have been swapped for the LM4562NA and the decoder chip of choice is a Wolfson WM8716 capable of 64x oversampling. The USB input has also been upgraded to a PCM2902, but it remains Redbook standard 16/44 (compared to the other inputs’ 24/96 prowess).
With an Australian retail price of $385, comparisons with the similarly tricked-out Maverick TubeMagic D1 will be (inevitably) drawn. Ryan of Maverick Audio must surely concede some similarity in the his products feature set when sat next to the Beresford. Yes, the Caiman is $85 heavier on the wallet than the Maverick, but this differential is eroded once the essential tube roll takes place with the latter. These are two DACs as running in adjacent lanes on the budget DAC/pre-amp/head-amp circuit and the Maverick would act as my experimental “control” when reviewing the Beresford Caiman.
I lived with both the Beresford and the Maverick for a few weeks, listening to each one in turn and alternating their location between my two listening rooms on a daily basis. In playing the long game I was endeavouring to circumvent the impulsive judgements of a quick A/B comparison and instead get better acquainted with each DACs unique sonic character over a longer period of time. Room A is tooled out with an Aaron XX and PMC DB1i whilst room Room B pairs a Virtue ONE.2 with a pair of Omega 6 XRS. Digital transport in each system was furnished by a Logitech Squeezbox, re-clocked by a Firestone Audio Bravo digital processor.
The Beresford’s build quality is excellent. The metal box chassis is a tad Meccano-esque but looks as though it could withstand the rough and tumble as a portable device. The front source-selection buttons and on/off switch have a convincing feel. Overall, the Caiman feels less fragile and more “professional” than the Maverick.
The Caiman’s first audio outing (Luke Haines and The Auteurs) positioned it as a smooth sounding unit with good top-end detail. Moving to older (poorer quality) recordings showed hints of sibilance, but this was few and far between. I made a short 10-minute compilation of some reference tracks and gave it several turns on my DAC merry-go-round. When contrasted with the Maverick, the Beresford had a the upper-hand on bass control and depth by a significant margin. The layers within Radiohead’s oft-complex “Bodysnatchers” were neatly and concisely deconstructed and Johnny Cash’s acoustic guitar on “Hurt” adopted a crystalline presence that seemed a touch veiled with the Maverick. The tube-infused newcomer might have the thicker, more-prominent midrange (and its attendant musicality) but the Caiman showed the Maverick the door in terms of revealing inner detail within Leftfield/Lydon’s “Open Up”. Did the Beresford Caiman make me tap my foot? More often than not, yes.
Whilst I relished the sharper transient attack of the blue box I did not a tendency for the Beresford to show a more obvious top end when fed through the PMCs. It was never harsh or fatiguing. Picture a man on the horizon waving furiously. He doesn’t dominate your field of vision but you know he’s there. Bjork’s vocal on “Hyperballad” was more rounded and plump with the Maverick handling the ones and zeroes. Bizarrely, this didn’t make the Caiman a comparatively less sentient experience – it sounded cleaner and more matter of fact, but never emotionally detached. The Beresford is a combination of detail and softness that rarely lacks the punch called for on Bjork’s more dynamic numbers.
I took things up several gears with Chris Liebing’s 10 Years of CLR – a sure-footed techno staircase fabricated from concrete-and-steel phonics. It’s an album that progresses skywards as it nears its proto-industrial climax; a bass-heavy denouement that made mincemeat of the Maverick’s diffused bass control and sounded unflinchingly tight and controlled on the Caiman: clean, open and (most of all) tight. Its cool solid state demeanour is ideal for such clinical EDM. The tables were then turned when switching over to Tom Waits’ eighties re-invention as the critics’ mad preacher of choice – everything present and correct with the Caiman but a faint whiff of disinfectant from Waits’ barroom floor renders his gruff bawl less dramatic than with the Maverick. (Readers should note that this is the most minor of quibbles).
So then. The Beresford Caiman – a Maverick for detail freaks? Most probably. The prices are comparable and anyone buying at the sub $500 end of the DAC market should certainly consider both, but to separate them via the Musicality vs Accuracy debate would be crude and unhelpful. If these DACs were analogous to weather, the Caiman is a crisp, blue Sydney winters day – all bright sunshine and soft, cool air. The TubeMagic leans more toward a moderately humid spring afternoon (the air being thicker and heavier). The Beresford has the better separation and layering, the Maverick the more emotive midrange and smoother treble.
The Caiman DAC is for someone who is keen on the feature set and flexibility of having an entry-level DAC, pre-amp and head-amp rolled into one tidily made box. Those willing to trade the sonic lushness of tube flavourings for bass definition and detail should find there to be very little to criticise in the Beresford Caiman. To these ears, here we have another DAC that trumps the Cambridge DacMagic in the sound quality stakes and it’s $200 cheaper to boot! It possesses the sparkle missing from its predecessors and – given the context of its keen pricing and feature set – the Beresford Caiman DAC comes highly recommended.
- Logitech Squeezebox
- Firestone Audio Bravo
- Maverick TubeMagic D1
- Cambridge Audio DacMagic
- Aaron XX
- PMC DB1i
- Virtue ONE.2
- Omega 6 XRS
- Luke Haines & The Auteurs – Das Capital: The Songwriting Genius Of… (2003)
- Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around (2003)
- Chris Liebing – 10 Years of CLR (2010)
- Leftfield – Leftism (1995)
- Radiohead – In Rainbows (2007)
- Bjork – Post (1995)
- Tom Waits – Beautiful Maladies: The Best of the Island Years (1998)