Most people if they are aware of the ATC brand, know them for their outstanding loudspeakers. Their speakers systems are used around the world in studios from Nashville to London as well as in the homes of audiophiles. Few people know they are a UK based company, started by an Australian named Billy Goodman, and just as few are aware that ATC also make truly excellent electronics as well, such as this ATC CDA2 Mk2 CD Pre-Amplifier.
I had the pleasure of owning their SIA2-150, a truly superb integrated amplifier. It was built like a tank (and weighed as much) and had a stylish and perhaps subdued appearance compared to it’s competition. The new CDA2 Mk2 continues the same styling aesthetic and build quality.
The CDA2 Mk2 is a little unusual and perhaps in a category with few competitors being both a source and a pre-amplifier in a single box, requiring a power amplifier and speakers, or even better still, a pair of powered speakers, to complete the system.
It is clearly aimed at the digital music lover, given the absence of a phono stage, a built in DAC with coaxial, optical and USB inputs plus two analogue inputs. It could be argued that those analogue inputs can accommodate a phone pre-amp or even an old reel to reel, but I think if you are buying the CDA2 Mk2, then it will be the heart of your digital playback system.
If we accept this theory, then the digital to analogue converter quality is critical because if it is not up to the task, the excellent analogue pre-amplifier stage will let you know. With both coaxial and optical inputs, you could connect a legacy CD player (although, why would you when there is one built in?), but more than likely it will take the feed from your TV or Playstation/Xbox etc. (Yes, that is the world we live in now)
So if like me you are a thoroughly modern music lover enjoying your music via a computer running Roon, then the all important question is, what’s the USB input like? Well, in case you missed it, this is a Mk2 iteration, and with that comes an upgraded USB input.
The CDA2 Mk2 offers an asynchronous USB port capable of 32bit/384kHz PCM as well as DSD64, DSD128 and DSD256, the later on Windows only, Macintosh users are limited to DSD128. I am not entirely sure why this is, but the CDA2 is not alone here, the Denon PMA-1600NE/PMA2500NE integrated amplifiers have the same limitation, so I assume it is a ‘Mac thing’.
ATC have also upgraded the DAC chip on the CDA2 Mk2, which now features the excellent AKM4490 DAC chip from Asahi Kasei which is part of their Verita series and provides what they call ‘Velvet Sound’. This chip is capable of 32bit/768kHz but ATC have chosen to limit it’s use to 384kHz for PCM, but thankfully take full advantage of the DSD capabilities of this excellent DAC chip.
All of which leads us to how the ATC CDA2 Mk2 actually sounds. Two things will determine the overall sound quality of this system, one is the DAC itself, the other equally as important thing is the quality of the analogue output stage, and thankfully both are a home run. I paired the ATC with the excellent Neuman KH 310 A powered studio monitors (review coming soon), a stunning speaker system that is perhaps just a little more forgiving than ATC’s own studio monitors.
This paring offered a highly detailed but never harsh musical presentation with a wide transparent soundstage. The system could play very loudly thanks to the 390 watts on tap in each speaker. Dynamics were excellent and bass grip and accuracy were up there with the very best.
ATC have ‘tuned’ the AKM DAC chip filters very well and no matter if listening to the in-built CD player, or an upsampled 32bit/384kHz PCM stream, the ATC CDA2 Mk2 always sounds superb and noting short of ‘high-end’.
Mating the ATC to a powered speaker system minimises the number of cables, gives us the cleanest audio path and I truly believe this is the best way to assemble a good sound system. The proof was in the listening, and this pairing was in my view how sound systems should be made. Yes it is a minimalist approach, but it is one that simply works very very well.
ATC CDA2 Mk2 Specifications:
- DAC: 32bit/384kHz, DSD64, DSD128, DSD256
- Frequency Response: (-3dB): < 2 Hz – > 280 kHz
- Signal to Noise Ratio: 112db
- Weight: 7kg
- Dimensions: 90 x 445 x 330mm
Why you want the ATC CDA2 Mk2:
The ATC CDA2 Mk2 can be the heart of a very high-end sound system that includes CD and computer audio playback. Yes you could go the path of getting ATC’s matching power amplifier, but I still stand by the theory that mating this with a high quality pair of powered monitors is the best option.
With both RCA and XLR outputs on the back, you are free to choose from a wide variety options, such as the Neumann KH 310 A or even the excellent KEF LS50’s. Very highly recommended.