JATON RC2000S PREAMP/DAC
List Price: $1500 ($1300 for the RC2000P with phono)
Be careful what you wish for? Hardly... I had been waiting for a high end two channel preamp with a built in DAC, bass management, a high end power supply, great internal parts like Wima capacitors, RCA and XLR ports, and a clean solid chassis. When Jaton contacted me regarding the RC2000S and RC20000P, skeptical excitement overcame me.
Jaton nearly bulls-eyed my “wish list” for a high end two channel preamp. Could they pull it off? Jaton said it would not be a gussied up version of their RC7000P but designed for high end sound from the ground up. The only thing shared between the two preamps is the blue backlit LCD panel. Opening up both chassis exposes that the RC2000S is bursting with high end components while the RC7000P looks more like a PCI card turned preamp.
The Jaton RC2000S boasts the following;
• Built in 24 bit DAC (PCM only)
• Remote Adjustable RCA Subwoofer Output
• Remote Adjustable Bass Management to Protect Small Speakers from the deeper bass
• High end Torriodial Power Supply
• Mundorf and Wima Capacitors
• Two Remote Selectable Digital Inputs (1 coax – 1 optical)
• Two Remote Selectable RCA Inputs
• One set of Remote Selectable XLR inputs
• One set of Remote Selectable XLR outputs
• Output Biamp Capability via two sets of RCA outputs
• Two 12V output triggers with cascaded turn on delay
My review sample was the RC2000S with the above features. They also offer the RC2000P which swaps out the internal DAC input and bass management for phono capabilities and one extra RCA input. We at Stereomojo are quite fond of spinning vinyl, yet the bass management of the RC2000S was a key feature for me. Even a speaker that gets down to 35Hz can benefit from protecting the speaker from excessive movement at the frequencies below the cutoff point often resulting in a cleaner, more dynamic sound if adjusted correctly.
One set of reference speakers used is a three way with a -3db cutoff at 40Hz while the other was a two way which only reached 60Hz. In each case, the benefits of the bass management were clear but the smaller two way speaker was the happiest about it. The excessive movement of the little midwoofer really hurts the midrange performance and a bottoming woofer doesn't exactly sound like music.
Additionally, when using a subwoofer, one can put more emphasis on speaker placement for imaging and a lifelike soundstage while allowing the subwoofer to be placed where it works best for the deep bass. The bass management really comes into play when playing at loud volumes but being able to achieve a truly dynamic system that doesn't compress with music is very nice and usually comes at a price.
The RC2000S arrived very well packed. While pulling it out it seemed heavier than my Adcom GFA535II amplifier that currently collecting dust. In reality it's about 15 pounds. The pictures included in this review reveal a bevy of high end parts absolutely filling the preamps chassis. Jaton did not skimp in that department. They are known for making great sounding components for the money and score pretty highly on the value curve in our humble opinion. The RC2000S continues that tradition. After over a month of breakin, the preamp was placed into active duty resting upon four sorbothane feet.
The RC2000S chassis is clean, modern, and solid looking. It's definitely not audio jewelry but does not look cheap either. It's prettier than the Bryston BP16 yet a small tick down from the Xindak XA3200MK2 tube preamp.
The front baffle is over 1/4" thick solid aluminum and the chassis is a heavy gauge steel. The blue backlit LCD screen hints at the old school receivers or perhaps some McIntosh gear, yet the digital readout is pure modern. It's bright enough to see during the day but not blinding at night. The cool glow of the LCD control screen is accompanied by a blue LED done right. We are not fans of getting blinded by blue LEDs, but Jaton was smart enough to use a blue LED to backlight the power button. It looks and works great without blinding the listener.
The new version of the remote is quite small, cute, and simple. The initial rev of the RC2000 came with a very small remote control that seemed more like a credit card with a thyroid problem. Noting that it was a bit too flimsy and the batteries would not last long, Jaton came up with a replacement remote that's much better but not exactly in the same league as a Bryston remote. My wife called it cute which doesn't happen often. It has dual emitters for better coverage from odd angles, sits in the palm of your hand, and can control power, volume, balance, input select, output select, subwoofer cutoff frequency, and whether you want the subwoofer on or off. Those who have purchased and early rev of the RC2000 can get the new replacement remote from Jaton. I kept this review sample for a long time and the new revision is clearly better.
The front panel is clean with just buttons for standby/power, reset, input select, output select. A nicely detented volume knob is sits to the right and allows for fine tuning of volume with a 0.5db granularity which is nice for late night listening. Detents are those little stops as one turns the knob. The lack of a button for each input irked me in the beginning until I realized how much easier it made it for the kids to use. They would just toggle through until what they wanted was chosen. The LCD screen shows which input is chosen making this very simple to use. The front panel does not allow for subwoofer settings so the remote is the only option there. Better not lose that remote!
When initially installed, one must select the output from the remote or the front panel to be the one connected. Additionally, any bass management settings should be done at that time as well. Note that those who purchased very early versions of this preamp can get a firmware upgrade that fixes a problem where the volume would sometimes slowly rise or fall over time. It was discomforting but they fixed it. Additionally, I can attest that it fixes some confusion with how the remote worked.
Upon initial listening, it seemed tweaking was necessary. It turns out that the stock power cord was the culprit adding a bit of sibilance to everything. An audioquest NRG-2 was even worse. A Transparent audio shielded power cord as well as a Volex 17604 shielded power cord both worked great and is something that I'll strongly suggest anybody who purchases this preamp to do.
The Transparent Audio Performance Powerlink power cord, their entry level power cord, was clearly the best match with this preamp in my system. It resulted in the strongest and cleanest bass, the best center image focus, the tallest image, the deepest soundstage, and the cleanest and most realistic highs. Once it was in the system I nothing else could match it. The stock power cord? It could be used for jump rope, your PC, an Indiana Jones whip, something to tie a Christmas tree to a car roof, or maybe even recycle it into a belt like a high tech version of Jethro from the Beverly Hillbillys. If you use it on the preamp, your not going to get what you're looking for.
A preamp needs power amps to drive speakers and my references are the marvelous Hephaestus Audio HMA-1000 Monoblock Amplifiers (one is pictured below) I reviewed (another Stereomojo World's First I might add) and purchased. They put out 1,000 extremely clean watts per side and are very sensitive and revealing to whatever else is in your system. What would they reveal about the Jaton?
Let's first state what it isn't; It's neither bright nor lush. It's not rolled off. It's neither edgy nor dry. It's not weak and flat like a Benchmark solid-state preamp yet it's not super warm and robust like a Xindak XA3200 MK2 tube pre. Acoustically, it's more or less not there... and isn't that the point of a preamp?
Some may argue that a preamp with character such as a vacuum tube preamp that's warm and also adds harmonics into the mix is better and I'll have to agree that sometimes that really is quite enjoyable. At this stage, I'll choose the preamp that allows input selection, buffers the input and output signals to ease matching components, and preserves the audio signal as best it can while providing adjustable levels without adding anything into the mix.
Here is an interesting tidbit. The listening room is adjacent to the room with the piano. Many of the times I sat down and started listening, my young one would magically appear in the next room playing the piano. It's as if the music from the listening room inspired him to play. Perhaps I was listening louder with this preamp or perhaps it was the preamp's sonic abilities. Later the boys kept noticing the music emanating from the room and then asking to hear certain selections such as John Lee Hooker and Bon Jovi. Eventually they got excited and asked, "Can we hook up Rock Band to this?!?". Yes, eventually they had dragged a TV and the video game into my listening room and took over. They absolutely loved it and my own listening time with the system was more limited. One thing we found is that the Jaton's internal DAC was exceedingly better than the analog outputs of the Sony Playstation as expected. Eventually I was able to remove the TV and video game and get my listening room back. The fact that the kids were so inspired to take over my listening room says a great deal for the sound. Children have an innate ability to discern what is musical without bias and usually have a frank but fresh perspective on things.
A most impressive attribute of the Jaton preamp is its ability to delineate the highs. It's very difficult to reproduce the quick attack and decay in such a manner that a cymbal sounds absolutely real. The Jaton was clearly better than my Bryston BP16 or Xindak XA3200 MK2 tube preamp for reference. The Bryston preamp is edgier in the highs and the Xindak's tubes seem to add a shimmer to the sound that sounds like more detail but is actually masking the actual sounds. The B&G planar ribbon tweeter in one set of reference speakers and the Vifa soft dome tweeter in a custom waveguide in the other set both have very low distortion allowing the differences to be more clear.
The highs also sound the best when fed a higher end external DAC verses the internal DAC. The internal DAC's highs are a little more subdued and polite yet still sound better than the Pioneer Elite transport's RCA outputs which sound flat in comparison. Without an A/B comparison, one might be very happy using the Jaton's internal DAC. If I had to be really picky, Briana Corrigan's had an ever so slight overhang when decoded through the internal DAC but it was only noticeable when compared to a very good external DAC through the Jaton's analog inputs. The internal DAC was still an upgrade from the analog outputs of my Pioneer Elite transport in this regard.
I'm listening to Track #1 from Tom Varner Quintet's "Motion/Stillness" on CD as I write. This is a very good recording if you're into hearing some drums jam with an alto saxophone and... get this... a french horn. Billy Hart's cymbals are nicely recorded and rendered quite beautifully through the Jaton. You hear all the cymbal attack and quick shimmering decay with nothing added or taken away. This is also a great test for testing the dynamics of a cymbal crash which are quite lifelike. Can you tell I like the sound of this preamp yet?
The soundstage and imaging are easily one of the best characteristics of this preamp. It has the ability to recreate air and space if it is in the recording and does this without sounding bright. I love that part of it. Spacial cues are typically difficult to reproduce as well as this, especially at a $1300 or $1500 list price.
When listening to Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, and Paco De Lucia in "Friday Night in San Francisco", the three acoustic guitars are nicely spaced around the microphone and, hence, the listener. This is an excellent live recording that's fun to listen to and contains of air and ambience echo from the live venue. Track #3 happens to be my favorite. I tried putting this in while working from home one day and Track #3 pulled me away and begged to be turned up to dynamic levels until the song was over. The system was promptly shut down after that in order to get some actual work done.
Neither the Bryston nor the Xindak could render the fine detail in the room echoes or the guitar harmonics as clear, transparently, or accurately. In this case, the Xindak tube preamp actually added a bit to it which was enjoyable whereas the Bryston had a tiny bit of grain masking the last little bit of air. I'm getting really picky here as these are all fine preamps but the Jaton wins again.
The soundstage is not just seriously wide but also captures height very well. The most blatant example of this is the height image test on the Chesky test CD but it's certainly more interesting when you're listening to a concert hall recording that captures that height. Center image focus is just amazing. The soundstage is nearly identical to that of the Xindak tube preamp laterally yet the Jaton surpasses it in the height aspect. The Bryston falls short here with a less wide soundstage than the others.
The midrange of the Jaton RC2000S seems fine. Female voices usually seemed just fine without any sense of strain or edge. I really couldn't find anything good or bad to say about it but at times it seemed recessed which is usually a sign of lower distortion.
Briana Corrigan's feminine voice in "I've Had a Little Time" from "Choke" by The Beautiful South sounds smooth and slightly less aggressive than I am used to even though it still seems a bit forward. This isn't the best recording but it's not that bad either. The emotion of the song comes through pretty well conjuring memories of that friend of yours that let the best thing in his or her life get away.
One might think that Briana's voice seeming slightly more smooth could imply a lack of detail yet the brassy texture of the horns in the aforementioned track from the Tom Verner Quintet sounded very real.
When pushed to exceedingly loud levels, it seemed a bit aggressive, but that could also have been a function of my class D Hepha monoblocks which pump out lots of power but have a corresponding rise in distortion with output levels like a tube amplifier would. It could also be a function of the speakers straining to keep up with the nearly 1000w capability per channel.
I never thought much about the bass quality of the Jaton RC2000S as it just seemed to work. I was more concerned with getting the subwoofer adjusted correctly. It's really hard to do but using a WooferTester Pro's spectrum analyzer made short work of it.
The Jaton RC2000S bass is quite neutral as is it's bass control when using just the analog outputs. In comparison with the Bryston BP16 the Jaton was deeper, daughter and more controlled. What?!? Yes, the Bryston amplifiers may be a bit dry and slightly lean at low listening levels but their preamps are actually a little rich in the bass with a seemingly slight exaggeration of the midbass. It mixes very well with Bryston amplifiers which is likely one reason their B100SST is regarded so well. The B100SST is essentially a 2BSST amplifier combined with a BP16 preamp.
"Wild Life" by the Yellow Jacket's release called Live Wires is a great demonstration track. First, the soundstage is amazing combining sounds from all over the place including some drums which are deep in the soundstage. It's quite dynamic and the drums sound so accurate through the Jaton it's just a lot of fun. Later in the soundtrack, there is a very deep whoosh in subwoofer territory from some type of instrument which I can only guess is a huge wind instrument. If anybody knows what this is, please let share that with our publisher. I'd love to know more.
"Wild Life" just begs to be turned way way up when played. The rest of the "Live Wires" CD is a little less exciting and what one might call soft jazz but it's a great recording. The Jaton was just fine reproduceing the impact of the really low frequencies and was accurate with the upper bass here.
Track 2 from "Toys of Men" by Stanley Clark is another good test. This track will bottom out most small speakers as it did my own. It required that I use the internal DAC to get the bass limitation to get that clean powerful sound when pushed. The slight degradation of the detail and imaging when using the internal DAC was definitely worth not pounding a little set of speakers into submission. With the internal DAC and an external HSU subwoofer, the sense of dynamic impact really was impressive.
In comparison with the Xindak XA3200 MK2 tube preamp, the Jaton's bass is more lean and equally as controlled. The Xindak has a strong bass signature which is pretty darn fun, especially when listening at low to normal listening levels. Please note that the Jaton's bass signature when using the internal DAC is more lean than the sound of my external DAC from Lite Audio but modified by Pacific Valve fed into the Jaton's analog inputs. This is likely mostly due to my external DAC's warmish sonic character.
The review period spanned the 4th of July so I just had to spend some time with "Pops Goes the Fourth" by the Boston Pops. Having attended the Pops several times, I get a little nostalgic. This is akin to the tradition of folks listening to "Alice's restaurant" on Thanksgiving which I think is really a way for the DJ to just get a big break while working a holiday.
I really enjoyed listing to the Pops and other classical music through the Jaton. It's ability to disappear, image like crazy, not add anything to the music, and allow so much detail and air through to the speakers made the $1500 cost easy to swallow. I'll reiterate now that without clean power and a decent power cord, I'd be less enthused.
The Final Test
When a component first comes in, I usually start by playing music that I know very well. A fair amount of this is not audiophile quality but it's very easy to get a feeling for a component with music you know intimately. The next step is usually the Chesky setup disk followed by lots of more interesting cuts that are well recorded or that visiting reviewers bring to get their own impressions. If things go really well, I then break out a list of everyday releases that can sound dry, edgy, or aggressive on mediocre electronics. Tom Petty "Full Moon Fever", Billy Joel's "The Bridge", Peter Gabriel "So", and The Beautiful South "Choke" and the Travelling Willberrys are a few examples. If it can't sound enjoyable with those, then something's awry.
The internal DAC is an older simple 24bit DAC, the AK4588. It supports PCM input only and is limited to 96Khz. Dynamic range is 102db and the signal to noise ratio is nothing earth shattering at 92db. The DAC chip has been hard wired in the RC2000S to only support two channel which is where it sounds best in my experience.
The digital inputs are limited to two, one coaxial and one optical. There is no USB support. The subwoofer output will work when using the analog outputs and the subwoofer can be shut off via the remote control.
The Rumor Mill
Rumor has it that Jaton has been working on some serious upgrades to the RC2000 which involve replacing the digital portion with a higher end analog section. I also hear they are offering upgrades such as replacing the Mundorf capacitors with insanely expensive Mundorf Silver capacitors and it just explodes from there. Basically, one can probably get a super high end version of the RC2000 from Jaton but any sense of great sound for the money will likely fly out the window. Does it sound better? Rumor has it that it does if you are willing to pay. I, for one, am curious about it.
The XLR inputs aren't completely balanced but it's close. It's not just an adapter as there's also an opamp in the circuit which then leads to what would be an RCA input.
The sound using the XLR inputs had a richer tone than the RCA inputs and the soundstage was seemingly deeper. It was a very subtle but noticeable improvement in the sound even when using budget Dayton Audio XLR connectors.
I did find one head scratcher with this preamp and the XLR inputs. I ran into one issue when using the XLR inputs where if a musical signal was running into the XLR inputs yet another input was chosen, there was a little bit of leakage at the dynamic crests of the sound. It was subtle, really anything once I figured it out, but easily avoided.
Was the culprit the Jaton's XLR inputs or was it the XLR outputs of my DAC modified by Pacific Valve? I wasn't able to determine this. It's possible that the output signal of the DAC was too high for the Jaton to handle or it's also possible that there is a design problem. I was not able to determine that.
If don't need the Panache of a fancy name, don't need to have audio jewelry sitting on the rack but also don't want something ugly, and especially want great sound without breaking the bank, you must consider the Jaton RC2000. Those who choose the RC2000S and the internal DAC get two extra digital inputs but one less RCA and one less phono input. What they DO get is bass management and a DAC that's likely to beat their analog outputs.
Those who have phono are likely in for a real treat as the analog stages of the Jaton RC2000 are truly something special. Combined with how nice good vinyl can sound I imagine it's a great combination.
I'll just say it. I love this preamp. I love the way it sounds, I love the way it operates, I love the way it looks, and I love it's lack of pretentiousness. Jaton apparently takes credit cards over the phone. How do I know that? I'd like to announce my new reference preamp, the Jaton RC2000S. Yup, I bought it and I love it. At the end of the review period when George from Jaton mentioned getting it back from me all I could think was; "Are you kidding me?!? I can't let this go."
The Xindak XA3200 MK2 was both fun and pretty but was sent back, the Bryston currently serves duty in my makeshift basement lab, and my Jaton takes a humble but capable center stage in my listening room.
Remember that the Jaton RC2000S is susceptible to dirty power. A trace of sibilance came back If I plugged it into the outlet other than the dedicated outlet, even with the upgraded power cord. For most of the review period, I plugged straight into the shielded PS audio outlet on the dedicated line.
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