What is the Copland DAC 215?
This is because Copland is not a 'normal' brand – if indeed such a thing exists in audio circles. Chief amongst their design philosophies is the use of valves in their circuit designs, not out of nostalgia but out of a desire to make use of the positive attributes of them in products that otherwise measure and behave in a way that is hard to distinguish from more conventional solid state designs. This has resulted in products like the CTA 405 integrated valve amp which is simply an outstanding amp that happens to contain valves rather than something overtly 'valve like.'
This means that the DAC 215 comes at the business of being a preamp/DAC from a slightly different place than most rivals. Do these differences result in a product that is better than the strong competition in the sector or a curiosity that glows in the dark but does little else?
The DAC 215 uses a single chip but as the Sabre is an eight channel unit, Copland has elected to use it in 'quad mono' where four channels each side, decode the right and left channels and then sum the results to as accurate a result as possible by in effect 'summing' the results of the four separate decodes and creating the most accurate. As is to be expected from a Sabre based product, the DAC 215 supports PCM up to 384kHz and DSD128. It is fitted with a USB input, two optical connections and a coaxial input.
Like the Moon 230 HAD, the Copland is also fitted with an analogue input that means you can use it as a more conventional line preamp as well. The continued existence of a popular analogue source means that this is not just an expediency option. This operates entirely in the analogue domain and runs separately from the digital section. As a result, the Copland's volume control is an analogue pot and it is here that things get interesting.The Copland uses a pair of ECC82 valves that form an integral part of the preamp and headphone amplifier circuitry. These are dual triode signal tubes and crop up in other Copland products. The valves are well suited to the task and are relatively compact in terms of size.
In terms of outputs, the Copland has a fixed level output that is entirely solid state and a variable output that has the valves in the circuit. A front panel switch will engage the headphone socket and switch the DAC 215 over to being a headphone amplifier. There are no XLR connections and also there's no remote which can place the Copland at a slight specification disadvantage to some rivals at the price but not a huge one.
How was the Copland DAC 215 tested?
In turn, the Copland has been connected to a Naim Supernait 2 amplifier which has mainly been running the Rega RX1 speakers also tested this month. Most testing has been line level but the AV bypass has also been used so the Copland can act as a preamp. The headphone output has been tested with the Audio Technica ATH- A2000Z headphones. Material used has included lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF as well as DSD. Broadcast TV and vinyl has also been used.
Performance as a DAC
With visual bias out of the way, the Copland is – perhaps unsurprisingly – quite closely related to some other ESS Sabre based products that have passed through the same test system – although there are some subtle but intriguing differences. The DAC 215 puts in a tonally even and very balanced performance. No part of the frequency response is accentuated at the expense of another and there is a sense that the bandwidth is limited only by the material you play and the speakers you output to (well, that and your ears). The bass extension is impressive with a clean and powerful low-end that grows seamlessly from the midrange.
Where the Moon 230 HAD is all about delivering a well considered but scrupulous 'what you hear is what you get' approach, the Copland is slightly softer and more forgiving and it also has a slightly greater sense of air and space while it does it. There are pros and cons to both approaches and they aren't night and day differences but given that the Moon is about £800 less than the Copland, the DAC 215 doesn't immediately make an airtight case for itself used in this fashion.
Performance as a Headphone amp
Once again, there are few overtly stereotypical valve traits to this. The sound isn't warmer and it certainly doesn't feel rolled off. Another aspect of the Copland's behaviour that is vital as far as I'm concerned is that the DAC 215 is completely silent at idle over both the digital inputs and with the supremely silent Cyrus Signature Phono stage going into the analogue connection. There are no obvious valve stereotypes and no obvious weaknesses either.
Performance as a preamp
- A truly world class headphone amplifier
- Beautifully made
- Usefully comprehensive specification
- Makes less sense as a line level DAC
- No remote
- More expensive than some very capable rivals
Copland DAC 215 DAC/Preamp/Headphone Amp Review
As a standalone DAC, the Copland is excellent but finds itself in the company of equally talented products that cost less. In effect you will be paying more money for a DAC that has higher power consumption and isn't making use of its main feature. In this case, the competition makes more sense. If you intend to use it as a preamp, let alone as a headphone amp, the Copland's worth changes dramatically. This is an outstanding preamplifier and one that should work well in a great many systems. If you are primarily looking for a headphone amp, the Copland shoots straight to the top of the pack. This is a truly world class device for closed listening and one that is likely to take something truly impressive to beat it.
Ease of Use
Value for Money
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.