Unspectacular, elegant — and carrying a very refined, subtle sound.
If the pedigree of this DAC plus power amplifier combo were tied to an English-speaking country, that very handy word “sophisticated” would be sure to appear somewhere. However, the D90 digital-toanalog converter and the A90 stereo power amplifier hail from Scandinavia, more specifically from the Swedish high-end manufacturer Harmony Design.
But the usual clichés that apply to certain Swedish brands certainly do not apply to these handy little minisized devices. It would be a waste of your time to thumb through the catalog of the all-too-well-known Swedish furniture company to try and find a product as solid and high quality as these little melodic sound generators. Front panels made from brushed aluminum with softly rounded corners, cooling fins sans sharp edges, minimal controls, and a lack of unnecessary luxuries such as a remote control are proof that an exceptionally puristic and coherent design rests on the slim base.
For this reason, the DAC fills every millimeter of the small surface area with a comprehensive array of digital connection options and can work with all possible sources — from a laptop that sends hi-res files via USB to a CD drive.
And because Harmony Design — the name says it all — is aimed more at people who simply enjoy listening to music for pleasure rather than analysts and nitpickers, the timbre of this little converter always stays on the warm and tonal side of the music without ever withholding details or overemphasizing individual sections of the frequency spectrum. Without applying any sound cosmetics, the Harmony Design D90 objectively passes on any strengths or weaknesses of the source devices and “software” without muddying the waters or excessively clearing anything up.
The perfect partner to the D90 is the A90 power amplifier, which has been part of the Harmony Design product range for somewhat longer than the DAC. As crystal clear as spring water, the A90’s contoured low-frequency range is as enjoyable as its nicely crafted high frequencies and its solid mid-frequency range. Incidentally, this is also true of analog sources and conventional preamplifiers. The combo allows voices to be depicted in terms of their volume and character, orchestras in terms of their breadth and depth, and spaces in terms of their individual signature.
The DAC is docked to the power amplifier by means of a balanced XLR cable. Upgrades to the connection are immediately audible, even if the wires unfortunately cost significantly more than the devices they connect. Being much more than they appear to be is a feat the D90 and A90 manage to pull off exceptionally well. Even when connected to the brilliant Wilson Audio Yvette loudspeakers, which are in a completely different league, these little black boxes from Sweden make a fantastic impression—and you would have to replace them with significantly more expensive electronic devices to achieve a markedly better sound. On the other hand, both the DAC and the power amplifier will reward you for any improvements you make to the peripheral equipment used, including to sound sources and loudspeakers. Anyone who relegates the two Swedes to office work because of the devices’ compact dimensions and extensive connectivity would be guilty of seriously underutilizing them.
Harmony Design D90 pre-DAC and A90 stereo power amplifier | Warranty period: five years | Prices: €1,690 (D90), €2,250 (A90)
Applied Acoustics, Uwe Klose
Phone +49 30 4614874