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Head-Fi Buying Guide (Desktop Amps & DACs) 2

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Type:   Class-A single-ended triode (SET) circuit tube amplifier

 

Price:   $3,900 USD

 

URL:   http://www.aloaudio.com

Written by Amos Barnett (Currawong)

 

A manufacturer once said to me, that being a dedicated audiophile isn’t about owning gear that is good enough, it is about gear that is better than good enough.  To design an amp, or any piece of gear for that matter, that sets itself truly above the many that are available, not just in price, requires great skill and dedication. Head-Fi members insist that such equipment lives up to its price as well. Thus a top-of-the-line amp from ALO Audio was both unexpected and raised many questions. The answer was that the amp is designed by Thomas Martens in conjunction with ALO Audio, and has been in development over the last three years.

 

However top-quality SET amps have a reputation for their ability to deliver music with a delicious authority and the Studio Six is no exception. Initially I thought that the soundstage was smaller than my regular reference amp, the Audio-gd Phoenix. However, comparing them showed that it was the other way around: The Studio Six was delivering the music so precisely that I was hearing the music exactly as it was and exactly as everything else in the rest of my system was capable of delivering it.

 

Playing very fast and complex, yet very well recorded music, such as Friday Night in San Francisco (available from HDTracks), the unrelenting detail, without the slightest let-up was overwhelming. Binaural recordings from Chesky Music, such as Amber Rubarth’s album, were phenomenal, with every sound produced in the entire venue, down to the birds chirping outside, were delivered with absolute precision. Changing any component in my system, I could hear precisely how it affected the overall experience.

 

The performance of the amp is so unwavering that even if one plugs 4 completely different pairs of headphones in, even IEMs, the performance through any single pair does not change in the slightest. The question I had at the end of it all was not about whether the amp is worth it, but why it didn’t have speaker outputs. Ken Ball’s reply to this question was to send me a custom cable with a headphone plug on one end and speaker banana plugs on the other.

 

What’s more, the amp is a tube-rollers delight. The tubes range in what they can potentially cost, from the inexpensive OB2s to the 6SN7, 6V6 and 5AR4 which can range from cheap to highly expensive. Despite this, the amp really comes to shine the most when at least NOS 6V6s are used in place of the included TADs and good choices are made with the other tubes. The main benefit of this is more towards clarity and a lack of harshness, as the amp isn’t “tubey” sounding as such, being more precise-sounding than any solid-state amps I’ve owned.


Not surprisingly, ALO Audio offers a complete package of headphones, amp, tubes and cables (if not source). For a high-end one-stop kit for someone already with a high-end source it most definitely delivers as good as you can get, and you can have fun rolling tubes to your tastes too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Type:   Desktop headphone amp

 

Price:   $2,995 USD

 

URL:   http://www.raysamuelsaudio.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Another fantastic solid state headphone amp--and a reference amp to use with the HiFiMAN HE-500, Audeze LCD-2 and LCD-3--is the fully balanced Ray Samuels Audio Apache ($2995), www.raysamuelsaudio.com. (The Apache is also a preamp.) Though it works well with a great number of headphones, driving those particular planar magnetic models seems to be the Apache's forte--like it was made especially for them.

 


 

"The Apache is, as I define it, completely transparent, to a degree I have not heard before in a headphone amp. No grain, no noise, no haze – just a completely wide open window to the music."

- SkyLab

Type:   Triode OTL headphone amplifier and preamp

 

Price:   $349 USD

 

URL:   http://www.schiit.com

Written by Amos Barnett (Currawong)

 

You know, I’ve never owned any Schi….um, any of your products..” I was saying to Jason Stoddard in LA in March. Indeed, the last time I’d sampled anything from his company was years ago at a meet in Australia, where an original Asgard hadn’t impressed me. So I asked Jason if he would send me a Valhalla 2 once they were in production, as the amp seemed to be something of a potential all-rounder, unusual for an OTL tube amp, which would normally be suited only to high-impedance headphones of 300 Ohms and above.

 

The Valhalla 2 blurb says that you can use it even with planar headphones and IEMs, even if the power output at 50 Ohms was going to be a lacklustre 180mW. It did indeed seem to deliver music, at least basically to a pair of LCD-X but some strain in the sound suggested that it wasn’t a good pairing and switching back to my Studio Six was a huge sonic relief. My 300 Ohm HD-800s paired vastly better with the soundstage nice and wide, if the clarity and instrument delineation was behind that of the more expensive amp. More noticeable out of the box was that the sound wasn’t “tubey” at all, but had a bit of bite — a bit of harshness on the leading edge of notes.

 

I hadn’t hooked up the Valhalla 2 up to anything special power-wise (it was plugged into the same power strip as my computer) and I was using a Geek Out as a DAC, but what was surprising was how much difference it made going overkill and using my Chord Hugo as a source, both with headphones and speakers, demonstrating just how good the Valhalla 2 is as an amp. While it doesn’t at all compete with the amp-is-not-there effect of my Studio Six, it is vastly better value at less than 1/10th of the price. 

 

With a pair of high-impedance headphones from Sennheiser or Beyerdynamic, a DAC of one’s choice and a pair of active monitors from the likes of Emotiva, Adam or others would make the Schiit Valhalla 2 a great centrepiece for a great all-round desk rig. At $349 it is a screaming bargain of an amp. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Type:  Transportable Desktop Solid State Headphone Amplifier

 

Price:   $599 USD

 

URL:   http://www.cavalliaudio.com

Written by Warren Chi (warrenpchi)

 

The story of the Cavalli Liquid Carbon is one that is incredibly near and dear to my heart. For me, it embodies all that is wonderful about Head-Fi. It is the continuation of a kindred spirit, that began at HeadWize long before my time, and continues to live on within us all as a deep-seated sense of community.


2015 has been a banner year for Head-Fi, and for high-end personal audio as a whole.

From China, HiFiMAN introduced their new planar magnetic flagship, the HE-1000. Out of the personal audio powerhouse that is Southern California, MrSpeakers debuted their innovative and uncompromising ETHER series of headphones. Also from Southern California, Schiit Audio fulfilled on their promise to bring forth trickle-down multibit goodness to the masses, in the form of their Gungnir multibit and Bifrost multibit DACs. In the UK, Chord Electronics distilled the essence of their highly-successful Hugo into a new DAC/amp - the Mojo. This was followed by Shure’s stunning announcement of their KSE1500 electrostatic in-ear monitoring system. Then, over in Germany, Sennheiser captivated us all with the grand unveiling of their new “Orpheus II” electrostatic headphone system. And back again in Southern California, Ultimate Ears announced their new Reference Remastered in-ear monitors. All of this, and so much more, herald what I’ve come to call the Golden Age of Head-Fi and personal audio. And yet, even with all that pomp and fanfare, one of the most meaningful releases of the year comes to us from a tiny boutique manufacturer based in a small suburb just outside of Austin, TX.

Dr. Alex Cavalli, also known as runeight in the forums, and better known simply as Alex to those of us who count him as a friend, began his days here at Head-Fi as a DIYer long before I even knew that Head-Fi existed. Over the course of many years, his DIY amp designs - many of which were in collaboration with some of the most recognizable personalities in our world - cemented for him a reputation as an excellent amp designer. After some time and deliberation, Dr. Cavalli took the only logical step he could, and became an amp builder as well. And thus, in late 2010, Cavalli Audio was born.

Today, after much hard work, the name Cavalli Audio is practically synonymous with summit-fi personal audio. His Liquid Gold (solid state), Liquid Glass (vacuum tube), Liquid Crimson (hybrid) and Liquid Lightning (electrostatic) headphone amplifiers are commonly mentioned in the same breath along with the world’s very best in headphone amplification. And if being amongst the world’s very best was the only thing that was important to him, he could easily retire right at this moment, having certainly achieved that by all accounts. Yet, for the better part of 2014, Alex laid awake at nights. He had come across a problem that he couldn’t engineer a solution to.

The problem with designing and building the best amps that he possibly could, necessarily resulted in one inescapable drawback… they were rather expensive acquisitions for all but the most zealous and well-to-do Head-Fiers. For most people, this is a perfectly logical thing, and rather easily understood - better costs more. But for Alex and his DIY roots and sensibilities, it increasingly became unacceptable, and finally intolerable. Of course, it was possible for Alex to release new DIY designs that people could afford to build more easily, but that wasn’t the real solution. Our hobby has grown incredibly in scale since the golden days of DIY, and most people are interested in buying gear to enjoy instant gratification. Yet another DIY design couldn’t hurt, but it wouldn’t truly help.

Some time around the Autumn of 2014, Frank I., mikemercer and I were on a phone call with Alex discussing review schedules, and goofing off a bit, when this exact subject came up. After a few rounds of brainstorming, a fateful series of questions were asked.

Alex, is it possible to distill the essential or quintessential concepts of your larger amps into a more compact (and cheaper) design? And if so, would you consider building and offering that amp at a substantial discount?

As if everyone on the line immediately understood the ramifications of those questions in unison, the call went quiet for what seemed like minutes on end. Then, breaking the silence, an answer came back on the line.

Yes, I think I could.

And just like that, the amp that would eventually become the Liquid Carbon was born. The answer that had eluded Alex for so long was staring him right in the face: it came down to a combination of making minimal engineering compromises (not an easy thing to do) but making some nonetheless, while eating a non-trivial part of the cost himself, so that the amp could be made affordable to all (truly not an easy thing to do).

Over the next few months, several of us would help Alex by listening to several iterations of this amp, and providing him with our feedback. Jude, Muppet Face, mikemercer, Frank I., dBel84, soundfreaq, and myself were among them, just to name a few. By the time we got to the second to the last prototype, I think we were all in agreement that Alex had done it. And with our stamps of approval firmly affixed, Alex hand-built a few final prototypes, and made the long journey from Austin, TX to Costa Mesa, CA for CanJam SoCal 2015.

Well over a thousand Head-Fiers attended CanJam SoCal 2015, and many of them were able to hear the public debut of his new amp… and what an amp it was! Though it was by far the smallest and cheapest amp that Cavalli had ever offered, it was a genuine Cavalli Audio amp through and through. It was fully-discrete, with no op-amps in the signal path, and fully-balanced on input and output. In fact, whether your DAC has balanced output or not - and chances are that it doesn’t - the Liquid Carbon could account for nearly any case as it has phase splitters on its single-ended inputs to “generate” balanced input signals. If you don’t understand what that means, it’s okay, that’s not that important at the end of the day. What is important is that the CanJam SoCal 2015 Impressions Thread is filled with positive impression after positive impression of the Liquid Carbons that were there that day, with not one negative impression to be found anywhere therein. It was a hit!

Back on Head-Fi, less than a month later, the Cavalli Liquid Carbon would go on sale in an old-fashioned Head-Fi Group Buy. In an age where public crowdfunding campaigns are the hip thing to do, Alex even localized the pre-order process to Head-Fi only. Those of us who wondered why he did so were given a heartfelt and rather emotional answer, as Alex explained. This was not a revenue grab. This was a thank you to Head-Fi members, without which there would be no Cavalli Audio. This was a chance for anyone and everyone to own a Cavalli amp. It was far more intimate than a crowdfunding opportunity.

And so, at high-noon Texas time, on April 14th, 2015 - the Cavalli Liquid Carbon went on sale. I am proud to say that, having waited all morning for their site to update, I was the very first Liquid Carbon order. A few others made it in as well before CavalliAudio.com crashed from the order traffic. However, the server was brought back up within the hour, and the orders poured in. As it has become tradition around these parts to list both our order numbers and our resulting serial numbers - so that we can all keep track of where we are in the queue - I am order #397, and serial #00002. So yes, I do indeed have my production Liquid Carbon, which we will get to in just a moment.

I won’t bore you with the details of what went on during our six-month waiting period for the amps, except to say that I have never seen such an enthusiastic and impassioned group of Head-Fiers as those who ordered the Cavalli Liquid Carbon early on. There is not one, but two full threads, dedicated to the Liquid Carbon. Alex started one in the Sponsors section, and it has now reached 72 pages (1,077 posts) of discussion. I started one in the main forums, and it has now reached 283 pages (4,233 posts) of discussion. And, as a testament to how much we’ve been anticipating the Liquid Carbon, BRCMRGN started a thread dedicated to the singular goal of finding an ideal DAC with which to mate with the Liquid Carbon. Even with a limited scope, that thread is now 95 pages (1,421 posts) long.

Now we delve into the question of the hour, was it worth the wait? Let me simply begin by saying that the Liquid Carbon is the single best purchase I have ever made during my entire time here at Head-Fi. The Liquid Carbon is flawlessly balanced, incredibly transparent, impeccably dynamic with lightning quick delivery of both macro and micro detail, and more spacious and airy than I ever hoped it could be. Time and time again, I find myself surprisingly impressed by these four unwavering sonic characteristics. Sonically, it’s a true Cavalli amp, and the only thing small about it is the price.

Associated Equipment:

  • MacBookPro running Amarra for TIDAL
  • Benchmark DAC 1
  • Stello DA100 Signature DAC
  • Schiit Yggdrasil DAC
  • Nordost Blue Heaven Power and USB
  • Nordost Heimdall RCA interconnects
  • Audeze LCD-X planar magnetic headphone
  • MrSpeakers ETHER planar magnetic headphone


With the Audeze LCD-X, I am gifted with transparency and detail galore, especially in terms of bass and mid-range where the Carbon exhibits excellent driver control. The bass is never bloated, nor loose, and there is no bass bleeding into the lower mids. The mid range is unbelievably vivid and lifelike. And the highs in a Liquid Carbon and LCD-X pairing are just about as open and airy as I’ve ever heard them. Likewise, the soundstage is also as wide as any I’ve ever experienced from an LCD-X. If this is the pairing that you’ll be looking forward to, I find it difficult to believe that you would be anything but impressed.

Transitioning to a MrSpeakers ETHER results in a nearly magical pairing, where both the amplifier and the headphone are highly responsive and dynamic, result in a synergistic display of speed and coherency. Throughout the entire frequency range, I am met with impactful hits, emotional swells and crescendoes, and a visceral presentation of detail the likes of which I have found to be rare outside of electrostatic headphones. This pairing makes my music come to life in a way few non-summit-fi rigs do, and I love every moment of it. I do not know exactly what causes this, but I know that many others who have heard Carbon and ETHER pairings have experienced this phenomena as well.

Having just reached the recommended 150 hours of burn-in for the recently-arrived production Liquid Carbon, I still have many impressions to gather in the weeks and months ahead. But as of this moment, in short, I love this amp.

Out of a total planned run of 500 Liquid Carbons, there are less than 50 units available for order. And there are no plans to produce any more, so there may never be another batch of Liquid Carbons ever again. If you’re kicking yourself at having missed the Head-Fi Grados of yore, you’ll want to act now to get your Liquid Carbon before it’s too late. It will soon go down in Head-Fi history as one of the most desirable pieces of gear our community as ever seen (or heard), and ownership of it will be as enviable as any exclusive run that has come before it.

As for me, I consider myself fortunate to have been at the right place, at the right time, to have taken part in this piece of Head-Fi history. Even with a Schiit Yggdrasil and Cavalli Liquid Glass rig within arms reach, I find myself gravitating to the Liquid Carbon more often than not. In fact, I am listening to it right now, and it makes me want to slap myself stupid as it just sounds so good!

 


 

""It pulls off a wonderful trick of being linear and detailed, yet musical and euphonic at the same time. While it sounds oddly schizophrenic on paper, it actually adds up to a synergy that works effortlessly. It’s a sound that doesn’t leave you wanting for more detail, yet never fails to be musical. This could very well become the mid-fi amp to have for audiophiles who want it all at a reasonable price.

- Stillhart (Dan Browdy)

Type:   DAC

 

Price:   $399 USD, or $599 Multibit

 

URL:   http://www.schiit.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Another nice DAC to consider is the Schiit Audio Bifrost, which, according to Schiit, is "a fully upgradable DAC, featuring 32-bit D/A conversion, a fully discrete analog section, and a sophisticated bit-perfect clock management system, together with one of the most advanced asynchronous USB 2.0 input sections available, as well as SPDIF coaxial and optical inputs, all with 24/192 capability." With Multibit, the Bifrost is $599, otherwise it's $399.

 

I've now had the Bifrost for a while, and am thrilled with its performance at the price.

 

I heard the Bifrost at the 2011 CanJam at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, and was impressed enough to buy one. While it isn't as full-featured as the Lavry or Antelope DACs, the Bifrost has excellent resolution and performance, is American-made, and flaunts a chic, elegant chassis that looks like something Dieter Rams might have designed.

 

True to the Schiit Audio ethos, the Bifrost is a sonic contender well above its price.

 


 

"he Bifrost does a very good job of detail retrieval – better than I expected, in terms of what I have heard from other DACs in this price range."

- SkyLab

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Type:   OTL (output transformerless) tube headphone amplifier

 

Price:   $1,175 USD

 

URL:   http://www.raysamuelsaudio.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

In the context of the Sennheiser HD 800 (which itself is priced at around $1500), we have to adjust the definition of "affordable" a bit. With that in mind, one of the best affordable tube amps I've used with the HD 800 happens to be the Ray Samuels Audio Raptor ($1175), www.raysamuelsaudio.com. This is a glorious pairing, and I've brought it with me to several meets (including two CanJam @ RMAF's) to let others hear it, too.

 

As many other HD 800 aficionados have found, the HD 800 can be tricky headphones to matchmake for. Bad pairings can sound overly bright, with leanness down low. The Raptor, especially with a good set of tubes, presents the HD 800 in full-bodied, smooth-trebled splendor.

 

Fortunately, in addition to the HD 800, the Raptor also drives many other headphones well. As might be expected with an OTL headphone amp, I've found the Raptor particularly well suited for driving other high-impedance headphones, including the Sennheiser HD 600/650, beyerdynamic T1, and others.

Type:   Professional-quality music player software for Mac OS

 

Price:   $49 to $189 USD

 

URL:   http://www.sonicstudio.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

Though Amarra is neither a hardware DAC or headphone amp, I currently consider it indispensable in my Mac-based computer audio rigs, and so included it in this section.

 

I'm a Mac user, I regularly buy high-res music tracks and albums (higher resolution than standard CD's 16-bit/44.1kHz resolution), and I now have several DACs capable of resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz, and one that goes to 32-bit/384kHz. I use iTunes. Some of the music I buy is in FLAC format. iTunes does not play FLAC natively, so I typically convert my FLAC files to AIFF format. Before Amarra, to take full advantage of high-res music, I would have to go to Audio MIDI Setup in Mac OS to manually set the appropriate sample rate. Occasionally, I want a parametric equalizer to help custom-tailor my sound. In other words, I'm a perfect candidate for Sonic Studio's Amarra.

 

What does Amarra do? The most visible thing it does is automatically streams the playing track's native sample rate to your DAC. This prevents the necessity of having to do this manually in Audio MIDI Setup (which can be a pain by seriously disrupting the continuity of a music listening session). In short, Amarra assures bit-perfect streaming to your DAC.

 

When using Amarra, the audio actually goes through the Sonic Studio Engine, and, in my opinion (and the opinion of most I know who use it), it sounds better than Mac OS's native audio engine. You can easily switch between Amarra and iTunes at the press of a (virtual) button to hear the difference for yourself. Sonic Studio has been great about keeping it updated, for both bug fixes and continued refinement of the product.

 

Add to all of the above Amarra's outstanding Sonic Mastering EQ that I use to custom-tailor sound to my preferences, and it's no wonder why it has become an indispensable component of all of my Mac-based computer audio setups. So, my fellow high-res-music-buying high-res-DAC-owning Mac users, in my firm opinion, Amarra is an absolute must for us.

Type:   Single-ended output-transformer-less (OTL) vacuum tube preamplifier and headphone amp 

 

Price:   $5,000 USD

 

URL:   http://www.ttvjaudio.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

This is an evolved version of the Wheatfield HA-2? That classic Wheatfield amp (from around 15 years ago), also designed by Pete Millett, was good--sometimes it was a lot more than good. But this amp--the Apex High Fi Audio Teton--is simply one of the best amps I've heard with the Sennheiser HD 800 (a headphone that didn't yet exist when I had the Wheatfield HA-2 here so many years ago). The one headphone I did have then that I still use now is the Sennheiser HD 600, and I don't remember the Wheatfield doing things with the HD 600 quite like this.

 

With the Teton, the Sennheiser HD 800 takes on a fuller body, which is something I look for with amps to pair with the flagship Sennheiser. And when it can be done without any sense of losing all of the amazing resolving abilities that help make the HD 800 what it is...well, then, that's a magical pairing, and we have that with this particular union.

 

I've also had wonderful, long Teton listening sessions with the Audeze LCD-X and HiFiMAN HE-500, and, again, that fleshy (but not bloated) tube-imparted body finds its way into these headphones, too. And for my tastes, again, we have beautiful pairings with these two headphones, too.

 

On other thing I love about the Teton is how quiet it is. Whereas the old HA-2 had a noise floor that even mildly sensitive headphones could get into, the Teton is dead quiet, the latter having one of the lowest noise floors I've experienced with a tube amp. Plugging several IEMs into the Teton using its "IEM" output setting still yielded silence. Very impressive. Of course, IEMs aren't in the Teton's wheelhouse. Yes, it can drive them in a pinch, but it's when you plug headphones like the Sennheiser HD 800 and HD 600 into it that the Teton absolutely shines.

 

The Teton's tube compliment: input tube is 6SN7.  Output tube is 6080 standard (or optionally 6AS7, 7236, 5998, or 6528). Rectifier is 5U4GB standard (with many options possible, including GZ34/5AR4, GZ37, etc.). If you're a tube roller, you'll be in for fun times with the Teton.

 

$5000 is a heckuva lot for a headphone amp. But you're in the Summit-Fi section, baby, and when it comes to sound quality, the Teton is definitely Summit-Fi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Type:   Closed, on-ear headphone

 

Price:   $2,335 USD

 

URL:   http://www.audio-gd.com

Written by Amos Barnett (Currawong)

 

The result of many years of steady development by the proprietor of Audio-gd, Qinghua He, the Master 7 is an old-school, massively over-built design based around the classic Burr Brown PCM1704UK chip, known for its ability to render instruments in a way that sounds more natural than many more modern designs. At over 15 kg (33 lb) it is a substantial DAC, in fact three complete components including transformers and power supplies: One 6-input digital signal processor and two mono digital-to-analog converters, housed in a single chassis.

 

The centrepiece is the digital signal processor with proprietary programming which takes the digital audio from any of the six inputs, including a custom USB solution using a VIA chipset and sends them to the left and right DACs. The analogue output is then handled by discrete, low-distortion non-feedback current-gain circuits which can be connected directly to other Audio-gd components via the ACSS connection, bypassing the voltage gain stage for maximum fidelity.

 

Like its predecessors, the Reference 7, Reference 1 and DAC 8, the Master 7 has won many fans with its organic, natural presentation, a contrast to the more “hi-fi” presentation that is popular with newer designs.

 

As I wrote in my review of the Master 7:

 

"[W]hen I played music through the Master 7 for the first time, via my Audiophilleo and Pure Power set-up I was shocked. I can only relate the experience to one of Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear fame, when he drove the Lotus track car. He said that he'd driven a car with that much power before, a car with that amazing handling before, and a car with that much acceleration before, but never a car with all those things together. With the Master 7/AP1/PP combination, I feel as if I have the ultra detail of a top-of-the-line brand-name DAC with the organic presentation of Parasound, the forgiving nature of the Metrum Octave and the liveliness and openness of the Calyx, but all together at the same time."

 

"As I wrote this, I stopped the music a few times because I had been hearing murmuring, quiet voices or other noises in the background which I thought were coming from other people in my apartment. They weren't -- they were sound on the recording I had not ever heard before. Yes, cliché central, but after going through more DACs for little difference it was great to feel that I'd actually made a proper upgrade. Listening to Cannonball Adderley's Radio Nights, for example, not only can you hear people speaking in the background, it's possible to make out what they are saying very clearly.  I'm used to those kinds of significant differences when I move from listening in my car to listening at home or going to a local hi-fi store and listening to their most expensive components. Not from a digital upgrade, even an expensive one."

 

"It's at this point I have trouble describing what I'm hearing. It rather reminds me of what the Metrum Octave sounded like when it was new. Before it settled down and became more mellow, it seemed to highlight absolutely everything, even the smallest sounds so they were all clear. The Master 7 is almost this way and I hope it doesn't mellow at all, because the sound is so alive and addictive.“


Eventually Texas Instruments will stop making the PCM1704 and Audio-gd will have to stop making the Master 7. Then I don’t doubt it will become a sought-after classic, much like old Mark Levinson products are.

 

 

Type:   CD transport and DAC, respectively

 

Price:   $1,199 USD each

 

URL:   http://www.wooaudio.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

When spinning CD's, it has increasingly been for the purpose of ripping them to my media drives. Still, though, my entire CD collection has yet to be ripped, so I'm still playing CD's on a regular basis. Few CD players have given me the pleasure of playing music that the Woo Audio WTP-1 (transport) / Woo Audio WDS-1 (DAC) combo provide. In some part, it's due to the kid in me who used to enjoy the very involved, very deliberate routines associated with spinning vinyl to hear his music--the WTP-1's CD swing-out CD cover arm and magnetic disc clamp hark back to the physical act of playing vinyl. Mostly, though, it's because this combo sounds wonderful.

 

Given my increasing transition to computer audio, though, it's the WDS-1 DAC that interests me the most in this combo (and the two can be purchased separately). With optical, coaxial, XLR, and USB digital inputs, the WDS-1 has me completely covered, as far as my digital input needs go--and it supports up to 24/192 from all of these inputs. The WDS-1 also has single-ended and balanced outputs, with digitally adjustable output level.

 

Both the WTP-1 and WDS-1 share the wonderful new layered-metal aesthetic established by the extreme flagship Woo Audio WA234 MONO dual-monoblock headphone amplifier. The WTP-1 and WDS-1 are priced at $1,199 each; and if you do buy both, you'll need to spend another $25 for footstands and an umbilical cord that allow you to mate them properly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Type:   Caching network streamer for high-resolution music

 

Price:   $2,700 USD

 

URL:   http://www.aurender.com/

Written by Ethan Opolion (third_eye)

 

Source matters. For audiophiles, a common topic of conversation has traditionally revolved around the level of importance that should be attributed to individual elements making up the audio chain. For head-fiers looking to build a high end or even end game system, that generally breaks down to the question of how best to allocated funds towards the headphones, headphone amplifier, DAC, source, and cables. While the most common sources used today are computer based, we’re seeing an increasing number of enthusiasts starting to shift to server based options such as the Aurender and Auralic network streams, and more recently newer network USB Audio sources such as the microRendu by Sonore. The objective here is to reduce the noise floor as much as possible and to provide a clear improvement over a direct USB connection to computer. I’ve been able to extensively use the Aurender N100H in my system and from the outset can unequivocally say that the overall improvement has been substantial. Let’s take a closer look.

Aurender have been a market leader in high end music servers for several years now with products ranging from $2,499 up to the flagship W20 at $17,599. The N100H, retails for $2499 and was released in 2015. The unit allows users to store up to 2TB of music on its internal hard drive as well as providing additional storage capacity options via a NAS or USB drive. The N100H can play pretty much any file you throw at it at PCM resolutions up to 32-bit/384kHZ and DSD128. Music to playback is loaded into a 120GB SSD cache drive which serves to eliminate noise, jitter, and vibration. Loosely translated, this means less treble glare. And with seamless Tidal integration, the N100H has all of it’s bases nicely covered.

The N100H is housed in a very high quality machined aluminum body with black heat sinks that are mounted on the side of the 1/2 size width unit. The front has an easy to read AMOLED display, that provides the essential information on music being played along with the option to display level meters. The main user interface for the unit is Aurender’s conductor app for the iPad. For now, the app is IOS and iPad only so for now this is essential an IOS limited product. The Aurender app is well designed and is also periodically updated to ensure ease of use and flawless playback. The playlist based app allows users to intuitively view their music collection by Song, Artist, Album, Genre, Composer, Conductor, or Folder. These can also be filtered by Genre, Favorites, as well as file resolution (DSD, etc…) System setup is generally straightforward. I use an Apple Airport Express which connects wirelessly to my Apple Airport Extreme. The Aurender is then connected via an ethernet cable to the Airport Express. And a USB cable connects the Aurender to the DAC. Once a successful network connection has been established music can then be streamed or transferred to the N100H’s internal drive.

I’ve used both Amarra and Audirvana extensively in the past and appreciate the improvements they bring to the table over iTunes for example. However, moving to the Aurender N100H was a revelation for me. To put it bluntly, it greatly reduced my fatigue level due to reduced treble glare and makes music sound a lot more natural. The result is significant and had caused me to get a better understanding of the importance of the source in the audio chain. For anyone looking to build a TOTL audio system, they owe it to themselves to look into music server options and the Aurender N100H should definitely be on everyone’s short list. Source indeed matters!

 

Type:   USB DAC and USB-to-S/PDIF interface 

 

Price:   $349 USD

 

URL:   http://www.moon-audio.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

If being able to play recordings up to 32-bit/384kHz interests you--but the $3995 Zodiac Gold is outside of your budget--then I know of no more economical way to do this than with the KingRex UD384 USB interface / USB DAC, priced at just $500. For 32/384 support at that price, the UD384 is (not surprisingly) a no-frills design, consisting of a very small, very simple (yet nicely finished) aluminum chassis, with no controls on it whatsoever--just three RCA jacks (one is an S/PDIF digital output, and the other two are the left and right analog outputs), a power supply input, and a USB input. That's all.

 

I currently do not have any 384kHz files, so I've so far only used the UD384 up to 24/192, and it has performed very impressively--sonically comparable, in my opinion, to any of the other DACs I've mentioned.

 

KingRex has made more of a name for itself in Asia so far, but, with a push to expand distribution, I expect they'll be making waves internationally soon-- especially with bargain-priced products like the UD384. (Moon Audio picked up U.S. distribution rights.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Type:   Desktop headphone amp

 

Price:   $3,989 USD

 

URL:   http://www.eddiecurrent.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

One of the most acclaimed cost-no-object high-end amps on Head-Fi has been the Eddie Current Balancing Act, a fully-balanced tube headphone amp and preamp that also uses 300B tubes. Many seasoned Head-Fi'ers consider the Balancing Act one of the best amps available at any price, and my experience with it (at shows) makes it obvious why. At the 2011 CanJam at Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, I heard the Balancing Act paired with the Audeze LCD-2 for the first time, and that rig was simply out of this world.

 

The Balancing Act is also one of the most beautiful headphone amps on the market, and wouldn't be fairly described as simply retro. The chassis lines, the old-fashioned control knobs and indicator lamp--combined with the prominently placed vacuum tubes--result in a look that is very completely from another era. Simply using "retro" doesn't fully capture just how much of a visual trip back in time the Balancing Act is. Simply gorgeous.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Type:   Fully balanced headphone amplifier

 

Price:   $1,699 USD

 

URL:   http://www.schiit.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

"Be very careful when using balanced headphones--Ragnarok can deliver its full output power into them!"

   -- From the Ragnarok Owner's Manual

 

At first blush, one might think, "How could that possibly be bad?" When I read that warning, I'm reminded of those Viagra commercials that say to call a doctor if you have an erection lasting longer than four hours--with wisecrackers often joking in response that they'd call their girlfriends, not their doctors, if met with such a fortuitous condition. However, like priapism is in actuality, too much power dumped into your headphones can also be dangerous, and very painful; so Schiit Audio's warning should perhaps be heeded with the same seriousness as Pfizer's. Recklessly abuse the Ragnarok's volume control in its high-gain mode, and this beast of an amp can hurl up to 100 watts RMS through your headphone's cable to the inevitable slaughter of your headphone's drivers. Fortunately, the extensive logic that Jason Stoddard and his team built into the Ragnarok is designed (among many other things) to help make the most of the Ragnarok's potency, with some safety measures included.

 

With two years of intensive research and development poured into it, the Schiit Audio Ragnarok is Schiit Audio's flagship beast of an amp, and one of the most unique headphone amps (and speaker amps) I've yet used (and I mean that in the best of ways). Its topology is described by Schiit as a "Fully discrete Crossfet circlotron-style output stage with direct-coupled solid state gain stage, no DC servo." The extensive logic I mentioned manages all the amp's functions, including "microprocessor monitoring of fault conditions including DC, overcurrent, and transient phenomena, with relay muting on any fault."

 

From its balanced outputs (and loudspeaker outputs), the Ragnarok can output up to 100W RMS into 4Ω! Into more headphone-typical loads, the Ragnarok can still heave monstrous power, with up to 15W into 32Ω, 10W into 50Ω, 1.7W into 300Ω, and 850mW (0.85W) into 600Ω! From its single-ended output, the Ragnarok's maximum output is 5W at into 32Ω!

 

"Power is nothing without control." The Ragnarok is a spectacularly powerful headphone amp, and one that easily exceeds the prodigious power demands of two of my hardest to drive headphones (that also happen to be two of my favorites) in the HiFiMAN HE-6and the Abyss AB-1266. And what I've found, especially with the HE-6, is that properly powering it is almost like taming a wild horse. It's probably hard to appreciate the beauty of a wild horse when it's kickin' yer ass; and if it's underpowered (and/or poorly matched), the HE-6 will buck you off with brightness, hardness. The right kind of power, though--and at least part of that means enough power--and the HE-6 bends to your will and sings If you've heard the HE-6 out of amps like the Ray Samuels Audio Dark Star, the Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold, or HiFiMAN's own EF-6, then you know what I'm talking about.

 

Given my love of the HE-6 well-driven, the Ragnarok with this headphone alone is already a must-add to the Head-Fi HQ amp library. Compared to the EF-6 (which we also have here), the Ragnarok lets the HE-6 breathe a little more freely. If I'm going to stick to the wild mustang analogy, I'll say the Ragnarok lets out the reins a notch or two in comparison, allowing the HE-6 to run a little faster. With either amp, the HE-6, to my ears, imparts no harshness that isn't in the recording; and, in terms of tonal balance, both are the equal to one another (which is to say largely neutral'ish)--but the EF-6 seems to me to have more of a smoothing effect on the HE-6 than the Ragnarok, which I sometimes prefer. The Ragnarok has the advantage, to my ears, in terms of resolving power with the HE-6, which I also sometimes prefer. With the HE-6 specifically, I have some difficulty choosing between them.

 

As far as its performance with the Abyss AB-1266, the Ragnarok makes me wish I still had the Cavalli Audio Liquid Gold here for comparison, because the Ragnarok is also something very special with the AB-1266. The Liquid Gold was the best I'd heard with the AB-1266, and may still be--it was a clear step above the amp I'd most been using with the AB-1266, the Schiit Audio Mjolnir. After I sent the Liquid Gold back to Cavalli Audio, I went back to the Mjolnir for the AB-1266, and it's been a good enough pairing to keep me happy, even though memories of the Liquid Gold have beckoned strongly. I know for certain, though, that the new flagship Schiit would be a far more formidable competitor for the big Cavalli than the Mjolnir, and it most certainly is.

 

If you power the AB-1266 well (and the affordable Mjolnir can certainly do that), the AB-1266's sense of dynamism and impact is among the best I've heard from any headphone, period. Through the Liquid Gold, it took on still more life, conveyed more detail, and projected a stronger, more lifelike image. The Abyss headphone is one of the best imaging headphones I have, bringing a sense of spaciousness that rivals the Sennheiser HD 800, but with more solid images in that space--that is, both headphones project big, airy headstages, but the Abyss is more earthly, the HD 800 more ethereal. And that's why it'd be fun to compare the new Ragnarok with the big Cavalli, as this is also how I'd describe the AB-1266 driven by the biggest Schiit.

 

In addition to being a tamer of the most demanding headphones, the Ragnarok is probably the single most versatile headphone amp I've used, ever. Despite its ability to push out big power, the Ragnarok is not the headphone amp equivalent of an engine that needs to be revved to the redline to get its best performance. No, the Ragnarok is like an engine with an extremely wide powerband, giving you its strengths at perhaps any RPM.

 

Compared to the HE-6 and AB-1266, the Sennheiser HD 800 is certainly an easier load, in terms power demands. In my experience, however, it is no less picky when it comes to amp matchmaking for it. A great HD 800 amp pairing can result in sound that rivals virtually any other headphone rig, regardless of price. A poor pairing, on the other hand, can sound brassy, strident, bright. Thankfully, the Ragnarok is fantastic with what might be my most used flagship headphone in the HD 800. Schiit's Jason Stoddard told me--after I'd told him how outstanding I found the Ragnarok to be with the German flagship--that the HD 800 was perhaps the most used headphone at Schiit for Ragnarok testing and evaluation. Danke, Schiit!

 

I've found some of my favorite amps with the HD 800 to be tube amps that impart some lushness to it, perhaps as a sort of hedge against what might be perceived as a tendency of the headphone to otherwise step out of line into harshland. Last year, however, Sennheiser released its own solid state headphone amp called the HDVA 600 (and a DAC'd-up version of that same amp called the HDVD 800), and it has become one of my go-to amps with the HD 800. Somehow, Sennheiser's amps are able to extract what my ears hear as harshness-free, ultra-revealing sound from the HD 800, with a little of the sweetened tone of some OTL amps I've heard with the HD 800--yet without any sense of overt smoothing or softness. And that is more along the lines of the Ragnarok's performance with the HD 800. I'll have to do more direct comparisons between the Schiit and Sennheiser amps with the HD 800 to come to firmer conclusions between the two; but I feel safe saying the Ragnarok's handling of the HD 800 is more along the lines of the HDVA/HDVD than it is a lusher sounding tube amp. I'm thrilled to have another option here that can drive the HD 800 well, as that's still a club that, for me anyway, not too many amps belong to.

 

Other headphones I've been using out of the Ragnarok's balanced output so far include the OPPO PM-1, Audeze LCD-X, Audeze LCD-3, and the MrSpeakers Alpha Dog. While none of the four of these are known to be difficult to drive or match, as reference-class as these headphones are, having an amp that's fantastically detailed and transparent serves them all extremely well. These headphones? Easy day for the Ragnarok.

 

The versatility doesn't stop there. I plugged several of my sensitive custom in-ear monitors into the Ragnarok's single-ended headphone output, and couldn't believe how quiet it was, in terms of self-noise. And though it's not as absolutely tomb-quiet as, say, a Benchmark DAC2 HGC, it is still plenty silent enough that it's actually quieter than a few good portable amps I've used. Remember, the amp circuit that drives this output and the one that drives up to 100W out of the loudspeaker and balanced outputs are one and the same! (I have no in-ear monitors terminated in 4-pin XLR, which is why my IEM use was limited to the Ragnarok's single-ended headphone output.)

 

And this brings me to my in-a-nutshell description of the Ragnarok's sound signature, in consideration of the vast range of headphones I've tried with it: though there's a smoothness to its delivery, it is not a romantic sounding amp. The Schiit Audio Ragnarok is neutral and dazzlingly revealing of the music you feed it. It's capable of lifting veils you may not have known were there, and scaring away the discordant sounds of bad pairings with a few headphones that have earned reputations for being very challenging mates. When it does these things--when it allows the great headphones to be great--it's capable of helping convey some pretty heady high-end Summit-Fi sound.

 

What makes the Ragnarok even more of a keeper are those loudspeaker outputs out back. I hitched up one of my pairs of KEF LS50 loudspeakers to the Ragnarok using Nordost Frey 2 speaker cables, and the results with the Ragnarok have been impressive enough to keep one of my two beloved pairs of LS50's--easily one of the best sounding mini-monitor type loudspeakers I've heard at any price--permanently tethered to the Ragnarok.

 

Is the Ragnarok Summit-Fi stuff? Oh yeah. Big time. Do I recommend it? Unhesitatingly. To do all it does, as fantastically as it does it, for only $1699, makes it a remarkable high-end value. As Schiit states in its description of the Ragnarok: "From IEMs to speakers, from balanced inputs to single-ended headphones, this is Schiit’s real end game. Welcome to the end of the world: Ragnarok."

 


 

"Ragnarok provides a capable integrated and universal headphone amplifier. It provides the ability to drive sensitive and demanding headphones with control and low noise. It provides a great range of volume control for each of these scenarios. This is a tremendous amount of capability and versatility in one box. The amp is a jack of all trades."

- atubbs

Type:   Multibit DAC with closed-form filter

 

Price:   $2,299 USD

 

URL:   http://www.schiit.com

Written by Jude Mansilla

 

As many of you Head-Fi'ers know, Schiit Audio was founded by two seasoned audio industry figures, Jason Stoddard (formerly of Sumo), and Mike Moffat (formerly of Theta). Many of you know Jason Stoddard, because is very active at Head-Fi, and published his book "Schiit Happened" chapter-by-chapter in his blog area here at Head-Fi, each chapter of which we featured on the homepage as it was published by Jason. It's a must-read book, by the way, and Jason is still posting bonus chapters for us now.

 

Mike Moffat doesn't post nearly as much on the forums, where he goes by "baldr," so you may not know him quite as much yet. What you should know about him is that his career is storied, his reputation in the industry beyond sterling.

 

Jason does more of the work on the analog side of Schiit. Mike does more of the work on the digital side of Schiit, so their new flagship Yggdrasil DAC is definitely more Mike's baby. When I asked if Mike would call the Yggdrasil the best DAC he's yet designed, the answer was "Yes." And that would include being better than all the Theta DACs he's designed, up to the Theta Generation Five.

 

In addition to using a multibit ladder architecture--whereas almost every DAC today is of the delta-sigma type--the Yggdrasil makes use of extensive DSP to implement the digital filter and the formatting needed to interface with the DACs. The multibit DAC chip selected for use in the Yggdrasil is the Analog Devices AD5791BRUZ, which I wasn't familiar with until the Yggdrasil.

 

Now I'm certainly not one to make any assumptions based on a piece of gear's bill of materials. That said, there was one glaring thing about the AD5791BRUZ in this regard that I simply have to mention. I priced out that part at Digikey, and that chip is priced at $104 each. In quantities of a thousand, the price is $82 each. The Yggdrasil has four of these in it.

 

There's a lot more to the Yggdrasil than buying four very expensive DAC chips that weren't even intended for audio, and putting them in a box--a lot more. Rather than have me try to ineptly and incorrectly venture an explanation about what makes the Yggdrasil different, I'd rather quote Mike Moffat himself, from some posts he made on Head-Fi's forums:

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Baldr View Post
 

...AD5791BRUZ - Headline specs:  1 ppm 20-Bit, ±1 LSB INL.  We use 2 per channel (1 per phase) to get an honest 20 bit level of performance.  That is four per Yggy.  The BRUZ version is the higher specced model.

 

I know only 20 bits you say?  You can get a 24 delta sigma bit (advertised) DAC  chips for 3% of the cost of one 5791.  Check it out.  Go to Mouser or Digi-Key and see how much AD5791s cost.  Yup, you get just about $400 worth of DAC chips in every Yggy.  I have seen $10,000 dollar D/A converters with $22 bucks worth of dac chips inside.  The Yggy is by far away the best fu***ng parts cost deal going in the arena of high end DACs

 

Biggest problem was figuring out how to get it running without glitching - sample and hold amps sound like ass.

 

Also you have to drive it with DSP because every sample requires a fixed preamble.

 

For the above reasons, I don't expect a lot of competitors to be using it.  After all, even analog devices told me it was not designed for audio.  The best way to get me to do something is to tell me I can't or shouldn't do it.

 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Baldr View Post
 

Gents,

 

I cannot get too engaged at this point; given my efforts to finish Yggy and get it to market.

 

Let me just say that being in the business of building audio reproduction equipment allows no, nada, ******-all control of whatever the recording engineers did or didn't do, what equipment they used, whether it was originally analog or not, what microphones were used, what and how it was digitized, how it was processed, etc., etc.

 

Nor does it solve who or what was done to various issues of identical recordings to make them sound different, etc. etc.

 

Maybe I assume too much, but I accept it as a given that there are recordings of a very wide spectrum, from god-awful to sublime. It has been so as long as I have been addicted to this hobby. It is a constraint we must live with if we are to be audiophiles.

 

In the old analog days, we used the best components we could afford to give us the best possible sound. Everybody in the hobby knew they could not fix bad recordings. I thought that was yet obvious today.

 

Now I almost offer (next 90 days or so) a D/A converter. It has a very special digital filter/sample rate converter that is only available from Schiit. It is neither magic nor faith based. It neither raises the dead nor makes bad recordings sound good. There is no smoke, mirrors, or doves spontaneously appearing. It is pure science, and it is amazing because the technology was contributed over a 70 year period, from the 1910's until the 1980's. It exists because I am stubborn and kept going, finding new geniuses when necessary in the quest of trying to make digital sound better than analog.

 

Digitally, it takes nothing away from the original information. Nothing, nada, ******-all. It then takes a weighted average of the original samples and adds frequency (read flat) and time (read image) extra info between the samples to convert the samples to 352.8/396KHz. All complete calculations – NO approximations. All info is a function of the original. Real math – hard science. Not psychology or social science. 2 + 2 = 4. Now and forever.

 

The result is a D/A converter that images like nothing I have ever digitally heard. The promise is that with better recordings (Cowboy Junkies, for example) you hear the entire environment. If you check it against photos of the original session (often available as part of the LP/CD documentation or online), you may be shocked.

 

That's what Yggy digitally does. Period! (Pardon the shouts) IT DOES NOT MAKE BAD RECORDINGS SOUND GOOD. If you let it warm up all the way, IT DOES NOT MAKE BAD RECORDINGS SOUND WORSE. If you are listening to a lot of bad recordings, you may try stamp collecting or another hobby. You do not have to believe in the tooth fairy, the easter bunny, or swing dead chickens around your head while dancing nude and covered with moose dung in the Alaskan tundra in February.  Flippin' science.

 

There is no way to fix a bad recording, for now and ever shall be. Amen

 

Now to get back to finishing it!!!

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Baldr View Post
 

A Definition:

 

Bit Perfect – in a closed A/D system, a give analog level with a defined maximum and minimum is converted to a number. What is significant is what is the bit resolution and speed of the converter. In an 8 bit case, there are 256 possible numbers – a 16 bit case yields 65,528 possible numbers. That number of numbers doubles with each additional bit. If the A/D converter (case 8 bit) yields 256 numbers from 1 to 256 (or more accurately, 0 to 255) then there are no missing codes; the device works for coarse MRIs or weapons. The D/A converter in this perfect system then converts these numbers back to analog levels which all should be unique according to the decoded numbers. There should be no missing or duplicated levels; this is Bit Perfect. A goal for high end products. No sonic glare; unbelievable detail levels.

 

This applies to multibit A/D and D/A converters only. At the higher bit and speed levels required for audio resolution, this becomes expensive. Hence the development of “audio” parts (Sigma-Delta A/Ds and Delta-Sigma DACs). Even worse is DSD, which I have previously addressed. These are offered by all of the “audio” chip makers, complete with reference designs and “Howto” data sheets that make it possible for fourth graders to build them as class projects. They are cheap, and have resulted in digital audio technology that is nearly as universal as it is insipid. That's not to say that a builder can't add “designer” capacitors, over-designed analog sections or power supplies, fancy over-machined front panels, water-cooling, palletized delivery, jewels, etc., etc, ad nauseum. This sort of extravagance is perfect for the user who wants to invite people over to have his guests admire the piece first. Unfortunately, even though you have wrapped plastic around the vile-smelling “audio” parts, they still have the same performance stench.

 

A good analogy is a tire. You can have the best performing car in the world and easily kill yourself if you have poorly designed tires. Now, do you invite all of your friends over and say “Look at my tires”? Of course not! All you care about is their performance. But I digress..........(Good thing Jason is around to make sure the Schiit stuff looks absurdly good.)

 

An SOF (Schiit only feature) – The Schiit Footlong Mega Burrito Supersauce Digital Filter:

 

It is a digital filter/sample rate converter designed to convert all audio to 352.8 or 396KHz sample rates so that it may drive our DACs. You get it from us; it is our filter. It keeps all original samples; those samples contain rudimentary frequency and phase information which can be optimized not only in the time domain but in the frequency domain. We do precisely this in the Yggy with said filter; this is the reason that on good recordings through Yggy you can hear the hall, its dimensions, and the exact position of anyone coughing or farting in the room, the motions of guitars being hoisted in preparation of being played, sheet music pages being turned, etc. etc. This comes from our mega burrito filter. A friend of mine, Jonathan Horwich, sells analog master tapes in ½ track form – at least 15 IPS, and 30 (I believe) as well. On those analog masters, you can also hear the entire environment before the music starts – what is amazing there is that even if on accounts for hearing “down into” the analog noise, the S/N indicates a 14 bit performance at best for those tapes. 14 bit or not – those tapes, totally scratch my itch. If you want that, we got that and more in the Yggy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Baldr View Post
 

Now that my play is over, it is with blinding speed that I comment on the ENOB exchange seen in this thread several pages back. Now, I may need to reread it, but the emphasis seemed to be on more bits equals more dynamic range. Fair enough, but there is much more involved.

 

Analog audio has increasing distortion with increasing level; digital audio has increasing quantization error (which translates as well to distortion)with decreasing level. The former, I argue is intuitive – the latter counter intuitive.

 

Just for the sake of a starting point, let us posit an analog signal to noise ratio of 72 db. It is a commonly accepted fact of analog radio voice communication that weak signals well down into the noise can be clearly understood. It is also clearly possible to hear subtleties and spatial cues into the noise on good analog recordings. In a 16 bit system, ther remain 4 bits worth of quantization. At this level, one has 4 bits of resolution which is a 1 part in 16 error, or 6.25%.

 

The way the Yggy works, we have 20 bit time and frequency domain samples inserted between the originals, which leaves 8 bits worth of quantization, with a 1 part in 256 error, or just under .4%. A lot better. This is exactly why Redbook 16/44.1 does not and will never scratch my itch.

 

I have been referring to the DSP in the Yggy as the megaburrito filter. In a recent conversation, Jason pointed out to me that it is really a megacomboburrito filter, since it uniquely optimizes time and frequency domains. This is what causes Yggy users, on a variety of systems to report hearing subtleties previously not experienced.

 

One more comment – I have received many requests for certain analog topologies to be incorporated into the Yggy. I also get questions on how I voice the Yggy with its chosen analog.

 

Please hear this – the Yggy has been deliberately designed with a DAC output so high only a buffer is required. This is significant because buffers tend to have far less perceptible sonic differences between them than gain stages. The means that the topology of the analog of the Yggy is as close to sonically irrelevant as possible. What you hear (or not) is chiefly the result of the digital stuff within. I believe that it is misguided (and really expensive) to attempt to “voice” your system with a DAC. There are many, many, amplifiers available to accomplish that.

 

The only reason to “voice” a DAC with analog is to cover up what your DAC does too much of or doesn't do at all. Kinda like makeup. A really beautiful girl does not need it.

 

If you're at all interested in the guts of these things--even if you're like me, an enthusiast struggling to try to understand all he's saying--a couple of reads of what he's saying above suggests that perhaps Mike Moffat and his team really did set out to create a DAC that, at the very least, is the result of contemporarily uncommon choices and different approaches. What he's explaining above is at least some of the background behind what Schiit Audio claims for the Yggdrasil when they say the Yggdrasil is...
 

...the world's only closed-form multibit DAC, delivering 21 bits of resolution with no guessing anywhere in the digital or analog path. We’ve thrown out delta-sigma D/As and traditional digital filters to preserve the original samples all the way through from input to output.

 

...Most DACs simply use the stock digital filters embedded in their D/A converters. But even the most sophisticated ones, using their own digital filter algorithms, don’t have what Yggdrasil has—a digital filter with a true closed-form solution. This means it retains all the original samples, performing a true interpolation. This digital filter gives you the best of both NOS (all original samples retained) and upsampling (easier filtering of out-of-band noise) designs—and it is only available on Yggdrasil.

 

Some on the forums who've heard it have claimed it's the best DAC on the planet, perhaps the best ever. Is it? I don't know, as I haven't tried every DAC on the planet. I've never listened to the very best ultra-expensive DACs from the likes of MSB or Totaldac or dCS outside of a show environment, in my own systems, for extended periods of time.

 

That said, Head-Fi's office, at any given moment, has scads of DACs within. In addition to the surfeit of DACs on hand at any given time, we've had more DACs come and go than I could possibly recall, at a wide variety of price points. Some are relatively unknown, some are mass market, some have been reviewed at Stereophile and measured by John Atkinson.

 

While I can't say with any authority that the Schiit Audio Yggdrasil is the world's best DAC, I can say that it's the best DAC I've yet heard in my own systems, and I've heard a lot of them. We were so impressed by the Yggdrasil prototype we heard that we picked up two of the production Yggdrasils the moment they were available.

 

What, to my ears, sets it apart? Like the HiFiMAN HE1000 has done for me with headphones, the Schiit Audio Yggdrasil has helped clear the fog between the performance and my ears, stripping away more of what separates the realization of live from the sensation of reproduced than any DAC I've used before it.

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Comments (2)

Great review..@third_eye.  Just a lil' confused by "from $2,4999 up to the flagship W20 at $17,599." though.
Corrected! Thanks @thatonenoob
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