Pros: Excellent sound quality (read review below), well built, DSD Native decode, Full Balanced output, Excellent price to performance ratio
Cons: Limited connectivity (Only USB Input), Limited outbut (Only XLR full balanced output, No RCA)
Both EGD and EGA has been long rumored in their official website, I knew that they was a high performance DAC when I talked to their Engineer, the amp is quite a surprise because I have never expecting them, because to me they are a company that 100% devoted to make high price to performance DAC only, EGD and EGA proved me wrong, in fact, the Ruby that I just reviewed already had proven me wrong, they can make good performance of amplifier too if they want to. Still wonder which manufacturer am I referring to? They are Stoner Acoustic.
I am proud enough to say that I have reviewed every and each of their products, I quite like all of them, the UD120 is actually my simple DAC when I want to listen music through my speaker when I want to relax, it is small and capable enough, it is just a very budget DAC but it is good enough. Only the Ruby (Very tiny portable headphone amplifier) that maybe is not what I really love, not that it is not good, only that there simply are too many competitors, however Ruby is a very reasonable sounding product in the price range, with excellent technicality (For its price) and size (Heck! It is so tiny!).
I immediately contacted Stoner Acoustic when I first saw their prototype of EGD and EGA showed up in their Facebook page, I am happy to see that they are actually making higher end of DAC and amplifier beside from the wide acclaimed budget excellent UD series of DAC, I did followed the development of EGD and EGA along the Facebook pages, getting really excited when I saw them posted the technical measurement data sheet (Scroll to the bottom of page), so how can I not being excited?
Stoner Acoustic EGD (450USD)
First of all, we have to know what EGD stands for, EGD means END GAME DAC. Yes, end game means that it is the only and last DAC that you will ever needed, end games means there was no more upgrading for another higher end DAC (your girlfriend/wife is smiling) you simply don’t need another DAC, so this is why Stoner Acoustic named this END GAME DAC, EGD!
EGD is a full balanced, purely USB powered and fully isolated, support native DSD playback high performance DAC. This is not your regular DAC though, it is full balanced and only accepted balance output (To a balanced amplifier), not only it is limited to full balanced output (Without unbalanced RCA output like usual DAC do), it is also limited to USB input only, means that there are no coaxial input, yes, you can connect it through your android phone (maybe IOS) too but I don’t like this idea and my smartphone doesn’t have the OTG feature to support this function, Stoner Acoustic themselves actually not recommend using your Android phone as source (Regarding measurement and performance). Because of this, I will say EGD is actually a very inconvenience DAC especially if you have different type of source especially when don’t have any full balanced amplifier, no, don’t you walk away, Stoner Acoustic has his reason to design the EGD in such way, when he called EGD an end game dac he has this philosophy in his mind, we can certainly sure that he won’t just do all these without concrete reason. However, I decided to go short on this one because Stoner Acoustic has actually wrote the reasons clearly in their website.
In EGD, Stoner Acoustic only want to make the best DAC they can, yes, even if they have to sacrifice functionality. So again, why they go for full balanced design when there are so much unbalanced amp/dac available (to enhance connectivity)? The engineer answered me there is no point to go for unbalanced setup when customers have already spend so much money on their audio gears, in their opinion, balanced is way better than unbalanced. Okay, honestly, I tried few full balanced DAC and full balanced headphone amplifier before (Yulong Audio DA8, A28, Firestone Audio Tobby, Firestone Audio Bobby, M2Tech Young DSD, M2Tech Marley and a few that I have listened), yes they are good when they are in unbalanced mode, but they are EXCELLENT in full balanced mode, believe it or not, I will choose full balanced mode anytime over unbalanced, considering same manufacturer. Balanced is simply cleaner, clearer and have more power, you can directly feel it once you have experienced it.
Now, you know why balanced is the way to go, but you might still hesitate because you don’t have any balanced headphone. Unfortunately, for a full balance setup, you MUST have three things, a full balanced DAC, a full balanced headphone amplifier, a full balanced headphones (Either 1 x 4 pin plug or 2 x 3 pin plug), all connected through balanced cable. I admit that normally we will not have any balanced headphone in hands, but if you have headphone that has interchangeable cable, especially the Sennheiser HD series, Beyerdynamic T1 2nd generation, Audeze, Hifiman and Oppo PM series, normally this will be much easier for you to go balanced mode, all you have to do is just buy a new balanced cable then you are good to go. However, if you are having headphone like AKG 701/702/712 (Interchangeable cable but not balanced ready), Beyerdynamic DT, T series (Other than T1 2nd generation), German Maestro 4 series, things can be more complicated, you will need to modify your headphones to go balanced mode, this is not an easy thing to do, you will need an experienced guy to do it for you.
For this review, I have asked my friends to lend me their gear, before we start to the actual review, let me thanks my buddy Stephen for his Sennheiser HD600 (I have HD balanced cable but don’t have the headphone), Star Picker Audio for their HD700 balanced cable (It is actually Oppo PM series balanced cable but can work on HD700).
Source : Asus A series laptop (Need driver, no need driver on my friend’s MAC), Foobar 2K with ASIO output, Tidal Streaming services
Headphone Amplifier : Stoner Acoustic EGA, Teac HA-501 (Balanced input, Single End out)
Headphones : Sennheiser HD600 (Balanced-Charleston Cable Company flagship cable and unbalanced-Ori cable), Sennheiser HD700 (Balanced-Oppo PM balanced cable and unbalanced-Ori Cable), Beyerdynamic T90 (Unbalanced), ZMF V1 (unbalanced,unfortunately my balanced cable broke), German Maestro GMP450 and 400 (Both unbalanced)
Other : PC is connected to iFi iUSB with Gemini iCable
Mode : End Game mode in EGD (Difference between end game mode and normal mode is very small)
Since I plugged EGD to my computer, I never plug it out again.
The sound quality is very good, okay, it is the best DAC that I have ever listened to. Yes, you have hear me correctly, EGD is the best DAC that I have encountered to date. You might say I have never try some of the good performer in game, in fact I have tried some of the very good, with much more expensive price tag. So EGD is the end game DAC? You will need to know my preference and expectation for a good DAC first.
I am an old school Hi-Fi guy, which believe that DAC and amplifier should be completely colourless, linear and neutral/balance sounding, headphone/speaker should be the one that sound according to your preference by adding flavor/colour to your music (maybe adding a bass boost feature in amplifier is a bonus too). This is the easiest/cheapest way to get the sound you want too. For this instance, EGD is a very pure sounding DAC, the music flow through it and leave without added anything to the sound, in another words, EGD is the DAC that only convert the digital to analog signal, the kind of DAC that I really want. This sounded simple but in fact, this is very difficult and need serious attention to the designation of circuit, taken every component into account, as a result, EGD has a pure neutral, pure balance sound signature.
From the first time I listened to it, I already noticed how detailed it was, even just listened through the not-so-high-resolution HD600 (Balanced mode), the soundstage is wide, deep and tall with good body of sound, micro-detail is excellent through, I played the album Apollo from Daniel and Carey Domb, there is so much micro detail that I have never noticed before, I do feel that the bass was not impactful and hard hitting as my other DAC, I quickly listened to some cello album, guess what? There is so much detail in the low region, I will just say that it didn’t boost any low frequency in the spectrum, when the bass hit, such as the poem of drum album by YanXueMing, hit with excellent detail and decay, the bass is not heavy, but it has reasonable impact, energy and cleanliness. I noticed immediately the imaging and positioning is very good too, you can clearly tell where the sound came, instrument separation is very good too.
Sound too good to be true? I doubt myself at first too, so I organized a small audio gathering with my friends, both of them are very experienced Hi-Fier (where I borrowed the HD600 too, thanks buddy), one of them actually invest ample money into Hi-Fi system, turntable etc, SE846 as portable setup (with iPhone 6), he is also the kind of guy that willing to buy 1.5k USD just for a short interconnect cable, I am not saying that he is the standard because he had spent too much, no, this is not what I mean, but they love the Stoner Acoustic EGD, EGA and HD600 (Full balanced) combo very much, they listened just about the same thing as me, the neutrality, detail level and balance of the sound, great! Do keep in mind that HD600 is not a very detailed headphone by its own, but I never feel I am lacking any detail with it connected to the EGD and EGA, in fact, it sounded very linear, transparent and balanced.
I believe many is confused between being ‘neutral’ means being ‘bright sounding’, this is not true. In fact, I listened to my Beyerdynamic T90 (through Teac HA-501) that many found it to be bright sounding headphones (sometime, I do think it is a little bright too), through the EGD I am happily it is not bright at all, no, nothing really close to what I will describe as bright, it is quite smooth sounding through the EGD. So you think the EGD smoothen the high frequency/make the treble duller? Not at all! I played the 24bit 96kHz Air : The Bach Album by Anne Akiko Meyers, the violin not only has good ‘sense of air’, the violin does not sounded congested at all, it is a very detailed one, definitely is an open and spacious sounding experience.
The 16bit 44.1kHz Best Audiophile Voices and 24bit 88.2kHz The Essential Celine Dion is blessed with an open, expressive and spacious midrange. The vocal played through HD700 is very enjoyable. The instrument never messed with the vocal, the separation is truly a bonus here. Same goes to my favourite album, Famous Blue Raincoat (Jennifer Warnes) and the DST64 Ultimate Mancini (Henry and Monica Mancini) is equally good sounding too.
Now, you have heard me say EGD is the best DAC that I have ever listened to. Compared to the same USB powered iFi Audio iDAC Micro and iDSD Nano, the advantages are clear, EGD is simply better in every way, I noticed that the price difference is there, but many have listened to iFi Audio gears so it is better for me to including some impression here. How about the Yulong Audio DA8 that received so many compliment? I no longer have DA8 in hand but DA8 do have upper hand in body of sound as I remembered, but not as detailed, as 3D/open/spacious, balanced and neutral as EGD. The Arce Mdac3, in other hand is smoother and gentler, but not as detailed, as transparent, clean and neutral like EGD here. The M2tech Young DSD is no longer in my hand and I just have a short impression with them, but as I remembered they sounded really good and have good low region sweetness and has excellent level of body, however, I believe EGD has upper hand in neutrality and staging/imaging/positioning, without mention the price differences (EGD is few times cheaper).
At 450USD, the sound is no brainer. The technology and design behind EGD are very mature, start from the USB isolation, measurement until the sounding of it, you can see how Stoner Acoustic pay attention to all the detail. Many might still think Stoner Acoustic only make cheap (but excellent) UD series of DAC, they have proved themselves well here, so is measurement all that important to audio quality? To me, a good sounding device shouldn’t steer too far from good measurement, sound preference, however, do apply most of the time.
It is not all good, I do felt a little short hand sometimes on the connectivity though, I have no problem with the input (Although adding a coaxial input will definitely sweeten the package), however I will not say the same to the output, wouldn’t it be better if it can output unbalanced signal too? It is quite a shame that Stoner Acoustic neglected to make the unbalanced RCA output for EGD, this is very inconvenience for those who had already invest heavily on amplifier, and those planning to connect to powered/passive speaker set. However, EGD is Stoner Acoustic’s flagship unit and they definitely only want to do the best in it, I can understand why they do so although I really hope there is an unbalanced output too.
The audio quality is excellent fortunately, although I understand some might crave for a lusher/meatier (EGD is not thin sounding, it is just neutral in term of body) sound, however for the price, what else can we ask for? I can live if I can only have EGD as my only DAC, the neutrality, balanced and purity is what EGD set the benchmark and earn my respect here. Stoner Acoustic has come a long way and they bring their best DAC to the market, I can’t deny that this is already a crowded and tough market, but with the audio quality, I believe fellow audiophiles should have try Stoner Acoustic EGD.
Specification (From official website)
•Fully Differential (Balanced) Output
•High Performance ESS Sabre9018AQ2M
•Dedicated Ultra Low Noise LDO for all stages
•Fully Isolated Analog Stages
•Ultra Low Phase Noise CCHD-575
•183mm(D) x 120mm(W) x 45mm(H)
•ASIO supported up to PCM 32bits/384kHz
•DSD native support up to DSD256 & DoP up to DSD128
•4.6 Vrms @ 0dBFS @ 100ohms Zout (Balanced)
•Power Consumption = 5V @ 350mA ± A10%
•THD+N > 0.0007% @ 1khz (A-weighted)
•Supports Windows (Drivers required), Mac and Ubuntu