Originally Posted by swiego
Any thoughts? More to the point, any "my Zu/DAC1/650 sounded dry and shrill until I __________ and now it sounds musical, lush, rich and simply wonderful!" success stories?
Dude, your story sounds identical to my initial experience with the DAC1. I also had HD650's, Zu Mobius, Toslink out with Kernal streaming, etc (although I used Chaintech card, I imagine yours is close enough to bit perfect and should be similar). I assume you are talking about using the headphone out of DAC1's built-in amp.
My first impressions were very similar to yours; I found myself cranking the volume to fill in the "empty" sense I was getting (and subsequently getting blasted during louder patches). Very dry, soundstage was wide but very flat and lacking depth, vocals and midrange actually seems very distant, there was a brightness/edginess to the treble. But everything sounded super clean and precise...I read in the manual that the jitter-free-ness might produce some effects that people wouldn't be used to (mainly affecting the midrange) and so I gave it some time.
With Zu burn-in and amp burn-in the sound got better (or my ears adjusted, depending on your stance on burn-in
) but it still didn't sound great to me; it just sounded "wrong" somehow, and I was getting little enjoyment from listening. I then got an MG head mark II, did some tube rolling, and hooked it to the DAC1 with outstanding results; everything sounded "musical" again, the entire perspective of the music was brought forward with more immediacy/presence, and wow, was there depth to the soundstage (though a little more narrow). But some of the detail/cleaness was lost. I was happy though.
Then I got headphile to make me a female xlr cable, plugged it into the back and used the volume pot to control volume...wow! Not as immediate/present as with MG Head, but much more so than headphone jack. Bass, midrange, treble, all fantastic, soundstage wide AND deep, dynamics perfect...
I was, and remain, somewhat disappointed with the headphone out jack on the DAC1 (others will disagree, different strokes and all), but my experience with the other approaches have been incredible. I wouldn't switch back to stock cord, I'd burn in your Zu (it really sounds a lot better than the stock cord with the DAC1) and either get it XLR'd, or get your stock cable XLR'd. In the absence of that, get a good standalone amp to use with the DAC and I bet you'll be much happier.