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CEC DA53, Mhdt Lab Dialogue II, Moodlab DACs and AirPort Express (and photos)

post #1 of 59
Thread Starter 
I'm an enthusiastic Computer-As-Source user, and listen mostly to lossless formats on a PC with iTunes and foobar ASIO. A few weeks ago, I purchased two non-oversampling DACs on eBay, the Mhdt Lab Dialogue II and Moodlab DAC, and had excellent results with them. I was pleasantly surprised by their sound quality and thought they both sounded better than the E-MU 1212m analog outputs. I was also kicking myself for using the 1212m analog out for the previous few months and not taking a chance on these two inexpensive DACs sooner.

Needing something to compare the non-OS DACs with, I decided on the CEC DA53. I was considering a Benchmark DAC1 or Apogee Mini-DAC, but both are considerably more expensive. Also, I wanted a DAC with USB input for use with a notebook PC. The Benchmark doesn't have USB and the Apogee Mini-DAC with USB option costs more than twice as much as the CEC DA53 here in Taiwan. I was able to demo the DA53 with various headphones and amps for a couple hours and was pleased with its price, sound and features.

Recently, I also got an AirPort Express (AE). This is also something I'm kicking myself for not getting sooner. The AE allows wireless streaming from multiple PCs using iTunes. Its output is a combination analog and optical 3.5mm mini. Using a mini-toslink cable, I connected the AE to the DA53 and Dialogue II. The Moodlab only has a coaxial input; if it had toslink, it would match the AE very well with its translucent white casing and small size.

Through the optical output of the AE, the DA53 and Dialogue II both sound excellent. Through the 1212m's toslink and coaxial outputs, all three DACs sound very good. The DA53's USB input also sounds very good. It uses Windows' standard USB Audio Codec driver, which means it's plug-and-play.

The 1212m's analog output is inferior to all three DACs and I am definitely not using it anymore. Apparently, E-MU's PatchMix driver affects the sound in some way and not always for the better. Comparing the AE -> DA53 setup to 1212m toslink/coaxial output -> DA53, playing ALAC on iTunes, AE -> DA53 sounds better overall. It is clearer, has better instrument separation, more details, and has deeper and stronger bass.

I intend to spend more time listening to each DAC and will post more impressions.


The CEC DA53 is an upsampling 24Bit/192 kHz DAC. It has toslink, coaxial, AES/EBU and USB 1.1 inputs, and balanced XLR and RCA analog outputs. It has headphone and microphone ports intended for computer telephony that are active only when using USB.

EDIT: the CEC datasheet states it upsamples to 24Bit/195 kHz.




The Moodlab TDA1543 Non-OS DAC is very small. Its plastic white casing is translucent and a blue LED lights up within the case. Here it's with an iPod 30GB and SuperMacro-3.






The Mhdt Lab Dialogue II is also a TDA1543-based Non-OS DAC. It has a smoked-black plastic translucent case and is bigger than the Moodlab. It has toslink, coaxial, and BNC inputs.






Dialogue II and Moodlab with Sony CDP-XA7es and Sony CDP-X505es as transports




Both the Dialogue II and Moodlab have LEDs inside their cases. The Moodlab has a blue power indicator LED. The Dialogue II has three LEDs (blue, green and red) that light up depending on status.

post #2 of 59
Excellent post! Thanks for the great pics!

How would you rank the CEC DA53, Dialogue II and Moodlab? Obviously the 1212m is at the bottom.
post #3 of 59
Thanks for the post about these relatively rare DACs.

Do you think you can take pictures of the insides?

Try and make notes of the sonic characteristics of the sources not only the quality.

"It is clearer, has better instrument separation, more details, and has deeper and stronger bass."

For me that statement is not enough alone to determine it's better. More detail to some is just sometimes more highs. See how it is throughout the whole spectrum. More instrument separation and deeper bass is sometimes not good if the presentation seems incoherent.
post #4 of 59
Very nice! I'm jealous. Please post any impressions when you can, all three interest me. The USB input on that CEC unit is very cool. I wish my dAck! 2.0 had a USB input.
post #5 of 59
Thanks for the initial impressions and great pictures Elephas. How did you connect the Moodlab to your computer when it only has coax input?

Also look forward to more impressions of the sound quality.
post #6 of 59
The Aqvox USB2 it's said to be more or less identical to the CEC DA53, only with much more features. Just in case it would help someone...
post #7 of 59
Thread Starter 
I'll wait until I've had plenty of listening time and the units have had plenty of burn-in before commenting further on sound. The Dialogue II and Moodlab are more similar to each other than the DA53, but the differences between the DACs are slight compared to their difference with the 1212m.

I used the 1212m analog out for about six months, and was surprised and disappointed by its difference to the two Non-OS DACs. Before, I thought it wasn't as good as the two old Sony CDPs, but wasn't bad either. Now I don't want to use it at all. The improvement in sound quality with the DACs makes my headphones seem as if they've been upgraded.

The 1212m optical outputs sound good. It's the analog output I don't like anymore. Also, using a DAC, I'm hearing more of a difference between ALAC-iTunes and WAV->foobar ASIO. Going through ASIO sounds better.

Lan, I agree "better" is often just "different" and due to subjective personal preferences. I'll try to differentiate between personal preferences and sonic characteristics in future sound quality comments. I also appreciate any comments and critique regarding my statements.

Sean H, don't be jealous; pity my poor over-abused wallet.

Oski, the 1212m has an RCA (coaxial) digital out as well as toslink. The XA7es has a coaxial output, but the X505es doesn't.

The technical specs and features of the DA53 seem similar to the AQVOX USB 2 DAC.

http://www.cec-web.co.jp/products/dac/da53_e_top.html
post #8 of 59
MHDT Lab has a new DAC in addition to the Dialogue II, Constantine, and Renaissance. It's a tube DAC called "Paradisea"

Looks pretty nice. Wonder how it fares against the Scott Nixon.
post #9 of 59
Quote:
Originally Posted by Borat
MHDT Lab has a new DAC in addition to the Dialogue II, Constantine, and Renaissance. It's a tube DAC called "Paradisea"

Looks pretty nice. Wonder how it fares against the Scott Nixon.

Just wanna chime in that the Dialogue II is a GREAT DAC. Just took delivery of mine, and still breaking it in, but I'm very impressed at the moment. My usual CDP is a Naim CD2 and I've had a custom-made NOS DAC before, based on 1541s with a transformer instead of a resistor for the passive I/V (Dialogue II uses a single 1543). That thing broke and couldn't get it fixed and I've been missing it since.

The Dialogue II, though sounding somewhat different has the same virtues as that NOS DAC that I had. PRAT is there (like the Naim CD2), but it has more staging, voices are more separate and lyrics more intelligible, decays are longer, ambiance more apparent. Where it suffers compared to the Naim is in the bass solidity department, that tautness. Bass does not lag but it's not as tight. And the extreme treble is rolled-off, but I haven't played with cables and power cords yet, and I'm using an old Pioneer DVD temporarily as a transport, and break-in not done. And I haven't tried my tube amps yet! Even then, for around $200, you can hardly go wrong. 'Love that acrylic case and the neat LEDs!
post #10 of 59
Thread Starter 
A look at the inside of each DAC.

CEC DA53


Mhdt Lab Dialogue II


Moodlab
post #11 of 59
Don't suppose you could take a picture of the underside of the MHDT pcb?

I'm interested in how they do the digital input switching.
post #12 of 59
Thanks for the pics! Are you able to see what that opamp is in the headphone amp section up there in the corner in the CEC? How's the comparisons coming? Have you by chance tried the headphone out on the CEC? Try the RS-1 in the CEC's headphone out and let me know what you think!
post #13 of 59
Thread Starter 
The CEC DA53's headphone out is not intended for normal listening. It and the microphone in are only activated when using USB. Also there's no volume control on the DA53 for the headphone port, only the microphone. The PC's volume control is used.

The manual states it's intended for computer telephony. I haven't used it other than to check that it works.
post #14 of 59
Quote:
Originally Posted by Elephas
The CEC DA53's headphone out is not intended for normal listening. It and the microphone in are only activated when using USB. Also there's no volume control on the DA53 for the headphone port, only the microphone. The PC's volume control is used.

The manual states it's intended for computer telephony. I haven't used it other than to check that it works.
Ah, I see. Interesting. Any observations you want to share yet? Is one of them tripping your trigger most?
post #15 of 59
Thread Starter 
I just tried the CEC DA53's headphone out for a few minutes with the RS-1 and DT880. The RS-1 sounds OK to me directly from an iPod, and it sounds OK from the DA53. The most obvious deficiencies were lack of soundstage and treble harshness.

The DT880 didn't sound OK. I wouldn't say it was horrible but it's not something I'd want to listen to for any length of time longer than 30 seconds.

I've spent more time comparing the DA53 with the Dialogue II because they have toslink optical inputs for the AirPort Express.

I've been using Ultrasone's S-Logic Demo CD as well as the Chesky Ultimate Demonstration Disc to compare.

My preference is for the DA53's more detailed sound. Each individual note is better defined. I think the terms attack and decay are used to describe this. The Dialogue II seems to round off the individual notes and is slightly warmer and smoother sounding.
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