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DAC Showdown: AQVOX USB 2 D/A vs. Benchmark DAC1 vs. Lavry Black DA10

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Thread Starter 
DAC Showdown: AQVOX USB 2 D/A vs. Benchmark DAC1 vs. Lavry Black DA10



The Back-story:

For well over a year, as many of you know, I’ve been one of Head-Fi’s most prominent DAC1 apologists, arguing the merits and performance of this particular piece of gear until the cows came home. Had I not stumbled upon THIS THREAD, the forthcoming review might never have occurred. Upon reading about some of the DAC’s brought up in that thread, which had previously gone unnoticed on my computer screen, for the first time I started to question whether design characteristics I knew to produce good sound would allow some similarly priced DAC’s to compete with the Benchmark.

After much hand-wringing, pestering of certain Head-Fiers via PM, and internal debate, I decided to take the plunge and try out the Aqvox, since it had a no-questions-asked 21 day trial period. Well, to make a long story short, I had ordered it in early December, and a month later it had still yet to show up. At this time, the Lavry DA10 had finally become available, and early reports on its’ performance were intriguing. Thinking that the Aqvox had been forever lost to the vagaries of the international parcel post system, I ordered the Lavry. Lo and behold, the day before I headed to LA for a large head-fi meet, I got a call from the post office, saying “you have a package from Germany,” and to my surprise, the Aqvox had landed, and a heavyweight title fight would ensue.


Fit, Finish, and Functionality:

The Benchmark and Lavry are decidedly similar in external construction, both being borne of a simple black steel chassis of identical (half-rack) width and height, the Lavry’s being a few inches longer. The Benchmark has a more impressive faceplate which is several times thicker than the Lavry’s, and is nicely etched. The Lavry’s front plate is more generic-looking, just a small step beyond quality DIY work. The lack of the Benchmark’s somewhat garish rack-mount ears does give the Lavry a cleaner look (though the Benchmark can now be ordered without the aforementioned ears). The Benchmark has better feet, which give it a good 1/4” rise, whereas the feet of the Lavry are cheap looking rubber stubs that barely clear the bottom lip of the DAC to touch the surface it is placed on.

On the other hand, the Aqvox is built in a full-rack width silver aluminum chassis, with impressively built sides and a fairly generous front plate. It also has nice large removable feet that lift the unit up about an inch from the surface it is placed on. It goes almost without saying that the Aqvox is a more stylish looking component that would seem equally suited to the studio or the living room.

If I had to characterize their looks simply, I would say the Aqvox is the most polished and stylish component, the Lavry the most stealthy and unassuming component, and the Benchmark the most rugged and professional component.

In terms of function, the Benchmark is certainly the most simple to operate. It doesn’t even have a power switch (which can be annoying, especially considering that the DAC must be turned off to avoid the burning glare of its’ blue power LED), and the only controls are a simple 3-position input selection switch, analog volume knob, 3-position switch to change the analog output mode, and small trim pots for fine volume control. The trim pots are rather awkward to use, being placed on the back of the unit, and needing a very small but easily torque-able screwdriver to turn. The features are pretty idiot-proof and sturdily put together. It does not have any input sample-rate indicators, nor a lock indicator. The Benchmark does have two function-indicating LED’s, one to alert for non-PCM input, and the other which remains lit unless a valid input is detected. These are both red, and while still pretty bright, are nowhere near as offensive as that power LED.

The Lavry is a somewhat more complicated beast. Its’ volume control uses a 3-position switch to digitally control a resistor network, and display the associate level on a 2-digit display. While a very good idea, the switch itself is not the most convenient method to control volume, as it is somewhat stiff (thus making it easy to overshoot the desired volume position) and makes a fairly loud clicking sound. A rotary encoder like that found on the Grace m902 would have been a better option. Other than that, the Lavry continues its’ simple theme with a bevy of similar small switches to control the input, phase, lock method, and mono/stereo function. The power switch on the unit is also somewhat finicky about engaging, sometimes it can take a few pushes to get it to stick and, awkwardly, the “on” position is nearly flush with the case. Fortunately the LED’s are not of a blinding brightness, and the volume level indicator is always easy to read. However the green “lock” LED is somewhat offset from the associated hole in the case, which poses no functional problem, but is another example of inexact build and/or QC. The Lavry also has input sample-rate indicator LED’s for 44.1kHz up to 96kHz.

Unlike the other two, the Aqvox does not have a pre-amp volume control for its’ main analog outputs, however it makes up for that with a bevy of other features. The front panel is filled by a platoon of blue buttons that are about the size of M&M’s (regular, not peanut ), which primarily control the function of the DAC chip itself. The user can select whether or not to upsample to 192kHz, or dither, and the level of oversampling, as well as the type of filter used. This is in addition to typical options like input selection and phase control. To boot the Aqvox packs a USB sound system, which includes front panel 1/4” jacks for headphones and a microphone, with volume knobs for each (though this system was not intended to be audiophile quality, and sounds slightly better than an Envy24-based PCI sound card). Both of the knobs on the unit I have rub against the chassis as they are turned, easily corrected, yet the only real flaw in the fit and finish of the Aqvox that I’ve found. The blue buttons and LED’s on the front give off a nice glow without being overbearing, adding to the attractive look of this DAC. The Aqvox includes input sample-rate indicators for all common sample rates from 44.1kHz to 192kHz, but does not have a lock indicator.


Sound-Related Features:

All three DAC’s support SPIDF optical (toslink) and AES/EBU XLR digital inputs. The Benchmark is the only one with a true 75-ohm BNC coaxial digital input, whereas the other two use RCA, which offers more widespread compatibility, but ultimately not as high potential sound quality. All three have XLR balanced analog output, and all are “true” balanced (i.e. don’t create an inverted signal from a single-ended output). The Aqvox and Benchmark have single-ended RCA analog output, whereas the Lavry does not. The USB input on the Aqvox also serves as an input to the DAC, which works well with a computer in lieu of a better computer-based transport (more on this later). Also the Benchmark and Lavry have dedicated headphone amplifiers, whose sound I will elucidate upon later.

The main differences in the circuitry of these DAC’s lies in the output stages, where the Benchmark uses an AC-coupled opamp powered circuit with cheap bulk capacitors, whereas the Aqvox uses an AC-coupled discrete circuits with large polystyrene capcitors, and the Lavry uses a DC-coupled discrete circuit. Additionally the Aqvox’s output stage is class-A with no feedback. Furthermore, both the Lavry and Aqvox have defeatable upsampling, whereas the Benchmark always resamples all incoming data to 110kHz (which I’ve been told was chosen to optimize compatibility with the filters used). Interestingly, the Benchmark uses a typical regulated power supply with a large toroid, whereas the Lavry and Aqvox both use switching power supplies with additional on-board regulation (not dissimilar to the power supply of the Meridian G08).


System Tested:

Power: Monster PC1000 with Quail power cords for each device
Transport: FLAC files from EAC played in foobar2000 with no DSP’s active, and ASIO output to RME Digi 96/8 PAD
Digital Cable: DIY AES/EBU cable using Neutrik HD-series XLR connector and Mogami 110ohm cable.
Interconnects: Grover UR6 with Hosa XLR-RCA adaptors at DAC side
Headphone Amp: Veda Audio Dynahi SA (4-inputs, DACT)
Headphones: Sony MDR-SA5000, Beyerdynamic DT 531, Shure E5
Speakers: Event Project Studio 5 (biamplified monitors)


Music Heard:

This is not an all-encompassing list; rather these songs represent a cross-section of my listening, and include the tracks I use most heavily for testing of specific sound quality issues. Grouped approximately by style/genre/etc, and in the format artist – album - track:

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra - Herbert von Karajan- Haydn Symphonien - Symphony No.104 in D, 'London'- Finale (Spiritoso)
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Tchaikovsky: 1812 Overture - 1812 Overture, Op. 49
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Great Movie Scores - Hook - Main Theme
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Epics - Hedwig's Theme from Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone
Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra - Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 1-9 - Symphony No. 9 In D Minor, Op. 125 "Choral": Allegro Ma Non Troppo Un Poco Maestoso
Hans Zimmer - Gladiator - The Battle
James Horner - Titanic - Never An Absolution
James Horner - Titanic - Death Of Titanic
John Williams - Jurassic Park - Theme from Jurassic Park
John Williams - Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back - The Imperial March [Darth Vader's Theme]
Olga Kern - Rachmaninov Transcriptions & Corelli Variations - Bach Suite From Partita E Major – Preludio
The English Consort - Telemann: Suiten - Ouverture (Suite) In C Major For 3 Oboes And Bassoon (Twv 55:c6): (Grave) - (Allegro)

Buena Vista Social Club - Buena Vista Social Club - El Cuarto de Tula
Diana Krall - The Girl In The Other Room - Stop This World
Diana Krall - The Girl In The Other Room - Almost Blue
Frank Sinatra - Classic Sinatra: His Great Performances 1953-1960 - One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)

Astral Projection - Trust In Trance - Kabalah
Hallucinogen - The Lone Deranger – Trancespotter
Infected Mushroom - The Gathering - Release Me
Infected Mushroom - B.P. Empire - Noise Maker
Prodigy - Fat Of The Land - Smack My Bitch Up

Queen - Greatest Hits I - Another One Bites the Dust
Rage Against The Machine - Rage Against The Machine - Take The Power Back
Joe Satriani - Surfing With The Alien - Crushing Day
Van Halen - Best Of Both Worlds - Hot For Teacher
Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon (MFSL) – Time
A Perfect Circle - Thirteenth Step - Weak and Powerless

Dark Tranquillity - Character - Out Of Nothing
Dream Theater - Images And Words - Metropolis--Part I 'The Miracle And The Sleeper'
Liquid Tension Experiment - Liquid Tension Experiment 2 - Acid Rain
Metallica - Ride The Lightning (MFSL) - For Whom The Bell Tolls
Nightwish - Once - Dark Chest Of Wonders
Rage - End Of All Days - Higher Then The Sky
Rage - XIII - Turn The Page
Rhapsody - Power Of The Dragonflame - Knightrider Of Doom
Running Wild - Blazon Stone - Little Big Horn
Stratovarius - Visions - Black Diamond


Settings Used:

I used the audio program RMAA to match the output levels of the DAC’s, using the trim pots of the Benchmark and the volume control of the Lavry to match the Aqvox’s fixed output level. Hence the Benchmark was always used in calibrated mode. The Lavry was always used at volume level 47, in Crystal-lock mode (i.e. no resampling), phase normal, stereo, with the internal jumpers set for unbalanced operation. The Aqvox was always used with upsampling bypassed, dithering on, pulse filter, phase normal, and oversampling at 32 (lowest setting, manufacturer recommended). In each case these are the settings I found to give the best sound quality.


Disclaimer:

The thoughts posted here about the sound of these products are my own opinions, and I do not pretend for them to be fact, though if you take them as fact, you do so at your own risk. Furthermore, one must keep in their head at all times that this is a comparison of very good products, and though comments about one or the other might sound harsh within the context of this review, one must keep in mind the forest for the trees. I am not comparing a BMW to a Ford, rather a BMW to a Mercedes to a Lexus.


The Sound:

When I first assembled the contenders and took to listening casually, I did hear a few differences, though nothing that really blew me off my butt, however after over a week of burn-in for the new units, as well as a meet and a mini-meet, I was really ready to get down to business with some serious critical listening. After living with these components over the course of a few weeks, and listening to each daily, differences have continued to become clearer and more definable as I have become more familiar with the sounds of the newcomers and how they compare.

“GET TO THE BOTTOM LINE,” you say. Alrighty then! What I have found is that both newcomers did manage to convert their theoretical design advantages into substantial performance gains over my venerable Benchmark. The most salient and apparent differences come in a few areas:

1) Treble refinement, presentation and detail: DETAIL? How could I be saying that something is more detailed than the DAC1 in the treble? Well I am. Both the Aqvox and Lavry avoid the DAC1’s most noticeable flaw, a minor degree of grain in the upper reaches, which masks detail in the treble, and makes for a harder, harsher, less refined listen. I must emphasize that the treble grain exhibited by the DAC1 is relatively minor, and I only noticed it once I had a better-performing unit to compare to it. It is nothing like the amount of harshness that say an SR60 contributes compared to an HD650. Perhaps a closer comparison might be the amount of harshness I’ve heard from headphone amps like the PIMETA using the AD86x0 opamp compared to the OPA6x7 in the same amp, but even that might be overstating it a bit.

However, the amount of information revealed by lifting away this grain is less minor; it allows the Aqvox and Lavry to exhibit a more lifelike and decidedly more 3-D soundstage. I would analogize the difference as follows: The DAC1’s soundstage is represented by a set of cubes, which forms a shape five cubes wide, two cubes tall, and two cubes deep. Now consider the Aqvox’s soundstage, which I would say is five cubes wide, five cubes tall, and three cubes deep. Finally the Lavry, which I would say has a soundstage five cubes wide, five cubes tall, and five cubes deep. The result is that while all three DAC’s do a good job in representing the width of the soundstage, the DAC1’s performance sounds relatively flat, with little definition of whether instruments are in the front or back, or top or bottom. The Lavry in particular excels at keeping instruments in their respective places at all times, with a great sense of front-to-back placement that both the Aqvox and DAC1 lack by comparison. Notably, sounds which emanate from the exact middle (lengthwise) of the soundstage were better imaged through the Lavry; I felt a much greater sense that the instrument or vocalist was right there in front of me, particularly with speakers.

2) Control of the lowest of low bass: This was actually the first major difference I noticed, though I feel it is not as significant as #1. In particular, I noticed this on the two songs from the Titanic Soundtrack I listed, which both have some very low bass. The DAC1 has no lack of bass extension, however, on those very low notes, the DAC1’s bass lacks texture and definition compare to the other two. You can hear/feel the air moving, so you know it has hit the note, but the note lacks the authority and punch felt when using another DAC. Again the Lavry takes the lead here, with an even more iron-fisted grip of the lowest lows than the Aqvox, making for a more physical and present performance. Also, these differences bear themselves out somewhat on faster bass as well, where the Lavry keeps bass hits more separate and individually listenable, whereas the Aqvox slurs them together ever so slightly more, and the DAC1 a bit more than that.

3) Midrange dynamics: Here is where the Aqvox seems to be at its peak, particularly when it comes to vocals. Compared to its’ competitors, the DAC1 has a slight tendency to be uninvolving and unconvincing in the midrange, as it seems to trade microdynamics away in favor of a generally comparable macrodynamic performance. By this I mean that the crescendo of an orchestra, for instance, will be about as powerful on all three DAC’s (issue #2 notwithstanding), however individual instruments or performers are not quite as lifelike through the DAC1 as compared to the others. Individuals stand out the most through the Aqvox, which seems to have a slightly more lifelike tone. Vocalists have that last bit of extra air to their performances, from Mercury to Pavarotti to Krall, which can make listening to the Aqvox a bit more involving than the Lavry or the Benchmark. The Lavry however seems to excel at reproducing instruments, particularly acoustic ones, in a slightly more lifelike and believable fashion than the Aqvox, particularly during very dense passages, the Lavry maintains a more accurate tone to each instrument in an orchestra. I also think that the Aqvox’s slightly more dynamic midrange could be responsible for its’ shallower soundstage as compared to the Lavry, since the midrange make some instruments pop to the fore of the soundstage, you do not get quite as good a sense of their placement (e.g. a trumpet sounds further back during a quieter passage, but jumps forward when the dynamics kick in, whereas it stays more steady in one place through the Lavry).

However
I did find one area where the DAC1 is still the best performer, that being jitter resistance. Going from the best transport I have (RME AES/EBU) to the worst (iHP-120 optical), I strained to notice any difference in the sound of the DAC1, whereas the Lavry and Aqvox both degraded somewhat. The Lavry became a bit more edgy sounding, with the treble losing a bit of its’ great focus. The Aqvox performed slightly worse on bass control, and also became a bit edgier. That said, both still managed to sound better (with the iHP-120) than the DAC1 did regardless of the transport. However, from what I can tell the DAC1 has the lowest variance in its’ performance, as it pertains to the amount of jitter on the input.

Built-in Headphone Amp Performance:

As already noted, the Aqvox’s headphone amp works only with its’ USB sub-system, not the main DAC, so it is not included in this portion of the review.

For many months I used the DAC1’s internal headphone amp as my main, and only headphone amp, going through several of the world’s higher end cans with it. Even at a couple of meets I did not much hear the merits of higher-end amps that I compared it with. However, now that I have a high-end headphone amp at home, and are using it with the DAC1’s XLR outputs (which sound much better IMO than the RCA outputs), the deficiencies many have spoke of with the DAC1’s headphone jacks have become clear. By comparison to my dynahi (even using Edwood’s headphone amp switchbox), I noticed that the DAC1’s headphone amp does sound thin, and by this I mean that the DAC1’s amp gives you a good solid sense of the beginning of a note (i.e. the attack), however the body and decay of the note are diminished in their presence as compared to what I hear from the dynahi. It is almost as if the DAC1’s headphone amp is using a small fast capacitor that discharges quickly to create the initial attack, but does not sustain enough juice to completely make out the remainder of the note (this is not meant to be a technical point, only a descriptive analogy). This leads to a number of other performance issues relating to soundstaging, musicality, and so on, however I don’t feel the need to go into much more detail, as I feel the aforementioned issue is the root of the problem. This is not to say the DAC1’s headphone amplifier is bad, it does have good detail and impact, among other things, however it does not compete with the high-end headphone amps being made out there today (but considering the price, that can be forgiven).

The Lavry’s headphone amp is much like its output stage, discrete and DC-coupled, and in this way resembles the iconic Gilmore designs. The sound also resembles the Gilmore sound, specifically that of the unbalanced dynalo design. It is not up to the level of the dynahi, in terms of sound quality or power, but the deficiencies I hear are pretty similar to those I hear in a moderately-built dynalo (such as the Headamp Gilmore Lite) as compared to the dynahi. The Lavry’s amp lacks slightly in the lowest of low bass, not controlling it quite as well as the dynahi, and does not have quite the same sense of midrange dynamics or soundstage precision. However these details are fairly minor, meaning the Lavry’s headphone amp is very useable, unless one wants either tube sound, balanced headphone drive, or just very top of the heap design.

I would consider an amp like the Gilmore Lite an upgrade from the DAC1’s headphone amp, whereas to upgrade from the Lavry’s headphone amp, one would either need to go tubed (assuming that is your kind of sound), to a balanced amp, or to something of a performance level like the dynahi, GCHA, and so on.

Neither the DAC1 nor the Lavry’s headphone amps exhibit any type of hissing or buzzing with the very sensitive Shure E5, unless turned up so high as for one to hear the DAC’s noise floor.

Final Thoughts:

For me, this process has been a bit of a revelatory one, in that by taking a flyer on some up-and-coming components I ended up blasting away some deeply ingrained notions about a product I have owned for some time. It has served as a warning to me to never get too caught up in the hype and marketing surrounding a product to the point where one virtually makes one’s self a mouthpiece for the business in question. I did not undertake this journey because I was tired of the DAC1, in fact if I had not ever heard these other DAC’s, I would have gone on loving the DAC1 as much as ever. Rather, I undertook this journey because I had an open mind to the possibilities, and an understanding of the design principles involved.

My final opinion on all these products is slightly mixed:

AQVOX USB 2 D/A: This is certainly a very interesting product and a bargain for European consumers. The tweakability of the DAC via the front panel, as well as the USB sound system (for those who find it useful) make this a very versatile component, and its’ good looks mean it can fit into many systems where the other two might look out of place. The sound is also quite intriguing, with the aforementioned midrange that certainly is its’ signature feature, reaching out and making itself known from the first time you listen to it. Though over the long run, I noticed that this DAC slightly trades away a little high-end detail to achieve that midrange glow. For people who listen to vocal-heavy music, I would certainly consider the Aqvox the top option. Additionally, folks who want to build their system around that midrange-y kind of sound, but don’t want to deal with some of the possible performance issues with NOS DACs would also be behooved to try the Aqvox. Though it has a very clear sound character, it is a very enjoyable character, and not one that would make you want to endlessly tweak your system to tune it out. Though it is somewhat effective at combating jitter, it doesn’t do quite as well as its’ two competitors, so this is something to take into consideration when building a system around it.

Benchmark DAC1: This is still a very good performing DAC in its own right, hopefully now its’ limitations are a bit more clear. If I was a heavy-duty professional user most concerned with pure jitter resistance, cable driving, exterior toughness and durability, I think I would still choose it over the others. However, ultimately, it does not sound quite as good as either of the competitors I have auditioned, and in an environment where sound quality trumps all, it ultimately comes in third place. Considering they are commonly available on the used market for well less than retail and that they are the smallest and most durable of these three options, the DAC1 certainly still has a few niches that make sense, like transportable use for the busy audiophile or roadie/technician.

Lavry Black DA10: Although at least my unit of this DAC has a few build-quality issues (which will hopefully be ironed out down the road), as well as the quirky volume control, and lack of RCA output, this is the winner of the showdown for my purposes. Ironic, since if the Aqvox had not been delayed in delivery; I probably never would have heard it. I guess everything happens for a reason, eh? Anyway, I find this DAC delivers the most transparent and refined sound of the bunch, with excellent soundstaging that makes me want to upgrade my speakers very quickly. The Lavry allows you to tweak the sound downstream of it more so than the other two, which impose more noticeable signatures on the sound which carry over between transducers. It really does allow me to hear the difference between my various headphones and speakers more starkly than the other two DAC’s. Several days ago, I was having a hard time deciding whether I preferred the Lavry or the Aqvox, when suddenly I realized that I could get the slightly more involving sound of the Aqvox out of the Lavry simply by switching headphones. Whereas no matter what I used, I could not get the more refined sound of the Lavry out of the Aqvox; this is what sealed the decision for me.


Acknowledgements:

Finally, I’d like to thank Dan Gardner (dgardner) for helping me get my dynahi fixed and being a real honorable gentleman through the whole procedure, since without his help I wouldn’t have been able to do this review. He is a true asset to the head-fi community. I would also like to thank Norman Luebke of Aqvox for helping me get his DAC even through all the international postal malaise, and Doug Wessling of Sound Pure, for getting the DA10 to me on very short notice in time to make the So-Cal Head-Fi meet. I’d also like to thank Grover Huffman for donating his UR6 cables that I won at the meter and used in this comparison, as well as Dave (909) for organizing the meet/raffle. And finally Edwood, for letting me ramp up his power bill while burning all this stuff in while I stayed at his place for a week.
post #2 of 133
Wonderful review. Thanks for taking the time to write this.
post #3 of 133
Great review, thanks!
post #4 of 133
Dan Lavry will probably find himself with a flood of orders soon.

He says he is now thinking about that remote volume control. Maybe I should wait that out.
post #5 of 133
great review thanks
post #6 of 133
Thank you for this great and insightful review.

Makes me want the Aqvox even more (especially given the low price here in Europe).
post #7 of 133
Hi Peter:

Nice review!

Could you elaborate on the sonic differences between the XLR and RCA outputs of the Benchmark DAC-1?

And do you think these differences would be eliminated by using #1) XLR to RCA adapters, and #2) downstream components which are all unbalanced?
post #8 of 133
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by mshan
Hi Peter:

Nice review!

Could you elaborate on the sonic differences between the XLR and RCA outputs of the Benchmark DAC-1?

And do you think these differences would be eliminated by using #1) XLR to RCA adapters, and #2) downstream components which are all unbalanced?
Well what I noticed is that compared to the XLR outputs, the RCA outputs sound more like the headphone output, though not quite to that extent. This is what made it difficult to tell how much better other headphone amps were.

As far as your second concern, the review I did was using XLR to RCA adaptors, and the only components afterward were unbalanced, but this is how I realized how big the difference really is. I don't know if there is a way to make the DAC1 RCAs sound any better than they do. If I were you, I'd just use XLR to RCA adaptors to get the best sound out of the DAC1, unless you have to connect two different components to it, in which case, I guess you could use a splitter as well, and it would still probably sound better than the DAC1's RCAs.
post #9 of 133
Excellent review.

I'll be ordering a DA-10 when the second builds are done which should be sometime this month.

Any thoughts on RME AES/EBU in comparison to optical out via toslink?
post #10 of 133
"Well what I noticed is that compared to the XLR outputs, the RCA outputs sound more like the headphone output, though not quite to that extent."

Could you elaborate, please?

Is it just that the soundstage collapses a little bit, or is it more significant than that?
post #11 of 133
Staggeringly detailed review!!!


THIS THREAD IS USELESS WITHOUT PICS


LOL
post #12 of 133
Great review, you did a good job and you are an asset to Head-Fi. Man I wish I didn't read the review though. I am itching even more now.. lol.
post #13 of 133
First, I'll join the chorus of people praising your review, very thorough, very nicely done

Out of curiosity, did you use your XLR-RCA adapter on the AQVOX DAC when comparing it to the other DACs?

In the manual, AQVOX states: "Use the balanced XLR output whenever possible". This makes sense since the XLR out has a 115 dB signal/noise (at 32 Fs) and a 0.018% THD compared to the 109 dB signal/noise and 0.036% THD at the RCA out.
post #14 of 133
Nice writeup.

You mentioned using the Hosa adapter for XLR-to-RCA, did you open it up to modify it, floating pin 3? I opened up my Hosa adapters to cut away the wire connecting to pin 3. John Siau, designer of DAC1, posted on head-fi saying if pin 3 is grounded, it will generate noise. When I did not float pin 3, I did not really hear any obvious noise, but it definitely did not sound as good as floating pin 3. I guess the so-called noise is a slight distortion that degrades sound quality.

Another observation I have made is that floating safety ground (third prong in the power cord) with DAC1 makes it sound better. I reemember Neilpeart posting on this as well. Empirical audio also believe DAC1 sounds best when safety ground in the power cord is floated. This is how I always use my DAC1.
post #15 of 133
Very interresting review!

how good is he usb input of the Aqvox (not for an headphone/mic input use but for a standard use with rca or xlr output),did you compare it to your RME pad?

Is the Lavry your first choice for heavy rock too?
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Head-Fi.org › Forums › Equipment Forums › Dedicated Source Components › DAC Showdown: AQVOX USB 2 D/A vs. Benchmark DAC1 vs. Lavry Black DA10