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About my design phillosophy

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
I learned long ago that "what sounds good" is rather subjective, and while I know what I like, I do not try to argue others into what they should like or dislike. It is also not appropriate for maker of gear to argue that their gear sound better, so I do not.

Many sophisticated users of audio gear make a point to occasionally “calibrate their ears” by listening to a real piano, singer, and orchestra. Listening to a real acoustic performance provide a reference point for comparison.

Say you never listened to a real acoustic piano, and the electronics yields too much bass boost, and some extra reverb. You may like it, and that is fine. But listening to the real thing (before the electronics) will sound different.

The listener and the designer have to decide what end result they wish for. As an older designer, I got into electronics in the tube age, before the transistor days, and by the time I graduated, transistors where all over the place, so I feel at home with both tubes and transistors. I make gear for both music production (recording, mastering, monitoring) and for home listening audiophiles like myself. So what is my design philosophy and approach? Here is what great sounding gear means to me (in non technical terms):

Listening to a piano, a vocal, an orchestra does not require tubes, transistors or any electronics. Electronics recording and playback is needed for listening away from the original performance, at a later time and place. My goal is to bring the performance sound to the listening environment in tact and with minimal altereation.

Note: I do acknowledge that music is often altered by recording and mastering engineers, to correct some of the imperfections encountered in the recording process, but good recording practices calls for subtle alterations, and good music production is not about altering the Sonics. Sadly, there is much music that is too compressed, with too much EQ, reverb and so on. I can not fix that after the fact. So I concentrate on good music material.

Sound is air vibrations. Musical instruments (and vocals) vibrate the air, vibrations reach our ears and we hear sound and music. The air motion changes over time constantly. When recording, we first convert the air motion into voltage (using a microphone). The mic voltage is tiny so we amplify it, store it…. At some point we convert that voltage back into sound, into air vibrations, by means of speakers or headphones.

My design philosophy is to make the air vibrations at the listening environment as identical to the air vibrations in the performance space as possible.

I do not want Yoyo Ma Stradivarius cello to sound warmer then the real instrument. I do not want a singer to have more highs or sound warmer or colder… Of course, such a goal is not easy to reach. The terminology used for staying true to the original is transparency.

So my gear is not designed for warm sound. It is designed for transparent sound. The audio industry is filled with phrases such as “full bass”, “warm mids” and “crisp highs”, and such words mean very little. Music is about sound, and much of the “audio language” is less then optimal for expressing the experience. It took me years to understand what the phrase “more air” means to mastering engineers…

But “transparent sound” is a clear concept, and I decided to go for transparency. I declared to the pro industry that I am for transparency years ago. Needles to say, by now the term transparent got reduced to an advertizing slogan by many gear makers. It is not uncommon (and sad) to see gear advertized as warm and transparent. Warm is in conflict with transparent.

One can alter a transparent sound to warm sound. Say a transparent DA drives a warm tube amplifier, then you end up with a warm sound. If both the DA and the amp are very warm, the sound may be much too distorted (warm is a distortion). But the converse is not true. If the DA puts out a warm sound, you can not reverse it and make it more transparent (less warm).

The DA11 is very transparent (true sounding) DAC. The headphone output is also very transparent. That is what I like. But if you are after a warm sound, you can have the DA11 drive an external warm sounding amplifier and/or headphones. With external tube amplifier, you can have both - The DA11 phone jack for transparent sound, and the external amp for warm sound.

Regards
Dan Lavry
post #2 of 6

DACs and tubes

Hello Dan,

I find your post informative and timely. I purchased your DA11 a month ago after listening to it at CanJam 09, and I am learning to appreciate it more every day. When it first arrived on trial I auditioned it along with several other DACs, including the Neko D100, and two tube DACs - the Music Hall 25.2 and the Monarchy NM24. Both tube DACs demonstrated more initial sonic impact (soundstage, depth, body, dynamics) than the DA11; but as I listened more closely I realized they lacked the same level of refinement, subtlety and balance of the DA11. By "refinement" I mean a kind of unquantifiable "musicality". Bach never sounded so good! As you explain above, I realized that accuracy, refinement and transparency matter most in a DAC. This I proved to myself by borrowing a good tube amp for the DA11 (Cayin HA-1A) and found the sonic impact of the combination to be even better than either of the tube DACs I heard.

I haven't settled on an amp yet and am making do for now with an excellent portable amp by Ray Samuels that I've owned for several years, but it needs to be replaced by a heavyweight as soon as funds permit, to do justice to the DA11 and my HD650s. I find your internal headphone amp to be extremely good also, especially with certain recordings. It will be great to have that option and versatility, even when I settle on a bigger amp.

As an aside, I want to commend you on your excellent support staff up north. Both Brad and Gary provided me with truly stellar advice as I stumbled my way through discovering all the qualities of the DA11.

Thanks for a great product.
post #3 of 6
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeremy View Post
Hello Dan,

I find your post informative and timely. I purchased your DA11 a month ago after listening to it at CanJam 09, and I am learning to appreciate it more every day....

....As an aside, I want to commend you on your excellent support staff up north. Both Brad and Gary provided me with truly stellar advice as I stumbled my way through discovering all the qualities of the DA11.

Thanks for a great product.
Hello Jeremy,

Thank you for the comments.

Dan Lavry
post #4 of 6

Portable Amp Based on Your Concept of Transparency

Hello Dan,

I simply agree with you regarding transparency. Having said that, I do enjoy the SQ generated from my iPod Touch 3G and Shure SE530 (both with their own "color"). I would like to reduce the battery consumption of my DAP by purchasing a "transparent" portable amp. Do you offer one? If not, what would be your suggestion among currently available products?
post #5 of 6
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jeremy View Post
I find your internal headphone amp to be extremely good also, especially with certain recordings.
Please clarify what you are referring to as internal headphone amp.

Thanks in advance.
post #6 of 6
Thread Starter 
[QUOTE=JiPod;6128731]

"Hello Dan,

I simply agree with you regarding transparency. Having said that, I do enjoy the SQ generated from my iPod Touch 3G and Shure SE530 (both with their own "color"). I would like to reduce the battery consumption of my DAP by purchasing a "transparent" portable amp. Do you offer one? If not, what would be your suggestion among currently available products?"

Hello JiPod,

As I already stated, I am for transparency, and that is what I design my gear for. And again, when listening to music, you can enjoy whatever makes you happy.

And once again, when transparency is the goal, one has a good solid view of what the desired and sought after end goal is.

On the other hand, a preferred colored sound is purely a personal preference. There is no good there is no bad. One can like the sound of finger nails scratching a board, and even that is just a subjective personal taste...

So when you asked about high quality at low power, I will have to restrict my answer to transparent sound. So we want a high quality transparent device, and we want it to have low power requirements.

There is an inherit trade-off between power consumption and performance. For example, lets take noise. The noise floor is sourced in analog components and circuits. When you your circuits consume more power (assume all factors held constant) your signal to noise improves.

The makers of portable gear are highly focused on minimizing power consumption, because it makes the battery last longer between charges. That is a highly sought after goal, and when it comes to analog performance and transparency against battery, the battery wins big time.

At the same time, a piece of gear such as DA11 is "hooked to the wall". It may use say 10-20 Watts, and no one cares much. That is like 1/3 of a 60 watt light bulb. So as a designer, I am free to pursue the highest quality sound, with no power constrains.

Just think of the headphone: a serious quality large headphone maker assumes that you can drive it with some “serious” required power. So say the design is only 10% efficient (90% wasted power). If the sound is great, we have what we want.

But can the portable gear designer use a 10% efficient device? Of course not. Also, he does not have the power capability to drive such a "clunker" (in efficient large headphone). The portable headphone makers must design for high efficiency, and that is traded off for quality. The portable device driving the headphone also must be designed for high efficiency, even at the expanse of quality.

So if sound quality (transparency) is the goal, then the portable gear losses, and the units consuming at least a few watts wins. Of course I am not against portable gear. A lot of people listen on the go.

I hope my comments are helpful. Of course I do my best to refrain from making any comments about gear from other makers.

Regards
Dan Lavry
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