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Review of Audio-GD DAC-19MK3

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Review of Audio-GD DAC-19MK3


Part I : this is my initial review.
Part II : this is my updated review (Oct. 09) which includes a comparison between mode A (PMD100) and mode B (DF1704).
Part III : this part contains links to impressions/reviews/comparisons of the dac posted in this thread.


Part I (initial review) :

System used:

Sources :
Musiland Monsitor 01 USD
EMU 0404 USB
Creative Audigy 2ZS Notebook
Zero DAC
Audio-gd DAC-100
Audio-gd DAC-19mk3

Headphone Amps:
Little Dot MK3
Audio-gd ST-3

Software :
Foobar 0.8.3 with Otachan Asio
Mediamonkey with Otachan Asio

Build quality and size:
I was very surprised when I unpacked the DAC-19MK3, it was much bigger than I tought it would be. The Audio-gd DAC and head-amp I own use small enclosures similar to the one used by lite DAC-AH.
Also, I found the build quality very impressive, with a thick aluminium faceplate.
The only critic I have found is that when I knock on the top plate it resonates, which means that it might benefit from dampening or a thicker plate. Anyway, the new aluminium chassis is supposed to be an improvement over the steel one used in the DAC-19SE according to the audio-gd site.

Initial listening impressions:
Well, I let the DAC warm-up for around 30 minutes before I gave it a first listen. However, I wasn't expecting much because the burn-in period with audio-gd gear is very long.
Anyway, when I hit play in Foobar I immediately realized that the DAC-19MK3 was playing in another league than all my previous DACs (EMU 0404 USB, Zero DAC, Audio-gd DAC-100). The sound was already better than anything I had experienced in my system.
The areas that improved most are bass slam and definition et overall resolution.
Also, the DAC-10MK3 stroke me as being the least digital soundig DAC/CD player I have ever listened to. In fact, I hesitated a long time before buying it because Kingwa describes it as "monitor" like. In my mind, "monitor" describes the sound than an EMU 0404 USB gives you : high resolution but on the thin side and unforgiving.
In my opinion, Kingwa should describe it as neutral and faithful to the source being played to avoid confusion.

After 120 hours of burn-in:
Well after 5 days of continuous playback/burn-in, I cannot believe my ears. This is by far the best upgrade I have made to my system since the time I bought the sennheiser hd-650.
In fact, after using the EMU 0404 USB for a long time before I bought the Zero DAC and then later the audio-gd DAC-100, I tought that I have reached some kind of upper limit where laws of dimishing returns apply. For instance if I were to rate the DAC100 at 100, I would rate both EMU 0404 USB and Zero DAC at 80, and the Creative Audigy 2 ZS notebook at 70. And if I were to rate an iPod I would give it something like 40.
So when I ordered the DAC-19MK3, I was exepcting a less dramatic change than when moving from the 0404 usb to the DAC-100.
Well, to cut it short, after only 5 days of playback, I am totally blown away by the performance of the DAC-19mk3. If I keep the same grading scale, I would rate the DAC-19mk3 at 200 or 300.

Timbre:
The DAC-19mk3 is the most analog sounding DAC/CD player I have heard to date. It is perfectly balanced throughout the spectrum and sounds most of all natural.
The violins and pianos at last sound natural without any digital edge. It sounds pretty close to the real thing here, so I cannot ask much more from it.
The DAC-19mk3 is very extended at both extremes : the highs are sparkly while being smooth at the same time, and the bass is truly outstanding reaching very deep and being very nuanced/varied at the same time. I heard details and nuances in both extremes in very familiar tracks that I have never picked up with the other DACs.
Finally, would the DAC-19mk3 benefit from a tube output or buffer ? In my opinion, I don't think it does because it is already so beautifully balanced.

Dynamics:
Here is again another strength of the DAC-19MK3 : the EMU 0404 usb and the DAC-100 sound anemic and compressed in comparison. The DAC-19mk3 respects small dynamic changes as well as large dynamic changes which are violent/impressive when it needs to be.
Classical music obviously benefits a lot from the improved dynamics but to my surprise even pop/rock music benefit from it and starts being interesting to listen to.
In fact, the improvement is much bigger than the one I would have expected even from upgrading my headphone amp.

Soundstage:
The soundstage is huge and well defined in width and depth. The sound is 3D like and compared to the DAC-100, there is more layers in depth. In fact, I can pick up more easily the size of the room which the recording was made. The sound is very spacious and there is air around the performers.
Anyway, the burn-in seems to have have affected most the soundstage so I will wait a little bit before making further comments on the soundstage.

Transparency:
The resolution is just short of outstanding. The DAC-19mk3 is truly a high resolution converter. It doesn't gloss over any detail while remaining wonderfully balanced throught the sound spectrum.
In comparison to either the DAC-100 or the EMU 0404 usb, it seems that many layers of coton were removed between my headphones and my ears.
In fact it sounds so natural, so direct that I forget on some recordings that I am listening through headphones, and I feel like I was there at the recording event.

Overall:
After only 120 hours of burn-in, the sound coming from the DAC-19mk3 is truly amazing. I am very impressed and I can hardly imagine what owners of audio-gd ref1 are experiencing.
Also, I was happy to find out that all my recordings sound better through the DAC-19mk3 than my previous DACs : before listening to it, because of being described as monitor like sounding, I was expecting that it might improve the sound of good recordings and highlight the defficiencies of the poorly mastered recordings. Instead, all the recordings benefited from the DAC upgrade. While, differences between the quality of the recordings remain, I found that most of what sounded as digital sounding was coming from the conversion process by the DAC and not from the recording itself (in most cases).
Note:
While reading this review, you have to keep in mind that I have tested the DAC-19mk3 in a system that I have spent months optimizing with : USD300 power cords (for both the DAC and headamp), USD350 RCA interconnects, supra mains block, EAT noise eater parallel filter, vibrapods and vibracones, rigid carbon fiber sheets and plywood shelves for support ... and I am using the Musiland Monitor 01 USD with a Cables-Hifi Sobek BNC cable which is much better than the Canare Coaxial cable. Also, I have tested the unit only with mode A (with the PMD100 digital decoder chip).
Therefore, I don't know how it sounds with stock cables and without power conditioning and vibration control. I will try that in a few days once I feel that the sounds settles and the burn-in is complete but I am having too much fun listening.

After 180 hours of burn-in:

The system has continued to improved in low level resolution et high frequency extension.
Just before buying the DAC-19mk3, I was thinking about buying the Moon Audio Silver Dragon cable for the Sennheiser to replace the Blue Dragon I am currently using. I was very happy with the improvements brought by the Blue Dragon over the stock cable which were numerous : better low level resolution, stronger bass, cleaner highs and better defined soundstage. However, I felt that it cleaned up maybe a little bit too much the highs but it was a trade-off I was very happy to live with.
Anyway, the DAC-19mk3 has brought back life to the highs in a good way without any false brightness.

Cable swapping:
I have been using from the start my reference cables which are : Hifi-Cables Khnoum which are true high end cables. When I bought them after trying them for free for one week I felt that they were better the DH-Labs Silver Sonic BL-1 that I had been using for a few months (they replaced my Kimber PBJ interconnects). While I was very happy with my purchase at that time, I felt that it was only marginally better, mainly sounding more natural and with a bigger soundstage.
Anyway, I tried the DH-Labs Silver Sonic BL-1 back and I was surprised about how much difference there was between the 2 interconnects. The Hifi-Cables Knhoum sounded more extended in the frequency extremes, more dynamic and more natural. The imaging is spooky real with the Hifi-Cables Knhoum and you don't have to concentrate
If I were to grade the DH-Labs at 100, the Kimber PBJ at 90, I would grade the Hifi-Cables khnoum at 200. I couldn't believe my ears how much difference there was between those cables.
I also briefly tried the Sharkwire interconnect and it felt duller and less defined than even the DH-Labs BL-1. I had them burn-in for a day (in a secondary system) before first listening to them. I think they are good budget cables, but to get the most from the DAC-19mK3, I would recommend at least something like the DH-Labs Silver Sonic BL-1.

RMAA measurements:
Since there was talk about RMAA on this thread, I decided to make my own measurements with the EMU 0404 usb.
You can find the results here and the comparison with the EMU 0404 usb here
The DAC-19mk3 measures at 108 SNR which means it is dead quiet.
As for the roll-off that is apparent in the RMAA measurement, Kingwa said that it was done in purpose (here )
I have checked the Stereophile measurements of some well reviewed CD players using the same PCM1704-uk, and there seems to be a roll-off in the highs too.
Simaudio Moon Evolution Andromeda Reference ($12,500)
Naim CD555 ($28,000)
The Zanden DAC, which is supposed to be one of the best DACs ($15,470), also exhibit the same behavior (see here $15,470).
As far as I see, the EMU 0404 usb which retails for less $200 measures better than those mega-buck DACs. However, do I think that it sounds better ? Not at all. Compared to the other DACs I own, it sounds "digital", lacks resolution, detail and has a flat soundstage.
Kingwa, who read the thread and saw the RMAA results e-mailed me to say that the EMU 0404 usb doesn't probably use an analogy filter. This probably explains why I have never been able to listen at reasonable to high volume levels with the EMU 0404 usb more than half an hour before I get tired/bored.
Anyway, I don't think that measurements do not matter but I think that our ears might be more sensitive to parameters that are not measured in RMAA : phase, time domain, impulse, output impedance, ... (I am just guessing)

After 300 hours of burn-in:
The burn-in process is not over yet since the sound is still changing (mostly improving). According to Kingwa, it can take up to 400 hours for the sound to settle.
Below are my impressions after 300 hours of burn-in.

The low level resolution

The low level details are outstanding with this DAC. I am not referring with low level resolution to the definition of the sound in quiet passages (which is also excellent), but I am referring to very subtle sounds when there is already a lot going on. Small sounds are not masked by louder sounds playing at the same time : this is especially true for classical and jazz recordings but also all well recorded live music (such as Hell Freezes Over by the Eagles).
This Dac doesn't try to fake high definition by just sounding brighter and drier (such as the emu 0404 usb). The higher definition here serves a more natural portrayal of music as the listener doesn't have to make as much efforts to listen to the small details.
These impressions were done using the Hifi Cables & cie Khnoum interconnect and ST-3 head-amp. When I changed the head-amp and interconnects those qualities were somewhat diluted.

Cable swapping : Sharkwire vs. Hifi Cables & Cie Khnoum Interconnect
After giving the Sharkwire interconnect close to 100 hours of burn-in, I gave it another critical listening. The sound definitely improved with burn-in as it doesn't sound dull anymore.
Compared to the Dh-Labs Sonics BL-1, I would say it has say that in my system it has around the sound bandwidth extension but they have two different characters : the dh-labs sound a little bit forward and bright while the Sharkwire sounds a little bit warm and overall it is more pleasing to the ears. The definition level is roughly the same. The kimber PBJ compared to both cables has less high frequency extension than both cables and is otherwise pretty similar in mids an bass.
However, the big surprise was when I switch back to my reference interconnect : the Hifi Cables & cie Khnoum interconnect. These interconnects are simply wonderful, they simply disappear. While comparing the other interconnects I have (dh-labs, kimber PBJ, Sharkwire), I could always pick-up defficiencies with them : frequency extension at the extremes, tonal balance, definition, soundstage, ...
With the Hifi Cables & cie Khnoum interconnect, the first thing you notice is that soundstage seems to extend very and the low level resolution is truly outstanding. The bass extends very low and the highs are crystal clear. Those interconnects let you experiment a thereness/presence experience. It is truly unbelievable how much a pair of 50 cm of wires can let you change the sound of a system.
These are the differences I heard using the audio-gd ST-3, it was less apparent when using the little dot mkIII.

Head-amps : Audio-gd ST-3 vs Little dot MkIII
My little dot MkIII was rarely used as a headphone amp since the time I fully burned in the ST-3. When using the DAC-100 as a source, I clearly preferred the ST-3 (as they were made to be used as a pair anyway). In fact, I found another usage for the mkIII as a tube buffer between my dac and my desktop speakers (the gigaworks s750). It sweetened the somewhat dry sound of those speakers.
However, since I was trying to get a better sense of how the DAC-19mk3 sounded, I thought I should try it in another head-amp than the ST-3 to get a comparison. So I put the mkIII in place of the ST-3 using the same power cord, the same interconnect and the same isolation components I have been using with the ST-3 (vibrapod cones, plywood and carbon fiber rigid sheets). This experiment made me realize just how vibration control is important on tube gear.
Dynamics : the Little dot mkIII was to my surprise the clear winner in macro-dynamics. However, when I listened more carefully I realized that much
Soundstage : the little dot mkIII has a wider soundstage but a less defined one. While the soundstage with the st-3 is smaller, it is razor sharp defined and there is a better separation of intricate sounds
Transparency : Here the ST-3 is the clear winner by a very wide margin. If I were to make a comparison with tv resolution, I would compare the little dot to standard def 480p and the ST-3 at high def at 1080p.
Timbre : While one might expect a tube amp to offer a better refinement in sounds, it was the opposite in my system. The ST-3 let me hear (thanks to its superior resolution) more refinement and differences between sounds especially when listening to non amplified instruments (violins, pianos, ...).
Tonal balance : when comparing both amps, I realized that the little dot mkIII was the better balanced amp. The ST-3 can reach very low in the bass while its highs don't extend as much by comparison in the treble. Therefore, it sounds slightly bass heavy with the sennheiser hd-650.
Overall, I found that the 2 amps have more sonic differences thant the last time I reviewed them with the DAC-100 (Compass DAC), this is because the more neutral DAC-19mkIII and the more neutral cables I am using allow me to hear more easily any differences. I guess it is time I upgrade to a more appropriate amp.

Conclusion (after 300 hours of burn-in) :

To sum up, I cannot find any discernible sonic character/fault with the DAC-19MKIII using my current equipment but here are the main impressions : Excellent definition and low level resolution, High dynamics, Very deep and articulated bass, Sweet and natural highs and most of all, it is "analog" sounding.
I will update my findings once I upgrade my headphone amp.




Part II (update October 09) :

Part II was done using this chain as a reference :

Foobar 0.8.3 > Kernel Streaming > M2Tech hiFace BNC > Stereovox XV2 > Audio-gd DAC-19mk3 > Artisan Cables "Ultimate Silver Dream" > Audio-GD C-2C (w/ upgraded pot) > Artisan Cables "Silver Dream" > Sennheiser HD-650


Digital Filter : Mode A vs Mode B

Mode A :
The sound is tubey like, charming and there is more "body" to the music. When listening to Diana Krall or Norah Jones voices, it is just mesmerizing.
The energy is however centered in the midrange, both frequency extremes are slightly rolled off. Overall, there is a slight loss in resolution and airiness that makes classical less involving than mode B.
The Mode A seems to be slower on transients (the attack of the notes are masked) but the decays are preserved and seem linger longer than with mode B.
The overall balance of the sound is natural but on the warm side of neutral.
I am sure there are kind of headphones and speaker systems where mode A could be a good match, but it is just "too much" of coloration with the sennheiser hd-650.

Mode B :
The main differences with mode A : Mode B has better resolution, better bass (tighter and deeper), more extended highs, better instrument separation and more clarity. The soundstage seems also "airier". These qualities make listening to classical music quite enjoyable. Mode B is "faster" in transients compared to Mode A which gives the illusion of better dynamics.
The downside of mode B is that it is sometimes "too" revealing in the highs especially when it is paired with the Sobek digital cable but I don't think it is due to the DF1704 module since it is smooth sounding when it is paired with the Belden BNC cable or the Stereovox XV2.
The sound with mode B could be described as "monitor" like but not in a bad way.

Conclusion on Mode A vs. Mode B :
While I prefer the mode B (DF1704) on my system, there is no good or bad digital filter here. Both of them are excellent and it is like comparing a good tube amp vs a good solid state amp.
Mode A focuses on conveying the emotions behind the music while Mode B is more detail oriented and with better extension at the frequency extremes. Since the additional digital module costs only $30, I highly recommend that any buyer try both of them on their system.


Transport and digital cable :

A perfect DAC should not be affected by the quality of the transport as long as the transport is "bit-perfect", however it seems that allDACs are affected to different degrees by the quality of the transport.
Since, the dac19mk-3 has no reclocking or ASRC, it is affected a lot by the quality of the transport and the digital cable. However, the digital section seems to be designed well enough to benefit from a low jitter source without adding more jitter (the DIR9001 is given for 40ps for instance).
This doesn't mean that it sounds bad with a jittery source. It still sounds better than all my other dacs even with its usb input. However, to extract the best performance from it, the dac-19mk3 should be use with a good transport and digital cable. In my case, the best combination that I have found after many trials is the m2techHiface with the Stereovox XV2 BNC cable.
For those who might be interested, I wrote a comparison of various usb to spdif converters here.

Vibration control/Component feet :

I know that vibration control is a "sensitive" subject but I found that it can impact a lot the sound of the dac in my experience. Also, if done right, vibration/resonance control can improve the sound of a component without drawbacks. Since, I cannot afford a Monaco GrandPrix Rack, a Solid Tech Rack or a Finite Elements rack (to name a few). I bought a cheap E&T rack (see picutre of my system attached) and put my dac and headphone amp on sandboxes which are the most cost effective way to suppress vibration that I could find.

Specifically with the dac-19mk3, I have tried a few ways cones/feet to replace the stock plastic ones : Vibarpod cones, Brass cones, and Herbie's Audio Tenderfoot. All the three provide improvements but the vibracones are a little dull sounding, the brass cones are a little hard sounding and the Tenderfoot give the best balance between resolution and naturalness of sound.

Power cords :

Power cords can definitely alter the tonal balance and resolution of the dac. I settled for quite some time now on the Hifi Cables & Cie PowertransPlus (for both my dac and head amp) which seems to have a great synergy with all 4 audio-gd units I tried them with. The audio-gd house signature is slightly on the warm side of neutral and those power cords "wake them up".
It is also important to check the phase (direction) of how the power cords are plugged if you have schucko plugs (or reversible plugs) on your mains multiplier. There is apparently an in phase and out of phase in all transformers and the effects are slightly audible in the soundstage and forwardness of the sound.


Analog interconnects :

The DAC-19mk3 is only as good as your interconnects. Only a high quality interconnect can do justice to this DAC.
I have tried many budget interconnects that are usually recommended such as : Kimber PBJ, DH-Labs Silver Sonics BL1, Sharkwire (the one sold by Audio-gd). However, none of them do justice to the dac-19mk3. You have to step up to something like the Hifi Cables Khnoum or the Artisan Cables Ultimate Silver Dream Interconnect to really do justice to the DAC-19mK3. With the Kimber PBJ or the DH-Labs BL1 there is a definite loss in resolution and extension at the frequency extremes. They also have a "digital" sound that alters the superb tonal qualities of the DAC.

In my system I have found 2 very good performing interconnects : the Hifi Cables& Cie Khnoum (French brand) and the Artisan Cables Ultimate Silver Dream interconnects. Unfortunately there is no secret here both of them cost more than 200€ for a pair of 0.5meter interconnect.
The Khnoum was my reference cable for some time now, all the other cables I tried during that period could not approach its performance level. It has the best resolution of any cable I tried in my system and has a very low noise floor. It was until I listened to the Artisan Silver Dream cable that I was able to discern its sonic faults.
The Artisan Silver Dream Cable has a slightly wider and much deeper soundstage, better separation of sounds, and a more natural tonal balance.
Anyway, the choice between them is a matter of taste between the bold sounding Khnoum cable and the more relaxed and natural sounding Ultimate Silver Dream. There was a review by 6 moons of the Silver dream interconnects (which is a lesser version of the Ultimate silver dream that I bought) in which the reviewer compared them to the Kimber Select KS-1030 silver (£1300) and found that they performed at the same level.
(Edit : I did a full length review of the "Ultimate Silver Dream" here. These interconnects are absolutely fantastic)

To cut it short, the dac-19mk3 has to be used with high quality interconnects (and head amp) to benefit from its true potential. If it sounds warm, muddy or edgy it is probably the sonic signature of the interconnects.


Conclusion :

I was totally blown away by the quality of the DAC when I first listened to it and I am still blown away each time I listen to it. It gives you tremendous resolution while remaining natural and free from digital harshness that manyDACs and CD players are showing. True High resolution does not mean sterile, dry and edgy. True high resolution brings you closer to the original event.
I am sure there are betterDACs out there but I never thought I could obtain such a combination between high resolution and "analog" sounding at at such a price.
In fact, I thought for a long time that once, you have a "clean" sounding and measuring dac such as the emu 0404 usb, you would have to pay a lot to get marginal improvements. But I was happy (and surprised) to find out that the dac-19mk3 offered a better performance per $ invested compared to my previous upgrades.



Part III :

RMAA Measurements :


You can find RMAA results for the dac19mk3 here and the comparison with the EMU 0404 usb here

My comparison between the Audio-gd DAC-19mk3 vs. Audiomat Tempo 2.6 vs. Audiomat Tempo 2.5


Quote:
Originally Posted by slim.a View Post
I took my dac-19mk3 to a friend’s home last week-end and I wanted to share my findings with you.

Review System:

His speaker system is composed from the following:
Transport : Cambridge 640
DACs: Audiomat Tempo 2.6 DAC, Audiomat 2.5 DAC
Integrated amp: Audiomat
Speakers: JMR Orpheo
Cables: a mix of top of the line actinote, Audioquest, Hifi-Cables & Cie.
The total cost of the system was almost $20,000 as far as I could tell. Price doesn’t really matter but it gives an idea about the "level" of the system.

The Audiomat Tempo 2.6:

The first dac we listened to was the Audiomat 2.6 (he just bought an old Audiomat 2.5 to use in a secondary system). I have to mention one thing before speaking about the sound is that I didn’t do any research on his equipment before going to listen to his system (to avoid having preconceptions). The only thing I knew is that Audiomat is known to make some serious audio gear with a great price quality ratio from what I could remember reading about their amps reviews.
Well, I was pleasantly surprised about the sound quality of his speaker system. The sound was coherent throughout the frequency spectrum with seamless transition between the different drivers. It also had a high level of transparency. The only weakness area was the soundstage and imaging. Because of room and WAF constraints, he could not set up properly the speakers in his living room which affected negatively the imaging.

After that, we put my dac-19mk3 to see how it compared to a dac that costs 10 times more (The Audiomat 2.6 costs around €3000/$5000). I was curious to see how big the gap was in the context of a high-end speaker system. We used the same equipment/cables except for the power cord. I brought mine (Hifi Cables & Cie PowertransPlus) which improves the sound of the dac-19mk3 considerably.
When we hit play, the first thing that “jumped to my ears” was the size of the soundstage. It was slightly wider but a lot deeper. The imaging was more precise with the dac-19mk3. When listening to Diana voice with the Audiomat, it was very diffuse. When we listened with the dac-19mk3 it was more focused. (While there was an improvement in soundstaging/imaging, I still believe that his set-up could do a lot better if it were properly set-up).
The level of details was simply outstanding in comparison to the Audiomat Tempo 2.6. In fact, I became familiar with the sound of the Audiomat we listened extensively to the same tracks during the first part of the evening to try some tweaks (power cords & power filters mainly), and I discovered some new details in the recording that were buried under a thick “blanket” with the Audiomat 2.6.
The bass of the dac-19mk3 was more articulate (better definition) but it seemed to me that the overall balance was lighter compared to the Audiomat 2.6. However, since he designed his system around the Tempo 2.6, it wasn’t bad at all.
Finally, the dynamics were much better. The dac-19mk3 had better micro-dynamics (better articulation of the voices) and better macro-dynamics (it seemed that the dac-19mk3 could play a few db louder when volume swings were needed).

As for my friend, he had a different opinion. He said that he preferred the Audiomat 2.6 without giving much explanation. I noticed earlier that he relies mainly in looking for tonal balance changes when comparing equipment. He also tends to do quick A/B comparisons rather than listening for a very long time and with different music tracks to get the best idea about how a component performs. So he preferred the Audiomat 2.6 because it sounded more “natural” to him in the piano (on a Diana Krall album). When I asked him about the soundstage depth, imaging and resolution he didn’t even think to listen for those parameters. This also explains why he system was very tonally balanced but lacked in the soundstage and imaging department.
While I could have excluded his opinion from the review, I think it is important to show that different expectation when listening to audio gear can lead to different results and preferences. It also puts in perspective my own judgement on the audio gear.


The Audiomat Tempo 2.5:


My friend just happened that he bought an Audiomat 2.5 recently to install in his secondary system. It is the model that preceded the 2.6 so he assumed it was inferior to it without even giving it a try in his main system. As a matter of fact, it was the first time he put it in his main system when I went visit him.
Well, to my surprise it was excellent sounding from the first few seconds and I preferred it slightly to the dac-19mk3. Both units were very close sounding, and I would have needed careful listening (ideally in my headphone system) to really compare the differences between the two units. The Audiomat Tempo 2.5 was sold around €3000 (but he bought it used at €1200) and had the reputation of being a very good performing dac before it was continued a few months ago.
This time we didn’t totally disagree: he found the tempo 2.5 was closer sounding to the dac-19mk3 but he still preferred the Tempo 2.6 (probably because he paid 3 times as much for the 2.6 when he bought it new).


Conclusion:

Here is how I ranked the 3 dacs:
1.Audiomat Tempo 2.5
2.Audio-gd dac-19mk3
3.Audiomat Tempo 2.6

My friend ranked them in a different order:
1.Audiomat Tempo 2.6
2.Audiomat Tempo 2.5
3.Audio-gd dac-19mk3

While we disagreed about how we ranked the Audiomat 2.6, we both agreed that the Audiomat 2.5 and audio-gd dac-19mk3 sounded similar, and overall he was very surprised by the performance of the little unit.

When I got back home, I did some research and here is what I found out:
Both the dac-19mk3 and Tempo 2.5 use the same topology: DF1704+PCM1704. However, Audiomat is better built and uses more than 200,000 microfarads of power filtration. That represents more than what many power amps use. This explains maybe why we found out that the Audiomat worked better with a regular power cord.
As for the newer Tempo 2.6, it uses one PCM1794 chip (which replaces the DF1704+PCM1704 combo). The size of the Tempo 2.6 is smaller, lighter and uses a lot less capacitors. So it definitely costs less to produce. Also, I found out that their current reference DAC still uses the DF1704 digital. So other than cost concerns, I can’t explain why Audiomat got rid of the old topology (digital filter + mono multibit DACs) to replace it with a single chip that doesn’t have the reputation of the PCM1704uk chips used in the old model. The only “improvement” is that the Tempo 2.6 can accept 192K while the old one was limited to 96K (like the dac-19mk3).

To sum-up, I found out that the dac-19mk3 represents a tremendous value. Also, I found out that I am personally biased towards the PCM1704UK DACs.
So while I could be probably wrong by systematically preferring it over other dacs chips however there must probably be a good reason why many top of the line DACs and CD players still use that chip when there are newer chips that measure better and hand sample rates over 96K.
In my opinion, the PCM1704 u-k could just be the “sweet spot” between those (very) old TDA1541A chips but supposedly very natural sounding that are limited to 16/48 and those newer delta sigma chips that can handle 32/192+ but are less “pleasing” to the ears.

Other comparisons in this thread :

Patu made an interesting comparison between the DAC-19MK3 (mode A) the Bel Canto DAC 3 here.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Patu View Post
I'll write a very short comparison between Bel Canto DAC3 and Audio GD DAC19Mk3. I'm not that good in writing long reviews so I'll skip it. I'll just briefly tell about the differences I hear between them. You can see my equipment chain listed in my signature. I did my comparisons mainly with my speaker rig.

About DAC19Mk3:

When I first heard Audio GD DAC19Mk3, I owned Audionemesis DC-1 DAC. DC-1 has very smooth and analog like sound which you couldn't believe coming from DAC and ultimately from computer. Anyways it's even too mellow and smooth sounding and when you'd miss that aggressiveness and attack, it might not be there. Audio GD greatly improved on details, clarity and sounded overall better than DC-1. Audio GD brought energy and excitement to the music but still stayed on the warm and natural side. IMO Kingwa's description of "monitor like sound" is pretty much rubbish. Monitor like sound is what Benchmark DAC1 (and in some sense, Bel Canto DAC3) produces. Utterly neutral sound with sharp high end and superb details.

DAC19Mk3 is IMO slightly on the warm side and is very easy to listen to. Pleasant and smooth sound signature overall. Usually warmth is related to unextended highs and poor bass performance (loose basses etc.). With DAC19Mk3 bass stays in great control and extends pretty nicely. High end definitely isn't as energetic as it could be. I can hear that and it was also measured by slim.a earlier in this thread. I clearly can hear this now when I have DAC3 to compare. But this is what makes the DAC so nice to listen to. You just can't get fatigued with this DAC.

About DAC3:

Well then my Bel Canto DAC3 arrived. I was full of excitement when I picked it up from our local customs office and finally got home and plugged it in. The sound was completely different from DAC19Mk3. What struck me first was the insane amount of details and separation which was really something quite astonishing. The difference was much bigger between DAC3 and DAC19 than it was between DC-1 and DAC19Mk3. I could once again hear new things on my recordings. I even checked my cell phone couple of times through the test session because I thought it was ringing but instead the new sounds I was hearing were on the track.

The soundstage was more "spot on". What I mean is that the instruments were more clearly on their own places. Very clear soundstage, which was also very deep. With many test tracks, I could clearly hear that the vocalist stood in front of the band and the instruments actually are behind the vocalist. You could also call this "more upfront" sound maybe? Soundstage width was pretty much the same with both DACs.

Bass performance with DAC3 is stunning. Very fast and extremely deep bass. It surpasses DAC19Mk3 bass performance being more extended and having more slam.

Overall the sound coming drom DAC3 is more dynamic and toe tapping than it is with DAC19Mk3. Though DAC19Mk3 takes you in to the music very well also but it doesn't sound as dynamic as DAC3.

And then of course the high end. It clearly extends more with DAC3. It measures a flat frequency response which might explain it to some extent. But anyway, now the cymbals were much more prominent on many tracks I tried. Now this might sound like very positive thing but to me it always isn't. I have now got used to the easy sound with not that extended high end with my previous DACs. Now when I can truly hear the energy of the highs, it can get annoying every now and then. My ProAc speakers are extremely revealing and fast sounding speakers so they will play everything that comes out of DAC3.

This makes me uncomfortable every now and then. The amount of details and separation is so insane that it doesn't always sound good. Changing from my silver IC cable to copper cable helped this a lot though.

Conclusion:

DAC3 sounds slightly more hifi with all the details, separation etc. but at the same time it doesn't sound harsh or anything else like that which usually comes with details and extended highs, when we're talking about some lower priced DACs. DAC3 still keeps things musical. I would pair this DAC with setup that is slightly on the warm side.

DAC19Mk3's sound signature is on the warm side of neutral. It's very easy and fun to listen to and definitely a great DAC. Extremely good value for the money.

I still haven't decided between the two. I'm waiting to receive my new speaker cables from Enigma Audio and only after that I'll make my final decision.


Regal impressions here and after 3 days here

Quote:
Originally Posted by regal View Post
Besting the PS AUdio II is no surprise, remember it uses inferior sigma delta PCM DAC chips.


In the first 24 hrs I am blown away by the sound. I am even starting to prefer it to my custom tube DAC. Now I only wonder what the DAC-9 MK3 sounds like, I don't see how it could be any better.

I bought the DF1704 board with it but about 90% of my music catalog is HDCD so I don't I'll bother with it, mainly bought the DF1704 board for resale value if I decide to upgrade to the DAC-9 MK3.
Quote:
Originally Posted by regal View Post
Day three and this thing is mind-blowing. The best DAC I have heard under $2000. I am so tempted to try one of their higher models with the PMD100. Has anyone tried the DAC 9-MK3 or the DAC-3SE? Not sure which one is considered their best PMD100 DAC.

I am amazed at how little attention the 19MK3 is getting, it is a giant killer, nearly at the level of the Mark Levinson 36 which I consider the best DAC ever made.

This is big news IMO, all these new S-D DACs sound like digititis compared to this 19MK3. You have all the features of a good DAC design: R2R DAC chip, zero feedback discrete output, choice of PMD100 or DF1704, and a solid DIR9001 reciever. This is really bucking the trend of marketing ploy jitter reduction schemes which do nothing , DSP filters, and $8 sigma delta chips, which is what we have been dealing with for 9 years. I hope this is a new trend toward sound quality rather than marketing mumbo-jumbo. Too bad both the PMD100 & the DF1704 have been discontinued.


Edit- The DF1704 is still available but is planned to be discontinued, hopefully TI learned their lesson when the tried to discontinue the PCM1704.
JulioCat comparison with DACMagic here

Quote:
Originally Posted by JulioCat View Post
I receive my DAC19MK3 5 days a go, and it's a really good DAC, blow the hell away the DACMagic, wich now belong to my son, the quality of these DAC it's just amazing, the best invest i make to my system in many many years, if these thing it's gona give it's best until 300 hours of use i really can't imagine the quality of the sound it's going to produce.
Bostonears review of the DAC-19MK3 here.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bostonears View Post
Yep, I've been using my DAC-19MK3 with a Squeezebox Classic, as well as with PC-USB and CD players. The DAC sounds is fabulous with any of them. The DAC-19MK3 blows away the internal DAC in the Squeezebox (unless you've got a Transporter, in which case you don't need no stinkin' external DAC).
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bostonears View Post
Having owned my Audio-GD DAC-19MK3 for nearly six months now (one of the first batch of production units ever shipped), I was planning to eventually write up an in-depth review of it. Then I stumbled upon this thread. Basically, there's no need for me to write a full review now, because slim.a has done such a great job with his. I'll just add some comments about my experiences with the Audio-GD.

I ordered the DAC-19MK3 sight unseen (sound unheard?), at a time when only a handful of pre-production units had ever been made and user reviews were practically non-existent. (I think head-fier Currawong might have been the only person to have heard one outside the factory.) I chose it based solely on my favorable impressions of its design principles and the belief that a factory direct purchase would provide better bang for my buck than paying distributor and dealer profit margins that don't add any sonic performance. (Distributors and dealers can and do add other kinds of value to products.) At the time, I considered my purchase a bit of a gamble, especially because if anything had gone wrong, I would have had to deal directly with the seller in China.

My head-fi rig currently runs a Slim Devices/Logitech Squeezebox (via glass optical cable), as well as a Shanling CD player (coax), and USB computer output into the DAC-19MK3, feeding an Opera Consonance Cyber-30 2A3 tube amp, feeding Grado HP-1000 (HP-2) headphones.

I've got both Mode A and Mode B digital filters. I agree with slim.a that Mode B has greater frequency extension at both the high and low extremes, but Mode A just seems more musical. Mode A still has plenty of great frequency range, and I prefer it overall.

I've owned a variety of DACs over the years, including the ubiquitous Benchmark DAC1 Pre and Cambridge Audio DacMagic, a gawdawful Citypulse DA-7.2x, as well as an upscale Dodson DAC-263. The Dodson, priced at $2700 new, was the only one that I'd consider to be in the same league as the DAC-19MK3. (I haven't had the Dodson for a couple of years, so I'm basing that on my recollection of its performance, not head-to-head comparison.)

One of the reasons I hadn't gotten around to writing up a review of the DAC-19MK3 is that once I put it in my system and settled on a Mode filter, I simply forgot about its presence. That is, I stopped paying attention to the component, I just paid attention to the music. I no longer needed to think about DACs.

The DAC-19MK3 somehow manages to sound both transparent and musical at the same time, which I can't say for either the Benchmark or the Cambridge DacMagic, despite them both sounding quite good through the 2A3 tube amp. After buying and selling a bunch of products in search of DAC-nirvana, I think the DAC-19MK3 will be in my system for a long time, perhaps until its digital inputs become functionally obsolete, i.e. the whole digital audio industry moves beyond S/PDIF and USB. The only thing I'd change about the DAC-19MK3 if I could is that I'd like it to be a little smaller. (If you're used to pint-sized half-width components like the Parasound Z-series, you'll be surprised at the substantially larger size of the Audio-GD unit.)

In the world of outrageously priced audio gear, the 500 bucks I spent on the DAC-19MK3 now seems like a bargain.

Currawong comparison of the dac19mk3 vs. audio-gd flagship dac, the Ref-1

Quote:
Originally Posted by Currawong View Post
Funny you should mention the Ref 1. I was testing a DAC19MK3 for a local customer and plugged it into the Phoenix. After listening for a while, I switched to the Ref 1. The jump was shocking, as if the soundstage had gone from a studio to concert hall. Not at all subtle. This even if I was using speakers with the little Parasound Zamp.

I reckon though the DAC19MK3 would give a Benchmark DAC1 a run for its money though, going by the time I compared the Compass with it. Much of what impresses people with the Benchmark is its brightness.

I will try to keep this part updated, so do not hesitate to remind me if I miss a post or comment that you would like me to include in this part.


Pictures of my system :
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post #2 of 695

Power usage?

Thanks for the review. Encouraging to hear
Quote:
The DAC-19mk3 is the most analog sounding DAC/CD player I have heard to date.
I was a bit worried about Kingwa's "monitor like" description of it's sound, which is the last thing my system needs.

One question: do you have a device like a kill-a-watt that you could measure the power draw of the DAC-19mk3 with by any chance? (in use and in stand-by)
post #3 of 695
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by phusg View Post
Thanks for the review. Encouraging to hear I was a bit worried about Kingwa's "monitor like" description of it's sound, which is the last thing my system needs.

One question: do you have a device like a kill-a-watt that you could measure the power draw of the DAC-19mk3 with by any chance? (in use and in stand-by)
I don't have the proper equipment to measure its power draw, I will ask Kingwa about it.
Anyway, according to the audio-gd web site, it uses an 80w R-coil transformer but it doesn't say how much power is really used.
post #4 of 695
Very nice review

will be looking out for ur future impression
post #5 of 695
Quote:
Originally Posted by slim.a View Post
I don't have the proper equipment to measure its power draw, I will ask Kingwa about it.
That would be great. While you're at it you may want to ask him what opamp features in the DAC-19mk3 and whether it is replaceable. I assume this unit produces line level output and has one, just like the DAC-200, but their site doesn't explicitly mention it.
post #6 of 695
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by phusg View Post
That would be great. While you're at it you may want to ask him what opamp features in the DAC-19mk3 and whether it is replaceable. I assume this unit produces line level output and has one, just like the DAC-200, but their site doesn't explicitly mention it.
I have just asked Kingwa for the power draw and I amwaiting for his response.

As for the question about opamps, the DAC-19mk3 doesn't use them on the signal path according to the website and from what I was able to see when I opened the DAC.
In fact, from what I understand, the DAC-19mk3 uses CAST discrete modules which work on current and not on voltage/tension. It is supposed to be a superior technology (in comparison with all opamps) that has higher slew rates/better linearity, ...
The DAC-19mk3 is using BPM-7110 V2 Module. I found on the website that audio-gd is selling the older module here
There are some articles about SATRI/CAST on the audio-gd links but they are all in chinese so I didn't read them.
Also, as far as I know, Krell is the first company (and the only one ?) that uses the SATRI/CAST technology.

Anyway, I don't know if it is due to its output stage but the sound is wonderful and analog like
post #7 of 695
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by phusg View Post
One question: do you have a device like a kill-a-watt that you could measure the power draw of the DAC-19mk3 with by any chance? (in use and in stand-by)
Well, according to Kingwa the DAC-19mk3 draws 20W of power all the time.
post #8 of 695
Thanks for the review slim.a and good to know you're impressed with it's sound. The DAC-19mk3 already in my shoping list a while ago and deciding to grab one or either a DAC-3 SE 1 in the near future. I've read some impressions about these two monsters in another threads and both are tempting me to have a try. But I don't see anyone have an experience with the DAC-3 SE in the moment.
post #9 of 695
Thread Starter 

RMAA test of Audio-gd DAC-19MK3

I did some measurements of the DAC
For those who might wonder why there is a roll-off, you might want to read this quote from kingwa here.

Summary
Frequency response (from 40 Hz to 15 kHz), dB +0.13, -1.10 Average
Noise level, dB (A) -108.3 Excellent
Dynamic range, dB (A) 106.3 Excellent
THD, % 0.0044 Very good
THD + Noise, dB (A) -85.4 Good
IMD + Noise, % 0.0061 Excellent
Stereo crosstalk, dB -107.5 Excellent
IMD at 10 kHz, % 0.0074 Excellent
General performance Very good
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post #10 of 695
Thread Starter 

RMAA comparison between the EMU 0404 USB, the Audio-gd DAC-100 and the DAC-19MK3

Here is a comparison between the EMU 0404 USB, the Audio-gd DAC-100 and the DAC-19MK3.
FWIW, I found that there is no correlation between measurement and the sound of the DACs. The one that has the most roll-off is the one I found to be subjectively the most extended in the high frequencies.
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post #11 of 695
Quote:
Originally Posted by dannie01 View Post
But I don't see anyone have an experience with the DAC-3 SE in the moment.
Check this out : http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f7/aud...rrival-396715/

Although I see lately there is an upgrade to DAC 3SE on A-GD website - says "DAC-3SE upgrade to accept 24Bit/96KHz input"
post #12 of 695
Nice review slim.a!

Looks like the ST-3 is now the bottleneck of your system, are you considering upgrading to something like C2C?
post #13 of 695
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by gevorg View Post
Nice review slim.a!

Looks like the ST-3 is now the bottleneck of your system, are you considering upgrading to something like C2C?
That what I was thinking myself ! I am just waiting for fully burn-in the DAC-19mk3 before making the jump to the C2C
post #14 of 695
Great review slim.a, I especially like the fact that you included comparative measurements. It really shows very well that there can be a huge discrepancy between how something measures and how it performs. (Depending on what you measure of course.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by slim.a View Post
That what I was thinking myself ! I am just waiting for fully burn-in the DAC-19mk3 before making the jump to the C2C
You could do that, or (if your budget doesn't stretch to Phoenix proportions) you could wait for the Roc.
post #15 of 695
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Drosera View Post
Great review slim.a, I especially like the fact that you included comparative measurements. It really shows very well that there can be a huge discrepancy between how something measures and how it performs. (Depending on what you measure of course.)



You could do that, or (if your budget doesn't stretch to Phoenix proportions) you could wait for the Roc.
The Roc looks very tempting and promising, but if I get it instead of the C2C, I will probably have to look to a DAC with a CAST output
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