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Bryston BDA-1 DAC vs Muse DAC: Reviewed

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 

I have stumbled on an interesting interview of Kusunoki San, who is accredited for bringing the NOS dac into the light.  I find this a very interesting read.  He is, in fact, an engine designer, which I think is fantastic as he is more able to draw upon design philosophies from different engineering fields and possibly think "outside the square".  What makes his theory any less valid than any other?

 

I stumbled upon this as I have been on the crusade for answers upon purchasing the Muse Mini DAC TDA1543 X 4.  After further listening, it starts to pull-away from my highly praised, hi-end Bryston DAC, further and further - with accordance to my preferences...which is to replicate my experience as a drummer.  Just a drummer, mind you, as I have never considered myself a musician - nor have I ever considered myself an audiophile for that matter.  This experience has let me enjoy music at a very intimate level and this has been the benchmark for my pursuit, saving money is of very little priority.

 

Here is also an interesting article by TNT audio, I find the information from section 2.4 onwards very interesting.  Also another interesting article by Mother of Tone, also exploring the same issue.

 

What is of interest to me, as it coincides with my own conclusion, is that Kusunoki San himself, dislikes the "NOS" tag.  He argues that oversampling is not the culprit that many blame on supposed limitations of modern DAC designs, rather that it was the digital filters that were the culprit.  His evidence was presented in the form of paralleled TDA1543 - 4 in parallel was in principle 4 X OS, 8 chips = 8 X OS etc.

 

When I listen carefully to the Bryston, there are aspects to the audio signal which come off better than the Muse.  I find that the treble is more refined, the bass is a little more accurate - this is most noticeable on less than perfect recordings, on excellent recordings, the gap is minimal.  I can only attribute this to the superiority of taking hundreds of samples and averaging them out - bringing refinement to less than perfect digital signals.  Whereas the Muse - simple relays whats on the recording with its 4 X averaging, being less efficient.  Overall, the Bryston is perceived as a more refined DAC.

 

The advantages that the Bryston has, does not change my preference for the Muse Mini Dac.  Moreover, the more tightly controlled bass on the Bryston might be a result of its superior power supply and regulation, with dual toroidal transformers, each separately regulated for the digital and analogue stages.  Whereas the Muse Mini Dac is merely run from a 12v DC SMPS wallwart.

 

What the Muse does better - serves as a coupe de gras for the Bryston.  The sound is "natural" with each instrument clearly delineated from the next.  Each instrument occupies its own "space" - whereas on the Bryston, I find everything "congested", "enclosed" and instruments are less separated.  Also, on the Muse, the instrument themselves have a convincing tone to them whereas on the Bryston, everything is somewhat homogenised in tonality and gelled together in an artificial enclosure.  An enclosure that is less convincing with regards to a reality based reference point.

 

The Muse comes off with a bigger more spacious, three dimensional presentation than the Bryston.  It seems to extend further up into the treble and further down the bass - bringing with it a certain realistic palpability in vocals and timbre that the Bryston cannot match.  Upon hearing the Muse, it became apparent that the Bryston retains an "artificial sheen" that, in my experience, serves as a source of fatigue.  This "artificial sheen" is worst on my inexpensive Dacmagic.  I felt that the Bryston eradicated this artificiality when compared to the Dacmagic, but alas, upon hearing the Muse - remnants still remain.

 

This leads me to the issue that distresses me the most with regards to the Dacmagic and the Bryston, the perception of an "artificial sheen" that upon further investigation is a source of listening fatigue, for which the Muse either does not have or it is miniscule levels - for which I cannot, as yet, perceive.  These two modern DACs share a common DA conversion technique - "Delta Sigma".  The Mini Muse utilises an older - more expensive to implement "R2R" conversion technique.

 

"Delta Sigma" is the equivalent of a "SMPS" PSU, or a "Class T" digital amplifier.  It relies on a single binary unit, on or off.  Voltage present or no voltage present.  On time (voltage present) and off time (voltage not present) - a varied voltage is obtained by changing the on time vs off time with a very high frame rate.  This is the basis for modern vehicle CAN  BUS communication - a process I am all too familiar with (for instance altering the pulse duration of an injector to accommodate for engine load or varying the speed of an electric water pump to suit engine cooling requirements).  The fundamental principles are achieved via Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) or in other words "fast switching" or "switch mode".  Also of note, I curse the introduction of digital sensors which were more prone to failure than traditional analogue, sine wave sensors.

 

This high frequency switching, I believe relates to the fatigue that many complain of in modern digital music reproduction, or "digititis" as is commonly labeled.  I stumbled upon this phenomena on a grand scale when experimenting with car batteries to power up my audio systems.  The use of inexpensive fast switching switch mode power inverters, when experimenting for a clean, viable power, led to what I perceived as a massive amount of high frequency hash or energy that was extraordinarily fatiguing.  I would have abandoned this pursuit had I not stumbled upon a much more expensive industrial grade low frequency power inverter - using traditional heavyweight toroidal transformers.  This solved the problem of listening fatigue.

 

What I hear from the Bryston is a similar effect - albeit in a drastically reduced level.  I theorise that this is the side effects of Delta Sigma conversion techniques and most high frequency switching.  However this technique can be used to increase the resolution of an analogue output by increasing the frame rate, or sampling frequency - as per SACD.  However the benefits are questionable, if high frequency contamination is a side effect.

 

To conclude:  of all the DA processors I have at my disposal (Yamaha Receiver, Pioneer SACD player, Ipod, Dacmagic, Bryston),  the Muse Mini DAC TDA1543 X 4 has eclipsed all - in a most unique way, in reproducing an accurate, precise, neutral and revealing sound that is more reminiscent of my reality based reference. 

 

What was initially meant as a shootout with the Dacmagic turned into a shootout with the 50 times more expensive Bryston DAC - emerging victorious.  Yet the Bryston is universally hailed by professional reviewers as a giant killer - and to me sounds brilliant and streets ahead of the likes of my Dacmagic with very little "digititis".  However, I feel it is a weakness that befalls upon all of its Delta Sigma relatives.  A weakness the Mini Dac, for now, appears to be free from.

post #2 of 17

 

Quote:
 

This high frequency switching, I believe relates to the fatigue that many complain of in modern digital music reproduction, or "digititis" as is commonly labeled. 

 I share this belief.

Delta Sigma Dacs seems to have distortions in the treble; leading to a soundstage (on speakers!) that can be spectacular because it can really jump forward, but ultimately tonally flawed and giving fatigue.

I'm not sure however that NOS is the answer; in the last year, amongs others, I had a MHDT Havana and now a Audio-G REF5; both are R2R-DACs, en give a remarkebly colorful and accurate sounding tonality, without giving any digititis. However, the NOS (and tubed!) Havana sounded too laid back and undynamic to be interesting in thel nog run. The audio-GD sounds 'just right'  to my ears. 

post #3 of 17

Thanks for your review SP WIld!

Quote:
Originally Posted by dura View Post

However, the NOS (and tubed!) Havana sounded too laid back and undynamic to be interesting in thel nog run. The audio-GD sounds 'just right'  to my ears. 

Interesting comparison dura: I sold the Ref.5 because to my ears was a bit too aggressive and revealing of bad recordings, I'm using a Valab now and I'm quite happy with it.

I've found some reviews of the Havana describing it as very detailed and not as warm as one could expect...but your opinion seems to differ.

By the way, which kind of music do you usually listen to?

post #4 of 17
Thread Starter 

R2R Chips like PCM1704 and the budget TDA1543 that does not need to induce any form of high frequency switching is, in my current belief, the reason for its "relaxed" presentation.  At this stage I do not believe NOS can claim the credit.  I chose the 4 paralleled chips for its oversampling equivalency - and any paralleled 1543 chip cannot be technically called NOS, I also chose the Muse because it has no valves to color the pure solid state precision.  There is also no active output stage and hence no opamps to color the output.  This remarkably inexpensive ($60 delivered) dac has no real dynamic or frequency response limitations when compared to any of my DACs.

 

The "enclosed" nature of the sound in the Delta Sigma DACs that I hear can best be described as "enclosed within the artificial sheen" - the "artificial sheen" as I hear, and you may interpret as treble distortion, I believe is the byproduct of high frequency switching that is necessary in 1bit DACs (Delta Sigma).  When decoded via R2R the sound is hence freed from this artificial enclosure and thus sounds more "open" to my ears and also free from the fatigue that the glossy sheen imposes.  Whether R2R or NOS can claim credit for this result - I am not entirely positive, but going by testimonials from PCM1704 users - I am leaning towards R2R.  I will purchase a PCM1704 DAC after selling the Bryston and Dacmagic to confirm this - that is how far redundant this 60 dollar dac has rendered my existing references, according to my personal requirements.

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dura View Post

 

 I share this belief.

Delta Sigma Dacs seems to have distortions in the treble; leading to a soundstage (on speakers!) that can be spectacular because it can really jump forward, but ultimately tonally flawed and giving fatigue.

I'm not sure however that NOS is the answer; in the last year, amongs others, I had a MHDT Havana and now a Audio-G REF5; both are R2R-DACs, en give a remarkebly colorful and accurate sounding tonality, without giving any digititis. However, the NOS (and tubed!) Havana sounded too laid back and undynamic to be interesting in thel nog run. The audio-GD sounds 'just right'  to my ears. 

 

After doing some more research (googlesearch ) on R2R dacs, I have stumbled on this interesting article.  This is a quote in the article by Richard Kulavik of AKM Semiconductors:

 

"This DAC is a large departure from other delta-sigma DACs designed by us and others like BurrBrown, Analog Devices and Cirrus Logic. The AK4396 is an entirely new modulator, pioneered and patented by AKM. It achieves something unique. In the past, many of the old Phillips and BurrBrown parts were R-2R* based products. These older products were looked upon as some of the best. One of the reasons was high frequency noise. In older R-2R parts, HF noise was not present. In all delta-sigma parts prior to the AK4396, everyone has fought HF noise caused from the delta-sigma modulator with the insertion of large filters and other parts to attempt to solve a problem created by the delta-sigma design. The AK4396 today effectively does not suffer any modulator-induced HF noise and is over 60dB better than the nearest Cirrus and BB devices. All of this HF noise can cause many audible artifacts downstream. That is the 'miracle' we believe is making the difference today. This part gives you the performance and linearity of a delta-sigma device with the noise performance of an R-2R part, something that was never previously available."

 

It appears we are not alone in this belief and hopefully this means I am not so crazy after all! 

post #5 of 17

Very interesting SP Wild.

 

Realmassy, I listen to a lot of different music.

Nowadays my main interest is vocal semi acoustic and electronic ambient, sometimes pop and rock.

Interesting is that I had a Meier Stagedac for a while and it was great with  electronic music, giving an enormous soundstage with pinpoint projections outside, in front, between and behind the speakers. I think, as said before, that the delta sigma architecture due to hi freq distortions actually create more depth, which is great with electronic music, when the listener has no idea how it should sound anyway. However, for acoustic and/or vocal music tonality clearly was flawed.

I do not find the REF 5 aggressive in the least, and also not unforgiving but it might make a difference that I listen to a speakerbased system with controlled, polite components.

Another interesting explanation is also possible: I aways thought I loved a warm, 'analogue' sound but perhaps in reality I might have meant I prefered rolled-off treble to the distorted treble I asssociated with digital music since I bought my first CD-player, now almost 35 years ago. Hated them all (with the exception of the Rega Apollo which had a flawed tonality but strangely enjoyable sound. In those days I thought it was because the Apollo has a discrete class A ampstage instead of opams. )

After the Rega came the StageDAC, impressive but to my disappointment there was that digititis I can't stand again. Then came the Havana...fnally, great tonality! At first I attributed that to the NOS/tube architecture. The Havana after a happy half year became a little bit to laid back to my taste (I might be to blame also; I left it on all the time and later I read this can cause tubes to sound more dull).

Then came the Audio-GD and this a first the first source that does not have any weak points to my ears; it does it all: dynamics, detail,bass, believable though not spectaculair soundstage, tonality...love it!

So now I think my favorite digital source should have a good powersupply, a discrete class A ampstage and a R2R DAC-chip, or preferably more then one. No doubt the future will prove me wrong again.

post #6 of 17

Thanks for your informative reply Dura.

I might have developed some kind of intolerance to high frequencies, as I find most of the electronics and headphones very bright.

Even using a warm tube amp (the Earmax), warm headphones (HD650) and warm cables (Cardas) the Ref.5 has never been relaxing, though I'm missing his black background and the wide soundstage.

post #7 of 17

You would probably love the havana Realmassy; on a phone-based system I suspect it's laid back nature is no longer a problem, and it sounds very sweet and warm.

I once compared it to sitting in a warm bath with flamecolored lights drinking a vintage port....

post #8 of 17
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by realmassy View Post

Thanks for your review SP WIld!

 

Interesting comparison dura: I sold the Ref.5 because to my ears was a bit too aggressive and revealing of bad recordings, I'm using a Valab now and I'm quite happy with it.

I've found some reviews of the Havana describing it as very detailed and not as warm as one could expect...but your opinion seems to differ.

By the way, which kind of music do you usually listen to?

 

Thanks for reading!

 

I was wondering if you have any experience with the Chameleon vs Valab.  I find the "nos" tag misleading when it should be called "filterless".  Intersting fact about the Chameleon:  16 X oversampling, upsampling to 192khz, passive filter at 22khz (so no jagged sine waves)...in stock form the Chameleon can't claim any of those attributes.  With regards to the jagged sine waves that appears on a modified Valab...I think this is invalid as this is on a scope.  Its like saying bluray is rubbish, because when you maginify the screen, the "jagged" pixels are clearly visible.

 

Has anybody notice with flatscreen with a fixed native resolution - if you "upsample" a standard 1280X800 computer resolution onto a native 1920X1200 screen monitor...the result is an artificially smoothed out image with and artificial sheen much like crappy anti aliasing.  Display the low resolution image as is...on a native screen that matches, the image becomes more focussed without the artificial sheen or blurred edges.

 

Also note that modern LCD and Plasma also "oversample" the frame rate from whatever native refresh Hz to 200Hz or 600Hz for a smoother frame rate.  None of this has any relevancy in audio, but the methodologies appear similar...just food for thought, thats all.

post #9 of 17

I just bought the Muse tdax4 and while it's sound similar to my RME 9632 card in some aspect it's still very slow on bass PRAT compared to the RME..

 

Snappy bass and Prat is needed to make good instruments separation and i can't believe the guy who made this post saying it's better than 1500$ dac out there...

 

It's clearly in need of modding to become a listenable DAC in my opinion.. DAC reviewer should start to listen to some electronic music with deep bass before making reviews of dac with their classical music..

 

Wooble bass suck in any dac.

 

Also the RME has that sparkling harshness in the treble region that i really don't want in my source so i have to find another dac...

 

Should I stay NOS or not for electronic music that's the questions..

Might go for the next Schiit bifrost dac, anybody have suggestions for liquid mid, high and deep, snappy, textured bass...

 

A dac that cannot interpret and render ultra fast envellopes is HELLL.. How can i test the rest of my audio chain if the problem is the source...

 

Anyway..

if your gonna compared a 100$ dac with a 2000$ make sure you listen to kind of music that show every importants aspects of sound. Recorded instrumental music will never have the same level of bass dynamic as in electronic music.

 

Anybody have suggestions on what to mod on this Muse dac??

post #10 of 17

It's all in here...

 

http://www.head-fi.org/forum/thread/512389/mini-dac-tda1543-x-4-nos

post #11 of 17


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by sinae View Post

I just bought the Muse tdax4 and while it's sound similar to my RME 9632 card in some aspect it's still very slow on bass PRAT compared to the RME..

 

Snappy bass and Prat is needed to make good instruments separation and i can't believe the guy who made this post saying it's better than 1500$ dac out there...

 

It's clearly in need of modding to become a listenable DAC in my opinion.. DAC reviewer should start to listen to some electronic music with deep bass before making reviews of dac with their classical music..

 

Wooble bass suck in any dac.

 

Also the RME has that sparkling harshness in the treble region that i really don't want in my source so i have to find another dac...

 

Should I stay NOS or not for electronic music that's the questions..

Might go for the next Schiit bifrost dac, anybody have suggestions for liquid mid, high and deep, snappy, textured bass...

 

A dac that cannot interpret and render ultra fast envellopes is HELLL.. How can i test the rest of my audio chain if the problem is the source...

 

Anyway..

if your gonna compared a 100$ dac with a 2000$ make sure you listen to kind of music that show every importants aspects of sound. Recorded instrumental music will never have the same level of bass dynamic as in electronic music.

 

Anybody have suggestions on what to mod on this Muse dac??

 


The 4 TDA1534 DAC chips suck up a lot of juice. Add good supply caps to the DACs, such as OSCONs or tantalums. Replace the output coupling capacitors with faster film caps.

Doing those two mods should firm up the bass.

I have been listening to my modded Muse with my LCD-2, it is definitely not lacking in PRAT.

 

As ardilla suggested, read through the linked Muse thread for more info.

post #12 of 17

nice thx :) i'll do that

post #13 of 17
post #14 of 17
Thread Starter 

I'm starting to believe that a significant factor to the differences some hear with audio cables, transports and digital filters may be attributed to minute variations in timing of the signal amplitudes.  Why else would some sources, amps and cables can sound subjectively "warm" or "bright" - when all in all, they measure "neutral" - perhaps timing variations within different frequencies.  Perhaps when the timing is closer to perfect, we get the superior soundstage, dimensionality and imaging - a "stable" sound seems to be the end result.

 

Perhaps I should post this in the Sound Science forum instead?  But I'd rather not go there.  frown.gif

post #15 of 17

Great review, and bold observations.

 

I share similar feelings with the Valab NOS dac, I have heard digitial source supposedly "technically" superior - with higher resolution, tighter imaging, etc., but I do not found them more muscially involving than the Valab.

 

Sometime makes me wonder all these pursuit after high resolution format is all about.

 

Looks like Muse has a giant killer, would be interesting how it compares with the Valab.

 

 

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