Initial impressions on the DACmini-PX
After a hard day’s work it is even harder to write an impression of a product that one has waited months to arrive. When it is finally at the door the scene is more akin to a little dog digging for a long lost bone hidden in the garden than a civilized hardworking budding audiophile doing a pointless-unpack-video for you-tube. A quick and frantic (DAC)mini photo-session later the little PX (seriously this is small, REAL small) is rigged to its power, tiny little studio monitors, DT-990 Pro cans and a Lenovo’s desktop replacement laptop (i7, 8G RAM, 500G HDD). The old and trusty, albeit admittedly non-high-brow-audiophile rig consisting of a Pioneer SACD player, an Onkyo receiver(with integrated headphone-amp) and monitors are assembled together for any comparison to be made. A set of assorted HiRes music is bought (from Linn Records) and carefully placed in the HDD and back-up disk. The main OS of course being Linux (Ubuntu’s latest 64Bit LTS at this point of writing) is set up, with mpd providing the grunt and GMPC taking control of the steering wheel . It did take some time to set up a bit perfect system on Linux, but in the the end it all worked out fine (more on that later). An equally endowed Dell laptop with Win-7 along with Centrance device driver installed was set up for comparison.
I have found that miss Norah Jones (CD-Rip) never fails to sooth stretched nerves and a palpitating heart, don’t know why.. The first thing I notice is that the PX makes these little monitors sing (don’t remember them playing this good before)! imaging is perfect , her voice crystal clear, soothing and hypnotic. I almost stretch my hands to get up and go when she intimately beckons and coos come away with me. I realise that my eyes were closed, heart rate down and my nerves soothed to a mushy pulp. The silent passages in-between songs and in some songs remain as it should be – Silent. I mean as silent as in the deep-dead-space-silence. With the DT-990, the PX doesn’t disappoint, although the imaging is not as good as the monitors, there is more detail and depth. One last thing is that the Nightingale to my ears sounded a bit more chirpy than usual. Assuming it might be burn-in issue, I let the PX enjoy the music without me and Norah over-night with a variety of tracks playing in a random-loop.
My turn next - I reply the Nightingale and notice the chirpy bird has migrated for the winter. First up is Kent-Poon’s Audiophile Jazz prologue III. Brilliantly recorded and executed, the collection exudes all-around quality. Even when heard on non-Hi-res equipment, it doesn't disappoint. I don’t believe that I can hear anywhere nearly as good as my neighbor’s old dog but when the .flac’s are opened in Audacity, none of them show waveforms that reach more than 23KHz. The dog is disappointed at the lost opportunity to show one-updogship. Share and Share Alike is a slow moving Jazz where one can dwell on every pluck, every strum, every decay and get intimate with the timber of the Guitar and the Double Bass. The little monitors attached to the PX give up on the bass but are happy to render the guitar pleasantly. Mid-range is where the monitors excel and IMO that is where the DT900 Pros are a bit lacking. The DT900s Pros on the other hand do much much better on bass, they let me sink in really deep and feel the decay of the low frequencies as they fly by unlike the bass-roll-off from the backside of the monitors. It really feels like I am just a few feet away from the Double Bass on the right, the guitar equally distant on the left. The ambiance of the studio comes through as well. The deep breath that the bassist takes at 06:02 is presented in all its raw form... impressive. So is the PX does OK with easy music, 2 instruments and a one deep breath. 24/96 flac -> USB cable -> PX
Back to Norah, this time I don’t even ask her to turn me on, she does this without effort, the glass is waiting for some fresh ice cubes... indeed. The freshness of her voice is second to none, the very faint quiver is heard which I had not noticed before, seductive. The attack of the drums is presented very well, but the piano doesn't impress, I drop the DT990 switch on the monitors and the Piano shines while the low frequency drum beats disappoint. Looks like I need a upgrade of both the monitors and cans!! Too expensive a proposition for a person who is still reeling from the grand and odd plunked on the PX. Note to self - put an LCD-3 / Beyerdynamic-T1 and Wharfedale-Jade-3 / Dynaudio-Excite-X16 on the wanted list for Santa and hang a big sock for this holiday season. BTW miss Jones was singing via CD -> Pioneer Multi-format player -> Optical cable -> PX.
Just as an Idea, I put the said miss through a double blind test. This one was easy to do and took up just 3 hours to complete and tabulate the whole thing. The CD-rip (flac) was played through the laptop via the USB to PX and the CD itself was playing in the player connected to the PX via optical cable. So all my friend had to do was keep switching between the input selection from USB to Opt. We ensured that the same songs were playing almost at the same time. Since I did not know which one started first nor where the input selection was, it did not matter (After every 30mins, there was a break of 5 minutes so that the numbers, paper, input can be randomized by my friend). All I had were 2 sheets of paper and a pencil to mark which one sounded better against a number written on pater. It turns out, after mapping the numbers to the respective inputs I had chosen CD->Opt->PX->DT990 as better sounding 16 times out of 20 !! Consciously I do not have the words to describe the extremely subtle difference, but there is something about the CD->Optical Cable->PX that my brain liked... don't know why.
The idea of a lady(‘)s night came from the local pub where every week on Wednesday they try to attract the pettier of our species by throwing a party and offering drinks and dining at a discount. As I ease into my chair for a Lady's night of my own, I let these talented songstresses take control. Here are my notes which I scribbled down when drowned in the music*
- Norah Jones : (Rosie’s Lullaby 16/44.1) - More reverbs than other recordings, slow n sweet. Drum attack really good on the DT990. Voicing slightly better on the monitors
- Marcia Seebaran - (Afro Blue 24/96 ) - Luscious, rich and very dark-chocolaty. Immersive and shines on the DT990Pro. Her voice reflects the lyrics of the song... shades of delight, Coco hue, rich as the night... Afro blue.
- Marcia Seebaran : (You’d be so nice to come home to 24/96) - Smooth as rich red wine with a hint of spice and oak. Clear trumpet and double bass audible. Rich blend.
- Opera with lead vocal (The soldier, tir’d of war’s alarms 24/96) : The PX keeps pace with the Voice, wind instruments, stings especially noted is the with a vice grip on the Trumpets, Cellos and bass. The volume had to be cranked up to 11 to take it all in depth, width and instrument ensemble. The DT900s seems to have issues with keeping up with the PX. The monitors keep pace during all the mids, and practically fart when the bass hits :( . Note to self - make sure the upgrade monitors are sealed variety.
- Dawn Langstroth (elevator music 24/96) - Listed to this thrice :) so good. Clear, fresh like the best of white wines. Wonderful image and depth.
- Barb Jungr : (Man in the long black coat 24/96) - Dark, melancholy and the entire feel of a dark rainy day clearly comes through, amazed at the feeling that is coming through. A unique take on Bob Dylan’s favorites.
- Maeve O'Boyle : (Carnival attraction 24/88.2) Bloody hell ! This ROCKS ! a fitting ode to an other lady who had an equally brilliant voice. DT990Pros shine, tiny monitors almost suck.
- Fiona MacKenzie : (At the bottom of the sea 24/44.1) : Her charming Scottish accent is captivating. Supreme imaging even on the DT990Pros. All instruments are seen distinctly the acoustic guitar, piano, organ, bass, drums, strings. Could have done without the Chorus though.
After some time, I put the paper down and just enjoyed the music till the sun peeped through my window. I made sure that I listened to songs that I had heard first-hand as well, this gave me an idea of how true the presentation and imaging was. A night well spent :) and time to hit the bed.
The * was for miss Susan Wong who startled me a bit. Yes, her voice is fresh, a bit edgy and her east-Asian accent is IMHO evident but what I was startled was a wrong note (at least to my ears) during the “Have you ever seen the rain” [around 1m47s] .
During the comparison between CD and USB, I noticed that there was jitter when I switch to USB (press play on the GMPC), while the optical-cable from the CD-Player was connected and the selection knob was still on Opt and the song was playing. Jay : Any ideas why this happens ?
Summary till now : The PX is the quintessential translator, it shows no mercy when it comes to bad recording. With good recordings it simply shines. IMO, It adds no colour nor tonality just presents it as it is.
Next up - The Gentleman’s Club (Male vocals)
Edited by SilentSound - 12/2/11 at 4:58pm