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The Vintage Dac & CD Player List/Review Thread

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Thread Starter 

Here it is. This will be an ongoing project that I imagine will last for a few years. I will try to get my hands on as many vintage dacs and cd players as I can and review each one. Many consider the 90's to be the golden age of digital and although the technology has advanced since then, the sound has not. There are bargains to be had out there in the used market. For example, yesteryear's $3000 dac can be had for around $500. When one compares that to any $500 dac made today, they will realize the value to be had in the used market. The objective of this project is to introduce and familiarize people to these vintage dacs so that they may take them into consideration when planning their next purchase. As far as the pics, I just searched around, so none of them are actually my own. I will use the same tracks when reviewing in order to minimize any variables. Well then let's get started. First I will list my system components so that you may take that into context with the reviews.

 

Amp: Odyssey Stratos Plus

Pre: Classe SSP-25

Transport: Musical Fidelity A3 CD

Cabling: VD

Speakers: Martin Logan Aerius i

 

System changes as of 04/15/11:

 

Amp: Raysonic SP-66 integrated

Transport: Theta Data Basic

Everything else is same

 

 

Audio-gd Reference 7

 

MSRP: $1750-$1900

 

Non Vintage

 

Ref 7.JPG

 

The Audio-gd Reference 7 is not a vintage dac but it does use vintage chips (pcm-1704 uk). I decided to take advantage of the loaner program and compare this to a true vintage dac, the Sonic Frontiers SFD-1. The Reference 7 arrived nicely packed. It came with a power cord, previous DSP, and rca to bnc digital cable. I will not be using this cable since neither the SFD-1 nor my transport have a bnc output or input anyway. Upon unpacking, the Reference 7 was freezing cold due to the current weather, so I let it sit until the chassis was at room temperature before plugging anything in. Speaking of the chassis, the Reference 7 is fairly well built but there is room for improvement.

 

Vibration could easily be felt with gentle knocking on the top. A clanking sound was heard when knocking on the sides. The weight feels the same as the SFD-1, however, most of the weight is emphasized in the front, where the transformers are located, which gives the dac an uneven balance in weight distribution. The Reference 7 has rounded corners which is something you don't see in many dacs. It is packed to the hilt with connections featuring rca, xlr, acss analog outputs on each side and toslink, rca, bnc, and xlr digital inputs. The only input missing that would have made it complete is an st-glass optical input. The iec is located in the center on the back beneath the digital connections. The front has a power button, digital display selection indicator, and an input selection knob. The feet seem to be aluminum discs with a very thin layer of rubber. More attention could have been given to the feet for isolation purposes. Also, the feet definitely could have been higher allowing more clearance underneath for a person's fingers when setting the dac down.

 

Operation is quirky. Upon pressing the power button I was greeted with a quick flash on the display followed by nothing. After approximately 10 seconds, the display came back and stayed on. I can see how this would lead an impatient person to believe the dac to be non functional. The knob does not acknowledge every twist, rather the knob has to be turned continuously until the number on the display changes. There is no standby feature which means the dac needs to be on all the time. There is no power led. The only way of knowing that the unit is powered up is from the display indicator. There is also no signal lock led. This is a major flaw because a signal lock led is crucial in cases of trouble shooting IMO. Also missing is a phase switch.

 

At this price, I would expect at least these features to be on a dac. One of the interesting aspects of this dac is that it features an adjustable DSP with which the user can adjust settings via jumpers such as oversampling, attenuation, dithering, PLL, and filtering. When removing the top, I found the build quality to be a bit shoddy. The screw holes didn't evenly line up and one of the dividers was loose. Also the iec could not support the weight of my VD power cable so I had to use a different cable which still sagged a bit at the connector but not as bad as the VD.I will be reviewing the unit in different settings. The first will be

 

PLL

Attenuation

Oversampling

Digital Filter

Dithering

active

-130db

8x

active

active

Under this mode, it was nearly the equal of the SFD-1. Output of this dac is a little higher at 2.5v than the SFD-1 at 2.2v but once levels were matched on the pre, I could switch back and forth with no problem. The two sound fairly identical and the differences are SUBTLE and would not be noticed without a direct A-B comparison. The SFD-1 edged out the Reference 7 in microdynamics. On the  SFD-1, I felt more of a sense that a string was vibrating after being struck. Vocals were very good on the Reference 7 but on the SFD-1, the vocals really hit home. Macrodynamics were pretty much equal between the two. Also, the Reference 7 seemed to have displayed a false sense of air.

 

Every track had so much air which made it seem as if the performers were in Carnegie Hall. Must be the dithering because when I switched dithering to off, that excessive air was no longer present. So for the remainder of this review, I will leave the dithering off since I feel it is more accurate. Also, I could not detect any difference in the different attenuation settings so I will leave that at -130db. The low end on the SFD-1 is sharper outlined than on the Ref 7 which is not something I expected given the SFD-1 is a tube dac. With the SFD-1, I could feel the kick drum in my chest (the volume does not have to be loud to experience this effect). Though neither come close to Theta, mbl, or Krell which are kings in the low end department IMO. One more note before specific comparisons. The SFD-1 was more liquid than the Reference 7, the succeeding notes of instruments just flowed more naturally with the SFD-1.

 

First up, Daidai by Chatmonchy. This girl has a horrible voice, I have no idea how she managed to end up on a cd. I have seen her live in Tokyo a few times so I know how she sounds in real life. Although her voice is far from perfect, it doesn't deter from enjoying the music. I use this track to discern any artificial smoothing. Some dacs/players will smooth over her voice and it won't sound so bad. Others will reveal her voice for what it is, nails on a chalkboard. The SF is of the latter, no artifical smoothing here. Her voice is intact, cracking and all. However, it doesn't highlight the vocals so as to deter from the overall enjoyment, much like how I remember in real life. On the Reference 7, her voice was too smooth, I didn't hear the natural cracking of her voice.

 

Next, switching to Chu-Bura by Kelun. Many units can slip on the leading edge of the guitar on this one. What this does is leads to a sense of blurring of the guitar leaving the listener unable to discern when the strings are being struck. Not the case with the SFD-1. Not only could I hear when the guitar was being struck but I could actually hear the sound of the pic striking the strings as well, impressive. During the chorus, the SFD-1 gives an impressive display of air on the vocals. The emotions of the singer really hit me. Also, I could hear the reverberations within the recording venue and could discern the recording venue to be a small size. With the Reference 7, I heard a bit of blurring and the recording venue (as mentioned earlier) was exaggerated quite a bit. The emotions of the singer were not as clear either.

 

Switching to Tabidatsu Kimi He by RSP, the vocals consist of two young ladies who have very similar voices and on many units I can't tell who is singing or when. This track is my acid test for vocal separation. With the SFD-1, I had no troubles discerning who was singing or when they switched. Very good vocal separation. The piano sounded very accurate as well. With the Reference 7, the piano sounded nearly as good but it was a bit more difficult to discern who was singing and when.

 

Now I'll try something more people may be familiar with. On the SFD-1 Sweet Child O' Mine by Gun's n Roses. Axl's voice is accurate retaining his slight raspiness. The entire soundstage envelopes the listener. Slash's solo was sweet only how it could be live. In fact, I almost felt that I was listening to them live again. With the Reference 7, The raspiness in Axl's voice was nearly gone and Slash's solo wasn't as engaging.

 

Last but not least, End of Heartache by Killswitch Engage. I saw these guys in concert once and I can vividly remember how Howard Jones voice bellows with emotion and echoes throughout the venue. If you've ever seen these guys live, you know what I'm talking about. His voice is just as powerful as the riffs in this song. The SFD-1 retained much of that experience, especially with its uncanny ability at portraying ambience. There are many units out there that are not very good with metal. Often obscuring leading edge of bass or guitar and masking it with kick drum. With the SFD-1, it all seems to be there. It cuts through the layering of guitars enabling the listener to hear every instrument and follow its rythm. With the Reference 7, the effect of Jones's voice was not as pronounced and the bass was muddled with the kick drum which kept me from following the line of either instrument. On to the next mode.

 

 

PLL

Attenuation

Oversampling

Digital Filter

Dithering

active

-130db

4x

active

inactive

In this mode, things start to get a little congested but it comes closer to matching the fluidity of the SFD-1. Bass is better delineated. Microdynamics take a steup up. Other than that, not much is different, so on to the next mode.

 

 

PLL

Attenuation

Oversampling

Digital Filter

Dithering

active

-130db

2x

active

inactive

I'm starting to see a pattern here. Again, things get a bit more congested but fluidity and bass delineation along with microdynamics become better. Nothing else is different. Next mode.

 

 

PLL

Attenuation

Oversampling

Digital Filter

Dithering

active

-130db

NOS

inactive

inactive

This is NOS (non oversampling) mode, although it doesn't come close to sounding like a real NOS dac IMO. Here, however, the differences (in terms of sounding natural) between the Reference 7 and SFD-1 start to become negligible. On Guns n' Roses Sweet Child O' Mine, Slash's solo sounds just like it should, he really rips through those strings. Axl's voice has that raspiness that he should have. Unfortunately, there is one large difference and that is the soundstage width collapses and things get very congested with a hint of a nasal sound. I cannot listen to the dac in this mode for very long without feeling uncomfortable.   

 

Overall, the Reference 7 is not a bad dac and I'm sure it sounds better than much of the garbage being made today. I feel it would make a great match if you have a tube pre or amp. However, I would not describe it as neutral given the artificial smoothing it exhibits in certain modes. This comparison was up against a Sonic Frontiers SFD-1 and keep in mind, although it retailed for $2500 back in 1993, that was the entry level dac in the SF lineup. There is an SFD-2 and an SFD-3 (although it's officially named Processor 3), both of which exceed the performance of the SFD-1 by a good margin. Some of you may recall my earlier impressions with the Reference 7 which was at my professors home. His system is all mbl but he has some other dacs laying around. The closest in price range was a Theta Gen Va and it pretty much embarrassed the Reference 7. So is the Reference 7 a good dac? Sure. Can it compete with good vintage dacs? Maybe. Can it compete with a top tier dac of yester year such as a Levinson 30, 35, Theta Gen Va, Audio Research Dac 3, Sonic Frontiers Processor 3, Krell Reference, etc...? IMO not even close.

 

Update: Was just doing some listening during the "magic hours". You know, usually late at night extending into the crack of dawn. For me, those hours extend into 11am. I just picked up on a significant difference between the SFD-1 and the Reference 7 that I was unable to detect during my initial listening, which took place in the afternoon might I add. I will start from the beginning. This morning I decided to do some more listening with the Reference 7 to see if anything might have changed. I decided to switch the dithering on due to a certain person insisting I was cutting the fidelity in half by leaving it off. The oversampling was left at 8x. This time around I didn't listen to any of my usual reference tracks. Rather, I left the cd in which was playing from the previous night. To The Secrets & Knowledge by Number One Gun. I was expecting to hear what I heard before, very subtle differences. From the very start I noticed something didn't seem right, or at least not the way I remembered it sounding when I was listening with the SFD-1. I just kept listening anyway. Track 8 came up which is an instrumental. The beginning of the track features 3 strings being plucked separately in intervals from an electric guitar. The very first pluck, I noticed something was definitely different. I had to play it back again to make sure I wasn't imagining things. Sure enough, it didn't even sound like an electric guitar, it sounded acoustic until the rythm picks up and more strings are plucked. I noticed that I was hearing only the start of the note of each pluck, with little decay, and it sounded thin and mechanical. I immediately switched to the SFD-1 to see if I would hear the same thing.

 

Nope. I heard the full note, fully fleshed out, decay and all. I turned dithering off on the Reference 7 and switched back to it. Same thing as before (start of note, no decay with thin and mechanical sound) just no excessive air. For fear of losing my mind, I dug my Ibanez out of the closet, looked up the chords to the song, and plucked away. I don't have the exact same Ibanez or amp as the performer does, but I was mainly listening to the nature of the instrument itself rather than just the tonality. Hmmm, sounds pretty much the same as on the SFD-1. That is, when I pluck the string I hear the start of the note and the full decay as the string vibrates unless I stop it. Switching back to the Reference 7 and I only hear the start of the note with little decay and again it sounds thin and mechanical. Seems to me the SFD-1 is more truthful of what's on the disc, it captures more of the midrange texture. I left the pre switched to the Reference 7 and listened to the cd from beginning to end. Here's what I notice. The tonal balance is more in favor of the upper midrange and highs, there is a glare in the mid range which can be fatiguing in an all solid state system, and overall it has a thin, dry and mechanical sound. Now this reminds me of how the Reference 7 sounded when I first heard it at my professor's residence. He has a Power Plant Premier, so listening in the day time is just as good as during the magic hours by the way. I have to be honest here, I was expecting much more from the Reference 7 and overall it left me disappointed. The differences between the two dacs were no longer subtle but very apparent. The SFD-1 has more body, has a more even tonal balance only slightly rolled in the highs (I'll attribute that to the Amperex tubes I'm using), has greater impact in the low end, is more liquid (succeding notes flow more convincingly), and has a wider and deeper soundstage. Again, keep in mind my system (listed at the very top of this thread) is for the most part neutral. YMMV.

 

Audio Note Dac Kit 2.1B

 

MSRP: $1475

 

Non Vintage

audio note1.jpg   audio note2.jpg

 

Where do I even start with this one? Another dac that uses vintage chips but is not really a vintage dac. There are a couple of aspects that distinguish this from the others. First, this is a kit in which, it needs assembly. I got lucky and found a used one so assembly was not needed. Although I didn't have to assemble it, I had to go through the lengthy burn in process.  Apparently the  original and 2nd owners (I'm the 3rd owner) didn't listen to it hardly at all. I suspect they thought it was inferior sounding to whatever else they were using due to the fact that the right channel was wired out of phase (which neither owner knew about) and of course it wasn't burned in. At the time of this review, it has ~672 hours of burn in. It took over 100 hours to get past the roller coaster phase and didn't start sounding stabilized until after 500 hours.

 

The second aspect that differentiates this dac from others. It is a NOS (non over sampling) dac. Your basic dac will have a digital filter, over sampling, jitter reduction, some have upsampling, and an analog filter. This dac lacks all of those. The digital signal is as pure as it can be at the time of conversion. This means the digital signal may also have a ton of jitter depending on transport used. The analog signal is also as pure as can be and travels straight to the outputs without any filtering. Audio Note calls this technology "direct from disc." The only thing that can affect the analog signal to a certain degree are the coupling caps.

 

The AN is a monster of a dac measuring at 15" wide, 5.5" high, and 16" deep. Weighing in at nearly 30 lbs, it has a bit of weight to it. The main transformer in this thing would be fit for an amp! It is a no frills dac. There is a switch on the back for input selection, power switch, power led on front and thats it. No standby feature, so the dac should remain on at all times. Not even a phase switch. This dac utilizes the AD 1865N 20 bit chip. For tubes, it uses one 6x5 for rectification, one ecl82 for regulation and two 6922 in the analog output stage,  I'll cut and paste the rest of the design features from the web site.

 

 ·  Digital and analog sections both have dedicated power supplies.

·  Our highly praised M2 power supply is used for the analog section.

·  Dual 6922 (individually heated) analog board.

·  No analog filtering (analog filtering has been totally removed).

·  I/V transformers to maximize energy transfer in the digital to analog section coupling (standard with Level B).

·  USB digital input option.

·  Signature digital board available with Audio Note Digital Interface Transformer and Black       Gates (standard with Level B).

·  Digital board comes ready assembled.

·  Highly configurable with a great range of options and upgrades available

 

So how does it sound? In one word, incredible. I was very skeptical, going into this disregarding all of the rave reviews. Forget price brackets, this is one of the best dacs I've heard at any price period. I would put this at the same level as the mbl 1511D I previously owned. Here's something to shed some perspective on things. I read this somewhere a long time ago so I'll quote "mbl is known for their telephone number price tags." I found that tidbit amusing yet true. Although they are different animals in regards to presentation, their performance sets these dacs in a different league from the others I've owned. How are they different animals? The Audio Note is more like a turn table. It's the only dac in which I have been able to come home after a hard day of work or the gym and be able to completely relax to any cd with. The mbl would not let me relax. It is a dac that demands your attention much like live music front row center does.

 

Now here's the part in which I feel the Audio Note exceeds the mbl. Cymbals. Until now,  all dacs I have heard, cymbals lacked the pristine tonality, shimmer, and appropriate attack/decay  that only vinyl seems to offer. Even the mighty mbl failed when it came to cymbals. I could always hear the attack and decay on these dacs, but what I couldn't hear was the magnitude of those aspects. For instance, on the mbl, if a cymbal was hit hard, I would hear the initial attack but not the corresponding decay that should go with it. The decay wasn't as long as it should have been. This would often confuse me as to how hard the cymbal was hit. The Audio Note passes this test with flying colors. It presents cymbals in all their glory. CRASH, ZING, SSSHHHHH. For the first time on digital I can now accurately hear the magnitude of the strike on a cymbal regardless of how complex the material may be. That goes for any instrument, not just cymbals. I never mentioned this cymbal issue in any other reviews because I previously thought it was simply a limitation of digital. 

Critical listening is really difficult with this dac. It's one of those dacs that makes you forget about the equipment and enjoy the music. So for this review, I'm going to skip on the usual analyzing certain tracks. It's so involving yet relaxing. There's no edge at all and everything sounds so right. Even good digital has an edge to some degree in my experience.

 

That's not to say that this dac smoothes over leading edge transients. Not at all, in fact I'm hearing more detail on the AN than I have with even analytical sounding dacs. Yet, the AN manages to never sound fatiguing like the other dacs could. Don't get me wrong, it's still a garbage in garbage out dac. It will not make your horrible recordings sound euphonic. But those bad recordings will sound better than they would on other dacs.

The AN is also the only dac in which I have been able to listen to some entire cd's that I never listened to on other dacs. For instance, I actually felt no urge to change the song at any time when listening to the Gun's n Roses Greatest Hits cd. Can't say I have ever been able to do that before now. Usually, I just skip right ahead to my favorite songs. But for whatever reason with the AN, I had no such urge to skip ahead at all. Each time I put in a cd, I'm entranced in whatever I listen to and the cd is over before I know it. It's like my turn table in which I just put on a record and listen to the whole thing from start to end.

 

Speaking of turn table, I put the AN head to head against my Pink Triangle turn table with Helius tone arm and Accuphase cartridge. Not exactly a high end turn table but certainly not beginner level either. The sound was nearly indistinguishable. I say nearly only because of the limited dynamic range and pops and clicks associated with vinyl. Other than that, I couldn't tell the two apart.

 

Given that the job of a dac is to convert a digital signal into an analog signal and that I can't tell much difference from this dac and a true analog source, I would have to say the AN is the most accurate dac I've ever heard. I can't fault this dac at all, especially at the price. But even if it cost $10,000 I still wouldn't be able to fault it. Folks this is a stopping point in my search. If I upgrade from this in the future, it will be to the next kit in the Audio Note lineup. I have found my holy grail of digital. If you're one of those people that are searching for digital that sounds like vinyl but think you'll never find it or even if you're just looking for something different, I highly recommend you try this kit.

 

 

Musical Fidelity A3 CD

Msrp: $999

 

Vintage: 2000
 

mf1.JPG


Wow I don't know where to start with this one. Not only are the aesthetics pleasing but it sounds good as well. A beautiful brushed aluminum fascia with gold trim. It has an excellent build quality. The tray is thicker than what I usually see at this price point. It weighs nearly 25 lbs and would make a great transport as well. Nothing feels cheap here, except the remote. The dac chip is nothing special. It is a solid state design that uses the BB pcm-1716 24 bit delta sigma chip that upsamples to 24/96. There are very few dacs/players that have impressed me upon first listen and this is one of them. Here we have a player that didn't get very much press. However, the reason as to why is beyond me. It absolutely blows away the Marantz DV-9500. With the Marantz, the drum kit is in the parking lot, the bass is backstage, the guitar is on stage and vocalists are in your face. With the MF, all of the performers are on stage. It is more detailed than the Marantz but not analytical. Lows and highs are very well extended for this price point.

 

This is not the type of player that will wow you with soundstaging and imaging capabilities. This is a player that will let you enjoy your cd collection regardless of the quality of the recording. That alone is worthy of praise in my book. In fact, this review was delayed because I was so busy just listening and enjoying rather than trying to analyze it. First up, Daidai by Chatmonchy. This girl has a horrible voice, I have no idea how she managed to end up on a cd. I have seen her live in Tokyo a few times so I know how she sounds in real life. Although her voice is far from perfect, it doesn't deter from enjoying the music. I use this track to discern any artificial smoothing. Some dacs/players will smooth over her voice and it won't sound so bad. Others will reveal her voice for what it is, nails on a chalkboard. The MF is of the latter. It lets you hear her voice as it really is but it doesn't do so in a way that prevents you from enjoying the music as a whole.

 

Next switching to Chu-Bura by Kelun. Many units can slip on the leading edge of the guitar on this one. What this does is leads to a sense of blurring of the guitar leaving the listener unable to discern when the strings are being struck. Not quite the case with MF. I could tell when the strings were being struck but I could not hear the pic striking them, however, there was no blurring noticed.

 

Switching to Tabidatsu Kimi He by RSP, the vocals consist of two young ladies who have very similar voices and on many units I can't tell who is singing or when. The MF pulls through again. Not only could I tell who was singing but I could also tell when they switched or when they were both singing in unison, amazing! However, one thing that bothered me, I felt the overtones on the piano were a bit axaggerated.

 

Switching things up to Sweet Child O' Mine by Guns n Roses. This track can quickly become fatiguing (particularly when Slash goes into his solo) on other units. The MF sailed through without being fatiguing. Last track End of Heartache by Killswitch Engage...when I find it I'll edit.

 

The msrp on this unit was $999, however it is very reminiscent of the Lector CDP-7TL I once owned and the msrp on that player was over $4000. Performance of this nature at this price point is simply unheard of. Is it perfect? Well, no. Does it sound like vinyl? Not quite, but it doesn't sound very digital either. What doesn't it do so well? It is not the most extended or dynamic player, it does not have an expansive 3d soundstage, and there is a hint of grain present. These shortcomings are only noticed when compared to players that are on another price level. This is truly the level of diminishing returns for a one box solution. I feel you would have to pay thousands more to do any better. For someone looking for a one box cd player in the $500 used market range, this would be an excellent good choice. I was originally going to sell this but after hearing it, I'm definitely keeping it.  

 

 

Proceed DAP:

 

Msrp: $2500

 

Vintage: 1997

People frequently mention how this is a scaled down Levinson 36. First off I will say I honestly cannot hear the resemblance to Levinson in this dac which could be a good thing. Unlike Levinson, it's not ruthlessly revealing of the recording so it doesn't render bad recordings as unlistenable. The Proceed DAP utilizes the AD1863 chip. Given this, I was expecting a bit of a rough sound. However, this was not the case. The very first word that came to mind at first listen was "air". A bit of a surprise given that this unit does not upsample. The DAP is also smooth without a hint of harshness. The pacing is of the snappy variety keeping you on your toes. Detail seems to be all there without any frequency highlighting. Low level resolution is a bit lacking compared to some of the more finer dacs. Not a bad dac overall but the differences are only subtle compared to my Marantz DV-9500. That is to say, nothing really screamed "major upgrade" at me. I'm sure if I had a dedicated transport and better digital cable on hand, a bit more low level detail could have been squeezed out. This dac can also be used as a preamp although I didn't try it.

 

 

Sonic Frontiers SFD-1

 

Msrp: $2495

 

Vintage: 1993

 

sfd1_1.jpg  sfd1_2.jpg

 

 

Build quality is excellence with a hefty weight. It uses the long gone Ultra Analog D20400A chip. This chip is considered legendary by many audiophiles and for good reason. Two 6dj8 tubes reside in the analog path.

 

Initially I was disappointed with this unit. I neglected to think of the possibility that it was not in use for some time. At first the sound was very mechanical and harsh, sounded like typical cd. So I ended up switching back to the MF and left the SF to cook for a few days. After which, I became curious and connected the dac again. What a change. The sound was now the opposite of what it was before. It is smooth, detailed, organic, and non fatiguing. It has an incredible sense of air which accurately portrays the size of the recording venue. Its forte is ambience. Bass is nice and tight along with its powerful impact, the leading edge to notes is there, and it has a soundstage that envelopes the listener. The soundstage is as deep as it is wide. Imaging is just a tad unfocused but this dac seems to be more of the organic variety than of the hi-fi variety that wows you with a sterile background and pinpoint imaging. I have yet to get some better tubes, so these impressions are with the sovteks installed. I was going to wait on the write up until I had better tubes but I'm not sure when that will be. So I will proceed with the review and update it when I acquire better tubes.

 

First up, Daidai by Chatmonchy. This girl has a horrible voice, I have no idea how she managed to end up on a cd. I have seen her live in Tokyo a few times so I know how she sounds in real life. Although her voice is far from perfect, it doesn't deter from enjoying the music. I use this track to discern any artificial smoothing. Some dacs/players will smooth over her voice and it won't sound so bad. Others will reveal her voice for what it is, nails on a chalkboard. The SF is of the latter, no artifical smoothing here. Her voice is intact, cracking and all. However, it doesn't highlight the vocals so as to deter from the overall enjoyment, much like how I remember in real life.

 

Next, switching to Chu-Bura by Kelun. Many units can slip on the leading edge of the guitar on this one. What this does is leads to a sense of blurring of the guitar leaving the listener unable to discern when the strings are being struck. Not the case with the SFD-1. Not only could I hear when the guitar was being struck but I could actually hear the sound of the pic striking the strings as well, impressive. During the chorus, the SFD-1 gives an impressive display of air on the vocals. I could hear the reverberations within the recording venue and could discern the recording venue to be a small size.

 

Switching to Tabidatsu Kimi He by RSP, the vocals consist of two young ladies who have very similar voices and on many units I can't tell who is singing or when. This track is my acid test for vocal separation. With the SFD-1, I had no troubles discerning who was singing or when they switched. Very good vocal separation. The piano sounded very accurate as well, which is something I felt the Musical Fidelity player slipped up on. I often felt the overtones on the MF were somewhat exaggerated.

 

Now I'll try something more people may be familiar with. Sweet Child O' Mine by Gun's n Roses. Axl's voice is accurate retaining his slight raspiness. But with the SFD-1, the entire soundstage envelopes the listener. Slash's solo was sweet only how it could be live. In fact, I almost felt that I was listening to them live again.

 

Last but not least, End of Heartache by Killswitch Engage. I saw these guys in concert once and I can vividly remember how Howard Jones voice bellows with emotion and echoes throughout the venue. If you've ever seen these guys live, you know what I'm talking about. His voice is just as powerful as the riffs in this song. The SFD-1 retained much of that experience, especially with it's uncanny ability at portraying ambience. There are many units out there that are not very good with metal. Often obscuring leading edge of bass or guitar and masking it with kick drum. With the SFD-1, it all seems to be there. It cuts through the layering of guitars enabling the listener to hear every instrument and follow its rythm.   

 

With an msrp of $2495, I feel this dac punches well above its weight. Of course it can be had for much less now, around $700-$800 should be a fair price. If you find it at anything below that, grab it before someone else does. So what doesn't it do so well? Well, the top end could have a bit more air and presence. There seems to be an overall film of grain, but this could and most likely is the fault of the sovtek tubes. I always prefer tubes over solid state simply because they are more flexible. You can easily taylor the sound to your taste by trying different tubes. Overall this is a very musical (not colored) and involving dac that I find very hard to fault even at its original msrp. I will update this when I acquire better tubes. Also, it will go head to head against the audio-gd Ref-7 later this month so you can look forward to impressions of direct comparisons. 


Update: Amperex orange globe A-frame tubes installed. I take back what I previously said about imaging. Imaging is now precise with excellent separation. These tubes take this dac to another level. There is more body. Bass extends into the nether realm. Nuances are far more pronounced to the point where it is spooky. The soundstage has increased in all dimensions making it truly 3-d. For the first time in a long time, the hair on my forearms was standing on end and goosebumps were present. Out of the many digital units I have came across, I can remember having this experience with only one other dac. However, these tubes are not known for having a very extended top end. I really wanted some Telefunkens as they are my reference for a neutrally balanced tube, but they are hideously expensive. So, I settled for these Amperex. In the end, it is the tubes that will determine the sound you get from this dac. IMO depending on tubes, this dac could go head to head with more modern stuff costing up to $5k.

 


Edited by computerparts - 5/13/11 at 4:44pm
post #2 of 170
Thread Starter 

Sonic Frontiers SFD-1 added.

post #3 of 170

This is great, CP - I had previously sworn that I would never bother with a CDP again (just too much hassle, particularly when the optical drive starts to play up), but reading your review of the A3 makes me want one. Unlike a lot of the older CDPs, I also think it has aged well - it still looks like the kind of device that wouldnt send the fairer sex into a spin if you installed it in the living room. I cant say the same of some of the older Marantz disc spinners, for example ....

 

Well done. 

post #4 of 170

Counterpoint DA-10 DAC in use, manufactured in 1991... can be found for 500$ and upgraded in verious fashions. Love it.

post #5 of 170

Interesting, Thanks for doing this, will keep an eye on this tread. maybe you can test the headphone out also if it has one?beerchug.gif

post #6 of 170

Great thread. Would love to hear your thoughts on the EAD DSP-7000/9000, the Parasound DACs, the Classe DAC-1, the Audio Research DAC-1, and the Theta Gen Va.

post #7 of 170
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveBSC View Post

Great thread. Would love to hear your thoughts on the EAD DSP-7000/9000, the Parasound DACs, the Classe DAC-1, the Audio Research DAC-1, and the Theta Gen Va.

 

Thanks for the suggestions. I have owned those Classe, ARC, and Theta dacs in the past, but the system was different as well. It will be quite some time before I can afford a dac at that level again but they are all on the list.
 

post #8 of 170

The MK2 and MK3 versions of the EAD DSP-7000 which used the PCM-63 are pretty common, and seem to sell in the $500-600 range. The MK1 used the AD1862N-J, and seem to be considerably more rare. The ARC DAC-1 I'm pretty sure was an UltraAnalog DAC, and goes for around $500. The Classe was another UA design and sells for around $1200, as was the Parasound DAC-2000 Ultra. I haven't seen one of those in awhile, so I'm not sure what the going rate is now.

 

The Theta Gen Va I think uses PCM-63s and seems to be around $1500. There are a few Levinson 30.5 and 30.6s around, but man are they pricey. You don't see too many of the lesser 35s and 36s I think because most have been upgraded to 360s.

 

What's funny is that the Spectral costs about half what a Levinson 30.5 does on the used market, and I'm sure it sounds way better.

post #9 of 170
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveBSC View Post

The MK2 and MK3 versions of the EAD DSP-7000 which used the PCM-63 are pretty common, and seem to sell in the $500-600 range. The MK1 used the AD1862N-J, and seem to be considerably more rare. The ARC DAC-1 I'm pretty sure was an UltraAnalog DAC, and goes for around $500. The Classe was another UA design and sells for around $1200, as was the Parasound DAC-2000 Ultra. I haven't seen one of those in awhile, so I'm not sure what the going rate is now.

 

The Theta Gen Va I think uses PCM-63s and seems to be around $1500. There are a few Levinson 30.5 and 30.6s around, but man are they pricey. You don't see too many of the lesser 35s and 36s I think because most have been upgraded to 360s.

 

What's funny is that the Spectral costs about half what a Levinson 30.5 does on the used market, and I'm sure it sounds way better.



That's interesting, I thought all the EAD's used the pcm-63. I wonder how the MkI differed in sound from the others. There were two versions of the ARC Dac 1. One was 18 bit, the other was 20 bit and designated Dac 1-20. I owned the latter. I also owned a Levinson 35 which was completely different than the 36 and its successors. Indeed, they are next to impossible to find. I knew I should have kept it. There was no upgrade available for it as it had nothing in common with the 36 and later versions. It was also the heaviest dac I owned coming in at 55 lbs and bared a family resemblance to the 30. Haven't heard the Spectral but have heard good things about it. Anyway, for now I can only stay in the below $1k market. I don't have my eyes on another dac yet. It's going to be very difficult to sell the SFD-1 as I have been enjoying it immensely. I finally have some better tubes coming in for it so I'll be sure to update with impressions.

post #10 of 170

Dear Counterparts,

   Can you inform your impression about the cello reference DAC?

   What is the best DAC in your opinion to be used with the computer based music?

Thanks,

post #11 of 170
I like this thread!

One of my favorite vintage pieces is an original Rega Planet. I think the MSRP was around $1,000, but they go around $300 these days. It has a musical ease to its presentation, similar to vinyl, with an excellent recording. Perhaps not the last word in detail, but musical and a pleasure to listen to.

I love the "barbeque grill" ribbed case. It's entirely cast aluminum and nicely finished. The way the lid opens is fun (and sturdy) and the minimalist red LCD display is perfect. For the price, it's a tremendous value. Makes a wonderful transport, as well.
post #12 of 170
Quote:
Originally Posted by computerparts View Post

That's interesting, I thought all the EAD's used the pcm-63. I wonder how the MkI differed in sound from the others. There were two versions of the ARC Dac 1. One was 18 bit, the other was 20 bit and designated Dac 1-20. I owned the latter. I also owned a Levinson 35 which was completely different than the 36 and its successors. Indeed, they are next to impossible to find. I knew I should have kept it. There was no upgrade available for it as it had nothing in common with the 36 and later versions. It was also the heaviest dac I owned coming in at 55 lbs and bared a family resemblance to the 30. Haven't heard the Spectral but have heard good things about it. Anyway, for now I can only stay in the below $1k market. I don't have my eyes on another dac yet. It's going to be very difficult to sell the SFD-1 as I have been enjoying it immensely. I finally have some better tubes coming in for it so I'll be sure to update with impressions.


Interesting, I don't think I've seen a 35 so I just assumed it was in that same line as the 36/s and 360/s. The Spectral used custom versions of the UA DACs. The digital receiver was a pretty pedestrian CS8412 I think, but Spectral had some kind of jitter eliminating magic chip in there, plus the PMD100 filter, and of course a first rate discrete output stage and power supply. I haven't personally heard it either, but supposedly it still ranks among the very best DACs ever made.

 

I'm curious if you've ever heard the Perpetual Tech boxes, and if so how you'd rank them compared to these R-2R designs.

post #13 of 170
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveBSC View Post

Interesting, I don't think I've seen a 35 so I just assumed it was in that same line as the 36/s and 360/s. The Spectral used custom versions of the UA DACs. The digital receiver was a pretty pedestrian CS8412 I think, but Spectral had some kind of jitter eliminating magic chip in there, plus the PMD100 filter, and of course a first rate discrete output stage and power supply. I haven't personally heard it either, but supposedly it still ranks among the very best DACs ever made.

 

I'm curious if you've ever heard the Perpetual Tech boxes, and if so how you'd rank them compared to these R-2R designs.


I have heard the P-Tech stuff a while back. I'm not sure of the models but it was two units stacked on top of each other. It was rather lean from what I remember. IMO it cant hold a candle to these older dacs.

post #14 of 170
Quote:
Originally Posted by computerparts View Post



Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveBSC View Post

Interesting, I don't think I've seen a 35 so I just assumed it was in that same line as the 36/s and 360/s. The Spectral used custom versions of the UA DACs. The digital receiver was a pretty pedestrian CS8412 I think, but Spectral had some kind of jitter eliminating magic chip in there, plus the PMD100 filter, and of course a first rate discrete output stage and power supply. I haven't personally heard it either, but supposedly it still ranks among the very best DACs ever made.

 

I'm curious if you've ever heard the Perpetual Tech boxes, and if so how you'd rank them compared to these R-2R designs.


I have heard the P-Tech stuff a while back. I'm not sure of the models but it was two units stacked on top of each other. It was rather lean from what I remember. IMO it cant hold a candle to these older dacs.


Yeah there was a lot of hype when they were released about the upsampler and the CS4397 "Super DAC", with mags saying they were in the same ballpark as Levinson and even Wadia and dCS. The reality doesn't seem to bear that out, and I'm sure the CS4397 is a joke compared to the best current AD and Wolfson delta-sigma DACs. Surprisingly the P-Tech set seems to still sell for $600-700, which I don't really understand as they don't have the same vintage appeal of the R-2R designs. They are just outdated.

post #15 of 170
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveBSC View Post

Yeah there was a lot of hype when they were released about the upsampler and the CS4397 "Super DAC", with mags saying they were in the same ballpark as Levinson and even Wadia and dCS. The reality doesn't seem to bear that out, and I'm sure the CS4397 is a joke compared to the best current AD and Wolfson delta-sigma DACs. Surprisingly the P-Tech set seems to still sell for $600-700, which I don't really understand as they don't have the same vintage appeal of the R-2R designs. They are just outdated.


Must still be popular with some people. Wasn't upsampling the talk of the time back then? I remember the MSB dac which employed upsampling was hyped up as well. I was curious so I bought one and it was absolutely blown away by my Theta DS Pro Basic I also had at the time. I guess one should really take into account the amount of advertising there is in the mag from these flavor of the month products that get rave reviews.

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