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NuForce uDAC-2 Listening Challenge  

post #1 of 60
Thread Starter 

I've set up a Listening Test among these three USB DACs:

 

 

This test is in response to NuForce having stated several times they compromised the measured performance of the uDAC-2 in favor of better sound quality. So this is a chance to compare the uDac-2's sound to the other 2 DACs above in the most fair and balanced way I could come up with (although feedback on how to do better next is very welcome).

 

I would encourage anyone interested to download the appropriate files from the article, listen, and post your comments here or directly at the end of the blog article. But, for now at least, please don't give away too much if you're fairly certain which files might belong to which source to not spoil the fun for others just yet. Feel free to either post general comments, or message me privately. Thanks!

 

 

NuForce%20uDAC-2%20vs%20Behringer%20UCA202%20Sound_thumb%5B1%5D.jpg

post #2 of 60

Nice of you to provide those tracks. I did the same ABX approach with the Hifiman HM-801 some time ago, and earned quite some weird/hateful/silly responses for that... contrary to your tracks, I matched mine to the quietest player, not the loudest.

 

I listened to both the pieces you provided in FLAC. Setup: Foobar > ASIO > Echo AudioFire4 > EarSonics SM3 and Phonak PFE (grey filters).

 

Monroe and Adams sound slightly worse than the other ones to my ears, I couldn't hear any difference between the other tracks. (It's very late here, and my ears are tired - I might have to retry tomorrow.)

 

I wonder how the same test would be with the headphone out of the DACs, and with a 16 Ohm load? I guess differences would be more audible than with an unloaded test.


Edited by dfkt - 3/5/11 at 6:58pm
post #3 of 60

Listened to the Gaga ones through Foobar > ASIO > HRT Music Streamer II > KICAS > Fischer DBA-02.

 

Adams and Lincoln sound just very slightly worse to me; both were doing something strange with the cymbal crashes, just very slightly, during bass impacts compared to the other two. Adams was more noticable than Lincoln, but it could just be my mind messing with me after hearing the same thing so many times.

 


I can't tell a difference through the Brick House ones.


Edited by andrewliu6294 - 3/5/11 at 7:24pm
post #4 of 60
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the feedback so far. I edited the original post above to add that if some of you do figure out, with a fair amount of certainty, what some of the tracks are, you might want to send a private message for now or keep your comments more general to not give away too much to others just yet. To those of you who already have, thank you for being discrete.

 

 


Edited by nwavguy - 3/6/11 at 12:08am
post #5 of 60
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by andrewliu6294 View Post

Listened to the Gaga ones through Foobar > ASIO > HRT Music Streamer II > KICAS > Fischer DBA-02.

 

Adams and Lincoln sound just very slightly worse to me; both were doing something strange with the cymbal crashes, just very slightly, during bass impacts compared to the other two. Adams was more noticable than Lincoln, but it could just be my mind messing with me after hearing the same thing so many times.

 


I can't tell a difference through the Brick House ones.


Thanks again for your feedback, and I'm curious how happy you are with the HRT Streamer II? It seems to be a really well done product to me from what I can tell. But I've never heard or measured one. That should be a fairly high resolution set up as I've also heard really good things about the Fischers.

 

post #6 of 60
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by dfkt View Post

Nice of you to provide those tracks. I did the same ABX approach with the Hifiman HM-801 some time ago, and earned quite some weird/hateful/silly responses for that... contrary to your tracks, I matched mine to the quietest player, not the loudest.

 

I listened to both the pieces you provided in FLAC. Setup: Foobar > ASIO > Echo AudioFire4 > EarSonics SM3 and Phonak PFE (grey filters).

 

Monroe and Adams sound slightly worse than the other ones to my ears, I couldn't hear any difference between the other tracks. (It's very late here, and my ears are tired - I might have to retry tomorrow.)

 

I wonder how the same test would be with the headphone out of the DACs, and with a 16 Ohm load? I guess differences would be more audible than with an unloaded test.


Yeah, if someone pays well above the going price for something (like an HM-801) you can expect they may get rather defensive when someone comes along and tries to burst their balloon. At least the uDAC-2 is fairly cheap--although it is more than 4 times the price of the Behringer. But the further you move up the price scale, the more you risk people getting angry if someone tries to reveal nothing more than the truth.

 

And yes, I want to test the headphone outputs as well but not sure yet how to best do that. Even with a 16 ohm resistive load, the Behringer struggles a bit. It's much happier with 80+ ohms. If my modifications for the Behringer work out that will make things easier. For now I wanted to be as fair as possible among all three so the line outs seemed best.

 

My main point was to see if there's anything "magic" about the design compromises NuForce claims to have made in the interest of better sound. They seem very confident their DAC sounds better than anything it competes against. So I thought it would be fun to put it up against the $29 Behringer in a listening test.

 

post #7 of 60
Quote:
Originally Posted by dfkt View Post
(It's very late here, and my ears are tired - I might have to retry tomorrow.)


Just wanted to add that today I'm more uncertain about the Lady Gargoyle track. It's so bad sounding, I can't make out any difference anymore between the four versions, after a few rounds of ABXing. For the Sara K. track, it's the same as yesterday for me.

post #8 of 60

I can't say with certainty to have noticed any significant differences, but by concentrating all my audiophile mana on these samples, this is the ranking I came up with:

Brick House (FLAC):
Taft > Harrison > Wilson > Monroe
(better > worse)

I didn't bother with Gaga.

Setup: VLC media player -> Terratec Aureon 5.1 Sky sound card -> Eaton headphone amplifier -> AKG K601 headphone

post #9 of 60
Thread Starter 

Thanks inarc and dfkt. The preferences so far are rather interesting and not quite what I was expecting. But hopefully at least a few more will give it a try and share their preferences. I'm also wondering how many of you just listened versus using the the Foobar ABX component?

 

I'll work on finding a better track to reveal the NuForce 0 dBFS problem when I do the headphone test. I chose Lady Gaga for the very high average levels but it was clipped by the recording engineer that mastered it which probably masks the NuForce distortion. And it's so heavily processed, there's a lot of other masking distortion as well. I in hindsight I think it was a poor choice.

 

So if you're just now finding this thread, you might want to skip the Just Dance tracks and stick with just Brick House.

post #10 of 60

I wouldn't really call it preferences in my case as I couldn't really notice any significant differences. In the end, I just stopped thinking and followed my intuition, which might not say much. Good measuring instruments can register finer subtleties than the human ear, so I'd still trust them over my imagination when it comes to the purpose of DACs that is signal reproduction.


Edited by inarc - 3/6/11 at 8:07am
post #11 of 60

Just doing some quick ABXing, I could not spot any differences... Maybe my hearing is just not what it used to be, but on the other hand maybe I can save money on DACs and amps laugh.gif

post #12 of 60

I DBT'ed the 4 Brickhouse tracks - could not tell any of them apart.

 

EDIT: Changed headphones from Senn HD580 to AD700 - still cannot tell them apart in DBT


Edited by nick_charles - 3/6/11 at 12:22pm
post #13 of 60

I just thought that I perfectly nailed the 'distortion' problem (=the NuForce) with the Gaga track.

I'll PM you anyway.

 

The Sara K track is one I've used for many listening test. But I find it hard to pinpoint the right ones here. It might be the setup I'm currently using (MacBook Pro > Shure E3c). Maybe I have to switch to my Stax setup for this!

 

BTW when I download the Taft version of Brick House in FLAC I only get a 4kB file..... 


Edited by middachten - 3/6/11 at 8:57am
post #14 of 60
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by middachten View Post

I just thought that I perfectly nailed the 'distortion' problem (=the NuForce) with the Gaga track.

I'll PM you anyway.

 

The Sara K track is one I've used for many listening test. But I find it hard to pinpoint the right ones here. It might be the setup I'm currently using (MacBook Pro > Shure E3c). Maybe I have to switch to my Stax setup for this!

 

BTW when I download the Taft version of Brick House in FLAC I only get a 4kB file..... 

 

That track should be about 1.4 MB and works fine for me. Anyone else having a problem? Perhaps you have security software (or a firewall) that thinks the FLAC file is malware and is terminating the download?


 

 

post #15 of 60

I compared the FLAC's on OS X with VLC.

 

The main thing this exercise reinforced for me is that, regardless of playback device, badly recorded/mastered tracks will sound kind of bad and well recorded/mastered tracks will sound pretty good.

 

Brick House FLAC's, ranked from most preferred to least:

  1. Wilson, clearly preferred
  2. Taft, preferred over Harrison by a small margin
  3. Harrison
  4. Monroe, clearly least preferred

 

Just Dance FLAC's, ranked from most referred to least:

  1. Jefferson, preferred by a largish margin
  2. Lincoln, nearly the same as Jackson
  3. Jackson
  4. Adams, clearly the worst
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