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Which DAC for a Phonitor + HD 800 ?

post #1 of 38
Thread Starter 

 

Hello, 

 

Sorry for the "which X for Y and Z" sort of thread. If you think it's a pain, don't respond to it and it will sink at the bottom end of the thread pages.

 

I'm interested in buying a nice system but I'm still perplex as to which DAC would be most interesting to pair with a Phonitor + HD 800 (potentially using Amarra or Decibels as player). I was thinking about those :

 

- Mytek DSD DAC

- Anedio D2

- Lavry DA11

- Violectric V800

 

I prefer to buy either professional equipments or from designers with a good and serious reputation (yes, that means measurements and no dubious marketing verbiage). There may be other choices around there, but I'm not looking for NOS / DIY / tube DACs and I'd like to remain in that price bracket. I'm open to use a USB to SPDIF converter as well in case the default USB port is a problem.

 

I can easily read their respective features and make up my mind in that regard but I'm hesitating between those because of their sound signature. The Phonitor + HD800 combo is likely to be quite "transparent" and may reveal one thing I'm very afraid of that I call "digitis", and also bad timbre accuracy. I'm particularly concerned about the two Sabre-based DACs (Mytek, Anedio), as a lot of reviews of these Sabre - based DACs tend to say that they sound quite smooth and not fatiguing, but at the same time a little lean / thin through the midrange and some complained about timbre accuracy. On the other hand they do get the measurements right, are very well received on other points (details, soundstage, etc.). The DA11 seems to get widely contrasted views about this point, going from "dry", "sterile", to "analog", "full-bodied" - I don't know which one to believe. On the over hand it's designed by Dan Lavry, has been used in studios for a long time, etc. Some reported an improvement when using a USB to SPDIF converter instead of the USB port, I may try that. Finally the Violectric comes from a very serious company, but I'm not sure there is enough feedback for me to jump there yet.

 

Which one would you pick if your were trying to build a system around a Phonitor + HD800 using a Mac as a source and Amarra / decibels ?

post #2 of 38
Think about a Lector Digicode 2.24 or a level 3 lampizator. That is, balanced tube DAC's made by people that know what they're doing.

The DA11 is not great with the HD800, it's best with something like a Ultrasone Edition8 or a HD600.

From what I understand the Mytek and the Anedio would be even worse with the HD800, those are from the Benchmark DAC1 school of sound.

The V800 I don't know ... the Violectric amplifier gets some love as a solid state amp for the HD800, I doubt the DAC is the same, after all it's a professional manufacturer, they don't want the music to sound good, they want it to sound the same as the input. In a way your question is moot, all those DAC's sound a lot like one another, they are pro dac's. smily_headphones1.gif

From that list I would bet the Mytek is the best DAC though, fighting for the title with the Anedio. Just not with the HD800. smily_headphones1.gif

PS: By the way, you can add the Audiolab MDAC on that list, it's on the same level only cheaper.
Edited by eugenius - 2/7/12 at 6:10am
post #3 of 38

If you prefer professional equipment with good reputation and measurements, then the Benchmark Dac1 might be worth a look.  There's also an upgraded version with USB input.

post #4 of 38

I use the Apogee mini DAC with the Phonitor, you also can checkout the Duet/2. They both work great with the Mac and have a great drivers.

post #5 of 38
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by eugenius View Post

The V800 I don't know ... the Violectric amplifier gets some love as a solid state amp for the HD800, I doubt the DAC is the same, after all it's a professional manufacturer, they don't want the music to sound good, they want it to sound the same as the input. In a way your question is moot, all those DAC's sound a lot 


That's pretty much what I'd like to try to get - something that's as transparent as possible (although I think it's likely to be impossible for a system to be 100% transparent). But also I'd like to avoid something that sounds harsh / painful / unnatural. I don't think the two are exclusive : as an example, from a different category, I've tried the Beyer DT 1350 - smooth and not fatiguing in any way and yet ruthlessly analytical (I don't think it's perfect though, I feel it has quite an unnatural timbre accuracy). If the recording has to sound bad, so be it, as long as it doesn't make me want to remove the headphones. For those recordings I can always use my pair of HD650 if I want to make them sound better than they really are.

 

Thanks for the other suggestions, I'll look into that.

 

post #6 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by Saintly View Post

If you prefer professional equipment with good reputation and measurements, then the Benchmark Dac1 might be worth a look.  There's also an upgraded version with USB input.



I found the Benchmark DAC1 is getting a little long in the tooth. My vote would be for the Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2. I've A-B'd it with the Bryston BDA-1 ($3k) and came away thinking the DAC-2 was simply better in every way. Through in the digital pre-amp functionality and amongst the very best USB sound I've heard...I haven't thought about upgrading my DAC since it arrived (many months ago).

post #7 of 38

I was thinking to check out the Mytek DSD DAC, but I've got really disappointed after reading this thread: http://www.head-fi.org/t/449941/new-mytek-192-dac/30

I also prefer DAC with good drivers, I'm a PC user and sometime I need multichannel and DSP power, unfortunately Apogee do not support PC platform any more.

 

The Antelope audio eclipse 384 looks exotic but pricey...

 

post #8 of 38
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Acix View Post

I was thinking to check out the Mytek DSD DAC, but I've got really disappointed after reading this thread: http://www.head-fi.org/t/449941/new-mytek-192-dac/30

I also prefer DAC with good drivers, I'm a PC user and sometime I need multichannel and DSP power, unfortunately Apogee do not support PC platform any more.

 

The Antelope audio eclipse 384 looks exotic but pricey...

 


Why did you get disappointed reading this thread ? Production delays, or juts the fact that it uses its own custom drivers ? Returns seem rather positive as far as SQ goes.

As for Antelope Audio, I'm very skeptical about their products when they try to market a 384hz format that intuitively seems highly useless to me (although I may be proven wrong).

I'm not very attracted by the Benchmark - yes it measures correctly, but it also is very often described as "technical" / "analytic", while I'd rather be attracted to a DAC that would be described as "I don't hear it" / "nothing of note" / "transparent". 

I'll look into the W4S - so far it seems to receive mixed reviews, going from "OK" to "fantastic". And it uses that Sabre chip which may be indeed excellent - but that is also sometimes described as "lean" or not very natural timbre-wise. I probably shouldn't generalise too much about particular DAC chips, but the only way I can mentally portray the generic "Sabre sound" is like a very precise digital photograph that may be slightly over sharpened, which white balance would then be tweaked from warmer to colder depending on the analog output of different DACs. I'm weary that it sounds very spectacular in the first place, but then appear in the long run as "tweaked". Also, there is one big issue with the W4S DAC2 : It seems to work only for specified voltages (115V or 230V), and from the internal pics I haven't seen any way to change it (contrary to the Anedio or Mytek for example). I've recently moved across the Atlantic and may do so again in the future, so that's a no-no for me if there really isn't any way to change it.

Maybe I should just buy two or three DACs and return the ones I disliked, but that's something I'd quite dislike to do (unnecessary flow of big money).

 


Edited by MayaTlab - 2/9/12 at 6:06am
post #9 of 38
There's nothing in that Mytek thread that is disappointing, certainly not the choice the designer made with the 9012 instead of the paralleled 9018. Just the oposite, the fact that the designer made a user on headfi and you can ask him stuff about it it's great.

Also, think about the EXA Devices multichannel USB Sabre 9018 DAC, that strikes me as good value and you can grow with it to speakers / active crossovers and multichannel ... smily_headphones1.gif

Here's a link:
http://www.exasound.com/e18DAC/Features.aspx

If I would have to choose a Sabre 9018 based DAC, it would be the EXA or the Audiolab MDAC. smily_headphones1.gif

Also, the Phonitor can be modded with what looks like quality upgrades ... but it's expensive:
http://stefanaudioart.com/Phonitor%20mod%20pac
Edited by eugenius - 2/9/12 at 6:37am
post #10 of 38
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by eugenius View Post

Also, the Phonitor can be modded with what looks like quality upgrades ... but it's expensive:
http://stefanaudioart.com/Phonitor%20mod%20pac


Thank you for your answer. But as regards those upgrades, they're at best dubious if not totally stupid or dangerous. As an example, they propose to replace with a "matched pair" (whatever that means for opamps) of Burson opamps the two IC opamps used in the Phonitor - but those aren't used in the sound circuit, they're there to cancel the DC offset ! So it's likely to at best do nothing to SQ and at worst degrade the DC offset. The other improvements may be useful, but I'd like measurements to back this up for the price they're asking.

 

I didn't know about the ExaSound, thank you, I'll look into it. It lacks balanced out though - so that means buying RCA adapters for the Phonitor.


Edited by MayaTlab - 2/9/12 at 7:05am
post #11 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by MayaTlab View Post


Why did you get disappointed reading this thread ? Production delays, or juts the fact that it uses its own custom drivers ? Returns seem rather positive as far as SQ goes.

As for Antelope Audio, I'm very skeptical about their products when they try to market a 384hz format that intuitively seems highly useless to me (although I may be proven wrong).

I'm not very attracted by the Benchmark - yes it measures correctly, but it also is very often described as "technical" / "analytic", while I'd rather be attracted to a DAC that would be described as "I don't hear it" / "nothing of note" / "transparent". 

I'll look into the W4S - so far it seems to receive mixed reviews, going from "OK" to "fantastic". And it uses that Sabre chip which may be indeed excellent - but that is also sometimes described as "lean" or not very natural timbre-wise. I probably shouldn't generalise too much about particular DAC chips, but the only way I can mentally portray the generic "Sabre sound" is like a very precise digital photograph that may be slightly over sharpened, which white balance would then be tweaked from warmer to colder depending on the analog output of different DACs. I'm weary that it sounds very spectacular in the first place, but then appear in the long run as "tweaked". Also, there is one big issue with the W4S DAC2 : It seems to work only for specified voltages (115V or 230V), and from the internal pics I haven't seen any way to change it (contrary to the Anedio or Mytek for example). I've recently moved across the Atlantic and may do so again in the future, so that's a no-no for me if there really isn't any way to change it.

Maybe I should just buy two or three DACs and return the ones I disliked, but that's something I'd quite dislike to do (unnecessary flow of big money).

 


I didn't like Michal answer regarding the 9018 chip, looks like a few more dBs is not so important for him, and he can even save the extra $30. I mean when I see this answer I start to wandering on what else he saved a few bucks. But maybe even with the lower chip set it will still sound good.

 

About the ULTRA MODIFICATIONS, I not sure I'm ready for the Phonitor to sound tube like...on the other hand I would like to try out the  Burson Audio HD Opamps.

 

As I see the DAC's market in the near future, most of them will move to USB 2.0 via the XMOS chip set. Here is more info: http://www.xmos.com/products/development-kits/usbaudio2

 

EDIT: If you're going to buy two or three to check them out, maybe you can look into the Eximus DP-1,  I think in some point I'll try out the Stello U3 with my Apogee,. Here is more info, http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/aprilmusic8/1.html


Edited by Acix - 2/9/12 at 12:06pm
post #12 of 38
Every equipment has compromises, I view the sincerity of the designer as refreshing. And anyway, there are even technical reasons in favor of just one dac instead of 4. More is not ALWAYS better.

Stop using "tube like" as a synonym for worse, it makes you seem less knowledgeable than you really are :P ... nevermind that Burson opamps do not sound at all like tubes, in fact the opposite is true, they sound like great solid state.

There's no opamp you can stick into a solid state amplifier and make the sound similar to tubes. Maybe if you're Nelson Pass and you can design a transistor that has a distortion spectrum similar to tubes and make single ended class A amplifiers with it, but I doubt it even then. smily_headphones1.gif

And OP, the HD800 NEEDS something to tame the brightness. Either the anaxilus mod, some judiciously used minimal phase EQ or a tube source with tubes that gel with the HD800 and your hearing. If you choose a pro DAC you need to use either the mod or EQ.
post #13 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by eugenius View Post

And OP, the HD800 NEEDS something to tame the brightness. Either the anaxilus mod, some judiciously used minimal phase EQ or a tube source with tubes that gel with the HD800 and your hearing. If you choose a pro DAC you need to use either the mod or EQ.


Actually, no the HD 800 does not NEED something to tame the brightness.  Some people, including myself, have no problems with the treble quantity and actually prefer it to an overly shelved down rendition. Bringing down the treble can also compromise the sense of air and ambience.  

 

post #14 of 38

FYI, I am very happy with my Lavry da10 I have had for over four years and now am using it with my SLP Phonitor and HD800.

 

Just pick something and go with it.  That last few per cent or so of performance is going to be more in the head than any where else or in someone elses opinion other than yours. 

 

I think attempting to get that last bit of whatever is too hard and goes against the simply enjoyment of the music.  If you find something objectionable later then change up but enjoy the music as your primary focus.  Getting music that is worth the system you might get is going to be more of an effort than finding that last bit of equipment performance.

post #15 of 38
Quote:
Originally Posted by Saintly View Post



Actually, no the HD 800 does not NEED something to tame the brightness.  Some people, including myself, have no problems with the treble quantity and actually prefer it to an overly shelved down rendition. Bringing down the treble can also compromise the sense of air and ambience.  

I'm certain that my point of view is correct for most people's taste. The HD800 has a hump around 6kHz that if mitigated a little makes it sound better and there's absolutely no loss of adjectives.
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