Living With the M2Tech Vaughan DAC
My First Experience
Unfortunately my first rave review of the Vaughan DAC was inaccurate and misleading basically because there was a severe mismatch between the XLR output and the Sennheiser HD800 headphones and this caused bloated bass. A quality headphone amplifier was required.
Enter the Headroom Blockhead Balanced Head Amp & Other Toys
This head amp http://www.stereophile.com/headphones/614/index.html is no longer in production but I purchased one from a Head-fier here with gratifying results. In an experimental mode I purchased a new Yulong D100 + a Slee Solo amp to use with Sennheiser HD650’s for a secondary system. Unfortunately this combination produced a rather flat an uninvolving sound, well resolved, but a bit too hot at the top end for my liking. Various combinations were trialed with the Yulong feeding through the Blockhead in balanced mode to the HD800s but the audio quality was not to my liking so both the Yulong and Solo were sold.
Next items to arrive were a used Woo WDS-1 DAC http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue61/woo_audio.htm and a demo BUDA Headamp http://www.headphone.com/headphone-amps/amplifiers/headroom-balanced-ultra-desktop-amp-buda.php – progress was being made. On some pop material the Woo was close to the Vaughan but as soon as a group was involved, particularly with classical music, the differences between the Vaughan and Woo, using the Blockhead and HD800s, became obvious. The Woo managed a very creditable sound, well resolved and well balanced but when replaced by the Vaughan the music opened up with more air, space and musicality. This is difficult to accurately describe and, to be fair, many would wow and be very satisfied at the digital to analog processing of the Woo. But the Vaughan is consistently better, yielding a velvet touch to the music, seeming to extract every last ounce of magic from the input.
Now the Woo/Buda is capable of balanced use with the Sennheiser HD650s so I decided to construct my own cabling with Neutrik and Cardas plugs using Cat 7 LAN cabling in between. And it worked well. No, the Woo/Buda/HD650 combo was not close to the Vaughan/Blockhead/HD800 combo but was capable of impressive sound with good input. If someone had not heard better, they would be very satisfied with the audio quality.
And that is the catch22 with this whole “hobby” with an important lesson to learn. That is that there will always be something better out there BUT if you like the AQ of what you have, sit back and enjoy the music with it.
There is another aspect of all this that can be overlooked – the quality of cabling feeding into the DAC. For some time I had been using what looked like reasonable quality 110 ohm cable to take feed from the Meridian server to the Vaughan. It was a shielded twisted pair so appeared capable of handling the digits over a 3 meter length – wrong! When it was replaced with much better Electrus Disribution WB-1534 cabling http://www.electusdistribution.com.au/product The difference to the bass that the Electus cabling made was astonishing. The bass had always been there and was clean but lacked weight. With the Electus cable it suddenly appeared in full glory, still articulated but now with the weight and punch one would expect with a quality system.
Is the Vaughan worth the high price? Possibly not for most in the context of other financial demands, but if you can afford one you will be rewarded with superb AQ provided you feed in a clean signal and use high quality headphones. And of course this is the catch 22 with the Sennheiser HD800s – GIGO applies with a vengeance. That is why I did not like the AQ using the Yulong. They are highly resolving headphones and deserve the best input. Conversely the difference between the Woo and the Vaughan was not great using the Sennheiser HD650s. So, IMHO, spending heaps on DACs and amplifiers is a waste of money if all you have is the HD650s or similar.
So I am now one happy camper with the Vaughan/Blockhead/HD800 system fed from a Meridian server to my man cave chair. I guess that yes, there are better DACs out there than the Vaughan, but the law of diminishing returns has already set in severely and anyway, I’ll be highly unlikely to hear anything better.