I’ve lived with the NuForce for nearly a year now and have not lost any enthusiasm to use it for listening to beautiful music. It handles all different signals with a deftness and delicacy yielding delightful results.
But being the nutter I am I wonder about alternatives – could they be any better?
Well the excuse arose to find out because I wished to set up another system with a DAC. There was a choice – buy another NuForce DAC9, a unit with a proven heritage for me, or try something different? I pored through the offerings in the under $2,000 range and they were many, but it ultimately boiled down to the choice between a used NuForce DAC9 or take a punt on a Lavry DA11. There seemed uniform enthusiasm for the Lavry from owners so it could not all be “new toy placebo”.
Well I ended up buying the Lavry from Pro Audio Toys (great service BTW) and it arrived the other day so I set up a test bed. The source was balanced digital feed from a Meridian MS600 relaying FLAC files as part of the Sooloos server system. This was fed into a passive Canford splitter so two lines were taken to the DACs and fed in via XLR. Each DAC had a Sennheiser HD800 connected using standard cords (yes I have two, remember I am a nutter). The Sooloos system was set to randomly select tracks, output levels were matched and the listening began.
The first music listened to on the Lavry was harpsichord playing. Wow, it WAS impressive. Had I finally found audio Nirvana? But then, listening to the other headphones via the NuForce and it was equally impressive! The A/B comparisons went on listening to piano, choral, orchestral, cello, harp, …. trying to detect a difference. Maybe a little more nuance here, no, same with the other, and so on it went. At times I was unsure which output I was listening to. But it really did not matter as each DAC was processing the signals to yield beautiful analog sound.
So, they are both equally brilliant at audio reproduction, but there are other differences which could influence the choice.
1. Finish. The NuForce has a much nicer appearance and looks like a quality product. The Lavry is plain and its appearance is nothing to get excited about. This is an obvious area where money has been saved
2. Price. Because of the above point the Lavry is many hundreds of dollars less so has the advantage here [unless you manage to locate a used DAC 9 - they come up from time to time around the $1000 mark]
3. Size. Neither are large and similar in width (NuForce 8.5”, Lavry just under 8”) but the NuForce is much deeper at around 15” than the Lavry at 10”. Both are easy to accommodate.
4. Functionality. The pendulum swings back to the NuForce again here. It has a touch screen to change the input, something also possible using a remote. The Lavry, reflecting its more engineering background, has an array of relatively clunky switches to set things up. The NuForce has an irritatingly small knob to control the volume but it is better to use than the Lavry switch although both can be volume controlled by a remote – supplied with the NuForce but separately (but inexpensively) purchased for the Lavry. The NuForce has separate balanced and unbalanced analog out where the Lavry has only balanced which can be converted to unbalanced with supplied connectors.
The Lavry has one feature which some might deem to be a gimmick – it will change the channel separation with what it terms “Playback Image”. Toggle switches for each channels will blend in signals to reduce the L/R affect which is often very prominent with headphone listening. This appears to operate transparently with no artefacts obvious. I would doubt this function would have use in many amp/speaker situations as room acoustics causes enough channel blending in most rooms.
So there you have it. Two DACs equally impressive at digital to analog conversion for headphone listening. And I would guess differences would be equally impossible to detect in an amplifier/speaker setup. The Lavry is less expensive, has a bonus of altering channel separation, but is very plain Jane in appearance, has only volume remotely controlled and is generally less ergonomic to use. The relative importance of each of these factors will differ from one person to another. And note that all the above refers to input via XLR balanced. I do not use USB input and the results here would be strongly influenced by the quality of sound card used in a PC. With DACs like these and headphones like the Sennheiser HD800s, the old “Garbage in – Garbage out” comes into play full force. Each DAC has come through with flying colours.
So the bottom line for me is to decide which of the two I will retain for the main system post listening. The appearance factor is not important to me so my present plan is to use the Lavry DA11 as the “Playback Image” function might be used sometimes, although the more noticeable channel separation in headphone listening does not usually bother me.