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Lavry DA11 vs NuForce DAC9

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

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.

 

John

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post #2 of 12

So you were listening to the integrated amps?

post #3 of 12

Some very good notes here, thanks for your findings

 

I've followed a similar path recently.  My system is set (both 2 channel and head-fi) with the exception of the CD/DAC used to support my  system, where I've been fortunate to audition several units with both set ups.  Your experiences also echo mine, with units with deep pro-gear backgrounds comparing against more "boutique" (and I really don't like using that word, but lack a suitable alternative) heritage. 


I can also say that for me, the exercise has also changed how I look at listening to music as well.  Before starting this, I used to fancy myself as a "hear it like you're in the mastering studio" type of accuracy, flaws and all. But over the months, I've accepted that a bit of editorializing (a very small bit, but some nonetheless) is acceptable, even required, for enjoyment of some of my recordings.  I'm not about to run out and get some single watt triodes and horns for my main room, but I feel like I have become less of an absolutist in my thinking and more of a synergistic system-builder.

 

You've also pointed out a good tenet that within a price range (and the plus-or-minus of the range will vary), results will likely be similar with either ergonomics or some smaller factors (low-level detail retrieval, soundstage etc.) providing the tipping point in favor of one unit or the other. 

 

Two points I would make (and they're both opinions, so they're worth what you paid to read them - nothing):

 

One: matching to your system is critical.  Synergy is real and lack of it can be harsh. Read all the trade magazines, personal reviews and show reports you'd like to form you wish list, but until you get it home and into your system, it's near-impossible to know how it will sound to you.

 

Two: 2 channel systems, with adequate speakers, can point out certain gear changes in your system that may not be obvious to headphones.  And, these perspectives may be contradictory.  If you only have one of the applications to use, your choice becomes more clear. But balancing one with the other is exponentially more difficult (and expensive!).

 

Congratulations on your findings and good luck with your system.
 

post #4 of 12
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Anaxilus View Post

So you were listening to the integrated amps?


Yes, the head amps built in.

 

And I should have mentioned in the review that remote control in the NuForce is only on the rear outputs, not on the phone jack - it is only contyrolled bt the small knob.  The remote on the Lavry works on both outputs

 

John

post #5 of 12
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Smeckles View Post

Some very good notes here, thanks for your findings

 

I've followed a similar path recently.  My system is set (both 2 channel and head-fi) with the exception of the CD/DAC used to support my  system, where I've been fortunate to audition several units with both set ups.  Your experiences also echo mine, with units with deep pro-gear backgrounds comparing against more "boutique" (and I really don't like using that word, but lack a suitable alternative) heritage. 


I can also say that for me, the exercise has also changed how I look at listening to music as well.  Before starting this, I used to fancy myself as a "hear it like you're in the mastering studio" type of accuracy, flaws and all. But over the months, I've accepted that a bit of editorializing (a very small bit, but some nonetheless) is acceptable, even required, for enjoyment of some of my recordings.  I'm not about to run out and get some single watt triodes and horns for my main room, but I feel like I have become less of an absolutist in my thinking and more of a synergistic system-builder.

 

You've also pointed out a good tenet that within a price range (and the plus-or-minus of the range will vary), results will likely be similar with either ergonomics or some smaller factors (low-level detail retrieval, soundstage etc.) providing the tipping point in favor of one unit or the other. 

 

Two points I would make (and they're both opinions, so they're worth what you paid to read them - nothing):

 

One: matching to your system is critical.  Synergy is real and lack of it can be harsh. Read all the trade magazines, personal reviews and show reports you'd like to form you wish list, but until you get it home and into your system, it's near-impossible to know how it will sound to you.

 

Two: 2 channel systems, with adequate speakers, can point out certain gear changes in your system that may not be obvious to headphones.  And, these perspectives may be contradictory.  If you only have one of the applications to use, your choice becomes more clear. But balancing one with the other is exponentially more difficult (and expensive!).

 

Congratulations on your findings and good luck with your system.
 


Thanks for your nice and considered response.  I agree wholeheartedly about synergy but it does seem both the DACs under discussion meld in fairly well.  My mantra for ages has been FIX THE INPUT FIRST.  I see so many "Audiophiles" upgrading, or think they are doing this, in an attempt to filter out nasties which are really the fault of the input and not the amps or speakers.  Speakers are generally the weak link but they are often incorrectly blamed.

 

I'm not sure I have experienced what you say about speaker systems sometimes being more revealing than headphones.  If that is the case then maybe either the headphones or items in its path are masking things. But we all have different brains with attached ears + different experiences so it is unrealistic to expect everyone to have the same experiences & reactions to audio setups.

 

John

post #6 of 12

Well, the soundstage created by an appropriate 2-channel system reveals so much in terms of not only width but also depth.  My DAC survey really had significant (in my mind at least) differences in  width, depth and a type of "solidity" in the image that my SR-009s really can't project without adding other components in the chain.  Some dynamic headphones may benefit here from functions on a Phonitor-type of amp, where you can create a bit of the 3D imaging with its Crossfeed and Speaker Angle settings.  But those are not perfect and are not applicable with the Stax.

post #7 of 12

I finally got an opportunity to hear the Nuforce Dac-9 and I was blown away at how good it sounds.  A friend brought it over so I could listen to it in my own stereo.   For my source, I have a Modwright tube Oppo 83, Placette active preamp and Pass Labs XA30.5 amp.

 

I hooked up the DAC-9 to the Oppo and there was an immediate improvement in clarity and detail.  The music sounded more holographic and 3D.  It didn't sound edgy or harsh in any way.  It was very lively and dynamic and FAST!  My system had never sounded this good before.  

post #8 of 12

Interesting observations, glad to hear you are happy with the Nuforce and Lavry.  I owned the older Lavry DA-10 and was quite happy with it for some time.

 

I echo Smeckles comments on speaker listening for depth and ambient cues, you just don't get the same level of detail in those areas with headphone listening.  It is much easier for me to hear dac differences with speakers as well.

post #9 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by bixby View Post

Interesting observations, glad to hear you are happy with the Nuforce and Lavry.  I owned the older Lavry DA-10 and was quite happy with it for some time.

 

I echo Smeckles comments on speaker listening for depth and ambient cues, you just don't get the same level of detail in those areas with headphone listening.  It is much easier for me to hear dac differences with speakers as well.

I have the Da11 and I enjoyed it through the HP.  Are you using a receiver with the speakers?

post #10 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hawaiiancerveza View Post

I have the Da11 and I enjoyed it through the HP.  Are you using a receiver with the speakers?

No I use a Bel Canto Evo 4 amp running all four channels biwired to the speakers.  This is fed by a deHavilland tube preamp. 

post #11 of 12
Thread Starter 

I have a bit more to add re these two DACs.

 

 

A friend with far better hearing than me (those 77 years have taken their toll) visited and we did extensive A/B comparisons of my beloved NuForce DAC 9 and a newly acquired Lavry DA11.  He could hear a much greater difference than I could - reflecting my upper frequency loss.  To me the difference was subtle although I had to agree the NuForce was the more "musical" of the two.  He was adamant the Lavry had better upper frequency resolution but ultimately sounded a bit too "hi-fi" for him to enjoy extended listening with it.  We briefly compared the extensively Nugent modded Benchmark DAC 1, which I had previously regarded as unable to be bettered, but the music sounded veiled by comparison. 

 

We used the digital feed from the Sooloos MS600 into the DACs (I had two balanced line inputs) + Sennheiser HD 800s for the analog out listening.  I tried to fool him a few times by not changing outputs from the DACs to eliminate a placebo affect so the results were consistent for us. .  Bottom line I'm as happy as the proverbial pig in muck with the NuForce for extended listening but also enjoy the DA11 in another system although listening is not for long periods. 

 

That said listening with AKG 702s fed from a Nugent modded Benchmark is fine, although not as good.  Which suggests that there are many ways of enjoying music (what it is supposed to be about) and that differences above a certain level, although observable, can cause audio paranoia!

 

John

post #12 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by bixby View Post

No I use a Bel Canto Evo 4 amp running all four channels biwired to the speakers.  This is fed by a deHavilland tube preamp. 

Ah nice!

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