From the looks of it, we now have a balanced output Sabre DAC from audio-gd. At $650, it looks to be competing with the Yulong D18 as one of the more inexpensive fully balanced Sabre units.
Alright, edited for a few impressions.
Over the past few months, I've tried *cough* quite a few DACs. I've gone through the Yulong D18, KAO audio DAC, Eastern Electric MiniMax+, Audiolab MDAC, Musical Paradise MP-D1 (very briefly), and the NFB-1.32. I've settled on the 1.32 for the time being.
The D18 was very smooth, as per Project86's excellent review. Probably a bit too smooth for my tastes. At the time I did not have my current HD800s, and so perhaps it would have been a nice pairing. I used the D18 with the warm and smooth-sounding Violectric V200, and the sound was really just too lush for my tastes.
The KAO was fantastic. It had great tonality and sufficient detail, but I found the soundstage a little bit compressed, and had a volume touchpad issue that caused me to have to send the unit back to the manufacturer.
The MiniMax+ really was a modder's dream. I tried a few tube changes and swapped out the opamps as well. The opamp change was much more noticable, but I felt like the unit always had a tiny bit of a sucked-out midrange regardless of what mods I tried, so off it went.
The MDAC I bought with the intention of selling to a friend, who currently loves it :)
The MP-D1 was returned after a week due to issues getting the USB input to work well with my system. It also definitely lacked detail compared to the Sabre DACs, but I don't think I was able to give it any semblance of a fair judgment. The designer and seller was very helpful troubleshooting with me; unfortunately we couldn't get the unit to play nice with my computer.
And that brings us to the 1.32! Matched up with the Burson Soloist this really does seem to be a tremendous sub-$1000 price point piece of equipment. It certainly has the detail that the Sabre DAC is known for. What makes this unit stand out to me is the soundstage and imaging of this DAC. For someone who spends much of his time listening to classical music and who has played in quite a few orchestras himself, the pinpoint placement of instruments both in width and depth is a key factor in evaluating gear. The soundstage is particularly great for chamber and smaller orchestral recordings.
One in particular I love is Hilary Hahn's recordings of Bach's violin concerti. The spotlight on the performer is noticably emphasized, with the sound of the accompanying orchestra correctly placed around and behind her. Riccardo Chailly's 2011 Beethoven Symphony cycle is also terrific in recreating the sounds of a larger-scale orchestra. The pizzicato and individual breaths between notes from the brass in the second movement of the Eighth Symphony in particular are portrayed incredibly realistically.
Another reason I am rather enamored with this DAC is its flawless USB input. Resampling music works just fine for me on a Windows 7 system with no dropouts or strange clicky noises I have had from some other DACs. It's easy to set up, easier to forget about.
In the end, all of these DACs sound more similar than different, at least to my classically-trained ear. I tend to value soundstage and detail perhaps more than the average listener, and this one hits those notes correctly. I would definitely consider the 1.32 as more neutral than smooth, which I also seem to value. For a classical music enthusiast, I would certainly recommend it as a very competent, moderately affordable DAC.
Of note, I did ask Kingwa whether upgrading to the 7.32 or 27.32 would be worthwhile. Without making it seem like he was bashing on any of his other products, he did note to me that the 7.32 would have been twice the cost and I would definitely have run into the diminishing returns barrier with such a purchase. In the end, I think I am happy enough to stop thinking about source and amplification upgrades for the near future, which is praise enough, right? :)
Edited by allyl - 10/27/12 at 8:10pm