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Audio-gd Compass 2 amp/DAC Impressions thread

post #1 of 341
Thread Starter 

I received my Audio-gd Compass 2 yesterday (default build with the 2 free TCXOs... not sure what those are supposed to change to the sound, but hey: they were free!), and I thought I would publish a summary of first impressions I got with the unit.

 

While reading this post, keep in mind that I am still a neophyte audiophile and as such, I will try to do my best to describe what I hear in my own words. I am looking forward to reading about what other owners think about this unit (or comparable Audio-gd units) and suggestions as of things to try to improve the sound experience I am getting. Also, feel free to correct me if what I describe is inaccurate or if some of my manipulations don't make sense (still learning tongue.gif)

 

I upgraded from my first amp and DAC, which were the Fiio E9 and E7 and I am doing all of my listening with Sennheiser HD650s, which I love. It is also important to note that while I enjoy all kinds of music, I mostly listen to electronic based music. My music source is my Macbook Pro Early 2011, which sports an optical output on top of the usual USB and headphone out connectors.

 

I did my first listening of the new Deadmau5 album downloaded from iTunes (256 kbps AAC, 44.1 kHz) through the optical output. I tried listening to the tracks through iTunes and Audirvana Free and did not hear noticeable difference between the two. I was somewhat shocked as to the extra details I was hearing that I never realized were there before. I am hearing subtle reverberation in between the kicks that I never heard before, which is great. Higher frequency details are clearer than what I'm used to while not being piercing at all. I am usually quite sensible to high frequencies and hate it when they are too loud and this is not the case with this unit. One thing that I find weird though is it seems to me that Mid-higher range seems to be overwhelming compared to the bass, which is normally the most present frequency range of this kind of music. The level of this frequency range seems too loud and it makes details not as clear in this frequency range as with the rest of the spectrum. Not sure I like that too much, but I should continue my listening experience to see if this is track related or not. Finally, the bass seems to be a bit lacking for my taste. Upper bass range is really detailed, but I miss the lower part of the bass range, maybe sub-bass. This becomes more obvious when I listen to some dubstep. As I start to play the first Rusko album, which has some of the bassiest content I know, I am a little disappointed as the mid section again seems to overshadow the bass section. Changing to USB, I did not notice a lot of sound quality difference, but I sometimes hear pops when doing the slightest bit of work on the computer (scrolling up and down on a webpage seems enough to trigger them) which I do not like at all. Maybe it could be because of the cable they packaged with the unit, or maybe it comes from the laptop itself. I should try to play from another USB source (either a Windows PC or maybe the iPad with the camera connection kit, if it's compatible... I have to verify). 

 

The first time I tried the unit (yesterday), I was noticing a lot of digital artefacts while listening to my tracks compared to what I was used to (only in subtle, low-level details though). Maybe it has to do with the quality of my tracks, which mostly are iTunes 256kbps AAC, but some are lower bitrates MP3s (nothing below 160 kbps, some 192 kbps and some ~256 kbps variable bitrate). The more I listen though, the less I get this feeling. Maybe the unit has started to "open up" like I am getting used to read in this forum... or  maybe my ears are getting used to it...?

 

Finally, I tried listening to tracks by connecting the unit through the headphone out of the laptop in the line in of the unit. In this case, the bass seem a little bit more present, the highs a little bit less clear, and the mids still a little overpowered, but the whole seem a little more balanced (in my opinion).

 

I am going to let them warm up 24/7 and continue my listening experience for the next days/weeks and post back if my experience with the Compass 2 change. Right now, I am impressed with some aspects of it (the level of details of the playback, the clarity of the highs), but quite underwhelmed by some other aspects of it (popping sounds with USB, overpowering mid section).

 

If any of you have suggestions as to some things I could try to fix the issues I'm hearing with the unit, please don't hesitate.

  • Would changing the ES9018 for the dual WM8741 help improve the sound I get from the DAC?
  • Should I fiddle with the sampling rate and bit per sample in OS X Audio and Midi settings?
  • Should I use a third party software sound processing application (I own Joesoft Hear, but I did not use it for those listening tests)?
  • What unit input/laptop output should have the best quality?
  • Should I use low/high gain setting on the unit? Does it make a difference?

 

All suggestions or comments are welcome, good or bad (suggestions must be good... only comments can be bad tongue.gif)! 

 

Thank you for reading this.

 

EDIT: I just installed the Moon OPA that I had ordered with the unit and now, I find the sound when connecting the headphone out of my laptop to the line in of the Compass 2 much better! The bass really come out, everything is still really clear, yet warmer and more pleasant to listen to. Less analytical I would say. The only problem is that OPA only affects the line input, not the DAC signal paths. This is a bummer, since I bought this unit over a standalone headphone amp because I wanted to bypass the DAC of my laptop, thinking I would get better sound. I will continue my listening and report any changes later on.


Edited by franmon83 - 10/13/12 at 1:30pm
post #2 of 341
Thread Starter 

Comments anyone? (Bump)

post #3 of 341

 

EDIT: I just installed the Moon OPA that I had ordered with the unit and now, I find the sound when connecting the headphone out of my laptop to the line in of the Compass 2 much better! The bass really come out, everything is still really clear, yet warmer and more pleasant to listen to. Less analytical I would say. The only problem is that OPA only affects the line input, not the DAC signal paths. This is a bummer, since I bought this unit over a standalone headphone amp because I wanted to bypass the DAC of my laptop, thinking I would get better sound. I will continue my listening and report any changes later on.

 

Connect the line out to line in if you want to use the OPA :D

 

Edit: that's a joke atsmile.gif


Edited by Clemmaster - 10/14/12 at 1:40pm
post #4 of 341

I've read several times that AGD DACs take a while to burn in and that was certainly true of mine, so I've give it a minimum of 50hrs before worrying too much. I'd also recommend using lossless files to evaluate it properly. The choice of gain options depend on how easy your headphones are to drive and how powerful the amp is. Higher impedence cans like Senn 650s generally respond better on the high gain setting.

post #5 of 341
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Clemmaster View Post

 

Connect the line out to line in if you want to use the OPA :D

 

Edit: that's a joke atsmile.gif

 

Is there any obvious reason why that wouldn't work? I thought about doing that yesterday, but I couldn't think of a way to configure the unit to do that... Input selection is either line in or DAC...

post #6 of 341
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Painterspal View Post

I've read several times that AGD DACs take a while to burn in and that was certainly true of mine, so I've give it a minimum of 50hrs before worrying too much. I'd also recommend using lossless files to evaluate it properly. The choice of gain options depend on how easy your headphones are to drive and how powerful the amp is. Higher impedence cans like Senn 650s generally respond better on the high gain setting.

Thanks for the info about your DAC! I figured that would be the case... I'm already starting to see a difference, but I was wondering if it was not my mind/ears playing tricks on me (to alleviate the pain of a potentially wasted investment tongue_smile.gif)... I'll keep going for at least a couple of weeks before making up my mind... That's why I labeled the thread as an impressions thread, not a review thread.

post #7 of 341
Quote:
Originally Posted by franmon83 View Post

Is there any obvious reason why that wouldn't work? I thought about doing that yesterday, but I couldn't think of a way to configure the unit to do that... Input selection is either line in or DAC...

You cannot do that for 2 reasons:
- Input selection: you cannot use 2 inputs at the same time. The same goes for the headphone and pre outputs. I can't think of any device that can let you use 2 signal paths (DAC-> pre out + line in-> headphone out) at the same time.
- The volume control would be VERY tricky unless the line out can work at a fixed level (DAC out). You might blow the device/headphones if the gain is > 0dB.

Are you sure you cannot use the OPA with the DAC input? I know ACSS connections bypass the OPA in other units but I don't know for the integrated ones.
post #8 of 341

Yikes, reading all this makes my head spin.... The Compass does not have ACSS.

 

  • "Would changing the ES9018 for the dual WM8741 help improve the sound I get from the DAC?"

It will make it different, but will it help? I have no idea.

 

  • "Should I fiddle with the sampling rate and bit per sample in OS X Audio and Midi settings?"

Sounds Greek to me.

 

  • "Should I use a third party software sound processing application (I own Joesoft Hear, but I did not use it for those listening tests)?"

Dunno, try it if you like. I would not touch the stuff.

 

  • "What unit input/laptop output should have the best quality?"

USB. If you are using the headphone output to the line in you are bypassing the DAC in the Compass. I very much doubt that the DAC in your laptop is better than the Compass DAC, but if you think so, fine. It is your equipment.

 

  • "Should I use low/high gain setting on the unit? Does it make a difference?"

High is supposed to be better, but if you hear no difference, who cares...

post #9 of 341

I have a Compass2 on order as well. Planning to use it on AKG Q701. Having read this post makes me worried about the synergy since bass shy DAC/AMP sounds like a BIG NO NO for Q701. Anyway too late for the worries, I'll wait to try it out.

 

I'd ask KingWa about the sound different between the DAC before. According to KingWa:

ES9018 - more details, speed, tighter bass

Dual WM8741 - warmer, heavier bass

 

So if you find the bass lacking, maybe Dual WM8741 will suit you better. 

post #10 of 341
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kaptiva View Post

I have a Compass2 on order as well. Planning to use it on AKG Q701. Having read this post makes me worried about the synergy since bass shy DAC/AMP sounds like a BIG NO NO for Q701. Anyway too late for the worries, I'll wait to try it out.

 

I'd ask KingWa about the sound different between the DAC before. According to KingWa:

ES9018 - more details, speed, tighter bass

Dual WM8741 - warmer, heavier bass

 

So if you find the bass lacking, maybe Dual WM8741 will suit you better. 


I wouldn't rush into this. The difference isn't likely to be night and day. Both versions will be designed to be neutral, so the different flavour will be quite subtle. More likely other factors are involved.

post #11 of 341

FYI, especially with the HDAMs, the sound only settles down after 350 hours (100 hours at the factory during testing + 250 or about two weeks of being left on continuously). We had weird issues when we first were playing with HDAMs in various DACs, such as the treble disappearing for 50 hours. Overall though, I found that with use some harshness in the sound tends to disappear.

post #12 of 341
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Clemmaster View Post
You cannot do that for 2 reasons:
- Input selection: you cannot use 2 inputs at the same time. The same goes for the headphone and pre outputs. I can't think of any device that can let you use 2 signal paths (DAC-> pre out + line in-> headphone out) at the same time.
- The volume control would be VERY tricky unless the line out can work at a fixed level (DAC out). You might blow the device/headphones if the gain is > 0dB.

Are you sure you cannot use the OPA with the DAC input? I know ACSS connections bypass the OPA in other units but I don't know for the integrated ones.

 

From audio-gd website: "The OPA only effect the sound flavor of line in . The built in DAC have not OPA in the signal channels . If users want to change the sound flavors , can exchange the DA modules." confused_face.gif

But in any case, I've read more and more posts mentioning this kind of unit might take 200-300 hours burn-in before stabilizing, so I'll continue using the digital path and try to notice the differences as they go. If I experience noticeable changes with time, I'll report back.

post #13 of 341
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hooster View Post

Yikes, reading all this makes my head spin.... The Compass does not have ACSS.

 

  • "Would changing the ES9018 for the dual WM8741 help improve the sound I get from the DAC?"

It will make it different, but will it help? I have no idea.

 

  • "Should I fiddle with the sampling rate and bit per sample in OS X Audio and Midi settings?"

Sounds Greek to me.

 

  • "Should I use a third party software sound processing application (I own Joesoft Hear, but I did not use it for those listening tests)?"

Dunno, try it if you like. I would not touch the stuff.

 

  • "What unit input/laptop output should have the best quality?"

USB. If you are using the headphone output to the line in you are bypassing the DAC in the Compass. I very much doubt that the DAC in your laptop is better than the Compass DAC, but if you think so, fine. It is your equipment.

 

  • "Should I use low/high gain setting on the unit? Does it make a difference?"

High is supposed to be better, but if you hear no difference, who cares...

 

I know the laptop does not have a "better" DAC than the Compass one, that is not the question. Right now, I experience issues of popping with the USB and I find musically smoother the headphone output at the moment (before significant burn-in) because of the sound characteristics that I enumerated in my first post. Now, I have already seen an improvement with the optical input sound, but my question's goal was to know what to expect from the unit. If USB should be the best, as you say, then I will have to determine, maybe with the help of Kingwa, why I am hearing these pops and how to fix it. Also, if one of the input is "supposed" to be of better quality than the other, I'm guessing (maybe I'm wrong) that if I burn-in the other signal paths, maybe that one will not improve.

post #14 of 341
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Painterspal View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kaptiva View Post

I have a Compass2 on order as well. Planning to use it on AKG Q701. Having read this post makes me worried about the synergy since bass shy DAC/AMP sounds like a BIG NO NO for Q701. Anyway too late for the worries, I'll wait to try it out.

 

I'd ask KingWa about the sound different between the DAC before. According to KingWa:

ES9018 - more details, speed, tighter bass

Dual WM8741 - warmer, heavier bass

 

So if you find the bass lacking, maybe Dual WM8741 will suit you better. 


I wouldn't rush into this. The difference isn't likely to be night and day. Both versions will be designed to be neutral, so the different flavour will be quite subtle. More likely other factors are involved.

Don't worry, I won't rush into anything wink.gif. I'll give it a good couple of weeks before making up my mind on what I like and dislike with the Compass. Then, I might decide to order the WM8741, even if it's just to try it out and measure myself the difference between the two (it is not that expensive after all).

post #15 of 341

Congratz on your purchase franmon83...beerchug.gif

 

These all-in-one devices are a lot of fun and various configurations can be had.

 

I still own the FUN(A) (successor to the original Compass) and have tried it out with various sources, outputs, inputs etc....Lots of FUN..lol....Currently I am running optical from FUN ---> Pure i-20 dock (iPod Classic) ---> a tube buffer --> powered speakers.

 

Good times..

 

Cheers!!!

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