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Help Understanding the Differences in Audio-gd DAC's (17.32, 1.32, and 5.32)

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 

 I am looking between the NFB-17.32; NFB-1.32 and Reference 5.32. It seems that the main difference is the DAC chip but I'm sure there are more differences to mention. Could someone describe what are the main differences are and if there is an obvious rank order? I currently have them ranked from low to high in regards to price.

 

I am in the market for a DAC. New or used is fine. My budget is roughly between $700 and $800. I am very intrigued by the Audio-gd offerings because of their great reviews and solid build quality. I would love to get one of the "Master" type builds with three transformers and balanced out but is out of my price range.

 

I am looking for USB, spdif and AES inputs, as well as single ended and balanced outputs. My system is single ended now but drifting toward balanced so would like to keep that option open. I will have to inquire if it is possible to incorporate an AES input into these model DAC's as they don't have them listed as an option. I appreciate any help and input.

 

Thanks, Garth

post #2 of 13

As far as sound signature goes, the 3 should be as follows:

 

- NFB-17: Slightly warm and smooth but dynamic.

- NFB-1: Neutral with great extention on both sides of the spetrum. Lively and energetic sounding.

- REF-5: (Slightly?) dark sounding with a truely natural tone. The treble can be tuned up for increased dynamic and transient (the mod is described in the user manual).

 

In the technical department, I would say the NFB-1 and Reference 5 are in a better class than the NFB-17. The former 2 should be on par.

They both have (advanced) jitter reduction mechanism for the S/PDIF inputs:

- DSP in the Reference 5. I don't know, actually, if the DSP performs any asnychronous upsampling like in the DI-DSP interface or just the oversampling and digital filtering?

- ES9018 in the NFB-1 which features a built-in advanced jitter reduction stage.

 

The price difference between the NFB-1 and Reference 5 is due to the former using a single modern DAC with built-in advanced processing when the latter features 4 expensive DACs + a DSP for processing duties.

 

The NFB-17 has none of the above so you must feed it with quality S/PDIF signal to get the best out of it.

 

If you plan on using USB input, they all feature a quality USB receiver (USB-32) which should bring the NFB-17 on par with the pricier models in a technical standpoint. In this case, it would be a matter of sound preference more than technicalities.


Edited by Clemmaster - 12/11/12 at 1:42am
post #3 of 13

Clemmaster,

 

You seem to know a lot about the Audio-GD gear. Would like your opinion on the Compass 2 and how does it compare to the NFB-17.32? 

 

I'm undecided between the NFB-11.32 and Compass 2, then learned about the NFB-17.32 which has a fully balanced DAC. Don't really understand the difference between balanced and unbalanced designs - is there a significant improvement in sound associated going from unbalanced and balanced?

 

Steve

post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 

Clemmaster, Thanks a lot for your thoughtful input. As it turns out, I picked up a Benchmark DAC1 USB. I've heard good things and the price seemed right. Hopefully it will be a nice upgrade to my MoblePre external sound card.

 

Garth

post #5 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by steveting99 View Post

Clemmaster,

 

You seem to know a lot about the Audio-GD gear. Would like your opinion on the Compass 2 and how does it compare to the NFB-17.32? 

 

I'm undecided between the NFB-11.32 and Compass 2, then learned about the NFB-17.32 which has a fully balanced DAC. Don't really understand the difference between balanced and unbalanced designs - is there a significant improvement in sound associated going from unbalanced and balanced?

 

Steve

 

I don't think there is. Implementation is all that matters and you can have good and bad ones for both single ended and balanced designs.

 

Balanced design have operationnal advantage (noise immunity) but it shouldn't matter much for end users like us. It is needed for the profesionnal users who need to run cables over long distances or/and have many digital gears in their studio which add electrical noise and EMI. Potentially, the balanced design deals with these "issues" but are more expensive designs (more difficult to develop and require more parts).

 

Between the NFB-17 and NFB-2 is more a matter of what input your amplifier has. If the NFB-6 amplifier is any indication, the NFB-17 should be used balanced only, the single-ended output should be sub-par. From the specs, pictures and price, the NFB-17 is balanced version of the NFB-3 (or somewhere in-between the 3 and 2).

 

I never heard the Compass-2 or any all-in-one gears so I cannot make much comment on it. It's specs are better than the NFB-11, it has a modular design which allows you to choose "your sound" and has a line input which can be convenient. I often recommend the Compass-2 though I never heard it. I fell confident it is a(nother) really good gear with many features and a volume knob.

 

The NFB-17 would be a more expensive setup since it would require a balanced amp such as the NFB-6 ($500 w/ remote and shipping) which would bring the total cost past $1k.

 

Audio-GD covers pretty much all sound signatures (not in excess though), you just have to pickup the right combination.

post #6 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by Clemmaster View Post

As far as sound signature goes, the 3 should be as follows:

 

- NFB-17: Slightly warm and smooth but dynamic.

- NFB-1: Neutral with great extention on both sides of the spetrum. Lively and energetic sounding.

- REF-5: (Slightly?) dark sounding with a truely natural tone. The treble can be tuned up for increased dynamic and transient (the mod is described in the user manual).

 

In the technical department, I would say the NFB-1 and Reference 5 are in a better class than the NFB-17. The former 2 should be on par.

They both have (advanced) jitter reduction mechanism for the S/PDIF inputs:

- DSP in the Reference 5. I don't know, actually, if the DSP performs any asnychronous upsampling like in the DI-DSP interface or just the oversampling and digital filtering?

- ES9018 in the NFB-1 which features a built-in advanced jitter reduction stage.

 

The price difference between the NFB-1 and Reference 5 is due to the former using a single modern DAC with built-in advanced processing when the latter features 4 expensive DACs + a DSP for processing duties.

 

The NFB-17 has none of the above so you must feed it with quality S/PDIF signal to get the best out of it.

 

If you plan on using USB input, they all feature a quality USB receiver (USB-32) which should bring the NFB-17 on par with the pricier models in a technical standpoint. In this case, it would be a matter of sound preference more than technicalities.

 

 

I know this is an old thread, but just in case...

 

You seem pretty hard on the Wolfson DAC (NFB-17). Is this just because it doesn't have any built in jitter reduction (as the Sabre DAC?) or that the implementation in the NFB-17 doesn't include a DSP to handle jitter?

 

In your opinion, concerning difference in sound characteristic (which you did describe) do you think someone preferring a smooth, slightly warm sounding neutral DAC might be better served going for the NFB-17 together with, say, the Audio-gd digital Interface (with built in DSP) over the other versions? I think this is a relevant question as the price of the NFB-17 plus Digital Interface is comparable to the price of the NFB-1 (Sabre) and still cheaper than the REF-5.

post #7 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by cynan View Post

 

 

I know this is an old thread, but just in case...

 

You seem pretty hard on the Wolfson DAC (NFB-17). Is this just because it doesn't have any built in jitter reduction (as the Sabre DAC?) or that the implementation in the NFB-17 doesn't include a DSP to handle jitter?

 

In your opinion, concerning difference in sound characteristic (which you did describe) do you think someone preferring a smooth, slightly warm sounding neutral DAC might be better served going for the NFB-17 together with, say, the Audio-gd digital Interface (with built in DSP) over the other versions? I think this is a relevant question as the price of the NFB-17 plus Digital Interface is comparable to the price of the NFB-1 (Sabre) and still cheaper than the REF-5.

 

I'm not particularly hard on the NFB-17. It's much cheaper than the other 2 and, when used with the built-in USB input or a with a good quality coaxial signal (good CD transport and the likes), it should be technically close to the other 2.

 

If you don't need balanced output, then go for the NFB-2.32. It's $50 more expensive but the output stage should be on par with that of the NFB-1 or Reference-5. The NFB-3 and (what I suppose is the balanced version) the NFB-17 should be slightly inferior (at least on paper).

 

In my experience, the voicing comes before technicalities. My experience with the NFB-27 showed that, even though it is miles ahead in term of technicalities, I ended up preferring my Metrum Quad because it has a natural tone that I cannot live without. I actually don't like much the extremely tight bass of the NFB-27 adn prefere the looser one of the Quad biggrin.gif

 

Considering that and your preference, I'd say go for either the NFB-2 or NFB-17 and, if necessary, get a DI-DSP if you want to improve the coaxial input.

post #8 of 13

Can i ask one 1 thing ?

Does the its balanced output work well (NFB 17.32) like another high price trully balanced dacs ??? I meant ... um ... you know, this NFB 17.32 made in china and it's really cheap and ugly in my opinion. 


Edited by cubiboy90 - 8/21/13 at 9:41am
post #9 of 13
Come again?
post #10 of 13

Has anyone heard, or know anything about the new Audio-GD NFB-3 (384K) DAC ?  It uses "32bit/384K dual DA chips", but the product description doesn't give much to go on of what to expect for the sound character compared to the other Audio-GD DACs for example.
 

post #11 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by runswithaliens View Post

Has anyone heard, or know anything about the new Audio-GD NFB-3 (384K) DAC ?  It uses "32bit/384K dual DA chips", but the product description doesn't give much to go on of what to expect for the sound character compared to the other Audio-GD DACs for example.
 

i think the brand from 300$-500$ are all the same, i read descriptions and see they all use the same DAC chip and jack neutrik , stuff ... different from PSUs and all are described  "Neutral but smoothness sounding ,it doesn't sound skeletal or digital (or metallic). There's meat aplenty on them bones . It's a sigma-delta DAC chip implementation without the dryness, neutrality without the emotional disconnection" rolleyes.gif

post #12 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by cubiboy90 View Post

Can i ask one 1 thing ?



Does the its balanced output work well (NFB 17.32) like another high price trully balanced dacs ??? I meant ... um ... you know, this NFB 17.32 made in china and it's really cheap and ugly in my opinion. 



The audio-gd balanced DACs are genuine balanced DACs throughout, not single-ended DACs with balanced outputs tacked-on.

Yes, the audio-gd casework is not as fancy as some gear, but I'm glad that Kingwa focuses upon the quality of the design from an electronic standpoint, rather than making audiophile jewellery. wink.gif I reckon you'd change your opinion if you actually heard some of his gear in person.


Quote:
Originally Posted by cubiboy90 View Post

i think the brand from 300$-500$ are all the same, i read descriptions and see they all use the same DAC chip and jack neutrik , stuff ... different from PSUs and all are described  
"Neutral but smoothness sounding ,it doesn't sound skeletal or digital (or metallic). There's meat aplenty on them bones . It's a sigma-delta DAC chip implementation without the dryness, neutrality without the emotional disconnection" 
rolleyes.gif

Rest assured that they DON'T all sound the same. Kingwa borrowed that quote from John Darko's original NFB-3 review back in 2010 and has mentioned it often in his website, but there's a definite difference in the sound, especially between his models utilising different DAC chips.
Edited by petemac110 - 8/23/13 at 4:50am
post #13 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by petemac110 View Post


The audio-gd balanced DACs are genuine balanced DACs throughout, not single-ended DACs with balanced outputs tacked-on.

Yes, the audio-gd casework is not as fancy as some gear, but I'm glad that Kingwa focuses upon the quality of the design from an electronic standpoint, rather than making audiophile jewellery. wink.gif I reckon you'd change your opinion if you actually heard some of his gear in person.
Rest assured that they DON'T all sound the same. Kingwa borrowed that quote from John Darko's original NFB-3 review back in 2010 and has mentioned it often in his website, but there's a definite difference in the sound, especially between his models utilising different DAC chips.

Tks for your reply, now i have confidence to buy gear from audio-gd, haha. I was hesitated for long time when looking at NFB -17.32 (why the balanced DACs is so cheap eek.gif). Again, thanks for clearing my doubts.

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