Originally Posted by lojay
I feel honoured to have your reply to my post. My purchase of the Emotiva DC-1 was solely influenced by your mega-review of mid-priced DACs. And I completely agree with your findings. While I would not say that the DC-1 is indistinguishable from say the Naim DAC V1 and the Benchmark DAC2 HGC, they are very, very close. For the critics of your findings, I must say that I found minimal differences between these DACs despite using more "resolving" headphones than your LCD3s, e.g. the SR009, HE6 and HD800 which are all properly amped. I've found no noticable difference when pairing them with the LCD3. Kudos to you, I am extremely satisfied with the purchase of the Emotiva. It is really a giant killer.
That said, there are two reasons why I am looking to buy a second DAC. As you have mentioned in your review, the DC-1 belongs to a class of "digital" sounding incomparables. I feel that I would enjoy more euphony and warmth in the DAC given my neutral headphones. This is all the more so when my Headamp BHSE arrives. Hence I am looking at a tube DAC, the AMR DP-777, to complement the Emotiva. What is more, I have listened to ultra high end DACs such as a top end Esoteric DAC. If my auditory memory has not failed me, I recall that these DACs are capable of bringing out not only the detail but the emotion in a magical way. Maybe that's what people call "analog" sounding, I would not know.
I appreciate what you say about my headphones being demanding. They are. My amp (the Woo Audio 5 with upgraded tubes) is what I'd say a jack of all trades - it can drive speakers, electrostatics (through a Stax tranny) and high impedence headphones. In that sense it is as good as having three specialised amps for my headphones. I heard that some other similar priced amps such as the Balancing Act trumps it in driving the HD800 but I am very satisfied with what it does, especially because it drives all 3 demanding headphones very well. It does very little harm to the sound, there is very little one can say to complain about it, and it does some things very well (dynamics, soundstage, midrange purity). That is saying a lot for hifi gear.
So at the moment I am seeing if I can upgrade my Emotiva to something much better... I know it will be difficult and my wallet will be sore....
Honoured (or "honored" to translate for those in the US)? Thanks, but all I did was spend my holidays listening to DACs, writing wordy posts and getting abused for it. Anybody could have done that.
In any case, you might find the "analog" sound you are seeking in Metrum products. The Octave was a bit more "analog" (or warmer) sounding than the other DACs I tried, and their more expensive stuff has gotten excellent reviews, for whatever that's worth (I always caution about trusting somebody else's opinions, even mine).
I personally have never tried a tube DAC, but I do have an old Carver tube CD changer, and I can tell you that it does sound warmer to me when routing the sound through the tubes (vs. direct digital out), but I also hear some loss of fidelity as the high end is rolled off a bit and the mids are thicker. That could be caused by the specific tubes employed... or not... I don't know, but I don't use it with my LCDs as a result, since to me that is not a good match.
It's really interesting to me as somebody who grew up with analog sound -- there wasn't anything else -- how hard it is to reproduce that sound with a completely digital chain. For me, the LCD-3s fed digital files by the Yulong DA-8 and my speaker amps give me the right balance between "digital" and "analog", but everybody has their own brain (I hope) , and needs to find their own balance point. If your current tube amp setup doesn't feel like it hits the right balance for you, perhaps some tube rolling is in order. I think you'll find more difference in sound from different tubes than from different DACs.
Alternatively, to reiterate my earlier post, you might want to try separate amps for the HE and HD. They really are completely different from each other in their demands on an amp, and I find it difficult to believe that any amp can optimally meet the needs of both.
For the HE-6, a speaker amp might be the right answer, and given the huge variety of excellent speaker amps -- including vintage ones -- you don't have to spend a fortune. If you have a local store carrying decent quality speaker amps, just take your cans and a speaker tap and try everything they have until you find something you like. If that doesn't work, try searching for vintage amps on eBay or ask relatives and/or friends if they have any old amps laying around that you might try (I found my excellent Nikko NA-890 in my parents' attic).
For the HD-800, I can only recommend reading all of the stuff on this site to see if there is a DAC-amp-can combo that intrigues you. I am really not a fan of those cans, so can't recommend anything for you there.
Again, I hope all of this verbiage is helping you...