Originally Posted by SolidVictory
Wow, beautiful pictures!
And where would you say the DA8 amp pushes the HE-500 to (in terms of %)?
Well, after listening the Manley Stingray and using the HE-500 on speaker taps, I feel like the DA8 pushes about 85-90% of what it's capable of. It's very, very close. A speaker amp will give you that last bit of micro detail, speed, and extension.
Oh... my review is finished...
Yulong Audio doesn’t need that much of an introduction if you’re an avid member on Head-Fi (or any other headphone forum, for that matter) and if you don’t know who Yulong is, I’ll give you a very brief introduction. Yulong Audio is known for their absolutely pristine sounding amplifiers and DACs (all solid state design throughout) that give you a lot of performance for the price you pay, as the ratio tends to be massive for all Yulong products. Today, we’ll be taking a look at Yulong’s new flagship DAC, the Sabre DA8. Incorporating the same ES9018 DAC chip used in Yulong’s D18 DAC, the DA8 takes it one step further by adding DSD playback and incorporating a headphone amplifier that’s supposed to be just a tick under the A18, sonically speaking. Anyway, let’s get to the review, because I have a lot to discuss with this little gem.
Edited by Austin Morrow - 12/8/13 at 8:12pm
DA8 Internally & Externally
Before we get to the sonic capabilities, there are a lot of specifications and features that need to be looked over, because the DA8 has packed in so much functionality into such a minute chassis, it’s quite literally the all-in-one headphone device, and with that, we begin the checklist. Flagship reference level DAC chip? Check. An integrated headphone amp that supports single ended and balanced outputs? Check. USB input with DSD playback that can also serve as a preamp? Check. Digital filters that are regulated via a onscreen LCD display? Check. What more could you ask for? Well, Yulong could have gone the extra mile and made the chassis out of anodized space rock and made the buttons out of diamond, but that might raise the price just a wee bit.
Design & Aesthetics
While I still feel like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, especially when it comes to headphone amplifiers and DACs, there will always be products that look super sleek and manage to conform to almost any desktop audio system, and this same statement can be applied to the Yulong DA8. The chassis of the DA8 is carved entirely from aluminum and then anodized black (I have the black version, but a natural silver color is also available for those who don’t want to stray towards the dark side), with openings along the side of the DA8 to exhilarate heat and keep air flowing. There are screws that keep the faceplate in contact with the rest of the chassis, and these are anodized as well to keep the look of the DA8 smooth and universal. The bottom of the DA8 features something that I consider to be truly awesome, as it helps with vibration and protection. The feet are made of aluminum but are tightly packed on the inside with transparent rubber feet. Not only does this keep the aluminum from contacting the desk, but it helps tremendously with ambient vibration.
Remember how in the beginning I wouldn’t stop going on about all the little additions (as well as many buzzword compliant features) that the DA8 has? Well, we are going to go through that again, not internally, but externally this time, to see the inputs and outputs the DA8, of which there are a lot. Starting at the front, we have the volume control that shows up digitally on the LCD display, starting at -60dB and increasing in volume from there. The LCD display itself lets you filter through the different inputs (USB, AES/EBU, optical, and coaxial) as well as the type of phase and digital filter mode you want. Lastly, you have a jitter eliminator built in, just another little tasteful addition that Yulong decided to throw in.
On the back of the DA8, we have several inputs that I will not be going over again due to the fact that we already went over them when we were discussing how you could switch and pick on the LCD display, so that’s there for you to decide over what input best suits you. Oh, and USB does extremely high DAC processing, up to 32/384 kHz on Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows, so no worries there. So, what about outputs, what does the Yulong DA8 have in store for us? Well, we already know that it has a built in headphone amplifier that’s single ended, but what you may not have known is that the balanced outputs on the back double as both a balanced output for outboard amplifiers and as a balanced headphone amplifier, which is a massive plus in my book.
The sonic capabilities of the Yulong DA8 are both unique and impressive, but at a first listen, that actually wasn’t the case. Prior to a 24 hour burn in period, I though that Yulong DA8 sounded too tonally rich and warm, with bloat around the midrange, and extension clipping off at both ends of the spectrum. Immediately, I wondered what the problem was. Did I have the wrong USB cable? No, I’m using the KingRex Unanimous uArt, one of the best sounding USB cables I’ve heard. Was it the power cable? Nope, the LessLoss DFPC power cables couldn’t have been the problem, everything was hooked up fine. I, disappointed and left wanting more, immediately left the unit to burn in over the next day to see if any changes had taken place. You should have seen my face when I hopped out of bed to put the HE-500’s on my head using the DA8 the next morning, pure ecstasy.
Gone was the overly warm sound band, replaced by a more airy, spacious, and slightly less syrupy sound. Gone was the bloat in the midrange, replaced by an absolutely stunning vocality presence I’ve only heard in high end tube amplifiers like the Cavalli Audio Liquid Fire, and gone was the mediocre extension, yet again replaced by a treble and bass presence that reached up top and down low so immensely far. The impressions just became more positive the more I listened to the DA8. It was like a tube amplifier, so lush, analog sounding. But, it wasn’t a tube amplifier, it was completely solid state, a very unique gem.
As I was listening to Eric Clapton’s Unplugged CD ripped in FLAC playing through Fidelia, I couldn’t help but notice how forward Eric’s voice was portrayed. The vocality presence was a bit more center stage than the rest of the frequency spectrum, with extreme clarity and tonal coherence. The ambience of the recording was presented very accurately (it was a live recording after all), and while the Yulong DA8 doesn’t come off as having this super wide, super deep soundstage presence, it did have the ability to contour to the shape of what the recording called for. In this case, there wasn’t a lot of width, but a lot of depth, height, and instrumental separation that I could hear, and the DA8 rendered it perfectly with awesome imaging and body. Additionally, remember how I talked about that treble extension? Listen to Eric Clapton’s Layla, and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. The treble presence is ever so slightly more passive than the vocality presence, but extends to the very top of the spectrum without ever sounding bright or sibilant, but smooth and very relaxing, never sounding blanketed in any way.
As I’m listening to the DA8, I keep finding that the DA8’s most impressive aspect is its imaging and soundstage abilities. James Newtown Howard’s The Village soundtrack sounds so accurate and well placed it’s like I’m listening to exactly how the composer wanted the audience to hear it. Everything is placed in perfect accordance to their position on stage. It’s simply stunning, the way the DA8 can shape-shift the soundstage dimensions depending on the recording, and how it can image so exceptionally well, no matter what you’re listening to.
Down low, the DA8 has a very tight and articulate bass presence with a fantastic transient response that’s never blurry, and a very fast attack and decay to boot. Just like up top, the DA8 is able to reach down low exceptionally well, without any roll-off present anywhere. Listening to Burial’s Etched Headplate sounds very euphonic, and I’m noticing an ever so slight bass coloration that sounds pleasing, and adds to the overall warm tonality. If there’s one thing I can come away with on the DA8, its that it has one of the best imaging capabilities I’ve ever heard, and its warmth and lushness sounds absolutely exceptional on classical music, and is forgiving enough to play fair with almost all recordings.
After listening to the Yulong DA8 for almost a month and pitting it against top end DACs and amps, I can come away saying that the DA8 is by far the best all in one DAC & headphone amplifier combo that you could possibly get. And with a DAC that rivals DACs in the $2K price range with a very respectable headphone amplifier, the DA8 is a tremendous value considering everything you get coupled with the sonic capabilities, and that’s why the DA8 earns a spot on my Audio Excursions Editors Choice Award list.