The Sony has had over 100 hours burn in time now, so I figure it's time for some more critical tests. There's a range of things I wanted to check on, but as listening tests are always subjective I've decided to compare it to the other components I have and just flag up the differences.
Test 1: DSD vs 24/96
PCM-D100 -> Earmax Pro -> HD800
Trondheim Solistene - Violin Concerto no4
Trondheim Solistene - Krambulpolka
This was very close so I had to switch back and forth repeatedly to identify the differences (thank god for the D100’s remote). On the Violin Concerto the 24/96 had a slightly warmer mid bass whereas the DSD was a little breathier. On the Krambulpolka the DSD had a little more space around the instruments and sounded slightly more realistic. I’d say it was a draw on the Concerto and a win for DSD on the Krambulpolka, but in both cases I had to look at the screen to remind myself what I was listening to as the differences were tiny.
Note: I discovered that when a file doesn't have any metadata the screen shows as No data / No data once its playing, although it uses filenames in folder view. I’d have preferred it to just show the filenames, but there you go.
All further tests were conducted with the following tracks:
Trondheim Solistene - Krambulpolka (24/96)
Dunedin Consort - Handel’s Messiah, All We Like Sheep (24/88.2)
Die Krupps - Your Voice (16/44)
Emile Sande - Where I Sleep (16/44)
Soil & Eclipse - Bridges (Humanity Mix by M.O.) (16/44)
Test 2: PCM-D100 vs iPad Retina Mini (HF player) vs MBPr (Decibel)
Source -> Westone 4r
I had the volume set to 2/10 on the Sony and about 70% on the iPad, so the Sony has more play in that area. The MBP was about 30%
I’m just going to summarise this test by saying that the MBP and iPad were good all rounders, well balanced and easy to listen to. The Sony had a slight treble lift by comparison but was also more detailed. Again, the differences were small and I had to go back and forth a few times to be certain.
The difference between the Sennheiser CX300mk2 and Westone 4r (both on the Sony) was huge though.
Another note: I was sat there thinking the iPad has a much better interface, but HF player cut off the end of the track titles too, so I couldn’t tell which Dunedin Consort track was which. The grass is not always greener!
Test 3: PCM-D100 line out vs PCM-D100 optical out to Hugo.
PCM-D100 -> [Hugo, or no Hugo] -> Earmax Pro -> HD800
The Sony’s line out is sweet, musical and has decent PRaT, but it sounds rather flat compared to the Hugo. The Hugo has much greater space around instruments and a quieter background which really makes a difference. I’d say the Hugo has better PRaT as well and it’s a more engaging listen overall.
Test 4: PCM-D100 vs MBPr (Decibel), both via optical out
PCM-D100 or MBPr -> Hugo -> Earmax Pro -> HD800
There was no real difference between these transports to be honest, which is quite disappointing. Decibel wasn’t the best player on the Mac as Amarra had a quieter background and I was hoping the Sony would match Amarra in that regard. I don’t have the Amarra demo any more so I can’t repeat that experiment with the Earmax in the chain, so I’ll have to get the Mjolnir out and compare them the hard way. The Earmax is lovely, but it's not the last word in detail. Given I'm comparing the background silence of the two transports, a balanced solid state amp should be more revealing than a valve amp.
So far then I’ve convinced myself that the Hugo is the best DAC of the two, but that wasn’t entirely surprising. The Sony is a very good digital transport and a superb recorder, but the HD800s are still nagging at me that the system could be better. The Mjolnir is warming up, so tomorrow I'll give it another run.