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December 2013 Mid-Level DAC Comparison - Page 79  

post #1171 of 1331
Quote:
Originally Posted by painted klown View Post
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by brhfl View Post
 

DSD and pre are both... pretty meaningful in a 2.0 speaker setup...

 

He probably doesn't have any DSD files, and already owns a preamp. That would make them things he need not consider. I know I didn't need, nor care, about having that functionality when looking at DACs. Different systems have different needs. smily_headphones1.gif

 

It was phrased such that those things are meaningless in a 2.0 speaker setup. While a headphone amp is, indeed, meaningless in a purely speaker-based setup, the other two things are not. Was addressing what was said, not speculation on other needs. Though I admit my own wording was not quite clear enough, as the two items are not important in every 2.0 speaker setup; I simply meant nothing about them makes them unimportant simply because one is dealing with a 2.0 speaker setup.

post #1172 of 1331
Quote:
Originally Posted by brhfl View Post

 

It was phrased such that those things are meaningless in a 2.0 speaker setup. While a headphone amp is, indeed, meaningless in a purely speaker-based setup, the other two things are not. Was addressing what was said, not speculation on other needs. Though I admit my own wording was not quite clear enough, as the two items are not important in every 2.0 speaker setup; I simply meant nothing about them makes them unimportant simply because one is dealing with a 2.0 speaker setup.

 

Ah gotcha. When I read his question, I assumed he was simply trying to reduce some of the variables in his queation. Of course, every system (headphone based or full sized) needs something to act as a preamp. With the way he worded his question, I assumed that he already has a preamp.
As far as DSD is concerned, you don't need DSD functionality unless you have DSD files to listen to. I don't have any DSD files, nor does anyone I know IRL. I have only seen people with DSD files on audio foums, and even then the percentage doesn't seem to be that great. Most likely, he didn't care about it either.

Ah well, it doesn't matter. His question has been answered. smily_headphones1.gif
post #1173 of 1331
Thread Starter 

Okay Folks:

 

People have asked for a final wrap-up of my results, so here it is.  The DACs are grouped into The Indistinguishables and those that were distinguishable from The Indistinguishables.  Within each group, they are listed in order of my current personal preference, more or less, subject to change based on my whims, the time of day, whether it’s cold outside, or if somebody gives me a bazillion bucks, or whatever.

Note that I found all of the units I brought in for testing to sound great.  There was a slightly different flavor to a few of them, and one had the ability to morph its sound significantly so that it was actually in both groups, but none of them sounded “worse” than any of the others.  In the end, I chose in part based on my sonic preferences, but even more based on features for the money – value. 

 

Of course that value depends on whether or not somebody wants/needs those features and/or has the money to pay for them, so I expect many of you to argue with my rankings.  Feel free to do so, but please remember what this whole thread is about, and accept going in that this ranking is solely based on my system, my ears, my brain, and my current preferences.  If you don’t agree with them, fine, but please try to be civil and constructive about it, okay?  If you just want to whine about my process and results, please go to that other thread to do so.

 

The Indistinguishables:

 

All of the following DACs sound excellent, fantastic, clean, natural, etc. (pick the positive reviewer words of your choice) playing FLAC files.  All of the detail is there, with no audible noise through my system to my ears, as processed by my brain.  There might be sonic differences between them, but those differences are so subtle that they were not evident despite many long hours of trying to differentiate each of them from the others, playing a wide variety of songs of various bit rates.  I literally wore out the Niles AXP-1 switch by switching so many times between these DACs, trying desperately to find a meaningful difference.  To my ears, my brain, using my system, there is no audible difference between these DACs (with one potential limited exception… see the Chordette bullet below).

 

  • Yulong DA8 Sharp Filtered -- $1182 as tested, including an upgraded Emo power cord – The Yulong plays DSD (a significant advantage to me after I heard what a few of those files sound like on my system), has filters that actually make a difference in the sound, has a full-size HP out that sounds good and is particularly sensitive to the filters, and has a volume control, though it is digital (booooo).  Overall, the ability to sound like both an Indistinguishable and (almost) the Metrum, along with the DSD capability and the HP amp, make this the current winner.  But I have some worries about QC and support, and would prefer some analog inputs and an analog volume control, so if any DAC builder is out there and can offer the Yulong’s capabilities plus the analog inputs and volume control, as well as a rock solid reputation/customer support, for ~$1500 USD or less, please step right up…. 

 

  • Dangerous Source - $899 – A very feature-filled DAC, with great pre-amp capabilities including a very precise, and sensitive, analog volume control (that’s why it represented The Indistinguishables in the later rounds of comparisons… it was easier to level-match with it), and a pretty good dual-output headphone amp (depending on the listener’s system and taste).  Note that the analog inputs are not RCA, so you need adapters (even the solid metal ones are cheap enough that this shouldn’t be a deal killer).  A very nice package that lost out because it didn’t have DSD, or the ability to morph into the wamer/more sustained sound that the Ciunas has to some extent, and the Metrum and Yulong (with slow filter) have even more of.

 

  • Emotiva Stealth DC-1 - $499 – A well designed little box that has an analog input and analog volume control, and a nice remote.  It falls just slightly below the DM Source in my personal rankings because I didn’t like the Emo’s HP out with my LCD-3s, but this DAC is a spectacular value if you don’t need/want DSD or another HP amp.  However, I could use an SE headamp right now, and think the DM Source’s HP out is better than any $400 headamp I’ve ever tried, plus I have the extra money available, so even though the Emo is cheaper, DM Source noses it out in value for my purposes, at this exact moment in my life.  Ask me in 6 months, or even a week, and they might switch places.  In the end, both the Emo and DM Source went back anyway, but they were very close competitors in my mind.

 

  • Benchmark DAC-2 - $1995 – A very, very full featured pre-amp/DAC with DSD, 2 analog RCA inputs, 2 headphone jacks, analog volume control, nice remote control -- basically all of the bells and whistles, but you pay extra for them.  The Benchmark lost out on value, but if you can find one in new or nearly new condition for significantly less than the retail price, this is a very nice piece of hardware.

 

  • Chordette QuteHD - $1795 list, but can be had for 10% less than that – A small package that plays DSD files, has USB, Optical and coax digital inputs, and pretty lights, but no other functionality.  Note that I sometimes thought I heard a slight difference in the clarity of some emphasized syllables (initiated with consonants like “t”s or “s”s that use the front tip of the tongue) sung in a few very hi-res songs when listening to the Chordette, but I really had to strain to hear the differences, and I heard absolutely no difference with most hi-res songs or CD-quality files.  Note also that the Chordette puts out significantly more voltage than the other DACs tested here – I measured a full 3dB difference in volume vs. the Metrum, so there might be some issues – or advantages -- pairing with some amps.  Given that the Benchmark offers waaayyy more functionality, for only a few hundred bucks more, and the Yulong offers waaayyy more functionality for a few hundred bucks less, the Chordette lost out on value.

 

  • Arcam irDAC - $699 – It’s a DAC only, with multiple inputs and a limited remote control, but no DSD or pre-amp capabilities.  The Emo offers more value, and the DM Source offers features that are worth at least $200 to me, so it edges out the Arcam as well.  The Concero is about the same price and offers different features and is smaller.  Pick ‘em according to needs/wants.

 

  • Resonessence Concero (any filter) – $650 CAD (with bundle) – A tiny, USB powered unit that has 3 filters, but limited other features.  The bundle does have a remote that controls the filters and the ability to pause/start/skip tracks on a computer, though I didn’t test that functionality.  If I didn’t care about DSD and wanted a USB-only DAC (and only a DAC) for a portable system, or if I had very limited space but wanted excellent sound, this unit would be an excellent choice.

 

  • Schiit Gungnir - $850 with USB input - It’s a DAC only… and others all offer more goodies for the price, so it lost out based on value.

 

  • NAD M51 - $1999 – Solid looking, with digital pre-amp capabilities and a nice remote.  No DSD, no HP out.  Lost out on value, by a wide margin. 

 

Distinguishable From The Indistinguishables

 

All of the following DACs also sound excellent, fantastic, detailed, etc., but slightly different than the Indistinguishables.  The differences are apparent in side-by-side testing.

 

  • Yulong DA8 Slow Filtered –  $1182 as tested, including an upgraded Emo power cord – The Yulong plays DSD, has filters that actually make a difference in the sound, has a full-size HP out that sounds good and is particularly sensitive to the filters, and has a volume control , though it is digital (booooo).  Overall, the ability to sound like both an Indistinguishable and (almost) the Metrum, along with the DSD capability and the HP amp, make this the current winner.  But I have some worries about QC and support, and would prefer some analog inputs and an analog volume control, so if any DAC builder is out there and can offer the Yulong’s capabilities plus the analog inputs and volume control, as well as a rock solid reputation/customer support, for ~$1500 USD or less, please step right up…. 

 

  • Ciunas DAC - $570 Euros  = ~$775 today, plus fees.  This unit has a slightly more full-bodied sound than The Indistinguishables, with more sustain, but not as much of these qualities as the Metrum or the Yulong (with the slow filter engaged).  However, it has no other features – it’s just a DAC and it doesn’t play DSD files.  It’s a small unit with a unique power system that you might love or hate, depending on your setup.  Separating the USB power from the USB data input is a great idea as long as you have enough USB ports within reach of the DAC that you are willing to sacrifice 2 of them.  I had lots of USB ports, but other users might not, and the relatively short length of the USB power cable did limit placement of the Ciunas, making life a bit more difficult for me.  But if it fits your setup, and you want a slightly different (warmer) sound than that of the Indistinguishables, but no other features, the Ciunas is cheap enough that it might be an attractive option for you.

 

  • Metrum Octave Mk II - $1395 – This DAC sounded the warmest and most full-bodied, with the most sustain, of all the DACs tested.  If you love analog or tube sound, this DAC might be your ideal.  However, it is a DAC only, no features other than manually selectable digital inputs, and does not play DSD files, so I prefer the Yulong, which is a couple of hundred bucks cheaper, has bells and whistles I value including DSD, and can be made to sound very much like the Metrum by engaging the slow filter.  I actually prefer the Metrum sound a bit more than the Ciunas, but not $600 more, so it falls a tiny bit below that unit in the rankings.

 

  • PerfectWave DAC II using the Auto filter – $4,000 list, but apparently nobody pays that… - The PWD also sounds unique – I likened its FR profile to a large but shallow pond or large puddle:  higher on both ends  with a shallow but meaningful drop in the middle (assuming you don’t want to get wet).  If you prefer a slightly scooped out mid-range, you might want the PWD, but I found it to be the exact opposite from the sound I wanted, with too much emphasis on either end of the audible spectrum and an overall presentation that made some tracks sound like they were recorded in an echo chamber.  The PWD does have lots of bells and whistles, but given its list price, or even half of its list price, it still isn’t a good value.

 

  • Emotiva XDA-1 – I paid $200 for it, but it is no longer available new – The XDA-1 is not competitive in any way with any other DAC in this test.   Much boomier in the bass, plus somewhat irritating in the high end.  It was a nice starter DAC, and a decent value for what I paid for it, given its feature set (lots of inputs, remote, etc.).  However, its time has definitely passed.  Given that I am unlikely to get anything for it on the used market, I’ll probably just keep it here in storage as an emergency DAC in case the Yulong crashes and burns on me.
post #1174 of 1331
Quote:
Originally Posted by painted klown View Post
 
[snip]
 
I cannot speak for Gary, but from my understanding of his results, the DC-1 and DA8 both fell into the pack of DACs that all sound alike when playing non-DSD files. I think it was the DSD capability of the DA8 that ultimately pushed him in that direction. Unless, of course, I am reading something wrong.

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by brunk View Post
 

Plus the DA8 has capability to sound similar to Metrum Octave.

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by cizx View Post
 

DSD and the Yulong's filter settings were the difference.

 

[snip]

 

This.  The slow filter sounded more like the metrum.

 

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by painted klown View Post

 

[snip]

 
As far as DSD is concerned, you don't need DSD functionality unless you have DSD files to listen to. I don't have any DSD files, nor does anyone I know IRL. I have only seen people with DSD files on audio foums, and even then the percentage doesn't seem to be that great. Most likely, he didn't care about it either.

[snip]

 

Reinforcing the replies of brunk and cizx:  

 

You don't have to play DSD files on the DA8 to enjoy its ability to sound like the Metrum Octave II or like one of the Inidistinguishables.  It's your choice - just select the appropriate filter.

 

Mike

post #1175 of 1331
Thread Starter 

And now for some acknowledgements:

 

I'd like to thank everybody that helped me with this outrageously-more-difficult-than-I'd-ever-have-imagined undertaking. 

 

  • My secret benefactor who sponsored the Yulong will be getting his money back... unless I decide to send him the DAC anyway.  With his approval, in the next couple of weeks I intend to keep looking for a DSD DAC with analog pre-amp capabilities for ~$1500 or less, and if I find it, he's gonna get a new (er, I mean slightly used) DAC.
  • Mike (Zilch), Clem, Darryl (PreProman), and Potterma, who all sent me their expensive hardware to test.  Talk about a community of trust.  Don't worry guys, for those of you who haven't yet gotten your hardware back (or sent to its desired destination) I will put all of it on the road tomorrow, assuming it warms up a bit around here, but Thursday at the latest.
  • Barry S, who not only lent me his Gungnir for testing, he showed up here to help out, and even provided lunch.  If more of you had taken me up on my offer to come out here, at least I might have eaten better.
  • Those of you who have contributed ideas for the field of competitors or for the testing process.  Because of your advice, I think we ended up with an excellent field and an excellent process, given the real-life constraints.  I know others disagree, but that is their prerogative.  This is a subjective hobby, not a scientific endeavor; nevertheless, I still tried to instill as much rigor and objectivity into the process as I possibly could.  Yes, these are only my opinions, but I've been comparing audio components for decades, and I had no prejudices or preconceptions going in, so I hope there is some valuable information in there for some of you, at least.  Or that I at least entertained a few of you for a couple of weeks.  If neither is the case, well, I'm sorry for you having decided to waste your time reading through any or all of the 79 pages of worthless verbiage, but that was your subjective choice, not mine...:biggrin:.
post #1176 of 1331

Gary, thanks for the enormous effort that you and everybody involved put in for this comparison!

post #1177 of 1331

Gary,

 

Thank you so much for personally taking the time and have spent so much effort in this epic DAC comparison. 

post #1178 of 1331
Gary,

Something you missed on the Concero is that it is capable of being used as a high quality USB to Coaxial converter, so even if you upgrade past the Concero later, you still might like having it in the chain. If you still have the Concero, try it on some of your favorite DACs from the comparison and see if it improves the sound with the Concero acting as converter. This gives even more value to the Concero as it's not quite an immediate door stop when you've upgraded.

I disagree with many of your results, but I won't be argumentative about it. Glad you are finding what you like.
post #1179 of 1331

"so if any DAC builder is out there and can offer the Yulong’s capabilities plus the analog inputs and volume control, as well as a rock solid reputation/customer support, for ~$1500 USD or less, please step right up…. "

 

This comes close to the Mytek.....switchable filters, DSD, etc.........

post #1180 of 1331

Gary, can I suggest you put how you connected each DAC? For example, the Metrum Octave, from my own experience, sounds significantly different depending on the digital input used. :smile: 

post #1181 of 1331
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Maxvla View Post

Gary,

Something you missed on the Concero is that it is capable of being used as a high quality USB to Coaxial converter, so even if you upgrade past the Concero later, you still might like having it in the chain. If you still have the Concero, try it on some of your favorite DACs from the comparison and see if it improves the sound with the Concero acting as converter. This gives even more value to the Concero as it's not quite an immediate door stop when you've upgraded.

I disagree with many of your results, but I won't be argumentative about it. Glad you are finding what you like.


I don't have the Concero, it was actually a loaner from Mike (Zilch) and went back to him a couple of weeks ago (I didn't want the man to be without his favorite DAC any longer than absolutely necessary).  However, thanks for pointing out the converter capability.  I think for those who can use its unique capabilities, or need its small size, it is an excellent choice, and will continue to be one for a long time.

 

Note to all that I also don't have any of the other DACs outside of their boxes except the Yulong.  I needed to get this stuff back to the suppliers so I can get the charges off of my CC... I really don't want to have to become a used DAC salesman.

post #1182 of 1331

Hats off to you Gary.

Your writing skills are perfect (clear and efficient) and I can feel you put all the efforts you could on conducting the test and reporting your findings to the community.

 

BRAVO!

post #1183 of 1331

Thanks again for all your time and effort to review the DACs and report back here for our benefit and reading enjoyment.   

post #1184 of 1331

By the way, it should be reminded that the results are for each DAC running its own USB input.

Some DAC (like the Chord) might benefit from using the SPDIF input instead. This is a common advice for the Chord, by the way.

 

Note: the value - and lack of convenience - will obviously suffer, though, so it probably wouldn't change Gary's ranking anyway.


Edited by Clemmaster - 1/7/14 at 5:19pm
post #1185 of 1331
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Currawong View Post
 

Gary, can I suggest you put how you connected each DAC? For example, the Metrum Octave, from my own experience, sounds significantly different depending on the digital input used. :smile: 


All of the DACs were connected to my PC using the exact same model of 6' USB cable from Monoprice.  They were all connected to the Niles AXP-1 5-way switch (and then the Benchmark DAC 2 dual analog inputs after I wore out the Niles switch), via the same 3-ft Monoprice RCA cables.  All of the RCA cables and the Niles switch were tested for volume drop vs. running directly from one of the DACs to the Amp using my ~25-yr-old Monster interconnects.  As long as I had a good connection, there was no volume drop as a result of running through the system, and I believe that those connections were delivering an accurate signal to the amp. 

 

For those getting ready to complain about the cables, I don't believe that magic cables would reveal any differences in these DACs.  Moreover, based on all of the arguments about cables over the years, whatever cables I would have chosen, somebody would have complained about them, because every cable out there seems to have both proponents and detractors.  Different types of analog cables might sound slightly different from each other, but I don't think these relatively short cables were degrading the sound in any way, and as long as I was using the same cables for all of the DACS, this setup offered a fair basis for comparison.

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