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December 2013 Mid-Level DAC Comparison - Page 39  

post #571 of 1331
Quote:
Originally Posted by Turn&cough View Post

...The irDAC appears to hold its own quite well but based on sound alone(not price or features) how does it fare against the DS?

 

In other words - which one would you rather live with (soundwise)? 

 

Thanks

 

I thought the DS was noticeably better than the irDAC with the LCD-X. The irDAC's graininess and treble etch were mildly noticeable with the LCD-3 and very apparent with the LCD-X. If you have headphones that run a little bright, I don't think the irDAC is the best choice. The DS impressed me for the price, but I wish I had heard the Stealth volume matched, since the cost is so reasonable.

post #572 of 1331

The NAD has one of / if not the best "digital" preamp section in a DAC I've heard.  Beats the pre amp section in the PWD mk2 hands down.  I much prefered the BASS slam of the PWD over the NAD. Also I found the PWD and better dynamics and better micro and macro detail retrieval

post #573 of 1331
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by olor1n View Post
 

Gary, the M51 can function as a preamp. Attenuation is achieved digitally and its 35bit architecture ensures no truncation of data in the usable range (you'd have to go -66dB with 24bit data).

 

The NAD's RRP in the US does seem a deterrent. Particularly if you have no use for its additional inputs and preamp capability. In Australia, the M51 could be had for less than $1400AUD. Price has gone up of late to align with other regions. As much as I love the M51, it is difficult to recommend without also mentioning the value proposition of its competitors. I'm just glad I jumped in early and bagged a steal.

I stand corrected, but it is a pre-amp with some limitations in functionality (no analog inputs that I could find, no headphone jack, etc.).  It really is a DAC with switching capability between digital inputs and a volume control with 1dB steps.  It does have both balanced and SE out, but I don't know if they can both be playing at once.  In any case, yes, it can be used as a pre-amp if its functionality meets your needs.

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by Turn&cough View Post

 

The irDAC appears to hold its own quite well but based on sound alone(not price or features) how does it fare against the DS?

 

In other words - which one would you rather live with (soundwise)? 

 

Thanks

 

Yesterday, I would have said the DM.  After a short session this morning, the differences are so minimal that it is about even.  It really depends on your music choices, how critically you listen, and most importantly, what the rest of your chain is.  If you have a system that highlights treble detail, say LCD-X, HD800s or T1s or even Stax SR-009s (as if they would be seen in such low company), you might not want the Arcam because it falters slightly up there, and your system will highlight that.  If you only have $700 to spend and have cans that are less focused on the high end, e.g., HD600/650, or LCD-2s or -3s, the Arcam will serve you very well.  It sounds very good. 

 

That said I intend to spend the rest of the day trying to find differences between any of the 3 current indistinguishables and will throw the Arcam and PWD into the mix as I feel the need.  The playlist has been cut from >250 to 25 songs that I thought showed differences (real or imagined) between the PWD and Arcam, and I am going to focus on those songs all day and later tonight after I get back from watching the Washington Capitals not get trounced by the Anaheim Ducks (I hope).  If at the end of 8-10 hours of listening, I still can't hear any meaningful differences between these DACs then I will give up and declare it a sonic draw.  If I can't hear any meaningful difference in these DACs after that amount of trying, then there aren't any meaningful differences between them in my system. 

 

No matter what the result, I will remove two of DACS from the switch tomorrow morning (current thinking is to pull the PWD and one of the others (probably the NAD because it will have decided to stop working by then anyway) and plug in the Concero and the Gungnir, in one last attempt to get the latter up and running.  If that Schiit don't work I will pick another DAC from the pile (and Barry can attest, there's a big pile of boxes) and plug it in.  Then I will spend tomorrow characterizing those two, probably using the bigger list of songs.  On Wednesday I will do my best to bring this round of testing to a close, so that I can get the other DACs in the system.  At this point I do not have the Anedio D2 or the BMC PureDAC.  I'm pretty sure I can get an Anedio here, but I have little faith at this point that the PureDAC will show.  But who knows, Christmas is coming, maybe Santa will be nice and tell Vapor Audio to respond to my e-mails and phone calls.

post #574 of 1331
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Barry S View Post
 

 

I thought the DS was noticeably better than the irDAC with the LCD-X. The irDAC's graininess and treble etch were mildly noticeable with the LCD-3 and very apparent with the LCD-X. If you have headphones that run a little bright, I don't think the irDAC is the best choice. The DS impressed me for the price, but I wish I had heard the Stealth volume matched, since the cost is so reasonable.


Barry:

 

I don't think we listened to the Arcam level-matched  -- we had the NAD, Source and PWD in the system, not the Arcam.  When it's level-matched, for most music, and many headphones, the issues aren't major.  They are there, but not a DAC killer.

post #575 of 1331
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by preproman View Post
 

The NAD has one of / if not the best "digital" preamp section in a DAC I've heard.  Beats the pre amp section in the PWD mk2 hands down.  I much prefered the BASS slam of the PWD over the NAD. Also I found the PWD and better dynamics and better micro and macro detail retrieval


Hey man, aren't you supposed to be busy doing other things? :D

 

In any case, I would argue that the slam and dynamics you are hearing with the PWD are coming from the fact that the mids are suppressed a bit, making the bass and treble more apparent.  Again, not a V, just a small depression in the mid-range.  To me that's more about equalization than about real differences in performance.  I would defy anybody to find actual sounds in any song that were there with the PWD but not the NAD (or Source, or Stealth or Arcam, for that matter).  I truly believe it's ALL there in all of the DACs I've heard so far, but some of them have more or less energy in areas of the sound spectrum that make the particular instrument or voice or chair squeak more or less apparent in the mix.  I trust that my ears, which are hearing individual missed notes by one instrument in a big band, are capable of picking up detail.  And it's there if you listen for it with all of these DACs.  It's just a question of where you focus your attention, and with the PWD suppressing the mids for you a bit, it is easier to focus on treble and bass detail. 

post #576 of 1331

Yead the big day is over.  Whew...  It was a lot.

 

Gary, your ears are much better than mine.  All my DACs and amps sound the same (just about) with the LCD-3s.  I had to break out the HD800s or the HE-6 to compare DACs or Amps with..

post #577 of 1331
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary in MD View Post
 


Barry:

 

I don't think we listened to the Arcam level-matched  -- we had the NAD, Source and PWD in the system, not the Arcam.  When it's level-matched, for most music, and many headphones, the issues aren't major.  They are there, but not a DAC killer.


Gary-- Yep, that's right , the irDAC wasn't level matched. Even so, I agree, the issues weren't that bad--just that in comparison, the irDAC didn't sound as smooth as the better DACs. When I come up with the Gungnir, we should do more level-matched blind testing.

post #578 of 1331
Quote:
Originally Posted by Turn&cough View Post

I agree with this but still think that DAC chips have certain inherent characteristics which is why I'm looking to try something other than an ESS based DAC.

 

I'll quote another member(purrin) regarding the ESS chip:

 

 



I'll have to post a link to the Meridian Headphone amp thread.
There is a comment from the Meridian designers on that thread that you may find interesting.
With respect to Purrin, he is not a designer.
post #579 of 1331
Quote:
Originally Posted by preproman View Post
 

Yead the big day is over.  Whew...  It was a lot.

 

Gary, your ears are much better than mine.  All my DACs and amps sound the same (just about) with the LCD-3s.  I had to break out the HD800s or the HE-6 to compare DACs or Amps with..

 

So just send him the HD-800 and we'll have the most detailed analysis we can ever dream about! 

 

@Gary: do you plan on taking a break sometime during the shootout? Your ears might need some rest at some point :D

post #580 of 1331
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by preproman View Post
 

Yead the big day is over.  Whew...  It was a lot.

 

Gary, your ears are much better than mine.  All my DACs and amps sound the same (just about) with the LCD-3s.  I had to break out the HD800s or the HE-6 to compare DACs or Amps with..

 

Congrats on your big day!

 

I don't think it's about my ears being better, it is about a strange and awful ability to focus on minute differences and tune out everything else in the universe.  It is yet another reason why I am an old single guy.

post #581 of 1331
Quote:
Originally Posted by Turn&cough View Post
 
 

I agree with this but still think that DAC chips have certain inherent characteristics which is why I'm looking to try something other than an ESS based DAC.

 

 

 

More than anything it's implementation not the chip 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/689783/december-2013-mid-level-dac-comparison/300#post_10030916

post #582 of 1331
Thread Starter 

Alright gentlemen and ladies (if any of you are out there):

 

I have spent about 8 hours doing the following testing:

 

With the NAD, DM Source, Emo Stealth, Arcam and PWD attached to the Niles switch box, I meticulously matched SPLs using the Bink white noise file.  I got the NAD, Source and Emo almost exactly the same, with the Arcam and PWD about one or two tenths of a dB higher on average.  I couldn't get any closer than that because the Arcam doesn't have any volume control at all, and the NAD and PWD have relatively large steps in their digital volume controls -- the NAD shows the change in 1dB steps and that's about the change I saw on the meter (slightly less, but no big deal).  I matched the NAD and the Arcam as closely as I could, then got the DM Source and Emo as close to the NAD as I could... and I believe they were right on, within 0.1 dB.  I matched the PWD more closely to the Arcam, in part because with its ~0.3-dB steps I could get it closer to that unit than I could to the NAD, but that also worked out well since I had tested the PWD and Arcam extensively earlier and wanted to see if my earlier results held up with a second SPL match. As I said, the max difference in SPLs between any of the DACs was 0.1-0.2 dB,  Pretty darned close.

 

With that setup, I listened extensively to ~25 songs, picked because I had thought I'd heard differences between the PWD and Arcam in the earlier testing, or because I thought they would show differences now, and I was really hunting for differences between these DACs.  The list included hi res and CD-quality songs, old jazz, newer jazz, classic rock, more modern rock, new hi-res releases and a Chesky binaural recording of drums.

 

I listened to most of the songs most of the way through once, trying to pick out each specific instrument or voice, to determine where in the song I thought I might hear a difference.  On many songs I then went to those spots in the song where I thought I would hear a difference (a series of cymbal strikes, an instrument solo, a high-density horn section, etc.) and played them over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over, sometimes switching between the DACs after each time through and other times switching in the middle of the selected passage.  On other songs, particularly those with few instruments or voices, I played the whole song, listening to a particular instrument or voice all the way through the song, sometimes switching along the way, sometimes going back and listening to that instrument on different DACs for several seconds, then moving ahead in the song and repeating that process.  Then I restarted the song and listened to the next instrument or voice, repeating the process of listening to how each DAC reproduced that particular instrument or voice.

 

So, wanna know what differences I heard?

 

NONE between the NAD, DM Source and Emo Stealth  -- the three that I hadn't been able to distinguish before.  NADA.  No difference in the way an entire song sounded.  No difference in how each individual instrument or song sounded.  I listened to drums, percussion of all types, guitars (both acoustic and electric), basses (both acoustic and electric), pianos, electric organs, brass of various types, woodwinds of various types... no difference.  I was sure I would hear something with Louis Armstrong's cornet.  Nope.  Alto sax.... Nope.  Massed brass in a big band... ... ... Nope.  Voices?  Nothing.  I give up.  I can perceive no difference in the way each individual piece of each track sounds with these DACs SPL matched.  I can hear no difference in the way whole songs sound with these DACs matched carefully.  They all sound great.  All of the instruments and voices sound real, life-like, 3-dimensional, authentic, transparent, detailed, yadda, yadda, pick your favorite reviewer words for excellent sound and that's what I heard.

 

No difference in sound stage either -- the instruments and voices stayed in EXACTLY the same place for all three DACs as I switched, and trust me, instrument separation is excellent for all of them, so I would have heard if any of the players had moved as I switched.  They didn't move with those three, or the other two either.  Sound stage was absolutely not a distinguishing characteristic between any of these DACs. 

 

With the Arcam, on certain songs, the mid-range sounded a teeny tiny bit louder than the others.  That teeny tiny bit would probably not be noticeable if I could have matched its levels perfectly with the others.  And even then it was really only barely audible when listening side-by-side and switching instantly and cleanly.  And the perceived Arcam etch?  Not there, to my ears, with my cans.  The instruments all sound clean and clear, just a smidge louder.  Which is totally explainable by the fact that the SPL was ~1-2 tenths of a dB higher.

 

The difference between the Arcam and the PWD was similar to the difference between the Arcam and the others -- the Arcam was slightly louder in the mids, despite the fact that the levels were closely matched using white noise.  I attribute that to the PWD suppressing mids by maybe a couple tenths of a dB.  Pretty subtle.  Also, the PWD does have a verrry slightly exaggerated mid-range echo in some songs.  That was the only way I could differentiate it at all from the 3 indistinguishables, and then not all the time. 

 

In fact, most times, with most songs, if I switched perfectly each time and JRiver had the synching perfect, I could go back and forth between all of the DACs and not even notice the switching.  I started to wonder if I really was listening to 5 different DACs, or if one of the dogs had snuck in while I wasn't around and changed the wiring so that I was really listening to the same DAC in all of the switch positions.  But no, I checked, the wires are all still going to the separate DACs, and I could tell when JRiver started to glitch the synch -- no disrespect to JRiver on that, I was starting and pausing and going back so many times that it would have been amazing if the synch had been maintained perfectly each time.  All I had to do was stop the song and restart it, and the synch would be back (after a brief delay while the software whipped all of the DACs into their proper places).

 

The bottom line:  The $500 (on sale) Emo Stealth sounds as good to me as any of these DACs.  In fact it sounds identical.  It also has a small form factor, a remote control, two mini headphone outs (yeah, yeccchhh), an analog input and an analog volume control (.25 dB steps), making it an effective pre-amp for those wanting those features.  The DM Source sounds the same and has even more flexibility with inputs and outputs, has 2 real headphone jacks, but no remote (no big deal to me) though it costs $900.  So how much are those full-size headphone jacks worth to me?  I dunno, I'm gonna have to listen to the jacks on both units.

 

The NAD is a very fine sounding unit... it sounds exactly as great as the others.  I had a bit of a problem getting it set up right, and keeping it set up right, but it has been stable now for a couple of days, so I think it has made its peace with Windows, or JRiver, or that scary DM Source, or whatever was causing it to want to leave the party.  It is a large, solid unit, with digital pre-amp capabilities and a nice remote control.  No headphone jack.  No analog inputs that I could find, but HDMI inputs, if you want to use it for home theater sound.   However, I would worry about synching issues if I were running it with a HT receiver.  All in all, a very nice unit if you are interested in its feature set and ware willing to pay for those amenities.  However, in my view, with the same sound quality as the cheaper units and fewer features that I'm interested in, the NAD is not worth $2K, and it will be going back to Crutchfield.

 

The Arcam is also a very nice DAC, has a small form factor, and sounds almost the same as the others.  It was rock-solid stable the entire time.  No glitches except when JRiver and Windows somehow decided to mute it (in Windows...???).  That could have been operator error, but whatever, the unit works when you plug it in, no worries.  It also sounds great, again, about the same as the others, with maybe a bit of mid-range emphasis, maybe not if I had exactly matched the levels to the 3 indistinguishables (or at least to the 2 with smaller steps in their volume controls).  I don't hear any etch or grain using the LCD-3s.  My big issue with the Arcam is that for $700, there is no volume control, in fact there are no additional features except a remote control that just changes inputs, unless you also have other Arcam equipment (then you can control those units with this control... but they probably also have their own remotes...).  In my setup, this unit would just converts 0s and 1s to analog sound.  If it sounded exceptionally wonderful compared to the others, I would overlook the missing features, but it doesn't.  It sounds about the same, with fewer amenities, so there's no reason to keep it.  It too, will go back to Crutchfield.

 

The PWD is a huge, heavy, impressive-looking machine, with a pretty touch display.  It sounds very nice, with a very slightly suppressed mid-range volume level.  Individual instruments and voices sounded almost identical to the other 4 tested DACs, though with a bit of extra echo on some songs that I didn't like very much.  It has a bunch of filters that I could have engaged to try to change the sound, but I left it on auto, since I wanted to hear what the DAC designers thought the machine should sound like.  Note that with a bit of equalization, I could very easily make the PWD sound just like the 3 indistinguishables, or the Arcam.  But the PWD is the most expensive DAC in this test, and there is no magic about it that makes it worth $4K, or even $2500... or anything more than $500, which is what the Stealth cost me.  Sorry Darryl, you are getting your big monster DAC back...

 

NEXT UP:  I'm gonna pull the NAD, ARCAM and PWD from the system, reconnect the Concero to the switch, and see if I can get the Gungnir running.  Then I'll head for the DAC pile and pick a winner (I hope) or two if the Gungnir isn't up and running..

 

I might get some testing of the new units done tonight, assuming hookup goes smoothly, or I give up quickly on the Gungnir if I can't get it working.  Otherwise, I will be testing tomorrow (you celebrate your way, I'll celebrate mine) and will report what I hear when I'm done. 

 

I'm still working on getting a PureDAC here, but I'm not optimistic.  The other missing DACs are the Anedio and Hilo.  I need to contact Failed Engineer to see if his Anedio is coming, otherwise I could get one on loan from Anedio for about the same cost to me.  I don't know if the Hilo is going to be fixed in time, but if not, no big deal since I have plenty of other candidates (Ciunas, Benchmark DAC 2, Chordette QuteHD, Yulong DA8 and Metrum Octave).  I'm hoping that at least one of them sounds a bit different than all of the others, otherwise this is going to get pretty tedious for all of us.

post #583 of 1331
Quote:
Originally Posted by Turn&cough View Post
 

I agree with this but still think that DAC chips have certain inherent characteristics which is why I'm looking to try something other than an ESS based DAC.

 

I'll quote another member(purrin) regarding the ESS chip:

 

 

Post #65

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/691392/meridian-prime-headphone-amplifier-review/60

post #584 of 1331

Gary:

 

Excellent impressions, thanks for the write up! Have to say, I'm not too surprised by the result. The differences between well-made DACs are very subtle if exist at all, and the difference that you hear between the PWD and the others may come from DSPs in the PWD (depends on the mode you used). Just out of curiosity, which firmware does the PWD have? Its sound does vary quite a bit with different firmware versions I'm sure you are aware.


Edited by Jd007 - 12/24/13 at 3:54pm
post #585 of 1331

I love the writeup Gary! Im not gonna say that I would agree with you, since I havent heard them all myself. But i admire your gusto coming out and saying you hear no difference at all. Makes me interested in that Emo dac the next time it goes on sale....

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