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December 2013 Mid-Level DAC Comparison - Page 40  

post #586 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..

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Clemmaster View Post
 

 

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

 

 

I need to respond to these posts, because I feel the need to make clear my views on the topics they touched on, in part so that folks understand my, and my system's, capabilities and in part because understanding my views on the HD-800 and its sound signature will help them calibrate (i.e., embrace or ignore, I get paid the same either way...) my opinions when I am reviewing these DACs. 

 

First, let me say that I heard HUGE differences between amps with my LCD-3s when I compared several of those components side by side last summer.  Night and day differences.  Black and white differences.  Shades of gray differences.  Multicolored differences.  It was extremely easy.  I could identify any of the amps, any time, 100% of the tiime.  I could even hear the difference between 2 kinds of resistors in different resistor boxes with the same amp -- the TBI Millenia MG3.  So the LCD-3s are not the reason why the DACs all sound alike to me.  It really is that several of the DACs tested so far sound alike to me, and probably would with any headphones that had reasonably flat frequency response across the audible spectrum, and a decay rate that I would not find harsh and unpleasant, or muddy/boomy. 

 

As to the HD800 and its "detailed" sound.  I am going to pick a fight here, but so be it, it's X-mas eve, a perfect time for it.  The HD800s have a very unique sound signature.  They basically suppress the lowest part of the audible spectrum (for humans anyway), as well as the upper mids-through-low-treble region, along with the highest part of the treble spectrum that humans can hear.  The upper bass and low-med mids are thus relatively emphasized, as is a spike in the treble part of the spectrum.  What this does is make certain parts of any recording more obvious to the ear, because the other parts of the spectrum are quieter.  That doesn't make these headphones more detailed, it just emphasizes whatever information is in those parts of the spectrum that the cans make louder, and de-emphasizes the details in the rest of the spectrum.

 

The HD800s also have a very fast decay rate, unnaturally fast in my opinion.  Every instrument in every recording has a natural decay rate in its reverberation, with variations based on the specific instrument, the way it is played, the room acoustics, etc..  The ideal transducer isn't the one that decays reverb the fastest, it is the one that most accurately re-creates the natural decay rate in the music as originally played.  Damping that vibration faster than what is in the original recording is equivalent to muting a trumpet or stopping a string, when that wasn't how that music was played.  Yes, muting the trumpet or stopping the string allows you to hear simultaneous notes or subsequent notes more easily, but even as you are hearing them, you are not hearing them accurately -- detail, in this case detail about the actual decay in the reverberation -- has been lost, not revealed. 

 

It might be that there is critically important information for distinguishing amps and DACs in the part of the spectrum emphasized by the HD-800s, and in the parts of the recording revealed when reverb is over-damped, but there is also important information for distinguishing amps and DACs in the other parts of the spectrum, and in that  lost reverb, particularly for those of us who like sub-bass and upper mids and want to hear natural reverberation.  By suppressing those parts of audio signal, the HD-800s are actually removing detail that some of us would use to help distinguish components.

 

As a result, in my view, because of their relatively unique response, the HD-800s are actually less useful for determining which DAC is best suited for use with most other cans. Cans that have a relatively flat frequency response compared to the HD-800s (and that would be the majority of them, particularly among high-end cans), and which have a more accurate decay rate (again, I believe that includes my LCD-3s, based on what I hear when I listen to individual instruments played live, particularly acoustic instruments and voices), are likely to be mismatched with any DAC-amp combination optimized for the HD-800's unique signature. 

 

So please, nobody send me any HD800s.  I think you can tell from what I've written above that I really don't like the way they sound, at least as I have heard them in my own system and at meets. To me they are harsh and unnatural, particularly in the treble.  I have a pair of Koss ESP-950 electrostats that I do kind of like that I will use if I think they will help me make a final determination about which DAC I want to keep.  On the other hand, if somebody wants to loan me their Stax SR-007s and a quality electrostat amp I'm willing to take them up on that offer... :p

 

Okay, enough ranting.

 

Have a Merry Christmas everybody, and wish me luck in getting the Gungnir running tonight!

post #587 of 1331
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary in MD View Post
 

[snipped Gary's description of a lot of hard work]

 

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.   [snip]   They all sound great.  

 

With the Arcam, on certain songs, the mid-range sounded a teeny tiny bit louder than the others. [snip]  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.  

 

[snip]

 

The bottom line:  The $500 (on sale) Emo Stealth sounds as good to me as any of these DACs. 

 

Thanks for the hard work, Gary.

:beerchug:

 

When does the Emotiva holiday sale end?  :p  (Rhetorical question - I can look it up.)

 

A new Concero with Apple Remote sells for $650 currently, and unless you end up hearing a substantial improvement in SQ, the $500 Emotiva Stealth DC-1 will kill the Concero in terms of bang for buck - given that the Concero is comparatively featureless.

 

I love the way you trust your own ears - above all else - so, I'm convinced you're findings thus far are legit - as much as we would like to believe that expensive gear simply must outperform less expensive gear.

 

I've done a handful of DAC comparisons, as many as three at a time, and have often been surprised at how similar a couple of DACs can sound, while another is way out there - easily distinguishable.  I can imagine your testing has been somewhat frustrating for lack of distinguishing traits, but I strongly suspect you will experience a much greater disparity when you listen to the next batch.  I think the Metrum Octave II and the Ciunas are likely to sound considerably different from the rest of the pack, maybe not like each other, and maybe not your cup of tea, but I really think they will be easily distinguished (just going on what I've read about them in the past.)

 

That said, don't listen to me.

 

:smile:

 

Mike

post #588 of 1331
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jd007 View Post
 

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.


There is a firmware update, and I was tempted to install it, but decided not to in the interest of time and risk avoidance -- the DAC is working, and sounds excellent as it is.  Just not more excellent than the others.  The only thing I would correct in it is the slight extra echo that I would probably not notice eventually if I didn't have it next to 4 other DACs.  The slight reduction in the mids is an equalization choice, not a flaw.  I set the filters at auto, because I wanted to hear what the DAC thought was right.  As I indicated in my post, I am willing to bet that with a decent equalization program I could make all of the 5 tested so far sound exactly the same... and I don't think that there is anything wrong with the equalization of the lower cost DACs... so why would I spend the extra money for the PWD ???... My fingers are too fat for the touch screen anyway.:blink:

post #589 of 1331

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by Gary in MD View Post

So, wanna know what differences I heard?

NONE between the NAD, DM Source and Emo Stealth

 

How good are the cables and switch box?    The Niles switch box is ~$1xx?    Maybe they make the sound less transparent, and hide the differences between these DACs?

Have you tried comparing DAC directly drive headphone,  vs going through the Niles?

 

Yesterday I just picked up a Dynex 4xRCA switch for $25,  it introduced huge blurring,  it makes $1xxx DAC sound the same as $10 portable CD player.

post #590 of 1331
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by zilch0md View Post
 

 

... I think the Metrum Octave II and the Ciunas are likely to sound considerably different from the rest of the pack, maybe not like each other, and maybe not your cup of tea, but I really think they will be easily distinguished (just going on what I've read about them in the past.)

 

That said, don't listen to me.

 

:smile:

 

Mike

 

Mike:

 

I'm listening to you and hoping you are right.  I don't want to listen to 15 DACs that all sound alike.  That would be waayyy too boring.  

Note that the Metrum and Chordette do have a reputation for sounding "more analog", whereas the DACs tested so far do not.  We'll see...

post #591 of 1331
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by yfei View Post
 

 

How good are the cables and switch box?    The Niles switch box is ~$1xx?    Maybe they make the sound less transparent, and hide the differences between these DACs?

Have you tried comparing DAC directly drive headphone,  vs going through the Niles?

 

Yesterday I just picked up a Dynex 4xRCA switch for $25,  it introduced huge blurring,  it makes $1xxx DAC sound the same as $10 portable CD player.

 

See the post a few pages back.  I thoroughly tested the cables and the switch box using both my ears and an SPL meter.  There was no measurable loss of energy when I actually had the cables properly installed in the switch box -- as there likely would be if the switch box or cables were having a significant impact on the sound.  I literally tested every single cable multiple times.  I listened to one of the DACs with and without the switch box, and with both my old monster cables (they are ~30 years old I think... Monster made real stuff back then) and the Monoprice cables and heard no difference in sound. 

 

And trust me, if a $10 portable CD player sounded as good as any of these DACs I have here now I would sell all of my stuff in a heartbeat and go buy that CD player and use the rest of the money on some other kind of toys... er, I mean I would take the money and make a smart investment somewhere. 

post #592 of 1331
I hate to be that guy, but it sounds like there is a bottleneck somewhere in your system.

If you don't mind my asking, what kind of computer are you running? About two months ago I got one of the new Acer Ultrabooks(since returned.. horrible keyboard) and compared it to my PC as a source keeping everything else in my system the same. At one point I even used it as a 'control PC' using Jplay music player. With this mode activated the desktop computer was the source but the music was stored on the UB. Huge difference in sound. So long as the UB was in the chain(even acting as a control PC) I don't think I would have been able to distinguish my 'good' DAC from the onboard sound of my desktop. My desktop isn't anything special either, it's optimized for light gaming rather than audio use.
Also I think Jriver could be a bottleneck in the system. Ages ago I compared it to Foobar(after I had bought Jriver unfortunately) and I found it seemed to have an emphasis on the higher frequencies adding fake detail, air, and worst of all... glare. Foobar(and everything else I tried sounded pretty much the same) sounded a tad bloated but otherwise fine. Enter Jplay, everything sounds more natural, I'd so more 'analog' but that term carries a bit of luggage both good and bad. If you've got the time I'd suggest giving their demo a try with one of the DACs. When I tested all of these players I did so with a Burson 160DS and my onboard audio, hearing the same change in tonality/detail with each. If you don't hear it with any of the DACs there I'd say it probably won't be worth your time trying it with the others.

As for the switchbox, I've got a $20 one here. Yes I do think it degrades the signal but certainly not to any large effect. It's so minor, almost cable minor, if you believe cables affect the sound.

Sorry if I come off as rude. I'm of the persuasion that digital is more fiddly than analog. I'm probably the opposite of most people here, constantly tweaking my PC and when I get frustrated I turn to my turntable. At least it's consistent with what works. tongue.gif
post #593 of 1331

Exactly as expected. 

Nothing to see here.

Merry Christmas, everyone! :beerchug: 

post #594 of 1331

I have been following your adventure Gary since the beginning hoping to pick up some realtime info from a non biased source. Ever since I finished building my Crack last month I've been trying to decide on a dac other then my E-07.  Ordered a Emo this afternoon after reading your latest. With their 30 day return policy I can demo the stealth against my $ 150 Topping Dac I bought last month. What will be fun is if this $150 DAC sounds just as good against the $500 Emo.  

post #595 of 1331

Gary,

Thanks for your hard work.  I'm a bit surprised by the results, so far...  Interesting, for sure!

 

You have a Merry Christmas and I hope Gungnir behaves for you.

 

Keep up the good work and look forward to hearing about the next batch!

post #596 of 1331
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by MohawkUS View Post

I hate to be that guy, but it sounds like there is a bottleneck somewhere in your system.

If you don't mind my asking, what kind of computer are you running? About two months ago I got one of the new Acer Ultrabooks(since returned.. horrible keyboard) and compared it to my PC as a source keeping everything else in my system the same. At one point I even used it as a 'control PC' using Jplay music player. With this mode activated the desktop computer was the source but the music was stored on the UB. Huge difference in sound. So long as the UB was in the chain(even acting as a control PC) I don't think I would have been able to distinguish my 'good' DAC from the onboard sound of my desktop. My desktop isn't anything special either, it's optimized for light gaming rather than audio use.
Also I think Jriver could be a bottleneck in the system. Ages ago I compared it to Foobar(after I had bought Jriver unfortunately) and I found it seemed to have an emphasis on the higher frequencies adding fake detail, air, and worst of all... glare. Foobar(and everything else I tried sounded pretty much the same) sounded a tad bloated but otherwise fine. Enter Jplay, everything sounds more natural, I'd so more 'analog' but that term carries a bit of luggage both good and bad. If you've got the time I'd suggest giving their demo a try with one of the DACs. When I tested all of these players I did so with a Burson 160DS and my onboard audio, hearing the same change in tonality/detail with each. If you don't hear it with any of the DACs there I'd say it probably won't be worth your time trying it with the others.

As for the switchbox, I've got a $20 one here. Yes I do think it degrades the signal but certainly not to any large effect. It's so minor, almost cable minor, if you believe cables affect the sound.

Sorry if I come off as rude. I'm of the persuasion that digital is more fiddly than analog. I'm probably the opposite of most people here, constantly tweaking my PC and when I get frustrated I turn to my turntable. At least it's consistent with what works. tongue.gif


Okay, let's clear this one up quickly.  My computer is a core i7 desktop.  There is no laptop or ultrabook, or iPod or Android tablet or anything else in the loop.  I just compared JRiver to Foobar using Loggins and Messina's "Be Free" ripped from CD using the Arcam (it was the first thing I clicked on, deal with it).  Guess what?  No difference in sound.  It sounded fantastic through both players.  Just like it sounded fantastic through all of the DACs if tried so far. 

 

Sorry...

post #597 of 1331
I'll add that no matter what quality of signal the DACs are receiving from the PC, they're all getting the same signal - thus the DACs could still distinguish themselves by what they each bring to the signal, even if there was a "problem" at the PC.
post #598 of 1331

hi,

we will always be able to complaint about Gary's testing on this or that...

But what we can highly appreciate from Gary is its very high transparency about his setting & how he operates.

Tremendous work, honesty about results : bravo Gary !

I'm waiting for the coming tests... great reading so far !

Rgds

post #599 of 1331

Thanks for the info Gary. Looking forward to your many additions in this thread. It appears some people are showing resistance to your findings, but it just proves that DACs do in fact make a smaller difference in the chain than the amp and drivers do. Even then, it's still a subjective experience, but once you get to hear alot of TOTL phones, years of live music, there are things we can all agree on. You are very experienced and many can benefit from that because you do make clear what your subjectiveness is.

post #600 of 1331
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gary in MD View Post


Okay, let's clear this one up quickly.  My computer is a core i7 desktop.  There is no laptop or ultrabook, or iPod or Android tablet or anything else in the loop.  I just compared JRiver to Foobar using Loggins and Messina's "Be Free" ripped from CD using the Arcam (it was the first thing I clicked on, deal with it).  Guess what?  No difference in sound.  It sounded fantastic through both players.  Just like it sounded fantastic through all of the DACs if tried so far. 

Sorry...

Alright. Thanks for checking anyways. I'll be looking forward to the rest of your impressions, hopefully the other DACs will set themselves apart. biggrin.gif
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