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December 2013 Mid-Level DAC Comparison - Page 45  

post #661 of 1331

Taking it for the team. Thx!

post #662 of 1331

Hi AiDee,



Originally Posted by AiDee View Post


My intensive comparison of three dacs two years ago certainly supports the idea dacs are converging almost regardless of price, and differences are subtle.

OTOH I since heard/bought two dacs which both seem to provide much more information (detail, resolution, call it what you will) and enjoyment than the other three.

One of these dacs is moderately expensive (~$1700); the other the cheapest of them all (not sure of US pricing - about $250?).



Originally Posted by i019791 View Post

AiDee, Is it possible to name the 3+2 dacs ?


Originally Posted by AiDee View Post


The other two DACs are the BMC PureDAC and - I hardly dare mention this on head-fi! - Stanley Beresford's Bushmaster (I have the first version).


So wait - which one sells for $250?   Researching...
I don't see any pricing at the Bushmaster site:  http://www.*************/products/TC-7533.html
And one look tells me this doesn't sell for $250:  http://bmc-audio.de/index.php/PureDAC-EN.html
So, it must be that Bushmaster that sells for $250 (or there about.)   It seems to be very affordable.
It does not have USB input, but I could feed it with S/PDIF from the Concero, I suppose.
Very interesting...

Edited by zilch0md - 12/26/13 at 12:47pm
post #663 of 1331
^ You got it Mike!

And LugBug's is the thread wink.gif

I still can't get my head around how good it seems to be. A piano track I used to play (some Debussy I think) was made soupy by the Bifrost, clear and highly resolved by the Bushmaster and close to how I hear it at a piano. Chords were resolved into their component notes yet there was rich timbral/harmonic information too. It sounded completely authentic from this cheap dac - what?!... eek.gif
post #664 of 1331
Originally Posted by Gary in MD View Post

I will add Red Hot Chili Peppers "Californication" and a couple other irritating modern pop recordings (there's no shortage of choices of those) at CD quality to the list to see if any of these DACs knocks down the wall of sound better than the others.  I'll throw in a few MP-3s as well.  If Katinka sends me, or just points me to, a preferred recording of bowed strings (even a single piece will do) I'll put that in there as well. 

That's great Gary. My experience has been that a single instrument or a trio, as enjoyable as it is to listen to, often doesn't challenge the chain. Maybe this is more about the speakers and amps than the DAC, but I've heard many setups that sound sweet with a simple jazz vocal track, really fall apart when given a more complex orchestra or "wall of sound" pop. Maybe their power supply isn't up to the task. Whatever the cause, they rapidly lose their poise and no longer sound effortless. As other posters have noted, such tracks can clue you in to flaws that you can then go back and notice in other test tracks.

Edited by Toe Tag - 12/26/13 at 6:11pm
post #665 of 1331

I headed back over to Gary's tonight with my Gungnir in tow. On my last trip I was disappointed that the other Gungnir he borrowed wasn't working, so I couldn't directly compare it to other DACs.  Mindful of some of the criticisms I've seen posted--I brought my LCD-Xs and some flacs from a recently released recording that I've listened to frequently (Settle from Disclosure).


Settle is an album of nicely recorded electronica. Electronica is a good benchmark genre because the synths are often recorded directly to digital, making for very clean waveforms across the full frequency spectrum. Gary already has a very good selection of tracks and recently added some of the recommended stinkers like Neon Trees (ackkk!) and the infamous Californication.


No HD800 in the house, but honestly--I find the LCD-X very accurate and revealing, and it's certainly a lot closer to the HD800 signature than the LCD-3.


If there was one big take away from my last trip, it's the importance of level matching. Some of the differences I could have sworn I heard when I switched back and forth, manually adjusting levels--disappeared when the levels were matched. We listened to the following DACs--all carefully level matched.


Schiit Gungnir

Dangerous Music Source 

Benchmark DAC 2

Ciúnas DAC

Metrum Octave mk II


I really expected to hear some differences between at least some of these DACs, but they essentially all sound the same. I strained to hear any variations, but beyond some extremely subtle differences--this group of DACs is interchangeable. They were so similar I doubt I could tell them apart in blinded testing. I listened first and then Gary listened--we both heard the same thing.


Unfortunately the Emo Stealth and the Gungnir use the same driver, so we couldn't play both at the same time. It seems reasonable to choose the lowest cost DAC that has the feature set you need. When Gary writes everything up and lists the grouping of the DACs that basically sound the same, I have every reason to believe him. From what I've observed, his listening skills are good and his methodology is sound.


I was hoping to find a good upgrade path from the Gungnir, but nothing else in the group sounded better. I like the flexibility of the Dangerous Source and I found the LCD-X sounded pretty good through the DS headphone out. The DS (presumably opamp circuit) had plenty of power for the LCD-X, sounded very clean, and did a good job controlling the LCD-X. The soundstage isn't the largest, but this is a respectable pairing for the LCD-X. I preferred it to the thicker warmer signature of Gary's TBI Millenia , but it wasn't as good as his Odyssey.

Edited by Barry S - 12/26/13 at 10:30pm
post #666 of 1331
Did you listen lights off and eyed closed?
post #667 of 1331
Thread Starter 



Just to second Barry's points, I have now spent another 2 hours or so listening to crappy recordings, all for the cause (you folks owe me big time for that... :p). 


I can tell you that even on crappy recordings, these DACs pretty much all sound the same.  I sometimes think the Ciunas and the Metrum reduce the irritation just a bit, but that could very well be my brain shutting down from aversion to lousy recordings.  When I try to pinpoint why they are less irritating, I can't pick out any particular instrument or voice or any other sound that explains it. 


Note that Barry took his Gungnir home with him (no point in keeping it here, I have lots of DACs that sound just like it), so I swapped in the Yulong DA-8.  It sounds like the others too.


Again, just because they all sound very similar, that doesn't make them bad.  ALL of these DACs sound WAAAAAY better playing these crappy recordings than my Emo XDA-1 does. 


I intend to spend one or two more days trying to find differences in these DACS, including the Chordette QuteHD, which has not been tested at all yet, and then I'm going to test the headphone jacks on those that have them.  In the end, if I determine that they all sound the same, or close enough that it doesn't really matter in normal listening, I will make the decision based on value -- price vs. features, including the quality of those HP outs.  Then I am sending the non-selected items back, and will either keep the selected one, or send it back to its rightful owner and order my own.  Then we can all get back to our regularly scheduled lives.


Okay, enough for now.  I'll be back at you at some point tomorrow.

post #668 of 1331
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Clemmaster View Post

Did you listen lights off and eyed closed?

Lights off, no, except during the day.


Eyes closed, yes.  Jaw relaxed.  Totally focused. Trying to find SOMETHING I could consider a difference.  No luck today, maybe tomorrow.  But for now, my brain has been under assault by Neon Trees and Californicators, and is no longer having any Fun.  So I'm going to bed.

post #669 of 1331
Originally Posted by Barry S View Post


I really expected to hear some differences between at least some of these DACs, but they essentially all sound the same. I strained to hear any variations, but beyond some extremely subtle differences--this group of DACs is interchangeable. They were so similar I doubt I could tell them apart in blinded testing. I listened first and then Gary listened--we both heard the same thing.



Interesting - I'm surprised that the Gungnir sounded the same and likewise with the Emo DC-1.   I listened to both in direct comparison to the Dangerous Source, also carefully level matched, and to my ears, there were differences in all three, with the  DS coming out on top.   I did notice less of a difference through headphones (LCD-X, Beyer DT-990, Mad Dog Alpha 3.2) than I did through speakers (Magnepan Mini Maggies), but to my ears the Gungnir sounded a bit flat compared to the DS, with the most apparent differences in the mids and highs (especially the sound of cymbals).   I thought the Emo and the Gungnir were fairly close to one another, but again, preferred the DS.


I probably listen 70%/30%  Speakers/Headphones, so in my own case, it was important to me to test with both.


I'm looking forward to reading about the rest of the tests, this has been a great thread and once again big thanks and appreciation to you, Gary, for not only doing this but sharing your results.



post #670 of 1331
What a fabulous job Gary has done for the Headfi community. Mt Emo will arrive in the next few days and I look forward to comparing it to my $250 Topping D20. I find the Topping much more enjoyable then my Fiio E-10 and and 07. All run through my Bottllehead Crack & Senn.600's.
post #671 of 1331

Gary, I'm curious if you perceived a difference between the NAD M51 and Gungnir. I had both side by side for a few weeks and I also took great care to volume match. The difference between both dacs were evident through the LCD-2 rev.2, but more so with the HD800.

post #672 of 1331
Originally Posted by mordicai View Post

What a fabulous job Gary has done for the Headfi community. Mt Emo will arrive in the next few days and I look forward to comparing it to my $250 Topping D20. I find the Topping much more enjoyable then my Fiio E-10 and and 07. All run through my Bottllehead Crack & Senn.600's.

Sorry.......$ 150.00
post #673 of 1331



I can hear the crickets.  :D


It's a good thing you have the Emotiva XDA-1 as a benchmark for "bad" DA conversion - the fact that you can hear a difference there makes the rest of your findings credible.  I'm actually tickled by what you and Barry have found - you are myth-busting some of the marketing and fandom hype regarding mid-level DACs.  I can hear differences between "cheap" DACs (like the Stoner Acoustics UD100) and mid-level DACs (like the Concero), but there are very few sections of very few tracks where I can appreciate what the Concero can do vs. the DAC section of the DACmini CX, for example. 


In fact, I rapidly concluded that I've enjoyed very little bang for my buck having "upgrading" from the DACmini CX to the Concero.  It's "better" in that the very slight etch of the DACmini CX treble is not present in the Concero, but that's about it for differences I can detect - with my ears, my gear. And I can't really hear any difference between the Concero's filter options. I've spent hours, across several occasions, trying to detect differences between no up-sampling, IIR up-sampling, and Apodizing up-sampling - all to no avail.  And you quickly reached the same conclusion, there.  I tried to drink the Kool-Aid that other Concero owners must have had, but I've decided that the few times I "thought" I heard differences between these filters were more imagined (out of simple desire) than genuinely experienced.  I have no doubt that technically, there is indeed a difference, but with my ears and my gear, I'm not getting any benefit from these options.


Question:  It seems you've concluded that this second group of DACs are indistinguishable, at least among themselves, but how about in contrast to the first group of "Indistinguishables"?   Would you, for example, say that the Metrum Octave II is indistinguishable from the Concero?



post #674 of 1331
Originally Posted by Armaegis View Post

It has been my experience that dacs hit the wall of diminishing returns far sooner than amps and headphones/speakers.


Going from headphones from $10 up to $1000, there were clear and palpable improvements at each step. With amps, improvements were there but really kind stagnated past $200 once I was reaching sufficient power delivery (not counting the HE-6). With dacs, going from laptop realtek to a $20 Turtle Beach was noticeable. Moving up to a $100 there was some, but not much. At the $400 mark with separate power supply and spdif bridge, ok I can just barely tell the difference (and the power supply made more of a difference than anything else). At the $1k mark... it took me running the dacs simultaneously into a preamp and listening to sine waves before I could just barely start to pick out discrepancies.


If I were to start over, I'd try to stick to a 1:2:3 ratio for spending, corresponding to dac:amp:transducer.  Or I'd go with Fibonacci because I'm a nerd... 1:1:2:3:5 which would be cables / power / dac / amp / transducer and by cables I don't mean the crazy cables, I just mean some stuff of decent quality and durability. Actually, depending on the components and budget level I'd seriously placing power components above dacs.


I'd like to emphasize Armaegis' post from a couple of days ago.  I think you nailed it.

post #675 of 1331



Thanks for taking on a fascinating if onerous task. Clearly, we would all love to find the killer mid-level dac. And I appreciate the effort and care you're putting into this.


It does seem interesting that all the engineering and topology differences between the dacs amounts to a perceived no change in sound. Power supply, chip, topology - none of this makes a difference? Perhaps a follow up longitudinal study of 3 promising units would be worthwhile. Live with each for a week and then see what you think. Just a thought...


Personally, I have recent experience with 4 dacs in the 600-1000$ range, and none sounded identical. Similar, of course, but once the brain started to recognize the sound of each unit, each dac was readily distinguishable. And in some cases the differences were immediately apparent.


FYI, they were:

old Scott Nixon tubedac+ -- NOS, soft, forgiving, inoffensive

MHDT Havana -- NOS - blew away the tubedac on the very first listening - more detailed, spacious, prat, etc.-- tizzy highs compared to the metrum

Burson DA something -- good detail and clarity but imparted a rich texture to everything - sold it and happily returned to the Havana

Metrum Octave mk1 -- NOS - compared to the Havana, much cleaner top to bottom

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