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New DAC, very different soundstage!?

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 

I have recently purchased a Apogee Duet 2. Something interesting is happening. I am comparing it to an ODAC/O2, which is what I am very familiar with. On the O2, the instruments sound OK with what I would consider "normal" (or familiar) placement on the soundstage.  Now with the Duet, the soundstage is all different. Some instruments are moved forward while others (sometimes including the voice) is moved back. Also at times there is this "wall of sound" where many instruments are in your face playing together compared to what I hear on the O2. The fidelity is great. My headphones are the DT880 Premiums.

 

Is there a problem with the DAC? Can DACs make this much of a difference? What is going on here with this DAC? Or is it just that I am hearing something different from that which I am used to hearing?

 

Thanks!

 

Bob


Edited by r010159 - 5/24/14 at 11:42pm
post #2 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by r010159 View Post Now with the Duet, the soundstage is all different. Some instruments are moved forward while others (sometimes including the voice) is moved back. Also at times there is this "wall of sound" where many instruments are in your face playing together compared to what I hear on the O2. The fidelity is great. My headphones are the DT880 Premiums.

 

Is there a problem with the DAC? Can DACs make this much of a difference? What is going on here with this DAC?

Sounds like there is a problem with the DAC. It is portraying the instruments mix done by whoever operated the controls on the mixing desk far more accurate. So you are getting a better depth representation.

post #3 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Baxide View Post
 

Sounds like there is a problem with the DAC. It is portraying the instruments mix done by whoever operated the controls on the mixing desk far more accurate. So you are getting a better depth representation.

 

So this is what I am missing out on when I had my ODAC/O2 and knew no better? Is this Duet THAT much better? I feel I am in a different strange place compared to where I was before I purchased this DAC.

 

So the new Duet is functioning properly. Right?

 

I have thought the ODAC was almost the end all, where there is basically different features that would account for the increase in price. Boy, was I naive. :)

 

Thanks!

 

Bob

 

PS: It looks like there are many albums that do not have this "problem" where the main instrument or vocal does correctly stand out in the mix. On those that do not, I find boosting the mids a bit helps. Crazy?


Edited by r010159 - 5/25/14 at 12:34am
post #4 of 22

The ES9023 DAC chip as used in the ODAC is a bit flat in dynamic range, which directly affects the depth of musical instruments and vocal representation. So it has not been feeding your DT880, a top class headphone by the way, with the type of musical projection it is capable of reproducing. You'll probably have to go through your whole music library all over again just to update yourself with what you have. I don't envy you. Just think of the time involved if you got a large music selection. 

post #5 of 22

this is terrible...the agony of re-aquainting yourself with music u are supposed to know,

u need to get out of headfi. :P

post #6 of 22

It's not just a DAC though, doesn't it also have a pre amp stage?

post #7 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by KT66 View Post
 

It's not just a DAC though, doesn't it also have a pre amp stage?

 

Yes, there is a volume controlled headphone amp part.

 

Bob Graham

post #8 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lorspeaker View Post
 

this is terrible...the agony of re-aquainting yourself with music u are supposed to know,

u need to get out of headfi. :P

 

You know what? This depth in the sound stage show up some poorly mastered recordings. This is where either the instruments are clashing, or some instruments show up more than they should, or others too far in the background., like vocals in one case. Almost all albums are OK which is what is to be expected.

 

This is proving to be an interesting journey through my music.

 

Bob

post #9 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by r010159 View Post
 

 

You know what? This depth in the sound stage show up some poorly mastered recordings. This is where either the instruments are clashing, or some instruments show up more than they should, or others too far in the background., like vocals in one case. Almost all albums are OK which is what is to be expected.

 

This is proving to be an interesting journey through my music.

 

Bob


I did offer you prior notice, so you can't say that you were caught off guard.

I am an ardent fan of Marvin Gaye and often use his music for reference testing. But I was testing a very detailed DAC last year and I wondered why some tracks sounded so messed up on the spacial positioning of his vocals. Not until a recent TV documentary to remember his death all those decades ago did I find out why the vocals were fluctuation from left to right and top to bottom. It turns out that Marvin often used to lie down on a couch and then get up and move about whilst laying down the vocals in the studio. This was creating a difference in reflections of his voice against other obstacles in the studio. This "problem" did not show up on any other DAC that I had owned. But the reason that it happened was no less a surprise. The fact that I could pick it up now even though I have been listening to his music for decades is a testament to how far DAC reproduction has travelled since the introduction of CD.

post #10 of 22

very interesting "observation" :P

post #11 of 22

Just make sure that instruments are in their proper positions. I've tried a bunch of CDPs before that cost more than the ODAC and the built-in PCM2702 USB DAC on my amp, and the soundstage is "larger," but not natural. One CDP put the bass drums in front of the vocals, while another one had the drums going around my head, which totally offset how it put the guitars and drums farther away from my forehead. The ODAC and the PCM2702 DAC were relatively 2D by comparison, but 1) it doesn't mean there isn't any depth on all recordings and 2) at least the instruments were in natural positions relative to each other.

post #12 of 22

...it could be out of phase? 

post #13 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by ProtegeManiac View Post
 

Just make sure that instruments are in their proper positions. I've tried a bunch of CDPs before that cost more than the ODAC and the built-in PCM2702 USB DAC on my amp, and the soundstage is "larger," but not natural. One CDP put the bass drums in front of the vocals, while another one had the drums going around my head, which totally offset how it put the guitars and drums farther away from my forehead. The ODAC and the PCM2702 DAC were relatively 2D by comparison, but 1) it doesn't mean there isn't any depth on all recordings and 2) at least the instruments were in natural positions relative to each other.

 

You make a good point that there may be no intended depth with particular recordings. When listening to some recordings, I notice an unnatural placements of instruments on the soundstage with some of the same results that you have mentioned here. I thought it may have been poor mastering with those recordings. After all, I am using a DAC/amp that is used for mastering purposes. However, when I used the O2, there was a more natural placement of instruments.

 

What do you think causes the error with the placement of instruments in the larger soundstage with the Duet? Poorly mastered recordings? Recordings that was mastered not to have any depth? I hope it is not a malfunctioning Duet. But that would be a stretch. Still, it is a refurbished unit.

 

Bob

 

PS: Some instruments markedly stand out with the O2. It sounds nice, but how accurate is it? It is like the high frequencies are somehow being processed to have some instruments show up like this. The Duet in comparison has a a more "laid back" sound to it.


Edited by r010159 - 5/27/14 at 9:47am
post #14 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by r010159 View Post
 

 

You make a good point that there may be no intended depth with particular recordings. When listening to some recordings, I notice an unnatural placements of instruments on the soundstage with some of the same results that you have mentioned here. I thought it may have been poor mastering with those recordings. After all, I am using a DAC/amp that is used for mastering purposes. However, when I used the O2, there was a more natural placement of instruments.


I just remembered I also made a diagram so other people can more easily understand what I observed. Here are top-view diagrams of what I got out of a few CDPs a couple of years ago. Rectangles are (electric) guitars, triangles are vocals, and circular shapes are percussion.

 

Meier Cantate.2 USB DAC/ODAC > Meier Cantate.2 amp > Sennheiser HD600

 

Marantz CD5004 > Meier Cantate.2 amp > Sennheiser HD600 ; red highlights means they sound very much like Grado, except the placement is just wrong (Cambridge 351C looks like the diagram above, but with the bass drum in the same position as on the Marantz)

 

 

 

 

And then there's the Rega Apollo that just sounded dark compared to the others (note that I had a spare pair of HD600 earpads knowing I'll be using them for several hours trying CDPs, not to mention I tried the Apollo before the Cambridge and Marantz). Then you'll have people chiming in that "properly designed digital sources all sound the same," and that we are "hearing things," when I can just highlight one word in the initial statement to explain what happened: properly (designed). It's very possible in the case of these CDPs that the output stages are designed to shape the sound instead of just amplifying the sound out of the DACs, which many claim (and I am inclined to believe) all sound the same if properly implemented. 

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by r010159 View Post
 

What do you think causes the error with the placement of instruments in the larger soundstage with the Duet? Poorly mastered recordings? Recordings that was mastered not to have any depth? I hope it is not a malfunctioning Duet. But that would be a stretch. Still, it is a refurbished unit.

 

 

Well as much as I have a theory about those other CDPs, I am actually surprised that the Duet's reproduction is similar, considering it's supposed to be more oriented for professional applications than "audiophile" use, which tends to have a lot of people who think that a very warm sound (like some tube amps) is the proper sound without due consideration to what "hi-fi" actually means. In some cases such people will even point out that guitar amps have tubes for a very warm sound, without due consideration to how a very warm-sounding playback system doesn't just make the guitars warm, it also makes the vocals sound too warm if not make the singer sound like s/he has sinusitis or something (like the Apollo).

 

I would however doubt it has to do with the DAC malfunctioning in any way - the sound would need to be totally screwed up or absent if there's any failure in the equipment. Most likely it may have to do with the recordings not having any depth, and then there's the possibility that the DACs that have unnatural imaging may highlight some notes over the others. I am more inclined to believe that the response isn't flat rather than blame that on their dynamic range, because if that were the case, then any DAC with its own huge power supply should sound like this on all recordings I tried vs the ODAC and my amp's USB DAC, but that isn't the case. What I didn't make any diagrams for (because the imaging was natural enough) and liked during those two days I went around trying CDPs were the Arcam CD72 (most balanced, wider soundstage than the USB DACs), Cayin's CD50T (midrange slightly sweeter-sounding) and CDT23 ("live" sound that was very life-like as a live performance), and the Shanling T200 (a wee bit too warm but bass impact on 80s heavy/thrash metal were still solid and the bass drum reached real deep).

 

Note however that it may also have a lot to do with how each of these sources do with headphones, since none of them sounded that weird with speakers, save perhaps the ones that send the drums around my head having a more aggressive presentation of the percussions while still relatively lacking depth (compared to the CDT23 and CD72), but the problem here is that I tried them at different stores, so the rooms are also a factor.

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by r010159 View Post
 

PS: Some instruments markedly stand out with the O2. It sounds nice, but how accurate is it? It is like the high frequencies are somehow being processed to have some instruments show up like this. The Duet in comparison has a a more "laid back" sound to it.

 

I would have guessed the Duet would be the one that highlights some instruments more, considering it has those soundstage characteristics. By my ears the ODAC and my amp's USB DAC aren't really "highlighting" some instruments over others, but are actually presenting some sort of depth but more properly. Whereas the problematic ones enlarged the soundstage by pushing the guitars farther apart, the vocals maybe back a bit (on some cases, forward) then the drums all around my head, the relatively "2D" USB DACs actually are putting the percussion behind the guitars, so on immediate comparison it sounds like there is emphasis on the screaming lead guitar. However when I really listened for the drums it wasn't so much that they lacked  dB's per se (or as they needed to sound natural), just that they were imaged behind the guitars.

post #15 of 22
Thread Starter 
Let's see if I can explain better what differences I hear between the O2/ODAC and Duet. Yes, the Duet can highlight instruments by their placement on the sound stage. But the O2 does have a reputation for being a touch bright and thin. This comment made in a different thread seems to partially describe my experience. The HF emphasis shows up particularly with guitars and symbols. This is what I mean by the O2 highlighting certain instruments.

Apart from soundstage, I have two examples where the Duet differs from the O2. In the song "Old Time Rock and Roll" by Bob Seger, there is allot of reverb used at the start of the song. With the O2, you can hear the definite echo, but on the Duet, the echo effect is noticeably more subdued and IMO actually works better. Also, his voice is not as raspy and more pleasant to listen to. The group Enya has a song called "Amarantine". When her voice reaches the upper register, there appears to be an inharmonious aspect of some notes. I thought this may be clipping, but I verified this was not the case. The Duet does not have this same problem.

There is a few instances of the soundstage being out of place with respect to the instruments. And one case where the instruments are clashing and forming this wall of sound that is pretty unnatural which is not the same problem when played on the O2.

I am finding the Duet works with most all of my records, improving the music in many cases. And there is not that "edge" to the sound that I hear from time to time. Maybe the pairing of the Duet with the DT889s is better than with the O2?

Bob
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