Yulong Audio DA1

geoffalter11

1000+ Head-Fier
Yulong DA1 - Brilliantly Conflicted
Pros: Power Supply
Pure DAC
Flexibility
Vocals
Midrange Articulation
Excellent PRaT through the DAC
Cons: Amp Section isn't on par with the DAC
Lacks Dynamics
Mid-Forward
Bass Is a bit one dimensional
Power Supply Should be Included. Significantly Better Performance with the Power Supply
First, I would like to thank @Andykong for loaning me the Yulong DA1 during the tour. I am super appreciative for the opportunity to spend a few weeks with the DA1. All thoughts and opinions are my own. I have not been paid to do this review and the only cost I will incur is the cost of shipping it back to Andy when I am done.

Before I begin, I want to say that I am extremely conflicted about the Yulong DA1. If you don't want to read my very long review, I will give up the ghost right now. It is a really good unit with some flaws. My biggest issue is the Power Supply, which I believe is needed to extract the best out of the DA1. However, at an extra cost of $1600 for the Power Supply it puts the DA1 into an extremely tough and competitive market space for an All in One. That being said, it is a really capable unit with a ton of flexibility and really good sound. I will go further into the sound below as I used it in almost every possible configuration and had different results depending on how I used it. I like the DA1 very much. However, my feelings are complicated by my particular use case, so I am going to try and speak to its use case if you do not have a system of separates already. I will try to describe its benefits and detriments as an All In One, which is what Yulong designed it to be; the centerpiece of someone's system. Within that landscape the DA1 performs admirably. With a few caveats...

I am last on the tour, so I can say that I got the product fully burned in and ready to listen right out of the box. It arrived in a big heavy box, with 2 boxes inside. One with the Power Supply and its corresponding cables, and the DA1 in a similar looking box. Each box has a very tight fitting foam insert that fits each product perfectly. It is not easy to extricate from their boxes, but a little elbow grease and patience treated me to two beautiful units. The Power Supply comes with two cables. A short rainbow colored cable designed to be used when the DA1 is stacked on top of the Power Supply, and a longer grey cable to be used if you need a bit more length for separating the two units. I used only the rainbow cable as I kept the DA1 stacked on top of the Power Supply at all times. It is extremely easy to set up.

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1. First you plug in the cable to the Power Supply and then into the DA1. I then plugged in the power cable from the Power Supply to my PS Audio Dectet.
2. I used the stock power cable mostly, but I also tried it with my Cardas Golden Reference Power Cable, as well my Straight Wire Gray Lightning Power Cable to see if there was much difference. Because the Power Supply is so capable, I didn't notice a huge difference with switching out power cables into the Power Supply. However, I did notice a difference when switching out power cables when I removed the Power Supply and just used the DA1. In this configuration, I got the best sound with the Cardas Golden Reference.
3. I used the stock USB cable which is 1.5 meters long the entire time as my digital source. I use my iMac running Roon, so USB was my only option. The Yulong does not have an I2S input, which would've been possible for me to use through my Iris, but since it didn't have I2S, USB was my only option. I also played with my Core Technology USBe Perfect between my iMac and the DA1, which did yield significant differences in the sound. In an effort to keep this from being as long as a Dostoyevsky novel, I will explain the differences real quickly with the USBe perfect in between my iMac and the DA1. The USB input for the DA1 is quite good. However, adding the USBe added extra dimension, a quieter signal and ultimately a bit more snap and PRaT. The USBe is my favorite little device and the effects were immediate. However, the DA1's USB is very good and if I didn't have the USBe, I wouldn't have felt without.

My System used for comparison:
USBe Perfect
Denafrips Pontus II w/ Denafrips Iris
Half way through I bought an Exogal Comet+ with Linear Power Supply which became my reference
Cembalo Labs Spring 1 Headamp
Icon Audio HP8 Triode Tube Amp

Yulong DA1 as an AIO Running USB out of Roon Labs from my iMac:
Once I had the DA1 set up I gave it a listen without the Power Supply. I listened for about an hour and was struggling with the sound. It needed to warm up and I was having fun playing with the different filters and clocks. To be completely honest, I heard very little difference between Clock1 and Clock2, and very little difference between the filters. So, I settled on the Sharp Filter with Clock2. I started with my Audeze LCD-4z at a volume of -54db, which seemed to be a nice volume for me. Whenever I try something new, I always listen to Xavier Rudd's Storm Boy album as my starting point. It is extremely well produced, and has a lot of polyrhythms, intimate vocals, and lots of varying instruments. Plus the album really shows off soundstage and instrument placement. The sound was good, but not great. The soundstage sounded a bit compressed and overall it felt a bit slow and lacking snap. So, I plugged in the Power Supply and the sound improved instantly. Therefore, the rest of my review will be with the Power Supply in the mix. I genuinely believe the DA1 is a significantly better product with the Power Supply attached. Dynamics improved immediately, vocals became more emotive, and the bass gained solidity. Most importantly, PRaT improved exponentially to my ears. For the next few days I used it principally as an AIO.

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Audeze LCD-4z with DA1 and Power Supply:
The 4z is my current daily driver and my favorite headphone. I love this headphone for its balanced tuning, impeccable bass presentation, articulate midrange and expansive soundstage and treble without any hint of sibilance. The DA1 did not do anything to change my feeling about the 4z. It didn't light it up in ways I hadn't heard, but it also represented the 4z's best qualities. It was a nice pairing and my favorite tunes sounded really good through this combo. The DA1 displays a lot of midrange information, which for the music I listen to is quite appealing. However, the bass is lighter than I would like. The DA1's bass is good. It is extremely subtle, but doesn't smack you. It doesn't hit you in the gut and make you want to move uncontrollably. It is methodical, accurate and present, just not super deep and tactile. It never allowed me to hear all the way into my music's bass pocket. I cannot hear the pluck of the bass string or the deep pocket of my music the way I want to. This however changes as a Pure Dac.

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Spirit Torino Radiante 1706 with DA1 and Power Supply:
The Radiante is a very interesting headphone. I love it for the way it portrays the realism of live music, its open sound, insane bass, and grit with guitar; while portraying a realistic soundstage. I just love it. The DA1 struggled to control the drivers, and I had the volume at -40db, which for a headphone that is 32 ohm with a max power handling of 2000mw presented an issue for me. The DA1 is pumping 5 watts out of the XLR at 32 ohm and it felt like it was really struggling to power my Radiante. Bass was not nearly as aggressive and dynamic, and the soundstage felt compressed. Over time I began to appreciate the pairing a bit more, but it fell short of my system. I listened to mostly live Goose shows which were 24/48, 24/96 and I used the upsampling DSP function in Roon to 768K through the DA1. Listening to Beck's Morning and Sea Change brought a bit more of what I love about the Radiante. The DA1 sounded more complete, more dynamic, a bit snappier and more subtle. I could hear the space between the notes much better when listening to Beck, Mark Knopfler and Xavier Rudd. But, when I wanted to rock out with a HQ Phish Show or Goose Show, the DA1 struggled with my Radiante to bring out the sheer power, and raw energy of their live shows. This is my favorite headphone for live music, so this I found to be a bit disappointing. It wasn't terrible, just not what my system brings when comparing the DA1 as an AIO against my system.

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ZMF LTD Bocote with DA1 and Power Supply:
This was not my favorite pairing with the DA1. The Auteur prefers amps with higher output impedances to take advantage of the headphones unique damping system. The Auteur sounded flat, a bit lifeless and wasn't anywhere close to as lit up as it sounds on my Icon Audio HP8. However, I wasn't expecting this to be a perfect pairing. The Auteur is relatively easy to power, yet I was below -40db to get my normal volume for this headphone. It just really struggled on the DA1. Not sure why, other than to say it just didn't have great synergy. My Auteur sounded fantastic through my Icon HP8 with the DA1 acting as Pure DAC. Nuff said on that one. Plenty of positives elsewhere, so no need to belabor this pairing.

Yulong DA1 as PUREDAC into Cembalo Labs Spring 1 and Icon Audio HP8
I have always loved AKM DACs that have a really smart and effective implementation. The DA1 really impressed me as a Pure DAC. In fact, I loved it. The sound was fast, articulate, musical, detailed, balanced and extremely emotive. It got even better when I plugged in my USBe Perfect. At this point, I went from having a conflicted experience, to feeling that the DA1 as a DAC could compete with anything under $5,000 without much issue. It sounded every bit as good as my Pontus/Iris. Albeit, very different, but I felt it was equal to, if not better. I prefer the Comet+, but not by much. The DA1 is a very well designed DAC. This is where I really saw the benefits of the Power Supply. It helped with PRaT, and it really helped to give it more micro and macro dynamics. The DA1 is an AWESOME DAC!. Bravo to Yulong for creating such a wonderful DAC. I will leave the tech talk to those who specialize in that. For me, I just liked the way it works as a DAC and feel that the sound is pretty much spot on. The question is whether or not it is worth $4100 to use it as just a Pure DAC. That is why I am so conflicted, because if I owned the DA1 I would want to use it as just a DAC, and I don't believe that is what they designed it to do.

My Cembalo Spring 1 is an absolute beast. It has an extremely short signal path, discrete parts, tons of power and an extremely clean and dynamic sound. The better the source, the better the cabling, the better you give it; the better it sounds. It was absolutely wonderful with the DA1 running DAC duties. All 3 of my headphones sounded amazing. Especially the Radiante, which just exploded out of my Spring 1 and into my head in every direction. My music sounded lifelike, and organic. The DA1's inherent musicality and ability to set an accurate stage came pouring out. Detail was all there without being overly pushy. It just presented an effortless sound. Bass was impactful without being bloated, midrange was wide open, and the treble felt like it opened up like a butterfly and just floated above the melody. My music sounded emotional and realistic. I have been really getting into a new band out of Connecticut called Goose. I spent hours and hours listening to live Goose shows and I felt like I was sitting right in front of the soundboard with the perfect mix of instruments and ambience. My 4z gave me the same feeling, and my Auteur sounded how I like it to sound when using my Spring 1. In short, the DA1 was a great match with my Spring 1.

My Icon HP8 Signature is a Triode Tube Amp with a hand wound copper transistor. It has 2 CV181 tubes and a 12ax7 tube. It has output impedance matching for Low, Mid and High Impedance Headphones. The DA1's musical nature was wonderful with the HP8. The DA1 is not an overly warm DAC. It is just a bit warm, and it never made me feel like I had too much of a good thing. The HP8 is very transparent and tubey, without being overly so. It just allowed the DA1 to deliver a clean, detailed and fabulous presentation of my music. My main pairing here was my Auteur, which loves this amp. The DA1 running as DAC with my HP8 had my Auteur's sounding at their peak. I couldn't ask for any more from my Auteur. They were pushed to their max and they rewarded me with a sublime musical experience.

If you haven't already noticed, I really enjoyed the DA1 as a DAC.

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Comparisons and Conclusion:

Comparisons are tough for me, as I didn't have another AIO unit to compare against the DA1. I don't think it fair to compare it to my system of separates. It isn't the point of the DA1. If I were to compare it, I would take my system every day of the week. It is just more to my listening preferences. I have spent years building and shaping my system to get it where it is today. It is designed to play my particular headphones with my music exactly as I want to hear it. The DA1's amp section was my least favorite part. I felt it struggled to power my headphones to the same level as my current amps, which is what I know and have to compare. Over time, I grew more and more accustomed to the DA1 as an AIO and started to like it more and more. I definitely like it more today than I did on day 3. I acclimated to its strong points and learned how to mitigate the parts I didn't like as much. It is a really good product. I feel similarly to almost everyone else that the bass could be a bit more dynamic. It isn't as subtle and it didn't take me as deep into my music's pocket as I wanted. I felt like I was sitting on the outer edges of the pocket, instead of right in the middle of the pocket. That is a feeling I have a hard time describing, but is what determines for me whether or not I can experience my music to its fullest. That being said, the DA1 is still a very capable and extremely flexible product. The big question, though is price to performance. Is it worth $4100? I am not sure. I believe it is a really nice unit, but $4100 can buy you a lot in this hobby and I struggle with the Power Supplies price in addition to the DA1 at $2500. As a Pure DAC, I love it. All In One's tend to make compromises in my experience, and I believe the compromise was the amp section. My personal opinion is that Yulong should find a price point to offer both the DA1 and Power Supply as one unit instead of as an upgrade, because they are better together. Aesthetically, they just look so beautiful together and I feel quite strongly that they shouldn't be a combo, but one unit. Dynamics, soundstage, speed, tone, timbre, bass depth, midrange articulation and treble subtlety are all improved by the power supply.

I don't want to leave this review on a negative note. I really liked the unit, and I think that it has a place in our hobby. Yulong is a very talented company making beautiful products. The DA1 is a very beautiful, clean, flexible product, which at times is capable of creating beautiful, insightful and complex music with great tone and timbre. At other times it left me wanting more. So, I leave where I started. The DA1 is a Brilliantly Conflicted Product.

Thank you for reading and I hope you get a chance to try the yulong DA1. It is certainly worthy of an audition.
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Slim1970
Slim1970
Great review!
macdonjh
macdonjh
@geoffalter11, I think you and I hard largely the same experiences with the DA-1, and came to the same conclusions.
geoffalter11
geoffalter11
Thanks John! I agree we came to similar conclusions.

macdonjh

Headphoneus Supremus
Yulong DA-1 DAC / amp and Power Station
Pros: Pace Rhythm and Timing, micro- and macro-dynamics, resolution, smooth fatigue free, lots of configuration options, the Power Station
Cons: Bass, no RCA inputs for the amplifier
Yulong DA1 and Power Station out-board power supply

Disclaimer: I was able to enjoy this DAC/amp courtesy of Yulong Audio as part of the US leg of their tour.

Packaging: The tour gear arrived in a slightly battered, but intact, not to worry, plain outer box. Inside were two identical, branded display boxes. The box on the right, turns out it contained the Power Station, is noticeably heavier, like twice as heavy, as the box on the left. Inside that is some nice polyethylene foam completely enclosing the DA1 in its box, and the Power Station in its. The manual (English in front, Chinese in the back) was inside the outer box.

1 out box.JPG 2 out box open.JPG

What’s in the box? The DA1 was supplied with a USB-B to USB-A cable and two umbilicals. One of the umbilical cords is four feet long or so and has a stiff PVC outer jacket. The other umbilical is only a foot long or so and has no outer jacket, the inner wires are exposed with their rainbow of individual insulation. The Power Station was supplied with a power cord, US-standard three prong on one end, IEC on the other end.

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Nearly identical; there are labels on one edge which tell you if the DA-1 or Power Station is inside.

Physicals: I suppose this is going to be a shorter section than typical for the head phone reviews I’ve written. For desk-top gear, the Yulongs are fairly compact: approximately 13” W x 10½” D x 2½” tall each. Bigger than my Schiit Bifrost, but smaller than my Mjolnir. I think each is a little bigger than the Questyle CMA Twelve Pro I had a few months ago. They look quite handsome stacked together.

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... and the back showing some of the supplied cables, and the options available for connecting.

Fit, Comfort, Isolation: I think this will be an even shorter section… Let’s move on, shall we? :)

What I Listened to: For reference gear I have, and regularly use:
  • Windows PC using JRiver Media Center as my server software
  • Astell&Kern AK70 Mk II
  • Schiit Bifrost I multi-bit -> Schiit Mjolnir I
  • Schiit Gungnir multi-bit -> Schiit Sys -> Schiit Aegir
  • HiFiMAN HE-500 head phones
  • 64Audio Trio IEMs
  • Aune X7S head phone amp (less frequently used)
Finally, I have access to, but rarely use:
  • Schiit Modi multi-bit -> Schiit Mani (my son’s desk system)
  • Sennheiser HD-660 head phones
The DA1 has lots of features, making it configurable is lots of different ways. I used primarily these two configurations:
  • DA1 with the Power Station as a head amp (DAC engaged)
  • DA1 without the Power Station as a head amp (DAC engaged)

What I Missed Out On: There were so many combinations I could have tried with the Yulong: DAC/amp with Power Station, DAC/amp without Power Station, DAC and my amps, amp and my DACs, all those combinations with different head phones (if my buddies came over the number of variations could have been staggering). I simply didn’t have time. I had to concentrate on how I guessed I’d use a DA-1 if it was mine to keep. Most of my listening was done with the whole DA-1 package connected to my laptop and powering my HE-500. As you’ll see below, though, I tried some other combinations as well.

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Ready to begin warming up...

First impressions: My very first hearing of the DA1 was with the Power Station in place and using the USB output of my Astell&Kern AK70 Mk II as the source. I thought the sound was a bit eerie. My initial impression is the Power Station is the real deal and I no longer hear the normal noise floor in my house’s power. However, I’ll have to wait until I try the DA1 without the Power Station to confirm that. For my first impressions I have started listening to random songs from either my DAP or my computer and try to listen to only the overall musical presentation. I try to save the audiophilia until a few days later. First up came some Rush, Herbie Hancock, Steve Vai, on and on. I mentioned the eerie quality I found to the DA1/ Power Station sound, but I also noticed PRaT (pace rhythm and timing) was unusually noticeable for me. On up-tempo music (Alton Gun and Herbie Hancock’s fusion initially), rhythms, the pace of notes, “funkiness” was at a high and enjoyable level. I typically don’t notice whether a piece of gear has that until I’ve listened much longer.

Soundstage: I’ve written this before: soundstage is not a high priority for me when listening to head phones. I hardly ever hear what some listeners are able to: music extending outside the ear cups. Even with the DA-1 and Power Station, music was inside my head. Placement within that narrow space was solid, stable and accurate, just not spacious. For me.
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Audio reviewing creates such clutter, much to my wife's annoyance. Let's go!

Highs: Cymbals, bells, and triangles are all well presented at their airy shimmering best with the DA-1. Stand-out examples are “Chitlins Con Carne” by Stevie Ray Vaughn (a favorite audition track of mine) and “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from Miles Davis’ and Gil Evans’ Porgy and Bess. Returning to Shoshtakovich’s String Quartet, the violins when bowed could be sweet or piercing, but were never harsh and never broke up. When plucked the notes were sharp.

Mids: My first impression about midrange from the DA-1 is vocals sound really good. Really, all vocals I listened to sounded good. Brought just a bit forward in the mix, articulate and intelligible. My current favorite Frank Sinatra song, “One for My Baby” from Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely showcases a technique which I like: on many words, Mr. Sinatra begins with a tenorish pitch and ends the word more baritoney. Easily heard through the DA-1. Margot Timmins: wow! Quietly ethereal when singing “Workin’ on a Building” from The Trinity Sessions. It occurs to me Billie Eilish may have been attempting this effect with many of the songs on her debut album. Ms. Timmons does it better in my opinion, but Ms. Eilish has interesting meter and rhythm in some of her songs, so there’s that. Again with “Chitlins Con Carne”, Stevie’s guitar as well as the drums and cymbals sounded fantastic. As smooth and clear and clean as the guitar notes were, so were the transient snaps of the drums and the shimmer and sparkle of the cymbals.

Lows: You can’t really ignore the bass in the Blade Runner: 2049 soundtrack. The DA-1 allowed my HE-500 to fill my head with thunder, which was fun as it should be. However, returning to Stevie Ray, the bass in “Chitlins Con Carne” was quiet compared to the rest of the music. Not subdued, or restricted; bass extended deeply, was clear and rumbly, but it was simply quieter than I’m used to with my Schiit gear. “Riviera Paradise” fared better. Though I had the same impression of quiet when listening to “Limelight” by Rush.
Dynamics, transients and articulation: I’m going to use this section to talk mostly about separation and PRaT (pace, rhythm and timing). I first listened to the whole package: the DA-1 and Power Station together and what I noticed first was the clean space between the notes and how well lively music “boogied”. I thought I was hearing the effect of the Power Station: clean power creating a lower noise floor plus the robust power supply taking better control of the HE-500 drivers than I’m used to. Music seemed more holographic than it did last week (before the DA-1). That “boogie” effect wasn’t particularly noticeable to me in all music. Herbie Hancock’s Manchild and Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, though, with their rapid or changing tempo showcased it well for me.

I was struck by the small-scale dynamics and detail provided when listening to the electric bass in Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Riviera Paradise”. Every once in a while, Tommy Shannon would pluck a string sharply and it would rattle subtly rather than rumble like the more softly strummed notes.

Listening to “Right Off” from Miles Davis’ A Tribute to Jack Johnson I noticed how each note changed as Miles worked the valves. Unlike a percussion instrument, or plucked strings, each note he played changed a bit as he transitioned to the next note as the valve slid to its next position. It was easier to hear when he played fast; I think because the change is a larger fraction of a quick note than a sustained note, when I heard the change more as a transient. Miles’ trumpet also had bite playing Jack Johnson not present in L’Ascenseur Pour L’echafaud (a noir masterpiece in my opinion, love that album).

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Right...

Surprises and Oddities: I didn’t expect this, but the DA-1 and Power Station together produced deep, but strangely quiet, bass with my HE-500. Low bass, mid-bass, both were there, but down in level compared to the rest of the music. Switching to the SLOW filter helped somewhat, but seemed to suppress treble air as well (just as promised in the manual). Overall, I preferred the SHARP filter to SLOW. I also tried switching back and forth between CLOCK1 and CLOCK2 but didn’t hear any difference.

The treble in some individual songs was also odd. The triangle in Pat Metheny Group’s “It’s for You” was quiet and muted. Conversely, when Pat plays high notes on his electric guitar, they are sharp and piercing. The clocks in Pink Floyd’s “Time”? Right up front and as shocking as they are supposed to be, jarring you out of your reverie. Very strange, especially since I noticed this only in a few songs rather than it being a consistent trait throughout my audition. I have no explanation for it.

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Left. You can see the available head phone connections: 4-pin XLR, 1/4" TRS, 4.4mm Pentaconn

Comparisons: One of easiest comparisons to make is the DA-1 with and without the Power Station. I found myself playing my head phones generally 3 dB higher when the Power Station was removed from the chain than when it was included. And, I swear I heard back ground trash when then Power Station was removed. Not buzzing or hissing or anything distinct, more what the audio reviewers described as “a veil being lifted” when the Power Station was connected. The effect, with my head phones, is subtle, but I noticed it and I missed the Power Station when it was idle. I’ll bet with more resolving ‘phones the effect would be more noticeable.

Schiit Bifrost I multi-bit and Mjolnir I: The first two songs I played were Emmylou Harris’ “Deeper Well” and Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Chitlins Con Carne”. For me, “Deeper Well” depends on the bottom end to provide the menace essential to the song’s protagonist. The Schiit gear was more convincing in this aspect. Other clear wins for Bifrost and Mjolnir were “2049” and “Sea Wall” from the Blade Runner: 2049 soundtrack. Stronger bass presence did an even better job of filling my head and vibrating my skull. The mildly less refined Bifrost treble wasn’t as big a drawback with this electronic music as it was when listening to acoustic instruments. Stevie Ray’s song sounded better through the Yulong gear: electric bass was a tad stronger through the Schiit gear, but the guitar, drums and cymbals lost a bit of smoothness and delicacy, it wasn’t quite an even trade. With “It Ain’t Necessarily So”, Miles’ trumpet was able to maintain the resonance with the studio space, but at the same time sounded thinner through the Bifrost and Mjolnir. Frank Sinatra sounded chestier and Margot Timmins breathier when played through Schiit equipment than through the Yulong gear. Even more than that, though, “Working on a Building” reproduced with Bifrost and Mjolnir had more prominent electric bass and brassier cymbals. With “Right Off” from Miles Davis’ Tribute to Jack Johnson, John McLaughlin’s guitar sounded meatier and nastier through the Bifrost and Mjolnir, but the drums sounded strangely hollow: one point each to Schiit and Yulong. Miles’ trumpet still had bite, lost some of the complexity delivered by the DA-1 (with or without the Power Station). Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” proved an excellent comparison to highlight one of my favorite attributes of the DA-1: PRaT and “liveliness”. The DA-1 made Bifrost and Mjolnir sound flat in comparison, and in some passages plodding.

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Schiit Bifrost multi-bit and Mjolnir I.

Yulong as a DAC driving the Mjolnir: My reaction to this combination was immediately positive as soon as “Deeper Well” started. Bass was stronger, vocals were still just a bit more forward and the “menace” was back when compared to how this song was presented through the DA-1 acting as a DAC/amp. Even the problematic “Chitlins Con Carne”, while still not a bass-head’s delight, presented more prominent bass making the presentation more balanced and more enjoyable to me. Guitar notes and cymbal strikes were still just as clear and smooth as when the amp section of the DA-1 was responsible for powering my head phones. “Sea Wall” was an adventure with 3D bass thumps at the beginning and crunchy synth notes throughout my head. Perhaps one of the best renditions of this track I’ve heard. This is a winning combination, except that the DA-1 amplifier is left on the sidelines.

Back to Bifrost and Mjolnir: Staying with “Deeper Well” for first impressions, bass is strong, but lacked the inner details revealed by the DA-1 DAC. Emmylou’s voice lost some dimensionality when played through Bifrost as well, sounding less gritty, less road worn. Similarly, Stevie Ray’s guitar had less bloom and the cymbals sounded more one-dimensional, and the initial transient was blunted. None of this added up to the Bifrost presentation being unenjoyable, but it is a lesser DAC than the DA-1 and I noticed it. The sound of the hall I could hear during “It Ain’t Necessarily So” was also missing. The bass was strangely underdamped and flabby-sounding in “Sea Wall”. I’d expect to make this comment if I was comparing amplifiers, but the difference in the chain this time is the DAC, so I’m surprised.

Gungnir and Aegir: Last, I listened to my Gungnir (in this case a multi-bit) driving a Sys and Aegir providing power for my HE-500. The Gungnir has similar resolving ability to the DA-1, but is more incisive. Everything sounds sharper through the Gungnir. I don’t think of the sound as harsh, but if you lean toward a laid-back presentation, you might and find yourself preferring the DA-1. I won’t spill a lot of ink with more details because other than the “forward” versus “laid back” gestalt, there isn’t any need. To my ears the DACs are equally capable but with differing presentations. I again prefer the power and low end authority of the Schiit amplifier over the Yulong amp.

12 Gungnir.JPG
Gungnir (delta-sigma on top, multi-bit on the bottom) and Aegir.

Finding Strengths: After the comparisons, I went back to the Yulong DA-1 as I believe it was intended to be heard, and how I’d configure it if it was mine: with the Power Station connected, full head amp, Sharp filter. The first song I tried was “In My Pocket” from Joe Satriani’s Shockwave Supernova, one of my only high-resolution albums. The Yulong locked on to the 96 kHz signal immediately, but the sound was oddly muffled and opaque. Has to be a result of the recording, I’ve heard this gear sound better. I didn’t want to spend any more time with high-resolution files for high-rez sake. I then moved on to an album I’d been dying to listen to since Day 1 with the DA-1: Uranus Space Club, Another Planet, Another Love. Funky fun, and a bass-heavy album I knew it would be a test and the DA-1 passed: it’s fun. No trouble with weak bass and the DA-1’s mastery of PRaT shone through. “Black Horse and Cherry Tree” by KT Tunstall is a favorite of mine because of the meter of the lyrics. The DA-1 brought forth KT’s voice with assurance. It’s too bad the acoustic guitar wasn’t recorded better: picked notes sounded fine, but the instrument fell apart when strummed. However, Rodrigo y Gabriella’s Spanish guitar fared better: good separation between notes, even when strumming fast. And “Hang Up Your Hang Ups” from Herbie Hancock’s Manchild always drove forward, propelled by rhythm made infectious. “Africano/ Power” from Earth, Wind & Fire’s Gratitude also drove forth relentlessly, daring me to not tap my toes. Big fun. Lest you think I’m ignoring it: vocal music, composed in the 14th century by Guillaume de Machaut and sung by the Hilliard Ensemble, was haunting and unearthly; tranquil and inviting meditation. As for something baroque, rather than returning to Brandenburg concerti, how about Bach’s Cello Suite 4 (Heinrich Schiff)? The whole range of the cello was produced with sound from the strings, from the body and from the hall. I finished with “Khrimian Hairig”, composed by Alan Hovhaness. The solo trumpet is richly playing in front of the string section. While I wish the strings’ image was a bit wider than between my ears (made all the narrower-sounding by the big image of the trumpet), placement within the sound stage is solid. And all this sonic goodness is brought to you with the supernaturally void background of the Power Station. The music was floating, detached from everything. That’s not to say ungrounded, but rather alone, as if the music is the only thing in the world. No distractions, no pollution.

8 HE500.JPG
With my HiFiMAN HE-500.

And for something completely different: I finally tried the DA-1 with some IEMs, my 64Audio Trio. I used a ¼” TRS x 3.5mm TRS adapter so I could use the DA-1 single-ended output. The DA-1 commanded fast response from the tiny IEM drivers: transients were lightning-fast. Dynamic range was also a step above what I heard with my HE-500, the leading edges of notes, especially, were sharp and loud with the “body” and decay of each note quieter but more full and filled-out. Bass, overall, was more successfully handled when listening to my Trio than my HE-500, but there were still a few problematic songs (“Chitlins Con Carne”, “Limelight”, “Dirty” by Earth, Wind & Fire, etc.). I listened with the Power Station connected and the back ground was silent: no hiss, no sibilance, no noise. I held the volume level to -70 db or so as compared to -55 or -50 dB when listening to my HE-500. Not surprising, really. Oddly, I had to play “Deeper Well” louder than I prefer (-66 dB) to get it to sound right. Up until now, the DA-1 had treated music quite evenly regardless of smallish adjustments to volume.

9 Trio.JPG
With my 64Audio Trio, ready to go.

And for something completely different, part two: I borrowed my son’s Sennheiser HD-660, listening again from the ¼” TRS connection. The HD-660s sounded pretty good, they were certainly innocuous. But I missed the excitement, either good or bad, of head phones not tuned so middle-of-the-road. Even a head phone I don’t like, but with distinct tuning choices, gives me something to talk about, to listen for. Overall, treble was closed in, mids were pleasant and clear, bass was there but without power or slam. There are so many less expensive options available, if my favorite head phone was an HD-650 or HD-660, I’d look elsewhere for amplification.

Conclusion: The DA-1 is a nice piece of gear. However, when using the DA-1 as a DAC/ amp, even with the Power Station, I missed the authoritative bass of my Schiit gear (and my DAPs, too, when using IEMs on-the-go). After pairing the DA-1 DAC with my Mjolnir, I think the DA-1 amplifier prevents it from pushing all my buttons.

I really liked the sound of the DA-1 used as a DAC only. It provided me with smooth and fatigue-free sound. Smooth doesn’t mean bland, though it could. The DA-1 has resolution at least equal to my Gungnir, better than my Bifrost. It also has rhythm and pace which is addictive. I haven’t had a piece of gear which put PRaT up-front so prominently before, the result was shocking to me. And fun. The trade-off is that smoothness can lead to missing out on some of the drive, the excitement of energetic music. The DA-1 sound, to me, is for the mellow times, the Bifrost and Gungnir sounds are for getting up and getting loud. Really, though, the combination of the DA-1 DAC and Mjolnir I amplifier was very, very good.

A close second for the Biggest Treat of This Review, which I didn’t expect, was the Power Station. I know there are audiophiles out there who have extolled the benefits of uber-clean power for years. This is the first time I’ve had a separate power supply. It made a noticeable difference, and to me, benefit. Like the pacing of the DAC, I wasn’t prepared for the effect really clean power would have to separate my music from everything else in the world. To make it the only thing worth paying attention to without having to work to ignore what went on outside the ear cups.
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geoffalter11
geoffalter11
Thanks John for a great review!
macdonjh
macdonjh
@geoffalter11, you cheated! You just started your review period... :)
geoffalter11
geoffalter11
I couldn’t help myself. 3 lashes with a wet noodle… I really enjoyed reading your review. I have already made up my mind about how I feel about the DA1. We’ll see if my first impressions hold.

:)

szore

Headphoneus Supremus
Yulong DA1 with Power Conditioner
Pros: Ultra black background
Great sound stage
Great detail and resolution
Amazing micro-dynamics and micro-details
Cons: Mid-centric sound presentation (unless you like that).
Bass could use more authority
Introduction



The Yulong DA1 DAC headphone amplifier was recently offered up on tour by Andy Kong, and I was eager for a chance to get a listen. After all, it is not only the DAC/amp, but also the DA1 Power Station that accompanies it as a $1,600 option. The DAC/amp itself retails for $2,500. The combo costs a cool $4K. I happen to be in the market for a desktop solution, so I was intrigued, and the power conditioner was the icing on the cake. Applying for the tour, I was delighted to be accepted. I want to just take a moment to thank Andy for including me, I truly am honored to be a part of the tour. The thoughts in this review are my own opinion.



Where I Am Coming From



I was originally interested in ‘audiophile’ back in the 80’s. In my 20’s, recently discharged from the Navy, I was working, I had some cash, and I loved music. Out on Long Island where I am from, in a little town called West Islip, on Sunrise Hwy, used to be a little shop called Audio Visions. It was run by 2 great guys, Nick and Steve. Audio visions was a high-end store. They had 3 rooms and they sold things like $30,000 Magnepane speakers, Huge Bryston amplifiers, Thiel speakers, Thorens turntables, $10,000 cables, things like that. The guys used to let me come in and listen to stuff, and Nick, an old irascible Dutch guy with crazy hair and rumpled clothes, acted as a type of ‘mentor’ to me. He used to get discounted tickets to Carnegie Hall, and me and my friend Greg would often go. I remember watching Yo Yo Ma sitting on a folding chair on stage with nothing but his cello and bow, playing Bach cello sonatas by memory. Heady stuff. Nick taught me a few things. He said, if you want to evaluate the performance of a sound system, it’s best to listen to a symphony, and it has got nothing to do with whether you ‘like’ classical music. Reproducing the tonal and acoustic complexities of a symphony properly is the most difficult thing a sound system can do. Rock, Jazz, Pop, etc. is fine, but it will not ‘challenge’ a high-end sound system. At the time, I was rather enamored with ‘graphic equalizers’; they were so cool looking! No, said Nick. Audiophile products do not have “bass and treble” controls. Hardly. Such course adjustments would never be necessary. You adjusted the sound by the type of cables, cartridges, interconnects, and components you use. (Not to mention wall hangings and carpets).



Oh, and I never, ever, use EQ or DSP. Not because Nick wouldn’t have approved, (although he wouldn’t) it’s because I simply do not think it improves the sound in any way. Yes, you can boost frequencies, but the overall fidelity drops significantly. I recently was playing around with the Hiby MSRB system wide adjustments on my Shanling M8 ($1,650), and at first, I was amazed! Convinced I was ‘improving’ the sound by boosting rumble, and clarity, and thump…but when I made all my adjustments, then turned it off, instantly the default sound was always better. Also, frequency charts! God, no… This is a tough topic because a few people on head-fi that I greatly respect love to look at frequency charts. I always ask: Show me sound stage on a frequency chart…for that matter, show me timbre, tone, layering, extension on a frequency chart…point to it. You cannot. To me, charts tell you little. Maybe if you are sensitive to a certain frequency, a chart can show you in that sense if, say, you are sensitive to 4KHz region, a chart can show you that there is an abundance of that frequency, granted. But beyond that, charts, like EQ, are counterproductive. The “Harmon Curve”, another sacred cow. Why not just tune everything under the sun to the Harmon Curve and be done with it? Ah, eh, uh huh, see? Yes, I said it. So sue me. And yes, cables and ear tips make a significant, often, a profound difference.



Another issue I think it is important to discuss is this whole thing we do called “audiophile”. Dodgy stuff. I get a kick out of reading ‘professional’ reviews on headphones and other components. I have literally seen different reviews contradicting themselves; one review says a headphone has great soundstage, another review of the same item will declare it has bad soundstage! It’s all so dodgy! OK, OK, enough about me…I feel better I got all that off my chest! Let’s get to the review!



The DA1



This Yulong is a beast. The power conditioner is very heavy (IDK, maybe 20 pounds?). Unboxing was tricky, and I suggest you do it on the floor. It comes with a quality USB cable that was greatly appreciated. I know a lot of people write these reviews that look like they are going to be published in Stereophile magazine. It’s like they are auditioning for a job! Extensive paragraphs on all kinds of technical information, stuff that can easily be found on the product website. This is not going to be that kind of review. If you want all the technobabble, go to the product webpage, or look at some other reviews on head-fi, they got you covered. No, friends, I like to focus on sound impressions because that is what it’s all about.



The Sound



Below I will analyze a few songs, but I am going to lay out my ‘opinion’ on the sound right up front. In a nutshell, the Yulong DA1 sounds terrific, with one big problem (for me); the upper mids are slightly too aggressive; too forward. It’s a mid-centric tonality, giving it a bit of a ‘shouty’ presentation, but great detail and resolution and soundstage…the sound is very transparent. Bass is controlled with an emphasis on mid-bass. The bass is great, but it’s a little light. To get any kind of volume out of it puts the mids too far forward. The overall sound is musical, but it also excels at technicalities. It has a smooth and natural presentation (except for the mids) with good layering, excellent timbre, and tone.

The power conditioner provides an ultra-black background that must be heard to be believed! Microdetails and micro dynamics are excellent; more evident due to the black, and I mean black, background. In this sense, if you can afford it, the power conditioner is a must, it’s my first experience with one and I am deeply impressed. The black background is sublime!



The Details



I am going to choose a few songs at random just to try to illustrate exactly what is going on with these mids and why. The settings on the Yulong are Sharp filter, 2x’s clock. I will be using FLAC recordings of various quality, but a warning up front, no matter what genre, recording or artist, the story was the same; sounds great! But the mids are too far forward. Let’s take a look….



Biggest Part of Me by Ambrosia

I chose this song because it is a great song and recording. First thing out of the gate: the vocals are right up in my face. Turning the volume down puts the vocals at a decent level, but now the bass is too low. The quality of the bass is excellent. It seems the upper mids are the problem. Shouty. The treble is excellent, nice and smooth and detailed. Imaging and soundstage are decent. It’s the vocals. The lead vocal is bad enough, but when the chorus of background vocals comes in, it grates on my nerves and I cannot finish the song. Too bad.



I Hate Myself for Loving You by Joan Jett

I love this song. I love the drums and the guitar playing and the whole ‘attitude’ of the song. The drums intro slams like an attack of thunder, and the guitar riffs come in with great texture and tone. What’s more, the ‘space’ around the drum hits and cymbals and the guitar riffs are filled with air and space and micro dynamics, all due to the ultra-black background. It’s as if the blackness contrasts the music in a wonderful way. It reminds me of trying to watch TV in a bright sunlit room vs. a dark room at night with the lights off; the music just pops out of the blackness, and it sounds marvelous. Oh, God, but again after about a minute, the vocals and guitars start grating on my nerves…



Black Dog by C.C. Colletti

A Chesky recording off the Rock: Reimagined album. The opening acoustic guitar and cymbal hits sound absolutely fantastic with tons of detail; the microdetails in the guitar strings and cymbals is stunning…again, that black background thing; the contrast. Vocals are too sharp. Again, I don’t know what it is, but the mids just grate on my nerves…oh, boy…. I gotta tell you tho, when I close my eyes and just listen the soundscape is 3 dimensional with great layering and depth. I just wish the singer would back up a little bit, she’s right in my face.



Jazz in the New Harmonic by Chesky

This song, like the others, sounds great. This is a jazz quartet so there is less of a ‘mids’ problem here. The instruments have great ‘presence’; what I mean by that is when I listen to the saxophone, it SOUNDS like there is a saxophone playing in front of me…but even now, as I listen, the upper notes of the sax sound too forward, it’s just not as annoying as on the other songs. The bass is fantastic, filled with emotion…the bass is actually rather succulent…It sounds like a standup bass, and I can imagine sitting at the studio watching the strings get plucked; they have a great ‘rumbly’, ‘plucky’ quality that is not thick or cloying at all…it’s a clean bass, and the timbre of the trumpet contrasting the bass is rather remarkable!



Beethoven’s 9th Symphony by Daniel Barenboim

Excellent sound stage, all elements of the symphony can be placed easily in space. The bass and cellos have great rumble. The strings are beautiful, airy, and light with great timbre. Rich and detailed. The woodwinds are smooth. Ah, see, the upper mids of the brass (not bass) is just a tad too shouty…See, again, as the soloists come in, their voices are just a tad too forward…it makes me want to turn the volume down, but then all the dynamics collapse…(i.e. everything else is too low).



Conclusion

I have ambivalent feelings about the DA1. It is truly an outstanding product, and I LOVE the power conditioner, a “must have”, if you can swing it. The Yulong does SOOO many things great! But here is my dirty little secret: I have always been ‘sensitive’ to mids. I may not ‘like’ bass or treble on any particular item, but they never “irritate” me. Forward mids irritate me, they always have. There are usually 2 camps in audiophile, those who say the most important thing is the mids (it’s where all the action happens, they say; vocals, guitars, it all happens in the mids)! Others like me say, no it’s the bass! The bass is the foundation and the emotion! The bass envelopes and cradles the mids. Again, although the bass is great, it takes a back seat in presentation to the upper mids, and that just does not suit my preference.

In my evaluation I used my planar LCD-2C ($800) with Forza 8 wire copper cable ($250), my custom Valkyries ($1,600) with my PWAudio Monile50s cable ($1,000), and the Penon Serial ($300) with Monile cable. No matter the setup, and no matter the filter and clock settings, it was always the same story with the mids. So, if you like your mids and don’t mind a slightly forward presentation, the Yulong DA1 with power conditioner should be at the top of your list, it truly does excel in virtually every other aspect. Personally, I prefer a neutral presentation with a bit more authority, like the Questyle CMA 12, which I auditioned on tour once. But that is my opinion, for what it’s worth…Thanks for listening! Enjoy!
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szore
szore
That's very kind of you, thank you!
capetownwatches
capetownwatches
It's not easy describing an amp (or DAC for that matter) - thanks for an articulate and relevant review!
macdonjh
macdonjh
Good stuff. I agree with your description of the Power Station and the bass presentation. The mids didn't give me as much trouble as you describe; the forward mids made vocals "pop" to me.

Slim1970

Headphoneus Supremus
The Competent Yulong DA1
Pros: Musical, ability to customize sound, solid build quality, upgradeable sound with the addition of the Power Station
Cons: A little lite on the bass, no remote (for some)
Disclaimer: To start, I would like to thank Andy for inviting me to join the DA1 plus Power Station tour. There is no affiliation between us. My opinions are my own and aren’t influenced in any way by the manufacturer. I’m just a normal guy who loves good sound. Now let’s get to it!

PACKAGING

The DA1 arrived in one big box with two separate boxes inside. Once removed, the exterior packaging containing the DA1 and the DA1 Power Station is very similar.

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On the inside, you’ll see that things are well compartmentalized with the DA1 in a separate area away from the accessories.
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Completely unpacked you have the DA1, a power cord, a USB-A to USB-B cable, and the manual. Everything you need to get started playing music on the DA1.

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The DA1 Power Station comes similarly packed. Except you get two of what Yulong is calling Power Link Cables of different lengths.

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SPECIFICATIONS

The DA1 is Yulong’s TOTL all-in-one device and is intended to be a statement piece. It’s a fully balanced design with a low impedance line output. On its own, it can be used as a pure DAC, a pure preamp, a pure headphone amp or as an all-in-one. Four different modes to choose from. All of which are independently designed and laid out to minimize ripple effects and maximize sound quality.

The DA1 operates in Class A when used as a headphone amp or as a preamp. The Class A circuit consists of 12 high output audiophile grade power transistors. The DA1 is rated at 5 watts per channel at 32 Ohms and 540mW at 300 Ohms balanced. 1.5 watts at 32 Ohms and 140mW at 300 Ohms single ended.

It’s all controlled from a single, high precision, multifunction volume knob. There are 99 digitally controlled analog volume steps for Preamp and headphone output modes. The playback and setting information can be read from the large IPS wide-angle LCD screen.

The DA1 is feature rich. It’s on the 4th generation of the high precision low noise JIC (Jitter and Interface Control) System. A little bit on how the JIC system works; it starts by converting the input audio signals into low-jitter, bit-stream, then applies FIFO input buffering while synchronizing it with the built-in Femtosecond Oscillators. The system will then pull in and lock the signal via a dual PLL (Phase Lock Loop). The FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) will distribute, synchronize the signal, and then output a high quality low-jitter I2S bit-stream through FIFO. The JIC also enhances audio performance by optimized data integrity, de-jitter and minimizing digital artifacts before the digital audio signal transmits to the DAC chip.

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The DA1 is designed around a single AK4499EQ DAC chip. The USB solution chosen is a customized XMOS XU208 with the sycon driver. USB supports DoP64, DoP128, Native DSD64, 128, 256,512. PCM consists of 16-32 bit, 32-768KHz. SPDIF/Optical/AES supports DoP64, DoP128, PCM 384KHz. The DA1 includes USB audio support for MS Windows, MAC OS, Apple IOS, Android, and Linux. Special attention has been given to support Android and IOS mobile and tablet devices. Through Yulong’s MAS (Mobile Audio Source) circuitry you can count on high quality digital playback from mobile devices.

You have a choice of two clock modes, clock1 and clock2. Clock1 is consider low sampling mode. It uses Yulong’s JIC and the DAC will operate at a lower oversampling rate to deliver a more full-bodied, analog sound. Clock2, or high sampling mode, utilizes both AK4499 chips and delivers a more resolute and detailed sound. More on how I hear the two-clock modes later in the review.

The last feature set I want to highlight are the filters. There are three of them; Sharp, Slow, and Short. Sharp, represents flat response and is recommended for general purpose use. It’s suitable for most musical genres. Slow, rolls off the high frequency gently and is recommended for music that will benefit from a smoother presentation. Short, also rolls off the high frequencies and is recommended for pop music or music with quick, energetic rhythms.

BUILD

The Chassis for the DA1 and DA1 Power Station is CNC milled from solid aluminum alloy. Aesthetically, it’s pleasant to look at. The DA1 gets warm, but it doesn’t affect the sound one bit. I would recommend not putting anything on top of the DA1. Dimensions of both units are 320mm x 265mm x 60mm (LxDxH). The weight of the main unit is 4Kg’s. The Power station is 8.5Kg’s

On front, you get a 4-Pin XLR, a 6.3mm, and a 4.4mm pentaconn output. In addition, there is a LCD display and multi-function volume controller

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On the rear, you get RCA and XLR inputs and outputs. For Digital connections you have AES, Coaxial, Toslink, and USB-B. You get the standard IEC port for your power cord with the fuse box and on/off switch directly next to it. The Power Link connection is optional and comes with a dust cover. Since the DA1 Power Station is included with this review sample you can see the Power Link connection on it.

It is very important to connect the Power Link cable with both units powered off. Then you only need to attach the power cord to the DA1 Power Station ONLY. The Power Link Cable will provide power from the Power Station to the DA1.

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Here’s and internal shot of the DA1.
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Here’s an internal shot of the DA1 Power Station, very impressive! You can see that the transformers are completely isolated from the circuit board. I love the layout of this power supply. It’s extremely heavy, clean, organized, and well built.

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I’ll be using a few different headphones for sound impressions of the DA1 and DA1 with Power Station. I want to see how it handles different loads, different driver types and really get a gauge for its versatility. On its own, and with the Power Station.

The Different Clock Modes present music a bit differently:
  • Clock2: Airy presentation with a better sense of space, more holographic. Music seems to wrap around your head
  • Clock1: Fuller sounding with a more intimate presentation. A little less resolving, but more musical. I can see using clock1 with headphones like the Hifiman Susvara or HEKse, which I unfortunately no longer have on hand.
Hifiman Code X’s

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First up is the Code X, which I have here on loan. Timing couldn’t be more perfect. It is fun to listen with the Code X and DA1, neither of which I have heard before. After trying the many different setting options, I settled on clock1 with short filter. The Code X’s are known for having great timbre and tone. They are a mid-centric headphone that strikes right in the heart of the music. With the clock1 and short filter settings the music fills in nicely.

The DA1 does nothing to take away from what the Code X’s do best. In fact, these settings seem tailor-made for this headphone. Listening to Syleena Johnson’s “Guess What”. The bass is taunt, with a nice thump in the lower regions. Her voice is melodic, smooth, and inviting. The DA1 really fleshes out vocals with the Code X. The sound is wonderfully balanced. Treble is spot on. The sound is open and energetic. This seems be a pattern with the DA1, Code X’s and R&B music. Listening to this combo you really feel connected to your music.

The Code X really pushes the DA1. They are not the easiest headphone to drive. Depending on the song, I had the volume level in between -20dB and -25dB. The DA1 remained composed and delivered the music without breaking a sweat. With the DA1 alone, the Code X’s loose a bit of depth to their sound. The DA1 also loses a bit of driving power. Reinsert the Power Station and the musicality returns.

I really like this combo, but it’s time to send the Code X’s back to their owner. I’m glad I got the chance to hear them. The Code X pays homage to the old Hifiman sound. They trade in the E-Stat, airy sound of the newer Hifiman offerings for a good old-fashion musical experience. The DA1 and Code X delivered the goods.

Focal Utopia

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The first part of the impressions will be the Utopia’s with the DA1 only. I have the Danacable Lazuli Reference cable on my set of Utopia’s, which really helps in adding body and staging to the Utopia’s sound. Settings used on the DA1 for this headphone were the sharp filter and clock2. I wanted to highlight the detail and resolving nature of the Utopia.

Listening to the classic song by Earth, Wind, and Fire, “I’ll Write a Song for You” the sense of space and air is breathtaking. The sound is open, resolute; every note and instrument can be heard. It sounds like a live recording. The sound is breathy and reverb from Philip Bailey’s voice is mesmerizing. I don’t know if most of what I’m hearing is the Utopia or the sound of the DA1 being portrayed through the Utopia’s. Whatever the case, the sound and pairing is incredible.

The Power Station is not needed to enjoy this headphone. Compared to the Code X, the Utopia’s need about 20 less dB on the volume dial. They are a lot more efficient, and sound great on just about anything that can capitalize on the Utopia’s ability to resolve detail.

Insert the Power Station and the effects it has is very similar to what the Powerman adds to the sound of the Formula S, which I’ll be comparing later in the review. The bass on the Utopia’s tightens up. There is a better sense of depth to the sound. The background darkens up letting more music and detail through. The DA1 feels more powerful with better drive.

From this point on, all comments and impressions will be with the Power Station attached to the DA1. It has a dramatic effect on the sound. For my personal preference, the improvements to the sound quality are not subtle. Therefore, all further impressions will be with the Power Station.

Final Audio D8000 Pro

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There’s one more headphone I wanted to try before I moved on to comparing the DA1 to my other amps and that’s the D8000 Pro. The D8K Pro is becoming one of my favorite headphones. On the DA1 with Power Station, the sound is precise, rhythmic, detailed, and nuanced. Imaging is superb, bass is dynamic with excellent punch, the midrange is natural, sound is weighted, spacious, and extremely resolving. This is exactly how I like my music to sound.

Nothing to fault here and nothing is missing from the sound. The D8K Pros are just phenomenal headphones and sound right at home on the DA1 with Power Station. This is my favorite pairing so far with the DA1. The D8K Pro’s sound so musical with excellent P.R.A.T.

AMP COMPARISONS

DA1 with Power Station vs Chord Dave w/Chord M-Scaler and Headamp GS-X MK2


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I wanted to see how the DA1 compares to my reference setup, which consists of a Chord DAVE, Chord M-Scaler, OPTO-DX powered by DC battery packs, and a Schiit Lokius. Cables used are Snake River Audio Boomslang BNC’s, Audio Sensibility Signature XLR’s, and an Audio Sensibility Statement Silver USB cable. The Chord Dave has the JPS Labs Digital AC-X power cord. The GS-X MK2 has a JPS Labs Kaptovator power cord. All powered by an Apple iPad Pro.

Headphones used for this comparison are my newly acquire Audeze LCD-5’s with Forza Audiowork Hybrid Noir cable. Song chosen is John Mayer “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room”. Up first is the DA1 with Power Station.

The instrumental intro to “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” is one of best intros to a song that I have ever heard. The tone on John Mayers Fender is sweet and emotional. The echoes from the thwack of the snare drum seems to dissolve into space. The song doesn’t seem to be recorded in a studio at all. Instead, it seems like it is recorded in your favorite smokey lounge and the DA1 puts you right at the bar.

The ambiance, the reverb, and most importantly the imaging and staging through the LCD-5 and DA1 is very life-like. The artist can be clearly placed in the room. What’s missing is soundstage width. The song sounds very claustrophobic and up close. I’m blaming the lack of with on the newness of the LCD-5’s. I haven’t heard it in any of my other headphones until now.

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Moving on to the same song being played through the Dave/HMS/GS-X MK2. This combo offers you more depth, better layering, more resolution, and more insight into the song. There is a better sense of space in between the notes. The artists are more spread out on the stage and seem to be occupying their own space. The word that keeps coming to mind is realism. The Dave/HMS/GS-X MK2 paints a vivid, livelier image. You just hear more of everything in the song. The DA1 sounds smoother with a slightly warmer overall tone in comparison. Transients are not as snappy, and the background is not as black. Details and clarity are still there on the DA1, but the music is less involving than they are on my reference stack.

For the price, the DA1 is a great an all-in-one. When you think about not having to pay for extra cables and other accessory tweaks the DA1 becomes a bargain. The sound of the DA1 is surprisingly competitive. As expected, it’s in a class lower than what you get on my Dave/HMS/GS-X MK2. That doesn’t take away from the DA1’s perceived value. My reference system is 5 times the cost.

DA1 with Power Station vs XIAudio Stack

The sound of the DA1 has been described in detail throughout this review. Hopefully by now you have a pretty good understanding of what it sounds like and how it performs. With that said, I’ll spend most of this segment talking about the differences I hear with the XIAudio stack versus the DA1 with Power Station. The LCD-5 will still be used as my headphone of choice because of its neutrality.

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My secondary setup consists of an iFi Micro iUSB3.0 feeding a Singxer SU-6. I’m using a Snake River Audio Boomslang AES/EBU digital cable from the SU-6 into the XiAudio Sagra DAC. Out of the Sagra DAC into the Schiit Loki, I am using Kimber Kable Hero RCA cables. From the Loki to the Formula S/Powerman I’m also using Kimber Kable Hero RCA’s.

The Sagra DAC has a WyWires Digital Juice II Silver Series power cord. The Powerman has the JPS Labs PAC Lite power cord. This setup is uniquely tweaked just like my reference setup. The goal here is to pit the sound of the DA1 with Power Station against my XIAudio stack which cost several thousands more on its own without the aftermarket cabling, power cords and SU-6.

Right off the bat, music through the LCD-5 sounds fuller, more weighted, richer. The LCD-5 sounds more balanced and not nearly as mid-centric as they do on the DA1. The transparency levels of the LCD-5 are really demonstrated here. It clearly highlights the tuning differences of the Sagra R2R DAC and AK4499 DAC chips used in the DA1. With the Sagra as the DAC there is a greater sense of musicality, PRAT, and emotion without any loss of detail or clarity.

On the XIAudio stack, bass hits hard and deep. The LCD-5’s bass tuning is really accentuated on this setup. Bass has terrific impact, slam and is very cohesive with excellent control.

The midrange sounds sweet and natural. Vocals and musical instruments always sound harmonious and full. The treble is delicate and detailed with excellent with no signs of roll off. The complete XIAudio stack is a solid piece of kit. Music is never presented thinly, sharp or dry.

Going back to the DA1 and LCD-5 you miss a bit of body and fullness to the sound. There is also a slight drop off in bass quality and presence compared to my XIAudio stack. Other sonic attributes are there, and they somewhat resemble each other. I can’t say I’m too surprised by this, both units seem to benefit greatly from the additional power supply. They only differ in sound by the tuning of the base units, some of which I just highlight. The great thing about the DA1 it is displays a lot of the same sound characteristics as the XIAudio stack for a lot cheaper price.

CONCLUSION

The DA1 represents a great bargain in headphone world. Add the Power Station and you have an all-in-one that competes rather nicely with some very extravagant and costly gear. It does fall short in ultimate resolution, soundstaging, and bass delivery compared to upper tier separates. That shouldn’t stop those in the market for a minimalist setup from considering DA1. The DA1 has everything you need to start your head-fi journey.
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Reactcore
Reactcore
Any chance you compared this also with Qutest-Mscaler combo?
I'm thinking to upgrade to Dave too..
but not without considering other offerings
geoffalter11
geoffalter11
Amazing Review Tim. Extremely thorough, great photos, and amazing comparisons. I can definitely hear this amp through your review.
macdonjh
macdonjh
+1 Good stuff, too. I agree with both you and @szore, the Power Station is the real thing, and the bass is frustrating. I was also floored by the DA-1 PRaT.

project86

Headphoneus Supremus
Bleeding Edge DAC/headphone amplifier/pre-amp from Yulong Audio
Pros: Stunning SQ all around, impeccable build quality, very low demand for transport quality, tweakable sound thanks to selectable clock mode and digital filters, handy analog input, separate PSU upgrade allows for staggering the purchase
Cons: No local dealer network in many locations - which can feel pretty important on a purchase this large, no remote, would be nice to have RCA inputs along with the existing XLR option
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Honda's 1990 NSX, sold under their Acura banner in North America, made a huge splash in the automotive market. It took Honda's well known traits - reliability, practicality, and value - and applied them to an exotic sports car design the likes of which has not quite been replicated even thirty years later. True, it had an asking price roughly four times that of the best-selling Honda Accord, but in return offered legitimate supercar performance typically associated with more expensive (and temperamental) firms. For those who have never had the joy of experiencing an NSX, go dig up some reviews from the 1990s. You'll find near universal praise, full of terms like "flawless" and "breakthrough" and "pure driving pleasure". Despite these accolades, many well-to-do buyers still chose more "prestigious" machines from Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, and the like, paying significantly more money for inferior driving dynamics, poor ergonomics, and many more return trips to the dealership for maintenance and repair. The fact that NSX won nearly every shootout and direct comparison the car magazines could assemble, against these very same competitors, apparently wasn't enough for some buyers to overcome that prestige factor.

This is the situation that comes to mind when considering the new DA1, the most advanced DAC ever released from Yulong Audio. At $4100 for the complete package including a huge matching outboard power supply (which you definitely want), the DA1 is nearly four times the price of Yulong's typical top-line DACs (see DA10, DA9, etc). In return for that relatively large sum, it rewards listeners with superb performance, killer looks and build quality, a sublime interface that makes operation a breeze, and wide compatibility with a variety of formats and transports. It really is the DAC that many high-end customers have been searching for. And yet, as with the NSX, some won't be able to overcome their brand-name focus, and will instead seek out what they consider more "premium" gear. Still, the Yulong DA1 is here for those able to look past such things, and will reward them for their wise choice.

DA1 is what I consider a two part system. The actual DAC itself sells for $2499 and can be used as a stand-alone device, since it has an internal linear power supply. So let's start with that piece and build up to the whole system. I keep calling it a DAC but it's actually an integrated DAC, headphone amplifier, and preamp, as has been the brand tradition for a while now. While Yulong has released a few stand-alone headphone amplifiers, and the occasional DAC-only device, for the most part the firm is concerned with all-in-one functionality, and it seems like they intend to keep it that way in the future.

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Design
The DAC section of the DA1 is based around the top-range AKM AK4499EQ, a quad-channel 32-bit design which promises the lowest harmonic distortion of any DAC chip on the market. This is paired with Yulong's FPGA-based 4th generation JIC circuit (Jitter and Interface Control) and a pair of the excellent Accusilicon AS338 precision femto clocks. A fully discrete high-current output stage drives speakers or headphone amps with authority (up to 12V XLR or 6V RCA). Speaking of headphone amps, the integrated amp section is a fully balanced Class A design capable of up to 5W output, with volume adjustments handled by Yulong's digitally-controlled analog solution featuring 99 steps of adjustment. Headphone outputs come in traditional 1/4", balanced 4-pin XLR, and the relatively new 4.4mm balanced formats - a little something for everyone.

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Informed readers will be aware of the recent devastating fire which destroyed AKM's facility thus causing a chip shortage and forcing many audio designers to refresh their devices. Yulong happened to be sitting on a fairly large number of AK4499EQ chips prior to that incident, and is therefore able to continue offering the DA1 for the foreseeable future. An insider tells me AKM expects to have at least some of their chips back in production by mid to late 2022, so we'll see how that impacts things.

Back to the DA1 - Yulong has always been very up front and transparent about design and components. See their product page for diagrams and details. My biggest takeaway is that the DA1 takes their already excellent DA10 to its logical conclusion, with a similar basic structure but more refined and fleshed out due to a significant increase in chassis space and budget.

As such, I refer readers to my DA10 evaluation from 2019. It covers the basics which remain in use here - the efficient user interface and control scheme, the selectable filters, the high level of compatibility with smartphones/tablets for transport duty, the various modes of operation (full-scale DAC only, pre-amp mode), DSD512/PCM768KHz compatibility, etc. All of this remains in place, so I won't rehash everything here.

Instead, I'll focus on the areas of improvement, some of which are minor and some pretty drastic.
  • The DA1 has a pair of XLR inputs which primarily allows for easy turntable or SACD player integration. This input could also be used for pairing a different DAC with the internal DA1 headamp. I find that to be an unlikely scenario outside of review/comparison purposes, but you never know - perhaps someone wants the option to get a contrasting sound once in a while, such as a syrupy NOS/tube DAC. In that case, the XLR inputs make it easy to integrate.
  • Yulong's 4th generation FPGA-based JIC process is even more effective at extracting spectacular sound from lackluster sources. Users are now free to choose their transport based on aspects like UI, size, and price, rather than merely sound quality. USB, AES, Toslink - it really doesn't matter. I mainly used the excellent Stack Audio Link II via USB, just because that's been my transport of choice lately, but I got similarly enjoyable results from various laptops, phones, and tablets. This is a pretty amazing achievement.
  • Build quality is even higher than the DA10, which was already very, very well done. The DA1 could easily pass for a very expensive piece of European kit if we didn't know better. I definitely see shades of Lindemann's 800-series models, each of which had 5-figure price tags if I recall correctly.
  • While DA10 had several "sound mode" options which were essentially very modest premade EQ curves (hardly noticeable for the most part), DA1 instead offers a choice between clocking modes - Clock 1 essentially forces lower oversampling, whilst Clock 2 conforms to the default AKM recommendation for the AK4499. Switching between them makes a more substantial difference than the old "sound mode" options (though still not drastic), giving users their choice of unique sonic presentations. Both are good, and in some cases I prefer one flavor over the other pretty strongly (depending on system matching), so I really appreciate having both options.
  • The addition of the 4.4mm balanced headphone output is also quite welcome. This option is present on the newer/more affordable Aquila II but absent on the DA10, so I'm glad to see it here. The DA1 sounds phenomenal with IEMs so as much as I am invested in multiple high-end IEM cables terminating in 4-pin XLR, the 4.4mm connection just makes more sense.
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Complaints? My main gripe is that I would have liked to see a remote control option finally appear. I don't believe Yulong has ever done a remote before, which perhaps makes sense for the more affordable or compact models. But the DA1 has enough inputs, and enough physical space, to where it seems justified in my opinion. Since the volume is a digitally-controlled analog solution, it wouldn't even require a motorized pot, so I can't see a good reason not to add that feature. I also wouldn't mind seeing a pair of analog RCA inputs to augment the existing XLR option. That might make things a bit more complex, but would come in handy for a lot of turntable users. Yulong does suggest we use RCA to XLR adapters if needed, which I suppose is a reasonable solution. Lastly, an I2S (over HDMI) connection might be nice, although with the JIC feature making every input sound amazing, perhaps it isn't necessary after all.

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Listening - Stand-Alone Mode
Comparing the DA1 (stand-alone, using the built-in power supply) directly to the DA10 seemed like a good way to establish a baseline, so that's exactly what I did. I have always loved the relatively compact form-factor of the DA10, so the DA1 would have to offer something worthwhile to justify the larger size and price tag. Thankfully the SQ does indeed scale accordingly.

Playing them both back to back, I hear increased resolution from the DA1. It's still got that beautifully smooth, "analog" tonality that we tend to hear from well-designed AKM-based devices, but DA1 feels more incisive. I hear deeper into the mix whether playing "serious" audiophile music (Coltrane, Holst, Alison Krauss) or just music I love regardless of recording quality (Bad Brains, Revocation, Aesop Rock). I hear more air, more openness, and a superior sense of layering over what was already a highly impressive presentation. This is evident whether using my speaker rig or a headphone setup - obviously better associated gear making it more easily discernible.

Using the 4-pin XLR output of both devices, the DA1 exhibits a greater sense of drive. A fairly simple load like my modified/balanced AKG K812 doesn't show a drastic improvement (though I still hear some benefits), but when using a more complex animal like the HD800 or LCD-4, the quality increase becomes more obvious. Richer tone colors, better midrange articulation, and silkier treble are the main benefits. The DA10 still sounds very grain-free until I switch to the larger device and notice the improvement. From there, switching back to the DA10 makes it all the more obvious - funny how that works, as I had zero complaints prior to hearing the superior DA1.

It's not just a matter of power or drive though, as I also hear significant gains when using quality in-ear monitors despite their high sensitivity. My favorite CIEMs - the 64 Audio A18t and AME Radioso - as well as various others from Noble, Jomo, and Ultimate Ears, all move up a notch when played through the DA1. Instrument separation is superior, and complex performances become easier to unravel. The level of resolution and clarity is really striking. I've said it before and I'll say it again: combining a killer all-in-one DAC/amp unit with a top-tier IEM feels almost like cheating. No bulky rack of components and corresponding cable mess, no headphone stands or massive imposing wood/metal cans, just a low key little system which performs at an extremely high level. It's a very satisfying way to listen, and the DA1 - while not quite as compact as some of its predecessors - is a perfect fit for this application.

I didn't spend any time on direct comparisons for the stand-alone DA1. I had already done those with Yulong's DA9 and DA10 models, and found them generally superior to most others in their price class (and often beyond). The same holds true with the DA1. Based on prior experience, I would confidently choose the basic DA1 over a Benchmark DAC 3 HGC, Bel Canto DAC 2.7, Chord Hugo II, and Luxman DA-250, all of which sit somewhere in the $2k-3k range. But that's not really my focus here so I'm going to skip to the most exciting aspect of this device.


Power Station
The Yulong DA1 Power Station ($1599) is a matching external linear power supply created specifically for the DA1 DAC. Its CNC milled chassis matches perfectly in size/design, allowing users to stack it or use it on a separate shelf in an audio rack, depending on their system layout. Yulong thoughtfully includes a very short umbilical cable for use when stacking (DAC on top please) along with a lengthier shielded umbilical for separate use. The Power Station sports a huge pair of toroidal transformers, each isolated in its own chamber for reduced noise, with the whole thing weighing in at around 19 pounds. Add the DAC portion and the combo exceeds 27 pounds, which is pretty beastly when you consider the 12.5 inch width rather than the typical "full-size" component width of around 17 inches. If we go by the old-school method of "heavier is better", the DA1 with Power Station is clearly a winner.

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Adding the Power Station brings a whole new level of refinement to the system. I hear better drive and authority, an even larger more holographic soundstage, superior bass depth, improved midrange texture, and a certain effortless feel which is truly intoxicating. At this point I'm comfortable using the DA1 with any headphone, including a Susvara, HE6, etc, without feeling like I need more power from an external headphone amp. And yet the ridiculously competent performance with high-end IEMs remains in place - in fact it gets an even blacker background which means superior contrast and dynamics.

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Yulong's marketing material calls the Power Station an "optional but significant upgrade" and I absolutely agree with that statement. I'd actually go a step beyond that and say most DA1 owners will want to add the Power Station when funds allow. It turns a class-leading $2500 device into a $4100 unit that can take on many challengers costing far more.

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I know it's common for reviewers to throw out that sort of statement without any real point of reference. Is it hyperbole, or are they actually familiar with twice-as-expensive devices which can't compete? If so, why not name them? They usually don't, but I will - here are a few specific examples of the DA1 with Power Station outperforming some highly-regarded (and expensive) gear from other brands.


Comparisons

SimAudio 430HA
($4500 as tested)
Regular readers may recall that I did not get along very well with this component when I reviewed it several years ago. I quite like SimAudio as a brand, and was excited to see they had branched out into the headphone world, but the resulting component just didn't do much for me. Which is odd, as I know several users who are quite satisfied with it. In any case, one publication I wrote for at the time actually rejected my article, saying I either needed to spin it in a more positive way or they would just refrain from publishing. That marked the beginning of the end of my contributions to that particular site.

In any case, I recently had a chance to revisit the 430HA and compare it directly to Yulong's flagship device. The comparison is valid since this particular 430HA came with the optional DAC card, making the price just a few hundred dollars more than the DA1 set.

Long story short, my feelings for the SimAudio haven't changed, but I have a slightly better understanding of the target audience they may have been shooting for. To my ears, and particularly when contrasted against the DA1, the 430HA sounds soft, distant, and borderline reticent when it comes to transient attacks. It's certainly a smooth presentation that doesn't offend, but also fails to excite me in the least. The DA1 duo is more resolving, incisive, faster, far more open and accurate in terms of imaging, and has a beautiful midrange sweetness which engages in ways the SimAudio machine can't match. I even tried levelling the playing field by using a lopsided transport configuration - high-end Euphony Summus music server for the SimAudio versus an older LG G7 smartphone for the Yulong - and still could not find a single area where the 430HA took the win.

Once again I feel the DAC add-on in the 430HA is surprisingly good, and the pre-amp capabilities are top notch. But the headphone amp itself seems tailored for an audience of speaker loving, non-headphone-users, and is voiced to deliberately take away any of the strengths of headphone listening in favor of something that (somewhat) approximates the speaker experience. Meanwhile the DA1 is, to my ears, very clearly the superior device.


Mytek Manhattan II ($7650 as tested)
The Manhattan II used for direct comparison was augmented with the optional network card, causing the price to approach double that of the Yulong DA1 with Power Station. Obviously the network capability is an unfair comparison, as Yulong's device lacks such a feature. Then again, with their JIC system working so well, the Yulong can be paired with practically any transport (even very inexpensive devices) and still give outstanding performance.

After spending much time going back to back, I'd say Mytek's headamp stage is by far overshadowed by the integrated Yulong amplifier. Using the optional balanced headphone adapter brings out the best Mytek can muster, but it's still no match for the DA1. In isolation it sounds reasonably capable though somewhat flat and bright, pairing best with warm/dark headphones such as my vintage Audeze LCD-2 or the Ultimate Ears Reference Remastered. Switching to the Yulong opens up a whole new world of tonal richness, authority, and separation. Moving back to Mytek again feels threadbare, almost hollow in comparison, and to my ears does not satisfy considering the cost of the device.

While Mytek's headphone output is the weakest link, the DAC section shares some of the same issues, though to a lesser extent. There are times when the presentation works pretty well - particularly the spotlit top-end, airy and ethereal, throwing rapid-fire details without losing the plot. But again the switch to Yulong reveals more midrange body and sweetness, and significantly more low-end texture without becoming overbearing. Alto and tenor sax, violin and viola, the differences in timbre present themselves more readily.

If used as a stand-alone DAC only, I could probably assemble a system where the Manhattan II is the better fit - but only under very specific circumstances. I'd mostly be using the somewhat lean tonality to offset colorations from other gear in the chain. Meanwhile, for the vast majority of hypothetical systems out there, Yulong's DA1 with Power Station is the superior choice, and for significantly less money.

Now that I write this, I realize that switching the "Clock 2" mode on the DA1 may actually work better in those limited situations where Mytek had excelled. I forgot to do so during my direct comparisons, but did make that change at other points in my evaluation, and am pretty confident in describing the result. Clock 1 works with less oversampling, and Clock 2 uses the default AKM operating mode. The result is a tonal shift where the focus is more on detail and speed, for a lighter, more airy presentation. As much as I love the analog feel of Clock 1, Clock 2 does have its uses from time to time. Also note that Yulong gives us a choice of 3 digital filters: Sharp, Slow, and Short, all of which give extremely subtle contributions to the overall sonic flavor. These make about the same difference as they did in the DA9 and DA10 (which is to say pretty minimal) yet are still worth messing with in combination with the Clock selection.

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Chord Hugo TT2 ($5495)
I've been struggling to make sense of the "Chord sound" for ages. I had their DAC64 back in the early 2000's and found it very interesting, somewhat unique, and utterly confusing. That device had beautiful detail, somewhat laid back in a nicely balanced way, accompanied by a certain overcooked warmth that could be fun or obnoxious depending on the situation. I really enjoyed it... except for when I didn't. This confusion was not alleviated with the launch of Chord's original Hugo, which I picked up at launch and found similarly tricky. On the one hand, the resolution felt at times off the charts, bringing to mind megabuck devices from Esoteric and dCS. The overdone low-end was no longer an issue, or at least not in the same way - now it felt a bit lightweight and fleeting, which is arguably a better problem to have. My key gripe, leaving aside the ergonomic and reliability issues on those early units, was the impression of hyper-focused "in-your-face" tonality, lacking weight and thickness, sounding at times like a cardboard cutout. I eventually concluded Hugo was an interesting yet flawed product that would probably lead to better things down the road.

One such better thing is the Chord Hugo TT2, the most recent evolution of the desktop-oriented Hugo TT. It's not perfect by any means, yet manages to fix or minimize many of my complaints about the Hugo and Hugo2 devices. I can certainly see (and hear) why some people swear by it. Still, at over $5k and with a headphone output that I find generally underwhelming, I don't often find myself recommending it over the many alternatives available in that price range.

Upon direct comparison with the Yulong DA1 combo, TT2 sounds more lit-up, speedy, and crisp. The low-end response is actually quite nice, hitting a sweet spot between the DAC64 and original Hugo's colorations. The TT2 sound is more energetic, and perhaps more neutral or "factual" than the Yulong, which sounds comparatively editorialized - but in a very pleasing way. DA1 has a bit of midrange sweetness that really brings out the character of vocals. It imparts a more defined sense of body to instruments, letting us hear not just the strings but also the wooden body of a cello or viola. Brass instruments sound larger, drums have more heft and a sense of reverberation going beyond just the heads alone. Overall there's a sense of dynamic punch present with the Yulong DAC that Chord's device can't match, making each unit appeal to the preferences of different users.

Note that the above mainly applies when using each device as a DAC with external amplification - I used my Niimbus Audio US4+ to flesh out these differences. When used as all-in-one DAC/headphone amp devices, the Yulong DA1 pulls ahead by a considerable margin. Here I find the TT2 severely lacking, much like the Mytek - both make clean, detailed sound suitable for "monitoring" in the most sterile way possible. But neither is the least bit engaging, nor does either remind me of what actual live music really sounds like. While I could see certain people choosing TT2 over DA1 for DAC duty, I can't fathom how anyone would prefer Chord's headphone output.

Here again, I neglected to try Yulong's Clock 2 mode until after the comparison unit had departed. And once again I feel it might win back some users who perhaps gravitate towards the Chord type of sound. When taking that into consideration, along with the vastly superior headphone section, significantly lower pricing, drastically lower transport requirements, and more straight forward ergonomics, I think the Yulong DA1 with Power Station is the clear winner.

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Meitner MA3 ($9500)
I've always been a fan of EMM Labs gear, though I find the pricing somewhat absurd. But as far as "traditional Hi-Fi" audio firms go, EMM Labs is legit. Their spinoff Meitner Audio brings most of the sound quality in somewhat less expensive form - though still not affordable by any means.

The Meitner MA3 just launched earlier this year and is a fantastic sounding DAC with integrated Roon functionality. For just under $10k, we get a pure DAC with excellent volume control but no analog inputs. Meitner encourages direct-to-amplifier connection for speaker rigs, but those with analog sources are out of luck. Again, this is not what I'd consider a high value product, but the build quality, SQ, and pedigree do their best to help justify the cost.

I doubt many have heard the MA3 due to it being so new, so I'll just sum it up by calling it a generally neutral, well-balanced, unobjectionable DAC, with superb resolution that doesn't offend. That makes it seem pretty bland but trust me, the MA3 is anything but. Despite not having an easily describable sonic flavor, the MA3 performs up there with some of the best DACs I've heard. In fact it reminds me very much of my reference, the Resonessence Labs Mirus Pro Signature, stopping just short of matching that device in overall performance.

Yulong's DA1 with Power Station gives the MA3 a tough battle. I hear the Meitner as having a slight advantage in top-end extension, whilst the Yulong wins down low in the sub-bass region. Both have extremely well articulated soundstaging, with the DA1 being a touch larger and the MA3 feeling more precise in terms of imaging. Dynamics? Speed? Transient impact and decay? Both machines are neck in neck with no clear winner making itself known.

The biggest difference seems to be the Yulong again having just a bit more warmth and body in the midrange. There's a sweetness there which I typically find welcome, though it isn't all that obvious unless I listen back to back. When not streaming via the integrated network card, the MA3 does require a suitably high-end transport or else it falls behind, whilst the DA1 keeps on singing without concern for input format or quality. MA3 also has no headphone capabilities and no analog inputs, which to me tips the scales in Yulong's favor in terms of value and usability. Both devices are excellent and I could happily live with either, but the key takeaway here is that Yulong's DA1 remains very competitive even in highly-regarded company like this.

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Violectric V590 ($4100)
The V590 is my reigning champion when it comes to one-box headphone amp/DAC/preamp devices. It sells for the same price as a DA1 with Power Station, so it seems like a logical comparison - and I happen to know that Yulong greatly respects Violectric and uses their gear in his own reference rig for inspiration.

Unfortunately, the full comparison doesn't really work. My V590 is the original model built around dual-mono AKM DAC chips, which are now unobtainable due to that previously mentioned factory fire. Violectric used up all existing stock, so like many other firms was forced to redesign their entire digital section. The new version sports an ESS chip and I have no idea how it performs - likely quite well, since Violectric knows what they are doing, but any DAC comparison done with my V590 is already irrelevant.

As far as the headphone amps go, the V590 is a touch bolder and more dynamic, with a slight focus on the lower regions though not necessarily what I'd call an actual boost per se. Yulong's device meanwhile gives preference to those midrange tones, drawing added attention to vocal shading while again not sounding unbalanced in the least. In both cases the shift in focus is very minor, an area of expertise that each respective amp is just more natural at accomplishing even if neither ultimately deviates far from neutrality in general terms. In many situations I would have trouble choosing one over the other.

The V590 does take a fairly clear lead when dealing with the worst headphone loads out there - Susvara and HE6 and the like. While DA1 remains very capable in these scenarios, it does take a back seat to the V590 which feels more effortless and full-bodied. Meanwhile the DA1 gets a victory with IEMs, giving an inkier background and thus more dynamic contrast. But again, neither device is lacking outside of a direct comparison.

I'm actually surprised at how close the DA1 comes to the V590 in terms of amplification. The Power Station really helps bridge the gap, with the base DA1 configuration falling significantly behind. In the end, each model performs in line with its design criteria - Yulong's device is primarily billed as a DAC which happens to include a killer headphone amp and pre-amp capabilities. Violectric starts with the headphone amp/pre-amp (based on an existing stand-alone product) and adds a DAC to round out the feature set. Again, not going into specifics on the DAC comparison other than to say I'm pretty confident DA1 takes the win in some key areas.

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Conclusion
Like the original Acura NSX, Yulong's DA1 is superbly balanced, undeniably attractive, and - while certainly not cheap - ends up being a great value in relative terms. And yet, reading about either of them is not sufficient. They really need to be experienced to be understood. Unfortunately, as with the NSX, not enough people will get that chance.

If the opportunity ever presents itself, I highly recommend taking the Yulong DA1 for a spin, particularly with the optional Power Station. You'll be glad you did.
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project86
project86
I was thinking the same at first. But the fact that it makes all inputs sound pretty much equal, and doesn't care about transport quality, means it doesn't matter much... Unlike most other devices where I2S is often the best path to SQ.
L
LeMoviedave
And let's be honest, using the AES input looks the most badass anyway.
geoffalter11
geoffalter11
thanks for your review. I am demoing the DA1 right now with mixed results. I like it as an AIO, but find my reference set up with my Cembalo Labs Spring 1 or Icon Audio HP8 Signature to be better. However, when I switch to the PUREDAC into one of those amps I get something completely different. The DAC is wonderful. I really appreciate your review. It helped me to come up with different ways to configure to take advantage of different situations. The amp is definitely not what I was expecting, but has a nice tuning.
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