A "Dynamic" DAC? (and comparisons using Bel Canto DAC 1)
Jan 14, 2005 at 2:51 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 13

the terabyte

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I was unsure which source forum to post this in, but hopefully someone can help me out. I just picked up an M-Audio Transit and Bel Canto DAC 1 in an attempt to upgrade my digital source while I can't use my analog setup. Unfortunately, I can't stand the sound from the Bel Canto. I honestly had no idea that the source would make such a huge difference.

I bought the Bel Canto based on several reviews that noted it for it's smoother, more laid back sound, as I sometimes felt that the K1000s were just a little too edgy in the treble. Listening to it now, I can't see how it could be at all characterized as "tuby" in sound. the sound is actually much too strident most of the time to me, it seems to lack a fullness. In its defense, the sound is amazingly smooth and detailed, almost more detail than I can handle when paired with the K1000s. Unfortunately all this smoothness and detail was wasted, as the dynamics were terrible making things "blur" together and never giving me that "toe-tapping" experience that I've come to love from my setup.

Comparing it to the analog out on the M-Audio Transit, I thought the transit was much more dynamic, but similarly "light." It was rather detailed, but didn't have the same smoothness.

What disturbs me is that all the above is written with a $100 PC Card sound card as the reference. In my system, and to my ears the Echo Indigo handily bested both the above mentioned units in musical enjoyment (which is what I'm here for, of course). It wasn't as detailed or smooth as either the Transit or Bel Canto, but had an extremely satisfying fullness that really mates well with the K1000s. It also had dynamics that were simply astounding.

So this is my situation. I know what kind of sound I like, but I'd like more of it. The Indigo has an AKM 43xx DAC in it and the Transit has a 45xx I believe, while the Bel Canto has a Burr-Brown chip that I believe is known for its smoothness over dynamics but I could be mistaken. What I would like is a DAC with the same incredible dynamics and fullness of the Indigo but the detail and smoothness of the Bel Canto (perhaps another AKM-based unit?). And it has to be around the $600 price point, new or used. It would need to have optical input (unless coax from a USB device wouldn't be too noisy) or native USB as this is for use with a laptop.
 
Jan 14, 2005 at 1:17 PM Post #2 of 13

1UP

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How exactly are you running the K1000s from the Bel Canto? I thought they only output a pair of analogue line-level outputs and you need to drive K1000s from a power amp's speaker outputs, no?
 
Jan 15, 2005 at 4:11 AM Post #4 of 13

sclemmons

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Are you sure this is a Bel Canto DAC1 and not a DAC2? The DAC1 has a polarity switch on the back. Did you switch the polarity and could you hear the difference?

I had a DAC1 and was crazy about it. Loved the polarity switch. Actually sent it back to Bel Canto in Minneapolis and had it upgraded to 1.5 and sold it in favor of my Naim. I bet the difference between the DAC1.5 and the DAC2 is pretty darn subtle, digital being what it is.

But with the links in your set up everything matters. Power cord can affect dynamics. Stock cord? Digital cable can affect dynamics. Are you using coax, toslink or what? Have you looked at interconnect?

Have you tried using the DAC1 out of your (or somebody's) DVD player with that as a CD source? How does that sound?

I would not write off the DAC1. Have you spoken to Bel Canto about your issue? They are just like us, except they know what's up with their stuff, and how it should sound. And the DAC is the cheapest thing they make, so I bet all the guys in the office have one, and probably use it off their computer. And they can tell you the difference between the DAC1 and the current model.

Keep the faith. Do the work. You have an interface problem, not a DAC problem. That is my bet. I imagine that the Bel Canto will take a look at your dac for you if you think it is faulty. Might cost you a couple of bucks, but I loved mine and yours is worth getting set up right.
 
Jan 15, 2005 at 6:50 PM Post #5 of 13

Jon L

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Quote:

Originally Posted by the terabyte

So this is my situation. I know what kind of sound I like, but I'd like more of it. The Indigo has an AKM 43xx DAC in it and the Transit has a 45xx I believe, while the Bel Canto has a Burr-Brown chip that I believe is known for its smoothness over dynamics but I could be mistaken. What I would like is a DAC with the same incredible dynamics and fullness of the Indigo but the detail and smoothness of the Bel Canto (perhaps another AKM-based unit?). And it has to be around the $600 price point, new or used. It would need to have optical input (unless coax from a USB device wouldn't be too noisy) or native USB as this is for use with a laptop.



Most of the difference in "fullness" and "dynamics" really has to do power supply, quality of coupling caps, digital path engineering, etc, NOT particularly type of DAC chip being used. All of the DAC chips you mention can be made to sound anemic or crushingly dynamic.

The stock analogue out of Transit really is not usable for any serious listening. It's AC-coupled, uses crap coupling caps, crap power supply, cheap op-amps. It's toslink out is also not optimal, so if you're feeding Bel Canto with Transit's toslink, well that's not going to be optimal for Bel Canto.

Having said that, even a heavily-modded Transit has a "light" flavor if compared to something like my Lynx Two card, which has crushing dynamics and all the weight in the world from top to bottom. But it's not $100.

A modded transit with coax digital out mod feeding a good DAC with heavy-duty power supply (such as modded Perpetual P3 AC) also has all the weight and dynamics you could ever want.
 
Jan 15, 2005 at 9:14 PM Post #6 of 13

the terabyte

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Quote:

Originally Posted by sclemmons
Are you sure this is a Bel Canto DAC1 and not a DAC2? The DAC1 has a polarity switch on the back. Did you switch the polarity and could you hear the difference?


Yes, I have tried inverting it back and forth and could only hear a difference immidiately when it switched, after a bit of listening I didn't notice any change in flavor.

Quote:

I had a DAC1 and was crazy about it. Loved the polarity switch. Actually sent it back to Bel Canto in Minneapolis and had it upgraded to 1.5 and sold it in favor of my Naim. I bet the difference between the DAC1.5 and the DAC2 is pretty darn subtle, digital being what it is.


This unit has upgrade power capacitors in its powersupply, but not the Bel Canto upgraded PS (1.1 is I assume what you're speaking of). I didn't hear it before the upgrade so I don't know how things were affected.

Quote:

But with the links in your set up everything matters. Power cord can affect dynamics. Stock cord? Digital cable can affect dynamics. Are you using coax, toslink or what? Have you looked at interconnect?

Have you tried using the DAC1 out of your (or somebody's) DVD player with that as a CD source? How does that sound?


I'm using toslink as it has less measured jitter and won't transfer electrical noise from the dirty USB. The digital IC is nothing special, but I can't believe it would make this much of a difference. I'll try it with coax out from a CD player in a bit. Analog ICs are of decent quality and help a bit with the sound as compared to generic ones (of course).

Quote:

I would not write off the DAC1. Have you spoken to Bel Canto about your issue? They are just like us, except they know what's up with their stuff, and how it should sound. And the DAC is the cheapest thing they make, so I bet all the guys in the office have one, and probably use it off their computer. And they can tell you the difference between the DAC1 and the current model.


I really do want to like it, seeing as it's the right size, has the interface I need, and in theory is supposed to have the kind of sound I want. I thought about contacting Bel Canto but wondered whether or not I'd get the straight story from them regarding products they make. I might as well give it a shot.

Quote:

Keep the faith. Do the work. You have an interface problem, not a DAC problem. That is my bet. I imagine that the Bel Canto will take a look at your dac for you if you think it is faulty. Might cost you a couple of bucks, but I loved mine and yours is worth getting set up right.


Thanks for the thorough reply, I'll look into trying it with SPDIF like you suggested and see.
 
Jan 15, 2005 at 9:19 PM Post #7 of 13

the terabyte

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Jon L
Most of the difference in "fullness" and "dynamics" really has to do power supply, quality of coupling caps, digital path engineering, etc, NOT particularly type of DAC chip being used. All of the DAC chips you mention can be made to sound anemic or crushingly dynamic.

The stock analogue out of Transit really is not usable for any serious listening. It's AC-coupled, uses crap coupling caps, crap power supply, cheap op-amps. It's toslink out is also not optimal, so if you're feeding Bel Canto with Transit's toslink, well that's not going to be optimal for Bel Canto.

Having said that, even a heavily-modded Transit has a "light" flavor if compared to something like my Lynx Two card, which has crushing dynamics and all the weight in the world from top to bottom. But it's not $100.

A modded transit with coax digital out mod feeding a good DAC with heavy-duty power supply (such as modded Perpetual P3 AC) also has all the weight and dynamics you could ever want.



Yes, I could imagine the PS being a big issue, which is even more puzzling in light of the fact that this unit supposedly has upgraded powersupply caps. As for the Transit, at this point I'm still pretty skeptical about digital transports causing this type of "lightness," but I will certainly try it with something else. The analog out on the transit is decidedly lightweight, though, I agree.
 
Jan 15, 2005 at 11:33 PM Post #8 of 13

the terabyte

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ok, I've been comparing the digital out (toslink) from the Transit to that of a DVD player and it sounds like there may be a slight difference in the highest treble (as in the DVD player doesn't sound as rough in that area), which makes it so I can finally sit through more poorly recorded albums (but still not enjoy them). Other than that, the weight and slam is still missing compared to the Echo Indigo. With the Indigo, I can often feel the impact of drums on my ears/the sides of my face (no, I don't listen particularly loudly, this is even at moderate volumes), but this is not the case with the Bel Canto no matter what transport I connect it to.
 
Jan 16, 2005 at 12:17 AM Post #9 of 13

maarek99

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Quote:

Originally Posted by the terabyte
This unit has upgrade power capacitors in its powersupply, but not the Bel Canto upgraded PS


This may be the problem. Then again, it might not. Power does make a big difference though.
 
Jan 16, 2005 at 1:54 AM Post #10 of 13

AC1

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Had a Bel Canto 1.1 (ie a 1 with upgraded PS section), and it is the most soft sounding (in both dynamics and leading edge) DAC I have experienced though is smooth to listen to. If you want help in dynamics you will have to get away from the Bel Canto.
A lot of things can make a difference in dynamics for digital which include the transport and type of conncection you use. However with the Bel Canto having such limitation on dynamics, changing other things will not have a great affect on it or get you to where you want it to go.
 
Jan 16, 2005 at 4:28 AM Post #11 of 13

the terabyte

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Quote:

Originally Posted by AC1
Had a Bel Canto 1.1 (ie a 1 with upgraded PS section), and it is the most soft sounding (in both dynamics and leading edge) DAC I have experienced though is smooth to listen to. If you want help in dynamics you will have to get away from the Bel Canto.
A lot of things can make a difference in dynamics for digital which include the transport and type of conncection you use. However with the Bel Canto having such limitation on dynamics, changing other things will not have a great affect on it or get you to where you want it to go.



well i'm glad i'm not the only one, then. so now the question would be which dacs are noted for their dynamics, but also tend towards the warm side of things?
 
Jan 16, 2005 at 4:47 AM Post #12 of 13

Zoide

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Um... so basically you guys are saying the Bel Canto has poor dynamics? I'm about to seal a deal on a used DAC2. I'm hoping that the DAC2 is not known for poor dynamics and that it's only for the DAC1 or 1.1?
 
Jan 16, 2005 at 5:29 AM Post #13 of 13

the terabyte

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Quote:

Originally Posted by Zoide
Um... so basically you guys are saying the Bel Canto has poor dynamics? I'm about to seal a deal on a used DAC2. I'm hoping that the DAC2 is not known for poor dynamics and that it's only for the DAC1 or 1.1?


everything i've said is just in regards to the original DAC 1.0 with upgraded PS caps, so don't worry. hopefully someone who has a 2.0 can chime in regarding the dynamics on their unit. please do post impressions if/when you get it, as if it improves on the 1.0 in the area of dynamics it would be one of my top choices.
 

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