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Discussion in 'High-end Audio Forum' started by magiccabbage, May 14, 2015.
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  1. simorag
    Re: Using an external headphone amp with the DAVE and Abyss Phi


    When I got the DAVE, I was a bit concerned about its capability to drive my Abyss Phi headphones. At the time, I had the Audio GD NOS11 DAC/amp, which has a very powerful amplifier section (about 8W at 50Ohm), so I thought that if I was not satisfied with the DAVE amp I still could use the NOS11.

    I was very happy when I noticed that the DAVE direct could make the Abyss sing as easily as the NOS11 amp, with much better transparency and speed.

    I tried some explosive tracks, such as the Tchaikovsky Ouverture 1812 (those cannons!) or the Grieg’s funeral march for Rikard Nordraak (very violent tympani attack at about 1:00 on the Reference Recordings version), and some organ music for the lowest registers, and the DAVE coped well to the much more powerful NOS11 amp in terms of impact and extension, while meeting my usual loudness demands.

    Based on this, I decided do sell the NOS11 and go straight from DAVE to the Abyss for the next future.

    That audiophile itch ...

    I am enjoying the DAVE + Abyss combo very much since several months now, and I could very happily have lived with it as my endgame set-up.

    But (of course, there was a “but” coming), occasionally I was feeling that I was not getting the very last drop of juice out of my music. I like to listen to classical – actually that’s most of my listening – and other acoustic music to realistic loudness levels (i.e. those I experience at the live event), and, especially when the recording level is low (which happens often on classical recordings to allow headroom for 20-25dB dynamic range) I was a bit let down by some lack of dynamics and a slight flatness of presentation.

    It was not only a matter of SPL, but also / mostly about the visceral impact of abrupt dynamic changes.

    Also, bass extension is extremely good with Abyss + DAVE, but the very last octave (40-20Hz) was a tiny bit rolled off in some cases and less physically involving compared to live feeling, while still being the best I heard from a headphone system.

    Scratching that itch is expensive ...

    I was not sure this was due to the amp, or to the Abyss or to my hearing sensitivity or tastes, but anyway I decided to try again an external amp with the DAVE, and this time I decided to go with the most synergistic approach I could figure out (and afford) by choosing the Eleven XI Audio Formula S amp + Powerman external power supply, i.e. a combo which was allegedly developed to fully exploit the AB 1266 headphone potential.

    During my money-back return period, I half hoped that the XI Audio gear did not make a significant difference to save my pennies for something else (non-audio related), but ... well, if you’re a member of the (audiophile) “lunatic fringe” (cit.) you already know how this ended up :)


    DAVE direct vs. Formula S + Powerman

    I started playing high-dynamics classical music, namely the tracks mentioned above, plus some symphonies from Beethoven and Mahler, and a few romantic piano sonatas with challenging dynamics transients.

    Not only both visceral impact of extreme dynamics transient and sub-bass response improved, but the overall sound presentation acquired more breadth, spaciousness and soundstage size.

    While no specific coloration has been added, the whole musical spectrum appears slightly warmer / darker and richer of harmonics (especially at medium-to-high volume), musically complex passages played at lifelike levels (think orchestral fortissimos) keep openness, composure, readability and texture, instead of becoming slightly congested / compressed.

    Organ tracks become literally skull rattling, and I can feel the air displacement from the lower frequencies or from sharp transients (double bass attack) coming from the Abyss drivers at full.

    Switching to more relaxed and quieter genres like baroque or small jazz combos, or acoustic / vocal tracks changes the scenario to a much more mixed feeling.

    With the Formula S I get this slightly thicker and more open presentation, and the tonality of the woods is a bit sweeter (less strident) and more fleshed out, but the sheer transparency, depth of field and detail retrieval of the direct DAVE drive is unmatched.

    Room reverberations, ambience effects, minute background noises, very delicate details like the breathing of a singer or even he/she moving or licking his/her lips are better captured by the DAVE and the shivers I get from these cues are just more intense.

    The pristine transparency you get from DAVE directly is somewhat veiled with the Formula S, but to notice this I had to do repeated A/B tests on specific tracks, and I still would rate the DAVE + Formula S as utterly transparent as a combo.

    Double bass attack, physical impact and decay, deeply descending scales of electric bass, drums solos are just amazing with the Formula S in the chain.

    Classic rock (Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, Police, ...) is also more satisfying via the amp thanks to its slightly more forgiving nature, and the additional fleshy tonality and bass oomph, and so are the occasional pop / EDM tracks I tried (U2, Depeche Mode, Daft Punk, ...) especially when played LOUD.

    So, was adding that amp to the Abyss worth?

    There is no 2-letter answer to answer to this question, I am afraid.

    To me, adding an external amp to the DAVE when driving the Abyss Phi, is most certainly not “necessary” and I can see myself coming back to DAVE alone depending on mood, listening volume, music type.

    That said, for some music genres like large symphonic works, tumultuous piano pieces and generally explosive dynamic compositions / passages, and in certain areas of the spectrum (e.g. the deepest bass frequency) the uplift of my music enjoyment from the Formula S is really significant.

    Since I am intoxicated by the physical, emotional and intellectual (?) experience my Abyss headphones are able to provide, I have decided to do what I can in order to make them perform at best in every possible musical context, so I am happy to complement the DAVE with the XI Audio gear.

    Of course, I feel I am well into the diminishing return here, and you may get much better value for (this kind of) money by upgrading other components of your rig - or spending in a nice vacation in Hawaii, or buying CDs or going to live concerts for the next few years, for that matter.

    Just as a final word of caution, I have found that you may also make the DAVE sound definitely worse by adding an amp, so not any powerful and / or well-reviewed amp is going to be worth, and synergy and subjective taste are key factors, as usual.

    Sorry for the lengthy post, hope it is helpful for somebody ... also, I would be very interested in others' experience when pairing the DAVE with an external amp to drive demanding HP’s!
    Arcabonne, Blitzula, Mikey99 and 16 others like this.
  2. EndGameSearch
    Great post! This is the kind of post I enjoy the most. I'm working my way through a similar process to find the right balance of benefit vs potential loss in transparency to power Susvara. I'll receive a Wells Milo Reference amp tomorrow as a potential stepping stone to Wells Headtrip, but your amp is among the potential contenders I've been looking at. There was a recent review on Audiobacon that lines up with your impressions. As much as I love BluDave and all of the transparency it brings to the table, it is possible to add an amp that adds value to the overall equation. I'm finding I enjoy other qualities as much as transparency in the end and do not need to stay so narrowly focused.

  3. x RELIC x Contributor
    Fantastic post backed up with impressions and details. It’s refreshing to read a perspective in this manner and not just a one liner saying something is ‘better’.

    Well done!
  4. elviscaprice
    True, BUT,
    It could also be that the source initiated stream is the culprit and all that the op is doing is coloring the sound to make up for that deficiency. Thus that long time committed thread is explained away with a one liner. Which only begets the question, Why get caught up in creating a long exhausting post??

    Prediction, Hugo m-scaler will make a far bigger difference.
    Last edited: Jul 31, 2018
  5. jlbrach
    concerning the susvara an amp is an absolute must...the abyss is a subjective thing.....personally i have gone back to using an amp more often than not...i have gone through several amps looking for the best relatively affordable amp alternative....the eleven is definitely one of them although I have not heard it i have read good things about it.....this argument has gone on back and forth for years and will until chord introduces the long awaited transparent digital amps
  6. Jozurr
    Do you guys think the Mscaler+hugo2 will end up sounding better than just the DAVE?
  7. Hifi Boy
    Maybe I got something wrong, but isn't it now the case that even Mscaler+TT2 is better then Blu2+ Dave?

    I mean, Rob said that Mscaler doesn't need ferrites so it sounds better by default, and TT2 is supposed to have a more powerful output than Dave. This in turn also implies that even Mscaler+TT2 is better than Mscaler+ Dave.

    Now, does anyone care to point out what I forgot to include into this equation, because if this is true, I see no reason why anyone would buy Dave anymore?
  8. AndrewOld
    DAVE has a better DAC section than the TT2. The higher output of the TT2 is irrelevant for anyone driving a power amp or active speakers as it is way more than required to drive amplifiers of normal sensitivity into clipping.
  9. x RELIC x Contributor
    Well, the ferrites have been said to be a very small part of the icing on the cake and may have been overblown by quite a bit.

    As for the power from the TT2, unless using efficient speakers or one of a few very difficult to drive headphones then the extra power is not a concern. Rob has maintained that the DAVE is still the top of the pile when it comes to his DACs. I would surmise that for 99.99% of the time the Mscaler+DAVE would the ‘better’ choice.
  10. Triode User
    Seconded, Dave is still the best DAC. Full stop.

    TT2 is only better for some if they are willing to forego Dave's better transparency in order to get the extra power.
    AndrewOld likes this.
  11. Amberlamps
    You people are putting me off my purchase of TT2 and MScaler.

    Please stop, as I haven’t got another £1000 to buy Dave instead.
  12. x RELIC x Contributor
    If getting the combo of TT2+Mscaler I would think you wouldn’t be missing DAVE alone too much at all.
  13. Amberlamps
    I hope so, some threads/posts say Dave is still King, others that say TT2+MScaler will be the better setup.

    I just hope I have made the correct buying decision.

    When I see posts that say Dave is still the boss, I think I should of got that instead, ( If I am honest, my hearing would probably not hear the difference between both setups) But then I think, Dave is just 1k more, and have I made the right decision.

    Ahwell, time will tell.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 1, 2018
  14. AndrewOld
    The issue the the M Scaler brings to the party, both for the TT2 and the DAVE, is that it renders a good part of both of them redundant and unused. All the upsampling FPGA magic, all the inputs except BNC, become effectively redundant.

    Long term though, perhaps the M Scaler opens up the possibility of a better DAC than the DAVE without upsampling, that will only work with the M Scaler, in a TT2 box. Maybe.

    And btw does anyone know how the remote control will work? Do you need one remote control to change inputs on the M Scaler and another to change volume on the DAVE or TT2?
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2018
  15. x RELIC x Contributor
    The previous question was TT2+Mscaler vs DAVE+Mscaler. In that case the DAVE+Mscaler would still be boss. You asked DAVE alone vs TT2+Mscaler and for that comparison I would feel confident in your preorder.
    Amberlamps likes this.
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