Grant Fidelity Tube DAC-11
Mar 20, 2012 at 1:19 PM Thread Starter Post #1 of 44

Demerara

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NOTE: I realize I am posting this in a head-fi forum, though I am providing very limited information about the headphone output in the following review of the Tube DAC-11.  From the little listening I was able to do on headphones (decidedly budget Sennheiser HD203s at that), the sound characteristics I heard through loudspeakers was of a similar nature.
 
I have been using the Grant Fidelity Tube DAC-11 for about 4 weeks now, think I have a reasonable “first impression”, and wanted to share my enthusiasm for a very high value piece of audio gear.  The Tube DAC-11 currently checks in at $350 and I feel you certainly get tremendous value with this DAC.  The marketplace is not short of DACs in this price range but there is a fair share of very mediocre gear out there and a limited handful of ones that punch above their weight class, so to speak.  The Tube DAC-11 comfortably fits in the latter category, at least to my ears.
 
From the standpoint of comparison, a number of reasonably decent DACs do inhabit this price range but considering the nearly “do-all” capacity of the DAC-11, it definitely represents great value.  A very welcome feature is the tube output stage which allows plenty of “tube rolling” options to change the sound signature.  The included Chinese-sourced 6N11 is fairly good.
 
It would not be all that useful to repeat the detailed features and technical overview available on Grant Fidelity’s website, so I will just provide the link for those interested in that information:  http://shop.grantfidelity.com/Grant-Fidelity-TubeDAC-11-D-A-Converter.html.
 
I think most people choosing to read this review are more interested in my opinion of the sound from this DAC, not a rehash of technical details and the like.  It bears some notice that this is simply my opinion, one from a decidedly “amateur” audiophile, so take that for what it’s worth.  (As an amateur reviewer, please have some tolerance for lack of information or incorrect information, however unintentional.)  In short, I find the DAC-11 quite revelatory, not only in its ability to convey a very detailed, clean and crisp sound, but also revelatory in its ability to provide such a high sense of value.  I keep returning to this mantra because it is so surprising to me when I consider the level of performance relative to the quite affordable price.
 
The DAC-11 is a NOS design and will simply play whatever sample rate it is fed through its many inputs.   USB is capable of 24/96, while the optical and coaxial digital inputs support 24/192.  There are also 2 analog inputs which is great for convenience if other gear is to be hooked up and played through the passive on board pre-amp, or headphone stage.  Grant Fidelity themselves strongly recommend a power cord upgrade and while my upgraded cord was not super high end, it did seem to offer some improvements from the stock cord using some quick A-B tests.  I might try something better in the future.
 
Most of my listening was through the tube output.   I have not had the chance to try any other tubes other than the included 6N11, though I have an EH 6922 and a Philips JAN 6922 awaiting trial.  I did some limited headphone trials (good enough for me, but I did not do extensive listening so should refrain from any critical comments) but most of my listening was through loudspeakers driven by a power amp, using the DAC-11 as a preamp.  For the record, the gear: a Burson PP160 and Mission 752…perchance a slightly curious combination, but it is what I have on hand.  I used a Sony BDP350 for Redbook CD playback via coaxial cable, an iPod touch docked to a Pure i-20 via optical and coax, and a PC music server through USB as source equipment (Yulong ASIO USB driver).
 
The most salient aspect of the sound quality via either transistor or tube outputs is the remarkable detail retrieval, with a caveat as described below.  Of course, the ancillary gear will have some influence on this, but if you have reasonably resolving gear, the DAC-11 will shine.  The DAC-11 does especially well with recordings of jazz ensembles, small chamber classical music, acoustic pop/rock and individual singers and instruments.  I did find some limitations with larger orchestral recordings and to some extent multi layered pop/rock recordings as there was some congealing of the sound where I found individual placement of instruments harder to distinguish.  Nonetheless it hardly falls flat on its face with more demanding recordings such as a large symphonic piece; it fares admirably, but does not offer the last word in spatial detail and resolution.
 
Comparing the SS vs. the tube output, I found the tube preferable in my system as far as synergy.  My intention was to tame the inherent tendency to stridency and brightness in my amp and loudspeaker combination and the tube output of the DAC-11 accomplished this quite well.  Switching to the SS output, the same level of clarity and detail was there as with the tube but perhaps a touch brighter and more shrill in the top end.  I am quite sensitive to brightness-induced listener fatigue and I found after some extended listening, the SS output went in that direction for me.  This is not to say this would happen in every system but as mentioned my gear was already leaning to brightness.  The SS output did have a slight edge in bottom end extension but the tube output surprised me here with good impact and snap in the bass octaves.  Tubes often have listeners criticizing an overly euphonic sound but I found the tube output with the 6N11 offered just the right amount of “sweetness” and warmth while retaining excellent clarity and detail.  I have high hopes for the Philips JAN 6922 mentioned earlier as soon as I get around to it.
 
My comparison DAC gear was limited but many are probably familiar with the Burson HA160D, if not in person, then at least from many glowing reviews.  It is definitely in a different price category so the comparison is hardly fair but the DAC-11 did not throw its hands up and fall over, in fact it again flat out surprised me considering the price.  I strongly believe in synergistic combinations of audio gear and the DAC-11 works well in my system largely due to whatever brightness-taming capacity it has via the tube outputs, as alluded to before.  The HA160D is remarkable for its ability to convey stunning detail, provide exemplary extension in both treble and bass ranges and a very convincing midrange with great depth and soundstage.  The DAC-11, by comparison, does all of the above fairly well but is outclassed in every regard by the HA160D to my ears, but note significantly there is an $800-odd price differential.  Of note, I am finding some narrowness in the soundstage and depth in the DAC-11 but it is a slight quibble and likely to improve with further burn-in of the 6N11 or a wholesale switch to a higher performing tube.
 
In summary, the DAC-11 is an outstanding performer, not only for its excellent sound quality but for the many features it has and foremost for the remarkable price-to-performance ratio.  An easy recommendation.
 
Mar 21, 2012 at 12:01 AM Post #2 of 44

brokensound

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I've had a GF TubeDAC 11 since Jan. The tube rolling makes this a fun DAC to cater the sound to your liking.  
 
Interestingly, I prefer my Denon D2000 out of the headphone stage of the TubeDAC-11 to my balanced DNA Sonett.  
 
Mar 21, 2012 at 12:09 PM Post #3 of 44

eclipes

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Very outstanding FIRST post Demerara... I just got the TubeDAC-11 right before they increased the price. Currently still burning in the stock chinese tube but it is more than decent as a stock tube for sure. Right out of the box, sounds extremely good paired with my Swans MKIII speakers. Other than its performance and flexibility of the TubeDAC-11, I hope this thread will clear up many misunderstandings about Grant Fidelity being similar to Maverick audio etc...I've heard many people mistaking the TubeDAC-11 with TubeMagic, XiangSheng DAC-01 etc.. Other than the exterior shell, they sound completely different and I would say the TubeDAC-11 is a different class compared to others. I came from a AudioGD NFB-12 with a very narrow soundstage so the difference with TubeDAC-11 was quite huge. I am liking the soundstage and warmth, it sounds just right for all my needs and synergizes quite well with my Swans. The soundstage should increase with more hours put into from what I've heard over at Audiokarma. But I can't believe i'm actually enjoying youtube videos now 
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I bought the unit mainly for its DAC and TubeOutput for my speakers so the headphone out was kinda an extra for me. But with IEMS plugged in, sounds quite good, slightly better than my AudioGD NFB-12 but it sounds even better through RCA to headphone out adapter plugged in the back through TUBEOUTPUT.  
 
Its great that there is a thread for this unit since its not really recognized here on Head-fi, theres more recognition over at AudioKarma. But great news is that Project86 will be posting a formal review on his impression of the TubeDAC-11. My purchase was actually influenced by his impression since he does capture the essence of this unit.
 
Lets keep this thread going, maybe with some tube rolling suggestions.
biggrin.gif

 
Mar 21, 2012 at 12:27 PM Post #4 of 44

2000impreza

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Good to see someone started a thread on the TubeDAC-11. I have owned this DAC for a few months. It is really high quality DAC for the money.
 
Probably worth mentioning the TubeDAC-11 is built by Yulong. From my experience, typically anything Yulong builds is fairly high quality. The TubeDAC-11 is no exception.
 

 

 
 
Mar 23, 2012 at 10:39 PM Post #5 of 44

Dutchi MerenGue

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this is my first dac and first expierence with tubes of any sound but once i hooked up my swan m10's to the tube output on these i knew i couldnt go back, i hear things in my music i never heard before, i bought my swan m10's over a year and a half ago and honestly found them to be pretty overrated, that was until i ran them through this, now i cant go a day without listening to everything from nas and akineyle to charlie parker and rachmanioff
 
 
i was actually originally going to buy either the e7/e9 combo or go with a dacmagic or vdac, but settled on this due to its versatility and multiple inputs, and im glad i did
 
Mar 24, 2012 at 4:53 AM Post #6 of 44

estreeter

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Thanks for the review - I stumbled on the GF site earlier this week searching for good Chinese-branded speakers. They sell the 'Compact Loudspeaker' brand at very reasonable prices, but there dont appear to be any reviews out there in English. I've started a thread to try to get more info - thus far. with very little success. I guess it comes down to being able to audition the speakers at some point in the future. 
 
Mar 25, 2012 at 2:14 AM Post #8 of 44

estreeter

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Quote:
I've wondered why there wasn't a thread on this DAC here.  I am taking a close look at it.



Have you noticed how many new DACs are being released each month ? Head-Fi is small niche in the audiophile universe. Most of the Chinese brands with name recognition here did it by becoming sponsors and encouraging Head-Fiers to listen to their products. 
 
Mar 25, 2012 at 12:10 PM Post #9 of 44

powerlifter450

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I've had this DAC for a couple of months. I think the tube smooths out the sound and enhances the midrange. I also like that the unit has a preamp if coming through the tube side. It pushes the sounds out to my Lyr and from then on to my LCD2 rev2. For the money you cant go wrong.
 
Mar 25, 2012 at 3:26 PM Post #10 of 44

estreeter

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Quote:
I've had this DAC for a couple of months. I think the tube smooths out the sound and enhances the midrange. I also like that the unit has a preamp if coming through the tube side. It pushes the sounds out to my Lyr and from then on to my LCD2 rev2. For the money you cant go wrong.


Er, is this a fly in the ointment or am I missing something ?
 
Output Impedance: Line out and Tube out - <20 ohm, DAC out < 600 ohm
 
http://shop.grantfidelity.com/Grant-Fidelity-TubeDAC-11-D-A-Converter.html
 
Not sure if the 8x rule applies to DACs, but those numbers look huge - happy to hear that I should be ignoring those numbers. 
 
 
Mar 25, 2012 at 11:58 PM Post #11 of 44

blairfrischx

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Am I reading this correctly - you can power headphones directly from the Tube Out? Obviously it states that it only works properly for headphones over 300 Ohms, but it has the capability to do that? Very interesting DAC. I'll keep an eye on this thread.
 
Mar 26, 2012 at 2:28 AM Post #12 of 44

brokensound

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Yes, the tube out can power a headphone w/ high impedance (300 Ohms+). An adapter is needed. I've been exploring the tube out to my HD580 with good results. I tried lower impedance headphones, K701 and D2000, but the sound is terrible. The frequency response is all wrong. 
 
Quote:
Am I reading this correctly - you can power headphones directly from the Tube Out? Obviously it states that it only works properly for headphones over 300 Ohms, but it has the capability to do that? Very interesting DAC. I'll keep an eye on this thread.



 
 
Mar 26, 2012 at 2:29 AM Post #13 of 44

FlySweep

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Am I reading this correctly - you can power headphones directly from the Tube Out? Obviously it states that it only works properly for headphones over 300 Ohms, but it has the capability to do that? Very interesting DAC. I'll keep an eye on this thread.

 
I've had the DAC-11 for a little over a month & couldn't be happier with it.  I've been meaning to write a detailed review of it.. but I'm too busy enjoying the unit too much.
 
Yes, you can run phones (>300 ohms) through the tube out.. just get a "(2) male-RCA to 3.5mm-female"  and you're set.  I use the tube out with my Senn HD580 (300 ohms) and it sounds absolutely wonderful.  You can also run the tube out to a (preferably neutral) SS amp (i.e. like the Objective2) to overcome the high output impedance, so you can get that 'tube sound' for low impedance cans.
 
It's a very versatile amp/dac that's seems quite well built (GF partnered with Yulong to build/support it).  Also, Ian & Rachel (at GF) are wonderful folks to deal with.  Possibly the best customer service I've ever experienced.  Also, I definitely recommend getting the upgraded (beefier) power cord.
 
Mar 26, 2012 at 4:10 AM Post #14 of 44

estreeter

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Quote:
 
I've had the DAC-11 for a little over a month & couldn't be happier with it.  I've been meaning to write a detailed review of it.. but I'm too busy enjoying the unit too much.
 
Yes, you can run phones (>300 ohms) through the tube out.. just get a "(2) male-RCA to 3.5mm-female"  and you're set.  I use the tube out with my Senn HD580 (300 ohms) and it sounds absolutely wonderful.  You can also run the tube out to a (preferably neutral) SS amp (i.e. like the Objective2) to overcome the high output impedance, so you can get that 'tube sound' for low impedance cans.
 
It's a very versatile amp/dac that's seems quite well built (GF partnered with Yulong to build/support it).  Also, Ian & Rachel (at GF) are wonderful folks to deal with.  Possibly the best customer service I've ever experienced.  Also, I definitely recommend getting the upgraded (beefier) power cord.


Excellent feedback, FlySweep - thanks for that. Your final comments make me very confident in dealing with GF for my upcoming speaker purchase. I had zero replies to my other thread, so its great to hear a personal endorsement. 
 
 
Mar 26, 2012 at 6:05 AM Post #15 of 44

FlySweep

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Excellent feedback, FlySweep - thanks for that. Your final comments make me very confident in dealing with GF for my upcoming speaker purchase. I had zero replies to my other thread, so its great to hear a personal endorsement. 


Good luck!  I'm, frankly, becoming a bit of an (unabashed) GF fanboy.. their products seem to deliver a very high degree of performance-to-price.  The DAC-11 is said to ably compete with DACs up to $1000.. which is quite an achievement, if true.  I've had limited experience with high-end DACs but I'd say that claim is valid so far, IME.  Most impressively, it stacks up very favorably to the the Burson HA160D (one of my favorite DAC/amps).  The soundstage and incredibly 'black' background the DAC-11 possesses is something special.. I don't think I've heard anything this clean and distortion-free at $350 (I do have an Objective2 amp on the way which I'm planning on pairing with tube out so I can drive low impedance cans & IEMs).
 
I've read many DAC-11 owners are incredibly happy using their unit as an amp/pre-amp with their speaker rigs (whether it be the DAC-out, line out, or the tube out straight to the speakers or to another SS amp).  The ability to use the 'tube out' with headphones was kind of stumbled upon by accident on the DAC-09 (the precursor to the DAC-11).  Instead of merely upgrading the DAC-09, GF & Yulong designed & built the DAC-11 from scratch.. while properly incorporated the ability to use the tube out with headphones.  One feature (that's often overlooked) I'm particularly impressed with is the volume control.. implemented ingeniously, it's also very smooth, accurate, and clean.  The DAC-11 has become the center piece of my (desktop) headphone rig & it's great knowing it'll fit in well when it comes time to get into the (floor standing) speaker game.
 

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