Marantz HD-DAC1
Feb 10, 2021 at 3:13 PM Post #1,066 of 1,094

Bernard23

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No I haven't purchased the Headamp. I'm actually really happy with the Marantz, that's why I'm going to such effort to try and get that 3.5 analog input to work for my SACD player. I also use the Marantz as a preamp to my home stereo. I'm getting phenomenal sound out of that. I'm starting to think the Marantz is highly underrated. I'm the same as you, I don't want to pay big money to get something that isn't any better and might not even be as good. With that said the comments I do hear is that the Marantz is better at being a dac then as a headphone amp. If you look a few posts up a forum member mentioned that Marantz told him the 3.5 analog input remains analog throughout the signal path. I think the rumor that it converted to digital and then back to analog might have been someone mistaking it for the Oppo headphone amp, the HA-1. I have a volume attenuator ordered that should arrive today or tomorrow so once and for all I can find out if the Marantz will take the analog from my SACD player. If that works out well the Marantz will be doing everything I want it to and I probably will be out of the headphone amp shopping market for a while. If it doesn't work out well, I will probably be looking at that Headamp amp to use with my Marantz as the dac, or the RME dac/amp combo
Yes I read that, but I'd be very surprised if it did an A/D/A conversion, that makes little sense unless you're adding pre-amp functions like DSP. The only concern I have with it is that the output impedance is quite high at 11 ohms or so, and I've got 38 ohm Grados so the DF is ot ideal, though probably a non issue in reality.
Interestingly, having read everything I could about it before and after buying it, I got the impression that the amp is the star part of the device, which to me made sense, as most DACs are pretty competent, so long as the filtering is executed cleanly with half decent components it shouldn't influence the SQ much, hence you don't realy get much improvement for your £££ with them.
 
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Feb 10, 2021 at 3:37 PM Post #1,067 of 1,094

milkdudd

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Yes I read that, but I'd be very surprised if it did an A/D/A conversion, that makes little sense unless you're adding pre-amp functions like DSP. The only concern I have with it is that the output impedance is quite high at 11 ohms or so, and I've got 38 ohm Grados so the DF is ot ideal, though probably a non issue in reality.
Interestingly, having read everything I could about it before and after buying it, I got the impression that the amp is the star part of the device, which to me made sense, as most DACs are pretty competent, so long as the filtering is executed cleanly with half decent components it shouldn't influence the SQ much, hence you don't realy get much improvement for your £££ with them.
All points you make are well taken with me. I hope when I mentioned the quality of the headphone amp it was clear I was quoting others, as I think it's quite good. Actually for the first few years I really only used it as a dac to feed files from my Android phone to my home stereo. And even then with fixed output. Only within the last week I've started using the variable output so I'm using it as a preamp now too. Spectacular results this way. Recently I've been using the headphone amp a lot more. I'm thinking the headphone amp needs a couple hundred hours of use before it hits full stride. Maybe those who are not happy with it never really gave it a full chance. Anyway I know with any potential upgrade I'm only going to buy devices that offer a good refund policy. Like you, I think there's a chance to spend been big bucks and not notice better sound quality
 
Feb 10, 2021 at 4:40 PM Post #1,068 of 1,094

Smoothstereo

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For what it's worth, I have looked at and purchased dedicated headphone amps to pair with my Marantz HD-DAC1 being used as dac only, and to my ears, tastes, and my mid level gear, the differences are not night and day.

I briefly owned THX 887 and Mjolnir2, and own the Vali2 and Jotunheim 2. Complimenting these amps to the Marantz did not greatly improve the performance. The Marantz using its dac and amp was in most cases the same to my ears and in some cases, I preferred the Marantz unit.

Just using SE hp out for my comparison, I preferred the Marantz over the THX887, because the THX887 was too dry, clinical, and lacking some soul, maybe warmth is the word. For MJ2, it was very close, like splitting hairs close, so I call this one a tie. But keep in mind the MJ2, is $850 and add another $100 to $300 for nice to really nice tubes, we are easily looking at over $1100.

For Vali2, I will call this a tie with a caveat. My Vali2 has the dual 6J5G tubes that really make them sing. For brighter and neutral hps, I like to use the Vali2 as the amp instead of the Marantz amp section. But for warmer, darker hps, I prefer the Marantz amp section.

For Jot2, its still pretty new for me, will need more time to see how it fairs.

For BAL hp output comparison, even though it's not fair since Marantz is only SE, the MJ2 is a bit better in terms of blacker background and instrument separation, and that sense of ease due to its high power amp. But again, you need to pay up to squeeze that difference.

BAL for THX887, same thing it is better at blacker background and better separation of instruments, but it comes with the dry clinical , souless presentation that I didn't like. Its the reason why I returned it.

To me, if you don't care for BAL hp out, and want simple all in one, the Marantz is really good. If you like to stick with SE, complimenting it with a tube or tube hybrid amp is a good alternative. The Vali2 , Lyr3, or other affordable Chifi tube amps is something to consider and won't break the bank.
 
Feb 10, 2021 at 5:32 PM Post #1,069 of 1,094

milkdudd

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For what it's worth, I have looked at and purchased dedicated headphone amps to pair with my Marantz HD-DAC1 being used as dac only, and to my ears, tastes, and my mid level gear, the differences are not night and day.

I briefly owned THX 887 and Mjolnir2, and own the Vali2 and Jotunheim 2. Complimenting these amps to the Marantz did not greatly improve the performance. The Marantz using its dac and amp was in most cases the same to my ears and in some cases, I preferred the Marantz unit.

Just using SE hp out for my comparison, I preferred the Marantz over the THX887, because the THX887 was too dry, clinical, and lacking some soul, maybe warmth is the word. For MJ2, it was very close, like splitting hairs close, so I call this one a tie. But keep in mind the MJ2, is $850 and add another $100 to $300 for nice to really nice tubes, we are easily looking at over $1100.

For Vali2, I will call this a tie with a caveat. My Vali2 has the dual 6J5G tubes that really make them sing. For brighter and neutral hps, I like to use the Vali2 as the amp instead of the Marantz amp section. But for warmer, darker hps, I prefer the Marantz amp section.

For Jot2, its still pretty new for me, will need more time to see how it fairs.

For BAL hp output comparison, even though it's not fair since Marantz is only SE, the MJ2 is a bit better in terms of blacker background and instrument separation, and that sense of ease due to its high power amp. But again, you need to pay up to squeeze that difference.

BAL for THX887, same thing it is better at blacker background and better separation of instruments, but it comes with the dry clinical , souless presentation that I didn't like. Its the reason why I returned it.

To me, if you don't care for BAL hp out, and want simple all in one, the Marantz is really good. If you like to stick with SE, complimenting it with a tube or tube hybrid amp is a good alternative. The Vali2 , Lyr3, or other affordable Chifi tube amps is something to consider and won't break the bank.
Thanks, a lot of great information. One of the reasons I'm considering the Headamp GS-X is that it has a balanced headphone out and has the analog in with preamp function. Actually they claim single ended input and balanced output which I didn't know for sure was even possible. Not sure if it's as good as a fully balanced input and output amp. If I went with this I guess I would use the fixed output from the Marantz dac and use the Headamp as a preamp to my room stereo. And have the option of balanced or single ended listening of headphones. Plus they have a 30-day return policy without any restocking fee the way I understand it. Their website says they rarely receive any returns of it, which I tend to believe. Just nice knowing that option is there if I needed it. At $1,800 to $2,000 depending on which volume control, talk about being careful not to scratch it for the first 30 days! Of course I'd be pretty careful not to scratch it even after I know I would be keeping it
 
Feb 10, 2021 at 6:31 PM Post #1,070 of 1,094

Bernard23

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2k is 4+ years of tidal, a years worth of beer, maybe, and and we all know how beer makes music taste so much better! This is my guiding principle, it would have to be so much better in more than one way to justify that investment
 
Feb 12, 2021 at 9:57 PM Post #1,071 of 1,094

1-MiC

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Hey Bernard, I can see we are in the same boat.

Want: a DAC with MQA to take advantage of Tidal.
But if that dac is not better, well, that would be a waste!

Truth is to find a dac with MQA, that sounds as good or better, that has even some of the features the marantz has, its gonna cost alot of money!

I'd be willing to bet something like a SU-9 / D70s / M500 would simply be close, maybe trade some blows. But a clear upgrade? i really doubt it. A different flavor? yeah some of the new amps are described as very neutral.
 
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Feb 13, 2021 at 9:07 AM Post #1,072 of 1,094

JHern

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I've had the Marantz HD-DAC1 on my desk since 2014. It is a lovely little device, provided you know what it is intended to be, and to do...and what it is not intended to be, and to not do. This isn't meant as a be-all end-all reference HP amp, nor is it even a be-all end-all DAC. And it is an order of magnitude cheaper than an equivalent function set of reference separates would cost. What you get is Marantz engineering that nicely pairs its various components to produce a relatively transparent and neutral sound.

Like the name implies, it is primarily a DAC, the HP amp section is secondary but well-enough done. Don't expect much in terms of analog inputs, this is made for digital input. Nobody expects a reference DAC to have balanced XLR analog inputs, and this is no exception. That isn't what it is made to do.

Computer-driven, as intended, the HD-DAC1 is good enough to show a good deal of sensitivity and transparency to the source. Imaging is good, you can locate instruments, hear fingers slipping on strings, etc.. Lower quality MP3, MPEG, AAC, etc., are annoying to listen to, the HD-DAC1 reveals all their flaws, especially in the highs. Somehow Audirvana Plus has a great synergy with the HD-DAC1 and really makes this unit shine, with CD quality AIFF files I get a very pleasant listening experience and I don't really yearn for something better.

I also do voice recording with a Focusrite Clarett audio interface and mix with Adobe Audition, and playback with HD-DAC1 as a monitoring setup easily reveals all the acoustic flaws of my room and unintended sounds of my mouth. Marantz says the HD-DAC1 works optimally at 192 kHz, and unlike my music library I often work at 192 kHz with my own recordings. I also have a portable recorder that produces up to 192 kHz WAV files with low noise floor (it also records native DSD). With the portable recorder WAV files played through the optical input of the HD-DAC1 sound great, DSD is sublime, but I can't really tell whether this has more to do with the recorder vs the HD-DAC1 since I don't have any DSD music files to compare with my AIFF files as a reference for comparison.

As far as headphone pairings, it has plenty of power to drive anything in my experience, and the pot is clean. The HD-DAC1 lets the cans speak for themselves. Warm cans sound warm. Neutral cans sound neutral. Bright cans sound bright. And so on. I like this behavior, and in this sense at least, the "Marantz flavor" doesn't impose itself so strongly where the rubber meets the road.

The annoying thing is that Marantz makes 2 other "HD-" boxes that look very similar to this one, but they have a lot of redundancies, and it isn't clear that any of them are meant to pair together as a system. There is a Marantz HD-CD1, a CD player (but little/no SACD or DSD functionality as far as I can tell) with its own DAC section...so not much need to pair with the DAC section in the HD-DAC1. And then there is a HD-AMP1, a modest integrated that powers loudspeakers, has a headphone amp and...also has the same DAC, so no need to pair it with the HD-DAC1, either. As far as I can tell, the DACs in all of these are the same ESS Sabre chips. So I have to say that I really don't get what they were trying to do with this line...if I were the boss of Marantz, I would have a HD-CD1 that has full DSD and SACD functionality with the reference DAC, digital inputs, etc., and output to balanced XLR...there would be a HD-PRE1 that was a pre-amp (maybe with a headphone section) with balanced ins/outs, and then the HD-AMP1 would be just a couple of modest mono blocks in a box. Heck, one could add a HD-REC1 turntable to the ecosystem along with a balanced output to a phono section in the HD-PRE1. Anyways...I digress.

The HD-DAC1 is good stuff. One day I might send the fixed out to an integrated amp and loudspeakers, but I haven't done that yet. In that role, it could serve as a decent DAC...but since everything is all wrapped up in a nice tidy self-contained package to sit on my desk as a HP DAC-AMP, I'm happy to keep it there. I've noticed that used prices on HD-DAC1 have fallen quite a lot...if you can get one for $500 USD or less, I think it is a very good deal.
 
Feb 13, 2021 at 11:36 AM Post #1,073 of 1,094

Bernard23

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Interested to hear your experience of audirvana. I tried it for 2 weeks, using tidal, qobuz and musicbee as a source. I tried every filter setting extensively, and found no distinct improvements, so I decided not to take out a sub.
 
Feb 13, 2021 at 12:16 PM Post #1,074 of 1,094

pbarach

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I did a trial of JRiver Media Center and found it was difficult to use and set up to my preferences when accessing my networked audio files. I deleted it. Now I simply access the shared files and play them via Foobar (and an ASIO sound driver) through my DAC.
 
Feb 13, 2021 at 12:35 PM Post #1,075 of 1,094

Bernard23

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I used JRiver for years, but eventually tired of the constant upgrades, and the bolshy attitude of the devs, but it had some great features. Musicbee is free, and nothing like as slick, but it sounds great, can set up the output driver correctly, and has a built in DSP
 
Feb 13, 2021 at 5:31 PM Post #1,076 of 1,094

Smoothstereo

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I've had the Marantz HD-DAC1 on my desk since 2014. It is a lovely little device, provided you know what it is intended to be, and to do...and what it is not intended to be, and to not do. This isn't meant as a be-all end-all reference HP amp, nor is it even a be-all end-all DAC. And it is an order of magnitude cheaper than an equivalent function set of reference separates would cost. What you get is Marantz engineering that nicely pairs its various components to produce a relatively transparent and neutral sound.

Like the name implies, it is primarily a DAC, the HP amp section is secondary but well-enough done. Don't expect much in terms of analog inputs, this is made for digital input. Nobody expects a reference DAC to have balanced XLR analog inputs, and this is no exception. That isn't what it is made to do.

Computer-driven, as intended, the HD-DAC1 is good enough to show a good deal of sensitivity and transparency to the source. Imaging is good, you can locate instruments, hear fingers slipping on strings, etc.. Lower quality MP3, MPEG, AAC, etc., are annoying to listen to, the HD-DAC1 reveals all their flaws, especially in the highs. Somehow Audirvana Plus has a great synergy with the HD-DAC1 and really makes this unit shine, with CD quality AIFF files I get a very pleasant listening experience and I don't really yearn for something better.

I also do voice recording with a Focusrite Clarett audio interface and mix with Adobe Audition, and playback with HD-DAC1 as a monitoring setup easily reveals all the acoustic flaws of my room and unintended sounds of my mouth. Marantz says the HD-DAC1 works optimally at 192 kHz, and unlike my music library I often work at 192 kHz with my own recordings. I also have a portable recorder that produces up to 192 kHz WAV files with low noise floor (it also records native DSD). With the portable recorder WAV files played through the optical input of the HD-DAC1 sound great, DSD is sublime, but I can't really tell whether this has more to do with the recorder vs the HD-DAC1 since I don't have any DSD music files to compare with my AIFF files as a reference for comparison.

As far as headphone pairings, it has plenty of power to drive anything in my experience, and the pot is clean. The HD-DAC1 lets the cans speak for themselves. Warm cans sound warm. Neutral cans sound neutral. Bright cans sound bright. And so on. I like this behavior, and in this sense at least, the "Marantz flavor" doesn't impose itself so strongly where the rubber meets the road.

The annoying thing is that Marantz makes 2 other "HD-" boxes that look very similar to this one, but they have a lot of redundancies, and it isn't clear that any of them are meant to pair together as a system. There is a Marantz HD-CD1, a CD player (but little/no SACD or DSD functionality as far as I can tell) with its own DAC section...so not much need to pair with the DAC section in the HD-DAC1. And then there is a HD-AMP1, a modest integrated that powers loudspeakers, has a headphone amp and...also has the same DAC, so no need to pair it with the HD-DAC1, either. As far as I can tell, the DACs in all of these are the same ESS Sabre chips. So I have to say that I really don't get what they were trying to do with this line...if I were the boss of Marantz, I would have a HD-CD1 that has full DSD and SACD functionality with the reference DAC, digital inputs, etc., and output to balanced XLR...there would be a HD-PRE1 that was a pre-amp (maybe with a headphone section) with balanced ins/outs, and then the HD-AMP1 would be just a couple of modest mono blocks in a box. Heck, one could add a HD-REC1 turntable to the ecosystem along with a balanced output to a phono section in the HD-PRE1. Anyways...I digress.

The HD-DAC1 is good stuff. One day I might send the fixed out to an integrated amp and loudspeakers, but I haven't done that yet. In that role, it could serve as a decent DAC...but since everything is all wrapped up in a nice tidy self-contained package to sit on my desk as a HP DAC-AMP, I'm happy to keep it there. I've noticed that used prices on HD-DAC1 have fallen quite a lot...if you can get one for $500 USD or less, I think it is a very good deal.
I agree with mostly what you said. It is a great combo unit and does its job as intended. As I have posted here, I have compared the amp section of the Marantz to other dedicated separate amps, some being way more powerful , but at the end the Marantz was not embarrassed at all, in some occasions it sounds more right to my ears and tastes. It shows how much thought and performance the Marantz engineers were able to put in. Also to clarify, the HD-DAC1 uses Cirrus Logic's CS4398 dac chip which is a hybrid Multibit and Delta Sigma type. The other HD-CD1 unit from Marantz also uses the CS4398, while the HD-AMP1 uses the ESS Sabre dac chip.

I will be testing out the dac portion of the unit vs my incoming Bifrost2 to see where it stands.
 
Feb 13, 2021 at 11:38 PM Post #1,077 of 1,094

JHern

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Also to clarify, the HD-DAC1 uses Cirrus Logic's CS4398 dac chip which is a hybrid Multibit and Delta Sigma type. The other HD-CD1 unit from Marantz also uses the CS4398, while the HD-AMP1 uses the ESS Sabre dac chip.

Thanks for the correction! After learning my mistake, I've done a bit more reading on the HD-AMP1 today, and it seems to have many differences in architecture. As such, I wouldn't expect it to be very similar to the HD-DAC1. I've never listened to the HD-AMP1, which also has a dedicated headphone amp (different than the HD-DAC1 amp)...I'm curious if anyone had a chance to compare both? It seems unlikely that one would own both, given their huge redundancies in terms of function.
 
Feb 14, 2021 at 12:08 AM Post #1,078 of 1,094

JHern

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Interested to hear your experience of audirvana. I tried it for 2 weeks, using tidal, qobuz and musicbee as a source. I tried every filter setting extensively, and found no distinct improvements, so I decided not to take out a sub.

For sure, it depends on what you're comparing it with, and also the music, headphones, and other particularities. It could be that you already have a great source for your listening setup and don't need the improvement that I find. My comparison is with basic iTunes playback, but from the same files, through the same HD-DAC1 and cans, on a MBP 2017 (15" with touch bar). My usual headphones are closed back Audio-Technica ATH-900X, which are "bass guitar warm." I don't have anything particularly fancy set on my currently installed version of Audirvana Plus (3.2.20). I do use integer mode, and it works nicely with the HD-DAC1. I've played with upsampling and other tweaks but I didn't notice anything different in sound character and some settings can screw up the HD-DAC1 reception (giving "unsupported" errors and such).

The biggest audio difference for me (Audirvana Plus vs iTunes) is in the highs, and the sense of greater articulation (which leads to better imaging and separation), particularly for rock, jazz, and metal. I can more clearly hear the fingers moving on guitar strings, the growl of bass strings buzzing against frets (even with distorted guitar tracks on top), the sound of the stick hitting a cymbal, etc.. Are these things in the non-Audirvana experience? Sure, but I have to try harder to hear them, they aren't as "there" to my ears. And when I switch to iTunes it just sounds flatter and less open.

In any case, you could try again with the latest version of Audirvana Plus, but maybe your musical tastes, headphones, and other factors won't give you much improvement.
 
Feb 16, 2021 at 7:52 AM Post #1,079 of 1,094

Bernard23

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