New Audio-gd R7 (R2R 7) & R8 Flagship Resistor Ladder DACs
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Hello guys,
I recently contacted Kingwa and ask him if he could send an R8-HE or an R7-HE DAC to be tested from a well known reviewer and he told me that he doesnt do it because the price of the products would need to rise due to the increase of costs.

I know that Magna HiFi sent the R8 + M1 + M3 to be review by HiFi Advice and they've got a good review, but Audio-GD articles from well known reviewers are very scarce on the web. There are a pair on the Master 9, a preview from the M1-HE and a few more, nothing else.

I trust my ears and I've heard a few systems much more expensives than mine that sounded worse and I know Audio-GD products are a bargain and hiden gems (at least most of them) in the audiophile world, but I would LOVE to read more about them from famous reviewers, not just forums, and read their opinions on how Audio-GD products compare to other HiFi brands with big names. Dont you agreed?

A crazy idea??? May be we could try to persuade Kingwa to send a R8-HE or a R7-HE to be tested and then try to sell it at its cost value in the same country where the reviewer lives. Or may be Magna HiFi?

For instance, Denafrips has sent some DACs to several reviewers like John Darko, Steve Guttenberg, etc, and they've got rave reviews. I believe Audio-GD DACs should be as good, or even better, for the same money, than Denafrips.

What is your opinion on the subject?
 
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Hello guys,
I recently contacted Kingwa and ask him if he could send an R8-HE or an R7-HE DAC to be tested from a well known reviewer and he told me that he doesnt do it because the price of the products would need to rise due to the increase of costs.

I know that Magna HiFi sent the R8 + M1 + M3 to be review by HiFi Advice and they've got a good review, but Audio-GD articles from well known reviewers are very scarce on the web. There are a pair on the Master 9, a preview from the M1-HE and a few more, nothing else.

I trust my ears and I've heard a few systems much more expensives than mine that sounded worse and I know Audio-GD products are a bargain and hiden gems (at least most of them) in the audiophile world, but I would LOVE to read more about them from famous reviewers, not just forums, and read their opinions on how Audio-GD products compare to other HiFi brands with big names. Dont you agreed?

A crazy idea??? May be we could try to persuade Kingwa to send a R8-HE or a R7-HE to be tested and then try to sell it at its cost value in the same country where the reviewer lives. Or may be Magna HiFi?

For instance, Denafrips has sent some DACs to several reviewers like John Darko, Steve Guttenberg, etc, and they've got rave reviews. I believe Audio-GD DACs should be as good, or even better, for the same money, than Denafrips.

What is your opinion on the subject?
Yes, I have an opinion. I am not sure this should benefit any of us other than in short term. The fact that Kingwa continuously "build as he learns" leads to a varity of versions of the gears. This may be an annoyance for the broader market and this could be a risk for Kingwa/Audio-gd to get a less good reputation for bringing immature products to the market. For us, his loyal and returning customers, that already knows that the performance is unbelievable good, more or less "buys the game" with "prototyping" during periods because we know that Kingwa never leaves us in a bad state. I for one like very much the fast progresses. Many, more picky people doesn't. I am also confident that the price tags will rise.

In a few years I shouldn't be surprised if Kingwa choose to expand his company and their capacity to build more gears. But remember Kingwa and Audio-gd is High Fidelity and Quality driven so it must be on their own terms...otherwise the joy will disappear...and it will affect it all... also for us.

That is my 2 cents on this subject
/Jan
 
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Hello guys,
I recently contacted Kingwa and ask him if he could send an R8-HE or an R7-HE DAC to be tested from a well known reviewer and he told me that he doesnt do it because the price of the products would need to rise due to the increase of costs.

I know that Magna HiFi sent the R8 + M1 + M3 to be review by HiFi Advice and they've got a good review, but Audio-GD articles from well known reviewers are very scarce on the web. There are a pair on the Master 9, a preview from the M1-HE and a few more, nothing else.

I trust my ears and I've heard a few systems much more expensives than mine that sounded worse and I know Audio-GD products are a bargain and hiden gems (at least most of them) in the audiophile world, but I would LOVE to read more about them from famous reviewers, not just forums, and read their opinions on how Audio-GD products compare to other HiFi brands with big names. Dont you agreed?

A crazy idea??? May be we could try to persuade Kingwa to send a R8-HE or a R7-HE to be tested and then try to sell it at its cost value in the same country where the reviewer lives. Or may be Magna HiFi?

For instance, Denafrips has sent some DACs to several reviewers like John Darko, Steve Guttenberg, etc, and they've got rave reviews. I believe Audio-GD DACs should be as good, or even better, for the same money, than Denafrips.

What is your opinion on the subject?
What about the R2R7 by 6Moons and blue moon award ?
Tell me who is a well known reviewer? :)
 
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darren700

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Yes, I have an opinion. I am not sure this should benefit any of us other than in short term. The fact that Kingwa continuously "build as he learns" leads to a varity of versions of the gears. This may be a annoyance for the broader market and this could be a risk for Kingwa/Audio-gd to get a less good reputation for bringing immature products to the market. For us, his loyal and returning customers, that already knows that the performance is unbelievable good, more or less "buys the game" with "prototyping" during periods because we know that Kingwa never leaves us in a bad state. I for one like very much the fast progresses. Many more picky people doesn't. I am also confident that the price tags will rise.

In a few years I shouldn't be surprised if Kingwa choose to expand his company and their capacity to build more gears. But remember Kingwa and Audio-gd is High Fidelity and Quality driven so it must be on their own terms...otherwise the joy will disappear...and it will affect it all... also for us.

That is my 2 cents on this subject
/Jan
I agree with this 100%. I think most of the HIFI community wants a really polished product. Audio-GD offers Raw performance with lots of tweak-ability. Some people are overwhelmed by the amount of options and configuration that can be done with Audio-GD Products and just want something they can buy and listen to without customizing. I However love the customization available and the fact we can tweak the sound to our liking. Also another great thing about Audio-GD is the fact that we get direct pricing without the cost of advertising and dealers baked into the price of the products. Not many people understand the value/performance ratio that is offered and may not consider Audio-GD simply because it is Chinese or because it is not a brand you see in magazines constantly.
How many other manufactures offer constant firmware updates years after a product releases? PS Audio is the only other manufacturer that comes to mind.

I like to think of Audio-GD as one of HIFI's best kept secrets, I feel that people that do their research will realize how valuable Audio-GD products are due to threads like this one or the DI-20 page on the forum.
 
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There are people on this forum worth well known reviewers.

The thing with reviews is they work with buying ads. So reviewers are biased most often. We will have a comparison between the r7he and the Terminator by @Jackula pretty soon. This is worth more than any professional review to me. And feedback from other fellow headfiers like JaMo, DACLadder, Motberg, Wynnystky and the other articulate guys here are worth more than a review to me. You get the long-term picture.

I like Kingwa's business model too. It's about passion first.
 
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PLGA

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What about the R2R7 by 6Moons and blue moon award ?
Tell me who is a well known reviewer? :)
Yes, I forgot about the review of the R2R7 by 6Moons! I guess I must be paying to much attention to youtube channels! I think Im too young for this thread :beyersmile:

On the other hand, I completely understand and share about the tweak-ability and constant upgrades of Audio-GD products and I also believe Audio-GD is a hidden gem in the HiFi world. I just would like to have more to read about AGD products perfomance vs others.
 
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My M7S just turned 7 yrs old this month. The tweakable nature of AGD products keeps it fresh and relevant. Otherwise it would have been sold years ago as basically obsolete.
 
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There are people on this forum worth well known reviewers.

The thing with reviews is they work with buying ads. So reviewers are biased most often. We will have a comparison between the r7he and the Ternlminator by @Jackula pretty soon. This is worth more than any professional review to me. And feedback from other fellow headfiers like JaMo, DACLadder, Motberg, Wynnystky and the other articulate guys here are worth more than a review to me. You get the long-term picture.

I like Kingwa's business model too. It's about passion first.
Cant wait for Jackula's opinion on the R7HE vs the Terminator.
 
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Jackula

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Thanks everyone for your patience, as I was provided many tracks to compare, I decided to pick one track from each person because comparisons are so time-consuming when the two DACs are so similar in terms of performance (well I picked two tracks from Tango). I picked the tracks that showed the most difference between the two DACs and I think you all should be able to visualise differences in other tracks once you've absorbed all the information from this review.

Also concerning the weaknesses of both DACs described in this review, I was able to tune out some of these with cable changes. But I couldn't be bothered doing the comparisons all over again.

Please as with all reviews, a lot of this is just how I hear things. We all have different HRTF's, someone else could potentially hear the R7HE and Terminator much differently.

Feel free to PM me if you have any specific questions.
 
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Jackula

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Introduction
Having been in this hobby for almost 20 years and having spent low six figures on audio (both head-fi and hifi combined), not a small amount but not a huge amount either. I always gravitate towards great value gear, I have owned a lot of gear and listened to a lot more around the world. Over the years I have developed an eclectic taste for music and a preference for an uncoloured sound that is completely transparent and devoid of tonal colour.

When I was shopping for a new DAC last year, I was looking at much higher price points than my then favourite DAC, the AMR DP-777SE (parent company of ifi, whom products like the Pro iCan has trickle-down technology). I listened to many DACs and it wasn’t until a friend showed me his Audio-GD R8 that my jaw dropped to the floor, eventually purchasing their flagship the R7HE 2020 model.

Methodology
One problem with describing high-end is the difficulty of conveying the sound through words, people still won’t know what it sounds like regardless of the number of audiophile adjectives you throw in, so for this review I have decided to use the Denafrips Terminator as a reference point. They are both Chinese R2R DACs with <US$100 price difference where I live, and both are great DACs that punch well above their price class.

I would also like to mention, although it seems like I am an Audio-GD convert, I certainly didn’t intend to have a complete Audio-GD chain, it just ended up that way because their products are some of the best I’ve heard regardless of price. However, I will treat this review like any other I’ve done in the past, objective rather than biased. This may not appeal to everyone but I feel an honest review is more helpful than a flattering one.

Setup
Uptone ISO Regen /w LPS 1.2 <USPCB> Audio-GD DI-20HE DDC <I2S> Audio-GD R7HE DAC <ACSS> Audio-GD HE9 Pre <ACSS> Audio-GD Master 2H monoblocks >>> Hulgich Duke.

The difference is with how each DAC is connected to the HE9, the Denafrips Terminator is via XLR and the Audio-GD R7HE is via ACSS. Also since the Terminator does not have internal regeneration, I am using my Isotek Solus which does 40dB of attenuation against mains common and differential mode noise. As you can see this is the home territory for the R7HE with everything Audio-GD except the speakers, although the same speakers are used by Kingwa of Audio-GD to voice his products.

HDMI cable is the Moshou flat 0.5m @FredA recommended, and I have put both the Terminator and R7HE on stock kettle cords to keep them as equal as possible. Both DACs respond very well to better cables but I don’t have enough (of the same cord) to keep both DACs powered on and warmed up at the same time.

Both DACs are configured for NOS, with Roon oversampling to the power of 2 capped at 192khz (for compatibility reasons), precise minimum phase. The Denafrips Terminator has the latest DSP upgrades and the R7HE 2020 is set to TDA off and is using the shipped firmware which I am most familiar with the R7_Parallel_DOP_IIS3.

All items have 1000+ hours of burn-in, except the DI-20HE which is currently at approx. 750 hours.

Build
The Terminator, despite not having a huge regenerative backend and being physically less imposing is surprisingly the heavier DAC, it oozes quality and runs cool to the touch at all times. While the R7HE I can probably slow cook an egg on it during hotter days and I like to turn it off at least once a week out of paranoia, although unnecessary according to Kingwa.

The Terminator has no ventilation holes, eliminating the possibility of dust from getting into the DAC. While the R7HE has ventilation holes directly above the circuit boards which I cover up with fan filters.

With small red LEDs along the front of the brushed aluminium enclosure showing mode and input, the Terminator is intuitive and easy to set up, it feels like a finished product. My only complaint is the LEDs are not very bright and hard to see in a well-lit room. On the other hand, the R7HE is based on archaic morse code which absolutely require a manual, it's not difficult to learn but it certainly isn't designed to be user-friendly.

Both DACs have similar inputs and outputs, with the exception of ACSS output and 10Mhz clock input on the R7HE which allows both the DDC and DAC slaved to the same master clock. I have yet to add a 10Mhz clock to my backend.

The Sound
In terms of raw technical performance, the Terminator has a tough time keeping up with the R7HE. The R7HE is a beast but it isn't categorically better than the Terminator either.

The Terminator appears to sacrifice a degree of absolute accuracy for the pleasantness of sound. It is a gentle sounding DAC with slower decay, although sometimes a tad too smooth as it smothers certain nuances that is otherwise clearly present on the R7HE. However, the slower decay also adds a bit more body.

Both DACs are tonally spot on neutral when fed I2S. When listening to the intro of "Street Charmer" - Flim & the BB's, I couldn't discern a tonal difference of the street ambience rendered by either DACs.

Technical Breakdown
Soundstage
Both DACs are equally wide and deep. There is more air and better separation of instruments on the Terminator however, the R7HE has better focus and accurate imaging.

Tie.

Dynamics
The Terminator hits just as hard as the R7HE however, microdynamics is clearly better on the R7HE.

The background is darker on the R7HE, and the excellent dynamics makes notes suddenly appear out from nowhere one jiffy and gone completely the next.

On the Terminator the quietest and loudest notes are closer together in volume, it appeals to the detail junkie because everything can be heard, from the finger gliding over a double bass to the piano key striking the key bed. This can also be a double-edged sword, as on some older recordings the background static is raised to a higher level.

R7HE wins.

Treble
The treble on the R7HE is well extended and with better details, although at 8X oversampling it can sound sharp on some recordings and fatiguing for sensitive ears. When capped at 192khz, the treble is more balanced while still retaining the same amount of detail. Treble on the Terminator is more forgiving however, feels a bit subdued since it's missing the finer details of the R7HE.

Tie.

Midrange
If I didn’t know better, I would say the Terminator has an exceptional midrange, holding its own against many flagship DACs. But I’ve got the R7HE and I know what the better midrange sounds like.

The R7HE is the king of midrange, I have not heard a more balanced and realistic midrange of any DAC at any price. The transparency is on a different level to the Terminator, with crisp transients and unparalleled clarity. Vocals are fully textured and instruments are clearly delineated and yet, together. Leading edges have the correct sharpness yet are not too forward nor fatiguing. It is raw and unfiltered.

R7HE wins.

Bass
The bass is where the Terminator really shines, it is faster and more detailed in the mid and upper bass regions. The R7HE bass is a bit thicker and digs deeper however, when compared side by side, the bass sounds sluggish, overly rounded and lacks the same level of articulation. It’s almost like the Terminator / R7HE had done a 180 in bass control respective to other frequencies.

Terminator wins.

Song Impressions
@FredA; I Heard It Through the Grapevine – Bill Frisell, source: Tidal 16/44


This track has an enormous soundstage width and depth that goes beyond the confines of my room on both DACs. It starts off gentle and the main difference between the R7HE and Terminator is how the song grows in intensity over 8 minutes. On the R7HE each intensity increase is clear cut and the end result is satisfying, while on the Terminator the growth is gentler and by the end the same energy is missing and leaves you wanting more.

@anroj; Willow Weep for Me – Sinne Eeg/Thomas Fonnesbaek, source: Tidal 16/44


The Terminator renders the better and more detailed double bass, with each pluck sharper and clearly audible against the resonance of the instrument. On the R7HE the pluck is also audible but is harder to make out and is blanketed by the gooey bass. The R7HE redeems itself when Eeg’s voice emerges, it renders her voice complete with all nuances while the Terminator smooths over her voice.

@UsoppNoKami; Bad Guy – Billie Eilish, source: Tidal 16/44


The Terminator once again renders perfectly the moment the stick hits the drum, much earlier than the R7HE can, and on the R7HE it just seems to sound “doof doof doof…” in relativity. This track is overwhelmingly bassy on the R7HE and is more balanced on the Terminator where the bass is tighter and is of better quality. The synth notes at the 1 minute and 2 minute marks are more distinctive with the R7HE while on the Terminator there is a longer sustain after each note.

@Chopin75; Berceuse in D-Flat Major Op 57 Andante – Chopin/Francois Dumont, source: Tidal 16/44


Both DACs portray each piano note perfectly with the correct weight difference between the left and right hands, the Terminator is just a tad smoother especially in the upper octaves. My main issue is with the inherit airiness of the Terminator making the left and right hands sound like two separate pianos when the hands are further apart.

@Tango Sierra; Joan of Arc – Jennifer Warnes, source: Tidal 16/44


As the quiet and loud noises are closer together on the Terminator, the chimes in the background is more obvious during the intro of the track. The same chimes become almost inaudible from the 7th second onwards on the R7HE, they can be still be heard with mental focus and are more succinct. Once again, both Warnes and Cohan’s voices are sharper on the R7HE and smoother on the Terminator. The vocals on this track is quite shouty on the R7HE and is more laidback on the Terminator.

@Tango Sierra; Good Morning School Girl – Muddy Waters, source: HDTracks 24/96.


The speed of transient decay on the R7HE makes this track sound absolutely glorious, the Terminator has a slightly tighter bass but the midrange and treble sounds veiled in comparison. Soundstage and placement are spot on with both DACs.

From me; Limit to Your Love – James Blake, source: Tidal 16/44


This is a track where the Terminator really shines with its clean bass lines, the perfect contrast between voice, drums and drone. On the R7HE the bass is too slow and lingers long enough that it obscures the finer textures in the bass, it also bleeds into the lower midrange and lacks the same PRaT as on the Terminator. I dislike the R7HE rendition of this track.

Conclusion
As to what is better, the Denafrips Terminator or the Audio-GD R7HE? Neither. Bottom line there is no “best” even in high-end. Both DACs are exceptional, and my subjective preference is with the R7HE. While the Denafrips did superbly on Audio-GD’s turf (and is possibly a better standalone DAC), I prefer the overall more realistic sound of my R7HE over Terminator’s smooth and pleasant presentation, it also synergises better with the rest of my Audio-GD setup. Although I do find myself longing for the Terminator’s bass from time to time.

The Audio-GD R7HE is an ultra-premium product that has demonstrated the ability to perform in the high-end category. It is sold directly out of China without distributor and retailer markups which is how it can have godly performance at an entry level price. It will be endgame for many people looking for the ultimate neutrality, including seasoned audiophiles. There’s not many DACs that can come close to its raw performance.
 
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@Jackula
Thank you so much for devoting so much time to enlighten us as to the differences of these to fine DACs. It sounds like I might never be completely happy. From your descriptions, I want the highs and mids of the R7HE and the bass of the Terminator. Maybe a future Audio-gd firmware will give me the solution.

Thanks again.
 
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FredA

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@Jackula

Thanks for the great review! And about bass, don't give up on the r7he, what is funny with audio-gd is their gears can still improve a bit up until 6 months after putting them in service. A good example is the r2r-11. Maybe even up to one year. I feel like i have great bass but of course, i haven't tried the terminator. Another thing is i am using silver litz ics, this give an overall significant upgrade to my setup,.including bass. You gain speed and texture and even smoothness in the highs.

I have bought some neotech 7n occ litz on aliexpress and will be assembling 3 of these during the next weeks. I will report on it when burned-in. The point being the non feedback stages love fast cables.
 
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FredA

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Also, about @Jackula 's conclusions, one winning element for me is how the r7he will play old records. Old jazz music is full of hidden gems i would not want to miss on. Listen to Oscar Peterson Tenderly and tell me about it! Wes Montgomery, pretty much all albums. Some Duke Ellington and many others, the list is too long.
 
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@Jackula

Also, one important thing with bass, the terminator is possibly better at dejittering. Using a usbridge signature brings improvements on all frequency ranges and is likely to output a cleaner signal than the iso regen. Used as a roon node, it should be even better than in my setup, where i use it as standalone player. Nice little unit, and great sounding, quite better than the original unit. Yesterday, i transfer my music collection to a 256gb usb stick to replace the ssd i was using, to reduce the noise floor in the usbridge. I got a small upgrade. But most of all, i reduced the numbers of boxes, eliminated a switching wallwart psu and i don't have this annoying blue led blinking in my face, THIS is a huge improvement!
 
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