New Grace Design m920 DAC/amp with DSD decoding
Jun 14, 2015 at 11:30 PM Post #376 of 677
Any other m903 users who have made the change to m920?
Specifically, I'm wondering if there are sound quality advancements other than a change of signature - i.e. 920 a bit cooler and a bit more detailed.
My listening habits seem to be gravitating to lossless streaming (16/44) via Tidal.
I don't have any DSD material - and to be honest, the very limited titles don't seem to justify the change (alone).
Any thoughts?
Jun 18, 2015 at 8:53 AM Post #377 of 677
Grace covered the main changes here:

I have heard the m903, but not enough to give a good comparison to my m920.  I remember reading about the m903 in the past on Gearslutz, and someone said that the Benchmark DAC2 HGC clearly outperformed it, which I think might've been at least one of the reasons for Grace the design the m920, as the m920 and DAC 2 HGC's are very close competitors in terms of performance, features, and price.
Jun 20, 2015 at 4:42 AM Post #378 of 677
  Grace covered the main changes here:

I have heard the m903, but not enough to give a good comparison to my m920.  I remember reading about the m903 in the past on Gearslutz, and someone said that the Benchmark DAC2 HGC clearly outperformed it, which I think might've been at least one of the reasons for Grace the design the m920, as the m920 and DAC 2 HGC's are very close competitors in terms of performance, features, and price.

Thanks. I was hoping for a few more direct comparisons. 
I do love the features/operation/SQ of the m903, its a beautifully made piece of hardware. By extension, I'm sure I'd like the operationally similar m920.
I don't have any opportunity to hear the m920 prior to purchase, so based on what I've read and the addition of DoP, the argument isn't compelling enough for me to upgrade. Especially since the change over cost would be quite significant.
Jun 22, 2015 at 10:41 AM Post #380 of 677
Yeah, sorry I couldn't provide a better answer.  I remember reading a while back, and the user Yannick mentions that he found the Benchmark DAC 2 HGC clearly better than the m903, but he doesn't have a comparison to the newer m920 (which I've read compares extremely well with the DAC 2 HGC).  But yeah, I don't have enough first-hand experience to give a better answer.  From what I've read, I have a feeling the biggest upgrade between the two would be the low frequency extension, but whether that's worth it is down to the individual of course.
Jun 23, 2015 at 5:04 AM Post #382 of 677
Hmm...  Unless I'm thinking of something else, because I'm struggling to find it myself (sorry if I misremembered).  While it doesn't compare the sonic performance, Grace does compare the m920 to the DAC2 HGC in terms of features in the user comments here:

While I know this isn't what you're looking for, I will add this: The m920 is definitely the better looking unit in my opinion :).  I especially love the way they brand the top of the unit as seen here: (for anyone interested, the colors in this picture are a bit off, as the display and power button illumination are pure white, while this picture makes them look a bit blue).
Jun 23, 2015 at 5:35 AM Post #383 of 677

Thanks, AudioMan, no problem. I'm aware of all those details. Having had the unit for some time now, could you share your impressions on its sonic qualities? PCM, DSD, headphone output performance? Sth you've been impressed with, or sth you don't like so much about it, incl. its hardware, fit and finish. 
Jun 24, 2015 at 3:04 AM Post #384 of 677
Sure, no problem.
I have been extremely satisfied with it's sonic performance.  It sounds very neutral, but without being fatiguing.  So far, I have only used it with PCM, as my library is currently a mess and being redone, so I haven't bothered getting any DSD tracks yet.  I'll probably get the SACD Beach Boys releases sometime soon though.  For PCM, I've mainly been using the Slow Response filter (the default), but I've been playing with the minimum phase filter as well.

My main headphones are Sennheiser HD 700's, and I've found the m920 to work well with them (hell, the product picture on Grace's site shows an HD 700 cable connected to the m920), though it is worth noting that I use my Woo WA7 (currently stock tubes, but I plan to try the upgrades eventually) as my primary headphone amp.  In comparison, the m920's main difference is being more neutral and having more high-frequency extension (something the upgrade tubes for the WA7 are supposed to improve).  The HD 700's are known for sometimes being a bit treble-heavy, and so far I haven't had any complaints.  It is worth noting that once the volume of the headphone amp hits 96.5, the volume attenuator adds 10dB of gain (and brings the attenuation down by 9.5dB), which does add some noise (hiss), but I can't hear it with my HD 700's.  I can only hear it when I use my SE 535's, which I don't really use at home anyways.  The attenuator chip is a Cirrus Logic CS3318 as mentioned earlier in this thread for anyone interested.
I mainly use the m920 as a standalone DAC (with the single-ended outputs in standalone DAC mode), which feeds both my WA7 as mentioned above, as well as a NAD D 3020, which powers a pair of CEntrance MasterClass 2504's.  I'll be honest and say that I don't have a ton of experience with high-end DAC's, but I certainly noticed an improvement over the one built into the WA7.  The first improvement I noticed when I upgraded was the sound stage.  It felt easier to "feel" where something was coming from (again, sorry if I'm not the best at explaining these things).

As far as fit and finish goes, I am extremely impressed.  The looks speak for themselves, and as I said above, in addition to the obvious, I love the Grace logo on the top as well as how the top and bottom plates have an angled cut near the front panel.  The m920 is built largely (if not mainly) as a piece of studio gear, so its looks are plain, but in a way that feels premium.  All edges are smooth, although the edge around the display is a bit on the sharp side (but this is nitpicking to extreme levels; it's not like it's sharp enough to even consider cutting something or someone).  There is no play at all in the source selector, and it has a nice click to it when moving it.  The volume knob has a VERY tiny amount of play in it, but again, this is nitpicking.  The controls are extremely easy to use (though you will need the reference manual to know what is what until you memorize it from normal use, or at least the settings you may find yourself changing semi-regularly).  The menu will remember what setting you were on when you left it, even if the unit has been power-cycled.  It is worth noting that there are a few more hidden things not mentioned in the manual: holding the volume encoder while powering up with the source selector not set to USB will show the firmware version installed before booting up if released at around 2 seconds after powering up, or if held longer will do a display test, turning on all lights and display segments until the unit is power-cycled.  If the volume encoder is held down while powering up with the source selector set to USB, the unit will give you the option to reset all of its settings to the factory defaults.
The only thing on the m920 that I think could use a minor improvement is the standalone DAC feature.  I'm somewhat surprised that it can only be used on the single-ended outputs.  In addition to this, in order to enable/disable the feature, jumpers inside of the unit need to be adjusted.  This isn't a setting you're likely to need to change often, so it's hardly a big deal, but I think it's worth mentioning.  Even if it was too complicated to allow control of this via the menu, I think some hidden dip switches would've made more sense (heck, even if the internal jumpers were replaced with dip switches).  I can't imagine this being a big deal for 99.9% of people, but I suppose if you are in that 0.1%, you could make yourself a switch to attach to the jumper pins.  I do like the fact that Grace shows that they don't mind people opening their gear and taking a look inside.  Lastly, you should know that when using standalone DAC mode on the single-ended outputs, no volume or volume related controls such as balance will work for the single-ended outputs (as is the point of the feature in the first place), and the analog inputs will not be passed to the single-ended output, which makes sense, as using something as a standalone DAC implies that you're not using it as a preamp.
Jun 24, 2015 at 5:00 AM Post #385 of 677
AudioMan, thanks again for your very informative and useful response! The m920 is obviously a very well thought out and high quality device. Reading about your system, I thought I'd probably choose an alternative route. Wouldn't m920, going directly to some actives (say Dynaudio Excite X14A), be cleaner and higher quality solution than passing through NAD D 3020 (which may be fine device in its own right) to passives? Just thinking. 
Jun 24, 2015 at 1:01 PM Post #386 of 677
I use a m903 with an active set of Dynaudio MC15s, a similar setup to what you describe. I like the dac/pre combination a lot, and also the quality of the volume control in the m903. Whether it's a higher quality solution, depends mainly on the amps in the active speakers vs the NAD. However, the quality volume control in the Grace units is a definite plus to this route. An added 'bonus' is that active speakers make sure you don't get speaker amp upgraditits...
Jun 25, 2015 at 9:30 AM Post #387 of 677
No problem!

I actually got the speakers before I got the m920, though they had been sitting in a box for a while as I hadn't redone my desk.  Then the m920 came along on Massdrop.  I knew the m903 was very well regarded, and the m920 is an upgraded version of that, so I jumped on it.  Passive vs active speaker won't really matter, because you need an amplifier somewhere.  Whether that's in an external box or in the speaker doesn't change the fact that it's an amp.  If anything, this allows me to upgrade individual components, which is always nice.  If you're not happy with the amplifier in active monitors, you may in fact be forced to upgrade the monitors themselves.  But yeah, as Michgelson said, this can lead to the temptation of amplifier upgrades...and you'll have another set of cables that you might be tempted to upgrade as well, if you're into that.

It's worth noting that the D 3020 has proven to me to be an excellent desktop amp (it won Stereophile's 2014 budget product of the year), and I was even able to power my old Polk Audio SDA-2 floor speakers with it (granted, I would prefer to have more than 30 WPC for those speakers, but I was just using them in a temporary setup, and it was still able to get loud enough to fill a somewhat large living room and maintained high quality sound while running at around 4/5 of it's maximum power output.  I got my MasterClass 2504's on Massdrop as well, and I have to say, the pairing between them and the NAD D 3020 has been very nice.  Eventually, I might add a subwoofer to the setup more for movies and gaming, but overall, I'm very happy with the setup.  The speakers are better than I expected (not that I didn't expect good things).  Also, while there are many excellent active speakers out there, especially in the world of monitors, the vast majority of the best loudspeakers in existence (Wilson, mbl, Vandersteen, YG Acoustics, etc.) are passive, as the more high-end you get in audio, typically the less you see components being combined.  And while active monitors are huge these days, there are still plenty of well-known ones out there, including some industry standards, such as ProAC Studio 100's, which are passive.
That said, the m920 would make an excellent controller for active monitors (and Grace actually lists it under monitor controllers on their site, calling it a "high resolution monitoring system).
Oh, that reminds me, I bought the optional remote because it looked cool in the pictures, and it is very heavy and the buttons have a really nice tactile feel to them.  The remote is definitely overpriced, I won't dispute that, but I want to point out that it is probably the most buff feeling remote control that I've ever used that's not made out of metal.  Just note that you cannot power the unit on/off or change sources with the remote.
Jun 25, 2015 at 3:27 PM Post #388 of 677

I thought the remote was actually 'heavy metal' 
 Anyway, thanks, AudioMan, your first-hand input is appreciated! 

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