New Grace Design m920 DAC/amp with DSD decoding
Jun 28, 2015 at 6:18 PM Post #393 of 677
Most likely because it's primary purpose is to be a desktop DAC / monitor controller, and for that purpose, if you are out of reach of the unit, you probably won't be changing the source or powering it up, but just leaning back from your monitors.  It would be nice, but it's not necessary for this, as you're rarely going to adjust things other than volume and maybe which outputs are enabled (a setting you can quickly change with the remote).  Also, the m920 is pretty stuffed inside, and adding electronic controls of those functions would mean that the unit would need to be enlarged a bit to make room for more relays, a motorized volume pot, etc.  I think the only place where you really need a remote for those functions is in a home speaker setup, where you will usually be out of reach of your components, which I don't think was the primary market for the m920 (not that it couldn't do the job just fine as long as you don't mind needing to get up for these functions), but again, once your DAC is on and the source is set, how often do you turn it off or change the source?  And if you do change the source, half of the time you still need to go to the source to load up media anyways.
 
Jul 8, 2015 at 10:17 PM Post #395 of 677
Got offered a pretty good deal on the m920, so decided to roll the dice.
Now have the Grace m920 in house to compare to my m903.

 
 
While I've only just got the m920, I'll offer some preliminary impressions.
Externally these two DAC/preamps are virtual twins (back panel identical) and operation is the same as well.
 
I peeked under the hood of the m920 and here its obvious that the pcb has had an extensive redesign to accommodate the 9018 2M dac chip.
Speaking of the dac - that thing is freaking tiny!! - around the same size a surface mount dual opamp!
While much has changed on the pcb, there is also a lot of carry over.
The headphone amp uses the same device and appears identical. The analog input receivers, dac I/V, filter and SE output chips are the same. A good thing IMO as Grace Design seems to have put a bit of thought into the components chosen for these tasks. Many other designs just choose an opamp part and use it everywhere regardless of function.
 
I inserted the m920 directly in place of the m903 which I was using as a dac/preamp in my system.
I haven't done any swapping in/out (yet) - but I'm pretty familiar with the 903, having owned it for 2 years.
System chain: Mac Mini > iFi usb power filter/Gemini usb cable > usb input m920 , SE output  > Odyssey Khartago power amp > Harbeth Monitor 30.1 speakers.
Headphones are the notoriously inefficient HiFiman HE-6. Some may raise their eyebrows at the HE-6, but I used them with the m903 and it proved perfectly adequate for the task and sounded very good.
 
Just a word on the remote. I recently bought a Grace remote for my m903 as I had some issues using (some of) the 902 codes on the Harmony database(no 903 codes).
I was surprised to find that this functions perfectly for the m920. I went back and checked the box it came in - and found that it was actually labelled as an m920 remote.
For some reason I was under the impression the codes had been changed from the m903 - but I can verify they're the same. Furthermore the Harmony codes for the m920 work fine - so I imagine these will also work perfectly for the m903 as well (haven't actually tried this yet) - tried, didn't work, see below.
 
So after a decent warm-up I had a listen. Initially I wasn't overwhelmed/blown away by any drastic change, but as I listened I became convinced that the m920 is an emphatic leap forward.
For starters, it's hard to miss the increase in clarity - not just of individual performers, but also resolution of the soundspace. This gives more 'thereness' to everything - you feel closer to recording because there is more 'realness' to familiar sounds. Instruments/performers are more easily untangled and separated from the mix with more space around them. Individual sounds/voices are more easily recognised - ie the individual characteristics of different voices etc become clearer. On a similar line, the differences between recordings - or even tracks - is more emphatic. This is always a good sign IMO as it speaks highly of the transparency of the device.
BTW you don't have to use hi-res recordings to hear these changes (though I did) - the improvements are clearly audible even on MP3 quality material (Spotify premium).
In regard to hi-res recordings, my initial impression is that the benefits of these are more obvious through the m920 than the m903 - no doubt due to the increase in clarity and resolution.
 
While most of my listening so far has been through my Harbeth monitors, I've done some with the HE-6. I can confirm the m920 is just as adept at driving the HE-6 as the m903 (as expected) but that the increased clarity is very apparent. This not only gives more precise imaging but also a more spacious out of the head sound to the HE-6's. Bass sounds awesome through the HE-6's - more powerful/solid/defined than the m903 - which is kind of weird since the headphone amp is identical and this must be down to the dac and other minor tweaking. The best thing is that the more precise/resolved sound is not at the expense of any added brightness. There is greater clarity and openness to HF instruments, but they don't sound brighter. I was worried about this as the HE-6 has a reputation of exposing brightness due to its balance. In fact, if anything, I think the m920 has a more refined sound. These benefits are easy to hear with the HE-6's.
 
I'll probably have more to say after more listening, but suffice to say I'm very pleased with my purchase. While value judgements may vary from person to person, I believe the upgrade from the m903 to m920 is very worthwhile - particularly if you're as sold on the features/functionality of the m903 as I was.
 
EDIT: I tried the 920 codes, from the online Harmony database, on the m903 - they DIDN'T work! Which is really weird because the Grace remote works perfectly with either m903 or m920. If I use the Grace remote to program my Harmony it works fine with the m903.
confused.gif
  
 
Jul 17, 2015 at 10:02 PM Post #396 of 677
Awesome comparison, thanks!  What do you think of the bass from the DAC section alone?  Grace said that they were manage to get nearly an octave more of low frequency extension out of the m920.  Also, have you played around with the different filters at all?
 
Jul 18, 2015 at 2:48 AM Post #397 of 677
  Awesome comparison, thanks!  What do you think of the bass from the DAC section alone?  Grace said that they were manage to get nearly an octave more of low frequency extension out of the m920.  Also, have you played around with the different filters at all?


If you mean the DAC direct out (volume control bypass) - I haven't actually tried that since I'm using the m920 as a preamp. I would expect the LF result to be similar in both cases anyway.
To be clear, I don't find the bass in any way over-emphasised or lacking coherency with the rest of the spectrum. 
Before listening I wouldn't have thought the difference in low frequency specs would amount to much audible difference - but I find there is improved bass authority even on my frequency limited Harbeth monitors. Strange.
BTW, the he-6 phone's go to another level when driven via my Khartago power amp via the line out of the m920. The headphone amp is quite good but, at least with the inefficient he-6, a quality external amp goes significantly further.
 
FWIW, don't think the apparent increase in bass authority is the most significant improvement. IMO the top to bottom increase in clarity/refinement and overall coherence are most significant. I find the end musical result with the m920 a big step up from the m903.
 
I've listened to the 3 filter positions and my preference is the minimum phase. IMO, this setting gives the most open sound with best resolution of space and high frequency detail. The Slow rolloff filter sounded a little restrained, less open/detailed. The Fast rolloff filter seemed to have more HF energy (weird, as this is the traditional 'brick wall' filter) but without the resolved quality of the minimum phase and could sometimes sound a bit 'tizzy'. 
 
EDIT: corrected first sentence to refer to the m920, not m903.
 
Jul 18, 2015 at 4:36 AM Post #398 of 677
Yeah, slow is what I've been using as well.
 
I just meant judging the sound based on the DAC alone, not with the built-in amp, volume control in the signal path or not (I'm sure it doesn't suck very much out of the signal).  I was just curious since the extra low frequency extension was one of the first things Grace mentioned in their first post in this thread.
 
Jul 20, 2015 at 2:25 AM Post #399 of 677
  Yeah, slow is what I've been using as well.
 


Just to be clear, I'm using the minimum phase - 'P' option in the filter menu - not the Slow response 'S' option.
 
Aug 13, 2015 at 10:07 AM Post #403 of 677
Slow in my system (linear phase-slow)


After weeks of listening to the Minimum Phase setting I went back and re-listened to the filter options.
Curiously I now also find the 'Slow' setting superior, with more natural sound and airier high frequency decays.
This preference seems quite clear cut now.
From memory my initial evaluation of this setting was conducted with the HE-6's which in hindsight may have skewed my results.
The Slow setting sounds clearly preferable with both my Harbeth monitors and Senn HD600's.
 
Sep 13, 2015 at 12:35 AM Post #404 of 677
I'm tracking Massdrop to see if the m920 drops again.  However, my one prior experience with a Massdrop didn't go well:  I received some defective speakers and was advised by the manufacturer that their warranty didn't apply to Massdrop-purchased speakers.  I had to initiate a credit card dispute and send photos to the cc company to get my money back.  I ultimately decided that the manufacturer was using Massdrop to purge their inventory of factory seconds (more like thirds in this case!).
 
So my question is:  Would a m920 from purchased through Massdrop be covered by the standard warranty from Grace?  And would that unit be first-quality, factroy-fresh merchandise? 
 
Sep 13, 2015 at 7:01 PM Post #405 of 677
Wow, that's unfortunate.  Do you mind if you ask what speakers?  My boss and I just ordered a pair of KEF LS50's for our office from Massdrop.
 
My m920 from Massdrop was brand new, in the original box, and came with the original manufacturer's warranty.
 
I do know that sometimes there can be disputes between manufacturers, vendors, and Massdrop, but I have never had this issue.
 
I have also gotten a Woo Audio WA7, Sennheiser HD 700's, and CEntrance MasterClass 2504's, and never had an issue with support.  One of the tweeters in my MasterClass 2504's developed a buzzing sound (I wasn't the only one apparently), and CEntrance had no issue replacing the driver in my speaker.  In-fact, I met Michael Goodman, the founder and CEO of CEntrance at T.H.E. Show Newport Beach 2014, and I talked to him about getting my speakers through Massdrop, and he said he loved the site (which is probably why there have been so many CEntrance drops, including custom items made specifically for Massdrop).
 

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