No love for Monica USB DAC - Why?
Feb 10, 2008 at 1:31 AM Thread Starter Post #1 of 42


Headphoneus Supremus
Nov 29, 2006
A few months ago I was on the lookout for a decent mid-range USB DAC. After many hours of searching and reading of reviews I decided on the Monica USB from DIY Paradise.

I think I paid about $160 in un-cased form. After adding less than an additional $50 for case power supply and connectors, I have what I think is a very nice sounding USB DAC at a pretty good price.

While I really like this DAC, it seems to get very little attention here at head-fi. It seems to get only the occasional mention, and on the odd occasion comments that are far less than positive.

Why is that? Is the Monica USB not very good in most people's opinion? If so, what is wrong with it?

The main reason for my question is not so much that I am seeking community confirmation for my purchase, but because I really wonder how much better a DAC could be. Are other DACs so much better? Am I really missing out on something considerably better at that (or similar) price point?
Feb 10, 2008 at 2:23 AM Post #2 of 42
I think that the USB monica is kind of an enigma it's cheap but incomplete upon purchase. Some people will be drawn to it while others will look at something that comes in a box or with a headphone amp built in for near the same price. I really have enjoyed the performance of the usb Monica 2. Maybe it has more to do with the kind of people who buy the thing and the price point not having more exposure to dacs. In general lots of people don't think that a NOS Dac is a good thing.
Feb 10, 2008 at 3:08 AM Post #3 of 42
I like my new ultra microdac better
, but the monica is nice too. Its sitting in my closet.
Feb 10, 2008 at 5:22 AM Post #4 of 42
There are some unusual aspects to the Monica's design that would result in questions....

1. It's NOS and uses an "ancient" DAC chip....if that's really the best way to handle d/a, why did all the chip makers develop much more complex designs over the past 20 years that most of us feel have increased resolution and detail?

2. From what I know, the various Monica DAC's do use proper analog filters....but there have been some unfiltered NOS designs out there that have really poor frequency response and have severe aliasing issues (outputting what amounts to a definitely wrong analog frequency spectrum compared to what is really contained in the digital input.) That tended to make folks doubt the accuracy of all NOS designs, perhaps.

3. It uses asynchronous resampling, and that tends to be considered a less-than-optimal design. However, it's become widely known that the Benchmark DAC1 also uses async resampling--so that is probably not considered a huge limiting factor any more.

4. It can't handle higher bit depth/rate than 16/44.1--which isn't a limitation for most people, but some have hi-rez files now that couldn't be played back on it without software downsampling.
Feb 10, 2008 at 6:23 AM Post #5 of 42
Probably for the same reason that people still listen to tube amps. NOS dacs have a unique sound that isn't necessarily superior to other dacs, but its unique enough to draw a fanbase. I doubt monicas fans are confused regarding its age and outdated design. They like it for a specific reason.

I think it has to be seen in that context. Just like in headphones, my sennheisers might be higher quality, sturdier and all around better than my grados, but my grados do something specific well enough to warrant having both. Apples to oranges.
Feb 10, 2008 at 6:27 AM Post #6 of 42
I'm interested with Monica 3, how do they sound?
I check the DIY forum, but not much talk about this DAC, also I found out from the original website (DIYKITS singapore) who produce the DAC, the description is very hectic, with a hint of profanity and swearing, and makes us wonder this guy want to sell his stuff or not?
Feb 10, 2008 at 10:06 AM Post #8 of 42
oh yeah... my mistake, typo error.
Feb 11, 2008 at 1:39 PM Post #10 of 42
plenty of love here.




i've read both sides of the argument concerning the Monica: the technical side that pans the circuit design and all the theoretical flaws behind it, and the audio side which lauds the sound quality that it produces.

thankfully, i don't seem to have ears discerning enough to pick up those ugly sine wave forms that an oscilloscope can reveal. instead, i hear a warm, coherent musical presentation that suits my tastes well and doesn't leave me cold, like a lot of digital music often did.

having said that, like fordgtlover, i'm naturally curious how it compares to a higher end OS design, but i could happily live with my Monica for now.

as for it's lack of popularity around here, i think others have probably touched on some of the bigger reasons: the DIY packaging, the limitation to Redbook, and an older design that maybe doesn't appeal to those perpetually looking for the latest and the greatest.

for the money though, i have to believe the Monica punches well above it's weight.
Feb 12, 2008 at 7:57 AM Post #13 of 42

Originally Posted by Hadden /img/forum/go_quote.gif
It was panned badly as a design on the diy sites. I thought it nice and warm sounding. If a bit mushy. What the heck, it's cheap, and was well worth a try.

Feb 12, 2008 at 1:43 PM Post #14 of 42
thanks fordgtlover. your informative replies concerning the wiring and resistor values were greatly appreciated.

as for the "mush," i'm puzzled by this comment as well. it sounds quite clear and transparent to my ears throughout the frequency range. i must admit, on first listen it sounded a little congested with some music, but it seems to have really opened up. it is warm but detailed.

some older reviews mentioned slightly tapered dynamics, but i don't pick that up, either. maybe it has something to do with the music i listen to, or perhaps it's due to the Broertjes Gain Stage, which is said to improve upon this.

as mentioned though, i really ought to compare this to a good oversampling DAC to gauge any differences. i haven't heard any high end CD players either, but i prefer the Monica to all the ones i have listened to. i suspect in the end it would come down to personal taste rather than absolute superiority based on any criteria.
Feb 12, 2008 at 2:55 PM Post #15 of 42

Originally Posted by fordgtlover /img/forum/go_quote.gif

Well it has been awhile. Comparing it to the Benchmark usbDac1 on Vengerov/Rostropovich in Shosty Violin Concerto 1, the orchestra is more ill-defined/amorphous, with bloomy bass. It sounds like I am slagging it off. It's pretty good. Just euphonic, or something...BTW I wasn't all that crazy about the Dac1 -- but thats another subject.

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