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My music sources are on toslink, then to an optical switchbox, then to a digital EQ, then to the HA-1. I use the HA-1's balanced headphone outputs to drive my LCD-2, and its balanced line level outputs to drive an Adcom 5800 that drives a pair of Magnepan 3.6/R.
Wow, that was quick - thanks, both of you!
So, the common thread here is that neither of you are using the HA-1's USB receiver. I found that using even an inexpensive USB-to-SPDIF converter with Coaxial out to feed the HA-1's DAC section was superior to using the HA-1's USB receiver - at least with the highly resolving HD 800.
But I'm quite content using the HA-1's built-in USB receiver with my low-resolving Audeze LCD-2 rev.1, even though I've currently dedicated the HA-1 and LCD-2 (for the past year or so) to receiving an optical input from my Sony Bravia TV, for late-night viewing or anytime I want to hear really excellent sound while watching a movie by myself. The LCD-2 loves all that power coming from the HA-1's 4-pin XLR jack - tightens up the bass very nicely.
There is a very loyal base of HA-1 users...especially in this thread...even more so, given the discontinuation of a very good product for its price. It punches higher than many of its competitors. However, you will see some owners not liking the "sabre glare" and prefer other DACs. Thankfully for me, I am not one of them and it simplifies my rig...albeit that I did spend some $ experimenting with other DACs.
I have used the HA-1's USB occasionally when testing equipment. But I don't use it for everyday listening. However, the HA-1's USB is async, and should be transparent. I wonder if whatever difference you noted as an improvement was a frequency response dip synergistic with the HD-800's "hot region" around 6 kHz?
When I first got my HA-1, I loved the sound of the whole enchilada ...I could not hear the Sabre Glare either....until I got my Yggdrasil DAC...the difference is pretty huge...once you compare your Sabre DAC to a R2R DAC you will hear the difference quite easily. ESS has already updated the SABRE DAC to 9038 specs from 9018-9028... and yet still cannot compete with Ladder-type DACs . the DAC section in the HA-1 is the older 9018....Take your HA-1 and your favorite Cans to where you can demo an R2R DAC and you will hear the difference!
I had the gungnir multi bit and bifrost multibit and for better or for worse, I couldn't discern the difference. I had the multibit DACs warmed up for weeks as well. I think more than likely, it is my brain or ear that is not hearing the difference. Given my experience with R2R, It did simplify my set up to just the HA-1...believe me, I wanted to hear a difference.
It might not be your ears. It could be your brain. Expectation bias (placebo effect) is powerful and subconscious. Some people are more prone to it than others.
Note: I'm not saying all DACs sound alike, or that there is no audible difference in sound. My point is only that between well-engineered DACs having excellent measured performance, whatever audible differences may exist are subtle, hard to detect in DBT even by well trained listeners with sharp ears.
Well, I have gone to great detail on how I assembled my digital file playback system. I feed my HA-1 with Balanced outputs from my Yggy, that is fed an AES signal from my Audiobyte Hydra Z DDC...even with Cans turned up loud...there is zero Hiss...and I think I could demo that difference to anyone who has a copy of their reference Music files....The brightness is easy to detect with comparing them back to back with a files they would know like the backs of their hands...from an R2R type DAC it sounds much much closer to Vinyl....without the Pops & Ticks...
But like everything audiophile...YMMV....Just my 2 cents
For sure. I know my preference has evolved from a darker to brighter sound and there is that possibility of sound signature preference. This is the beauty of this hobby and quest for your own perfect rig.
These sonic signatures are kind of a mystery. I've seen amps that measured so well they should be impossible to differentiate in DBT. But they weren't; well-trained listeners (myself among others) reliably detected differences. These differences were subtle, but reliably detectable. I don't believe in mystical forces, so I conclude that there are objective, audible aspects of the sound that are not captured by the kind of measurements typically done, like HD, IMD, FR, S/N etc. Of course, those measurements do capture audible aspects of sound. Yet there must be additional audible aspects that these measurements don't capture. One that comes to mind is how to come up with a measurement that captures the subjective experience of transient response.
Doing some ABC comparing today. HA-1, Chord Hugo TT and A&K SP1000 in DAC mode. I used Roon to group all three as end points (no DSP of course) and volume leveled as best I could. I then switched my Utopias (manually connecting to each). I used The Yes Album - A Venture and Perpetual Change - Steven Wilson Remix 96/24 for the extra detail. Conclusion - I love Yes. Also all three DACs where very close in detail and I could not pick a winner.... but
HA-1 - a little more forward
Hugo TT - a little more detailed but not much
SP1000 - smooth
Not scientific but I wanted to see how the old HA-1 stood up as I had not been using it for awhile. (desk space premium).
I recently got a Ha1 a few days ago and have been loving it so far. Unfortunately i'm in quite a conundrum as it's making me want to sell my Gungnir Multibit which is by all regards a more expensive dac. I have been doing A/B comparisons for the last 2 days now between the Gumby dac and the Oppo Ha1 dac and for the life of me i cannot notice a discernible difference of say more then 1%. The Gumby sounds maybe a touch warmer and when i say a touch it's really not even noticeable it's to such a tiny degree, that in fact it may not even be there. Also just to mention that i used the Oppo amp for both dacs and listened at exactly the same volume with same cables for all tests. Only took me about 2 seconds to change between dacs as well.
Anyway, That's how alike the sound sounds coming from both the Gumby and Ha1 dac sounded. Now just to make sure i was hearing what i was hearing. I compared the sound impressions from a HD800S, LCD 2, and a Shure 846. I could clearly hear HUGE! sonic differences between the headphones but not between the two dacs. I'm honestly becoming a believer that 99% of the sonic difference is coming from the headphone and not from the dac. If i had to advise someone buying new gear that wanted to hear the best sound, i would honestly tell them the headphone is by far and away the most important part.
So where does this leave me, i'm not really sure to be honest and would love some of your guys input....
I'm tempted to just sell my Gumby soon which i have loved so much. I will continue to spend hours doing more tests as i enjoy it, but i'm not really sure what to think about spending money on dac's after a certain price point anymore.
I had the Gumby and fwiw I could not hear much difference.
This sounds completely normal and expected. The audible differences between well engineered well built DACs with excellent measurements are like splitting hairs. You sound like an exceptionally self-honest listener, less prone to expectation bias than most people. I suggest continue critical listening for those subtle differences to see if anything changes. Then make your own decision, based on your own listening.