Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital Impression Thread

Discussion in 'Dedicated Source Components' started by onsionsi, Aug 18, 2017.
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  1. Left Channel
    I fixed the Qobuz Windows app issue — turns out it was my fault, of course — and edited post #69 above to reflect that.

    Also, I'm happy to report that John Westlake has again promised to get the "pop" sound fixed, and he said our input is very helpful because this firmware is the basis for part of his MDAC2 project as well. Very interesting.
    onsionsi likes this.
  2. Dexon
    Of course its not. I remember the buzz around AudioLab's Mdac (Whestlake), here and on 'another' forum. Boy, how disappointed I was when I acquired it.
  3. Pete-FIN
    Left Channel, a question for you.
    When you use Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital, can you change selected filter when listening MQA ?

    For some reason I'm presuming, that having multiple filters installed inside the converters hardware would not be allowed because of MQA licensing rules. I remember reading a few years ago MQA people making a huge fuss about their own way of handling the music inside the converter, therefore my presumption of not allowing changeable filters inside MQA enabled devices.
  4. Left Channel
    Good question! The Filter button is disabled when in MQA mode. In the main menu Distortion Compensation can still be enabled or disabled.
    Wildcatsare1 and Pete-FIN like this.
  5. Left Channel
    OK, time to write about how it sounds! This is a very competent, amazingly feature-packed little thing, and the designer deserves applause. In his posts he calls it the "S2", and I will follow suit. After some experimenting, I have the S2 working well in all resolutions and modes. I have left the Audio Quality on "Best", which sets Distortion Compensation to disabled and the filter to Optimal Transient. Filters are disabled in MQA mode (thanks @Pete-FIN ), and as you know a firmware update for the "popping" sound is promised.

    The sound is very neutral to me, though some may find it bright if they are used to warmer systems. Comparing only the DAC to my Modi 2U, with both outputting via their preamps to my Genelec M030 active desktop monitors, I find the two products so close in sound that I wonder if I am falling prey to expecation bias when I hear any difference at all, but I do find the Modi 2U to be just a bit smoother.

    This impression is stronger when comparing the headphone output to my Modi 2U + Magni 2U combo. The S2 is still very very close in sound, but I feel the Magni 2U offers slightly more detail, in a fuller, smoother, more pleasant experience overall. More expectation bias? Less likely at this stage. But the differences are not large.

    The MQA, DSD, and ultra hi-res features of the S2 may more than make up for any such perception, and certainly are a lot of fun to explore. Switching on Distortion Compensation or changing filters could improve the SQ, so please post if you play with those. This feature-rich little box offers a multitude of possible distractions. I miss having a separate DAC and amp though, which allows me to for example insert a Loki Mini between them rather than only in front of the external speakers but not the headphones.

    The headphone amp is more than strong enough to drive my DT-770 250 Ω headphones. I also tested it with my 70 Ω MDR-Z7 cans. But the Magni is much more powerful as I'm sure you know, and I look forward to seeing reviews here of the S2 paired with 600 ohm models and more.

    This is first and foremost an MQA test box for me, and for that it is an excellent low cost swap-in-and-out choice. It certainly is not a high-end product, but — as with the Magni and Modi in their category — I think the S2 sets a new benchmark of price and performance for sub-$1,000 MQA and DSD DACs.
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2017
  6. Pete-FIN
    There's many things I don't like about MQA, but this is the most incomprehensible one. If I would be in a decisive position in hifi company, this would be the non-negotiable reason to walk away from MQA.
  7. Left Channel
    That and the requirement manufacturers reveal their DAC designs and have their production schedules held hostage to MQA. But the Meridian folks would probably say MQA is all about obsessiveness end-to-end, and that is why no changes in the chain are allowed. I have no idea.

    OK. Having said that, let's not go too far off-topic into MQA* or it will never end, and may even get flagged. You have my latest take on it here, and there are very long threads here and here. We may may have finally worn ourselves out there, but it's easy to wake up hornets nests by poking with a stick. Or for some fresh meat with a side of tasty vitriol, try "MQA is Vaporware" and "Is Audiophiledom a confidence game?" over on CA.

    *Blucher! :)
    barondla likes this.
  8. barondla
    Left Channel thanks for the sonic impressions. You did a great job.
    Left Channel likes this.
  9. cheungtsw
    Anyone tried to use the S2 on a Raspberry pi3 setup (as a streamer) ?
  10. gahabana
    hi am using it on two other SBC's - NanoPi Neo and Odroid-XU4Q ... works perfect on linux and am sure will do the same on Raspberry distributions (debian, ubuntu etc whatever is latest flavour) - PCM all the way to 768kHz and DSD via DOP all the way to DSD256.
    Works as well as it does on Mac (or better) and Windows.
  11. cheungtsw
    Do you just connect to the USB port of the SBC or you are using a digi hat board?

  12. gahabana
    all connected via USB to S2 DAC
  13. monsieurfromag3
    I attended the Sound Days in Paris this week-end - the French CanJams. I have a Sony PHA-1A DAC/amp hooked to my PC, for a year it drove Sony’s own MDR 1A - and what a match they make (I actually prefer the 1A to the Z7 with the PHA 1A, they are just perfectly optimized together). I had a Final Audio Sonorous VI pretty much laying around, which struck me as a bit of a shame so I replaced the MDR 1A with the Sonorous VI a couple of months ago. Then it occured to me, like the typical audio nerd that I am: since I’ve improved the headphones, I should improve the DAC :k701smile:

    I went in looking for the iFi iDAC 2 and expected to be blown away by it and the Chord Mojo. Turns out neither convinced, nor did the iFi iDSD Black Label. All of them good and competent but failing to grab me or, better, make me forget where I was and dive into the music.
    No luck either with the newest $500 Lehmann Audio Linear (quite shrill). Their $1000 Drachenfels was better and more rounded, but still a tad fatiguing and treble-heavy for my tastes, demoed with high-end Beyerdynamics and a Sennheiser HD800.

    An excellent surprise was RHA’s Dacamp L1, esp. paired with their CL1 iems with the ceramic transducers for high freqs. Another treble-head’s wet dream, but more pleasant, with a lot of body and wearing its heart on its sleeve so to speak.

    And the other unexpected treat was Pro-Ject’s Pre Box S2 Digital. The set-up made it impossible for me to listen to my own music, nevertheless you can feel it when you’ve stumbled upon something nice. The sales rep didn’t tell me anything except that they had received the EISA award (as did RHA’s Dacamp L1, I’ve since discovered), and left me to my own devices. I plugged in my trusty Nuforce HEM8 and some well-recorded jazz tracks convinced me that this little box delivered. It’s quite transparent and balanced, energetic. Not particularly smooth but not difficult to listen to. I read Westlake describe it as « no-nonsense », which sounds apt. More air, more space than the Mojo, which is what I’m looking for the most at this point. The file types and sampling rate seemed to change with each song, but I heard no clicks; maybe they used fixed beta firmware for the event?

    It is very tempting to order one and give it a good whirl. What gives me pause is the info whispered to me by the Nuprime rep (the new CDP9 sounds amazing by the way, but at $1700 it’s a little out of my budget and needs): Encore, makers of well-received budget DACs/amps, have a higher-end, $500 unit in store for the end of the year. I’m afraid Jason Lim has my number... I might well end up with Pro-Ject’s great S2 and immediately want to jump to that hypothetical Encore, and that wouldn’t be reasonable now, would it? :imp:

    I’d want a noticeable upgrade and the PHA 1A is difficult to bury without spending a lot. MQA is appealing, but I find I cannot discern an obvious difference between mp3 320 and FLAC. The question is: is that because I need to upgrade my DAC? :joy:
    onsionsi likes this.
  14. Left Channel
    It is possible that one had beta firmware, as early reviewers did not report the click/pop sound either. But it's also possible the tightly-controlled demo music at the booth remained only within multiples of 44.1 kHz (88.2/176.4/352.8) or only within multiples of 48 kHz (96/192/384). Switching between the two series is when it's most likely to happen. Anyway today John Westlake posted that this "is a bug in the ESS DAC, we have mitigated the issue over the weekend.... hopefully we can improve further."

    Thanks for your impressions. The S2 is indeed a "no-nonsense" little box. And a very hard-to-resist toy, which is why I'm an early adopter. I don't know if it's better than your Sony, but it is different, and offers a whole new little world to explore.
    monsieurfromag3 likes this.
  15. monsieurfromag3
    I believe it remained locked within multiples of 48 as you suggest.
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