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Starting Point Systems portable NOS DAC

Discussion in 'Portable Source Gear' started by cjg888, Mar 12, 2014.
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  1. Haden2866
    My SPS DAC3 arrived and is currently hooked up via SPDIF coaxial to a Raspberry Pi with an Allo DigiOne HAT on top, running Volumio and Roon Bridge.
    Less than a dozen hours on it yet so early days but yes, warm, yes, less detailed than either my Mojo or my Ciunas BB DAC and yes, softer and more 'analogue-like' perhaps as a result. A different flavour certainly. Does it have a place in this modern age or is it strictly a nostalgia trip? Let's see. More hours...
  2. kvik
    @Jimster480: Yes, who wants a good old regular Coke, when they can have the latest Zero (sugar/calories/taste), beats me! I’m not sure where you have this misconseption from, that all Multi-Bit/R2R DACs are warm and mushy and lacks details. Apparently you haven’t heard any yet, so it must be based on what someone else said or wrote. Kingwa suggesting his sabre version over his R2R to you only says, he thinks you will enjoy the former more, based on what you describet to him as your preferences soundwise. That seems just as subjective to me, as someone wanting an R2R-DAC because it sounds better to them. I think the Multi-Bit/R2R DACs in recent years have moved well above and beyond the warm and mushy view you seem to cling on to.

    Edit: I see Mojo mentioned above. I used to have one, and think it’s a great DAC at its price point. Directly compared to my Tento AD1866 PortaDAC (both working as DAC-only into an external amplifier, and both priced similarly), Tento was able to portray how hard a piano key was struck, where Mojo just portrayed the key being struck. This made Tento more realistic sounding, and more enjoyable to me. Mojo is an FGPA DAC, not DS, but the example was just to show that the ‘lacking details’ generalization is simply not valid. It depends on implementation, in Multi-Bit/R2R, as in DS or FGPA.
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2017
  3. GearMe
    So...isn't that kinda the point? It is a personal audio system!

    What works for one person, may not for the other. Thankfully, we have the variety of products to support the community's needs.

    I have a wide variety of cans from the HD800 (acoustic) to the SZ2000 (basshead) and listen to them based on the music I feel like playing.

    We all hear differently, like different music, have different moods, etc. There is no perfect answer for dacs or amps or cans in this hobby and those that continue to argue against others' choices just 'don't really understand'.

    ...no matter what the slant, the Sound Science-ish arguments consistently fail to account for individual differences -- both physiological and psychological...I don't really understand them!
  4. Jimster480
    Yea i asked him for details and accuracy. Since I listen to jazz and classical and I want as close to real life production as possible.
    This is why he said to get a sabre version.
    I wouldn't say they fail to account for anything. Many people are used to / conditioned for this old school analog sound found on many old CD players or Amplifiers overall.

    I would go as far to say that it's actually useless to have a DAC/Amp which colors the sound and lacks detail for anything outside of pure nostalgia.
    I can understand a funner sound which is closer to that of a rock concert and for alot of people bass is the only thing that matters.
    People's choices are fine, but to claim that something sounds as good or better than another product which is scientifically superior Makes little sense to me.
    How things sounded was once based on the pursuit of identical representation of instruments and voices. Now we are going backwards with people spending money on devices that sound objectively worse than modern smartphones and headphones that are just all bass heavy and V shaped even in the 1000$+ price range. Which makes no sense because most $40 headphones have the same V shaped sound and those people clearly just care about bass, which is fine in more than one low cost headphone.
  5. gr8soundz
    It's actually the opposite: People have become conditioned to modern digital audio. Other than more noise, old-school analog was fine when it came to hearing the real music (I've heard vinyl rips that put my compressed CDs to shame). Hi-Fi is still recovering from compression and lossy formats designed to increase loudness and reduce file sizes for streaming and portability. Older multibit chips were a good starting point before things like mp3 nearly destroyed it all.

    Also opposite: Some older dacs/chips can actually have more detail. Sabre DACs focus only on the most significant bits while older Philips chips like the TDA1543 attempt to keep all bits of data (or like the TDA1387A dap I use which actually repeats the most significant ones). I find myself replaying all my old redbook albums just to hear details that have been missing the past few years because of Delta-Sigma stuff I was using. Somewhat upsetting to say the least.

    We're seeing more NOS devices like this because audio is trying to put itself back on track. There's no way newer Sabre DACs with minimum 64x oversampling and noise-shaping are putting out uncoloured sound. Implementation and personal preference (neutral vs. bass heavy, v-shaped, etc.) are still more important but pretending we can (or should be able) to hear vanishingly lower noise floors (or being content because something measures better) has nothing to do with the actual music.

    Imo, newer implementations using older chips can have a huge impact. There's no reason we can't have more accurate, more detailed, non-fatiguing sound with low noise and at lower costs.
  6. gvl2016
    Nostalgia is there for a reason. I recently picked a 30 y/o Denon DCD-1520 CDP which uses dual Burr-Brown multibit DACs with a 8x oversampling filter, it easily beats all the more modern mid-fi DS DACs I heard (which is not to say I heard all that many), and my understanding it wasn't the best sounding CDP at the time. There is nothing retro in its sound signature. Some of the better sounding multi-bit DACs were made before the Delta-Sigma took off, and they can be had relatively cheap these days. Sure, they won't do hi-res, DSD, and MQA, but they are hard to beat for red-book material. I'm not necessarily advocating NOS designs, but they certainly can sound exceptional with appropriate type of music as well.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2017
  7. gr8soundz
    If we're all about hearing the music as-is, NOS should be more welcomed. But it's hard to do well. Oversampling is easy and we've become accustomed to that smoother (if less accurate) sound.

    DSD may be the worst culprit there and MQA was first marketed as a way to correct end-user playback with configs based on the original production tools and settings. Now MQA is yet another lossy format with more licensing fees attached.

    As I've said, were slowly returning towards more analog sounding digital audio. I now understand why many of the 90's DAC chips can perform so well.
  8. Jimster480
    Its not really as you describe at all. These are all myths.
    I spent many months researching DAC technology and buying basically every DAC under the sun which looked interesting/promising.

    DS is more than capable of COMPLETELY ACCURATELY REPRODUCING music in every way.
    The reason it is oversampled is due to multiple passes though multiple 1-bit DAC's inside of the chip. Their noise shaping is them putting the audio bits back in order after multiple passes
    Modern integrated circuits are more complicated than most people understand and we have Full System-on-Chips which fit on the tip of your finger.
    The science behind modern DS DAC's is far more complex than Multi-Bit DAC's which achieve the same thing just by processing all the bits at the same time. Although what people fail to understand is that most ADC's these days are Delta Sigma also because they are more integrated, more power efficient and as such also produce less heat.
    With a Multi-Bit DAC the design requires alot more components, which are harder to match tolerances and voltages for (resulting in worse sound overall). Multi-Bit DAC's are also affected about temperature and clocking.
    NOS Devices specifically cater to a crowd of people who believe in oldschool audio and think that its superior even though it isn't. They look for their old distorted tube sounds (just like literally any tube amplifier which is inferior to most every solid state one, yet people still buy them).

    Modern audio is better period.
    People have become conditioned to listening to horrible music, with poor headphones from portable devices that have more detail and better amplifiers than what existed 30 years ago in the best possible forms.
  9. gr8soundz
    How can DS be 100% accurate when you mention multiple passes and reordering bits? Not to mention DS's lossy 5-8 bit output resolution (compared to 16-24 bits for multibit and R2R)?

    Since when have reduced complexity and power efficiency been priorities for audiophiles? If it sounds better in the end that's the goal. Why else do we still have hot, power hungry Class A amps? Because Class D doesn't sound better although, by your definition, it should just because it's newer and more efficient.

    This is the type of thinking that allows modern manufacturers get away with price gouging. Gear that should cost $400 gets inflated to $4K. People assume every new piece of gear automatically sounds better (even without hearing it). They also think that, if the price is too low, newer gear can't be good. So, a newer NOS DAC using older multibit chips is instantly worthless because of it's low price and older chips.

    Could I afford to, like many past and present audiophiles, I'd go for a TOTL vinyl rig and avoid digital conversion losses altogether. Those guys must be sitting back, laughing at the rest of us doing a daily rat-race with Rube Goldberg equivalent setups just to 'perfect' our digital audio. For those who've actually heard the differences, NOS DACs like this are actually simpler, more cost effective solutions toward maxing our setups. Shame more people will continue to discount them from a distance which is why so few manufacturers bother making them today.
    jimmers and gvl2016 like this.
  10. Jimster480
    Nothing ever suggests lossy 5-8 bit resolution.
    It just doesn't happen, this is what the multiple passes are for.
    Its hard to explain to a non-technical person, but I am a software engineer and its easy for me to understand.
    The same wavestream is oversampled many times because the chip itself runs at many MHZ (vs khz of sound) and it processes the entire wavestream using only a few bits at a time.

    So its like an interlaced TV in the fact that it draws one half of the bits and then the other half, for analog TV's back in the day this resulted in lower digital resolution because each frame contains all the data.
    But if the interlaced TV was drawing at 600 fps vs the 23-60fps of actual content, there would be no difference. Because it would take each frame and duplicate it multiple times to draw the entire picture clearly.

    The modern TV's are already doing this with 120-240hz "puremotion" and other stuff. The TV's chips are so fast they are even interpolating frames to increase perceived motion (this does add to reduced quality in some cases based on interpolation accuracy).
    The modern DAC is no different, its taking your sample and oversampling 64x(example) for each sample, then its passing through its few internal DAC's (usually 1-bit and there are 1-6 in a modern DS DAC) to generate part of the analog "picture", since its happening so fast it ends up with the full sample reconstructed the same way an R2R DAC would, just not using the same technique.
    The LSB and MSB (least and most significant bits) help the DAC to know the start and end point of each sample.
    Modern high end DS DAC's are even so fast that they can process the sample sample entirely multiple times to check for accuracy and then combine all the results into a final result (this is part of how they combat jitter or dirty power).

    The amount of R&D that has gone into DS over the last decade is insane, and modern lithography allows for extremely powerful low power chips.
    The reason R2R went away is simply that it has been made obsolete. Despite some vendors building some Modern R2R DAC's they are just catering to a crowd of people who likes the concept of something done the oldschool way.

    Class D Amps are not as good as Class A, but by modern standards they are quite similar and have comparable audio quality for most situations. I would bet you that you cannot ABX test a Class D vs a Class A amp. And when it comes to cheap Class AB amps..... you won't be able to ABX test that for sure since modern OpAmps slew rates are outside of what is audible especially for 16/44.1 music (which is still 95% of all recordings because there is no need for anything "higher resolution").

    In terms of pricing..... Newer "TOTL" gear is alot more expensive than older gear because designers have run out of options. They have nothing to differentiate their more expensive gear from cheaper gear due to technological advances. So they play into the hands of people who think that bigger price = better. And they do things like fancy boxes and flashy looks to play into this culture of people who need status symbols.
    Most modern headphones sound the same and even the high level ones are often disappointing because they are bass heavy, lack real detail, or are not comfortable, and most are made in china.
    A DAC such as this starting point systems one is not representative of that, but to say "newer and lower cost", this DAC doesn't even compete with a Topping D30 on price and that is "budget" but much more capable than this DAC just because of modern technology vs 80s technology....

    None of the guys with Vinyl are sitting back doing anything unless they have no lives and they just listen to music all day in a room while doing nothing else.
    Vinyl is a pain in the ass, holds no music, and its hard to get vinyls of most all modern music (and if you do get a vinyl, its converted from digital, likely recorded on a Delta-Sigma ADC :p).
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2017
  11. jimmers
    Well, that explains a lot
    gr8soundz likes this.
  12. GearMe
    Chuckle...Sound Science lives!!!

    It's. A. Personal. Choice.

    Tubes or SS, D-S or Multibit or NOS or R2R, Class A or AB or D, $10000 cables or Monoprice...doesn't matter.

    What really matters is that the individual listening is getting the most enjoyment they can out of their music system. If somebody truly loves listening to Van Morrison on an $15 transistor radio because it transports them back in time, that's awesome as far as I'm concerned and I'm happy they've found their ideal system!

    If you like 'scientifically superior' equipment, so be it. If someone else likes 'scientifically inferior' equipment....so be it!

    FWIW, the market will do a fine job of sorting it out. Those products that add sustainable value in a viable market segment (even the basshead segment) will flourish; those that don't...won't.

    Lastly, ABX...SchmayBX. Go ahead and listen to your equipment...I'll be over here listening to my music!
    richard51 likes this.
  13. Jimster480
    It does because the point is that many companies are buying all the parts off the shelf and throwing their brand On it. So it sounds the same as other headphones since they are all made from the same components.
    There are obviously exceptions but this applies to alot of the headphones in the market, even high end.
  14. Jimster480
    That's fine you can enjoy whatever you want. It doesn't affect me and it's subjective.
    But when people argue that their inferior equipment with colored sound is better.... I'll be glad to step in and explain to them otherwise.
  15. Haden2866
    Anyway, my SPS DAC3, with ~30 hours on it, has thrown off much of what I initially perceived as its warmth and lack of detail and is starting to reveal its true quality.
    What I'm hearing is a naturalness of presentation which I've not yet come across. This is my first multibit DAC, so take it with a pinch of salt, but I know enough to believe that this is a seriously good implementation.
    Listening to analogue techno, Aleksi Perala's excellent Colundi Sequence 16 for example, and it's like I'm hearing actual sine wave oscillators for the first time, not just a representation of them. Impressive.

    This is a fun thread, btw. We have proponents of both science and magic and the quality of debate is high.
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2017
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