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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. axtran
    I was having some issues running mine on macOS after a recent patch, but I think it's since then been fixed by Apple.
     
  2. stellarelephant
    This DAC is very interesting. It seems everyone agrees that it sounds substantially different from the delta sigma DACs, which appeals to me since I am very sensitive to what many call "digital glare." In fact, I'd say that just about every digital system I have come across lately grates on me, to some degree, in the mids and treble.

    I must admit I have listened mostly to only the entry-level and mid-level implementations of AKM and Cirrus. But even the newer Sabre chip in the Dragonfly Black did it to me...which was weird, because it is overall a very "soft" sounding DAC...and yet it still somehow had this fatiguing low treble timbre. An eye-opening experience for me was getting a DAP with selectable filter rolloff settings. I can very clearly hear the differences between slow and fast. When I toggle it back and forth, I can hear the benefits of each...and yet neither one sounds quite right with the transient attacks, and both remain unnatural and a little fatiguing. I guess any amount of ringing gets to me. FWIW, I will say I have generally liked the Burr Brown chips I have heard, and I have considered going back to one of those.

    Even so, when I hear a good vinyl setup these days, I get absolutely floored, and kick myself for selling my turntable and record collection years ago. I am hoping to recapture a little bit of that magic with my digital music collection, and I have a little hope that a NOS DAC could do that. Three modestly-priced DACs that have caught my attention are this Starting Point Systems DAC3, the TeraDak v3.1, and with some hesitation, the Schiit Modi 2 Multibit AKA "Mimby." Can anyone offer useful comparisons or other suggestions?
     
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2018
  3. richard51
    I dont know for a comparison...I know only the dac2.... But it is so good in my system that upgrading seems to me ridiculous...No digital glare,no fatiguing sound, holographic 3-d presentation and imaging,but my audio grid and audio system are treated against EMI which has the greatest impact in the final sound ....
     
    stellarelephant likes this.
  4. gvl2016
    I had the Mimby and still have the DAC3. Both are good but comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges. I found the Modi bright. There was not much glare per se but it was very direct and uncompromising and not very "musical", I was impressed initially but sold it in the end. The DAC3 is on the other end of the spectrum, if you heard tube amps this is pretty much how DAC3 sounds. It lacks some clarity on the top end and not as detailed, but great punchy low-end and midrange with some healthy bloom, very easy to listen to and I'd pick it over the Mimby any day of the week. YMMV of course. I suggest you do some reading on NOS first, perhaps start here: http://archimago.blogspot.com/2013/02/measurements-muse-mini-tda1543x4-nos.html

    No experience with the TeraDac, seems like a well-built unit, if I were to guess it probably share some of the traits with the DAC3 being of similar design, but with the 8x DAC chips in parallel probably it has an edge over the DAC3. Also unlike the home-brewed, sometimes finicky, and not working with Android/Linux (new USB firmware is said to be in the works) DAC3's USB interface the Teradac has a proper, if not somewhat dated, USB Tenor chip onboard, seems the ASIO driver is available as well but DAC3 is limited to WASAPI on Windows. SPDIF input is done with WM8805 which is also said to be better than the DIR9005 in the DAC3. They claim 24 bit support which I think is BS as TDA1543 is a 16-bit DAC, unless they somehow managed to run it in differential mode. More likely than not 24 bits is what the interface chips support, but the lowest 8 are simply truncated when the data is fed to the DAC chips. It is more expensive and you will likely be buying from China with all the implications should there be a problem with it. The DAC3 is semi-portable being powered by 2x9V batteries and you can get support from the designer if needed.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2018
    stellarelephant likes this.
  5. Haden2866
    I have a very decent Burr Brown DAC (John Kenny Ciunas) as well as my SPS DAC3 and I tend to swap between them at home - Ciunas when I want some more detail, and the DAC3 when I want an immersive, naturalistic presentation at the expense of some high-end extension and clarity. Both are non-fatiguing; the BB is famously smooth, but the DAC3 certainly brings something different to every delta-sigma DAC I have heard (Chord Mojo; various Sabre, AKM and Cirrus).
    You won't find a better description of the DAC3 than that provided by gvl2016 above - I concur with everything said although I can't compare it to other multibit DACs. I love both of these DACs, the Ciunas and the DAC3, and wouldn't part with either.
    Yes the USB interface is a bit hit & miss in some cases, such as with my Cayin N3 which I sometimes use with the DAC3 in the car, and a firmware upgrade will be welcome if it improves that situation, but for desktop PC use it seems to be more or less USB Class 1 compliant and I have no trouble running it stably out of Foobar2000 (KS output works as well as WASAPI) upsampled to 96kHz, Tidal or Roon under Windows 10. Certainly not a show-stopper for me. Both the optical and coaxial inputs work well.
    Richard, above, takes extreme and somewhat esoteric measures to protect his DAC2 from EMI. I can't comment on the effectiveness of his crystal-based approach, but I have found that the DAC3 appears to respond well to a clean and quiet power supply; I use a modest Tacima power conditioner and feed the DAC3 with an iFi Audio iPower 15v SMPS - the DAC3 is battery powered so YMMV of course. I have been experimenting with an iDefender, also from iFi Audio, which isolates the DAC from the USB power supply. I like it; is there any measurable difference? Hard to say. I will explore further grounding options at some point in the future just to see what happens.
    One thing to bear in mind is that the DAC3 benefits considerably, IMO, from a warm-up period of about half-an-hour. There seems to be a reasonable consensus about this phenomenon with R2R DACS as far as I can tell. The sound stage snaps into focus to provide a coherent image; I would liken it to staring at a Magic Eye picture and then perceiving the 3D image.
    Overall, for the average asking price (various auctions run concurrently on eBay) this is a competently-implemented bargain in my view and has changed how I think about digital audio. I will definitely be pursuing a NOS approach in future; looking forward to the Metrum Acoustics Ambre Roon endpoint. Consider this a gateway drug.
     
    stellarelephant and richard51 like this.
  6. richard51
    I will only add to all that wise observations that in my experience that the dac2 benefit effectively of all measure taken upward to him (power supply,stones,isolation against vibrations,treatment of the electrical grid etc), and there is no more flaws after that if it is rightly implemented that I could detect,in particular his infamous so-called lack of high frequencies...Also burn-in is effective with it like said....
     
    stellarelephant likes this.
  7. earwego
    Richard - you should really put together a blog or website with pictures and instructions of how you implement your RFI busting solutions using stones etc - that would be very useful and very 'visually' appealing (thinking of those multi-coloured stones).
     
    stellarelephant likes this.
  8. richard51
    This thread already exist, with no success nor great interest by anyone, people prefer to buy gear if they can,preferably costly, and people who have invested thousands dollars in costly gear already,thinking that they had buy a perfect product are not interested either....For example I suggest in this thread some 1 dollars experiment, NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON ever tried it and report about it... It is more human and more easy to mock someone than to try some new idea... Conclusion people have opinions already made et they dont change them... Me I have experimented with many things to isolate my system against vibrations, and treat it also against EMI and the results for a relatively low cost was more astounding than any piece of gear I had ever bought...My best regards to you for your kind interest....

    the adress thread is in my signature:
    https://www.head-fi.org/threads/top...000-bucks-all-included-is-it-possible.864928/
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2018
  9. stellarelephant
    Thank you all for the replies...I feel that this DAC would compliment my sometimes-too-bright modded Fostex T50RP Mk3 headphones. I am still contrasting the Dac3 and the Teradak. I am NOT afraid of THD being a little higher than most would consider normal these days...I like vintage gear. And I am of the opinion that a natural harmonic profile is more important than absolute distortion quantity. I am a little concerned that the output voltage is lower than standard 2.1V. I have really enjoyed reading these accounts of the R2R sound.
     
    Haden2866 likes this.
  10. Haden2866
    Well, good luck on your multibit adventure whatever you decide. Let us know how you get on.
    I've just bought another French NOS R2R DAC from eBay; this one sold as a prototype with 4x TDA1387 chips but no jitter correction, unlike the SPS DAC3.
    I'm going to run it out of my Raspberry Pi with an Allo DigiOne HAT on top. Should be interesting.
    *Disappears down rabbit hole*
     
  11. stellarelephant
    Let us know how the 4x chip DAC compares.
     
  12. automojo
    I have a project DAC BOX S FL... they have been around for a long time, but now discontinued
    NOS, filterless, direct coupled...4x TDA 1543...
    Definitely more refined than the French DAC 3.
    Another good alternative is the Maverick Audio D1.
    I run a Sparko discrete op amp, and a Tesla tube. I don't use the headphone amp, but it has it's own separate op amp, so I skipped that one for now.
    Has a similar sonic signature the the Project, and has multiple
    inputs. You can run it’s as a buffer as well.
    With the Maverick tube and op amp upgrade ( GE Tube and OPA627)... sounds awesome out of the box. The Sparko and Tesla are small but noticeable upgrades.
    I have heard the Teradac 8x lacks bass and a fullness. I think it oversamples?
    The Maverick upsamples 8x I think, the tube gives it the NOS sound. No lack of bass, and the Tesla helps a bit with that as well. The GE 5670W is plenty good though. Solid smooth bass, all around pleasant sound.
    I think the Project FL is slightly more refined but they are very close.. you wouldn’t know the difference unless you level matched them and did an A/B.
    I agree about the Schiit MB. They all seem a tad bright..detailed but not smooth.
    I have not heard the TOL Schiit MB, but the 3 lower models are similar, each move up evens the sound a bit. They to me still seem digital to me.
    With my AMT3’s and Great Heil, the Schiits did not match well.
    In some quarters, it's hard to carry on a rational discussion about Schiit Dac's, because the company somehow has created a loyal, but somewhat in denial following. Good products for sure, but IMHO are clearly a matter of taste. Just like tubes, and NOS dac's.
    Multibit, and NOS, are two altogether different animals.
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2018
  13. automojo
    I also wish the French DAC would just go with a Tenor USB chip or the like. Dated yes, but sounds good and no issues with connectivity.
    The early chips, when you look read about the theory in their design and implementation was to sound more analog, as the early digital sound, as many of us knows was fatiguing, not to mention a huge number of poorly mastered early CDs.
    The dual differential design has several advantages over a single chip, if implemented right.
    The Maverick tube DAC uses a old school 8 x OS chip, which sounds pretty good on it’s own, but running it through the tube preamp is what makes it shine.
    So you do have options to get this same NOS sound, with some versatility.
    The tube preamp can really give some tone and flow to XM, t.v etc.
    Solid build too.
     
  14. stellarelephant
    This remark from an old John Darko review seems to confirm my hopes for NOS as a glare tamer:

    "The sixteen Philips TDA1543 chips that sit inside my daily DAC – the TeraDak Chameleon – lend it a fresh-from-the-farm flavour. There is undoubtedly some colouration going on, but I’m OK with that. This is not atypical in the world of Philips chips; the TDA1541/TDA1543-derived DACs can serve as sonic counterweights to more forward-sounding systems. I find they temper the oft-aggressive upper-mids in Fostex drivers just so."
     
  15. gvl2016
    I think he wanted to leverage his existing custom USB interface microprocessor code/experience and build a jitter eliminating reclocker on all inputs at the same time. I do wonder if he shot himself in the foot by doing that, because using off-the shelf components probably would have yielded similar jitter performance w/o the additional maintenance headaches to ensure compatibility with various operating systems. Cost could have been a factor, hard to say.
     
    Last edited: Feb 14, 2018
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