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Thoughts on a bunch of DACs (and why delta-sigma kinda sucks, just to get you to think about stuff)

Discussion in 'Dedicated Source Components' started by purrin, Dec 5, 2013.
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  1. Argo Duck
    Classic. Your wife's statement should be posted as a warning on head-fi's front page :D

  2. Stillhart
    Honestly, I wasn't expecting a whole lot from my $100 DAC, but I'm pretty impressed.  I am now quite excited to get that Theta in on Thursday!
  3. nicolo
    Get the Wyrd and try the Geek Out 450 you have. The sound is transformed as the GO sounds much smoother with an addictive analogue-like tonality without any harshness whatsoever.
  4. conquerator2
    So, I wanted to chime in with my pinch of salt. Here're my Theta Basic II [preliminary impressions] and how it compares to my three previous DACs - Audio-gd NFB-7, Schiit Gungnir and Gustard X12:
    - Theta beats the competition here, hands down. The Gungnir has a very similar bass presentation which impactful and punchy, however Theta has superior tightness and control, whereas Gungnir could sound a bit too prominent at times, smearing the other frequencies a bit. The NFB-7 had the tightest of bass, which sounded wonderful with instruments but it was overall weak and thuddy. The X12’s bass sounded closer to the NFB7 as far as bass goes, but had a bit more impact and weight. If I had to grade bass for all-round use, it’d go Theta > X12 > Gungnir > NFB-7.
    - The Theta has an amazing midrange – present, clear and instruments just naturally peak across the stage. Gungnir’s midrange is reasonably clear but it does not match the rest of the DACs in clarity, detail retrieval, refinement, or naturalness. To me, it sounded a bit forced at times, while slightly obscured by the bass at others. Isolated, the midrange is very decent, natural and musical, but it does not compete with these DACs IMO. The NFB-7 proves strong competition in this aspect and it is quite similar in clarity and presence, though instruments tended to pop with a bit too much energy sometimes, taking away from naturalness, but overall a very clear, spacious and competitive sound. Does beat Theta in dynamics at the expense of naturalness [instruments can hit with a bit more energy and vigor]. The X12 sits somewhere between the Gungnir and NFB7 as it lends the musicality of the one and clarity of the other. It is less in dynamics and more in smoothness than the NFB7, but not overly so like the Gungnir. Very solid and smooth midrange. Grading Theta/NFB-7 [different tonality, equally good IMO] > X12 > Gungnir.
    - The Theta bas the best extension/presence/naturalness ratio of all the DACs. It extends far, without ever losing naturalness or emphasizing any particular frequency, with very natural presence that doesn’t ever feel forced [it just doesn’t get harsh :O]. The vocals are not super airy, but they are very natural and nicely extended, more so than the others. The NFB-7 is the most airy of all of them, and could display some of, if not the most, convincing vocals and instruments I’ve heard, extending ad infinitum. Unfortunately, it was often accompanied by too much energy and harshness, especially in the form of sibilance during vocals, making those ‘perfect’ moments less common. I’d say the treble was artificially overdone to sound better, which I really liked at times but despised at others. The Gungnir to me felt congested and smoothed in the treble. It tries to sound like the Theta, but it doesn’t as it is beat in all aspects – naturalness, extension, timbre or clarity. It is definitely smoother than the NFB-7 and slightly more than the X12, but the magic in the treble is lost as the presence is greatly diminished IMO. The X12 again tries to find a fine line between the G and the X and it manages so for the most part. Almost as smooth as Gungnir, but with more presence. Not the degree of extension of the NFB, but nowhere near as emphasized in the treble. The Sabre that gets as close as it can to being a non-Sabre IMO, as most of the issues I had with the NFB are eliminated with the X, which does include some things that I liked too of course. Overall, Theta > NFB7 [can match Theta at times and even slightly edge it out] > X12 > Gungnir
    - The Theta images fabulously, and conveys a very convincing instrument placement. It can place instruments beyond the ‘limits’ of the headphones, where others DACs wall it off quite noticeably. The Gungnir also images very well, though the uneven presence in frequencies harms it somewhat and instruments with smaller presence can sound a bit obscured, but nothing too problematic. It does not match the imaging prowess of the Theta/NFB though. The NFB-7 is on par here, IMO. It can image and stage just as well as if not slightly better than the Theta can [can’t tell without having them side-by-side], projecting instruments with ease, but with a bit more pop and less naturalness. No Burrito filter necessary :D. The X12 is a bit of an enigma for me in this aspect. The soumdstage size is somewhere between NFB and Gungnir, so not too shabby, however it images in a strange way to me. I don’t wanna comment on it as I am not sure why it does it in such a way as no other DAC I’ve had imagined this way. I simply did not like it and found the imaging either a bit too stacked or overly panned. Might be just me YMMV. NFB-7/Theta > Gungnir > X12[?].
    - Neither of these DACs sound congested like some [cheaper] DACs can. Case in point, all create a convincing soundstage, The NFB-7 has probably the largest stage [helped by the tremendous amount of air and extension], the Theta is a close second though with more natural instrument pops, the X12 is third and Gungnir is in fourth place with the most intimate stage [but fairly close to the X12]. So, NFB-7/Theta > X12/Gungnir [kinda close, plus the imaging can affect it, depending on the song, in case of the X12].
    Vintage risks
    Now, the areas where the three DACs obviously beat the Theta – serviceability/warranty, flexibility of many different inputs [most notably USB and Toslink], higher sampling rates [My Basic II tops out at 24/48] and availability [associated with trying to snag a 20+ y.o. product that will last for an indefinite time].
    - In terms of value, I’d say the X12 is the king for 549$ with an USB implementation that is the best to my ears, tons of inputs and great build quality. It is THE Sabre DAC to get IMO, even among the non-Sabre crowd. [the imaging is enigmatic to me, so I won’t say it is necessarily a conn. It was just different]. Recommended for most systems as there’re no flaws with its sound. The Gungnir at 849$ with USB is arguably a better than the NBF7 at 1350$ + shipping, fees, etc. Though, I’d think the NFB is better in most aspects [worth to take a look at the lower NFB models, perhaps?]. I’d recommend the Gungnir for a bright system and the NFB-7 for a dark/warm system to get the best of both units. The Thetas are hard to evaluate. If you can score a long lasting Theta for cheap [my Basic II was 400$, second day on, so far a steal] then by all means! Though, it is an old unit and quite an insecure investment. Hopefully mine will last. Totally up to the individual to wager the pros and cons. It was 2000$ [for a good reason, as I think that price wouldn’t be too far-fetched today] but I probably wouldn’t spend much more than 500$ for a rather risky and vintage gear. YMMV.
    Hope this proves useful. Cheers!
  5. i019791
    If you take into account only good recordings (e.g. exclude the sibilant ones), will your rank be the same ?
  6. conquerator2

    The NFB7 would score a bit better. Wouldn't affect the rest. Everyrhing would still apply.
    It is a scenario I can't imagine though, with such a broad range of music that I listen to :D
  7. n-a
    I believe the Theta ds Basic II was designed with lower power DSP, and with op-amps in the output stage.
    Just thinking what could explain the imaging and not achieving the superior 3D effect that i have heard in my previous dac, Theta gen V-a.
    I have also had the Audio-gd Reference-7 and SA-2, and comparing those to the Theta, the "burrito" filter advantages was obvious. You really dont even need to try hard to hear the difference. To me the difference was immediate from the first recording i heard. 
    Try some recordings where the instruments are separated and the whole recording process is done well, something like Buena Vista Social Club etc..
  8. conquerator2

    I owned the Reference One and I think the Theta is superior.
    It is only the NFB7 that can compete... It was its strenght. I don't think it is unreasonable... :)
    I disaprove with the theory of opamps and lower DSP. They both have the right to be excellent.
  9. auvgeek
    @conquerator2: Your whole post was immensely helpful! Thanks very much for the detailed comparison.
     Considering the X12 is on massdrop now for $450 shipped (to the USA), I think it will be hard to beat that value. I really want to try some a vintage Theta, though!
    conquerator2 likes this.
  10. pldelisle
    Well... kind of disappointed by the Gungnir after reading conquerator2 review ! :frowning2: But I guess I would not notice the difference. You seem to have a lot more experience than me in sound !! 
    Still freaking about passing my order to Schiit... Damn this is pricey (2000$ CND for Gungnir + Asgard 2 + Wyrd) :frowning2: 
  11. Articnoise


    Good and enlightening review!

    conquerator2 likes this.
  12. arnaud Contributor

    Please don't take this bad but I feel compelled to tell you the proper spelling for the verb hearing: I hear, you hear, he/she hears. I heard, you heard, he/she heard.

    I've refrained from posting this but I swear it, whenever I read a "herd" on this, you're the poster. Example: you last two posts in just this thread...

    Or maybe it's your signature writing. Suffice to say, it pains my eyes and probably others too :wink:.

    Back to topic...

  13. auvgeek
    It seemed like you only had the X12 for a little while before you sold it—do you think the problems you had with imaging could be caused by a lack of burn-in? As I'm sure you've read in the Gustard thread, burn-in seems to be a larger deal with their products than others. How many hours did you get on the X12 before you sold it? Not trying to belittle your opinion; just genuinely curious.
  14. conquerator2

    Could be. I think it had aroind 50 hours? Probably.
    I felt it open up and improve after ~10. Was not expecting further improvements. :)
  15. mikek200
    Outstanding review, Conquerator..
    Excellent,you covered all the bases...
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