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Great reading thanks for posting
Oh, now I just connected the dots together between romaz here and the smart dude that showed up on Tyll's videos recently . I am that slow I guess .
Roy, interesting findings although absolutely scary for one's wallet. I think I will be looking for a clean D/D converter going from usb to aes before I do anything else...
Makes sense Roy! If I get back to the DAC hunt (year or two), it'll most certainly be the TotalDAC.
Your efforts and comparisons have been incredibly helpful to many of us, thanks very much :¬)
we were waiting for your feedback, and...you did not disappointed ! What a tremendously interesting & useful report ! Thanks....
Like Yoga, I think that the surprisingly good results of the CAT bring again the question of their 1543 Mk II DAC. If Scott can make the CAT so good, then may be it's DAC is at the TotalDac Mono level !?
FYI, when I went to CAD offices, I spoke to Scott about "headphone direct connection" to the 1543 DAC that some Head-Fiers like for it's sound purity. He replied that his "multiples parallel DACs configuration" have way enough power to drive any headphone and that he will give it a thought. He needed to look at the design implication and check the impedance issue. So... may be he has done some progress on this now ?
(however, it will remain another issue (for me) with the 1543 Mk II DAC which is his "only ONE Input" design: with a music server is connected, it is not possible to also connect another source like for example a CD/SACD transport ! a pitty !...)
While I wasn't one of the people PM'ing you like crazy - somehow I was able to resist the urge - I was definitely looking out for your comparative review. Thanks Romaz! This really is a gold mine of information. Knowing that one usually has to front all the money in order to do a home audition, that is definitely not something to be taken for granted. I'm glad I set you out on this path with my Totaldac review and I'll definitely be on the lookout for future comments when the Aurender gear arrives.
I do have some follow-up questions based on what you wrote so far.
While I don't have the server, I do have the DAC and that is indeed quite the statement you make. Is this statement based on performance only, or does this include price as well? I know we're already talking about heaps of money, but to myself, I always have to justify the price. I understand the CAT does not include a reclocker?
Could you elaborate on how each component is connected to each other? Going from server to reclocker, reclocker to DAC, DAC to amplifier etc... I understand that Vincent usually recommends using AES/EBU for the digital connections?
Based on my understanding, the reclocker sends out DSD or PCM 176/24 depending on how you configure it. I assume you picked DSD?
Now this is information you won't find on any website or read in a manual I doubt anybody else will have a need for this, but it's nice that Vincent provides the option. At least this way, one can review the d1-twelve and the d1-dual within the same time frame.
Would you say this improvement is more significant than using a dedicated server or reclocker? The electricity grid here in Belgium is pretty good and I have probably 5 separate grids in my house alone, all grounded so I'm a bit reluctant with regards to grounding boxes. How much would the Entreq Poseidon set you back?
Reading this statement, is it safe to say that the CAT is the better upgrade if you only had a choice between CAT or reclocker/server? Does it take into account the significant price difference? I know these things are hard to qualify... The price of the CAT is around 5300GBP, that would be almost twice as expensive as the D1-Server (3890EUR, including the 1100EUR discount if you have the DAC).
What I do like about Totaldac is that I can gradually build on top of the system that I already have. I have the d1-dual at the moment, can potentially add a reclocker in the future and the d1-twelve could be end game? I'm still undecided on wether to include the server with the reclocker, or take a different path like the Aurender or CAT. The price difference between the d1-server and the CAT is too big to base my decision on sound quality alone. What could definetely sway me away from the d1-server is the (in)ability to run Roon. I'm gonna keep checking in with Vincent when headless linux builds & roonspeakers are available to the public.
You have the enviable combinations of equipment on hand and an acute hearing to discern the contribution of various components. I distilled from your impression that it would not be the best to upgrade the D1 reclocker to a D1 server , whereas looking for a better source may more meaningful. The HiFi+ review suggests that CAD CAT is a stripped-down Windows 8.1 computer running JRiver player, JPlay optimizer, DB Poweramp ripping, a two-rail Teddy Pardo linear PSU and an SSD. The proprietary feature is a dedicated USB board and configuration. The $8,160 USD price is a cause for concern for the mostly integration efforts, given often advancement of peripherals. The Aurender N10 for the same price is purpose built and looks better for user inspiration. I look forward to your observation on the comparison and in particular your chosen configuration with Totaldac products.
On a separate note, have you tried the free Daphile (Daphile.com) running a real time Linux kernel (SqueezeLite as the media player)? Should you be interested any CAPS with an optimized OS, you may wish to …
(1) go into the CAPS BIOS to change the boot priority to USB first;
(2) turn off CPU speed-step, turbo-boost and multi-threading and run the CPU at the lowest speed in BIOS;
(3) install Daphile on an USB and upon bootup specify your wireless network ID or default to a wired Ethernet;
(4) let it scan music on your CAPS hard-drive;
(5) the remote control for Daphile can be done from any browser (IPad or laptop) through the IP address.
Nothing is damaged in this configuration. With the exception that the CAPS USB card differs from the dedicated card on the CAD CAT, the software configuration may be superior. It is worth trying for the cost of your time. Sorry to suggest another variable and thank you for conducting the tests for the benefit of many audiophiles.
It is my understanding that Romaz' CAT server is running Roon and not JPlay.
BTW, in our search for the best DAC that also can directly drive headphones, (not with an internal amp, but with the DAC directly connected to the headphone), there is another big name : LAMPIZATOR, with their HEAD DAC.
here is what they say "The sound is very pure and revealing due to the extreme circuit simplicity and integration: tube DAC circuit is redesigned to be powerful enough to drive even most demanding headphones. The integration means that it would totally beat our own DAC with our own headphone amp as separate products playing together. "
they even have a HEAD DAC version of their Top OF The line GOLDEN GATE (the ultimate version of their BIG 7)
Anyone heard or considered the LAMPIZATOR HEAD DAC ?
Having gotten to know Scott Berry, creator of both the CAD 1543 and CAT, one trait that he has for sure is attention to detail. No small detail escapes him. On top of that, he seems to be a very bright engineer as well as a passionate audiophile. I would not be surprised if his DAC is every bit as good as his CAT. Is it monobloc level? That would be expecting too much for the price he is asking but I wouldn't be surprised if it competed on par with the d1-single or maybe the d1-dual. As you know isquirrel has the CAD 1543 and he likes it very much but it has limitations. As you've said, it only has one input (USB) and one unbalanced output which is very limiting. It also has an output impedance of 135 ohms and an output voltage of 1.35 volts which makes it less than ideal for most planar magnetic headphones if the desire is to connect directly to the signal output. I'm sure he is more than capable of making the necessary modifications in time to do all that the TotalDac does, however.
CAT vs TotalDAC d1-Server
I do not take the statement of the CAT being superior to the TotalDac server lightly because the TotalDac server is excellent. If I was forced to live with the TotalDac server, none of you should feel sorry for me because this server thus far is the second or third best music server I have heard (the Aurender N10/W20 is somewhere in this mix). The CAT does not include a separate reclocker in the same way that the TotalDac server does but unlike the TotalDac server, it does have incorporated in the chassis 2 high precision clocks (explained in further detail below) that then feed the USB port a very clean and well timed signal. As you know, using the CAT as the source, the TotalDac reclocker seemed to result in only a subtle improvement. Since the USB Regen seemed to have no noticeable effect on the CAT at all, my suspicion is the improvement heard with the TotalDac reclocker has less to do with jitter control and more to do with converting the USB signal to AES/EBU making this a TotalDac issue and not a CAT issue. As has been mentioned by Vincent, this is the port the TotalDac prefers.
As for statements about performance vs value, my statements of preference were regards to performance only. When talking about value, I have to answer this question carefully because there are many variables that have to be considered when you talk about the value of a server for most people. There are some who prefer not to use a NAS and believe that internal storage is superior when it comes to SQ and convenience. There are some who prefer the familiarity and compatibility of a well known OS like Windows or IOS and others who prefer the open source flavors that Linux provides. There are many who would prefer not to deal with OS issues at all and would be happiest to have an easy to use and reliable user interface, preferably on a tablet. Further to that, there are those of us like @bmichels that insist on having ROON capability. Once you know what you must have, it becomes easier to make a decision.
With regards to price, if you owned only a d1-dual, you would have to pay nearly 5,000 Euros for a d1-server which as you know, has a reclocker built in. If you are interested in a d1-monobloc, the reclocker is an included part of this package and to add the server adds only about 1,000 Euros and so for the monobloc, getting the server is a no brainer. There are some creative souls out there who own a TotalDac DAC and have purchased a Cubox computer for about $100 USD and are connecting these little devices to the TotalDac via USB and are claiming excellent SQ. This may present the ultimate value if you already own a TotalDac DAC and are considering the Server.
While I hope most people recognize that I regard the TotalDac server extremely highly with regards to SQ, there are issues with it that are less than ideal. Most importantly is the software. While it works well, MPAD is 2nd rate. It's last update took place in early 2014 and it has bugs. Also, to listen to Tidal or Qobuz, you have to switch to iPeng which is 3rd rate and clearly sounds inferior to MPAD and so if much of your listening is through these streaming services, you take a SQ hit. When using Tidal or Qobuz on iPeng, the feature set is very primitive. It's really hard to discover new music this way. Basically, with any Linux-based system, you seem to get the latest stuff last and what you do get isn't very polished. The way I see it, the TotalDac Server is a 1st rate server with 3rd rate software. While it excels in sound quality, it does not excel in overall user experience and so you will have to decide for yourselves what value this holds.
With the CAT, you pay more but you get more. In most cases, the price for the CAT will be nearly double but what you get is an attractive looking chassis that can be left on 24/7 and consumes less than 20 watts. It also runs extremely cool to the touch and so for a full PC that runs Windows 8.1, you know the hardware is very light. The OS has been optimized through 3 years of tweaking and only runs 30+ active processes. To keep it running efficiently, the default configuration is locked although there are ways to unlock it if that is what you wish. There is no firewall, no antivirus, no Windows updates as this is discouraged and considered unnecessary for a music server. While you can use it like a standard PC, you really wouldn't want to because that defeats its singular purpose and that is to present music with the highest quality possible. Before you laugh at the choice of Windows 8.1, in many ways this was a very smart choice because of Windows' robust networking capabilities and very broad compatibility. Software also tends to get released first for Windows and while we are still waiting for ROON for Linux, the CAT can be configured to boot directly to ROON now which you can then operate remotely using either an iPad, Android tablet, smartphone, PC or MAC. Because it is a standard PC, it will run all software that Windows can run including Spotify, YouTube, Rhapsody, Sonos, etc, and hopefully MQA when it is released. This is probably as future proof as you will get. The best thing is that all of this can be controlled via remote desktop software so you can keep the CAT on your rack without having to connect it to a monitor or keyboard and you can control it from any other PC or Mac or even a tablet. Because the OS has been optimized for stability, it is designed not to crash like most PCs. Thus far, it has been 100 percent stable.
Unlike the TotalDac Server, the price comes with internal storage which presently maxes out at 4TB of internal SSDs although the CAT can utilize a NAS if necessary. Before you start thinking you can build this machine on your own, you can't. The SSDs are not off the shelf SSDs you can buy, they are custom built for the CAT with proprietary specs geared for music listening. The SSDs are individually encased/shielded and carefully mounted to guard against resonances. The wiring (both data and power) is hand made with careful attention to keeping lengths to a minimum. Much testing was done with different metals before deciding on what type of wiring sounded best. The motherboard is heavily modified with a customized bios that took years to tweak. The motherboard uses 2 oscillators/clocks that receive a highly filtered DC voltage from an outboard linear power supply. There are no motherboard switch mode regulators between the oscillators and external power supply. There is also additional filtering applied as close as physically possible to both oscillators. His USB ports are of his own design and are fed by a dedicated rail from his external linear PSU. The unused ports on the CAT have been deactivated. What Scott has found to be one of the biggest issues in digital audio is high frequency noise that results in digital harshness and so he has spent 4 years trying to eliminate or minimize it using a variety of methods and technologies that he did not feel he could share with me. Unlike many components that are over-engineered for no real reason, the CAT is precisely engineered because the difference is there.
The CAT took 4 years to develop and when you focus 4 years of attention to a single product and you have the attention to detail that Scott has, then what you end up with is something pretty special. To give you an example, Scott reportedly tested more than 30 fuses before deciding on which fuse sounded best on the CAT. Who does that? Even recently, he has been experimenting with different materials for cabling and recently upgraded the DC cables to his external PSU when he realized the SQ difference was there. He sells a USB cable that recently was granted a patent for its differential filtering capabilities. What these efforts amount to is what I have now experienced first hand -- the best digital source I have heard. Sometimes, you do get what you pay for.
Server to reclocker (TotalDac USB cable). Reclocker to each monobloc (digital AES/EBU cable).
The reclocker sends it out as native DSD or converted to PCM 176/24. If your DAC is DSD-ready, send it out as DSD. If it isn't, then send it out as PCM 176/24. The TotalDac can only handle DSD and not 2x DSD. It also can't handle DXD (384kHz oversampling) but this is no big deal for me. The TotalDac handles DSD in an equivalent way as it handles PCM, through the resistance ladder. Some DACs like the Nagra use an alternate path. Which is better, I'm not sure but the TotalDac handles DSD very well in my opinion, better than my Bricasti M1.
This is the benefit of dealing with a smaller company like TotalDac or CAD, a phone call often gets you the head guy. Try getting the engineers at Sony to provide you this kind of info.
The Entreq (and probably grounding boxes in general) add something unique and can benefit any system regardless of how good your power grid is. I no longer consider it a tweak but on par with a component upgrade. What it does is it allows you to see the full glory of your component and the better the component, the better the benefit. Everyone says it has its greatest effect on the DAC or preamp but interestingly, I have tried grounding my cable modem/router and there was a difference there also. As I stream with Tidal, there is now almost no difference compared to playing the same file off of the internal SSD of the CAT. You will have to decide the importance of this but for me, this is huge. There is also a cumulative effect. The more you ground, the better the whole system sounds in general.
If I were forced to choose one upgrade, it would still be upgrading the source. While the better the DAC, the more important the source, I am realizing the benefit of the CAT equally with my Bricasti. I suspect most modern DACs are good enough to realize this benefit. The Entreq box would be my #2 and the reclocker would be a distant #3.
The Poseidon represents Entreq's best and most expensive technology. It incorporates 3 Olympus Minimus boxes and has 3 posts so it can theoretically ground 6 components (2 components per post). This box costs $5,000 USD. The most basic box costs $400. The box most utilized is the Silver Tellus at about $2,000 but this box will ground 8 components. Where they get you is with the cables. Copper cables only cost $100 but the most expensive Atlantis cables are about $1,700 for one cable. The cables I am demoing (Apollo) are 2nd from the top and cost about $700 each. Living in Europe, I believe you have better access to evaluating an Entreq there. You should really experience it for yourself but be prepared to figure out how to budget for one because once you hear it, you probably won't want to be without it.
Thank you. Yes, I consider myself fortunate to have this equipment on hand. In the past year, I have been fortunate to have experienced many great pieces of equipment which has given me perspective. Very few things surprise me now and yet this exercise has provided many surprises.
With regards to reclocker vs server, I believe the server easily makes the bigger difference and so I would certainly not discourage anyone from getting the server or upgrading to the server because once you decide you want the reclocker, the server becomes merely a $1,000 add on. I would actually question someone who gets the reclocker and not the server but in your case, I understand. The only reason I would advise against the server is if I knew I would for sure be getting a better server like the CAT and maybe the Aurender. I have yet to be convinced that I can build a machine that can compete against the TotalDac Server.
With regards to the value proposition of the CAT, please see my response to nepherte. As you will read, the price you pay is not just for integration efforts. The Aurender N10 is a wonderful unit and is especially geared for those who have no intentions to tweak and want something ultra-reliable. It is based on a Linux core but unlike many Linux boxes like the Antipodes or the CAPS devices that we have, the software interface with the Aurender is superior. My brief time with it a couple of months ago is what first opened my eyes to the importance of the source and I look forward to its return so I can properly compare it.
As for your suggested tweaks, thank you for this. They make sense and I will try them in due time.