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TOTALDAC DAC

Discussion in 'High-end Audio Forum' started by khaos974, May 12, 2011.
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  1. Pale Rider Contributor

    Sure.  Vince of MSB and I have been playing phone and email tag, and while Vincent of Totaldac is at work on my rig, I expect weeks before it arrives. I still have fingers crossed for the NADAC next week.
     
    To my ears, the DS is both more detailed and smoother [i.e., more analog sounding, though I do not personally like that terminology; I will stick with "musical"; see Disclaimer below]. Smoother or musical does not, however, imply softness or fuzziness. The DS has excellent transients, a crispness to snares and cymbals, for example, that is more believable than the Lumin. On complex layers, it is better at revealing those layers. The Dies Irae on Verdi's Requiem by Robert Shaw and the ASO on Telarc is a good example. The DS has better soundstage, musician & vocalist placement, and distinction between instruments and voices. And it sounds like it has more dynamic range. Not by orders of magnitude, but incrementally. On the Brothers In Arms SACD extracted to .dsf, the PRAT and slam of The Man's Too Strong and One World [one of my faves] is fun on both, just better on the DS. Bass in particular is fuller but more definitive, more of that sense that one can feel it correctly, from both kick-pedal and string. This is particularly true on my Aeris speakers, which deliver in the lower registers in a way that none of my cans can. On the final track, although we all know that Knopfler is a plucker, and so it is difficult to know that our brain is not simply hearing what it expects to hear, the sound of the strings on that guitar that shouldn't be able to make those sounds. And the DS makes the rumbling sounds of thunder over the end of the world more credible, the rumble and emergence of guitar clearly discernible as a distinct but constituent component. On something like Rebecca Pidgeon's Spanish Harlem, these attributes add up to more of a "you really are there with her in the studio," the breath sounds moe distinct, the initial formation of words more clear, the bass again more accurate [or so it seems to me] The Lumin delivers much of this, too, and had I not compared them, I doubt I would be unhappy with it. but as it so happens, I needed more than one DAC, and so I ended up comparing them. I think that's the same of what I have read from others hear. "I was pretty happy with X, and could have remained so, but then I heard Y." The DS is more musical, but it doesn't "trounce" the Lumin. I may feel different about the MSB, NADAC, or Totaldac. But I am betting what I hear is more incremental. It's that last 5% or 1% that is often so difficult and expensive to achieve. fortunately, i will be able to keep most of these, and use them in individual headphone rigs.
     
    I want to stress that the A1 is a very good network player. It delivers exactly what Lumin promises at a very high level, and for what is becoming quite the bargain compared to the proliferation of mega-expensive DACs. It is beautifully and robustly constructed, and while not quite in the same league as my Veritas mono blocks, it's close. It is excellently supported, and Lumin shows no signs of leaving any of its customers in a dead end. I would love to hear the Lumin S1, because I expect it is everything Six Moons says it is. But I also believe the DS can be "re-programmed" to excel past that machine if it already isn't, and I will remain to be convinced over the Totaldac and NADAC. PSA's approach here is, theoretically at least, almost infinitely scalable, much more so than an R2R ladder of the best resistors, let alone the chipset in the NADAC. The DS may or may not be there yet, but I believe that it is on the right path [though I am frustrated with Ted Smith's lack of interest in higher DSD rates].
     
    [Disclaimer: I owned some very high end vinyl back in my youth, but I do not miss it. Vinyl was a royal PITA. And even on the best of systems, even under the best of lubricated surfaces, and with the finest of cartridges, on the most balanced of tonearms, let's call them what they were and are: sharp sticks of industrial metal or crystal grinding their way through our precious plastic-like grooves. Certainly good vinyl could sound wonderful, but it wasn't magic. In and of itself, analog playback represents no theoretical superiority over digital; it's all about execution. Both modern analog and digital can be very bad, or very musical. It's a matter of execution. and I find the waxing lyrical over analog silly. I embraced digital, warts and all, because I believed it had the potential to mimic reality more accurately and to scale much further. I believe we are watching that get truer every day.] Sorry for the proselytizing.
     
    preproman, Yoga and karlgerman like this.
  2. Yoga
     
    Fantastic read, thanks very much! Looks like you'll have some incredible setups. Out of interest, have you invested in any headphones yet?
     
    Just to squeeze one last A1 vs DS out - is it possible to give a % estimation of the incremental benefits of the DS (as it stands today)? Are we talking single or double figures?
     
  3. Pale Rider Contributor

    Yes, I have three Stax headphones, the LCD-2 with the LCD-4 on the way, and an HD800, for the primary rigs. 
     
    I am not a big believer in percentage estimates for aural improvements, because I don't have any confidence in my ability to put that sort of objective wrapper around a subjective assessment. It's like comparing really good restaurants, or saying that one version of an HDR photo is x% better than another. For me, it's why I put up with all the nonsense that the Six Moon guys publish [do they get paid by the keystroke?], because by the time I get done reading it 2 or 3 times, i start to have a sense of what it is they do and don't like about a piece of equipment, and what characteristics in particular contribute to that assessment. 
     
    I am not golden-eared by any means, but I can get a sense of what is contributing to my greater enjoyment over time. Occasionally, something bowls me over with a new presentation [getting the Aeris dialed in, the JH13 IEMs, or the contrast between the HD800 and the LCD-2], but most of this stuff is subtle and requires me to listen to a number of tracks before i start making assessments. And then there is the issue of fatigue after a lot of listening, which directly affects the accuracy of my perception. Can't go back and forth with an hour of Verdi's Requiem without getting a bit saturated. And if there's wine or beer involved, well then, everything starts to sound world class.
    [​IMG] 
     
  4. Yoga
    It was a long shot, but worth asking. As you've not stated it's a huge gap, I'm guessing it's an evolution rather than a revolution.
     
  5. Pale Rider Contributor

    Well, I think long term, the DS will continue to "separate itself' from the Lumin and many other DACs, because of its scaleability. But yes, we're not talking about a radical sonic improvement, not yet anyway, even if I think PSA's approach is itself a significant innovation.
     
  6. Yoga
     
    Thanks for your insights.
     
    I've spent some time researching the DirectStream and it's starting to appeal (quite considerably).
     
    With your listening impressions, which DS firmware were you using? 1.2.1, Pikes Peak or Yale?
     
  7. a1uc
    Has anyone taken the time to setup the Totaldac server for its full potential ?

    I use a NAS with SSD and a dedicated router which are both powerd with a
    pair of Pual Hynes SR5 linear PSU , Im just wondering because people are comparing
    5-10k servers against a Totaldac server which one has not taken the time to optimize .
    Just does not seem like a fair comparison

    I understand the Totaldac server only adds maybe $300.00 to the reclocker but once
    I optimized it the improvement was huge
     
  8. Pale Rider Contributor

    Yale is installed. While I have no doubt that the Totaldac, MSB, and others might be better, the DS is quite musical and easy to listen to. PS Audio has shown its commitment to upgradeability of both hardware and firmware, and i like how that affords a potential long enjoyment life. Heck, they even offered a discounted upgrade on their latest ethernet card, called the Bridge 2. That's just the kind of customer support that is such a breath of fresh air. Paul McGowan writes a column every single day. Some of it is just rambling, but sometimes it is quite a detailed analysis of a topic. Paul responds to every email he receives. Their forums are very active, and their techs routinely interact on them, as does Paul. they involve their customers in beta testing. They are open to new ideas, as the role of Ted Smith ion the DS shows, as the role of Bascom King in their latest amps shows. I could have easily plopped a DS into every one of my headphone rigs and been very happy. I am no shill for PSA, but I know something good when i see and hear it. And there is no denying all the accolades. But i do want to hear how the other DACs sound; i may well discover that they do not offer the level of aural benefit to justify 3x, 5x price levels. We will see.
     
  9. Yoga

    I've noted that myself when researching, their customer support is second to none. In the photography world Fuji are the equivalent company; (comparatively) regular firmware updates which add much value to existing models. Most others simply roll out an incremental upgrade requiring a new purchase (Apple iPhone, anyone?).
     
    I can't source a DS unfortunately, so I'm very much looking forward to your comparisons vs MSB and TotalDAC, two DACs I'll be auditioning at home too.
     
  10. Pale Rider Contributor

    I see you are in the UK. Not sure what distribution is like there. Here in the States, PSA offers a 30-day trial, and even a service they call White Glove Delivery, probably nice on those heavy amps. Would have liked that when my Emotiva showed up for the home theater.
     
  11. Yoga

    I can get a 30 day home trial from a specific company, but the DS here is £5500, roughly $8275. 

    At that price, of course, it's a no go.
     
  12. Pale Rider Contributor

    Understood. Looking forward to your impressions of the Totaldac and MSB.
     
  13. romaz
    You make a good point and I have tried to optimize the TotalDac server as best as possible.  I have actually been using my Audiophile Vortexbox as my NAS for my comparisons and it is functioning as a very high quality NAS given that it is completely silent and powered by an HD Plex linear PSU.  It sits next to my router and is connected to the router via an audiophile-grade SOtM CAT 6 cable.  The router itself sits on the same rack and is connected via another SOtM CAT 6 cable and so only 2 meters of cabling separate NAS from Server.  The router itself is powered by the same HD Plex linear PSU.  Furthermore, both router and NAS are grounded to an Entreq grounding box.  With each step, an incremental improvement has been noticed and I wouldn't have maintained the change if I didn't notice a difference.  With that said, your Paul Hynes supply is quite a bit better than my HD Plex LPSU and so it is hard to say if your setup is better optimized than mine.  Paul Hynes makes the best linear PSUs in my book and he, in fact, is building a linear PSU for me for a different application as we speak.  His SR7 is in the order of 1,000x quieter than the HD Plex and with superior transient current delivery.
     
    What I am finding with my comparisons is SQ from a local source is a little better compared to NAS.  Using the CAT, for example, I have listened to the same track from its local SSD vs my NAS and while subtle, music from the local SSD sounds better.  The Aurender N10 is different because regardless of whether the source file sits on its local hard drive or on the NAS, it caches it through its SSD and so SQ is equivalent.  The advantage of the N10, although I haven't formally tested it, is you don't need to tweak your NAS with fancy cabling or power supply because it doesn't actually stream off the NAS, it merely copies the file from the NAS onto its caching SSD.  
     
    As for cost, if you are committed to buying a reclocker, the Server option adds only about $1000 USD.  A no brainer.
     
  14. romaz
    I didn't want to sabotage this TotalDac thread with a server review and so I have posted it here:
     
    http://www.head-fi.org/t/787020/review-comparison-of-5-high-end-digital-music-servers-aurender-n10-cad-cat-server-totaldac-d1-server-auralic-aries-audiophile-vortex-box#post_12062822
     
    Servers5.jpg
     
  15. 7ryder
    Regarding Vincent saying that AES/EBU was the best input, has anyone compared it to the USB? I'm wondering if it is worth it to get something like the Yellowtec PUC2 lite instead of using USB 
     
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