Vintage/Current R2R DAC Owners Discussion, Insight, and Review Thread

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  1. Wildcatsare1
    Hi All,
    I wanted to create a forum for those of us with vintage R2R DACs and the current NOS offerings to discuss their merits versus delta sigma. A place to discuss modifications, updates, and future product introductions.
    This forum is intended to provide those who have or are interested in R2R DACs, both vintage, and current production.
    khbaur330162 likes this.
  2. Wildcatsare1
    I will kick this off with a mini review of the Monarchy Audio M22B ADC versus the Uber Bifrost. 
    First, my preferences, I love realistic tone, I am not a musician but I have an "idiot savant" about being able to identify the who in an orchestra is out of tune or hit the wrong note. With audio gear this translates to wanting as clear a picture of the original performance as possible, nothing accentuated and as little omission as possible. Not a bass or treble head, take me as close to the performance as possible, within the limits of the transducer. While sound-stage with headphones is far from realistic, I want my performers to have room to breath and not be stacked upon each other or miniaturized (to much at least).
    My equipment for this comparison is the HD800 (in stock configuration), Auralic Taurus Mk. 2, Monarchy M22B (Audioquest Clear Hyperltz balanced cable), Schiit Uber Bifrost (Cardas Hex RCA), MacBook Pro 2013 (Impact Acoustics Optical). Caveats, the Monarchy arrived from being recapped and having a transformer replaced that was damaged in shipping the same day as my new HD800s. So, they "burned in" together, both have about 150 hours on them, playing almost non-stop since they arrived.
    Marshall Gilkes Quartet, "Shady Skies", M22B- Bass and drum intro are absolutely right on target. Deep, tuneful bass, trumpet has that burnished brass tone, beautiful. Uber Bifrost, less dimensionality, impactful bass remains, brass doesn't have the rich tone. Goes to the M22B, better tone and dimensionality.
    OK, gotta go back to work, more to come.....
  3. daerron
    Recently acquired a good condition and recently serviced (recapped) Theta DS Pro Gen III DAC and have been enjoying it quite a bit with the Audiophilleo 2. I had been on the lookout for a PCM63 based Theta after a lot of research, and when the Gen III popped up, surprisingly in the little town I live, I just had to give it a try. The owner I bought it from replaced it with a Gen Va in his system and it's certainly the most detailed DAC I've heard so far, especially in combination with the Theta Data III transport. We also opened up the Gen III to inspect it and I was amazed at the build quality and design work that had gone into it. The DAC, though nearly 22 years old, had circuit boards that looked like they rolled off the factory just recently. All sections are split by heavy duty metal sections including the power supply and the connectors were high quality Cardas types.
    My interest in multibit DACs surfaced recently with the impending launch of the Yggdrasil DAC and the comments about it through the pre-release period and the positive comments about its sound and different nature to D-S. During my electronic engineering studies, my lecturers always gave comment on how R2R and multibit DACs were the "intended" method to convert digital audio and that D-S DACs were only invented because it scaled more easily to higher bit depth and sample rates and while they often measured better, did not necessarily sound better. D-S did raise the bar significantly for the mainstream market if you look at the quality of sound available today on all tiers of the market, but to me there was always something a bit off to the sound. I also used to play the piano for a couple of years in my youth (trying to start playing again) and always felt frustrated at how inadequate Hi-Fi portrayed the tone and body of such amazing acoustic instruments. Tone is often one of the first things that separate the great instruments from the really good ones. The first DAC that managed to impress me in portraying this was the PS Audio PWD2, but I never managed to save up enough for one before it got replaced by the DirectStream and it still had a noticeable glare in the sound. I briefly ventured into vinyl to see if it improved matters and to some extent it did, but came with other caveats, such as maintenance and setup requirements, difficulty finding good condition LPs and well recorded material. The expense of new vinyl records and fact that most modern records are cut from CD masters dampened my enthusiasm for the format.
    In experimenting with older multibit DACs I always held the assumption that one would have to sacrifice some detail extraction, a rolled off treble and syrupy sound as a trade off in order to get better tone. To my surprise the Theta DS Pro Gen III manages to unmask far more detail from CD quality material that I would have reasonably expected. The Gen III is able to separate and delineate different instruments and passages that sounded muddied together on my Concero DAC, which has been my mainstay DAC in my system for 2 years now. The difference wasn't subtle, quite an eye opener in the way it presented a 3D sound stage, even on the not so spacious sounding Violectric V100. The Concero also sounded flat and lifeless in comparison to the Gen III with a definite emphasis in the mid bass that muddied bass notes in comparison. The Theta sounds leaner in the bass in a sense, but it hits harder and extends lower and has good attack and decay of percussion and bass guitars.The Concero also didn't extend as far in the highs, but always appreciated its lack of aggressiveness in the highs that I've experienced in many ESS implementations. The Theta's natural tone and lack of "edge or glare" was so apparent, that my wife who has real dislike in any gear displaying harshess or treble shrillness, immediately noted that the Hi-Fi sounded much better. Still busy exploring the differences between the balanced and SE outputs as I'm aware that there could be noticeable differences between the two as Theta had a better SE circuit from Gen V onwards. The balanced input so far does sound better on the Violectric HPA V100, but balanced or not, it certainly gave the Concero a good drubbing.
    Its discoveries like these that make Hi-Fi the fun and interesting hobby it is, especially components that challenge one's established perceptions. I was recently also completely taken by surprise by a measly 8W SET valve amp that gave my 250W solid state amplifier a good drubbing. The way the SET amplifier maintained its composure, gave air to instruments and a holographic sound stage was quite a wonderful experience. My experience with the Theta falls into a similar category. I've been chasing HD music downloads and DACs higher up the ladder looking for a better sound, but since getting the Theta I've been quite content just enjoying my CD collection and Tidal Hi-Fi streaming! 
  4. Wildcatsare1
    ^This^! Beautiful rig!
    I also thought that returning to the old R2R technology would mean giving something up! Absolutely not the case. As I write this I am listening to the old war horse "Jazz at the Pawnshop" on the Monarchy, Taurus Mk. 2, and my HD800s. Incredible soundstage, bass, and most important to me tone. Truly a "goose-bump" experience.
    I am also interested in the Audiophilleo 2 or the Melodious MXU-8 (?). 
  5. BucketInABucket
    For a modern option, try the Soekris DAC boards with added modules!

  6. Wildcatsare1
    Have you tried them, I am technically inept, do they sell completed kits?
  7. jhljhl

    I had an RWA isabellina dac with R2R tech and high rez.  I think the R2R was more organic or romantic that is warmer sounding which would go well with a solid state amp I think.  There was synergy of course with a RWA Sig 16/Cassabria I used it with: a hybrid tube amp.  Only parted with it because I needed balanced out too for my WA22.
  8. BucketInABucket
    Haven't tried them yet, but I bought one and I'm hoping to learn how to use it! Designing my own enclosure and everything for it too.
  9. ThePianoMan
    ^ in response to the "idiot savant" thing, have you ever been tested for/considered that you might have perfect (absolute) pitch?
  10. stuartmc
    Very cool thread. For me, I'll call it the DAC nostalgia thread. I've owned and used the Monarchy, several Thetas, Audio Alchemy gear, Meitner Bidat, Bel Cantos, Sony SCD777ES and a few others that my old, addled brain can't recall.

    I've had fun comparing the new stuff to the few I still have gathering dust in my audio closet. The relatively recent R2R craze has made me re-think the merits of these venerable DACs.
  11. daerron
    That is interesting and kind of what I was expecting with R2R, but the Theta actually has a very different character, very unruffled and clean with great extension on both sides. I think R2R and multibit DACs by their very nature will vary a lot as a lot more discrete stages are required as the older NOS ICs didn't include as a many features that typically integrated on modern DAC ICs. In essence it requires a bit more skill and know how from a designer and allows more customisation so far more scope for sonic differences.
    One thing that is certainly great today is the abundant amount of low jitter transports available.
  12. Wildcatsare1
    I have not, the sad thing is I don't play any instruments, but am of great assistance in helping friends tune theirs. It really can be a bit maddening, if I go to a performance and someone in the choir, show, or symphony is out of tune. It is highly distracting.
    How does one get tested?
    conquerator2 likes this.
  13. Wildcatsare1
    I did the same thing, I had an Arcam FMJCD23 collecting dust as well. While not an R2R DAC, it uses Light Harmonic "Ring Technology", it sounds great alone or as a transport!
  14. reddog
  15. conquerator2
    Excellent thread. Ill comment later :}
    For now, I have a Theta Basic II and can't be happier :D
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