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    The Next Step in my Audio Journey — When System Synergy Trumped Individual Components

     

     

    The Next Step in my Audio Journey 

    — When System Synergy Trumped Individual Components

     

    Rajiv Arora

     

     

    For the last couple of years, the main components in my system have remained unchanged, because I was so happy with the sound quality I was experiencing. Yes, there were minor tweaks ongoing, but I don’t count those. Until recently, that is. Since this is the system which forms the baseline for my reviews, I thought I’d share the recent fairly drastic changes, and the rationale for them. 

     

    To set the stage for those of you who haven’t seen my posts and articles chronicling my audio journey, I am first and foremost a headphone listener. I am not for one second asserting that headphone listening trumps speakers — it doesn’t — but it made sense for me and my situation. My current system is the result of many years of refinement to deliver the best headphone sound quality I could afford. Second, I love experimentation and tweaking, so my system reflects choices that you may find, well, weird! 

     

    Until the beginning of 2022, my system continued to look like the picture below:


    image9.jpg

     

     

    This was anchored by the Taiko SGM Extreme server and the Chord DAVE DAC, powered by the Sean Jacobs DC3 external PSU (power supply unit). My current reference headphones comprise the Meze Elite, Sennheiser HD800 (SD mod) and Abyss AB-1266 Phi CC. I got the best SQ driving the Elite and the HD800 directly from the 6.3mm output of the DAVE, while the Abyss sounded best driven through my external Cavalli Liquid Gold headphone amp.

     

     

    The Catalyst for Change

     

    The obvious next step I was contemplating was the upgrade of the Sean Jacobs DC3 PSU to either the DC4 ARC6 PSU — which I informally reviewed here — or continue the forlorn, interminable wait for my Paul Hynes SR-7 DR custom DAVE PSU. But something was nagging @romaz, @ray-dude, @Nenon, @Zaphod Beeblebrox and me. Emile at Taiko Audio, whose ears we all trust, had a DAVE/DC4 ARC6/SRCDX setup in one of his listening setups, playing 24/16FS PGGB files, but despite all our improvements to the DAVE in place, it still did not engage him as much as his flagship DAC setup at Taiko HQ. We considered three possible reasons for this: differences in personal preference, the importance of the USB interface, which benefits hugely from the Taiko USB driver optimizations, and the analog stage, which in Emile’s experience is where the truly great DACs shine.

     

    This struck a, ahem, chord with me, as I have experienced the same in my DAC explorations. Even in my recent review of the Ayre QX-5 Twenty USB2 Board Upgrade, I talked about how the SQ of a DAC is the sum of all aspects of a DAC’s design, not just the digital filters and D/A converter. In particular, I know how important a role the USB interface, the analog output stage and the preamp play. Perhaps it was time to zoom out a bit and explore the analog domain in my own audio journey.

     

    The other great equalizer in determining the next direction for me was PGGB upsampling. In my experience, the extremely long windowed Sinc filters of PGGB deliver outstanding transparency, layering, and transient response on my DAVE, replacing the WTA1 stage of the DAC, or the hardware M-Scaler. Perhaps it was time to consider other DACs that were amenable to the benefits of PGGB, while possessing more robust analog stages. 

     

    Finally, I have been wanting to explore more powerful, and possibly better, speaker amps to drive my headphones. This was another factor in deciding my next steps.

     

     

    Approach

     

    How did I narrow down the list of candidate DAC/amps? Here are some criteria:

    • Uses a USB controller with the XMOS2 chipset to exploit the Taiko USB driver
    • Likely to benefit from and exploit PGGB
      • Support at least 16FS (705.6/768 kHz) sample rates
      • Support OSF bypass:
        • Either explicitly via a “NOS” switch, 
        • Or implicitly at max sample rate
    • Excellent analog output stage
    • Tight integration
      • Excellent preamp stage
      • Excellent headphone/speaker amp.

     

     

    Of course, the criteria above are specific to my use case, where I use the DAVE as an integrated DAC/HP amp. Those who own bespoke pre- and power amps that they love will have different criteria.

     

    I must give a huge amount of credit to Roy ( @romaz ) for identifying and trying several DAC/pre’s, which I won't name, since I only want to write about gear that I’ve tried myself. None, in his estimation, exceeded the high bar set by the DAVE/DC4 ARC6/SRCDX. None, that is, until the Vinnie Rossi L2 DAC, which is a modular add-on to the L2 and L2i SE integrated amps, as well as the L2 Signature Pre. The L2 DAC/L2i SE combo had checked a lot of boxes for us:

     

    1. Based on Vinnie's reputation, as well as posted comments and reviews, expected to have outstanding analog performance from the L2 DAC's dual mono class A JFET output stage, the Pre (JFET/DHT (directly heated triode)), and the amp (MOSFET)
    2. Uses the JLSounds XMOS2 controller, which should benefit from the Taiko USB driver
    3. Use AKM AK4497EQ DAC chip  — Emile and Vinnie sing the praises of AKM DACs having great SQ
    4. Has selectable NOS — more correctly, OSF (oversampling filter) bypass — mode, which is necessary to benefit from PGGB
    5. Supports 16FS sample rates — again, should benefit from PGGB.

     

    Roy's initial reports to us after trying the VR L2 DAC/L2i SE were so promising that I had to hear this for myself. In Roy’s application, he used the L2i SE as a DAC/pre, replacing his DAVE/DC4 ARC6/SRCDX and existing D’Agostino preamp. 

     

    Luckily, I got a chance to audition and compare the L2 DAC/L2i SE integrated amp with a DAVE/DC4 ARC6/SRCDX in @Zaphod Beeblebrox setup. ZB is also a headphone user like myself, so we were able to use the L2i SE’s amp stage to drive our headphones.


     

    System Changes

     

    Based on this audition, I went ahead and procured a VR L2i SE integrated amp for myself, and my reference system now looks like this:


    image5.jpg

     

     

     

    What changed and why?

     

    Goodbye, Cavalli Liquid Gold Headphone Amp

     

    I have been wanting to evaluate a high-end speaker amp driving headphones, but had not done so until now.

     

    In the evaluation at ZB’s house, we used the DAVE/DC4 ARC6/SRCDX as the source, and compared the Cavalli and VR L2i SE as headphone amps. The L2i SE's speaker terminals have an output impedance of a low 0.02Ω, so it can easily drive our various headphones, ranging in impedance from 10Ω to 300Ω. To adapt the L2i SE speaker terminals, we used a non-ideal, but convenient, "banana plugs to female XLR" adapter from eBay, connecting to the Transparent Audio Ultra headphone cable system we both like. In this comparison, we were not using tubes, running the L2i SE in DHT bypass (JFET) mode. Tubes did enter the picture, but at a later stage.

     

    The results of this comparison were unambiguous. The L2i SE is a much better amp than the Cavalli. The soundscape created by the L2i SE was bigger in all three dimensions, more real, and more dynamic than the Cavalli. This should not have been surprising, considering that the L2i SE as an integrated amp has an MSRP many times the Cavalli.

     

    I have really enjoyed the Cavalli for over 5 years, so it was with bittersweet feelings that I found it a new home, using the proceeds to offset the purchase of the L2i SE.

     

     

    Added Transparent Audio Banana Plugs-to-XLR Adapter

     

    As you've seen in all my recent reviews, I'm a huge fan of the Transparent Ultra headphone cable system. Not only is the SQ of these cables outstanding, I just love the modularity of their design. The main cable (in my case, 3m) stays unchanged, and you just change adapters on both ends as you vary headphones, or amps. For the VR L2i SE, I initially used a "banana plugs to female XLR" adapter from eBay, but Transparent Audio built me a far more robust Ultra adapter, which was notably superior sounding to the flimsy eBay one, and interfaced perfectly with the rest of the Ultra cable.

     

     

    The L2 DAC/L2i SE replaced the Chord DAVE/DC3/SRCDX

     

    This is the biggest change in my system. I arrived at this outcome by evaluating three different configurations on ZB’s setup:

    • DAVE Direct
      • Server > SRCDX > DAVE/DC4 ARC6 > headphones
    • DAVE driving L2i SE amp
      • Server > SRCDX > DAVE/DC4 ARC6 > VR L2i SE > headphones
    • L2 DAC/L2i SE Direct
      • Server > VR L2 DAC/L2i SE > headphones

     

    This was indeed revelatory. Using 24/16FS PGGBed content, my listening confirmed a few things:

     

    • Comparing 1) to 2), the latter sounded much better. The DAVE Direct path is noted for its outstanding transparency, and indeed there was a slight loss of transparency adding the L2i SE amp in the path. But the L2i SE more than made up for it in other areas. Similar to the Cavalli comparison, the L2i SE rendered a bigger and more realistic image. Instruments were denser, more visceral and more dynamic. This confirmed that the addition of the L2i SE was a big improvement in the system’s SQ. But the L2i SE is an expensive amp, so this is a pretty spendy option, purely as a headphone amp.
    • Enter the L2 DAC module. Comparing configuration 3) to 1), I was really impressed by how well 3) did, despite the fact that the L2 DAC is priced at a fraction of the DAVE combo. In fact, it outperformed 1) quite comfortably in areas related to tonal richness, realism, dynamics, and density. Music simply sounded more real and more emotionally engaging. But this wasn’t a slam dunk. The transparency, layering, and transient accuracy of the DAVE was still evident, and superior, but this was now a tradeoff between many attributes.
    • Was 3) better than 2)? Perhaps surprisingly, yes! This wasn’t a night and day difference, but I found the L2 DAC path to have crisper transients, along with more muscularity and density, even though both paths shared the L2i SE amp. Was this because of the L2 DAC’s output stage? Or the JLSounds XMOS2 USB interface? Or the interconnects we used between the DAVE and the L2i SE? We tried a couple of different ICs, and they made a notable difference. Was it the benefit of PGGB, that freed the L2 DAC from OSF duties? I suspect all of the above.

     

    Whatever the reason, what I was hearing with the L2 DAC/L2i SE combo driving my headphones directly, was a new balance of strengths, a new synergy, that took my system’s SQ a quantum step forward.

     

     

    Upgraded DHT Tubes to Takatsuki TA-300B

     

    I initially wasn’t a big fan of the stock DHT’s in the L2i SE, and assumed I would stick to the solid-state JFET mode of the preamp. But then I was persuaded to try the Takatsuki TA-300B tubes — who knew I’d start tube rolling! — and my world was rocked. The Taks improve SQ even further, and quite substantially over the stock tubes. Once I had them, I could never return to the JFET DHT-bypass mode. I’ve never been a tube guy, but this particular application is just magical.

     

     

    Fewer Cables!

    The beauty of this new setup is that I no longer need:

    • analog interconnects for an outboard amp, since the VR's amp is integrated.
    • dual BNC cables from SRCDX to the DAC.

     

     

    Software Changes

     

    Taiko OS update

     

    Emile introduced a cumulative update in Jan/Feb 2022 that delivered:

    • A slew of OS and network driver optimizations, and
    • An improved Taiko USB driver, incorporating elements of the Taiko Audio Server (TAS).

     

    With these new tunings, Emile asserted very emphatically that the network should stay connected using copper Ethernet, not fiber, and to revert to using Roon as the music server. This was quite a departure from my previous operating point, which was to run:

    • With local PGGBed content
    • With network disconnected after hitting Play
    • Using TAS (Taiko Audio Server).

     

    I did not just follow this advice blindly, but also was not surprised when his recommendations were borne out in my listening tests. So this led to additional software changes.

     

    But first, the improvement brought about with this OS and USB driver update was really profound. I’ve heard the benefit of software improvements on a music server before, but I did not expect this magnitude of a change on an already highly-optimized server.

     

    One advantage of having switched over to the L2 DAC was that its JLSounds XMOS2 USB controller fully benefited from the Taiko USB driver update, and this too was not a small subtle change. I remain amazed at how much more Emile is able to squeeze out of the USB driver!

     

     

    Switch from TAS back to Roon

     

    I had never expected to go back to Roon, and Taiko’s plan is to eventually deliver their new XDMS player, that will supersede TAS and become the recommended option for the future. Still, consistent with Emile’s claims, I was flabbergasted to find Roon sounding excellent, and as promised, outperforming both TAS and HQPlayer, that I also use occasionally as a music player. Quite remarkable.

     

     

    Network Changes

     

    Connected outperforms Unconnected?!

     

    I am still scratching my head over this one, but I cannot argue with the difference I’m hearing. For the last almost 2 years since I bought the Extreme server, I’ve gotten off the network switch optimization game. Over time, Emile’s Ethernet driver tuning had gotten me to the point that the switch chain upstream of the Extreme was doing very little harm. Still, for best SQ, using local files and a non-chatty player like TAS or HQPlayer, I would hit play and disconnect the network for the best and most consistent SQ. While my system diagram still showed a chain of 3 switches, honestly, it’s just a carryover from my switch optimization days.

     

    So when Emile asserted that Roon was the best sounding player software with his new update, it meant that I could no longer use the disconnected mode, since Roon does not function for long periods when disconnected. But then Emile also insisted that with his latest fixes, the SQ is actually better with the Extreme attached to the network via Ethernet, than disconnected. He has his hypotheses why this is the case, but I just wanted to test the assertion.

     

    Roon will still play back for a short duration (under a minute in my case) with the network disconnected, so I compared the connected vs. the disconnected case. While it wasn’t night and day, I certainly heard what appeared to be a small improvement with the network connected. Honestly, I would have been happy even with a no-degradation result, as this allows me to explore streaming again.

     

     

    Simplified switch chain

     

    With the network back in play, I felt compelled to revisit my switch chain to find the best sounding operating point, with the gear I already had. As it turned out, I shortened the switch chain to:

     

    • router > copper > etherRegen > fiber > SOtM > copper > Extreme.

     

     

    Emile and Taiko have plans to deliver their own Ethernet PCI NIC, upstream switch, and even a router, so I don’t plan to do any more network tuning until I’ve tried these products.

     

     

    Caveats

     

    • The VR L2i SE is a discontinued product, so I am not for a second advocating this as a path for others to necessarily follow. The availability of this amp in the used market is very spotty. That said, there is a good chance that some subset of current L2i SE users will upgrade to Vinnie's new, much pricier Brama amp, in which case Vinnie should have some trade-in units for sale.
    • The AKM AK4497EQ DAC chip in the L2 DAC is no longer available, and with the recent fire at AKM's facility, AKM chips are generally in short supply. Vinnie has said he has no spare L2 DAC modules in stock, so any units that require repair may be out of luck, even if you are still under the original warranty, or whatever warranty Vinnie offers for the trade-in units he sells.
    • When using the Taks, there is a very faint background hum when no music is playing. It is most noticeable with lower-impedance headphones like the Elite, and almost non-existent on the 300 ohm HD800. I found this to be a non-issue during playback.

     

     

    Final Thoughts

     

    When exploring improvements to one’s audio system, it is natural to apply focus to specific parts of the audio chain at any given time. Over the last few years, I’ve explored and enjoyed tweaking the network chain and the music server architecture, and trying various DACs and headphones. For the last couple of years, it just happened that my focus narrowed to finding ways to make the Chord DAVE even better sounding than it already is in its stock form. Between upgrading the PSU to the Sean Jacobs DC3 and DC4 ARC6, bypassing the Amanero USB interface with the Audiowise SRC-DX, PGGB upsampling, and exploring various dual-SPDIF cables, this was a fertile and satisfying exploration.

     

    Still, there comes a point where it makes sense to step back and look at the bigger picture. Everything in the audio chain matters, and the analog portion is no less important. It was this act of stock-taking, as well as the invaluable fellowship of audio friends willing to experiment, that led to this latest round of updates. The tipping point for me, that caused me to act, was the incredible synergy and simplicity of the L2 DAC/L2i SE.

     

    Do I think any less of the DAVE/DC4 ARC6/SRCDX/PGGB combo? Heck no!! I am still in awe of how good this combination sounds. For people running this combo with a pre/power/integrated amp they love, move along, there’s nothing to see here. 🙂 To underscore the point: I still own a stock DAVE that now lives in my office system. It’s not going anywhere!

     

    Is the L2 DAC/L2i SE my end game setup? I know better than to make any such claim. Change will come eventually – it always does! Until then, I am incredibly pleased with the sound quality of my system, and that is ultimately what it’s all about!

     

     

    System Pictures

     

    If you’ve actually read this far, then here, by way of thanks, are some pictures of my system!

     

     

    image2.jpg

     

    My audio system actually lives in my home theater, where I’m using the length (left to right) of the room for A/V use, and back to front for my listening.

     

     

     

    image3.jpg

     

    Mine is a headphone system, and this is where they hang, when not in use.

     

     

     

    image8.jpg

     

    The Vinne Rossi L2i SE integrated amp, with Takatsuki TA-300B tubes.

     

     

     

    image1.jpg

     

    The Transparent Ultra banana plugs-to-female 4-pin XLR adapter, that allows this speaker amp to drive headphones.

     

     

     

    image4.jpg

     

    The Sound Application TT-7 Reference power conditioner (bottom), SOtM sNH-10G switch (top shelf).

     

     

     

    image7.jpg

     

    The Taiko SGM Extreme Server.

     

     

     

    image6.jpg

     

    The rest of the switch stack and the Paul Hynes SR7MR3DRXLFC10 custom PSU.

     

    Since I rewire things so often for my reviews, you’ll notice a theme of components with a side orientation. This spares my poor back immensely, even though it’s ugly!

     

     

     

    Reference System Details

    Music Computer:          Taiko Audio SGM Extreme Music Server, Taiko USB upgrade

    DAC:                               Vinnie Rossi L2 DAC module

    Amp:                               Vinnie Rossi L2i SE integrated speaker amp

    Headphones:                 Meze Elite, Abyss AB-1266 Phi CC, Sennheiser HD800 (SD mod)

    Ethernet Switches:        SOtM sNH-10G, Uptone EtherREGEN, Buffalo BS-GS2016 (modded for LPS)

    Power supplies:             Paul Hynes SR7MR3DRXL (dual regulation, 3-rail)  for switches

    Power Details:               Dedicated 30A 6AWG AC circuit

                                            Sound Application TT-7 Reference Power Conditioner

    Power Cables:                Sablon King (wall to TT-7), Sablon Prince (Extreme),

                                            Cardas Clear Beyond (L2i SE, SR-7),

                                            Cardas Clear for all other components

    USB cable:                     Sablon Evo 2022 USB

    Ethernet cables:             Sablon 2020, Supra Cat 8

    DC cables:                     Paul Hynes fine silver (SR-7)

    Headphone cables:       Transparent Ultra cable system

    Accessories:                  Synergistic Research Tranquility Base XL UEF. Galileo MPC

                                           Synergistic Research MiG 2.0 footers

                                           Taiko Audio Daiza Isolation Platforms

                                           High Fidelity Cables Trinity Helix Headphone Module.

     

     

     

    Acknowledgments

     

    Many thanks to the following companies for supplying cables and accessories to aid in this evaluation:

    Cardas Audio, for a full loom of Cardas Clear cables.

    Transparent Audio, for the Transparent Ultra headphone cable with a full complement of headphones leads and source terminators.

     

     

    About the Author

     

    Rajiv Arora — a.k.a. @austinpop — is both a computer geek and a lifelong audiophile. He doesn’t work much, but when he does, it’s as a consultant in the computer industry. Having retired from a corporate career as a researcher, technologist and executive, he now combines his passion for music and audio gear with his computer skills and his love of writing to author reviews and articles about high-end audio.

     

    He  has "a special set of skills" that help him bring technical perspective to the audio hobby. No, they do not involve kicking criminal ass in exotic foreign locales! Starting with his Ph.D. research on computer networks, and extending over his professional career, his area of expertise is the performance and scalability of distributed computing systems. Tuning and optimization are in his blood. He is guided by the scientific method and robust experimental design. That said, he trusts his ears, and how a system or component sounds is always the final determinant in his findings. He does not need every audio effect to be measurable, as long as it is consistently audible.

     

    Finally, he believes in integrity, honesty, civility and community, and this is what he strives to bring to every interaction, both as an author and as a forum contributor.

     

     

     




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    Interesting read Austinpop, thank you for taking the time to write this all out.  Regarding Vinnie Rossi, I have thought, more than once, that a Brama would look great on my desktop. That is a seriously beautiful piece of equipment. A question though, what is the power output of the amp, and how does that effect how you use the volume knob on the easier to drive headphones you use.

     

    And an edit: Are the transparent speaker to headphone cables you use a custom item from Transparent?

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    1 hour ago, AudioDoctor said:

    Interesting read Austinpop, thank you for taking the time to write this all out.  Regarding Vinnie Rossi, I have thought, more than once, that a Brama would look great on my desktop. That is a seriously beautiful piece of equipment.

     

    Indeed, that Brama line is serious audio porn, at a price to match! Unfortunately, Vinnie did not provision it with a DAC module, likely due to the AKM supply issues. Maybe some day! I hope to hear it at AXPONA this coming weekend.

     

    1 hour ago, AudioDoctor said:

    A question though, what is the power output of the amp, and how does that effect how you use the volume knob on the easier to drive headphones you use.

     

    The amp is rated at 100Wpc at 8Ω, but there is also a jumper in the pre section to lower the gain by 6dB. With this low-gain jumper engaged, and even with my very efficient Meze Elite, I am typically at 25-35 on the volume knob, which goes to a max of 63. So, ample granularity of volume control.

     

    1 hour ago, AudioDoctor said:

    And an edit: Are the transparent speaker to headphone cables you use a custom item from Transparent?

     

    Yes, they are, but only because I seem to have been the first to request it from them. Now that they've spec-ed it out and built it, it's part of  their Transparent Ultra heaphone cable system. So if you already own the cable and headphone terminators, you are just buying an additional "source termination" adapter. The modularity of this system is what I find appealing.

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    Really nicely done, Rajiv!

     

    If I recall correctly, Emile had mentioned that by leaving the network disconnected, there may be some additional noise generated by the network adapter itself that will be reduced just by connecting it to a network where it can receive an acknowledgment of being heard.  This is my paraphrase, but it was my takeaway/interpretation of what he said at the time.  Kinda makes sense.

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    I happened to have "system" as gear + room on my mind, so I was expecting a story about room optimization but this was plenty interesting as well. Given my moderate tinnitus, I won't be exploring headphone soundstage, ever, but fascinating to read about network stuff from you, as usual.

     

    I forced myself not to pull the trigger on a high-end network bridge because it seems these optimizations have so many combinations...at some point one decides enough is enough and goes back to listening to music. These kind of reviews from you help me a great deal in knowing where that point is. I appreciate your pro background/experience in IT as well.

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    I can only agree. I have used Vinnie R LIO and now L2i with the inbuilt DAC 2.0 card. I asked Vinnie if he thought an external

    DAC could better it and he replied that one had to spend around 10K USD to better it. 

    I bought the Merason DAC-1 wich I am very satisfied with, so this DAC has finally bettered my internal DAC card.

    I saw that Vinnie will use the Merason DAC together with Brama at Axpona  btw.🙂

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    @austinpop

    Excellent report, thank you.

     

    I am referring to this passage:

    "Emile at Taiko Audio, whose ears we all trust, had a DAVE/DC4 ARC6/SRCDX setup in one of his listening setups, playing 24/16FS PGGB files, but despite all our improvements to the DAVE in place, it still did not engage him as much as his flagship DAC setup at Taiko HQ."

     

    As Emile has several DACs which one did you mean as his flagship DAC in this context, the Pacific, the TotalDAC, the Aqua or another DAC?

    Thanks

     

    Matt

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    2 hours ago, magnuska said:

    I can only agree. I have used Vinnie R LIO and now L2i with the inbuilt DAC 2.0 card. I asked Vinnie if he thought an external

    DAC could better it and he replied that one had to spend around 10K USD to better it. 

    I bought the Merason DAC-1 wich I am very satisfied with, so this DAC has finally bettered my internal DAC card.

    I saw that Vinnie will use the Merason DAC together with Brama at Axpona  btw.🙂

    When I first read Austinpop review. I said wow! The internal VR DAC 4k is as good as Dave/DC4 AR6 combo. I appreciate cost is not a measure but a 4k DAC Module as good as 15k Chord/Dave combo. I was quite gobsmacked by this. Certainly got me thinking, could I downsize my chain. 5 boxes down to 1, 4 less powercords, endless Symposium feet and platforms. 
     

    Then I seen your post. What did you not like about the VR DAC module? Or what do you like about Merason DAC-1 that the VR module didn’t have? 
     

    @austinpop thanks again for a wonderful review. 👍

     

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    3 hours ago, matthias said:

    @austinpop

    Excellent report, thank you.

     

    I am referring to this passage:

    "Emile at Taiko Audio, whose ears we all trust, had a DAVE/DC4 ARC6/SRCDX setup in one of his listening setups, playing 24/16FS PGGB files, but despite all our improvements to the DAVE in place, it still did not engage him as much as his flagship DAC setup at Taiko HQ."

     

    As Emile has several DACs which one did you mean as his flagship DAC in this context, the Pacific, the TotalDAC, the Aqua or another DAC?

    Thanks

     

    Matt

     

    It was a private conversation, so I'll leave it up to Emile if he wants to clarify. 🙂 Identifying his favorite is not the point of this article, it was merely what motivated us to look closer at the analog parts of the chain. 

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    How much of a role does PGGB play here Rajiv? I unfortunately do not have a server quiet enough to distinguish the difference between PGGB and non PGGB files on my Gustard X26 pro (I hope to change this when I get the cash to do so). I would imagine on non PGGB files the Dave plus Arc PS beat the Vinnie Rossi? If so, it seems like PGGB is the big difference maker if you keep the server and related software constant. 

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    1 hour ago, taipan254 said:

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    Just EXCELLENT !!!!

    Because I did not see it somewhere, you finally used EtherREGEN before SOTM, because in the review of REGEN you had written that you preferred REGEN at the end of the chain.

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    7 hours ago, ASRMichael said:

    When I first read Austinpop review. I said wow! The internal VR DAC 4k is as good as Dave/DC4 AR6 combo. I appreciate cost is not a measure but a 4k DAC Module as good as 15k Chord/Dave combo. I was quite gobsmacked by this. Certainly got me thinking, could I downsize my chain. 5 boxes down to 1, 4 less powercords, endless Symposium feet and platforms. 
     

    Then I seen your post. What did you not like about the VR DAC module? Or what do you like about Merason DAC-1 that the VR module didn’t have? 
     

    @austinpop thanks again for a wonderful review. 👍

     

    I use the standard version of L2i with 6SN7 tubes. The L2iSE with 300B tubes does sound better. So I guess this fact is the dividing point. In my system with the 6SN7 tubes the Merason DAC sounds a bit more airy, better layered, wider soundstage and better timing toe tapping. But maybe a little less organic. So these are my findings in my system but it would be really interesting to hear the 300B version.

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    On 4/21/2022 at 10:23 AM, austinpop said:

     

    Actually, it's the opposite. 

     

    PGGB makes a very big improvement on the DAVE. Not surprising, since PGGB was conceived, developed, and fine tuned using DAVE as the target. It's only afterward, that PGGB was tried on other DACs, resulting in varying degrees of uplift.

     

    The VR L2 DAC certainly benefits greatly from PGGB. but I wouldn't say it's to the same extent as PGGB uplifts the DAVE.


    Hi Rajiv, so good to hear you’ve switched to VR equipment! I too have found that upsampling is optional and track dependent through VR’s DAC2 in NOS mode. Currently enjoying my music without using any upsampling at all and I’m still getting a very organic sound.

     

    Have you had a chance to add a QSA purple fuse to the pre-amp section in the L2i-SE? I’ve found the improvement immediately noticeable, being even more natural sounding despite it already playing at a very high level. 

     


     

     

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    Hey Rajiv. Hope you’re enjoying Axpona. Random follow up. Do you know if Emile plans on selling his driver? I’m sure a lot of folks have Xmos 2 based DACs. I’d be interested to see what it does even if I don’t have an extreme! 

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    @austinpop

    Thanks for the system update, it's very surprising to hear you're moving away from the DAVE after all you've done with and around it. 

     

    That's pretty funny to see the "build an effective team" leadership expectation thing crop up here again, but I guess in many walks of life that's the most rewarding approach. I'm happy to hear you're getting more from your system now, but I wonder how more recent VR offerings compare?

     

    I wanted to specifically ask what you're doing with your HFC Trinity Helix now that the DAVE and it's SE output are out? 

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    10 hours ago, taipan254 said:

    Hey Rajiv. Hope you’re enjoying Axpona. Random follow up. Do you know if Emile plans on selling his driver? I’m sure a lot of folks have Xmos 2 based DACs. I’d be interested to see what it does even if I don’t have an extreme! 

     

    You can post on the WBF thread and ask, but I would be very surprised if he were. These enhancements enhance the value proposition for Extreme customers.

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    3 hours ago, Ben-M said:

    I'm happy to hear you're getting more from your system now, but I wonder how more recent VR offerings compare?

     

    I just listened to Vinnie's new Brama integrated amp at AXPONA, and while it sounded excellent in the system it was deployed in, I have no way to gauge how it would compare to my L2i SE. The expectation Vinnie sets is that the Brama is in another league of performance, with a price tag to match.

     

    3 hours ago, Ben-M said:

    I wanted to specifically ask what you're doing with your HFC Trinity Helix now that the DAVE and it's SE output are out? 

     

    It turns out that the speaker outputs of the L2i SE are single ended, in that the L- and R- speaker terminals share a common AGND (analog ground). So even though I'm adapting the L+/L- and R+/R- banana outputs to 4-pin female XLR with the Transparent Ultra adapter, I can use the Helix in the path by using XLR to 6.3mm TRS adapters on both ends.

     

    I hope the above is clear. Just to make it clearer: The Transparent Ultra cable is terminated with a 4-pin male XLR plug on the amp end. Keep that in mind. 

     

    Here is the path without the Trinity Helix:

    • L2i SE > Ultra bananas-to-female XLR-4 adapter > Ultra cable > headphones

    And here is the path with the Trinity Helix:

    • L2i SE > Ultra bananas-to-female XLR-4 adapter > male XLR-4 to male 6.3mm adapter > Helix > male 6.3mm to female XLR-4 adapter > Ultra cable > headphones

    To make this Helix path even cleaner, I could have Transparent build me an Ultra bananas-to-male 6.3mm adapter.

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    Hmm, interesting development and big change to your system, but if I understand this article  correctly you are now saying that a conventional dac chip based  NOS? dac  with a chip that is out of production? is what you now prefer over  Dave with PGGB?

    And also that PGGB that both you and Romaz used to rave about is not as important as the sum of the parts in this equation?

    Confusing to me.

    And when you say this, do you or Romaz or Vinnie? also  have any reference recordings where you have direct reference to live sound in the hall versus recorded ?

     

    Then again, with all the hazzle involved with using PGGB I have still not bought into that, mainly because  of the weird track length limitations involved. 

    The Mahler 5 first movement you so kindly helped my process breaking into two parts around the 12 minute mark was VERY annoying. The last thing I want is a break in a symphonic movement with an audible glitch via my players. And all the hazzle to stitch things  together correctly with most of the music I listen to.  But  that M5  is one of several other large scale symphonic music  recordings in my masterfiles collection  where I was actually there during the recording sessions both in the hall and control room. And although I still think that upscaling or maybe even  better actually record at 32/768khz can be beneficial to the end result in a good enough system I am also waiting to get to hear what Rob Watts  has "up his sleeve" with the upcoming X Mscaler later this year,so I would absolutely not count out his tech solutions quite yet.

    Or have dac chips really become THAT good?

     Brama? You should have informed him how to spell it correctly before release?

    Cheers Chrille

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