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    EMM Labs DAC2X Review

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    thumb.pngGerman novelist Berthold Auerbach once said, "Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." That quote rings true for many audiophiles as they sit down for an evening listening session after a tough week. That quote is also apropos for millions of iPod users riding noisy trains home from work each day. The power of music reproduced through the best and worst audio systems can't be denied. Our favorite songs are just as powerful through an AM radio, iPod, or bank breaking high end system. Or are they? The short answer is no. Our favorites songs are more powerful and bring out more emotion when we feel closer to the music or artists creating the music. I found this out the easy way. Over the last couple months I've had the pleasure of using the new EMM Labs DAC2X digital to analog converter. Listening to my favorite music through this DAC was unlike anything I've heard in my listening room. The same tunes I've played hundreds times were somehow different. The songs were much more emotionally powerful as I heard artists exhale after each verse and felt the raw energy of a symphony orchestra like never before through my system. The illusion of sitting in the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra's pit or sitting on stage while Dave Mathews and Tim Reynolds play Christmas Song was more realistic than I've ever experienced from my listening chair. The EMM Labs DAC2X has the ability to transport me from my home in Minnesota to any music venue in the world better than any DAC I've heard to date in my system. This DAC not only earned a spot on the C.A.S.H. List but is the front runner for CA Product of the Year 2012. It's unequivocally the best DAC I've heard in my system.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]

     

     

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    Close But Not Really

     

     

    logo.jpgThe EMM Labs DAC2X physically looks like the Meitner Audio MA-1 (Review ex.png) both inside and out. In fact both DACs share some features such as the XMOS USB receiving chip and support of PCM and DSD playback over USB. Both DACs even have the same screen printing on the circuit boards. This really threw me for a loop when I opened the DAC2X for internal photography. I saw what looked to me, and every other armchair audio engineer, like a sheep in wolf's clothing or an MA-1 in a DAC2X chassis. A call to EMM Labs removed my suspicion of a PCB board error or even worse an attempt to pull a Lexicon move ex.png on consumers and sell the same hardware in a more expensive chassis. Greg at EMM Labs explained the major differences between the two units. A major difference is the use of many proprietary and specially made components just like the flagship disc spinner XDS1. These components are hand selected and matched for optimum performance. In addition the DAC2X contains standard EMM Labs technologies such as MFAST, MDAT and hand built 5.6 Mhz proprietary discrete dual differential D-to-A converters.

     

    P1010520.pngWhat separates the DAC2X from the MA-1 and many other DACs is EMM’s proprietary ceramic PCB which is difficult to manufacture and to populate thus greatly increases the overall costs. These multi-layer ceramic circuit boards appear like any old PCB from the top but when viewed from the edge it's easier to notice the differences. The ceramic PCBs in the DAC2X spread heat better than traditional boards and quickly bring the temperature to a uniform level after the unit is powered. The red colored ceramic analog board contains the DAC chips and clocking circuitry under metal covers. These grounded covers do more than simply look nice. For example, the clock cover protects the sensitive analog circuits on the board from the digital clock circuitry and protect the clock form the rest of the DAC.

     

    P1010525.pngThe DAC2X also has a higher quality power supply than the MA-1. The X Power System v3.1 in the "2X" has better filtering and better isolation. Upon close visual and physical inspection the DAC2X's 26.5 lbs. all machined aluminum chassis, and even remote control, is much nicer than the MA-1. Rapping the top of the DAC2X with a pen or small nondestructive tool reveals a pretty dead chassis. Underneath the top cover of the DAC2X is what EMM Labs calls its Charge Management Technology. This plate full of copper circles stabilizes the electric field and further dampens the chassis against resonance. EMM Labs admits the charge management plate is controversial but insists its own listening tests, and Ed Meitner's decades of design experience, suggest the plate contributes to the sound quality of the DAC.

     

    P1010522.pngThe DAC2X has two USB inputs. One is for software and firmware updates. EMM Labs is capable of releasing new features (hint, hint) for the DAC2X that are installable via this USB port. The other USB port is high speed class 2 audio compliant. EMM Labs wisely selected the XMOS USB receiving chip that works without software / driver installation on both Linux and Mac OS X platforms. Connecting the DAC to a Windows computer requires the somewhat standard Thesycon driver that in my experience works very well. This high speed USB input accepts PCM audio up through 24 bit / 192 kHz and pure DSD audio at 1 bit / 2.8224 MHz using the newly created DoP v1.0 standard. The DAC2X's USB high speed USB input is not galvanically isolated. This isolation is not mandatory to achieve great sound but it can be beneficial in many situations. Users requiring isolation can use products like the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB that converts USB to AES or S/PDIF while providing excellent isolation from noisy computers and music servers.

     

    Note1: Shortly after reviewing the SOtM sMS-1000 music server (Link ex.png) *my unit was updated to support pure DSD over USB playback using DoP v1.0. I tested this with the DAC2X. Playback was flawless without any special drivers to install for the DAC.

    Note2: Current owners of the DAC2 can upgrade their existing units to the DAC2X at an additional cost.

     

     

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    Where No DAC Has Gone Before

     

     

    Readers of Computer Audiophile know that I don't wax on too much about sound quality and subjective listening impressions. I give my opinion and share a few listening experiences then wrap it up. Like it or not that's just my style. This review is a bit different. The EMM Labs DAC2X left such an impression on me I want to share much of what I heard during the review period. The DAC2X was like an addictive drug in my system. I always wanted more and thought about the music I could be listening to while I was busy doing other things. This DAC brought me so close to the music and evoked such emotion when the music called for it that I seriously wanted to delay writing this review indefinitely. That's no joke. The following subjective listening impressions sound a bit like I was listening to the equipment or a HiFi demonstration and looking for details rather than enjoying the music. Nothing is further from the truth. My impressions below detail why the DAC2X is so enjoyable, so emotional, and brought me closer to the music and further from reality than every before in my listening room.

     

     

    Artist A.A. Bondy's track World Without End features him on an acoustic guitar and vocals. With the lights in my room out, the track felt personal. I felt like I was back at a party in college where there was always one or two people with a guitar sitting in the corner picking and singing. Bondy's vocals came through so pure through the DAC2X. Playing Antonio Forcione & Sabina Sciubba's Meet Me In London at 24 bit / 192 kHz really let the DAC2X shine. Sabina's vocal sounded silky smooth while Antonio's guitar was appropriately sharp. This was most apparent on the track Take Five. Sabina's smooth vocal eased from the left channel while the prickly rhythm guitar emanated from the right channel. This rhythm guitar sounded so fabulous I could hear the wood body vibrate beautifully. When the lead guitar entered the illusory sonic picture it was dead center and sounded stunning. Every pluck of a guitar string was distinct with transient starts and stops that didn't memorialize the sonic event.

     

     

    The EMM Labs DAC2X reproduced male vocals and acoustic guitar better than any DAC in recent memory in my system or otherwise. Ben Harper's Welcome to the Cruel World isn't the best example of a rangy vocalist but through the DAC2X I heard tiny changes in Ben's voice from syllable to syllable. Even better than the vocal was the decay of the acoustic guitar in the background while Ben ominously sings, "Welcome to the cruel world, hope you find your way." This isn't the most "audiophile" song but it's an emotional gem when played through such a transparent system. Continuing the male vocal trend I opted for pure DSD playback of Keith Greeninger and Dayan Kai's Looking for a Home from the first Blue Coast Collection. The details that could be heard on Keith's words were wonderful. After the last word of each verse I could hear what I would call a breath trail. Like Keith was pouring out his emotions and everything he had when singing the track. The illusion of Keith and Dayan sitting on stools in front of me performing this track made me giggle. Seriously. Another pure DSD release I used was Keb' Mo's self titled album. The track Every Morning was very realistic sounding with a touch of raspiness in the vocal. Comparing this to the PCM 16 bit / 44.1 version I immediately heard a very compressed vocal via PCM playback. The center image was very tight but the vocal sounded weird compared to the DSD version. I'm not sure there is a "right" version but I've never heard this track sound better than playing the pure DSD version through the DAC2X.

     

     

    One of my all time favorite albums is Chet Baker's Chet. The track Alone Together can be good on any system but stunning through the best components. There's no doubt I've never heard this track sound this good. As Chet nears the end of some notes one can hear excellent detail in the small changes of the notes. The changes are so delicate but so clear through the DAC2X. Depending on Chet's physical and mental state at the time of recording he may have ran out of breath toward the end of the notes. Throughout the track one can hear excellent air around the cymbal in the right channel. In addition to this, as each note of Chet's trumpet fades a terrific decay can be heard from the left to right channel as it crosses from microphone to microphone during the recording. Similar to the album Chet is John Coltrane's Standard Coltrane. Don't Take Your Love From Me is a nearly ten minute lush track that, to paraphrase Berthold Auerbach's aforementioned quote, truly washes away the dust of each day. The sound quality of this track with its horn on the left and bass & drums on the left was really great. Each of Paul Chamber's bass notes was terrifically clear as John wailed away on the smooth tenor sax though the opposing channel. Similarly stunning was Joe Morello's drum solo about 2:30 into Dave Brubeck's Take Five. Through the DAC2X the drums sounded so real from the left channel with the decay drifting to the right channel. Meanwhile Eugene Wright's impressive bass plucking can be heard in the center of the sonic image. The DAC2X reproduces the bass notes without bloat or added unnatural vividness.

     

     

    The DAC2X's ability to transport a listener to a concert venue is terrific. Listening to Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds play Christmas Song live from Luther College gave me a sense of being at the live show. The illusion was really good for a pop record. A sense of ambiance and spaciousness at the venue could be felt during as people coughed during the track. The DAC2X brought out the most in this recording. Looking at it like the "2X" brought out more flaws only decreases one's enjoyment of the listening experience. I elected to sit back and enjoy this performance. To misquote English poet Robert Graves. "A remarkable thing about Shakespeare Diana Krall is that she is really very good in spite of all the people who say she is very good." The sense of being at the actual venue was even better on Diana Krall's Live in Paris album. The emotion in her voice during A Case of You was very clear. I could sense the pride she has for her home country of Canada when she sang, "On the back of a cartoon coaster, In the blue TV screen light. I drew a map of Canada, Ohhhhhh Canada." The detailed, delicate, yet powerful sound quality brought this track to the next sonic and emotional level. Another female vocal I enjoy very much is Christina Aguilera's Save Me From Myself off her double album Back to Basics. XTina's very close mic'd vocal sounded incredible. I noticed for the first time how much of a role the violin plays throughout this track. Now I hear the violin throughout the entire track on all DACs but it was the DAC2X that enabled me to notice this seemingly obvious detail.

     

     

    Moving to R&B and Hip-Hop I listened to the twelve minute version of Isaac Hayes' Walk On By at 24 bit / 96 kHz. Standing out immediately in this track was the electric guitar. Each note was delineated from the next in a crisp fashion. It was also impossible not to be affected by Isaac's emotional and soulful vocal. Most listeners would never guess Walk On By is a Burt Bacharach song as Isaac sings it with convincing soul. One of my favorite Hip-Hop albums is the new Kanye West / Jay-Z album Watch The Throne. The best track on the album is Ni**as In Paris. I've heard this track sound ear splitting on some systems with sloppy bass and eardrum piercing highs. I'm not sure if there's a "real" instrument played on the entire track, but I really don't care. Good music is good music. Through the DAC2X the massive bass on the track was extremely controlled and as powerful as I've heard. Vocals remained clear even with massive sound effects bouncing around in the background.

     

     

    Please pass the Grey Poupon and queue the classical music. Only kidding but the juxtaposition between the previous and next tracks couldn't be better. Two classical albums I like more every time I hear are the 24 bit / 176.4 kHz HRx versions of Crown Imperial and Britten's Orchestra from Reference recordings. Crown Imperial's Niagara Falls was a stunning listen through the EMM Labs DAC2X. Each time a percussionist struck a bell I felt like a metallurgist listening for identifiable characteristics of the bells' composition. The bells were so crystal clear I could visualize them in a space way beyond my speakers. When I need to hear stunning dynamics and transients I always turn to Passacaglia from the "Britten" release. Through the DAC2X I heard amazing clarity and detail during the most complex parts of the track.

     

     

    Throughout the entire review period nothing made a bigger or more memorable impression on me than listening to Ottmar Liebert's One Guitar at 24 bit / 96 kHz. I've never heard a better reproduction of this album than through the EMM Labs DAC2X. Period. The air around the entire recording space is stupendous. I'm willing to bet some CA readers can identify what material this floor is made of and how large the room is after listening to this album through a great system and the DAC2X. The decay of each guitar note is unsurpassed by neither the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC with Alpha USB nor the dCS Debussy. The difference in decay reproduction was easily and immediately identifiable when comparing all three DACs. Another major difference between the Alpha/Alpha combo and the DAC2X is reproduction of the upper midrange and higher frequencies. The Alpha/Alpha combo can sound a skosh thin up top compared to an appropriately fuller sounding DAC2X. Comparing the Debussy to the DAC2X the first and largest sonic difference I heard was the in the lower midrange and bass frequencies about 600 Hz and below. The Debussy appeared to emphasize the lower frequencies or even play guitar and bass notes lower than I thought sounded correct. Granted I was not present at any recordings and don't know what's more accurate. On the other hand the EMM Labs DAC2X reproduced this lower midrange and bass extremely well. I consider the DAC2X the most "up-the-middle" DAC I've heard in my system. It isn't bass heavy or thin on top or anything other than neutral. I've previously discussed the sounds of the Alpha DAC and Weiss DACs as being on one side and the dCS DACs as being on another side. Both have different sounds that attract most users to one or the other. The EMM Labs DAC2X is a DAC that's smack in the middle of these two groups. The "2X" doesn't borrow the best of each DAC rather it's a different animal that beats to it's own drum.

     

     

    Conclusion

     

     

    cash-logo-black-thumb.jpgThe EMM Labs DAC2X is the most detailed, neutral, and transparent DAC I've heard in my system. A better power supply, ceramic circuit boards, and well damped chassis are the foundation that elevates the DAC2X well beyond the capabilities of the Meitner Audio MA-1 and many of its competitors. At $15,500 the DAC2X should perform better and it clearly does in all areas. No DAC has brought out so much emotion or brought me closer to my favorite music that the DAC2X. This wonderful hobby is first and foremost about music and its reproduction. Well engineered components that reproduce our favorite music are only tools. These tools are built to be invisible or disappear as soon as the play button is clicked. The DAC2X produces the best musical illusion and performs a better disappearing act than all other DACs I've heard in my listening room and many other rooms. To remove any doubt I will state with emphasis, the EMM Labs DAC2X is unequivocally the best DAC I've heard in my system.

     

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    Product Information:

     

    • Product - EMM Labs DAC2X digital to analog converter
    • Price - $15,500
    • EMM Labs - Link ex.png
    • Product Brochure - Link (1.2MB PDF) ex.png

     

     

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    I have no opinion myself, but I do find it interesting that [EMM and MSB], both who seem committed to the best possible sound, have entirely opposite points of view on the best way to achieve the result they are looking for.

    I suspect that just adds weight to the argument that there is no perfect solution and that contary to what some people would try and have you believe every option requires compromises...

     

    Eloise

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    EMM vs. MSB: I could imagine two more fundamentally opposed approaches to D/A conversion. EMM/Meitner, and Ed Meitner himself appear to believe that a single bit system, with very high sample rate, with a Delts Sigma modulator is the best way to go, and so they convert all incoming rates to a single bit high sample rate format for conversion. MSB, on the other hand, appears to believe that Delta Sigma converters are "bad", and so they convert all incoming rates to a multi bit format (including DSD) and then convert to analog using a discrete, resistor based, ladder DAC.

     

    I have no opinion myself, but I do find it interesting that these two companies, both who seem committed to the best possible sound, have entirely opposite points of view on the best way to achieve the result they are looking for.

     

    Agreed. Based on the reviews and designs it might as well be the case that emm has the edge on DSD and MSB on PCM. It is difficult for a DAC to do both equally well.

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    Edorr, I own the DAC2X and I am also curious about comparison with the MSB Platinum IV. I would have already borrowed one for comparison were it not for the fact that I have decided that my next upgrade will be the addition of an analog front end. I would be extremely interested in reading the result of your shootout.

     

    BTW, I was the author of the post from another forum you quoted. I am glad you got confirmation of the upcoming volume control.

     

    Forget the Platinum. The $10K analog DAC would be the one to get. I spoke with their head of sales, and he confirmed it will sound better than the Platinum (unless you have the 10K Femto clock option), at a lower pricepoint.

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    Interesting:

     

    The EMM and Meitner DACs both convert to analog in a single bit architecture, I wonder how a digital volume control is going to work? Most digital volume controls need a large bit rate in which to operate, the best ones use a 32, 48 or 64 bit path in order to maintain high resolution. I wonder what EMM/Meitner is doing here?

     

    EMM vs. MSB: I could imagine two more fundamentally opposed approaches to D/A conversion. EMM/Meitner, and Ed Meitner himself appear to believe that a single bit system, with very high sample rate, with a Delts Sigma modulator is the best way to go, and so they convert all incoming rates to a single bit high sample rate format for conversion. MSB, on the other hand, appears to believe that Delta Sigma converters are "bad", and so they convert all incoming rates to a multi bit format (including DSD) and then convert to analog using a discrete, resistor based, ladder DAC.

     

    I have no opinion myself, but I do find it interesting that these two companies, both who seem committed to the best possible sound, have entirely opposite points of view on the best way to achieve the result they are looking for.

     

    I have been wondering about this myself. However, I believe DCS uses a proprietary 5 bit architecture, and they have implemented a digital volume control as well, so there is more than one way to skin the digital volume control cat.

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    I suspect that just adds weight to the argument that there is no perfect solution and that contary to what some people would try and have you believe every option requires compromises...

     

    Eloise

     

    Yes, the comparisons would be very interesting, given their almost 180 degree perspectives. Kind of mirrors today's Nobel Prize Quantum Physics announcement. Two scientists (French and American) were awarded for the same discovery (that one could finally isolate and therefore evaluate quantum particles). One used photons to evaluate electrons; the other used electrons to evaluate photons! Same result. Cool stuff.

     

    And yes, now the Firesign Theater motto (they are my signature) comes true: how can you be in two places at once, when you're not anywhere at all!

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    Yes, the comparisons would be very interesting, given their almost 180 degree perspectives. Kind of mirrors today's Nobel Prize Quantum Physics announcement. Two scientists (French and American) were awarded for the same discovery (that one could finally isolate and therefore evaluate quantum particles). One used photons to evaluate electrons; the other used electrons to evaluate photons! Same result. Cool stuff.

     

    And yes, now the Firesign Theater motto (they are my signature) comes true: how can you be in two places at once, when you're not anywhere at all!

     

    Agreed, I think it would be a interesting comparison. Although I suspect they may sound more alike than different. I have the MSB Dac IV Signature with Signature PS and got to audition a Weiss Medea+. They were both so free of any identifiable characteristic, they were very similar, at least to my ears. I "thought", the MSB had slightly more bass texture and just ever so slightly natural presentation but if there was any difference it was very slight.

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    Yes, the comparisons would be very interesting, given their almost 180 degree perspectives. Kind of mirrors today's Nobel Prize Quantum Physics announcement. Two scientists (French and American) were awarded for the same discovery (that one could finally isolate and therefore evaluate quantum particles). One used photons to evaluate electrons; the other used electrons to evaluate photons! Same result. Cool stuff.

     

    And yes, now the Firesign Theater motto (they are my signature) comes true: how can you be in two places at once, when you're not anywhere at all!

     

    Where is Prof. WGScott when you need him :~)

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    Agreed, I think it would be a interesting comparison. Although I suspect they may sound more alike than different. I have the MSB Dac IV Signature with Signature PS and got to audition a Weiss Medea+. They were both so free of any identifiable characteristic, they were very similar, at least to my ears. I "thought", the MSB had slightly more bass texture and just ever so slightly natural presentation but if there was any difference it was very slight.

     

    No doubt all five figure DACs sound pretty decent. My main interest is finding out how much better this caliber DAC is than a price performance leader in the sub 5K segment, like my PerfectWave MKII. The only way to find out is try one in your own system.

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    No doubt all five figure DACs sound pretty decent. My main interest is finding out how much better this caliber DAC is than a price performance leader in the sub 5K segment, like my PerfectWave MKII. The only way to find out is try one in your own system.

     

    I hear ya! I felt the same way so instead of trying to figure out if I would like the dac based on reviews I tried many dacs either by purchasing used or on a trial basis so I could hear it in my system. Can't wait to hear about how the EMM Labs stacks up in your system.

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    My dealer has both DAC2X and Light Harmonic Da Vinci. I listened to a variety of different resolution of music from 44 to 192 to DSD with Audirvana as the player. Both sound very good. However, DAC2x is consistently more musical than Da Vinci in all resolution of music. I decide to buy DAC2X. Get it. You won't have any regret.

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    My dealer has both DAC2X and Light Harmonic Da Vinci. I listened to a variety of different resolution of music from 44 to 192 to DSD with Audirvana as the player. Both sound very good. However, DAC2x is consistently more musical than Da Vinci in all resolution of music. I decide to buy DAC2X. Get it. You won't have any regret.

     

    Adyc,

     

    I know this is heresy, but try the CAPS 2 with the DAC2X. I was always a user of mac based players. No more.

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    Interesting:

     

    The EMM and Meitner DACs both convert to analog in a single bit architecture, I wonder how a digital volume control is going to work? Most digital volume controls need a large bit rate in which to operate, the best ones use a 32, 48 or 64 bit path in order to maintain high resolution. I wonder what EMM/Meitner is doing here?

     

    EMM vs. MSB: I could imagine two more fundamentally opposed approaches to D/A conversion. EMM/Meitner, and Ed Meitner himself appear to believe that a single bit system, with very high sample rate, with a Delts Sigma modulator is the best way to go, and so they convert all incoming rates to a single bit high sample rate format for conversion. MSB, on the other hand, appears to believe that Delta Sigma converters are "bad", and so they convert all incoming rates to a multi bit format (including DSD) and then convert to analog using a discrete, resistor based, ladder DAC.

     

    I have no opinion myself, but I do find it interesting that these two companies, both who seem committed to the best possible sound, have entirely opposite points of view on the best way to achieve the result they are looking for.

     

     

    There is a big difference in the analog section between EMM and MSB. EMM is using ceramic board with a single discrete amplification transistor. MSB is using an op amp for even the most expensive Diamond model.

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    Correction: According to EMM brochure, the analog section features one active gain stage from DAC to output. The circuitry is discrete (no op-amps) and operates in pure class A.

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    I find it quite amusing all the time how people think a transformer based volume control will be a good idea. A transformer in the signal path like this adds huge amounts of wire for the signal to travel through, and more distortion than a good active circuit. If one must use an analog volume control, I would suggest that better performance will be had with a really, really good active device, with a really, really good stepped attenuator, using really, really good resistors and switches. Alternatively, some of the newer IC based volume controls appear to be really good (as I believe ARC uses).

     

    Barrows:

     

    He he!

     

    I'd love to see some numbers supporting you assumption that (dollar for dollar especially) a quality TVC adds more distortion than an active circuit plus a resistive attenuator when used properly- especially when no gain is required. Not to derail this thread, but I find it amusing that you are conflating the wire in the transformer as if it were wiring from junction to junction. Put another way, you are comparing a spool of wire to some carbon film or carbon crud passing current in a resistor. There is much more to it than this too btw. I am not saying that transformers are loss less/distortionless devices, but your assertion is patently false. As with many things audio, it is the lesser of two evils in any given circuit- trade offs and choices.

     

    End of rant...

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    Barrows:

     

    He he!

     

    I'd love to see some numbers supporting you assumption that (dollar for dollar especially) a quality TVC adds more distortion than an active circuit plus a resistive attenuator when used properly- especially when no gain is required. Not to derail this thread, but I find it amusing that you are conflating the wire in the transformer as if it were wiring from junction to junction. Put another way, you are comparing a spool of wire to some carbon film or carbon crud passing current in a resistor. There is much more to it than this too btw. I am not saying that transformers are loss less/distortionless devices, but your assertion is patently false. As with many things audio, it is the lesser of two evils in any given circuit- trade offs and choices.

     

    End of rant...

     

    OK: Ayre KX-R line preamplifier Measurements | Stereophile.com

     

    Now the above preamplifier does not use global feedback, so the distortion is not as low as it could be. I would like to see the independent distortion and output impedance measurements for a transformer based volume control which can do as well as the above: into a realistic load, and sourced from a realistic impedance: say from 100 ohms at the source to 100 k at the load, please include the measuremnts with 0 dB, 12 dB, and 24 dB of attenuation.

    Now this preamp does have multiple source switching, which adds some distortion, I would prefer a single source device: If I had to use an analog volume control, I would choose an active device, with switched resistor attenuator at the input using TX-2575 bulk metal film resistors (agreed, carbon film or much worse-composition, would be bad choice here with their relative lack of precision and high noise) followed by a very simple discrete buffer fed from a low noise shunt supply. I do not need gain, but an active stage results in better dynamics driving the input stage of any amplifier.

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    I do not see any measurements of a transformer there, and that is a might pricey device. You are using conjecture due to a bias is my guess, and your view on transformers is archaic and ill informed. You are suggesting that "huge amounts of distortion is added" automatically and you are wrong. There are bad transformers as well as good ones. This is a link to the Jeff Rowland Design Group tech pages on their view towards line level transformers.

     

    Jeff Rowland :: Line-level transformers in high-end audio

     

    Bottom line is that good line level transformers can easily exceed the bandwidths and needs for audio, and considered fairly transparent by many. Your opinion is the outlying one, and it simply is not a fact in the manner you presented it.

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    I do not see any measurements of a transformer there, and that is a might pricey device. You are using conjecture due to a bias is my guess, and your view on transformers is archaic and ill informed. You are suggesting that "huge amounts of distortion is added" automatically and you are wrong. There are bad transformers as well as good ones. This is a link to the Jeff Rowland Design Group tech pages on their view towards line level transformers.

     

    Jeff Rowland :: Line-level transformers in high-end audio

     

    Bottom line is that good line level transformers can easily exceed the bandwidths and needs for audio, and considered fairly transparent by many. Your opinion is the outlying one, and it simply is not a fact in the manner you presented it.

     

    You should not guess, and my suggestion was that transformers have more distortion than a good active circuit and switched attenuator. I challenge you to show me measurements of multi-tap volume control transformer which equals the active device I have shown. I am not guessing, and neither do I have a bias. I have seen many measurements for line level transformers, as I have researched them for possible inclusion in DAC output stages, and amplifier input stages. From memory, usually such transformers (like Jensens, Lundahls, and Sowters) have distortion above .05%, and that is under favorable conditions (low impedance drive reduces transformer distortion). I do not recall seeing any distortion specs for multi-tap volume control transformers, and since such units also require switches to select the tap, I think it is fair to conclude that the distortion will be higher than that of straightforward signal coupling transformers.

    Now there are some good things brought to the table by very good coupling transformers: namely that they are quite good RF filters, due to their limited bandwidth (generally <150KHz). This can result in them making some component interfaces sound better, especially if a DAC has some RF contamination on its output. Or in the case of class D amplifiers, which are often very sensitive to RF on their inputs. Of course, a better solution would be to fix the problem in the first place, rather than insert a lossy device in the signal path. But, sometimes fixing RF problems can be "difficult", I am struggling with one right now, and am tempted to add PCOCC line level Sowters to solve it...

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    You are presenting distortion specs from a singular circuit from a very expensive item as it is is the norm. You are also comparing it to a Sowter transformer which is a VERY inexpensive transformer- verging on a piece of shit. If one were to use metallic glass/amorphous cores you might very well be surprised. As it is, .03% is not huge, and that 10x is for the device, not the circuit and certainly not WITH attenuation. Transformer specs always include the losses. With most active circuitry, especially anywhere near the cost of transformers, the distortion goes up as it is attenuated. Who runs their stereo full gain all of the time? Add to that the reviews of people using them. IIRC, even Ted_b was using one recently in lieu of a pricey active.

     

    Think what you will Barrows, but you are presenting a very skewed perception as some sort of fact. I'll not address this further in this thread.

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    Add to that the reviews of people using them. IIRC, even Ted_b was using one recently in lieu of a pricey active.

     

    Think what you will Barrows, but you are presenting a very skewed perception as some sort of fact. I'll not address this further in this thread.

     

    My Bent TAP TVC was nice, but since changing to MG Audio Design cabling my "pricey active" (Concert Fidelity CF-080 with 5814A Sylvania gold labels) is now my Meitner's preamp, and is the most organic, dynamic and musical presentation I've had.

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    My Bent TAP TVC was nice, but since changing to MG Audio Design cabling my "pricey active" (Concert Fidelity CF-080 with 5814A Sylvania gold labels) is now my Meitner's preamp, and is the most organic, dynamic and musical presentation I've had.

     

    There you go... Sort of proves my point. The CF is about 10x the cost of the Bent Audio, but it took a particular cable in there to best it. The Bent Audio is by no means a "high end" transformer btw. Transformers can easily cost a few grand each as parts. OK, now I am really done, but ultimately the point was that pre amps are a viable solutions in some systems. The best one is no one, but that does not mean that just because something has a volume control (digital or analog) a preamp automatically creates inferior sonics. On paper maybe, but not always from the listening chair IME.

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    You are presenting distortion specs from a singular circuit from a very expensive item as it is is the norm. You are also comparing it to a Sowter transformer which is a VERY inexpensive transformer- verging on a piece of shit. If one were to use metallic glass/amorphous cores you might very well be surprised. As it is, .03% is not huge, and that 10x is for the device, not the circuit and certainly not WITH attenuation. Transformer specs always include the losses. With most active circuitry, especially anywhere near the cost of transformers, the distortion goes up as it is attenuated. Who runs their stereo full gain all of the time? Add to that the reviews of people using them. IIRC, even Ted_b was using one recently in lieu of a pricey active.

     

    Think what you will Barrows, but you are presenting a very skewed perception as some sort of fact. I'll not address this further in this thread.

     

     

    Hahahaha! I enjoy this little rant... Interesting that you have not come up with any specifications to support your position, and now, you appear to be bowing out without ever presenting any facts. I stand by my position, a good active circuit, combined with a well done switched resistor ladder (or even an IC based resistor ladder) attenuator will be more transparent than any transformer based volume control.

    Now, I have no problem with anyone who prefers the sound of using a passive, TVC, for controlling volume. My point is that people who are under the impression that a TVC is more transparent than a good active circuit are misinformed or delusional.

     

    Yes, the KX-R is expensive. But a simple resistor attenuator and low distortion output buffer does not have to be $18K to achieve this level of performance, in fact, a resistor ladder IC (as used by Audio Research and the tall one, Jeff Rowland Designs) could make for a very affordable control with equally low distortion. It could be done for much less. BTW, the transformer spec which I linked to does not indicate the total distortion for a working TVC; one would have to add the switch and wiring losses to see the full amount of distortion, which would be higher.

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    Barrows:

     

    You are putting words in my mouth and placing the burden of proof on my shoulders. I never said that TVCs were more transparent. I said (dollar for dollar) they are a viable option and do not add "huge amounts of distortion" as you claim. I am not an engineer, and as much as you might think, you are not one either. Things like the switching losses and wiring would exist in either situation, and is a red herring. As I said in the beginning, there are trade offs. The more you spend, the lesser they are in either paradigm. Your example of the Ayre pre amp and the Sowter transformer is off. That is a top tier pre amp and a near bottom tier TVC.

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