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    The Computer Audiophile

    T+A DAC 200 D/A Converter Review

     

     

    T+A has set the bar extremely high with the DAC 200. This DAC is one for the ages. It sounds fantastic, looks classic, functions seamlessly, is well supported, and is priced competitively. Based on my listening habits and experience with more DACs than I can remember, this would be my number one choice for a DAC anywhere near the DAC 200's price. Everything about the DAC 200 is just that good. Period.

     

    The T+A DAC 200 is so good, it brought me back to two channel stereo listening, from my one of a kind 7.1.4 Atmos system, and figuratively glued me to my chair. I'm enthralled with the music coming from my system, through the DAC 200. Given that my immersive system is capable of truly amazing performance, T+A is doing more than a few things right with the DAC 200.

     

    The first time I was dramatically drawn back to my two channel system, I was listening to Lady Blackbird's album Black Acid Soul. On tracks such as Five Feet Tall, and It'll Never Happen Again, Lady Blackbird just reached out through my Wilson Alexia speakers, grabbed me by the collar, and made me sit up straight in my listening chair. What I heard was so full of emotion, effort, and talent that I had to run my warm hand up and down my arm as the goosebumps sent a chill through my body. The DAC 200 pulls incredible music and performances from ones and zeros, like nothing in its class. 

     

    Let's dig into what makes the DAC 200 tick, before going further about its stellar performance.

     

     

    Publish T+A DAC 200 Front.jpg


     

    T+A DAC 200 Details

     

    The DAC 200 has a long list of meaningful features that don't just check a box for the consumerist with a spreadsheet. These are A List features for music aficionados that set this DAC apart from the competition. The most impactful of these features is the T+A Path Separation Technology. According to T+A, "Both PCM and DSD have their own converter, specifically tailored to their requirements ... For PCM signals we use our quadruple converter, whereas DSD files are processed using the T+A True 1-bit converter, which is unique in the world." The DAC 200 is literally two digital to analog converters in one chassis. It's the best of both worlds, without the requirement of purchasing two DACs and all the headache that would follow, when one needs to switch DACs between playing PCM and DSD. The DAC 200 reads the input signal and routes the audio accordingly. 

     

    T+A offers four different filters for internal upsampling in the DAC 200. If I had to guess, I'd say most DACs on the market don't offer manual filter selections. T+A prefers to give the listener options. The options are FIR 1 for extremely linear frequency response, FIR 2 for improved peak handling, BEZ 1 for Bezier interpolation and IIR filtering, and the BEZ 2 pure Bezier interpolator for "perfect" timing and dynamics. One great aspect of these filters is that there's no wrong choices. It's all about personal preference.

     

    Those who prefer non-oversampling (NOS) DACs because they like to use an application such as HQPlayer to upsample externally, are also in luck. The DAC 200 features two crucial pieces of this puzzle. First, it offers two different NOS modes. The difference between the modes is a low pass filter setting of 120 kHz or 60 kHz for 1x sample rate material. Second, the DAC 200 accepts ultra high sample rates up through 768 kHz PCM and DSD1024. High sample rate inputs are critical for those who upsample externally. 

     

    Publish T+A DAC 200System Angle.jpgBased on my extended listening through the DAC 200, the best sound in my system was achieved using HQPlayer to upsample all audio to DSD256, using poly-sync-gauss-long (1x), poly-sync-gauss-hires-lp (2x), and the ASDM7ECv2 modulator. If there was a "right" filter and modulator, there would be no choices available in HQPlayer. However, filter and modulator selection are all about personal preference, whether done externally or inside the DAC. 

     

    Similar to the T+A Path Separation Technology in concept, is the T+A Digital Analogue Separation System inside the DAC 200. This, "Utilizes ultra-fast digital isolators from Silicon Labs to provide galvanic separation between the analogue and digital sections. ... the mains sections for the analogue and digital signal paths are also completely separated galvanically." Takign this a step further, the timing critical clocking signals for the D to A converters are isolated using special high frequency impulse transformers to insure jitter free performance, that is unobtainable using integrated isolators. As readers can see, separation is a big deal to the T+A engineering team, and it should be a big deal for music lovers who care about sound quality. 

     

    On the outside, the DAC 200's design is elegant and technical at the same time. There are quite a few physical buttons, to access that which needs quick accessing, but they look nice and have a solid feel. The volume control features satisfying detents as it's rotated, and also has a very solid feel. The front display is large enough to be useful from the listening position, to see the selected input and current sample rate. However, the other items are quite small and require the listener be up close and personal with the DAC 200. 

     

    The stars of the front panel show are clearly the analog meters. The T+A engineering team hit a home run with these on many levels. Of course they look really nice and contribute to the "audio fireplace" effect. But, T+A took them even further by enabling the meters to work in three different modes, each selectable by the listener. The meters can operate in a more traditional VU scale monitoring the input or output level, display the temperature of the entire system and output stages separately, or display the quality of the incoming audio stream. According to the DAC 200 manual, "The left meter [scale - 0 +] shows whether the clock frequency of the incoming data stream of the currently active source is operating at the standard frequency. If the needle is exactly in the middle of the scale, the frequency of the source is exactly at the standard frequency. The display range covers -150ppm to +150 ppm. Digital sources complying to the standards should be in the range +/- 50ppm. The right meter [scale 0...100] indicates the error rate of the currently active input. With good transmission quality, the display should be at 0."

     

    Both internally and externally, the T+A engineering team has done a marvelous job pairing form and function, with the main goal of accurate music reproduction. 

     

     

    Publish T+A DAC 200 Rear.jpg

     

     


    Back To Listening

     

    Getting back into listening mode, I spent time using the DAC 200 in different digital configurations. I settled on two different sources. One, a custom built SOtM computer using the new SOtM sMB-Q370 Motherboard, PCIe USB card, Ethernet card, clocking add-ons and power supplies all supplied by SOtM. Two, my stalwart Sonore signatureRendu SE Optical running NAA software. These sources and HQPlayer Embedded came together to create a really special sound.

     

    folder.jpgListening to Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Le Sacre du Printemps, really enabled the DAC 200 to shine in multiple areas. The best of those was reproduction of percussion, from tiny cymbal details to texture on drumheads to booming thunder-like strikes. Through some components we get either texture or boom, with one precluding the other. Not so, through the DAC 200. I heard it all with great detail and transients and power. I listened to Night On Bald Mountain several times through the DAC 200, each time as enjoyable as the previous one. The DAC 200 never disappointed. 

     

    Using the same track, but switching to the DAC 200's built-in Bezier filters and sending the DAC bit perfect 24/96 PCM audio, one could her an equally engaging performance with nuance and detail, but it was just a skosh softer than HQPlayer and DSD256. External upsample is the icing on the cake, while the cake is delicious in its own right. Listeners uninterested in external upsampling should consider this DAC a 10 out of 10, with the ability to go to 11 via HQPlayer if necessary.

     

    cover.jpgMoving back to HQPlayer upsampling to DSD256 on the SOtM computer, I played Greg Brown's album Honey in the Lion's Head. On the track Who Killed Cock Robin, I could smell Brown's coffee and cigarette laden breath. I don't know if he smokes or drinks coffee, but I won't let that ruin a perfect illusion brought on by such realistic audio reproduction through the T+A DAC 200. This track, and entire album, has a pure and organic realism through the DAC 200, that just isn't present in many competitive DACs. I was listening to tracks that I'd typically skip, because the sound was so good. This isn't a case of listening to music only because it sounds good, but rather, letting oneself be exposed to new music initially because of the sound, and realizing afterward that I was previously missing out on some really great music.

     

    Thanks to my 7.1.4 Atmos system, I've recently been exposed to some great prog rock. A new favorite of mine is the band Porcupine Tree and its album Closure/Continuation. Listening to the album in stereo is a very different experience, especially because band leader Steven Wilson's enthusiasm for immersive audio and talent mixing in Atmos, has lead him to produce incredible surround albums. 

     

    ppcc.jpgI was a touch nervous that the DAC 200 would fall flat when I listened to Porcupine Tree. Let's be real, any stereo DAC has its hands and feet tied together when competing against a 12 channel immersive system, playing an album created with Atmos in mind. Listening to the two channel stereo mix of C/C, the track Harridan sounds great through the DC 200. From the opening bass intro to the hard hitting kick drums to the immensely powerful guitar riffs that kick in after a slight lull in the music around the 3:15 mark of the track. Any fault I could hear in the sound was completely unrelated to the DAC 200, and solely because I was comparing the Atmos and stereo mixes in my head. Overall, the DAC 200 delivered everything there was to deliver on this album, and nothing more. Speed, power, and detail were all there, when present on the recording. Just as they should be.  

     

    One activity I wish I could've done is compare the DAC 200 with the DAC 8 from T+A. I really liked the DAC 8, as I do much of what T+A designes. It's solid engineering-based audio company that delivers on its promise. Going solely by memory, which is fraught with issues, I'd say the DAC 200 is in a completely different class from the DAC 8. It really isn't a fair comparison. The DAC 200 is far better than the price difference between the two suggests. 

     


    Conclusion

     

    cash@2x.pngMany years from now, when T+A ceases DAC 200 production, this DAC will have an immediate cult following, and values on the used market will shoot up. This is one of those DACs that'll be sought after for decades. It does so much, so right. It's a product for which the CASH List was created. The DAC 200 is among the leaders, at any price, on our list of recommended hardware, and easily the leader among its peers anywhere near its $7,125 MSRP. 

     

    This DAC was designed to use its internal filters or take advantage of the great horsepower of an external upsampling computer running HQPlayer. Either way, the T+A DAC 200 delivers the goods. It's a 10 out of 10 on its own, and an 11 out of 10 with the world class DSP from Jussi Laako's HQPlayer. 

     

    After listening through the DAC 200 for a few weeks, using it with different sources, reading the user manual a couple times, and exchanging emails with the T+A team, I realized that T+A gets it. I'm willing to bet that many readers will immediately understand what "it" is, because they've also been immersed in this world of digital audio for many years and tried many different solutions in an effort to perfect their audio systems. T+A enables many of us to have the best of both worlds because the company gets it on so many levels, embraces cutting edge technologies, and has set a new standard for digital to analog conversion at a competitive price.  

     

    Well done T+A, well done.


     

     

     

     

     

    Product Information:

     

     

     

    Associated Music:

     

     

     

    Complete Audio System Details - https://audiophile.style/system

     

     

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    User Feedback

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    Chris, how would you compare it to the DAC in the Lumin X1 at ~twice the price?

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    10 minutes ago, Flashman said:

    Chris, how would you compare it to the DAC in the Lumin X1 at ~twice the price?

    Hi @Flashman, I really wish I could answer that one! It has been too long since I've listened through the Lumin X1. 

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    27 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Hi @Flashman, I really wish I could answer that one! It has been too long since I've listened through the Lumin X1. 

    Thanks, Chris.  Also appreciate the intro to Greg Brown.  Sounds great via my Lumin X1.😉

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    Nice review - and nice recommendation on that Esa-Pekka Salonen album. Great sounding.

    Did you get a chance to specifically evaluate the preamp section of this unit?

     

     

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    7 minutes ago, all300b said:

    Nice review - and nice recommendation on that Esa-Pekka Salonen album. Great sounding.

    Did you get a chance to specifically evaluate the preamp section of this unit?

     

     

    Thanks for the kind words. I didn’t use the preamp section, as I had it connected to my Constellation preamp. 

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    Appreciate the review. Do you know what the differences are between the DAC 200 and HA 200? Other than the headphone connections on the HA200. As far as I can tell researching online, the HA 200 is the DAC 200 plus the additional headphone outputs -- and I might be headphone only, iow not audio outs to an amplifier. 

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    13 hours ago, Andrewteee said:

    Appreciate the review. Do you know what the differences are between the DAC 200 and HA 200? Other than the headphone connections on the HA200. As far as I can tell researching online, the HA 200 is the DAC 200 plus the additional headphone outputs -- and I might be headphone only, iow not audio outs to an amplifier. 

    I’m not totally sure, but I bet @OE333 will know the difference. 

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    Hi Chris. Thanks for an excellent review of the DAC200. I am considering a new DAC and dated on your enthusiastic review I will add the DAC200 to the list. I am seriously considering the Holo Audio May KTE DAC, based on many equally enthusiastic review from users and reviewers. I am interested in your opinion, if you have had an opportunity to listen to the May DAC and if so, your thoughts in comparison. BTW I stream Qobuz, Tidal, through an INNUOS Zenith MkII SE, Phoenix USB Reclocker. I very much appreciate your comments. Thank you. 

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    I find it extremely surprising that this has a NOS mode but the ~$39,000 SD 3100 HV which has a built in NAA input has no NOS mode and non-defeatable filters. If you send it PCM upsampled to 768 it doesn't get upsampled, but still goes through the filters.

     

    Are you 100% sure the DAC 200 has a true NOS mode Chris?

     

    DSD sent to the SD 3100 HV is handled as native DSD, this could be solved by just using HQP to upsample everything to DSD of course.

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    1 hour ago, AudioDoctor said:

    I find it extremely surprising that this has a NOS mode but the ~$39,000 SD 3100 HV which has a built in NAA input has no NOS mode and non-defeatable filters. If you send it PCM upsampled to 768 it doesn't get upsampled, but still goes through the filters.

     

    Are you 100% sure the DAC 200 has a true NOS mode Chris?

     

    DSD sent to the SD 3100 HV is handled as native DSD, this could be solved by just using HQP to upsample everything to DSD of course.


    I’m going by the user manual, which says it has NOS. 
     

    Perhaps @Miska has verified this with measurements, if he has a 200 series product?
     

    ABBF04A6-075F-4792-B1AC-48A34F63BBB6.jpeg

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    2 hours ago, ALLDIGITAL said:

    Hi Chris. Thanks for an excellent review of the DAC200. I am considering a new DAC and dated on your enthusiastic review I will add the DAC200 to the list. I am seriously considering the Holo Audio May KTE DAC, based on many equally enthusiastic review from users and reviewers. I am interested in your opinion, if you have had an opportunity to listen to the May DAC and if so, your thoughts in comparison. BTW I stream Qobuz, Tidal, through an INNUOS Zenith MkII SE, Phoenix USB Reclocker. I very much appreciate your comments. Thank you. 

    Hi @ALLDIGITAL unfortunately I’ve never listened to a single product from Holo Audio. There’s only so many hours in a day :~)

     

    P.S. I remember hearing the Phoenix at its RMAF introduction and it surprised me very much. Really cool product. 

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    5 hours ago, AudioDoctor said:

    I find it extremely surprising that this has a NOS mode but the ~$39,000 SD 3100 HV which has a built in NAA input has no NOS mode and non-defeatable filters. If you send it PCM upsampled to 768 it doesn't get upsampled, but still goes through the filters.

    Of course the T+A SD(V) 3100 HV can be operated with PCM and DSD in NOS.  😉

     

    On 4/15/2019 at 1:59 AM, OE333 said:

    Conversion to ultra-high rate DSD can be done in many ways but only the very best algorithms will bring an optimal performance. The computing power needed for such algorithms is extreme and can be best achieved with very powerful PCs (and GPU co-processing). So we leave the task of conversion/upsampling to specialized programs like HQPlayer and concentrate on doing a best possible D/A conversion with the ultra-high rate DSD signals delivered from the Audio PC. Also it is only possible with a PC based upsampling to support the vast number of algorithms as for example HQPlayer does.

    This approach is also very future-proof as both the upsampling software and the PC hardware can easily be upgraded when new algorithms get available and more powerful processors come to the market. Such easy upgrade is almost impossible if the conversion is an integral part of the DAC.

    For PCM upsampling things are somewhat different. Here less computing power is needed and the upsampling can well be integrated - like it is done in the T+A DACs. But also with PCM it is possible to do the upsampling externally and send PCM 768 directly to the DAC completely bypassing the internal processing.

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    12 minutes ago, StreamFidelity said:

    Of course the T+A SD(V) 3100 HV can be operated with PCM and DSD in NOS.  😉

     

    According to T&A themselves, it can not be set to NOS in PCM and the filters are always active. I emailed with them to clarify this for myself.

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    21 minutes ago, AudioDoctor said:

    ccording to T&A themselves, it can not be set to NOS in PCM and the filters are always active.

    The user @OE333 is the former chief developer of T+A. There is no OS/NOS switch on SD(V) 3100 HV. The trick is to feed the highest possible PCM rate to the DAC. 

     

    24 minutes ago, AudioDoctor said:

    I emailed with them to clarify this for myself.

    For me this is not significant, as I prefer DSD. But the answer would interest me. 👍

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    8 hours ago, StreamFidelity said:

    The user @OE333 is the former chief developer of T+A. There is no OS/NOS switch on SD(V) 3100 HV. The trick is to feed the highest possible PCM rate to the DAC. 

     

    For me this is not significant, as I prefer DSD. But the answer would interest me. 👍

     

    Yes, I mentioned all of this in my post...

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    Hi Chris:

    Thank you for the review. You conclude by saying that the T+A DAC 200 "has set a new standard for digital to analog conversion at a competitive price". How would you compare the T+A DAC 200 to high price DACs you have heard or tested, e.g. EMM Labs DV2? IOW, are you able to comment on what some very expensive DACs do better, and to what extent diminishing returns apply?

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    1 hour ago, Allan F said:

    are you able to comment on what some very expensive DACs do better, and to what extent diminishing returns apply?

    I'll take a stab at that... diminishing returns kick in very early with today's DACs. Having tried a variety of high end DACs over the past few years I am convinced that spending huge amounts gets you very little.. and most of what you get is small differences, not better, just different. I've had all of the below for extended periods. Maybe I have a tin ear, but IMHO anything above the $2000 Schiit gets you nothing but bragging rights about how much you spent. And there are DACs below that price that perform very, very well. I've had these along with various servers , ethernet switches,  USB  re-clockers, master clocks, and a variety of digital cable... etc.......all long gone ...... Nobody that has dropped $20K + on all this stuff wants to hear it or believe it, ,, but  save your money 

     

    • Chord DAVE with MScaler and external linear supplies
    • DCS Rossini with clock
    • EMM Meiner MA3
    • Denafrips Terminator + with Daiai DDC
    • PS Audio Directstream
    • Schiit Yggdrasil LIM
    • some I can't recall at the moment

     

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    1 hour ago, bbosler said:

    I'll take a stab at that... diminishing returns kick in very early with today's DACs. Having tried a variety of high end DACs over the past few years I am convinced that spending huge amounts gets you very little.. and most of what you get is small differences, not better, just different. I've had all of the below for extended periods. Maybe I have a tin ear, but IMHO anything above the $2000 Schiit gets you nothing but bragging rights about how much you spent. And there are DACs below that price that perform very, very well. I've had these along with various servers , ethernet switches,  USB  re-clockers, master clocks, and a variety of digital cable... etc.......all long gone ...... Nobody that has dropped $20K + on all this stuff wants to hear it or believe it, ,, but  save your money 

     

    • Chord DAVE with MScaler and external linear supplies
    • DCS Rossini with clock
    • EMM Meiner MA3
    • Denafrips Terminator + with Daiai DDC
    • PS Audio Directstream
    • Schiit Yggdrasil LIM
    • some I can't recall at the moment

     

    That is interesting.  Having owned the PS Audio DS for some time, in my setup the Mola Mola Tambaqui was on a different level (more natural, detailed, flowing, dynamic, timbral realism, etc.) not just different, but perhaps that is because I use the DACs as volume controls too, and initially used the Tambaqui's Roon streaming capability (now done by the Grimm Audio MU1).  

     

    Regardless, the only way to know is to listen in one's own setup.  Your comment is a good heads up to try something like the Schiit along with more expensive options like the T&A DAC 200.  Of course, Chris has already done that so perhaps we should ask him.  🙂

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    Hey Chris + Between your review and Dave Nauber contacting me today, I ordered one.  Looking forward to hearing it.

     

    Rick Milam

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    21 minutes ago, rom661 said:

    Hey Chris + Between your review and Dave Nauber contacting me today, I ordered one.  Looking forward to hearing it.

     

    Rick Milam

    Great to hear Rick! I hope you are doing terrific. 

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    I really wish that T+A would offer two other versions (PCM only and DSD only) given that each is segregated internally. Yes, I know this is wishful thinking and probably never going to happen due to a number of factors (mfg, testing, marketing, etc).  But it seems that lots of people are in one camp (PCM or DSD) or the other so why have to pay for components you are probably never going to use. The same is true of headphone vs speakers.

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    Barrows,

    Do you think it might be worth the extra $$ over the Holo May KTE?  Or are we too incremental here?  The much pricier Mola Mola Tambaqui is a large step up (I demoed for a few weeks and lust for it now) over the May, but again, the $$ increase is substantial too.  And the Tambaqui eschews things like HQPlayer cuz it upsamples internally quite substantially.  You feed it Roon, period.

    Ted

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    On 9/2/2022 at 5:39 AM, Miska said:

    When you send 705.6/768k there, all digital filters are bypassed and data goes straight to the DAC chips that operate in external filter mode.

     

     

    Miska, I just re-read your message to me as well as T&As emails.  You mentioned that due to the chips in use being SDM chips (for PCM) that Hardware Modulators were still in use, and Bernd at T&A sent me this in his nice email back to my questions:  "If the device is already supplied with PCM768, of course no further upsampling takes place, the audio signal is processed as it is without further changes in the converter. However, the digital audio signal always passes through the OVS filters, which cannot be switched off.
    You would have to try out what ultimately delivers the best sound results, i.e. have the upsampling done by the source device or alternatively in the T+A device.

    Kindest regards

    Bernd"

     

    Are you both talking about the same thing?

     

    edit: I am willing to accept that I am misunderstanding something. I'll learn something if thats the case.

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