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USB DAC impressions


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I thought I would check in with my impressions of the Wavelength Brick and the Benchmark USB DAC. I have compared them with a number of pieces and I want to emphasize this is general impressions only.

 

I am using a Mac mini using an Iomega 750Gb external drive for storage, connected via firewire. So far I am using the USB cables that came with each DAC. I am waiting for a Kimber USB cable to see if there is a noticeable difference. I am not a Kimber dealer and I had to order one through a competing dealer in town. I think he is making me suffer...

 

The Benchmark is a little smoother, a little more homogenized than the Brick. It is certainly listenable and I feel that it is a good value, especially for those who use the volume control. It seems to be slightly more dynamic than the Brick. The Brick is better at the subtleties, giving you a little more air and space and fine resolution. The Brick sounds a bit more high end, but with a penalty in dynamics. I want to note, in fairness, that I have about 50 hours on the Brick and Gordon says it takes another step up at around 200 hours. He recommends that breakin not be done on a "let it play for a week non-stop" basis and then listen. He suggests that it be done it random listening sessions which is a new concept for me. It does make putting more hours on a unit more difficult.

 

I compared both to standalone CD players since that is ultimately my goal. I found the performance of both to be in the general range of a moderately priced (in our store) player, ranging from 1,000 to 2,500 dollars. I thought the Brick sounded quite nice in one of our systems, which was an Audio Research LS17 preamp, ARC Ref110 power amp and Wilson Sophia speakers. I then swapped the server out for a Classe CD-202 CD player. Whoah. Big difference. The Classe was much more solid in the bottom end, substantially greater detail and enormous space and dynamics compared to the other two. I didn't bother comparing it with the reference ARC CD player.

 

So, we're not there. It would have been amazing if it had been competitive. The server setup ranged from $2500 to 3000, more or less. The CD player was a single disc unit and goes for $7000. On the other hand, I also compared the Mac based system to an Escient music server. Both combos of Mac and DAC's totally destroyed the sound of the Escient, which is meant more for whole house music but is the market leader in this category.

 

Bottom line for me is that I am not achieving the performance I am looking for, but both setups represent excellent performance considering their price and the server functionality. Right now I am looking forward to receiving the Wavelength Cosecant. From what I have heard that might get me much closer to my goal of having a server provide competitive high performance sound, and still be less expensive than the single disc player options.

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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Rick - Thanks for all the detailed information! I really hope the Cosecant gets you closer to the sound you're hoping for.

 

Does the Disc player you used have a digital input? It would be really nice to figure out where the "problem" is. If you could use the DAC in your CD player this would be very cool in terms of a test.

 

It would also be interesting to use the new Wadia 170 iTransport and an iPod connected to a good DAC. With both of these "tests" we could change the DAC and transport in an effort to find what component can be upgraded.

 

I am a firm believer that the sound you're looking for can be achieved with the Mac Mini.

 

By the way - have you discussed your preliminary findings with Gordon?

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

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Chris

 

Unfortunately very few CD players have digital inputs, which is a shame. Most all have digital outs, which makes very little sense in the case of a high end player with great DAC's. Levinson's 390S is one of the few exceptions but I no longer have one on hand. Plus I would need a USB input.

 

I am curious about the Wadia piece. I know of another very serious digital company who approached Apple about doing a DAC for the iPod. They were told that under no circumstances would Apple allow access to the digital bitstream. Their solution is to take the analog output, convert it to digital, upsample it and then another D/A conversion. I have obvious questions about how well that would work. Kind of like converting compressed sources to AIFF. My guess is that Wadia is facing the same issue; they are a much smaller company than the one that was rebuffed by Apple.

 

Gordon and I are exchanging emails as I write this.

 

Rick

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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Yeah, that is too bad more CD players don't have the digital inputs. You mention needing a USB input, but that is not required. Your MacBook has TOSLink output from the headphone jack. This is certainly inferior, but may be interesting at some point.

 

I was very surprised to hear that Wadia received Apple's OK and worked with them to pull the digital signal straight from the iPod. I can't wait to get my unit.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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Actually my point was that this much larger company did NOT get Apple's OK and they can't imagine that Wadia did. Sorry if I was unclear and I don't mean to be mysterious about the company involved but they asked me not to disclose it.

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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Guys,

 

In regards to the SPDIF mystery... from what I can tell all the PortalPlayer iPod processors had SPDIF (ttl not direct usable) outputs that were never connected.

 

I am pretty sure that only the new versions of iPods which I think use Samsung's new ARM processors are compatible with the Wadia unit. I think again the SPDIF output is TTL which is then buffered in the WADIA unit and then outputed.

 

I have approced the "Made for iPod" group but they are a little overwhelmed with requests right now. But for me making something like this would be a tough call. First people want and expect this stuff for nothing. I make everything here in the states and figure it would be pricey compared to the rest of the stuff. Second of all... this is SPDIF and no matter how COOL the iPod is it is not even in a class compared to any of their computers at making music in high end.

 

Later,

Gordon

 

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Hey Gordon - I wouldn't consider making a Made for iPod unit if I were you. The market will be flooded with these units in no time and the price will be $30 before we know it. As you said, the class of the iPod is not even close to an Apple computer.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have now put something approaching the 200 hour mark on the Wavelength Brick. Gordon was right; in fact he may have been understating the difference. Musically this is more significant to me than the first 40 or 50 hour point. The piece still sounds like it did before in terms of overall sound but there was a fairly dramatic increase in dynamics and a sense of being more open. It is still not enough for my tastes but it definitely widened the gap between it and the Benchmark. It now equals the Benchmark in all areas and exceeds it in several. I haven't reached my goal but I can now relax and enjoy listening to the Brick. In terms of my criticisms, please keep in mind that it is feeding an Audio Research REF 3 preamp and comparable gear downstream. In a more modest, but still musical system, this could be quite nice.

 

 

 

Audio Research DAC8, Mac mini w/8g ram, SSD, Amarra full version, Audio Research REF 5SE Preamp, Sutherland Phd, Ayre V-5, Vandersteen 5A\'s, Audioquest Wild and Redwood cabling, VPI Classic 3 w/Dynavector XX2MkII

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  • 3 weeks later...

Thanks rom for your comments. I live in an area with no high end stores to listen and there are so many DACs out there. I hope you get the chance to comment on several more DACs as you get an opportunity to hear them. Especially as to how they sound compared to the above mentioned. So far I have been listening through the audio interface that I use for recording. It's not really to my tastes but I don't want to get into the DAC of the month club so I'm resisting and researching online until I get enough of an idea what will best suit my tastes... probably more to the "organic" side of "analytical". I want it all! My CD player, Goldmund Mimesis 39, is not configured to use as a DAC. I've owned a number of ARC gear through the years (SP3a w/ Van Alstine mod), SP8, SP9, D100 (bass only)) and always appreciated the sound. Your experience with ARC gives me a reference of where you're coming from. I hope you get a chance to comment on the new DAC from ARC when it comes out. Until now I've always owned tubed gear but after moving a few years ago I needed to reduce space and set aside my SP9/c-j Premier 1 and am now using a Rowland Concerto integrated and the D100 (bass) going to Infinity BETAs. Thanks again!

 

RHA

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