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Hi,

 

Once again searching the web for a possible DAC that will out perform my Benchmark USB DAC1, I came across a DAC kit.

 

http://www.audionotekits.com/dac2_1.html

 

Anyone familiar with this DAC? Any thoughts/views??

 

Many thanks,

 

Monty

 

Location: Manchester\'ish - UK. System: iMac, YellowTec PUC2 Lite, Genelec 7270A sub, 2 x 8240A monitors, a Drobo and Vovox cables.

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I looked into this DAC and I just don't see what differentiates it from anything else. Nothing special to me and you'll probably find better quality from something cheaper or of equal price.

 

Just my opinion not based on usage of the unit.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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Hi Chris,

 

Thanks for your comments. Can you recommend some DACs I should try and listen to that 'could' replace my Benchmark USB DAC1??

 

Monty

 

Location: Manchester\'ish - UK. System: iMac, YellowTec PUC2 Lite, Genelec 7270A sub, 2 x 8240A monitors, a Drobo and Vovox cables.

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Hey Monty - You should look into the DAC1 mods done by Empirical Audio, real good stuff. Gordon's Cosecant is also a stellar DAC.

 

When would you like to replace your DAC1? If you can wait a few months there are some real nice USB DACs coming out.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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Hi Chris,

 

I'm in no big hurry to replace my USB DAC1 - just got the upgrade bug at the moment.

 

Do you have a link to the Cosecant?

 

Monty

 

Location: Manchester\'ish - UK. System: iMac, YellowTec PUC2 Lite, Genelec 7270A sub, 2 x 8240A monitors, a Drobo and Vovox cables.

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Hi Monty,

 

A buddy of mine has the Benchmark. I have the Musical Fidelity. They're in the same price range, more or less. The MF is a little more money, I think. We've played "compare the DAC".

 

They are both quite fine, but they sound noticeably different from one another. Enough so that one or the other will likely appeal to somebody's tastes to be "better".

 

The Musical Fidelity has (to our ears) a luscious midrange - harmonically rich, grain free, loads of detail, dare I say a little "tubey" (but I'm sure you read the reviews that point out - correctly - that the tube and transistor outputs sound virtually identical.) Overall, the MF seems slightly warmer than the Benchmark,

 

The Benchmark bests the MF in rhythm and pacing. It has a propulsive "drive" that is quite outstanding. Treble detail is absolutely outstanding. You could say it's a tad bit more "neutral".

 

Of course, in the wrong system, or the the wrong listener, the Benchmark could be etched and analytical and the Music Fidelity could be sluggish and soft. (A little bit. We're talking about two very nice components here.)

 

I think at this level, it's all about what you like. You've got to listen to make any kind of sound (ouch. sorry about the pun) judgment. The Internet frustrates me sometimes because it brings us access to all kinds of great products and gives manufacturers who wouldn't have a chance otherwise an opportunity, but it doesn't help us much with hearing the results.

 

-Carl

 

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Thanks for the post Carl. I agree with you that the Internet doesn't help us hear the results! People can become hypochondriacs, but with audio gear. Reading about something new, thinking they need it, but never really talking to their local dealer and listening to the product. Or at least ordering the product to listen themselves in their own system.

 

Anyway, very good real world opinion on these two DACs. Thanks.

 

 

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

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Sorry, here goes another long one...

 

An interesting comparison, because I think these two DACs represent roughly the same price point in the two very different worlds of high-end audio -- pro recording (Benchmark, Apogee, etc) and audiophile listening. It seems that they have very different demands. The pro wants detail, clarity, neutrality (whatever that means). The audiophile wants the first two as well, of course, but in lieu of neutrality, and sometimes even to the detriment of detail, he is looking for evasive (as if neutral wasn't difficult enough to define) attributes like "airy," "luscious," "warm" and "musical." And when the audiophile hears the kind of uncolored detail that even the discerning semi-pro recordist demands, he often declares it sterile, etched or cold.

 

There's nothing wrong with this of course; we listen for our pleasure, not as an analytical exercise, and the pro doesn't care, he still wants to listen in deep to hear everything in as unadulterated a form as possible. Whatever you want to do with it downstream, from 128kbps files to $10,000 tube DACs is not his concern at the moment that he is using the equipment (unless, perhaps, he is a mastering engineer). There are exceptions in the small world of audiophile recording, of course, but this is the way it is with the vast majority of music we have access to.

 

Both approaches are completely legitimate. I must confess, though, that I feel a bit fortunate to have more of a pro audio ear than a audiophile's ear. The cost of reference-quality equipment for recording music is often much lower than it is for listening to it. Street prices for the Apogee DA-16X that your reference music may well have been recorded with, run under $3k, and these prices, like prices for most digital equipment, are falling and the technology is trickling down very quickly, meaning that something very affordable and made for field recording, like the Apogee Duet ($500), is VERY close to the TOTL stuff.

 

I only say all of this because I often hear people on audiophile boards delivering long, detailed versions of the old adage "You get what you pay for" to say that X piece of equipment cannot possibly be as good as Y because it is so much more affordable, that this stuff is really not all that subjective. Above a certain, fairly attainable level, it IS that subjective. Somewhere along the line, when I wasn't paying attention, audiophilia moved from the pursuit of accuracy to the pursuit of romance. Again, there's nothing wrong with that, but attributes like "warm," "luscious" and "musical" are, by definition, subjective. And when the DAC used to record your favorite music cost

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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.. it is getting VERY interesting out there, re: pricing. I'm loving my purchase of the RME Fireface 400 (pro side) right now - I ALMOST pulled the trigger on the Apogee Ensemble , but don't think that I erred by going RME. I spent a LOT less too. I am finding that because of the built-in ability to manipulate the gain stages, input through output, and then the jitter rejection feature, that I can get it to sound ANY way that I want it to. I can put the 'sweet spot' of the sound 5 feet or (actually) 100 feet in front of my Klipsch LSI-A's. This A/D/A box is what I have been trying to get to for almost 20 years. Yep, it CAN be quite "neutral" (I define that by playing back what I just recorded, BTW) too.

 

markr

BIG grin

 

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"Yep, it CAN be quite "neutral" (I define that by playing back what I just recorded, BTW) too."

 

Great point, well taken. I thought about elaborating on "neutral" in my original post, but it was already long enough!

 

The careful recordist who is really listening DOES know what neutral means. It requires intimate familiarity with what he's recording, the room, the mics, the effect of placement and all the equipment in his signal chain. But if he has all of that knowledge, even the good semi-pro can hear the neutrality vs. color of a new piece of gear inserted in the signal chain.

 

The home listener, lacking all the background, has no clue. Of course he can hear the effect a new piece of gear has in his system, but unless he knows what the original master sounded like on the original monitor system, he can't know the degree to which it effects his system's presentation of the music as "neutral."

 

Like that matters.

 

When we talk of neutral vs. color in our home systems, we're having a completely different conversation. An evasive one in which conjecture rules, and more often than not, accurate = whatever the listener wants to hear in the music. Which is perfect, because that IS what matters.

 

Tim

 

 

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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...say - the Sessions for the Beatles' White Album sounded like to one who was lucky enough to have been there. I do however know how I like it to sound. That is really all that matters to the music listener, and all that is important in the end: liking what you hear.

 

markr

 

 

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Indeed, it's two different paradigms.

 

You can see the same effect in other fields, too. At work, I have two different profiles for my computer display - one for editing photos for reproduction and one that's fit to look at.

 

But what seems to be happening in audio that's cool is that as gear gets better there is a convergence toward some sort of absolute "better". Tubes and transistors don't sound worlds different anymore and some pro gear is becoming fun to listen to. Which is especially good because, as you point out, it can be a heck of a lot cheaper :-)

 

-Carl

 

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I want to thank all of you — Mark, Tim & Carl (hope I didn't miss anybody) — for developing such a cordial, thought provoking thread here. It's obvious to me by the way the subject has been approached that there's quite a lot of experience garnered among these participants, rife with the sort of self-confidence that will help the reader (that's me) see that Audiophile Nervosa is not an affliction that would make these posts suspect.

 

I have my own ideas regarding what I expect an audio system to do for me, but I confess to having become jaded about the relentless search for a speaker that will do what others cannot, or an amplifier that's closer to "neutral," so it was in the mid-eighties that the beckoning of the audio sirens began to mean less and less to me. What does mean something to me, though, is the continual pursuit for any improvement to my music-listening experience. As mentioned here, these priorities are very subjective, and may not work for everybody. I, for example, want a sound that is expansive; one that comes from a collection of components that is able to recreate fine inner detail, even if if means that I have to surrender deep bass in the process. I am also more inclined to a system that is better at reproducing the lowest harmonics of an oboe in a way that sounds like the real oboes I've heard than a system that can reproduce the fundamentals of an electric bass guitar.

 

It's all give-and-take, after all.

 

 

 

 

 

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We have some stuff in common there. I am primarily interested in detail as well (well, that and tone and ambiance). I'm even willing to sacrifice sound stage for it, which has led me to headphones for much of my listening. The "expansive" I'm looking for expands inward, deeper into the nuance of the music, and the space around it, as I'm unconvinced there is really a "stage" to re-create from most recorded music anyway.

 

Funny you should mention woodwinds. I love jazz from the late 40s through the mid 60s, and the sound of well-recorded horns in a really intimate presentation is pretty much a religious experience for me. But oddly, I sometimes find that equipment that will present horns very vividly doesn't quite get the human voice, even though it falls in the same range and with much the same kinds of textures. I have nothing revealing to say about that, it's just an observation. And it may not be the equipment at all; it may be the recording. I'm convinced that once you get above a certain level of technological competence, and a pretty achievable level at that, that the quality of sound has much more to do with the recording and mastering than it does with incremental steps up in playback equipment. I can plug a pair of decent headphones directly into the jack of my laptop and get completely lost in the deep, lush sound scape of "Lover Over Gold" or "Shame + A Sin" (though the sheer girth of the bass in the later is a bit distracting); but I could take "The River" to my friend's studio and play it on $50k worth of pro gear in a perfectly treated room, and it would still sound thin and flat; it would still be a bit of a struggle to push myself into the brilliance of some of those songs through that unfortunate production.

 

Here's to the engineers, and the brilliant ears.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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I don't know anything about this kit but I have been designing and selling my own speaker designs for 25 years. It would probably be best to describe me as a talented amateur although I have done a few good designs along the way. In recent years I have had the pleasure of meeting David Wilson, Jim Thiel, Richard Vandersteen, the design team at B&W and a few others. I have spent a considerable amount of time with Jim Thiel at his facility and in his "lab" and he is a brilliant, and very nice, man. Alas, the world does not need me as a speaker designer ....

 

My point is that I am very familiar with components and pricing. I looked at their speaker kits and have to say that are waaay over priced. I don't know if this carries over to the DAC but it makes you wonder.

 

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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... IS very nice. I'm enjoying its eclectic sensibilities.

 

It is sort of synchronistic that you mention headphones: I worked a session tonight that brought a hip-hop sort of person over here, and at one point he told me that the headphone output of what we were creating was better than what was coming from the speakers. While I really like the sound of my AKG cans, I had to disagree with Lee. I always prefer the sound of 'living speakers.' I had no problem adjusting the output sound of the speakers to what he was hearing in the headphones - to his total satisfaction - , almost instantly. I have to conclude that much of what we might have disdain for in the sound of a particular piece is because the controls are not 'tweaked' properly.

 

I really like things to be "flat". Lee told me tonight that he expected that from me. That the sound coming from here was just like it sounded when played. He hinted that some 'sweetening' was appropriate. Even NEEDED. I obliged. We had an 'altered' sound festival tonight. He freaked out, not having realized that the sky is the limit. I suppose that is what equalizers and bass and treble pots are for. Not to mention the sound processing abilities that Logic and Reason afford.

 

Ahhh well. To each his own, I suppose.

 

markr

 

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I was glad to see Rick put in his 2¢.

 

Mark: to hear some really very fine sounding woodwinds, get hold of the Duke Ellington recording called THREE SUITES. It's an old Columbia recording from the sixties showing off the Ellington/Strayhorn knack for taking something you're used to hearing a certain way (musically) and presenting it to you in a fashion very mesmerizing. You might also want to look for a Harmonia Mundi release called, LA FOLIA DE LA SPAGNA. The inside joke reference to the music from The Pink Panther played on a clarinet is one very great example of what I was getting at when I brought up the oboe earlier. On my system you can actually hear the clarinet echoes off the floor and walls.

 

Rick: don't be so hard on yourself as a speaker designer. Ray Charles sang the song, "Them that got are them that get," which, in this context, means that most of the time, world-renowned speaker designs got that way not because they were appreciably better or different, but because that had some major financial backing. Of course, Bob Dylan has a line in one of his songs that says, "money doesn't talk, it swears,"so yours just might be THE speaker that could one-up any of these guys. In keeping with your mention about things costing much more than they should, I own a pair of speakers designed and built by a guy up in your neck of the woods (sadly it seems as if he's disappeared off the face of the earth) that do about 95% of what I think a near-perfect speaker should do for less than any of the speaker brands you mentioned. If I could marry the lowest region of the Vandersteen Quatro to what his speakers do, I think I would have it all. As for DACs costing more than, say, $1K, I know what you mean.

 

Tim: Funny that you should mention Love Over Gold (curious how it fits into the whole notion of money driving everything, huh?). Those opening moments of "Telegraph Road" can really show the mettle of any component, IMO. I used to use this segment of the tune to get a grip on how any component introduced into the system was behaving; the piano and breaking glass in "Private Investigations" also helped a lot.

 

It hasn't been my experience, though, that speakers that do well with woodwinds aren't as kind to the human voice. A prime example would come from the Classic Records reissue of SONGS FOR DISTINGUE' LOVERS. Once you forgive the VERY slight harshness at the top of Billie's voice (it was 1957, after all), you can hear all the way into her larynx and the chestiness that came from her drug abuse; then when the sax comes in you're almost completely blown away. This was one of the first tracks I listened to when I installed the Cayin iDAC last week. I won't say that hearing it on this piece for the first time bowled me over the way that the woodwinds did on the Nilsson recording I use, but it, nonetheless, showed me that the Cayin wasn't introducing any anomalies into the experience.

 

 

 

 

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Wow - much going on here.

 

I wouldn't say headphones are superior to speakers. In fact, in a perfect world, speakers are much better because they can give you all the nuance and detail of cans with the illusion of stage to boot. But that perfect world is inhabited by tens of thousands of dollars of equipment in a dedicated listening space with professionally designed and implemented room treatments. It's just not practical for most of us. I'm willing to give up that stage to listen into the recording intimately.

 

I'm also not saying speakers that reproduce woodwinds, strings and horns well can't reproduce the human voice as well. I have no idea what component in the mix it is. But seems that horns are more forgiving than the human voice; or at least I seem to have more recordings in which the horns have an organic, compelling presence. Maybe it's the recording again. Maybe more of the jazz cds are simply recorded and mastered more naturally than the pop/rock vocal stuff I have.

 

It's not a universal rule by any means. kd lang's "Ingenue" comes to mind as a recording in which the vocal sound just melts my heart. Oh, and Shawn Colvin's "A Few Small Repairs." And a few Van Morrison albums. There are more, I'm sure.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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Tim and SGB, I was pleasantly surprised to see that I'm not alone in using Love Over Gold to listen to equipment. I'm pretty much an amateur ear-wise and gear-wise compared to most around here, but yes, Telegraph Road has always been a song of choice that I take with me to the hi-fi store. FYI, Mr. Knopfler is on tour (just got tickets for one of the shows) and I see from his opening night set list last night that he closes the main set of music with, yep, Telegraph Road. Nice.

 

TheOtherTim (so as not to be confusing)

 

 

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I apologize in advance for the negative impact on your wallet, but you can't really stop at Love Over Gold. Beginning with Love Over Gold, Knopfler took over the production of Dire Strats' and his subsequent solo albums. And not that Making Movies and the other two Dire Straits albums were bad, but the production took a radical turn when Knopfler took over. The result is a series of albums with great macro and micro dynamics, wonderful detail, and this deep, warm, glowing ambiance that is really seductive. I'm missing most of the soundtrack albums Knopfler did, but this sound I'm talking about is there in spades on Brothers In Arms, On Every Street, Golden Heart and Sailing To Philadelphia. I'm not crazy about every song on all of those records, but the SOUND is gorgeous.

 

Tim

 

I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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If you have not already placed your order for the Dire Straits albums, PLEASE do not buy the current reissues... they sound inferior to the early eighties CD releases (tfarney is 100% correct about all of them being sonic wonders... as I noted to you in a PM, I believe Knopfler to be the best lyricist of the past 30 - 40 years). The reissues were the subject of one of my columns published about 7 or 8 years ago for the magazine I contribute to (sorry for that preposition). If I can find the MS Word document, I will send it to you (found it, see below). All these years later it will be tough to find one of the WB "target" or Vertigo releases that were pressed in Germany or Japan in the time before the USA had its own CD pressing plant, but you will be rewarded for your search if you find them (probably on Amazon).

 

Here's an excerpt from that column that describes my reaction to my favorite album, Communiqué. Note that introductory paragraphs not posted here mention that the later reissues are more compressed and decidedly less dynamic.

 

On the British vinyl pressing, Communiqué offered some amazing audiophile sonic delights from start to finish, and is, perhaps, the best sounding of their six studio releases. In short, this import pressing of the album is transparent, musically natural sounding and dynamic — far more so than on the domestic pressing. Knopfler’s slightly Morrison-like voice has air around it, with a clarity that allows listeners to hear the subtle shadings in his vocal articulations (especially on consonant sounds like the “w” and “th” in the word, with — as in “if you ain’t with me, girl...”). In this example, there is an elongation to the “w” giving it the proper “uwa” sound we hear in normal speech, and we hear the “th” trail off properly too. One of the problems with most recordings of vocal music is that such acute enunciation is somehow masked or veiled, either through equipment that cannot capture such subtle details adequately, or through improper equalization when the sound engineer makes the working masters. At times, one can hear the vibrations of his vocal chords in the lower octaves almost as well as if Knopfler were standing about six feet in front of the listener. Background vocals sound just as background vocals should: they are placed distantly enough in the sound-stage to offer the illusion of a live performance. Instrumentally, the lines of the bass player on the LP show more dynamic and harmonic contrasts, especially on the first two tracks, “Once Upon A Time In The West” and “News,” than either version of the CD. Not only are the bass notes more distinguishable as the bassist moves up and down the scale, but there are larger differences in levels as well. The drums on the vinyl are also far more open and natural sounding than on either CD. This is especially noted near the end of “News,” where the bass drum exhibits an airiness and punchy, speedy, quality not present on either version of the CD. In my younger days, I used this track to assess the strengths or weaknesses in a speaker’s ability to reproduce the bottom end with requisite depth and speed. Both versions of the CD sound less articulate and a bit bloated by comparison in this respect, and both CDs sound remarkably similar.

 

The biggest differences between the LP and both CD versions of Communiqué boil down to transparency. This is most obviously noted on the final track of the album, “Follow Me Home.” Here, the original engineer used the sounds of crickets and incoming waves on a beach to transport the listener from the mental image of the previous song into the next. Critcal listeners might imagine themselves walking on a south sea island beach just after dusk; one can almost sense the dense, humid tropical air. Readers who have walked along a beach will have a good recollection of the roar of the incoming surf as the waves come on shore, and of the bubbles in the surf popping as the water recedes. Because the level contrasts between the immensity of the incoming surf and the subtlety of the popping bubbles as it recedes are nearly non-existent on the CDs, the sound falls quite a bit short of the vinyl. As noted above, all of the sound qualities that made the original recording superior to the reissues in the first two tracks continue on throughout the album. I can assume only that they were made from second or third generation copies that do not capture all of the subtleties of the original tape. When comparing the older CD to the newer one, the similarity in sound would suggest that the degradation in sound when compared to the analog original cannot be attributed to differences in the equipment used to create either of the CD masters. Nor would I think that Bob Ludwig might have taken a different approach in creating the new digital masters, intentionally masking these details.

 

 

 

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