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Trouble-Shooting Dissapointing Audition


darascal
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Hi All,

 

I'm planning on completely replacing my current ancient system, and so I recently auditioned a system that consisted of a DAC, integrated amp and speakers. The results were quite disappointing. I need some help on figuring out why.

 

The system I'm considering is: Mac Mini => Music Hall DAC 25.2 => Krell S 300i integrated amp => B&W 805S monitors.

 

The dealer did not have Krell in stock, so we substituted a slightly higher-end Music Fidelity A5.5, and I brought in my Mac Book loaded with a handful of ripped CD's (Apple Lossless format), along with the physical CD's. Not being a very computer-savvy dealer, they had no USB cables in stock, so I took along the USB cable that came with my Bose Companion 5 desktop speaker system.

 

After all was set up, I set about listening to various songs off my Mac Book. U2's Joshua Tree, Phillip Glass' Aguas da Amazonia, Talking Heads' Remain in Light, Radio Head's In Rainbows, even a little Green Day, just for laughs.

 

In each case, the results were disappointing. The sound was thin - a harshness in the treble, the bass was lacking in richness, the soundstage unimpressive. I've listened to the 805s' before and I've been quite impressed with their quality, and they certainly have an excellent reputation. Something was wrong.

 

We tried a few things to trouble-shoot. Listened to one of the physical CD's (Joshua Tree) through a CD player that was readily available (I don't remember the make, but it was pretty high-end, about a $3000 player with a tubed output). Then the speakers came to life as I remembered them. We routed the CD player's digital out through the Music Hall & this sounded almost equally as good, though a bit different. We played the CD through my Mac Book, but this sounded only slightly better than the lossless files played off the hard drive, but still quite poor.

 

This seemed to rule out the DAC, amp or speakers as the weak link.

 

I've since checked my Mac Book iTunes and audio settings as per suggested settings on this and other forums (e.g., Gordon Rankin's Mac USB Audio setup page - http://www.usbdacs.com/Macintosh/Macintosh.html). The only thing that seemed different on my computer was that Sound Enhancer was turned on.

 

Could this cause this much difference in SQ? I went home and listened on my Mac Mini (going via AE into an old Kenwood KA-95, into B&W DM 601 S2 bookshelf speakers) with sound enhancer turned on and off, and couldn't hear much difference. Maybe slightly fuller bass with it turned off.

 

Perhaps the quality of USB cable wasn't up to the task? Or is the Mac Book (not a Mac Book Pro) the problem.

 

I also wonder about the DAC - I've heard quite good things about it, but perhaps it doesn't perform well with a USB input? Does anyone have any experience with the Music Hall DAC 25.2 with a USB input?

 

I will try again with this same system with Sound Enhancer off, and pick up a Toslink mini cable to try connecting to the DAC that way. I'll also convert or re-rip a few selections to AIFF. And if it's my laptop, I'm wondering if it's worth it to drag in my Mini and external hard drive (and all those freaking cables and cords), to give that a try. It seems on paper that this should be a dynamite-sounding system, and I'm determined to find out what the problem is.

 

If anyone has any other ideas of what to try, I'd love to hear about it.

 

Thanks!

Russell

 

A: Mac Mini => Peachtree Nova => LFD Integrated Zero Mk.III => Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 | Musical Fidelity X-CAN V-8 => AKG K 701

B: Airport Express = > Benchmark DAC1 => Rega Brio-R => B&W DM 601 S2

C: Airport Express => AudioEngine A2

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Hi Russell,

 

are you convinced that ( with the USB input plugged in ), that the output sample rate was set ( for the USB device ) to 44100Hz? And this was done before iTunes was started? If you're not careful with the precise order of things, you can get two lots of rate conversion, which won't help

 

I'm not familiar with the DAC, so I can't help there,

 

 

your friendly neighbourhood idiot

 

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Hi Savant,

 

Thanks for your reply. I believe so, but it is worth double-checking. However, I've read that setting to 88.2 is even better. Per Gordon Rankin (see http://www.usbdacs.com/Macintosh/Macintosh.html):

 

"If you are using only Red Book CD’s that are ripped to your hard drive I would suggest setting the output to 88.2K. This seems to be the best sounding setup for Red Book (i.e. 16/44.1K). This will tell iTunes to upsample from 16/44.1 to 24/88.2K. The idea here is that even multiple upsampling is much better sounding than odd (i.e. 44.1*2 = 88.2 will sound better than 44.1*2.177 = 96)"

 

Anyway, you've given me one more thing to add to my trouble-shooting guide, and that's a good thing.

 

Thanks,

Russell

 

A: Mac Mini => Peachtree Nova => LFD Integrated Zero Mk.III => Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 | Musical Fidelity X-CAN V-8 => AKG K 701

B: Airport Express = > Benchmark DAC1 => Rega Brio-R => B&W DM 601 S2

C: Airport Express => AudioEngine A2

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Hi Russell

it may well be the USB implementation on the MH Dac. USB is natively not the best for jitter free transfer. The dac really needs to be designed to cope with this. 90% of dacs converted to spdif from usb. If jitter control is not applied at this stage then you may have issues. A quick cross check with toslink will tell you (although toslink is also pretty poor).

If your dealer has a Benchmark USB they would be a good test: they have excellent USB jitter reduction features.

I think you can rest assured that the speakers/amp will be fine but that the source is the issue - maybe the Mac most likely the dac.

Best Wishes

Andrew

 

Best Wishes

Andrew

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Thanks, Andrew. Yeah, maybe so. Though the DAC sounded fine with the CD as input. Though they most likely used a coax for this connection (I didn't think to take note, too busy screwing with Mac settings).

 

However, Music Hall states "To achieve the best sound we use an advanced asynchronous reclocking and anti jitter control system upstream of the PCM 1796 DAC. For this system we are using the philips 74HC574 in conjunction with the ti SRC4192 asynchronous sample rate converter whose master clock is a high precision active crystal oscillator."

 

But when I get it home, I'm going to be listening to music, not technical marketing.

 

I know they don't have the Benchmark, but they do have a higher-end DAC, might ask to try that. Seems it's difficult to find a shop that's got it together in both the computer and audio realms.

 

Thanks,

Russell

 

A: Mac Mini => Peachtree Nova => LFD Integrated Zero Mk.III => Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 | Musical Fidelity X-CAN V-8 => AKG K 701

B: Airport Express = > Benchmark DAC1 => Rega Brio-R => B&W DM 601 S2

C: Airport Express => AudioEngine A2

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"The only thing that seemed different on my computer was that Sound Enhancer was turned on. "

 

 

Hi Russell - This can have a major impact on the sound. I suggest you do some simple testing at home. Listen with sound enhancer off and on. You should hear a significant difference even using the headphone output on a Mac.

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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I have been through this very exercise in the past week or two....

Check my rig in my signature; it's kinda close to what you demo-ed. Except the B&W's are rather unforgiving, in my experience.

 

I now have my mac server sounding almost as good as the CDP (all my digital sources run thru the Benchmark BTW).

 

In the Mac -

Sound enhancer must be off.

Sound level set to 100%

Digital out setting at 24bit/44.1 (or 88.2). Not 96. This is assuming we are talking red book CD rips.

 

The crucial thing is having a quality USB cable. Without a Kimber/Wireworld et al cable you are chasing your tale and you won't get anywhere near the desired results...

 

I was like you; hooked up the 'server' and I was bummed. It sounded really average...

But after some time and trial/error, it's running real sweet and I am happy with either USB playback or the original CD.

 

I have the option of running optical, too. I actually prefer the USB mode.... I think this is testament to Benchmark 'getting it right' in the USB stakes.

 

Hang in there!

 

Regards

James

 

 

 

 

Naim 282/250/hi-cap/cd5xs/dac/stageline, mac book pro/fidelia/amarra hifi/halide bridge, rega p3/24, focal utopia scala

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Thanks Chris, AudioBear and James. I will try again with Sound Enhancer turned off. I'll try the optical route as well, and I guess I might as well put down $50 for a Kimber USB in case that's the weak link. As I said, the DAC sounded fine with the coax input from the CDP, so I know it's capable of good sound. I may just be green, but seems to me a good DAC ought to sound good from any of the inputs it offers. I hate to think I have to pay double to go up to a Benchmark (Music Hall is about $600) just to get good sound out of my USB.

 

Will report back my findings.

 

Thanks,

Russell

 

A: Mac Mini => Peachtree Nova => LFD Integrated Zero Mk.III => Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 | Musical Fidelity X-CAN V-8 => AKG K 701

B: Airport Express = > Benchmark DAC1 => Rega Brio-R => B&W DM 601 S2

C: Airport Express => AudioEngine A2

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I don't believe the USB cable is responsible for the kind of degradation

you are describing. I have compared the Kimber to a Belkin on a Wavelength Cosecant, Benchmark, and an Audio Research DAC7. The difference between cables was subtle at best. If I were to guess, which is what I'm doing, I would suggest that it is a setting problem as Chris suggested or a poor implementation of the USB interface. I am familiar with at least one DAC that sounds quite good on all inputs but USB although the difference is not as great as you are describing. The 805's are pretty revealing speakers, especially if the sound is thin at all. Too bad you don't have access to another DAC to help isolate it, especially one with asynchronous USB. Although I take all reviews with a grain, or shaker, of salt, I have heard mixed reports about the Music Hall.

 

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...

Wow, went back to re-audition the same system, armed with new and improved USB & optical cables ... but first tried things out as I had before - a cheap USB, with the only difference that Sound Enhancer was turned off. I was very skeptical that I'd hear any difference.

 

But what a difference that made! It's amazing this setting can make this much difference. The B&W 805's came alive like they should. (At home, I could not hear much of a difference, but my setup is quite different, going through an AE & into, I'd say, a much more forgiving system)

 

And I'd have to say the Music Hall performed quite well, both through USB & optical. And with my MacBook as source, the DAC actually compared favorably to the Musical Fidelity A5.5CD, which the dealer had conveniently nearby (all played through the MF A1008 integrated). Though the A5.5 does sound quite sweet (as it should at $3.3K).

 

I'm not sure who said that the Music Hall had mixed reviews - I'd like to know more about that. I've heard only positives

 

Oddly, when I played the same CD's through the Mac's CD player, the SQ suffered - there was a certain harshness. I was expecting the CDP to sound as good, or even better than playing off the hard drive. Anyone know what that's about?

 

Anyway, thanks all for your help, I'm get closer to focusing in on a system.

 

Thanks,

Russell

 

A: Mac Mini => Peachtree Nova => LFD Integrated Zero Mk.III => Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 | Musical Fidelity X-CAN V-8 => AKG K 701

B: Airport Express = > Benchmark DAC1 => Rega Brio-R => B&W DM 601 S2

C: Airport Express => AudioEngine A2

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One that I specifically remember was Sam Tellig in the latest Stereophile. Roy Hall was typically insulting in his response. I never know how much to believe from either of them. They do enjoy yanking one another's chains but typically not in terms of disparaging a product, just one another. My view is all reviews should be taken with a great of salt anyway. Glad you are getting sound you are happy with.

 

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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That comes as a surprise Souptin. But if so, it would explain what I (wasn't) hearing at home! Thanks for the info!

 

Russell

 

A: Mac Mini => Peachtree Nova => LFD Integrated Zero Mk.III => Harbeth Compact 7ES-3 | Musical Fidelity X-CAN V-8 => AKG K 701

B: Airport Express = > Benchmark DAC1 => Rega Brio-R => B&W DM 601 S2

C: Airport Express => AudioEngine A2

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You may want to take that under advisement, as they say. I tried again, and I'm not so sure. At least on the latest itunes as I type 8.2.1 (6) airtunes is affected if you engage the equaliser and the sound enhancer settings, and neither much for the better to my ears. Most likely it's my bad, or maybe a there's been a change in one of the recent updates.

 

Keep trying. I'm all for supporting the local hifi dealers who are willing to go the extra distance. They may never get rich, but they do get to listen to music all day, the poor things.

 

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Speaking as a dealer, thanks, I think. We are usually accused of getting rich off of unsuspecting victims. Unfortunately your scenario is closer to the the truth. It does have it's own rewards, though.

 

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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I just received my Music Hall DAC 25.2 and am seriously thinking of returning it (if I can't get this figured out). Via USB and/or toslink, I am only able to send upto a 48khz signal to the 25.2. I have a number of vinyl rips at 24/96 and the DAC just turns off the lights (and the sound) on the face when I feed it a 96khz signal. This is on my MacBookPro, output sample rate to 24/96 in Audio Midi Setup. No sound enhancer and I am not using Itunes (since my files are FLAC).

 

I sent an email to Music Hall and Roy Hall actually replied (props to them as a company there) with:

 

The USB can only handle 48/16.

The optical input is 48/24.

It is not designed for higher frequencies.

 

He does not mention the spdif. The dealer I purchased from suggested I try a Bel Canto or M-Audio USB adapter device. This allows USB to handle 24/96 signal and appears to output it on the spdif (RCA). The BelCanto is ~$500 (no way!) and the M-Audio is ~$100. I'd get the M-Audio if I knew it would work.

 

I bought this DAC specifically to play my 24/96 collection. I have an awesome, upsampling CDP, but was ready (and still am) to go the full computer route. I'm going to attempt to get the spdif/coax input working with something and see if I can confirm what it's max input sample rate is.

 

Incidentally, I've searched the net (which is what led me here to sign up) and the manual and the Music Hall web site and can find NO info on the input sample rate. Benchmark says it and a few others. I've been livid for two days now with this as it's a PITA to send it back...

 

Aaron

 

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Hi Aaron - Welcome to Computer Audiophile. I read the manual and my guess is that all the inputs are limited to 44.1/48k. The wording below leads me to believe it's either 44.1 or else it's upsampled. NOt totally sure, but this is my guess.

 

"input

Use this button to toggle between the digital inputs: coa-, opt-, usb, xlr.

src (sample rate converter) - upsampling

Use this button to toggle between the different sample rates:

Lock: 16bit/44.1 (upsampling off - bypasses SRC4192)

96k: 24bit/96kHz (upsampling on 96kHz)

192K: 24bit/192kHz (upsampling on 192kHz)

Decide which sample rate sounds best on your system by listening."

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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Thanks for the welcome!

 

My dealer emailed me and indicated that he spoke to Music Hall who said that the spdif would work with one of those USB adapters I mentioned. But now I am utterly confused. The BelCanto has a spdif/coax out, but the MAudio has an optical out.

 

My tests via my mac and the email from Music Hall indicates that the optical cuts out after 48khz. Here's where things get confusing.

 

I hooked up my DVD player which I can set the LPCM output to 48/96/192. When I switch while playing a normal CD, I here clicks and the sound is different making think the device is switching/upsampling. When I hooked this up via the spdif coax to the DAC 25.2, I would get the 'lock' light (only) on, and regardless of it being 48/96/192, the DAC continued to perform. I thought this was it!

 

Then, since I don't know for sure that it is outputting what it says, I used the optical output of the DVD player into the DAC. ALL of the frequencies worked and the light stayed on 'lock'.

 

Sooooo.....is this a mac thing or is my dvd player not doing what it says? The M-Audio device uses a driver in OSX so maybe it is a deficiency of the mac (though the BelCanto does not).

 

Thoughts? This is getting beyond frustrating! I'm trying to burn a 24/96 DVD-A from one of the FLACS and then play that on the DVD player (which then I know I'm starting with a redbook cd which maybe the DVD player locks at 44/48....

 

Aaron

 

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I'd suggest returning the MH Dac and just getting a eg firewire dac that can handle 24/192 natively - there are a ton out there. Any upsampling (if you want to) can be done on your Mac. Pros and Cons to that one.

There are some lovely pro converters for around the $1-1.5k mark (eg the UNL2). Or stop messing with Mr In Between and get something like the Weiss Dac2 for $2500 (less second hand on eg GearSlutz - seem to go for about $2k).

Not so sure all the burning to DVDA and trying playback via a DVD Player is going to yield you half decent results: you will have transport and clocking issues via spdif and esp optical.

 

Best

Andrew

 

Best Wishes

Andrew

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I see where you're coming from but...I'm more perplexed now as I'm not convinced my computer is not the issue. Yes, jitter could be an issue, but, I just want to see if the 25.2 will play any 24/96 files...

 

My experiment:

 

In my DVD player, I set the output to PCM and I could set the frequency (dvd player upsamples) to 48, 96, or 192.

 

Playing redbook CD via coax/spdif: plays at 48, 96, 192 from the player with a lock.

Playing redbook CD via optical: plays at 48, 96, 192 from the player with lock.

 

Yo can imagine my bewilderment. Not convinced my DVD player is doing what it says (or maybe defaulting to 48 (no 44k setting)), I do manage to burn one track of 24/96 file. I confirmed prior to burning it was a 24/96 wav file. I burned this disc, and tried this with both the outputs:

 

coax/spdif: plays at 48, 96, 192 - upsample button on 25.2 works at 96 and 192 settings.

optical: plays at 48, 96, 192 - upsample button only works at 96, not 192.

 

Is it the macbook pro that's the issue? Incidentally, I tried a new macbook (unibody) and, with the same adapter I use on my mbp, I could not get ANY sample rate to play on the 25.2 (my HT receiver works just fine). My mbp immediately worked at 44 and 48 (as before) but not 96.

 

If the computer is potentially the issue, then one of the aforementioned USB adapters might be needed even if I ended up with another DAC. Logically speaking, I should be able to use a firewire 'sound card' with digital out (kind of like Andrew mentioned above, sans DAC...if they exist) and it should work.

 

So....any thoughts on what this means? Yes, I'm screwing around more than I wanted to, but...since I have the equipment on hand, and if I can help even 1 other person from going through this...I'd like to get this to work.

 

Aaron

 

 

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I assume the objective of your experiment is" I just want to see if the 25.2 will play any 24/96 files..."

The Music Hall 25.2 DAC only accepts 24/48 in thru optical and assume it would be the same with coaxial SPDIF. The unit then upsamples to 24/96 or 24/192 depending on the choice of setting. The DAC will only accept 24/48 max and you cannot trick it by burning Hi Res files to DVD for playback by your universal player. It will only accept 24/48 max from the computer as a source or the Universal player.

If you want to play 24/96 files you'll need another DAC.

 

James[br]

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Yeah, that was the goal. And honestly, I think you might be right, though I'm still befuddled by what experiments I ran. In the end, it has become moot for me - my good friend thinks I'm crazy with my 24/96 fetish (and maybe he's right...), and has offered to take the DAC off my hands. So problem solved.

 

I think the key thing here is, Music Hall does not advertise their input specs and one must not assume just because it can upsample to 24/96 that it can accept it.

 

The good thing is I found this site - and there's a lot more going on now then when I first discovered it sometime ago. Clearly, MUCH more research is in order for me, but some of the pro gear I hear discussed has opened up new avenues of research for me.

 

Thanks to all those who provided input on this 'issue'.

 

Aaron

 

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