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Empirical Audio in Absolute Sound


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Congratulations to Steve Nugent on a favourable review of his Off-Ramp 3 and Overdrive DAC in the latest issue of the Absolute Sound. A few quotes:

 

"best USB DAC"

 

Comparing to the Minerva, "On the more level playing field using native 96/24 files the sonic results aren’t as clear-cut. I preferred the Minerva via its FireWire interface to the Overdrive’s USB—the Minerva had a shade better low-level resolution and soundstage depth. But when I added the Off-Ramp connected via I2S to the Overdrive, the sonic tables turned."

 

"Moving on to standard Red Book 44.1/16 digital files once again I preferred the Minerva when I compared its FireWire to the Overdrive via USB. But when I tethered the Off-Ramp to the Overdrive, the Minerva came in second once more."

 

"When put together the Off-Ramp and Overdrive DAC cost as much as some of the most highly regarded DACs available including the Berkeley Alpha DAC and the Weiss Minerva. I haven’t heard the Berkeley, so I can’t comment on its relative sonic merits compared to the Empirical duo, but I have spent time with the Weiss. Clearly the Empirical Audio Off-Ramp and Overdrive combo is of the same sonic caliber as the Weiss, which puts them in the top tier of currently available digital devices designed for computer audio."

 

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Interesting. Shouldn't the off-ramp to overdrive be technically inferior because of the added cabling/ chance for something to go wrong? Also, isn't the combination redundant if the overdrive uses the same module and converts direct to I2S? I can't wrap my head around why it would be better...

 

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Steve Nugent's products aside. Although it is sad TAS has to review his product's under such unfavourable circumstances. My condolences to Steve.

 

Given TAS's treatment of Ayre and Wavelength I don't see how they are qualified to make the statement "best USB DAC." You would think that one needs to listen/review USB DACs to be able to make that statement. Funny that they made that statement after comparing the product under review it to a firewire DAC? But not surprising given TAS's history.

Although they are known to reflexively pronounce on the state of USB audio from time to time!

See: http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/State-USB-Audio-Alan-Taffel

 

I'm surprised you hadn't heard of the controversy, Thomas.

 

Regards,

 

James[br]

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"I don't see how they are qualified to make the statement "best USB DAC."

 

Presumably they compared it to the USB input on their reference DAC - the Bryston. :)

 

Not sure how a DAC with such (reported by Alan Taffel himself) poor performance via USB gets to be a Reference DAC, other than for Alan Taffel to continually thumb his nose at Gordon/Charles.

 

I chose to let my subscription lapse after the brain lapse of Harley and Taffel re the State of USB Audio article. I did thumb through the most recent issue - Product of the Year - and noticed they gave very short thrift to computer audio. Out of maybe 50 or so "Products of the year" only two were related specifically to computer audio playback - the aforementioned Bryston (Alan's reference) and the HRT Music Streamer and Music Streamer + (at $99 and $299) which were awarded the "Next Gen Digital" Product of the Year.

 

With regards to digital audio, I'd rate their performance as:

 

"Hit rock bottom and started to dig"..

or maybe the timeworn "Suffers from delusions of adequacy"

 

YMMV,

Clay

 

PS, one final note on the Weiss versus Empirical. The DAC2 offers identical performance to the Minerva for $3k, for those that don't know. Seems one would be paying quite a lot of extra money for an apparently marginal improvement re the comparison noted above. But hey, I'm a Firewire fan, so I'm biased. I don't see the point in buying a DAC that requires a reclocker to perform it's best. :)

 

 

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Let's give credit where it's due -- kudos to Team Empirical.

 

I wonder what might have changed had they used the Pace Car instead of an Off Ramp? That seems like it would be a natural killer.

 

But my curiosity is aroused. Why would an Off-Ramp help, given that it's built in to the Overdrive as it is?

 

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The Off Ramp uses an Ultraclock whose dimensions are too large to allow use in the Overdrive. The improvement using the Off Ramp is therefore probably attributable solely to its better clock (unless the Overdrive's internal wiring does not directly connect USB input to I2S, but I doubt this).

 

As to the controversy, ya, I tend to agree so far as to say you can't say Best USB DAC unless you've heard them all, and even then, any person's opinion is particular and subject to personal preferences and ancillary components used. All of this will combine to always only be some fraction of total possibilities, views and perspectives.

 

And not to wander too far from the motif of Full Responsibility, Gordon (to speak to one relevant competitor product) is responsible for pulling his products from review, and is subject to consequences from this decision whatever they may be.

 

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"And not to wander too far from the motif of Full Responsibility, Gordon (to speak to one relevant competitor product) is responsible for pulling his products from review, and is subject to consequences from this decision whatever they may be."

 

The best consequence for Gordon Rankin was not to be reviewed by this magazine.

 

I'm happy for Steve N.

 

Wavelength Silver Crimson/Denominator USB DAC, Levinson 32/33H, Synergistic Research Cables and AC cables, Shunyata Hydra V-Ray II with King Cobra CX cable, Wilson Sasha WP speakers with Wilson Watch Dog Sub. Basis Debut V Vacuum turntable/ Grahm Phantom/Koetsu Jade Platinum. MacBook Pro 17\" 2.3GHz Quad Core i7, 8GB RAM, Pure Music, Decibel, Fidelia, AudioQuest Diamond USB Cable.

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The creditability of "The Absolute Sound" has been ruined. Anything they recommend must be questioned. I have relocated all past issues to "The Out House" to serve as EBW.

 

A flaw in reasoning is a mistake in how conclusions are derived from assumptions, not a mistake in assumptions.

 

AB835

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Thomas,

 

I won't rehash the topic, but it would have resulted in a hatchet job for Gordon. Do a bit of research in this forum and AA to find out the specifics. From what I understand, his sales are just fine. Quality publications like Stereophile have done a good job reviewing his equipment.

 

 

Wavelength Silver Crimson/Denominator USB DAC, Levinson 32/33H, Synergistic Research Cables and AC cables, Shunyata Hydra V-Ray II with King Cobra CX cable, Wilson Sasha WP speakers with Wilson Watch Dog Sub. Basis Debut V Vacuum turntable/ Grahm Phantom/Koetsu Jade Platinum. MacBook Pro 17\" 2.3GHz Quad Core i7, 8GB RAM, Pure Music, Decibel, Fidelia, AudioQuest Diamond USB Cable.

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Yes, good for Steve.

 

And great that he's jumping on to the Async 'bus'.

 

Is he writing his own code, I wonder?

 

Ever the Firewire champion, I find it interesting that the (only?) so-called fatal flaw of Firewire DACs is the need for manufacturers to write their own drivers, and yet the Async USB manufacturers don't any much better off in that instance.

 

clay

 

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"Lars, sounds like you got a good crystal ball in your homestead. Cheers."

 

I don't have to rely on a crystal ball. I can do much better than that. Just look at the circulation of the Absolute Sound vs that of Stereophile. Now just who is being delusional here?

 

 

Wavelength Silver Crimson/Denominator USB DAC, Levinson 32/33H, Synergistic Research Cables and AC cables, Shunyata Hydra V-Ray II with King Cobra CX cable, Wilson Sasha WP speakers with Wilson Watch Dog Sub. Basis Debut V Vacuum turntable/ Grahm Phantom/Koetsu Jade Platinum. MacBook Pro 17\" 2.3GHz Quad Core i7, 8GB RAM, Pure Music, Decibel, Fidelia, AudioQuest Diamond USB Cable.

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"the decision for USB must be related simply to market considerations"

 

Agreed. But it seems like VHS vs. Beta all over again, to me. :)

 

I could be wrong, but I believe Gordon chose USB over Firewire BEFORE he realized he would (need to) spend several years sorting out the software.

 

And of course, some might argue 'inevitable discovery', I believe Gordon was the first to design and deliver a USB DAC, and at least ONE of his reasons given was not wanting to write/maintain Firewire drivers.

 

regarding the Alan Taffel / Gordon issue, your comments make me wonder if you read the article in question, or Gordon's online explanation of what transpired. Not that you need to in order to have an opinion, I'm just curious.

 

Cheers,

clay

 

PS, thanks for posting about Steve's review. It seems that my intentional subscription lapse is now taking effect.

 

 

 

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Clay,

 

The review has yet to be published.

 

Steve

 

Wavelength Silver Crimson/Denominator USB DAC, Levinson 32/33H, Synergistic Research Cables and AC cables, Shunyata Hydra V-Ray II with King Cobra CX cable, Wilson Sasha WP speakers with Wilson Watch Dog Sub. Basis Debut V Vacuum turntable/ Grahm Phantom/Koetsu Jade Platinum. MacBook Pro 17\" 2.3GHz Quad Core i7, 8GB RAM, Pure Music, Decibel, Fidelia, AudioQuest Diamond USB Cable.

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As if to underscore the need for software even with USB, I just noted these words from the AVA DAC description in the link Dan just posted:

 

"Note that a USB input is not provided because high bit rate USB computer output requires software driver programs, and we simply do not want to get into the software support business."

 

clay

 

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I believe it is incorrect to state high bit rate (over 24/96) USB requires a manufacturer to write software or drivers for the DAC. Mac OS X supports 24/192 USB out of the box and Windows 7 will eventually.

 

Also, I don't see this as a battle of FireWire v. USB. There is a place for both interfaces just as there is a place for Optical S/PDIF, Electrical S/PDIF, AES/EBU, HDMI, etc... Both FW & USB are cable of great performance.

 

I think people frequently want final answers and conclusions to what is the "best" when it comes to computer playback. They over analyze the situation a bit much. A computer / music server is a new style of transport, that's it. Broad generalizations are just as foolish with computer based products and DACs as they are with disc spinning transports. Once in a while I will here from someone claiming to have conducted a shootout between one transport and one computer. If the computer doesn't sound better they will conclude computer based playback isn't up to par and write it all off as hype. Those of you who have used different computers for playback and different interfaces understand very well how deferent they can sound.

 

Maybe my new answer to questions about interface superiority will be another question. "what's the best car?" An equally unanswerable question on a broad scale without exact specifics about the driver and environment.

 

OK off my cranky soapbox :~|

 

 

 

 

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

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Clay, I've read the posts on what happened. It's just that I don't assume to know the outcome of something that didn't happen (Gordon submitting his equipment). I also assume that, in any fight, both people are fighting. Combine those assumptions and one has a recipe, I think, for uncertainty about would could have happened.

 

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But, but, but...Chris.

 

That's an easy question. I've been driving it for ten years this month, with nary a wayward glance. ;)

 

 

"I believe it is incorrect to state high bit rate (over 24/96) USB requires a manufacturer to write software or drivers for the DAC. Mac OS X supports 24/192 USB out of the box and Windows 7 will eventually."

 

Perhaps they were referring to Windows environment, as evidenced by your use of 'eventually'.

 

I was referring to Async USB, which is the only USB mode of interest to me.

 

 

"Both FW & USB are cable of great performance."

 

Agreed, I have one of each.

 

thanks for jumping on the soapbox, yes, there are lots of interfaces, but the 'one ring to rule them all' (aka Lightpeak) is headed our way in 2010.

 

ok, well, a betting man might not bet on 2010! ;)

 

 

clay

 

 

 

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Clay-

 

Mr. Van Alstine is a very talented designer, but anyone that would post

that USB comment obviously hasn't been reading this forum.

 

It's a shame that Mr. Van Alstine doesn't understand that adding an Asynchronous USB input would broaden the appeal of his promising new DAC and Preamp/DAC combo.

 

Dan

 

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