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Gill Audio Elise DAC, Berkeley Audio Alpha and the dreaded PS Audio DLIII "killer DAC"


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I'm on a Quest to upgrade my PS Audio Digital Link III DAC. I say "Quest", because I've tried three great DACs so far (Ayre, Lavry DA11, and now, a Gill Audio Elise) and all three have failed to "blow me away", or "blow [my DAC] out of the water". That is to say, the DLII is still my go-to DAC after all these real world, in home, a/b tests.

 

Now, in all fairness, my modded DAC did win a Blue Moon award from 6moons -- so someone out there (aside from me) agrees that this is a special DAC. Not saying that the other DACs aren't better, but for me, they're not enough better to warrant the upgrade.

 

But therein lies a story. I heard the Elise in a back-to-back with the Berkeley Alpha, both played back via a directly connected Plinius SA-Reference, which was running Gemme Kitanas and KEF 201/2 Reference speakers and all wired up with some crazy-expensive Synergistic Research cabling. In that setup (at a local dealer), the Berkeley sounded great with redbook content -- but with hi-res, it was clearly different and audibly superior. Same cut, same rip, but one was upsampled via AE Wave Editor. And a dramatically different playback experience. Enough to make me go "hmmm!". I'm not one for hyperbole, but I loved that Alpha.

 

Then, an hour into the listening, we swapped in the Elise, also direct to the amp. The Elise is a tube DAC with two discrete paths for upsampling and non-upsampling -- it's 2 DACs in one, if you will, and you can choose which you prefer by simply changing to a different input on the DAC. Connecting my HiFace via an RCA-to-BNC cable the dealer had lying around into the Elise was surprising. The Elise was more relaxed. More air, as in, more "lit-from-within". More liquid. More extended, at least in bass. And I just loved it -- even more than I was loving the Alpha. Yep, I said it. I was convinced that the Elise was a better sounding DAC than the vaunted Alpha. Sheer blasphemy, I know, but I guess that's how I roll.

 

So I took it home and hooked it up to my system.

 

I plugged it into my M16 preamp, pushed out to my SA250Mk4 and on to my Totem Shamans.

 

The sound was great, but wasn't quite what I remembered it as. The liquidity no longer leaped out at me but the expansiveness remained. The soundstage was deep, wide, and eerily accurate. Sounds were easily locate-able, and well recorded music was breathtaking. So, I swapped back in the PS Audio ... And ....

 

It sounded amazing. The soundstage was deep, wide, and eerily accurate. Sounds were easily locate-able, and well recorded music was breathtaking. So, I swapped back in the Elise .... And .... Repeated. Twice. Just to be sure.

 

Both are great DACs, but in my setup, they were more or less equivalent. The PS Audio, connected via USB, played a bit louder than the Elise, connected via a HiFace. I did some level-settting, and once done, the differences were difficult to separate from imagination. I picked a 3 song playlist, and played it back through both DACs. Result? Nothing to write about. Both were excellent. Out of frustration and more than a little curiosity, I ran Elise direct to the amp, a move which made apples-to-apples comparisons impossible. Was the DAC better in this config? Perhaps. Perhaps? It was great, to be sure, but was it truly different? Was it better? I couldn’t say.

 

Aside: the HiFace won’t play well with the RCA input on the PS Audio. Dropout city. But connected to the RCA input on the Elise, no problem. Smooth sailing. But it does make me wonder if the HiFace with the G5 driver in my home rig is what is holding the Elise back. I’m going to get a USB-S/PDIF converter from ART to see if there is another bump in performance there. Not expecting much as this is the way I was playing music at the dealer, but then, there I was using the MabBook Pro there with the latest driver, so who knows. I’ll be swapping things around next week to see what’s what.

 

Anyway, back to the story -- this competitive scenario isn’t what I heard at the dealer. The Elise was clearly different sounding, and in a way I found appealing. So, either my DAC is “Super DAC”, or my system isn’t super system, ie, not terribly revealing.

 

So, I started making changes. But what to change?

 

First, I swapped my Totems for my Merlin VSM-Mme’s and tried the listening experiment again. Unlike the Totems, which are 4-ohm speakers with an 85dB efficiency, my Merlins are 8-ohm and an 89dB efficiency, and they have that magical/revealing Esotar tweeter. Still not conclusive. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the speakers.

 

I pulled my Ars Sonum EL34 integrated out and hooked everything up to that instead, completely bypassing all my Plinius gear in the process. I also plugged the Elise into the wall and not into the Purepower APS and did the same with the integrated. And yes, the differences started becoming less imagined. The Elise once again had the hint of smoothness, a touch more air, but if that was real, it was minor. The Merlins seem to love this amp, and nearfield listening at this point was a real treat. Why did I switch over to that Totem setup again? Oh, right, bass. Top to bottom, the Shamans have some incredible seamlessness and reach down to true bass. Turned up loud, those sucker rock. But the Merlins held up pretty well here, what with that Bass Augmentation module providing a 5dB boost at 35Hz. Even so, they were clearly monitor speakers, and no one was going to ever call their bass “subterranean”. But that’s not their strength. The Merlins, at least in my experience, are simply unrivaled in the 2-way space as point-sources, and the soundstage they’re capable of generating is, in a word, eerie. Fed by the Elise, a $7000 DAC btw, the sound was incredible. Fed by my $1500 PS Audio, they were similarly awesome, but now the balance was tipping to the Elise. But is that enough to warrant the 5-fold increase in cost?

 

Let me quantify this, if that’s possible or even makes sense. If the Elise+Ars Sonum+Merlin combo was a 100, then the PS Audio+Ars Sonum+Merlin combo was a good 95. Like I said, it very very close. And still not like what I heard at the dealer.

 

This whole experience says a variety of things to me.

 

One, most systems simply aren’t able to make the most out of one-component changes. If the gear you’re swapping is already “audiophile-grade” -- and I think the $25,000 Totem+Plinius set up is definitely in this calibre — then upgrading your source, be it from a $2500 DAC or a $7000 DAC, simply isn’t going to revolutionize your listening experience. It didn’t mine. I think another poster suggested that the ULN-2 was not a dramatic difference from an old Oppo — and I for one am not the least surprised by this finding. I think that poster is having a similar “problem” to mine.

 

Two, amps are less important than preamps. This was an eye opener for me. I never gave much credence to it before, but the effect of a great pre is pretty profound. 25 watts of Class A power vs 450 watts of Class A power were not the game changer I had expected them to be. Lesson? Get a good amp and make sure its powerful enough — but your bang-for-your buck might be best spent on a great preamp.

 

Three, system synergy is a total bitch. The simple, inescapable fact is that what sounds great with some gear will sound average or indistinguishable with others, reviewers and reviews be damned. An in-home test is really the only way to be sure. Caveat emptor.

 

Four, I think I need to re-think my approach. Instead of investing in a(nother) great DAC and getting a marginal increase (at best) in performance, I might best be served by starting over. New speakers, new amp/pre, and only then a new source.

 

So, the Elise is going to go back. I think I’m going to sell my Merlins and my Ars Sonum and go get those 3.6r Magnepans I’ve been drooling over. The Plinius gear should run those just fine. Then, as I have cash, get a world class preamp. Right now, I’m thinking the Wyred4Sound STP SE, a Cary SLP05 or maybe a conrad-johnson CT5. Then, new amps, maybe some mono-blocks, like the Wyred4Sound 1000 watt Class-D amps or something. And by then, God alone only knows what magic DAC will find a home in my rig. Maybe it’ll be that Prism Orpheus that some folks are raving about. Or perhaps the Antelope. Or the Berkeley with the USB-to-(BNC) S/PDIF.

 

But whoever the contender, they'll still have to beat out my lucky DAC killer, that PS Audio.

 

(I think Paul McGowan is laughing at me.)

 

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Yup, the modded DL-III definitely punches well above its weight class-mine has some additional mods to what Rick does, and it sounds very good indeed-but not via USB or toslink from a MacBook.

Have you considered trying a PS Audio PerfectWave DAC? These offer a lot more performance than a DL-III (yes I have done the comparison) as the design is a lot more serious than the DL-III (incliding modded). The PerfectWave even does very well through its USB input, but best computer interface performance will only be realized with the PWD when the bridge becomes available.

I am curious what is going on with your Hiface/DL-III? Unless the Hiface has some kind of problem, their is no reason the DL-III should be losing lock with it, weird...

In any case, once you get to a good level of digital component performance, the differences become of the small and subtle (but often very meaningful, as in listening ease, and low level detail retrieval improvements)-huge changes in overall sound are not likely with a DAC change IMO. Still, I am on the search for the "right" computer interface DAC for me-wish I could afford the new dCS, I am willing to bet it rocks via USB! It sounds like you like your system(s), and surely you have some very good gear, capable of revealing any differences in DACs. I would suggest you continue your search for the right source, I am in a similar place, being very happy with all my components, except the source-I know the right computer source is out there for me, I just have to find it....

 

SO/ROON/HQPe: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModuleDeluxe-Signature Rendu optical--Bricasti M3 DAC--DIY Purifi Amplifier-Focus Audio FS888 speakers-JL E 112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY EventHorizon AC cables, Iconoclast XLR & speaker cables, Synergistic Purple Fuses, Spacetime system clarifiers.  ISOAcoustics Oreas footers.                                                       

                                                                                           SONORE computer audio

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I took the Gill Audio Elise DAC back to the dealer yesterday in an effort to determine what was going on. Was it my system? My hearing? My room? Somehow, somewhere, that DAC lost the magic coming into my rig and I wanted to know why.

 

For grins, I brought my Cullen Circuits-modded PS Audio Digital Link III with me.

 

As before, we used the big Plinius SA-Reference amp. Interesting side note, the dealer mentioned that there is a "Plinius hiss" (so it wasn't my imagination) that was built into their gear as a design decision -- they felt that they couldn't remove the hiss without also removing the tube-like mid-range and making the whole sound a bit more lean. Interesting. Still, a great amp. Instead of running the Gill direct, as we did last time, we used a Plinius Tautoro pre (amazing) and hooked up some Reference 3A Grand Veenas. Cabling was Audience Au24e and the room was very well treated.

 

Okay, so we played my PS Audio head to head -- and finally some things came clear. One, the PS Audio does inject more gain so level re-setting is a must. Two, the PS Audio has a very nice mid-range, pretty much on par (!) with the Gill Audio Elise -- and even the dealer had a hard time knocking it (though I know he was itching to). That's its strength. Highs were extended, but a bit tipped up on the PS Audio by comparison -- the overall effect was one of openness and air, but could very easily tip over into brightness in a more neutral speaker, like the Grand Veena. But the obvious difference, once it was pointed out to me, was in the bass. That is, when compared with the other DAC in the shootout, the Berkeley Alpha.

 

The Elise and the PS Audio both had tube-like bass and I mean that in the best possible way. The Elise had more, but both had a bit of muddiness. It wasn't obvious, or bad, or distracting -- in fact, it was quite listenable. Until the Alpha went in. And once it was in, it was no longer a surprise why the Elise and the PS Audio were hard to discriminate in my system. It's because they're not all that different in sound, and where there was difference, my speakers compensated.

 

The Alpha, by contrast, took the strengths of the other two DACs (mid-range and natural highs) and added real bass control. Attack, decay -- all natural, tight, controlled. Norah Jones' piano sounds like a real percussive instrument. Everything just hangs together.

 

The demo Alpha is now sitting in my rack at home and I'm having a ball. The music is just flowing now and I'm seriously considering canceling my entire week's worth of meetings just to sit here and listen. I think I may have to order one of these suckers. Oh, BTW, the HiFace is proving to be a very adequate tool for feeding this DAC. My G5 gets and maintains lock without difficulty, crackle, pop or droupout and the Alpha registers sample rate changes immediately and effortlessly.

 

[insert big grin here]

 

So, giddiness aside, while I really love this Alpha, I have to say, I really loved that PS Audio as well. If the Alpha is 100%, then that PS Audio is a strong 85%. The differences are there, real, audible, and pleasant (in my system). But they're not overwhelming by any means. Would the casual listener notice? Maybe. But I do, especially now that I know what I'm listening for.

 

What I can offer to those looking at DACs is the following. Discriminating between DACs is not necessarily a night-and-day affair, and system dependencies and synergies may well mask many differences. YMMV, but IMO, source changes are subtle changes (speaker changes, by contrast, tend not to be), and my DAC Quest has borne this out. What to do, then? Try before you buy. At home, preferably.

 

@Barrows: I haven't really given the Perfect Wave DAC much thought, really. While the DAC may well be on par with the Alpha (I'm keeping an open mind), the technology I really wanted wasn't the bridge (I have no real interest in a NAS), it was the Lens. The decision to include a Lens in the Perfect Wave Transport and not the DAC just left me scratching my head. Why the Transport? Especially one with no SACD support? (No SACD? Seriously? Heck, Oppo can send DSD over HDMI, so what is the big deal? SACD is probably the only good reason to have a transport at all these days, and their not including support just took the Transport right out of consideration for me. Lucky for me that Sony has tremendous CD+SACD players available for half the price of the PWT).

 

What I really want is a single-box Lens-fed DAC, where all data, regardless of input (and it needs many inputs -- 2 each RCA, AES and optical S/PDIF, HDMI, USB, &c), are read into a buffer and then reclocked out directly into the DAC chip, thus utterly eliminating jitter. And it needs to support 24/192 (or better) on all inputs. Alas, this was not to be as they're including an irrelevant feature (the Bridge) on that DAC instead, so my interest in the line is pretty minimal.

 

As for dCS ... well, the day I can afford to chose a playback system instead of a new BMW, it'll definitely be on my short list.

 

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Glad to hear that you sorted out the difference amongst the Alpha and modded DL-III. I am surprised that the only significant difference was the bass perfromance though, I have heard both DACs, but never in a direct comparison, but I would have expected the Alpha to have better low level detail retrieval, and better transient response considering its bespoke digital filters...

I understand your point of view re the PWD/PWT, sort of. This appears to be one of those cases where no one product can suit everyones' approach to audio. For clarity, I would like to state what I believe is PS Audios' point of view:

The PWD was designed to provide the absolute best performance in one of two ways, 1. When connected to the PerfectWave Transport via I2S, for those audiophiles who do not want to deal with a computer in their audio system. This approach results in the best possible sonics, via memory playback (solid state) of all resolutions (PCM) up to 24/192.

2. When connected via the internal (upcoming) network bridge, via an ethernet cable to the LAN, accessing audio files on any computers or NAS devices connected to the network. The Bridge will use an intenal "Digital Lens", and jitter will not be an issue, and the files will be playing out of solid state memory for the absolute best possible audio performance.

PS Audio went with this approach, because it is their belief that computers should not be in the listening room, by using a networked approach they both avoid any need for a computer in the listening room, while still achieving the best possible playback performance, and accomodating all PCM resolutions.

One other thing: The PerfectWave DAC still far outperforms the modded DL-III via its SPDIF inputs (AES, Coax, and Toslink). While the PerfectWave Transport, and expectantly, the Network Bridge, will take its performance to an even higher level, the SPDIF performance is still very high. An internal "Digital Lens" was not included, as it would have added around $500-$1000 to the price, and a Lens would still be required in the PWT for it to function as a memory player.

I have not done a direct comparision myself, but those I have seen reports from, have stated that the PWD is equal to, or in some cases, better than, the Alpha, when both are fed from the same SPDIF source, so the SPDIF performance of the PWD is certainly not a problem.

If you do prefer to have a computer in the listening room, then an async USB, or an async Firewire solution is probably your best bet for now. There is one other option coming from PS Audio, the stand alone Digital Lens-this is going to be a really great re-clocker for anyone interested, with multiple SPDIF inputs, 24/96 USB input, and SPDIF and I2S outputs. The lens is a fully async re-clocker, with a rather revolutionary receiver circuit on the inpout side as well.

 

SO/ROON/HQPe: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModuleDeluxe-Signature Rendu optical--Bricasti M3 DAC--DIY Purifi Amplifier-Focus Audio FS888 speakers-JL E 112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY EventHorizon AC cables, Iconoclast XLR & speaker cables, Synergistic Purple Fuses, Spacetime system clarifiers.  ISOAcoustics Oreas footers.                                                       

                                                                                           SONORE computer audio

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No, digital volume control was never a criteria for me, but it just happened to be an included option on the Alpha and the Elise. Personally, I prefer the approach the Elise takes -- with completely separate outputs (and internal paths) for fixed and for variable outs. I find the Alpha's volume circuit annoying -- every time I shut it off, it resets to silent -- and I wish it were physically bypass-able. That said, it works well as a pre-amp. I drove it that way at the dealer and it sounds great. However, I have an SACD player and a turntable as alternative sources, so a DAC-only system wasn't really what I was shopping for.

 

That said, the Metric Halo/Sonic Studios versions do offer this as an option, and include (on some versions) a very nice A>D converter with variable gain and a great RIAA filter (ie, a complete built-in phono stage). My personal preference, however, would be the Prism Orpheus which also shares this trait, but may have a more "audiophile" sound to it, according to what little head-to-head reporting has been done. YMMV, of course, but my suspicion is that this character is very heavily system dependent.

 

But in the spirit of full disclosure, I'm not sure I'm in the market for a "pro" unit. I find the TRS/DB connectors extremely irritating and the options to cope with them to be unsatisfactory. I guess I'm fussy that way, but I like flexibility; locking in with specialty cables seems silly given my whims and my near constant desire to meddle with my system -- and I have a religious problem with adapters. FWIW, this is also why I am probably not going to get a Lynx card too.

 

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Scot, just curious what your thoughts are on the Ayre specifically. I know it didn't blow you away, and you have a great DAC already, and that there won't be much difference in DACs in this price range.

 

I can't say the Ayre blew me away either. But I did find it impressive in how it is resolving but with finesse and delicacy. Admirable traits, and probably a good thing for long term listening. And I'm not sure I'd want a more "look at me" type of DAC in this price range because I'm pretty sure I would be dissatisfied long term. Synergy comes in to play too. I'm not sure the Ayre would be the best thing in a laid back system.

 

I am kind of struggling with finding the right DAC myself and I don't want to just settle on the Ayre knowing it didn't blow me away. Being impressed is one thing, but being blown away sure seems to be a harder place to get to.

 

However, my budget doesn't come close to $5K. Maybe at this price point, the Ayre is just hard to beat.

 

Anyway, enough about my thoughts on the Ayre. I'd like to hear other peoples thoughts, especially the ones that aren't a rave.

 

Bryan

 

Dedicated 240V balanced power, Torus RM20-BAL. Mac Mini/Ayre QB-9. LSA Group Signature integrated. Eminent Tech LFT8B speakers. Real Trap and GIK bass traps.

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Head to head, I've tried:

 

Lavry DA11

Gill Audio Elise

Ayre QB9

Berkeley Alpha

 

Each one was a step up the chain, but in all honesty, each step was itself small. I may be doing a bit of disservice here to these DACs b/c they do all sound different, but in my experience, each had a lot to offer an owner -- but since I already owned a great DAC, I needed a lot in order to feel like what I was getting was worth the investment. I've said before that there is a point in the cost-performance curve where it takes dramatic increases in investment to retrieve increasingly minor improvements. My problem is that I was perhaps farther up that ladder than I had realized.

 

In my system, the DA11 was great. It was everything the PS Audio was, but a bit more so. Swapping into a dealer system to do a head-to-head, it was a bit bright. When I then compared the two DACs to the Ayre, the latter was more coherent and the mid-range just leaped out, but it lost a bit of sparkle in the highs. The Elise got the sparkle and the midrange, but lost the bass. The Alpha had it all -- at least, that's true in my system.

 

But look how far up I had to go. Of course, the Elise is $7500 as tested, so that does make it the priciest. But I can see how for many with monitors or other speakers that don't go caving regularly (my Totems can hit 16Hz) -- like my Merlins -- the Elise would be a killer choice. But for those speakers, I think I'd prefer the Ayre -- it's top end would help reign in the uber-clarity of the Merlin's Esotar tweeter. On my Totems, that loss of air wasn't a benefit.

 

This is a terrifically complicated hobby.

 

Given that you've already tried out a "livelier" pro-DAC (ULN-2) and were unimpressed and also not blown away by a more refined sounding Ayre (ok, ok, easy folks, just one man's opinion there, no offense intended to the fan club), I'm wondering if you might not want to consider some upstream replacements too, especially if what you're after is "big impact". Your system, as it is, may simply not show off those source changes as clearly as another system configuration might. This was my problem too, BTW.

 

But assuming that that isn't an option, and given the character of the rest of your system, I'd be curious as to whether or not you should shoot for a tube DAC?

 

Unfortunately, if the Berkeley isn't in your target price range, the Elise probably isn't either, but in the right system, it's really something special. Unfortunately for me, that system didn't happen to be mine, but I don't want to scare anyone off from it -- it's bespoke in every way and quite remarkable for what it does to the mids and highs.

 

Would the Redwine Isabellina be a fit for you? Skip the USB input option in favor of an outboard, specifically, the ART Legato (async-USB to BNC S/PDIF converter, ~$500 and includes a very nice digital cable) and you might have something special for that rig of yours for about $2k. That is, if 16/44.1 is okay for you? If not, have you looked at the Wavelength USB DACs? The Brick, while Redbook only too, is also a tube DAC, and Stereophile loved it. The Cosecant is more, but it does have a hi-res DAC chip option and Stereophile loved that too. Not sure if their endorsement means much, but there are a lot of them out there, so you probably have lots of options if you want to read up before making your next step.

 

Ok, that said, I haven't demo'd either the Red Wine or the Wavelength -- they were on the list, but I seem to have gotten off the bus already. ;-) They may totally suck for all I know. LOL. Somehow, I doubt it, but I guess hearing is believing.

 

Anyway, I know Vinnie @ Redwine does a 30 day trial with a money back guarantee, though. I demoed his integrated a couple of years ago and he was really easy to deal with. As for Wavelength, I'd like to believe that there's a dealer who'd be willing to work with you on a similar trial setup, but I don't know of any off-hand.

 

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I have no experience of the DACs you mention, but the Virtual Battery Supply wrought a massive improvement in the sound I got from the well-reviewed Bel Canto DAC3. If you get the opportunity give it a listen.

 

David

 

 

ALAC iTunes library on Synology DS412+ running MinimServer with Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 tablet running BubbleUPnP for control >

Hi-Fi 1: Airport Extreme bridge > Netgear switch > TP-Link optical isolation > dCS Network Bridge AND PS Audio PerfectWave Transport > PS Audio DirectStream DAC with Bridge Mk.II > Primare A60 > Harbeth SHL5plus Anniversary Edition .

Hi-Fi 2: Sonore Rendu > Chord Hugo DAC/preamp > LFD integrated > Harbeth P3ESRs and > Sennheiser HD800

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I am a Bel Canto fan, and use their amps to run my HT system. I liked the DAC3 quite a bit, but sonically, it's pretty close to the PS Audio, and that latter unit was a third the price before I had it all modded to hell. But I know they're about to rev their entire lineup, so were I in that market, I'd be looking closely at them once they're out.

 

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Scot, I just finished a lengthy year long system rebuild and I'm done with the upstream stuff. It's all really good. I've had a couple of local audiophiles over to critique it and they were very impressed and even amazed. I spent a lot of time on important stuff like acoustics, speaker placement, AC power and amp/speaker synergy. So with the upstream rebuild and validation out of the way, I'm now looking at the last part of the system, the computer music server source and the DAC specifically. It's nice that system is fixed now and I only have to work on one thing, but man what a thing to have to work on. It's not easy.

 

After my time so far with the ULN2, and the Ayre which goes back today, I do wonder if a valve DAC might give me that synergy, blow me away feeling I'm after. I've been thinking about it. Even a Havana with an USB adapter intrigues me. And Wavelength to a degree. Not sure how I feel about Redwine to be honest. I do have to be selective about what I bring in for demo and most of it involves shipping in to Canada which is a pain. I'm trying to deal with local dealers as much as possible too. Or stick with dealers in Canada.

 

My speakers are planar magnetic and the tweeter is pretty smooth yet revealing. And AC noise is all but gone so I get no grunge. Just pure HF's. I didn't find the Ayre lacking in sparkle, but it is laid back and delicate.

 

Bryan

 

Dedicated 240V balanced power, Torus RM20-BAL. Mac Mini/Ayre QB-9. LSA Group Signature integrated. Eminent Tech LFT8B speakers. Real Trap and GIK bass traps.

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Hi,

 

Since you've mentioned tube DACs, I thought I would chime in because I've owned both the MHDT Havana and the Wavelength Cosecant V3 (24 bit version). Both are very good DACs.

 

The Havana is a little soft sounding (slightly rolled off high and low frequencies) with the stock tube. However, if you swap out the stock tube with one recommended on the MHDT Labs "A list", the sound becomes far more linear. I have to say that I loved the Havana with the right transport, but because it is a non-oversampling DAC with no traditional jitter reducing technologies, its overall performance very much depends on the quality of the transport. Since we are talking about computers here, it seems to me that the amount of crap coming down the line from the computer must be affecting the performance of the DAC, as I could get great smooth sound with one PC and harshness with another. When the transport is right, the Havana can portray low level dynamics and shadings extremely well, and it is a very musical sounding DAC.

 

I sold the Havana and bought the Wavelength because I couldn't get rid of the last bit of upper midrange glare coming out of the Havana. (Thinking back on it, I should have tried some other tubes first.) The Wavelength is overall a bit smoother and sweeter sounding than the Havana, but also a bit more rolled sounding at the frequency extremes. The Wavelength sounds amazing with lots of styles of music, but doesn't work with large scale orchestral music so well because of its lack of low bass control (in my system anyway) and the low bass roll-off. Still, it is a beautifully musical DAC, particularly on music that is not compressed to death, and it is as not nearly as fussy about the transport as the Havana. Is it worth the 3.5x cost increase over the Havana in terms of sound quality alone? No,

 

I've always liked a tube in my otherwise all solid state system because I like the fleshed out midrange presence that a well designed tube component can add. Note though that I am very happy with the current system even though there is not a tube in sight. The Orpheus does not sound like other solid state DACs that I've tried. It is not rolled at the frequency extremes like the Ayre, and it is not thin sounding like the Benchmark. It performs very well across a very wide variety of musical styles.

 

Alan

 

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And it very much illustrates the difficulties that can arise sometimes in trying to make comparisons and sort out what works best for you- especially when two units that you think would be fairly different turn out not to be. I can relate to aspects of your experience, because I upgraded from a PS Audio DLIII to the Berkeley Alpha last year, with some very similar feelings about the bottom end definition, but also what I felt were incisive differences in midrange and top end, especially with certain "live" recordings of natural instruments (big band, symphony, chamber, etc).

 

I've just received a Hiface to try out, too, but the need to finish some construction projects (speakers for relatives, and an SACD player mod) have delayed me in "evaluating" it. But soon that follows!

 

Thanks again for your post regarding your experiences.

 

~Jon

 

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Thanks for shedding some light on your experiences with valve DACs Alan. Nice to read details like instead of having to bring them in and find out for myself. You said more in a post than most reviewers say in pages of drivel.

 

I am surprised that you find the Ayre rolled off at both extremes.

 

This DAC auditioning is so frustrating. I wish digital was like vinyl in that you can get very dramatic differences between similar prices cartridges and you're deaf if you can't hear it, it's so obvious. And when you upgrade from a $500 to $2000 you're usually going to realize tremendous upside. But this digital stuff is so alike and the returns so minimal the more you spend. It almost seems as though you're splitting hairs with DACs under $2K and a truly great DAC starts at $5K.

 

I almost feel like I might as well just get a Dac Magic and spend the rest of my budget on something that really matters because this digital stuff just doesn't seem to matter that much. Get a decent DAC and don't worry about sweating the details.

 

And some people state that the source is the most important part of a system. I think its the least important part. Speakers, acoustics, AC, system synergy. That's important shit.

 

Bryan

 

Dedicated 240V balanced power, Torus RM20-BAL. Mac Mini/Ayre QB-9. LSA Group Signature integrated. Eminent Tech LFT8B speakers. Real Trap and GIK bass traps.

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I know what you are saying, I would even extend it a little: the differences between $2K DACs and any DAC regardless of price are pretty small. Especially in comparison to the differences between speakers, even at the same price point.

But, for me, the little differences between some DACs really make for a big long term increase in listening enjoyment, whereas I could be happy with many different speakers. I think the best way to describe my feeling, is that while the distortions in digital playback are often small in magnitude, they are large in the way they affect the listener. To my ears, analog distortions (in decently designed components) tend to be mostly of omission, the sound gets less detailed, and sometimes "smoother" with lesser gear, but the sound is not annoying, whereas with lesser (and sometimes expensive) digital gear, the details are there, but they are presented in a way that is annoying, and detrimental to being able to lose oneself in the music.

I think the above is a major reason for the continued popularity of vinyl, despite its many flaws, and it is why I am putting a lot of emphasis on finding the "right" digital source: I want all the details, but I want them to be presented in a musically coherant way, that allows for listening enjoyment.

 

SO/ROON/HQPe: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModuleDeluxe-Signature Rendu optical--Bricasti M3 DAC--DIY Purifi Amplifier-Focus Audio FS888 speakers-JL E 112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY EventHorizon AC cables, Iconoclast XLR & speaker cables, Synergistic Purple Fuses, Spacetime system clarifiers.  ISOAcoustics Oreas footers.                                                       

                                                                                           SONORE computer audio

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socrates7 commented... "What I really want is a single-box Lens-fed DAC, where all data, regardless of input (and it needs many inputs -- 2 each RCA, AES and optical S/PDIF, HDMI, USB, &c), are read into a buffer and then reclocked out directly into the DAC chip, thus utterly eliminating jitter. And it needs to support 24/192 (or better) on all inputs. Alas, this was not to be as they're including an irrelevant feature (the Bridge) on that DAC instead, so my interest in the line is pretty minimal."

 

If you're looking for DACs which use technology similar to the Digital Lens - have you checked out the Chord QBD76 and Naim DAC? Both use buffer technology (though if I understand the Naim's white paper right it's slightly different in the Naim) to reduce jitter considerably (if not quite eliminate it).

 

Eloise

 

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Barrows, I'm curious if you have heard the Ayre QB9. What you said about what you are looking for in a DAC, long term listening enjoyment, wanting all the details but with musicality, sounds very much like the Ayre to me. I find it does all those things. But it didn't blow me away in the three days I had it at home. But I am constantly wondering if what it does is exactly what I should be looking for from a long term perspective and I just need to come to understand this eventually.

 

Bryan

 

Dedicated 240V balanced power, Torus RM20-BAL. Mac Mini/Ayre QB-9. LSA Group Signature integrated. Eminent Tech LFT8B speakers. Real Trap and GIK bass traps.

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"If you're looking for DACs which use technology similar to the Digital Lens - have you checked out the Chord QBD76 and Naim DAC?"

 

I've not, though the latter has an excellent brand. As for the Chord, I think another poster recently suggested that the QBD76 provided a superior experience to the Ayre, which is saying something rather significant. EnjoytheMusic liked it and compared it favorably to the Alpha, which makes sense, given it's $6k price tag. A HiFi World reviewer says "this is the very best DAC [he's] heard to date". Strong words indeed. Getting our hands on one here in the States might be a bit tough, however.

 

Hey, Chris -- any thoughts? I mean, really, an Alpha-killer DAC that has Bluetooth? You can't get much more "Computer" and "Audiophile" than that, can you? Nudge-nudge, wink-wink!

 

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"Hey, Chris -- any thoughts? I mean, really, an Alpha-killer DAC that has Bluetooth? You can't get much more "Computer" and "Audiophile" than that, can you? Nudge-nudge, wink-wink!"

 

Ha!

 

Computer = Yes

Audiophile = I have to listen to it before I'll agree :~)

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

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Telstar: I disagree entirely that class A circuits are colored by nature. I cannot speak specifically to the Plinius gear (and many amps that use the class A moniker are not truly class A) but the technical fact is that a class A circuit has less distortion than a class A/B circuit. The reason that class A/B circuits are used is that class A circuits are horribly innefficient. Typically, class A circuits sound a little soft, with lots of harmonic richness (hey, like real music!) I would submit that class B circuits are the colored ones, typically sounding rather hard, sterile, and missing out on some harmonic detail. Of course, this is an oversimplification: there are wonderful sounding class A/B amps, that use clever designs to overcome some of the inherent weakness of a class A/B circuit (and there are likely to be some bad sounding class A amps) but the fact remains that a class A circuit by nature has less distortion than class A/B. If I could afford a pair of PASS XA-100s they would be sitting in my room right now, instead I have the "poor man's" version, with the first 15 watts class A.

Regarding the Ayre QB-9, yes, I have heard it, and I do think it is likely the best choice for me, but I have not heard it in my system yet. Unfortunately, due to my employment status I cannot afford to purchase gear right now, so asking for a home demo is a little disingenuous.

I am pretty comfortable modding gear, and am also curious how much more performance could be eeked out of the QB-9 with some simple power supply mods-I know at its price the power supply is going to be a little compromised compared to the best gear.

 

 

SO/ROON/HQPe: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModuleDeluxe-Signature Rendu optical--Bricasti M3 DAC--DIY Purifi Amplifier-Focus Audio FS888 speakers-JL E 112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY EventHorizon AC cables, Iconoclast XLR & speaker cables, Synergistic Purple Fuses, Spacetime system clarifiers.  ISOAcoustics Oreas footers.                                                       

                                                                                           SONORE computer audio

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Telstar: I disagree entirely that class A circuits are colored by nature. I cannot speak specifically to the Plinius gear (and many amps that use the class A moniker are not truly class A) but the technical fact is that a class A circuit has less distortion than a class A/B circuit.

 

I didnt say that.

I said exactly that the Plinius Reference amp IS colored in class A mode, having done comparison with a bunch of friends. Most of us preferred it in class AB mode - the difference was quite obvious, especially on the voices.

 

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