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Tiring listening experience since new DAC

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Hi everyone!


This is my first post to this forum, although I've been reading quite a lot of posts lately, helping me to choose my audio systems. Thank you for the excellent conversations and the polite tone which is very welcoming for newbies!


My audio chain looks like this:

ALAC music fed by MacBook -> Wireworld Supernova 6 optical cable ->

Corda StageDAC -> Meier RCA-RCA -> Graham Slee Solo MKII headphones

amp -> Sennheiser HD650 (w/ stock cable)


Before getting my StageDAC delivered (and the optical cable) I was using the on-board DAC from my MacBook connected directly to the Graham Slee Solo through a cheap analog cable. The sound was quite good, not excellent, but it allowed me to listen to music for long periods of time without feeling tired (hearing fatigue).


Ever since I've threw in the new DAC and cables, the sound is way, way better, clearer and more powerful, but unfortunately the listening experience became more tiring. If the volume is set at a non-tiring volume, it sounds too weak, no true bass and detail. If however I increase the volume to be able to hear the details, the sound becomes too tiring for my ears :(


I tried the Corda StageDAC crossfeed filter for headphones, but it seems not to work well on all types of music, so no real solution here.


Do you think I should use the variable output of the DAC and play more with the volumes of both DAC and Headphones Amp to find a proper match?


Thank you very much for your help with this one!




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You may need a good few months of running/burning the new gear in.

For example it took about 8 months before my Benchmark DAC settled in.


But I'd try a generic optical cable first up which could round the sound out (while the gear is burning in!).


I know when I went from a el cheapo optical to a way more expensive optical, the sound became somewhat more revealing.


BTW, is the optical cable coiled up or left kinda loose? It helps to dangle the cable so the light travels as straight as possible...Believe It Or Not!


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 for the tip! The optical cable is as straight as possible, I bought a 1 m cable especially to keep it extended all the time.


As for the burn in, I am leaving the equipment powered on so that it burns in. Except for the headphones which need an audio signal to burn in, the other components (DAC, Amp) only need to be left on - at least this is what I understood from the Graham Slee forum and other forums' posts.


I hope there's a faster or simpler way to tune this up, 8 months seem a heck of a lot to bear this sound :-)


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I find that music sounds quieter with better equipment. It may be that you are listening at louder volumes than with the MacBook output. Another possibility is that the jitter level has increased, because of the spdif-spdif conversion, and you are sensitive to that.


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The volume has increased on the Mac output since optical out forces maximum volume level (which is good). At the same time I had to decrease the volume on my headphones amp from 11 o'clock to mearly 9 o'clock. This is way too low to render a detailed sound :(


I don't know about the jitter, do you think it was introduced by the optical cable from Mac to the DAC? Or by the conversion from electrical to optical in the Mac? If the latter, it's a tough one since I understood lots of people have chosen the Mac for the quality (bit perfect) optical output.


I intend to test again between the former setup and the actual one feeding the DAC through USB and using both inputs on my amp for comparison. I'll see which setup feels best and I'll keep you posted.


Thanks for the tips so far!


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You will be wise to try a playback codec such as Amarra or Pure Vinyl.


I was satisfied with vanilla itunes playback until I tried Amarra. Now, vanilla itunes to me is almost an anathema!


With your new rig I'd say you are starting to hear the limitations of the itunes codec.


The difference between itunes and Amarra is like 256kbps mp3 and 16bit CD. For me it was that marked a difference so much so, Amarra took my CA playback quality past my CD playback quality.


BTW, definitely use the Pre Amp out on the Corda: you will then be able to set up a better gain structure between the Corda and the G.Slee.


And yes, try the USB hook up. I went from optical to USB as USB sounded nicer to me. Some say this is the optical jitter thing coming into play.... Try the Wireworld Ultraviolet USB cable. Excellent VFM.



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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Last weekend I took some time to experiment a little with all the options on different kinds of music, older and newer recordings. It seems that my fatigue issues were mainly due to 2 things: 1. my being tired (not related to music listening) and 2. the extreme channel separation and sound details brought by the new DAC.


No. 1 (don't laugh, I don't mean THAT no. 1 :-)) has nothing to do with audio or equipments. As for no. 2, I have tested both the USB and optical inputs of the DAC and I can firmly say that optical is far more detailed (especially in the highs) than the USB. Thus, USB is less fatiguing.


This DAC features a configurable crossfeed filter, and I now agree that using the crossfeed does eliminate the fatiguing, unfortunately at the expense of dynamics: it seems to me that the crossfeed cuts not only the 2K range as explained in the product documentation (and for which there is a compensatory switch provided to boost a bit those frequencies), but it takes away some of the "life" from the music. Well, that's it I guess, I am glad after all to have this crossfeed for days when I am really tired and when my ears cannot tolerate the extreme channel separation present in older (but dear to me) recordings.


Thanks for the suggestions, guys!


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What you perceive as detail might be just be worse sound. What I found out during my hifi "career" is that improving something in the system (cables, electrical components, better clocks ...) makes sound more coherent, i.e. sounds appear as a whole not as a sum of different unrelated sounds, which might be perceived as detail. Especially with digital, more relaxed sound always equates to better sound for me.




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I was referring to older recordings (60s and 70s) which seemed to use an extreme separation of sounds between channels. This may not be tiring if listened to on loudspeakers, but it surely is if using cans. And it seems to be increasingly so as you throw improved components in the audio chain.


The music sounds really great on newer recordings, and even with older music having undergone a remasterisation process, for example Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd. While some people prefer the original recordings, I would surely go for the remastered ones with my headphones.


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My experience has been that, a tiring listening experience is due to noisy hash and/or distortion playback. You can't usually hear it specifically unless you are very experienced. I have been an audiophile for about 40 (ouch... that is painfully true). You can play mental games denying its existance, but unless you turn on the music and you just want to fall into it, and after a couple hours it is still seductive, your fooling yourself. An amp can have it's bias adjusted too high, cheap components, bad design well lots of possible causes.


I am currently wrestling with the same thing. I listened to an iPod (lossless), with line out connector, to a high quality head amp for about six months. Sounded great. When i put the headphones on, I relax, the music is seductive and can play at any volumn and there is NO FATIGUE. I tried a Music Streamer + and my PC... after a couple hours my ears felt like they were inside a big bell and someone had just stopped ringing it. I got 250 hours of breaking on it, changes to real high quality interconnects (costing twice what the DAC did), it improved, but was still fatiguing. Bought a $2K desktop DAC / AMP... same thing, changed cables, SPDIF, USB... still my ears feel like they are bleeding from abuse after about six hours. Turning rthe volume down helps, but my headache goes away about 9PM. I am probably more sensitive to this than some, but, I have been trying to talk myself into believing I am imagining this. I just switched back to the iPod / analog amp... heaven, not Fatige. This is a short version of the story. I have a better DAC on the way. It better go away, or I am going to throw all this junk into the trash and come back again and try in ten years. Remindes me of my first CD player... omg, speaking of making you think your ears are going to bleed. JD


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All the listening fatigue went away for me when I improved my electricity. I can't say it enough. It was never appealing to me to deal with boring ol' electricity. Why pay an electrician to do some lame stuff around the house with plain wire in the walls when I could get a shiny new DAC, change amps, cool looking cables, or test a multitude of tweaks & different playback software. It haunted me for the longest time and I've been chasing the fatigue demon for a couple of years. After a seperate circuit installed, upgraded to a good power conditioner, and bought Alan Maher's products I honestly couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was so blown away at how much garbage I had been receiving so much that I haven't purchased a new DAC; and I was convinced it was my absolute weakest link. I can't recommend Alan Maher's gear enough, the value in his products is simply amazing to me as a picky listener. I'm able to blast highly compressed pop and dance music that used to rip my head off without any discomfort to my ears and I'm in the same boat as being very sensitive to high frequency stuff. I thought certain recordings were just plain bad and now truly enjoy them. After awhile I genuinely thought I was alone in my sensitivity to high frequencies and was simply screwed until I could spend several more thousand dollars on a new DAC, new amps, speaker stands etc.. I spent $300 on Alan Maher's stuff and it's been the best value I've spent in audio period, and I stand behind that statement. If you guys haven't tried his designs I seriously think you are missing out, especially with the digital world being extremely sensitive to electricity. Now it all becomes clear to me how important it really is and I put it up there on the priority list with speakers and room acoustics. My next step is to get an isolation transformer installed and more Alan Maher products. Then a new DAC!


david is hear[br]http://www.tuniverse.tv

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Yes, fatigue can be caused by noisy power. My primary audio system has a dedicated power line, breaker, a nice hefty power conditioner and black warts in all the wall sockets. It has done my system a world of good. Desktop systems can be improved similarly. My desktop system has a dedicated high end power supply. It has increased the detail, tightened the base, but unfortunately has not done much for the fatiging hash / distortion I am getting through my digital audio train. It can definitely improve most systems, but it can't fix all things. JD


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I agree, but my point was that the Alan Maher gear took everything to another level and completely removed the hash unlike anything else I've tried even the seperate circuit and power conditioner. It easily did 3 fold what those two additions were able to accomplish as far as removing hash and noise, seperation of instruments, 3D imaging, and detail without fatigue. Nothing I've used has done that otherwise and until one has tried it they just don't have an idea of what it actually does. I wasn't expecting much with the return policy in mind and it's been the biggest value in audio for me period. Just my two cents. From one audiophile to another you owe it to yourself to try something of his.


david is hear[br]http://www.tuniverse.tv

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+1 on Alan Maher gear.


His approach is to 'tune' the entire AC circuit in your home.


Think about it - even a dedicated circuit is connected to the same noisy (portion of the) circuit you're trying to protect/isolate/insulate your A/V gear from. Electricity does not flow in a single direction. Noise rides up and down all connected circuits constantly.


With Alan Maher's gear you can hear (and see via video monitor) the improvements made on your A/V circuit by treatment of the non-A/V circuit.









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While it's entirely possible that the problem is indeed power related, I suspect that the proximal cause of the discomfort is a bit more pedestrian. Quite simply, you don't like your DAC or your headphones. It happens. Try another and see what you think. FWIW, there are quite a few options available to you. If you're in the States, the next CanJam might be a good place to try out a variety of combos pretty quickly to help narrow in on the one you like.


When I started shopping for headphones, I read a lot. And based on that reading, I went and bought a Peachtree Nova and AKG 701s. I then ran them constantly for something like 700 hours to break them both in (yes, over a month). I listened to them periodically, and yes, the sound improved. But at not point in that "improvement arc" did I actually love the sound. In the end, the combo just didn't work for me. I dumped the Nova and started over. I ended up at several local dealers, and finally ended up making the mistake of trying some Stax. Never, never do this if you're not ready to lay down the cash. But the 4040s with the 006 amp was just too good to pass up. And you know what the best part of it was, the thing that really pushed it over the edge? Well, it certainly wasn't cosmetics, as these Stax are just plain phugly -- it was the fit. They were the most comfortable cans I've ever had on my noggin. And that -- more even than the sound -- radically reduced my listening fatigue. I wore those Stax for a month straight after buying them, 12 hours a day. I still love them, now going on 2 years later, and consider it to be one of the finest wastes of hard-earned cash I've made.


As for the Alan Maher stuff -- I have no idea WTF that stuff is or does, but I'd be interested to listen if someone would break it down for me. What to do, what to get, how to build out a solution in stages, &c. AFAIK, there simply isn't a easy way to figure out what goes where or why. Color me "baffled".


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While I fully understand the noise issues which could be introduced by any electrical line, I still believe the phenomenon should be random. If someone powers on/off big consumers or equipments with rotating parts this will induce noise and fluctuations on the line. But then you should be able to sense a difference during the listening session, shouldn't you? Or seen from a different perspective, how is the crosfeed filter of my DAC able to eliminate all the elements which seemingly lead to fatigue? That's something to consider as well.


I really start to believe Jan Meier's explanation of this fatigue, he explains in the StageDAC documentation that listening to headphones is not a natural experience with respect to the way sound is perceived and interpreted by the brain, and this is due to the elimination of sound from say left channel being received (delayed and attenuated) in the right ear. If we throw in the reflections (reverberations) which take place in the ear canal and the ear pavilion, also eliminated by listing to headphones, we begin to understand the totally different and artificial experience headphones listening makes our brain go through. Some people cope whith this better than others. I think I belong to the "others" group :-)


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If I intended to choose a power filtration/stabilization solution I would certainly go for an online double-conversion UPS, which does all the things the Alan Maher's gear do. And for a more convenient cost. For example, an APC solution (and APC is an expensive brand in the UPS world, not entirely justified in terms of quality, perfomance or reliability) for 1000VA (700W) load would cost around 550 EUR (all taxes included). This corrects the PFC, filters the harmonics, protects against spikes as well as provides electricity in case power goes off.


I am not saying that one should not pay more for a more engineered solution as Maher's one, but I think one should commensurate the quality ( aka price) of one's audio components before throwing in additional cash for such devices. My 2 cents.


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In the past I have had power noise issues. Sunday nights were the best time to listen... well actually, with all of the protection I have on my main, non-PC system, it still is. Followed by Monday nights. The noise does not cause fatigue, just the lowering of the noise floor makes more detailes appearant (a lot). I am lucky enough to have three walls of my listening room underground meaning my ambient noice floor is very low. Makes a big difference. I think it is thousands of people flipping things off and on that create the noise.


My past experience with really noise audio has normally been device related... however, frequently better high-end devices (CD Players, preamps, etc) put a lot more money into power management as the devices get better. So, it could have been power management.


I don't know if my problem is the same as Mihnea's. But mine is headphone independent, and so far DAC independent. I have a new better ESS based DAC on the way, should be here Tuesday. If the noise still continues, this makes three different DACs ($300, $600, and $1,300 implementations), then I am going to have to assume it is either the USB ground ( I have a couple intermediate cost USB cables on the way), or maybe I'll have to give Alan's stuff a try, although I have a separate high end power supply and still have the fatigue problem. I will admit, without someone vouching for Alan's stuff, I would be inclined not to look to him for a solution, given his site. But, I'm getting tired of this quest. JD




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While talking with a friend of mine today who just happens to be a specialist in electrical power equipments I understood that the best power source for the audio equipments is a DC power source, where power would be delivered directly by batteries to the equipments.


This way you eliminate the expensive PSU options for your stuff, you have perfect separation from the electricity network and zero noise/harmonic distortions introduced by the power feed equipment itself, since it would work disconnected from the mains during the listening sessions.


Of course you need to charge those batteries between listening sessions and you need to design the DC source when you have bought all the gear you want to feed power to, so that you know what voltages you need to output.


But think about all the other elements you eliminate from the chain! For example, if I chose to buy the "good" PSU for my Graham Slee headphone amp I would pay more than 190 EUR and that's for one equipment only! I will come back to you when I have an estimation for a custom made DC power source for my rig.


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Agreed with you and using battery power when possible, as a more ideal source of current.


Re your comments:

"I would certainly go for an online double-conversion UPS, which does all the things the Alan Maher's gear do. And for a more convenient cost."


As I understand it, Alan's gear is akin to the (now) quite expensive Bybee (type) circuitry, and does so in a cost-competitive manner. Does the APC gear you suggest provide this specific type of circuit tuning/filtration? Or are you simply suggesting that it provides the same sort of basic functionality, i.e. filtration?







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I took a look at the APC UPS. These just appear to be UPS. I have my doubts about a non-purpose build UPS doing what we want. Devices made for high-end audio have every aspect of their function examined for their suitablity for audio. I am sure they are controlers that will not be shielded... wiring not designed for preventing emissions... etc. While I suppose it is possible, by accident, it turns out to do the job. I think it unlikely. I listedned to a head amp yesterday, Red Rose, that includes a purpose built internal battery and charging unit. Intended so all charging circutry will shut down when the unit is used. This seemed very quiet... but I was in a store, not the same thing as listening at home or work. I think Rowland used to make a preamp like this. The design can be really good. But for our purposes, I wouldn't want to be the first to try this. JD


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From what I've seen unless you are willing to invest several thousand in an advanced UPS system, you get a nice dirty sine wave to your gear from the cheaper units; which leaves you with the ability to use your system for a little while when the power goes off. Not my cup of tea. Alan's gear is extremely cost effective, especially compared to the price of a UPS system that will actually make improvements. JD I know exactly what you mean about his online experience the first time I visited. He makes peanuts off his hand built designs and works out of his home so he doesn't have the budget for a fancy website. He just puts his time and energy into great products. Imagine that.... :)


david is hear[br]http://www.tuniverse.tv

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