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Idea for a AS review - Topping, Matrix, ProJect...

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Seems like there are a bunch of newly introduced potentially high value DACs. 

 

Or maybe they are just low cost with impressive parts and test results but fall short on sonics?

 

Would be cool to have one of the experienced reviewers run a handful of these units through their systems and ears comparing them to some more well-known AS endorsed units, say a Brooklyn or an Yggie or an Ayre...

 


Tone with Soul

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Yup...I guess they all are ESS chip-based life forms.

 

As are Sabaj, SMSL, Gustard...

 

Other non ESS based ones aspiring to the bargain bin section of the DAC world?


Tone with Soul

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8 hours ago, 57gold said:

Yup...I guess they all are ESS chip-based life forms.

 

As are Sabaj, SMSL, Gustard...

 

Other non ESS based ones aspiring to the bargain bin section of the DAC world?

 

The Topping D70 has 2 AKM chips, AFAIR, and lists for $499, although it's regularly sold for about $75 less. I think one or two of the other Topping units also have AKM chips.

One of those SMSL's runs closer to $1000 than $500, and some  of the praised Gustards are over $1000. 
I wouldn't call those bargain bin.  


Main listening (small home office):

Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>CAPS IV Pipeline Server + Sonore 12V PS>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.
 

Secondary Listening: CAPS Pipeline>IFi iOne DAC>Schiit Freya>Kii Three . Also an SBT and a RB Pi 3B+ running piCorePlayer as an SBT emulator. 

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I would say for example the EVGA NU Audio card with fresh AKM chip model goes into the bargain category. There have been bunch of nice "bargain" products, like iFi micro iDSD BL and Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital. Although I'm not sure what exactly constitutes a "bargain" status.

 

P.S. I have the TEAC UD-505 still on my shopping list. Not sure if it goes into bargain category, but the previous models have been pretty nice (501 was TI chip and 503 was AKM, 505 is also AKM).

 


Signalyst - Developer of HQPlayer

Pulse & Fidelity - Software Defined Amplifiers

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22 hours ago, firedog said:

 

The Topping D70 has 2 AKM chips, AFAIR, and lists for $499, although it's regularly sold for about $75 less. I think one or two of the other Topping units also have AKM chips.

One of those SMSL's runs closer to $1000 than $500, and some  of the praised Gustards are over $1000. 
I wouldn't call those bargain bin.  

I have a D70, very very low background noise and nice tone-ality, but in my system presented little dynamics... using the USB input, elements like piano and snares seem anemic, not realistic at all. Vocals seem to be originating from vapor, not from a grounded body.

This can be helped a little by using a Gustard U16 DDC via i2s, which also adds some overall weight...

 

I tried some different preamps; Lightspeed SE passive, another SE passive, Balanced passive, SE active and Balanced active tube (also tried the D70 digital volume control).. Balanced active worked best, the XRL output seems better overall sound quality than the SE RCA output. Also seems best to use one output at a time as I noticed a little degradation on the XLR's when using the RCA's for subs.

 

D70 has a pretty good remote, can switch through the filters (but the differences between the various filters presentation is somewhat limited), also can switch output modes which I think may be handy.

 

The default filter #3 seems the most solid and balanced, but maybe a little compressed/grainy in the highs during peaks.. this gets a lot better with the U16 at i2s input (using a cheap M10 clock also on the U16). Filter #2 is a bit smoother than 3 and would be my preferred if I was using the native USB input. 

 

I am building a second system (actually an alternative source) and an audiophile friend suggested the AK4497 chip, the D70 seems to have pretty good specs and that low noise floor is a nice attribute. I will need to keep looking (I am looking for something rather dry and clean as an alternative to my other DAC which is 4xPCM1704UK per side with NOS processing.. ) but I guess for the money the D70 could fit into some systems in this budget range. One final thing I may try with the D70 is a balanced SS preamp, but I do not currently have one of those, that may bring a little extra life to percussion..

 

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As posted a while back, replaced my beloved T+A DAC 8 DSD with an SMSL D1. 

 

Brought the SMSL out of curisoity and as a "temp" unit to fill in whilst the T+A went back for repair.  Even after repair (quartz in 44.1x had issues), the SMSL is clearly ahead. 

 

Infact, the T+A especially with "wide mode" activated can sound a little too hyper bordering unnatural at times in comparison.

 

Both using HQPlayer at DSD 512 rates.

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a $1,300 DAC is preferred to a $4,400 one...

 

yet the OP was about DACs in the $400 range


"The overwhelming majority [of audiophiles] have very little knowledge, if any, about the most basic principles and operating characteristics of audio equipment. They often base their purchasing decisions on hearsay, and the preaching of media sages. Unfortunately, because of commercial considerations, much information is rooted in increasing revenue, not in assisting the audiophile. It seems as if the only requirements for becoming an "authority" in the world of audio is a keyboard."

-- Bruce Rozenblit of Transcendent Sound

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7 hours ago, Ralf11 said:

a $1,300 DAC is preferred to a $4,400 one...

 

yet the OP was about DACs in the $400 range

 

I don't see a number mentioned - just "high value" mentioned.  OP asked for actual ears to ground.  T+A DAC is well known around here for very good reasons. 

 

$850 is the realistic price these days. 

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FWIW - Bargain priced to me is relative.  $1,300 versus $4,400 qualifies as a relative bargain.  

 

DAC in question operates with 2 high end DAC chips that show up in $3-5K DACs, with only one of the chips.

 

Wondered if lower priced units included good digital parts but fall short on analog outs, which member motberg seems to believe due to lack of dynamics of the bargain unit he checked out.


Tone with Soul

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59 minutes ago, 57gold said:

FWIW - Bargain priced to me is relative.  $1,300 versus $4,400 qualifies as a relative bargain.  

 

DAC in question operates with 2 high end DAC chips that show up in $3-5K DACs, with only one of the chips.

 

Wondered if lower priced units included good digital parts but fall short on analog outs, which member motberg seems to believe due to lack of dynamics of the bargain unit he checked out.

 

Not in the D1's case at least (dynamics).  Almost as explosive as the T+A, with the T+A bordering into unnaturally explosive (though YMMV).   

 

Wonder if the D70 got time to break in?

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12 hours ago, guiltyboxswapper said:

 

 

 

Wonder if the D70 got time to break in?

Certainly 300+ hours playing time on the D70...

D70 dynamics (to me) are similar to what you get when strapping a clean soft-knee compressor across the outputs...

I forget the album title, but a couple days ago I tried the song "Themes" from Yes, starts with some synth stuff then an interesting (single notes) piano part.. the lack of dynamics was very very noticeable on the piano part... 

I am thinking maybe some of the new ES9038Pro implementations may be better in dynamics  - I am a little gun-shy about trying another AK in this price range unless some good reviews which address dynamics (pretty important attribute for music imho...). The older dual 9028 versions may be a bargain also if well implemented.

 

I been checking the past few days and agree maybe 700-850 USD FOB is a more realistic minimal target range for something with balanced output and without obvious concessions. For myself, I also value i2s input as i have couple good i2s DDC's..

 

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3 hours ago, Miska said:

I have to say that especially the EVGA NU Audio card running at DSD256 (from my EC modulators) certainly doesn't lack in dynamics, bordering aggressive...

 

This card looks really cool... Have you tried or tested with the SE line outs? I did not see a voltage spec,  so was wondering if the line-out quality is on-par with the headphone out (seems to be pretty focused on headphone users, or powered computer monitors).

I was thinking a 1M run to a preamp (passive if possible but not necessary), then another 0.5 or 1M to the amp...

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4 hours ago, guiltyboxswapper said:

Goes to show how little "thd+n" can tell you about a DAC in reality.  D70 measures up well too.  I don't believe its a feature of the AKM DACs themselves either (lack of dynamics) as I've heard superb AK4490 implementations that don't lack there.

Thanks for the comments..

 

For balanced with i2s option, the GUSTARD A20H Dual AK4497 DAC/Pre would perhaps qualify as a value piece. Gustard appears to be building a good reputation in both the DAC and amp sectors. This has an analog class A balanced head/pre amp, so maybe consider the value at 450 for the DAC and 300 for the pre (but save some money and clutter in interconnects and extra power cord)

https://shenzhenaudio.com/products/gustard-a20h-dual-ak4497-xmos-usb-pcm-dsd-dop-dac-decoder-and-class-a-full-balanced-amplifier

 

I am waiting to see if any comprehensive, valid, comparative reviews for the new Schiit Bifrost 2 ($699, but includes obvious benefits for USA based customers). I have been following/buying DDC's for a few years and Schiit seem to have previously hit a home run with their Eitr USB/SPDIF convertor, so have built some street-cred in my view for upgrading their USB implementation. They are very confident in their new Unison USB™ card, but seem to have had a couple bumps in the model launch which have already been identified and corrected iiuc... I think USB source isolation has some value (think of all the ISO Regens and Intonas sold), so maybe there is reduced need for USB fixers with this card, again offering extra value. 

https://www.schiit.com/products/bifrost-1

 

A single ended option that has been pretty successful is the Audio-GD R2R 11 (2019 Version) Single Ended Discrete Ladder Headphone amp / DAC (DSD native / DXD / PCM) ... 350 USD. It has been out for a couple years now and has had a few revisions so the current version is fairly mature.... there is a HF thread with more info.

http://www.audio-gd.com/R2R/R2R11/R2R11EN.htm   

 

Also SE, I have a Topping D50 DAC I was using for subs. I gave it a brief listen when I first got it and sounded surprisingly good, but for the power supply I was using a mains-regeneration fed LPS with LDOVR LT3045 5V regulator box and some decent Ghent cables.. I will try to put that back in the system and give a short report... Since I would think some here may have an extra decent 5V LPS lying around, this may be a particularly good bargain..

https://shenzhenaudio.com/products/topping-d50-hifi-audio-dac-es9038q2m-2-xmos-xu208-dsd512-usb-32bit-768khz-dsd512-decoder

 

 

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@motberg iirc there's been mixed opinions about the GUSTARD DACs including the very latest ESS "thd+n buster"; worth a read up on their side.

 

FWIW I did try the LKS 004 DAC for a while, another dual ESS design.  Bettered the T+A in PCM (which ill admit isnt all that difficult), but clearly behind in DSD mode.    

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1 hour ago, motberg said:

This card looks really cool... Have you tried or tested with the SE line outs? I did not see a voltage spec,  so was wondering if the line-out quality is on-par with the headphone out (seems to be pretty focused on headphone users, or powered computer monitors).

I was thinking a 1M run to a preamp (passive if possible but not necessary), then another 0.5 or 1M to the amp...

 

Yes, I have it connected through SE outputs (RCA) to my preamp. The measurements I posted on the NU Audio thread here are from the SE outputs. Output level is quite typical, I think it was around 1.7V RMS or so.

 

You can tune the performance by rolling op-amps on it, since both of the two are on sockets and they officially support that. There's a small flyer with the card about changing the op-amps.

 

I was thinking about ordering a second one for some further tests with different op-amps. My normal server is on the equipment rack and quite a bit of hassle to take it out, so not very eager to do lot of experimentation there. While one of my office tower PC's are extremely easy for such, no need to move or anything, just open side panel and everything is very easy.


Signalyst - Developer of HQPlayer

Pulse & Fidelity - Software Defined Amplifiers

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9 minutes ago, guiltyboxswapper said:

@Miska are there any standalone DACs the EVGA card reminds you of?

 

It is always hard to make such comparisons. Maybe closest to RME ADI-2 and some pro-audio interfaces based on AKM (AKM chips are very popular in pro-audio area). I don't have yet the newest TEAC 505, but 503 is a bit "smoother".

 

13 minutes ago, guiltyboxswapper said:

Also have you thought about feeding its SATA power port with better power than say a standard ATX PSU? 

 

Based on the results I've got, I see absolutely no reason to do so... It would anyway need to be something custom, and I'm not very inclined to start building one since there's not much to improve... I could use the PSU board I have for my DSC1 DAC, but would be hard to make it physically feasible.

 


Signalyst - Developer of HQPlayer

Pulse & Fidelity - Software Defined Amplifiers

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7 hours ago, Miska said:

AKM chips are very popular in pro-audio area

 

ESS also very popular.. Apogee, MOTU, Benchmark, Merging, Ayre, Mytek. Probably more I can’t recall.

 

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31 minutes ago, asdf1000 said:

ESS also very popular.. Apogee, MOTU, Benchmark, Merging, Ayre, Mytek. Probably more I can’t recall.

 

Ayre is certainly not pro-audio. Mytek is only niche in that respect and no ESS ADC there. RME is mixture of TI and AKM with some Cirrus Logic. MOTU gear I have is not ESS. Focusrite, Lynx, Prism, Tascam, Korg, M-Audio, nor I think Antelope or Universal Audio. And I cannot recall Apogee being either. I cannot think of many that would be ESS ADC + DAC. In fact, I have hard time thinking of anything that would have ESS ADC...

 

Focusrite stuff I have is Cirrus Logic.

 


Signalyst - Developer of HQPlayer

Pulse & Fidelity - Software Defined Amplifiers

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8 minutes ago, Miska said:

Ayre is certainly not pro-audio. Mytek is only niche in that respect and no ESS ADC there. RME is mixture of TI and AKM with some Cirrus Logic. MOTU gear I have is not ESS. Focusrite, Lynx, Prism, Tascam, Korg, M-Audio, nor I think Antelope or Universal Audio. And I cannot recall Apogee being either. I cannot think of many that would be ESS ADC + DAC. In fact, I have hard time thinking of anything that would have ESS ADC...

 

Focusrite stuff I have is Cirrus Logic.

There is no ESS ADC chip.

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8 minutes ago, mansr said:

There is no ESS ADC chip.

 

They used to have, but obviously they abandoned it, or went underground. ES9102/ES9112 or something like that. Sabre ADC.

https://pdf1.alldatasheet.com/datasheet-pdf/view/485880/ESS/ES9102.html

 

But I don't remember seeing actual products around those. Ayre used now unavailable chip model from a now defunct company and I think Merging used the same for a while.

 


Signalyst - Developer of HQPlayer

Pulse & Fidelity - Software Defined Amplifiers

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23 minutes ago, Miska said:

MOTU gear I have is not ESS

 

Just because you don't have it doesn't mean it doesn't exist 😉

 

https://motu.com/products/proaudio/8pre-es

 

https://motu.com/products/avb/624

 

https://motu.com/products/proaudio/ultralite-mk4

 

23 minutes ago, Miska said:

And I cannot recall Apogee being either.

 

 

https://apogeedigital.com/products/groove

 

https://apogeedigital.com/products/duet-2

 

https://apogeedigital.com/products/ensemble

 

https://apogeedigital.com/products/quartet

 

https://apogeedigital.com/products/symphony-io

 

 

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