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Mola Mola Tambaqui vs T+A DAC 8 DSD - mini review


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Many thanks Gavin for this excellent review.  Highly appreciated. Would be great to get similarly explicit reports on comparisons of the DAC8DSD to the Holo Audio May or to Chord Dave. In fact, I have plans to demo the DAC8DSD in comparison to Chord TT2 soon and maybe even the May. Let’s see.

 

May I ask about your HQP settings? Did you also try DSD512? In my early experiences with HQP, sinc-L, sinc-M and closed-form-16M are timing champions. If you have not used them already, they may narrow the gap further. Also wondering whether you had upsampled PCM before sending it to the Tambaqui ... if so, you might want to share these settings as well.

 

Also DAVE I expect to come with better timing than the DAC8DSD. Already with my Mojo I experience excellent timing but not the presence/physicality that my Metric Halo LIO-8 offers.

 

Still cannot believe that T+A was not able to bring regular XLR outputs to their new “flagship” headphone DAC HA 200 ... I guess this will be postponed to the successor of the DAC8DSD. Still this will lead to siginificantly less demand on the 200 I believe.

 

Thanks again for this great review stressing that value-for-money seems to be strong in the DAC8DSD. :-)

Apple Powerbook G4 15\", iTunes, Metric Halo LIO-8, active speakers

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Oh and did you use both direct to power amp? Not fully clear to me from your audio system description? ... and maybe an Innuos Phoenix could improve the timing of the DAC8DSD even further???

Apple Powerbook G4 15\", iTunes, Metric Halo LIO-8, active speakers

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Not sure if the Tambaqui is still with @Gavin1977 ... Is so, maybe it will be worth trying to feed it PCM upsampled to the max the Tambaqui can take with sinc-L and LNS15. This may widen the gap a bit more?? (Here with my Metic Halo LIO-8 the use of sinc-L with NS9 at 176.4kHz brings it from a 6.2/10 to a 6.8/10.)

Apple Powerbook G4 15\", iTunes, Metric Halo LIO-8, active speakers

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1 hour ago, fds said:

Oh and did you use both direct to power amp? Not fully clear to me from your audio system description? ... and maybe an Innuos Phoenix could improve the timing of the DAC8DSD even further???

I use JCAT USB XE, so no Phoenix needed.  Both DAC's where attached directly to power amps (but they have to go through ASP in my case, see my system description in my profile)

 

You can hear the subtle differences in feeding the Tambaqui pcm or dsd.  Classical differences that people report across any dac that they can hear between the two formats, such as PCM have more drive and DSD having a better flow.

 

Using different upsampling settings in HQ Player does slightly change the character, for example if you like the sound of Sinc-m or XTR, it will impart that slight flavour to it.  But you don't really extract more detail.  I assessed this very briefly and moved on.  The Tambaqui extracts so much detail from pcm that I don't think you can gain anything much from HQPlayer.  Besides all of my files are pcm anyway, I only use HQPlayer to get the same effect on the T+A.

 

Your mileage may vary.

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47 minutes ago, Gavin1977 said:

I use JCAT USB XE, so no Phoenix needed.  Both DAC's where attached directly to power amps (but they have to go through ASP in my case, see my system description in my profile)

One thing that might benefit my setup though is powering the JCAT USB XE in my music server with an MPAudio, Sean Jacobs or Paul Hynes.  I’m only using a Allo Nirvana SMPS at the moment, so there is scope for improvement there.  This is something on my to do list.

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2 hours ago, fds said:

Many thanks Gavin for this excellent review.  Highly appreciated. Would be great to get similarly explicit reports on comparisons of the DAC8DSD to the Holo Audio May or to Chord Dave. In fact, I have plans to demo the DAC8DSD in comparison to Chord TT2 soon and maybe even the May. Let’s see.

 

May I ask about your HQP settings? Did you also try DSD512? In my early experiences with HQP, sinc-L, sinc-M and closed-form-16M are timing champions. If you have not used them already, they may narrow the gap further. Also wondering whether you had upsampled PCM before sending it to the Tambaqui ... if so, you might want to share these settings as well.

 

Also DAVE I expect to come with better timing than the DAC8DSD. Already with my Mojo I experience excellent timing but not the presence/physicality that my Metric Halo LIO-8 offers.

 

Still cannot believe that T+A was not able to bring regular XLR outputs to their new “flagship” headphone DAC HA 200 ... I guess this will be postponed to the successor of the DAC8DSD. Still this will lead to siginificantly less demand on the 200 I believe.

 

Thanks again for this great review stressing that value-for-money seems to be strong in the DAC8DSD. :-)

Post your feedback on the Hugo TT2 here - would be interesting.

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You could view Tambaqui as a successor.  But I have some other tweaks to try - I think PSU upgrades to my music server and JCAT USB XE Card till help with better timing and imaging through the T+A DAC 8 DSD.  As I allude in my review, in my setup the T+A DAC 8 DSD is competitive.

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By the way, I haven't tried many DAC's that have a built in Roon end-point, but what the Mola Mola does with Roon is amazing - I have not been able to recreate it using any of my other equipment (past or present).

 

I've just tried a comparison on my T+A DAC using local CD rips:

 

Config A: Minimserver on Synology server -> Linn Kazoo -> HQPlayer embedded

Config B: Roon Core on Synology Server -> Linn Kazoo->HQPlayer embedded

 

Config A is better, noise floor on Config B is higher and the music is feels more compressed.  It's sufficient so that I would choose not to use Roon based on this.

 

This doesn't happen on the Mola Mola - Roon sounds excellent.

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Great review.

 

I would be very interested to hear your comparison with the Benchmark DAC3B and the Mola Mola Tambaqui. I was all set on getting the Makua with DAC or to a lesser degree the Tambaqui. However, I thought the Benchmark LA4 or HPA4 preamp would be similar to the Makua preamp, maybe even better sounding than the Makua, at $2.5K vs $12K+ just for the preamp functionality. Adding the internal Tambaqui based digital conversion card to the Makua brings it up to $20K. Some people think this sounds better than the external Tambaqui DAC.

 

What I am hearing from the Benchmark HPA4 preamp seems like a world beater to me. Adding the DAC3B makes me feel like I am not missing much. I have heard the DAC3 HGC with other preamps and direct to amp (AHB2) and it is not as good as adding the HPA4 or LA4 preamp. A lot of people are posting these same findings as me along with audio reviewers.

 

So if you do compare the Tambaqui to the DAC3 I would recommend you hook up the Benchmark DAC3B ($1700)  to the LA4 ($2500) . I think this is the way to get the best performance from the DAC3 lineup of DACs.

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I think you're spot on the money - one thing that concerns me about the DAC3 is that it's soundstage is reported as being potentially smaller than some of the 'uber' DACs.  Can you describe more what that HPA4/LA4 preamp adds (especially in terms of soundstage)?

 

I also want to try the Okto Research DAC.

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I think that smaller soundstage maybe correct on the DAC3 lineup. I do not have the proper speakers to be confident on that statement. However, when I listened with my KEF LS50's + DAC3 the sound stage was filled in and extended only a little beyond the sides. My best recording is DSOTM on SACD. Playing that on my modified Sony SCD-1 has a bigger sound stage. Though the DAC3 has a more clear and detailed sound. In this specific example I preferred the SCD-1.

 

In about 2 weeks I will have new drivers installed on my recently purchased Thiel CS3.7. That full range speaker will give me a better way to evaluate the  DAC3 soundstage (with more bass).

 

I have the HPA4 preamp and what that brings to the table is an incredible volume control and total silence that you can hear. I used to own the DAC3 HGC (and DAC2 HGC). I went direct to my AHB2 amp with the HGC units and it was OK, not so good at low volume, the sound collapses. Now adding the incredibly quiet HPA4 preamp into the mix with the DAC3B (same as the DAC3 HGC minus volume control) caused the sound to be the same at all volume levels. That is the sound is not collapsed. All the frequency range is there but just quieter at lower volume.

 

I have the Meze Empy headphone with a great XLR cable and it is great for late night listening as I work. However recently, when I got the Thiel CS3.7 (albeit with a damaged driver), I have just listened late at night on 2 channel  (no headphones) at very low volume. The sound has lost nothing other than volume so I can still enjoy the music. I think that is an incredible world beater type performance. 

 

I should add that the HPA4 does not add or subtract from the source. I think the incredible SNR is responsible for my perception of this. One thing that makes me subconsciously love the DAC3 is the price to performance ratio.  So for me that $1700 DAC3B goes a long way with the HPA4. I think the HPA4 is the best component I have owned since it brings out the best in the sources connected to it. My Sony SCD-1 has never sounded as good as it does now. It took me 20 years to get that player to sound like it does now.

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Great feedback @yyz and @eternaloptimist!

 

Thing about the T+A DAC 8 DSD it that the DSD section does scale with source... all the way up to a Taiko Audio Extreme.

 

I would really appreciate your further feedback once your new speakers and repaired T+A return.

 

Really to get the best out of T+A DAC 8 you need HQPlayer upsampling...

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On 11/23/2020 at 6:03 PM, yyz said:

Great review.

 

I would be very interested to hear your comparison with the Benchmark DAC3B and the Mola Mola Tambaqui. I was all set on getting the Makua with DAC or to a lesser degree the Tambaqui. However, I thought the Benchmark LA4 or HPA4 preamp would be similar to the Makua preamp, maybe even better sounding than the Makua, at $2.5K vs $12K+ just for the preamp functionality. Adding the internal Tambaqui based digital conversion card to the Makua brings it up to $20K. Some people think this sounds better than the external Tambaqui DAC.

 

What I am hearing from the Benchmark HPA4 preamp seems like a world beater to me. Adding the DAC3B makes me feel like I am not missing much. I have heard the DAC3 HGC with other preamps and direct to amp (AHB2) and it is not as good as adding the HPA4 or LA4 preamp. A lot of people are posting these same findings as me along with audio reviewers.

 

So if you do compare the Tambaqui to the DAC3 I would recommend you hook up the Benchmark DAC3B ($1700)  to the LA4 ($2500) . I think this is the way to get the best performance from the DAC3 lineup of DACs.

Benchmark make great gear at a great price.  I think the HPA4 is a superb buy.  I haven’t heard it back to back against my Makua, but I doubt it would be much different.

 

The DAC3B is tonally quite neutral and very detailed.  When compared on the Makua I didn’t think it reproduced depth layering or soundstage to the same degree as the internal Makua DAC, but this did include an extra set of interconnects for the DAC3B to connect to Makua.  Whether this difference is apparent to you or important to you depends on the rest of your system and the music you listen to.  For instance, if you use headphones for listening, the DAC3B is probably all you will need.

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9 minutes ago, Stereophilus said:

Benchmark make great gear at a great price.  I think the HPA4 is a superb buy.  I haven’t heard it back to back against my Makua, but I doubt it would be much different.

 

The DAC3B is tonally quite neutral and very detailed.  When compared on the Makua I didn’t think it reproduced depth layering or soundstage to the same degree as the internal Makua DAC, but this did include an extra set of interconnects for the DAC3B to connect to Makua.  Whether this difference is apparent to you or important to you depends on the rest of your system and the music you listen to.  For instance, if you use headphones for listening, the DAC3B is probably all you will need.

Seems to be common feedback on soundstage and the DAC3B... (you may have guessed that I'm a soundstage nut!).  Would be interesting what the HPA4 adds to the mix.  I really must try one at some point.

 

By the way, Chord DAVE and Innuos Phoenix on demo here at the moment - I will post back comparisons in the next few days.

 

For anyone else who has heard this combination, the T+A DAC 8 DSD has an equivalent soundstage to the DAVE, but the T+A has a much more 'forward' presentation, everything is presented is a much larger/richer fashion.  Does anyone have the better terminology to describe the sound of the T+A?  I find it difficult to write down the differences I hear and the idea of 'forward' sounding is likely a key difference.  I'm not aware of any videos comparing laid-back vs forward sounding dacs.

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