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DAC Upgrade Advice, budget $5k


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Hi All, could anyone who used to own a m2tech Young DAC (any of the revisions) share what they upgraded to next? I thank you in advance for reading this long thread, I have elected to fully explain what music I like and what DACs I have tried so you can fully understand my situation. I am almost at my wit's end.

My budget is $5,000, although I prefer to spend as little as possible and would strongly prefer to buy used.
In my early 30s and I still hear into 16khz~ based on online listening tests.
I currently use a m2tech Young DAC MK. II paired with a HDPlex 200w Linear Power Supply.
The combined pair only costs around $2000 retail price and I paid much less buying used.
The DAC+LPSU represents less than 5% of my entire system cost which leads me to think it is the prime candidate to upgrade. However, it has been really tiring buying DACs only not to like them and having to list and sell them again. If I cannot find a DAC I like within the next 2 iterations, I will probably spend ~$4k upgrading by Aesthetix Tube Pre-amp from the Signature to the Eclipse edition.
I enjoy this combination because it gives me a scary good holographic 3D soundstage with that "wall of sound" perception and it elicits a strong emotional connection from me on tracks featuring female vocals. Yet, the Young DAC does not sacrifice much in other areas despite this mid-range bloom. It is still competent with complex modern electronic dance/house music (Lane 8, Elderbrook etc.) and older classic pop/rock tracks (Eagles Live and Fleetwood Mac Rumours) in terms of separation and microdynamics within the extreme treble and low bass. I would say the weakness of this DAC is that the "width" of the soundstage is not as wide as I like and "edginess" in the final top registers of treble.

My signal chain is as follows: Roon Core running on Intel NUC -> m2tech Young DAC MK. II -> Aesthetix Calypso Signature Edition Tube Pre-amp -> Pass Labs x150.8 -> Focal Scala Evo Utopia. The Intel NUC is optically isolated from the rest of my ethernet network using TP-link Ethernet to Optical converters. The Intel NUC and m2tech Young DAC and TP-Link converters are powered by the HDPlex 200w Linear PSU hence avoiding the use of switching power supplies in the signal chain. My room is a studio apartment 17' x 15'10" with an open corridoor. The front two corners have 2x 11" diameter 3' tall ASC Tube Traps stacked atop each other and the back corners have homemade bass traps. The area immediately behind the speakers and the first reflection points are treated with homemade 2" absorbers. I am unable to treat the ceiling as that would involve drilling into concrete which the building association does not approve of.

I primarily audition new system components with the song "Swallow your Pride by Rhys" to evaluate the strength of female vocals and evaluate the system's ability to deal with the separation of instruments as additional backing tracks are added through out the song. I learnt of this song as it was consistently played by the sales rep at the Axpona 2019 Focal Speakers showroom to demo the Focal Sopra 2s. I also use "Heart Attack by Bronson" to evaluate bass slam, dynamics and microdynamics within the bass. Most of the music I enjoy is decidedly "newer"; 1996 to present day. I do not play vinyl records.

I generally enjoy DACs with an implementation of the Burr Brown PCM1795 DAC chip. I recognize that the implementation of the same DAC chip can vary widely across manufacturers but still feel it is a good frame of reference as a filter for the shortlist of potential DAC upgrades.
The first DAC I owned 7 years ago was the TEAC UD-301 which uses 2xPCM1795 chips, it has a wonderfully liquid, slightly warm, house sound that is hard to fault but also would not win any awards in detail retrieval or separation. I used this DAC for 2 years and its house sound has greatly affected my preferences.
I also auditioned the Musical Fidelity V 90 DAC (single PCM1795) in my system and was shocked how good it sounded for a retail price of $349.
I eventually landed on the m2tech young DAC as it also used a single PCM1795 and represented an overall improvment over the TEAC UD-301 while still retaining the "house sound", especially when its default switching supply was replaced with a linear PSU.
I have tried several DACs costing several times more but I have not found one that beats the Young DAC in all areas convincingly.

Here is a log of what I have tried in a head-to-head comparision to the Young DAC. I always use the USB input connected directly to the Intel NUC for all DACs. All comparisions were done level matched through Room EQ Wizard using the minidsp U-MIK1 calibrated by Cross Spectrum Labs.

Luxman D-03X CD Player with DAC (Retail $3,500) versus Young DAC MK. II
I really wanted to like the Luxman as the Japanese fit and finish were superb, representing the nicest casework of any audio componenent I had ever handled.
Alas, the mid-highs of female vocals was slightly etched and had a metallic quality to them which made it difficult for me to connect emotionally with the songs.

Lampizator Amber 3 (Retail $2,750) versus Young DAC MK. II
A very punchy and exciting sound, which was beguiling for the first 15mins but felt overall a little too much for long listening sessions. Reminded me of an overeager puppy.

Aesthetix Pandora DAC Signature Edition (Retail $9,000) versus Young DAC MK. II
The entire Aesthetix range is famed for their tube output stage which provides an organic presentation with a certain "ease" and excellent separation. I heard all of these things and the separation of individual instruments for older classic rock tracks, which were not always recorded well, was especially good. However, I felt the overall presentation was too "polite" and I could not connect with any of the music, regardless of the genre. I turned the stereo off after 30mins out of boredom.

Aesthetix Romulus CD Player with DAC (Retail $12,000) versus Young DAC MK. II
Even more separation and detail than the Pandora Signature Edition above but equally as boring. I also shut the stereo off after 30mins in this case.

Chord Qutest DAC (Retail $1,695) versus Young DAC MK. II
Very "British-Fi" sound which is great for Pink Floyd and Queen but sounds anemic for every other genre. No bass weight or slam.

Audio-gd Master 11 Singularity (Retail $2,500) versus Young DAC MK. II
This was my first foray into non-oversampling R-2R DACs as the Audio-gd used 4x of the famed Burr Brown PCM1704 chips. The DAC ticked all the right boxes and was technically very competent but was overall too neutral for my tastes. It felt like a NFL or MLB player with the highest scoring stats but could never win a championship.

PSAudio DirectStream DAC (Retail $6,000) versus Young DAC MK. II
I felt the overall presentation was too "soft"; like the singers were wearing masks and the instrument players were wearing gloves, restricting their ability to deliver the full brunt of the emotional response.

Topping D90 (Retail $600) versus Young DAC MK. II
I really wanted to buy into "Objective-Fi" and believe that the DAC with the highest SNR would solve all my problems.
This DAC felt like a cool drink of water. Water is great for health and all but is really not the drink of choice for a Friday evening after a long week of work (which is typically when I listen to my stereo). Very neutral sounding but presented a much narrower soundstage than the Young DAC. It felt like the musicians moved from a concert venue to a small studio recording room which was much too little cramped for everyone.

Denafrips ARES II (Retail $750) versus Young DAC MK. II
The ARES II is a competent DAC with a separation and soundstage that is as good, if not better than the Young DAC. I can see why the Denafrips house sound has such a large following. Overall, it prioritized detail retrieval above all else which made for a fatiguing presentation to me and was just not my cup of tea.

Once again, thank you for reading this long thread. I welcome all and any recommendations.

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13 hours ago, ecwl said:

I think you already know what kind of DAC you like and ones that you don’t like so I actually think that a DAC upgrade may not be the next best upgrade for you.

Do you have a microphone to measure your frequency response given the room acoustics? I strongly suspect a well constructed convolution filter (that you make yourself with Acourate/Audiolense) or one that you hire somebody to do (Mitch Barnett’s https://accuratesound.ca) would probably the most bang for the buck upgrade for you since you can just load the filter into Roon.

I think this is a very good point. I purchased a minidsp SHD studio to try to run Roon before the DAC but a convolution filter made by Mitch would be much cheaper and fuss free. Thank you for the recommendation. I will try it out.

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22 minutes ago, chewynuts said:

I think this is a very good point. I purchased a minidsp SHD studio to try to run Roon before the DAC but a convolution filter made by Mitch would be much cheaper and fuss free. Thank you for the recommendation. I will try it out.

So re-reading your post, I noticed you already have a UMIK-1 microphone.

The advantage of miniDSP SHD studio is that you can run Dirac yourself. So if you already have it, you might as well just use it. The main disadvantage is that most hardware Dirac solutions involve automatic ASRC converting your 44.1kHz music to 96kHz before running Dirac. Now depending on your system, the conversion may not be audible to you but as you upgrade the rest of your system, you may get to a point where this conversion becomes a bottleneck in your system. By comparison, a dedicated convolution filter running in Roon means that you’ll be able to avoid this type of sample rate conversion with room correction.

 

To me, the main advantage of running Dirac or creating your own convolution filter is that you’re not reliant on somebody else to determine what your favorite frequency response is. Although I found most people’s favorite frequency response approximately follow what their current speaker system setup (frequently in the treble region maybe less so in the bass region). So running Dirac yourself means you have more room and control to tweak your filter.

 

One thing that is worth trying before you decide on Mitch vs sticking with the miniDSP SHD Studio & Dirac is to actually measure your left channel and your right channel and then both channels together with pink noise. It sounds like you have an asymmetric room setup so there is a good chance your left and right channel might cancel each other out at specific bass frequencies when played together (as that is fairly common in asymmetric speaker setups). I don’t think this is something Dirac can correct. Whereas by comparison, this is something a custom-made convolution filter can correct.

 

Another thing to keep in mind is that I would not use your Dirac experience to extrapolate what you can get out of a custom convolution filter. I have seen many people who say they don’t like Dirac or other room correction DSP systems but an optimized custom convolution filter in my opinion can perform at a much higher level and there are many reasons for this that’s too convoluted to go into.

Roon (convolution filter using Acourate) > ultraRendu > Peachtree X1 (Toslink) > Chord Hugo M-Scaler > Chord DAVE > Chord Etude > Dynaudio Confidence C1 Signature

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I really enjoyed reading your ‚lengthy‘ post! You seem to have an excellent understanding of what sound/sound signature you like plus the ability to describe in which area exactly you would like to improve the current performance of your system. This paired with the list of your personal reference music and the price limit for your new DAC is in my eyes a very good base to make the right choice on a new DAC.

I also like the sound of Burr Brown PCM DAC chips for their musicality and live-like presentation and can therefore fully understand why you prefer them over other DAC chips. I recommend you look out for DACs which feature the former top-of-the-line Burr Brown 1794 chips, don’t go for less or other.

I have for example settled on the ‚dac-pre-reference’ DAC from the German manufacturer ‚Acousence‘ which contains four of these BB 1794 chips. This DAC is very rare to buy in used condition and can exceed your price limit as a newly bought device pending the individual options you can choose from on the ‚Acousence‘ website here but - to me - it was the right and ultimate choice.

 

Best Regards,

Raimund

Best Regards, Raimund

 

Living Room

Apple Mac mini Mid 2011 (MacOS Sierra 10.12.6, 64 GB OWC SSD, 16 GB OWC RAM, iTunes 12.9, Pure Music 3.09c) -> artistic fidelity USB cable -> artistic fidelity External USB-Module -> 3 Fibre Optical Cables -> artistic fidelity afis / arfi-psu -> artistic fidelity RJ45 cable -> artistic fidelity arfi-dac2 / arfi-psu -> artistic fidelity XLR-to-BNC cable -> Bakoon HPA-21 Headamp + Sennheiser HD 800

Home Office

Apple Mac mini End 2018 (MacOS Mojave 10.14.6, 128 GB SSD, 8 GB RAM, Audirvana 3.5.19) -> artistic fidelity USB cable -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital / Pro-Ject Accu Box S2 USB PSU -> Abacus C-Box 2 Active Speakers

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On 9/6/2021 at 10:16 AM, ecwl said:

So re-reading your post, I noticed you already have a UMIK-1 microphone.

The advantage of miniDSP SHD studio is that you can run Dirac yourself. So if you already have it, you might as well just use it. The main disadvantage is that most hardware Dirac solutions involve automatic ASRC converting your 44.1kHz music to 96kHz before running Dirac. Now depending on your system, the conversion may not be audible to you but as you upgrade the rest of your system, you may get to a point where this conversion becomes a bottleneck in your system. By comparison, a dedicated convolution filter running in Roon means that you’ll be able to avoid this type of sample rate conversion with room correction.

 

To me, the main advantage of running Dirac or creating your own convolution filter is that you’re not reliant on somebody else to determine what your favorite frequency response is. Although I found most people’s favorite frequency response approximately follow what their current speaker system setup (frequently in the treble region maybe less so in the bass region). So running Dirac yourself means you have more room and control to tweak your filter.

 

One thing that is worth trying before you decide on Mitch vs sticking with the miniDSP SHD Studio & Dirac is to actually measure your left channel and your right channel and then both channels together with pink noise. It sounds like you have an asymmetric room setup so there is a good chance your left and right channel might cancel each other out at specific bass frequencies when played together (as that is fairly common in asymmetric speaker setups). I don’t think this is something Dirac can correct. Whereas by comparison, this is something a custom-made convolution filter can correct.

 

Another thing to keep in mind is that I would not use your Dirac experience to extrapolate what you can get out of a custom convolution filter. I have seen many people who say they don’t like Dirac or other room correction DSP systems but an optimized custom convolution filter in my opinion can perform at a much higher level and there are many reasons for this that’s too convoluted to go into.

Thank you ecwl, I will try Dirac through the Minidsp -> Young DAC signal chain first and then A/B compare with the convolution filters I have commissioned to see which gives me the best result. I currently already use Dirac through my Home Theater system (fed through the tube preamp's HT bypass through for the L-R channels) running on the NAD T777 V3 receiver. I enjoyed the rectified phase coherence and overall tuning of the bass against my room nulls and peaks. However, the entire soundstage became very narrow. Hence, will experiment using the minidsp through the 2ch signal chain.

 

You are right I do have an asymmetric setup and that may be where the convolution filters will win out.

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1 hour ago, Raimund Heubel said:

I really enjoyed reading your ‚lengthy‘ post! You seem to have an excellent understanding of what sound/sound signature you like plus the ability to describe in which area exactly you would like to improve the current performance of your system. This paired with the list of your personal reference music and the price limit for your new DAC is in my eyes a very good base to make the right choice on a new DAC.

I also like the sound of Burr Brown PCM DAC chips for their musicality and live-like presentation and can therefore fully understand why you prefer them over other DAC chips. I recommend you look out for DACs which feature the former top-of-the-line Burr Brown 1794 chips, don’t go for less or other.

I have for example settled on the ‚dac-pre-reference’ DAC from the German manufacturer ‚Acousence‘ which contains four of these BB 1794 chips. This DAC is very rare to buy in used condition and can exceed your price limit as a newly bought device pending the individual options you can choose from on the ‚Acousence‘ website here but - to me - it was the right and ultimate choice.

 

Best Regards,

Raimund

 

Thank you for reading and the response Raimund, I will keep an eye out for Acousence used units and will consider other units on the PCM1794 architecture.

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13 minutes ago, chewynuts said:

Thank you ecwl, I will try Dirac through the Minidsp -> Young DAC signal chain first and then A/B compare with the convolution filters I have commissioned to see which gives me the best result. I currently already use Dirac through my Home Theater system (fed through the tube preamp's HT bypass through for the L-R channels) running on the NAD T777 V3 receiver. I enjoyed the rectified phase coherence and overall tuning of the bass against my room nulls and peaks. However, the entire soundstage became very narrow. Hence, will experiment using the minidsp through the 2ch signal chain.

 

You are right I do have an asymmetric setup and that may be where the convolution filters will win out.

Right. So this is the challenge with Dirac. With your HT, is it because your frequency response curve is not optimally setup that you have a more narrow soundstage? Is it because your ?subwoofer or your left or right speakers have a phase cancellation that causes an additional dip when they're playing in sync that you won't see on individual channel measurement with Dirac that's causing a loss of soundstage? There is no easy way to know. You can experiment with the frequency response and nothing else.

 

With respect to HomeAudioFidelity vs Mitch Barnett, I've seen them post on Audiophile Style forums. Both offer interesting insights. But HAF usually posts about their additional room correction software that's not related to creating convolution filters. Whereas Mitch Barnett has been posting for year about how to use Acourate and Audiolense to help DIY people like myself create our own convolution filter. And in discussions with him and having experimented things myself, I think Mitch definitely knows what he's talking about. Moreover, I don't know if HAF would even correct for stereo phase cancellation whereas I know for sure Mitch does. If you want to dive into the weeds and see how it's done...

https://www.audiovero.de/acourateforum/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=171

 

Nothing to stop HAF from doing the same thing. Just don't know if it's even part of their service.

 

 

Roon (convolution filter using Acourate) > ultraRendu > Peachtree X1 (Toslink) > Chord Hugo M-Scaler > Chord DAVE > Chord Etude > Dynaudio Confidence C1 Signature

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1 hour ago, chewynuts said:

Do you have any experience working with Mitch Barnett or Home Audio Fidelity? Thinking which provider to work with.

I use HAF. That’s an excellent and quick service. I’ve only been on emails with Mitch long time after I implement HAF. 
To me, it was more about pricing. You need as a first step purchase the SW before working with Mitch. 

The articles Mitch has done here at AS is very interesting. 
I think I even bought his book, but never read it.

 

Maybe start with HAF, and get the taste, and move on with Mitch. You already have the umic.

You ought to read some of his articles here at AS. 
 

 

 

 

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50 minutes ago, ecwl said:

But HAF usually posts about their additional room correction software that's not related to creating convolution filters.

That’s totally wrong. Unless I’m have missed something very basic. I have loaded HAF convolution filters into Roon.


Developer is available here at AS too.

 

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1 hour ago, chewynuts said:

I will try Dirac through the Minidsp

If I remember correctly, it’s really not a good path to go. The mini DSP lacks enough FIR filter taps 

You have to spend some time reading through some of mentioned articles. Including comments to find the correct answer. 
 

Here is something to help you:

https://audiophilestyle.com/search/?&q=Filter taps miniDSP&search_and_or=and&sortby=relevancy

 

 


Here it is:

 

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On 9/7/2021 at 7:39 PM, R1200CL said:

If I remember correctly, it’s really not a good path to go. The mini DSP lacks enough FIR filter taps 

You have to spend some time reading through some of mentioned articles. Including comments to find the correct answer. 
 

Here is something to help you:

https://audiophilestyle.com/search/?&q=Filter taps miniDSP&search_and_or=and&sortby=relevancy

 

 


Here it is:

 

 Thanks for sharing this article. An educational. And fascinating read. I think convolution filters made by mitch are in my near future. 

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@chewynuts

 

Hello and curious if during any of the various phases of system configuration you have tried, have you ever ran your system without the Tube PreAmp and went straight from DAC to Amps? Using other means of volume control of course (ie..Software based or perhaps builtin DAC vol knob).

 

Your current equipment list appears to have at least two components that I feel can be ruled out in terms being blockers to achieving the sound you are looking for. Those two being your Amps and your speakers. Both are fully capable of that task.

 

To me, this leaves the DAC and PreAmp as being the ones to focus on. Here in the thread you are looking to the DAC but I wonder if the PreAmp can really be given a pass as a possible culprit? Or put another way, it not blending well with some of the other DAC's tried thus far even though it may work well with your current DAC.

 

In any case, I was curious if this sort of configuration has been tried or not.

 

As a side note, I was using a Benchmark DAC3 prior to my current DAC and it was very, very good. Soundstage width/depth was certainly not a weak point. Well under your budget too.

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4 minutes ago, cjf said:

@chewynuts

 

Hello and curious if during any of the various phases of system configuration you have tried, have you ever ran your system without the Tube PreAmp and went straight from DAC to Amps? Using other means of volume control of course (ie..Software based or perhaps builtin DAC vol knob).

 

Your current equipment list appears to have at least two components that I feel can be ruled out in terms being blockers to achieving the sound you are looking for. Those two being your Amps and your speakers. Both are fully capable of that task.

 

To me, this leaves the DAC and PreAmp as being the ones to focus on. Here in the thread you are looking to the DAC but I wonder if the PreAmp can really be given a pass as a possible culprit? Or put another way, it not blending well with some of the other DAC's tried thus far even though it may work well with your current DAC.

 

In any case, I was curious if this sort of configuration has been tried or not.

 

As a side note, I was using a Benchmark DAC3 prior to my current DAC and it was very, very good. Soundstage width/depth was certainly not a weak point. Well under your budget too.

 

Hey Cjf, thank you for considering this angle. I did drive my pass labs x150.8 directly using the young DAC and psaudio directstream which feature digital volume control. And also with the audio gd master 11 which has an analog volume control. In all instances I disliked the sound. I really believe the Aesthetix tube pre brings something special to the table. I read objective fi reviews and understand that tube pres are notorious for killing SNR and increasing THD, but after several head to head comparisons, the signal chain with the tube pre wins out everytime for me..

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11 minutes ago, chewynuts said:

 

Hey Cjf, thank you for considering this angle. I did drive my pass labs x150.8 directly using the young DAC and psaudio directstream which feature digital volume control. And also with the audio gd master 11 which has an analog volume control. In all instances I disliked the sound. I really believe the Aesthetix tube pre brings something special to the table. I read objective fi reviews and understand that tube pres are notorious for killing SNR and increasing THD, but after several head to head comparisons, the signal chain with the tube pre wins out everytime for me..

Sure thing...given the answer you provided then I think my DAC recommendation is still worth a thought or two.

 

The way I look at this stuff is almost everyone likes some kind of flavor of sound. We get to that point by usually mixing/matching various pieces of gear until we achieve the taste we like most. Each piece of gear could be considered a spice in the recipe (the sound we hear). Just like in cooking, too much spice can result in less than ideal meals...lol

 

Anyway, I wonder if having the most neutral DAC possible in front of your Tube PreAmp would be the ideal setup? No one in their right mind would argue against the obvious "spice" Tube gear adds to the sound. So given that, maybe you are struggling with too much spice and need a dead neutral DAC to bring everything back to ideal?

 

Long story short, DAC3 is worth a try because it is exactly what I describe and that is exactly the reason I was using it myself (ie..to help remove some excess flavor/spice of other gear).

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