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Help me pick a new DAC!


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most other opinions on these forums, particularly after hearing the recordings coming from your studio, BUT, a blanket statement saying "to my ears, almost no DACs are brutally honest to the recording", would have to assume that your ears are directly connected to the DAC in question.

 

Most of us have amps and speakers that have characteristics. Some of us even have preamps.

 

I rather not name those speakers, DACs and electronics that "enhance detail", BUT, Magico, Magneplanars and Wilson, comes to mind regarding speakers with Maggies giving probably the most unnatural image out there. Correct me if I wrong, but I believe you love Maggies. I do as well, use to sell them, but would never claim they create a "natural" image; and for that matter, do have limitations beyond just imaging. They are as engaging as they get, but because of their "character". Wilson, another tremendous speaker as well as the "highly acclaimed by Jon Valin" Magico also "enhance detail". None of these speakers are my cup of tea, but I use them to illustrate that every component have a characteristic, good, bad or what some consider neutral, the last, amazingly many don't like.

 

I am just curious what system you are using?

 

 

 

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Off topic, but this kind of reminds me of the reaction to the new BMW (E60) M5 when it came out 5 years ago. Some people really loved it, some people really hated it. Around that time, I had a conversation with an industrial designer at Nokia in Finland. He commented that polarizing designs are inherently successful designs. And, as the years passed, it turned out he was right. The E60 outsold every previous 5-series.

 

Just a guess, but looking at Benchmark's client list, I'll bet you the DAC1 outsells most other DACs by a wide margin.

 

 

 

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With several days of research and tinkering with digital sources, and the decision behind me, I'm settling back with a glass of Old Monk, listening to my VPI Classic with the Zu DL-103 Prime, with MC phono preamp duties ably handled by the McIntosh C50. Nice to be free from DACs for a little while. So much of this stuff we've been discussing just doesn't apply!

 

Now spinning: "Hey Eugene" - Pink Martini

http://pinkmartini.com/discography/hey-eugene/

 

I've been using this recording for my DAC evaluations and I just heard a few details in the LP that I haven't heard in the last few days with the DACs!

 

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Well, I claim to like the DAC 1 - a lot. But, I always find a reason not to buy one.

 

When I actually thought about that, I began to wonder if I am deceiving myself someway or another. Or rather, my ears know something my brain refuses to acknowledge, like maybe I really don't love the Dac 1 as much as I think I do.

 

The eternal audiophile quandry!

 

I want to buy a pair of Dacs to connect to a pair of Squeezbox Touches. And USB does not work well with those beasties. At least, not yet.

 

The test system has a little V-DAC on it right now, and sounds very good indeed. But I can hear a bit of deficiency with the DAC, or at least I believe I can. It sure doesn't sound the same as the Proton.

 

-Paul

 

 

Ack, now I am questioning everything.

 

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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a dac to slave off a computer????

 

The AVGuide says:

 

''Technically, this is an asynchronous system, since the data flow is controlled by the DAC, not the computer. But this is not the same asynchronous methodology used by Wavelength, which focuses on the interface between the computer and the DAC.''

 

What are you talking about?

 

Gordon's stuff works without drivers. WS works with drivers that use KS on XP and WASAPI on Win 7. The transfer modes are different but are both async in that the clocking does not rely on the PC's clock releasing data.

 

My experience is that WS + others with drivers are much more robust by way of freedom from disturbance from other PC activities.

 

 

 

fmak

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My observations were not specifically about 'US made' DACs, they were about ALL DACs except two, which happen not to be US made.

 

1) Ayre uses a proprietary oversampler and digital filter...

So does the less than 500 dollar Dacmagic. Though it is not actually made by them but is exclusive to them as they worked with the actual chip manufacturer. As the Dacmagic is at least priced for the 'mass market' the anticipated sales were sufficient for the chip manufacturer to be willing to do this. And it has a choice of (3) filters.

 

2) Both the Ayre and the Dacmagic use an off the shelf DAC chip bypassed as above.

 

3) The Dacmagic also has a proprietary discrete output stage.

 

4) I specifically stated that all manufacturers have a greater freedom regarding power supplies.

 

My price conclusions were thus based solely on logic. I did not say they all sounded the same. Of course they don't. But I do not believe that a 5000 dollar DAC is necessarily 'better' than a 500 dollar one, for the reasons I stated.

 

You mentioned Ayre. I did not. Nor did I specifically praise the Dacmagic. Ayre have a good reputation in the UK. But so does the Dacmagic at one tenth the price. Cambridge have more than forty years experience in 'considerably above mass market quality' audio. Maybe that is why their products very often equal or better those of the high priced relative beginners.

 

I am sorry, but I am just starting to make moves into the relatively 'high end'. My speakers, for example, are very 'high end', in price at least, and are made by a company with over seventy years loudspeaker experience. I do not believe that those made by a recently emerged very high-priced Californian (I believe) total beginner company are likely to be as good.

 

Trying to make a real step into 'better' audio has made me extremely cynical about many of the suppliers and their prices. Thirty thousand dollars for a phono amp!!! British, in this instance, and it is mainly an empty box. But of course, no one would pay that much for a very small box.

 

We all have our opinions, and they are all equally valid. My first and so far only high price and hopefully 'high end' purchase was Tannoy loudspeakers. None are 'better' though many are equal. For a DAC I would go straight to dCS, not even listening to any others. I need a superior amp and will buy one soon. Audio Research, Krell, and Naim come to mind. The new D'Agostino are interesting, and there is a dealer nearby, but I am not going to waste his time giving a demo of something I cannot afford.

 

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Hi Priaptor,

 

I often use the phrase "to my ears" to say that my experience has been that different ears will have different perceptions.

 

I stand by my statement that "to my ears, almost no DACs are brutally honest to the recording". I've been fortunate to hear many and to be able to compare them directly against a number of masters (i.e. the recording itself).

 

I've said before that my feeling is that many of today's best DACs are great sounding. And this is exactly what I find wrong with them.

I prefer components that tend to have less of a "sound" and hence, allow more of the sound of the input to come through.

 

I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting a component to make everything sound a certain way; it just isn't for me.

 

Now, in the case of many of today's better converters, to my ears there is a distinct "character" imposed on the sound, which is not related to the input signal. It might sound appealing in some way but it is not truth to the input signal. For me, it is a very rare component that makes it difficult (or impossible) for me to differentiate the output from the input (i.e. the master). It is only those that I consider "honest to the recording".

 

If I'm going to evaluate a converter (or any other component), I need to first be sure I can trust my monitors. I'll invoke the phrase again: For my ears, Maggies allow me to trust the monitoring and hear right past them, giving me access to the recording itself - particularly when well set up, in a fully treated room, with associated gear I trust and everything, including the speakers and subs, individually isolated from vibrations.

 

If you feel their image is "unnatural", I would say we hear this one very differently. If that wasn't the case I would say you may be blaming the messenger for revealing something else about the system, setup or recordings.

 

Like anything else, it is very easy to set up any component/system and have it perform well below its capabilities. All one need to is audition some of the great gear at most shows or at most dealers.

 

I can come home from a recording session, with all the details very fresh in my mind and hear the image back from the Maggie system with everyone precisely in place, at the correct distance, with the dimensions of the recording space clearly reproduced as I'd just heard them in the preceding hours... down the the walls of the stage and the location of the window through which a few bird chirps were audible during the quieter moments in the recordings.

 

It is true, some speakers/systems can provide a somewhat more "convincing" image... until you compare that image with what was heard at the recording session itself. This is another case where many components can sound wonderful - and this is exactly what I don't like about them.

 

My feeling is "wonderful" should be a characteristic of the recording.

I want the system to get out of the way enough to let me hear that.

 

Another thing I often say is if you ask three audio folks a question, you'll get at least four different answers (five of which are probably wrong ;-}).

 

As always, just my perspective.

 

Best regards,

Barry

www.soundkeeperrecordings.com

www.barrydiamentaudio.com

 

 

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I have harbeth speakers & know their character well.

I had great luck with the Bel Canto Dac 1.5 and the Bel Canto Dac 2/5 w/ the C7es3.

Various amps tubes/solid state were used the the Dac 1.5 lively character shined thru. No brightness but clear sound. Midrange is very palpable.

Another dac you might want to consider would be the Berkeley Dac if you can swing it to $5000.00 these can be had for under $4000 for slightly used models.

 

Good luck on whatever you decide.

Harbeths are awesome!

 

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I am not so sure what the big deal is with things requiring drivers. All async requires them. It is just whether or not they come included in the OS or as part of the product. Personally, who would you trust more to keep things going for your DAC. The manufacturer that wants you to be happy with your purchase or a third party that is piggy backing on the OS (often) vying for developer money as their income source. I have owned three audio devices in as many years that require separate drivers, and have never had an issue.

 

Forrest:

Win10 i9 9900KS/GTX1060 HQPlayer4>Win10 NAA

DSD>Pavel's DSC2.6>Bent Audio TAP>

Parasound JC1>"Naked" Quad ESL63/Tannoy PS350B subs<100Hz

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and would, if I had the the room for a second set of speakers, have them in my arsenal, BUT, Barry please, let us be honest as long as we are being honest: yes, these speakers produce as perfect an endearing an image as any on the market, with the caveat that that one accepts its biggest flaw, which most people love. Of course I need not restate the flaw. The 3.7, like all other sound reproducing devices does have a character no matter how much you may think they don't. As I said, I have sold them, listened to them extensively absolutely love them but would hardly describe them as nothing but a passive transducer of the source material.

 

I do agree that few people have them set up properly because of room and wife issues, which does limit their effectiveness and was a huge issue when I was indeed a dealer.

 

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Hi Priaptor,

 

Everything in audio is imperfect as far as I can tell.

It's just that some things seem more benign, better at letting you hear past them, to have more access to the recording itself.

 

By the way, not sure what that "biggest flaw" is.

 

Even the very best systems I've heard will not fool a blindfolded, experienced listener into thinking they are not mere reproductions. That said, in my experience, sometimes, with the best setups, things can get downright scary in how close they get. (Of course, the room, the setup, the associated gear and the recording must all allow for this.) I've heard Maggies in various systems do this many times. And as the 3.7s in my room continue their burn-in, I've had the experience a lot lately.

 

Make no mistake; I'm not suggesting anyone would be fooled into thinking they are (for example) now in the auditorium where I recorded "Equinox" and that Markus is before them with his drums. But there are a lot of cues the system provides that make it a whole lot easier to suspend disbelief.

 

To steer this back to the topic at hand, I find the system is very good at letting me hear exactly what a set of converters is doing. (When a friend came over with a certain DAC that was getting rave reviews from all quarters, particularly about its soundstaging, it took only the first couple of seconds after switching to the ULN-8 and back to hear that, on the switch back, the soundstage actually collapsed. And this was plain, even through the hyped treble response the converter was applying to everything that passed through it; something that made me, in the first seconds of listening, ask my friend if the unit was broken. !)

 

Best regards,

Barry

www.soundkeeperrecordings.com

www.barrydiamentaudio.com

 

 

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MMM- I am not in the "big leagues" with people like Barry, but I sure am in the dark as to what you consider "the biggest flaw" you "need not restate." I own 1.7's, and the biggest flaw I hear from them is a tendency to show up flaws in all the other components, and even source material. They can make a Benchmark DAC "brutal" indeed, though that may speak more to other components than the Benchmark.

 

Being cheap, you can bet I have tried most of the "low end" DACs that are around, even the ones sneered at by the most discerning folks here. (Hey, they have trained their ears to hear things most of us don't - I can well believe that listening to a DacMagic after a dCS can be a little unpleasant.)

 

In any case, the Maggies make very clear the differences between all the lower end DACs, and point out their failings in glaring detail. I'm counting the Proton as a "lower end" DAC based upon price, though I think it rates up there as the entry point to the "higher end."

 

As for imaging, well, they image very well indeed, even in my less than ideal listening area. As Barry said, nobody would ever mistake them for live music, at least not unless they were mostly deaf. But, they sound good enough I can listen to them for hours on end without ear fatigue. Most floor standing and much more expensive speakers are tiring to me, simply because they do impose a very specific sound of their own on everything.

 

Even my much beloved little PSB Imagine Bs do that. Although I like the sound they impose, I am always aware they are there.

 

Also, just to be upfront, you don't perhaps, sell a competing brand of speaker or something, do you?

 

-Paul

 

 

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Hi Mark, you might want to look into Von Gaylord amps. They are made in or close to Berkeley, Ca. and are fabulous sounding. There isn't a a lot of reviews on them, but what is out there is very good. I bought them after hearing them at the '98 LA audio show, I listened to probably every amp there and as soon as I heard them, knew that these were what I was looking for. They are very rich, full sounding, with tons of detail, a perfect combination (in my opinion of course). I also have their pre-amp, am still looking for a cd player. I had the Benchmark in my system for a short time, I think it's very neutral, but after listening to it for a while, decided I really don't want neutral, I like a more musical player. Sandra

 

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LOL! Shows how much of an amateur I am. I probably have something setup wrong with the Maggies then, because the one thing I am constantly aware of with the, and that spoils the illusion a little, is the size of the image.

 

It's too darn small.

 

Yes, the orchestra is precisely placed, and in good recordings, the depth is holographic. But, darn it, my ears tell me the players near the front are often only about 10 feet away, while the players in the back, usually drums, xylophones, baritone horns, etc. are more like 30 feet away.

 

The proportions left to right however, only seem to be about 10 feet across, or the distance between the speakers. I call it the "Orchestra in a Wormhole" effect. The maggies seem to do it less, as far as I can tell.

 

-Paul

 

 

 

 

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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ever heard say the Maggies create a "small image".

 

They are awesome and very very special speakers and their sonic signature is a trait I always use in choosing speakers for myself.

 

As I said, Maggies may be THE BEST value in high end audio and some of the best sound transducers at any price.

 

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Like I said, I'm not a professional audio critic or reviewer, and I may have something setup less than optimally.

 

But when the Maggies are placed to give the very best imaging and depth, the side to side size of the image is- small. Sort of like the difference between being at live play, and watching the same play on a television screen.

 

In other words, it sounds like the stage is pretty much completely contained between the speakers. Not, mind you, like the sound is coming from the speakers. In fact, if I close my eyes, I cannot even point at the speakers, unless it is a particularly bad recording.

 

The audible cues that indicate side to side distance are far less wide to me, than the cues that give depth. Whatever those actual cues may be (phase or whatever.)

 

I don't have the technical lingo to accurate say what I hear, other than in layman's english. I am positive about what I am hearing though. :)

 

-Paul

 

 

 

Anyone who considers protocol unimportant has never dealt with a cat DAC.

Robert A. Heinlein

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Hi Priaptor,

 

"...Their "flaw" which is what attracts so many people to them is their larger than life image..."

 

I submit this is a fault in either setup or in many recordings, not the Maggies. Given a true to life recording, one of the things I love about Maggies is their ability to present a true to life-size image.

 

Yes, I've heard big headed vocalists when the mic is up against the singer's uvula. That is a flaw in the recording. The Maggie is simply presenting what the source contains.

 

It is, in my view, actually many other speakers that miniaturize the image. If the setup is right and the recording is decent, I've never heard over-sized images from Maggies. At least none made in the past two decades.

 

Best regards,

Barry

www.soundkeeperrecordings.com

www.barrydiamentaudio.com

 

 

 

 

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Hi Paul,

 

Some of this is room dependent, i.e., whether or not all room issues (particularly early reflections) are addressed or not.

 

Some of this is placement dependent, i.e, proximity to reflective surfaces, treated or not.

 

A great deal of this is recording dependent.

 

Best regards,

Barry

www.soundkeeperrecordings.com

www.barrydiamentaudio.com

 

 

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You make a good point about the drivers, Forrest. Indeed, I trust a small DAC maker more to build drivers that follow the evolutionary path of my OS than the OS developer. Apple, in particular, has been ruthless about moving forward, even when it means that applications and peripherals get left behind. That was a chief reason why firewire DACs were off my list. With the introduction of Thunderbolt, I think firewire support will soon be dropped from the MacBook and Mini lines. It will remain on the Pro and maybe the iMac for a while.

 

When firewire support is dropped, that means having a MacPro near your rack or a Windows machine of some sort. Neither is an attractive proposition. I think USB will be around for quite a while yet, just due to the massive numbers of peripherals in the consumer market.

 

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