That's a lot of DACs..... what's your favorite or among your favorites.
+1 @oddiofyl First, thanks for the incredibly comprehensive and impressive list! Obviously they all have their inherent strengths/weaknesses as they pertain to your system and tastes, but can you list the top choice — or at least the top three — and explain what puts it/them there? Curious minds wanna hear your very valuable thoughts/experience.
top three (no order of preference) - i favor dacs with some linestage/volume control capability so i can go direct to power amp, and even better if streamer is onboard, and is a smaller form factor
weiss 501 (utterly pure and incisive sound) and with so many useful sound-shaping features, and built in streamer too)
chord hugo tt2 w scaler (absolute soundstage champ, fantastically smooth but with density and with detail effortlessly portrayed) - best at driving all kinds of power amps directly due to special analog output capability of the tt2
msb analog/powerbase (older gen r2r msb -- very aptly named, sounds most akin to top notch analog -- slightly softer, sweeter, less razor-focused sound, highly musical) - has streamer onboard and separate analog input too, and prolly the best remote ever 😉
i listen to the hugo/scaler the most, i use the weiss when i feel the downstream system needs a little more zip and clearer focus, and i resort to the msb in the other case, when what is downstream is a little too unforgiving up top, needs just a touch of smoothness
That's a heck of a lot of DACs and that perplexes me 🧐
Have you ever considered taking a break and trying something like the Technics SU-R1000 or SU-G700M2 which converts everything to PWM, using its own in-house conversion? it would simplify things and could sound favorable to your ears, considering all you've heard, possibly striking the right balance.
All the best,
I'd be curious to hear your impressions of the Van Alstine dacs. I've been wanting to experience one of their more recent offerings in my system at some point. Given your predilection for dacs with good output stages and attenuation, I was surprised not to see their Digital Preamplifier on the list
i really enjoy frank’s dacs... especially his older tubed output ones with have a lovely voicing and allow tube rolling
i haven’t tried his newer ones without tubes, using the akm chip, and yes you raise a good point about his digital pre, it is ’on the list’ to try eventually
internal dac is quite good on the 390/590 -- they lean on the clear/clean side but with a good degree of saturation through the mids and very good imaging
hegels are an excellent match for the harbeths, with their even tonality and remarkable low end grip
back in the covid shut in days, i literally had pretty much all waking hours each day to listen ... at that time being newly retired from daily work... in the past year+, it is less of course with our return to normal activities, but still plenty... i am not a big tv watcher (mostly sports), prefer to read/listen in the evenings
dacs are set up in a/b and even a/b/c configuration, easily switchable to allow comparison when needed
yes among the amp stack there is a lyngdorf 3400 which i believe works on the same concept as the technics units you mention, i should have added that one to the list
i don't view listening to various dacs a burden at all, it is part of the enjoyment ... there is some setup/connection overhead, then they are easy to swap, and when i listen to relax/enjoy, i can opt to a/b just for fun, or just leave it
That’s an amazing list of dacs @jjss49 holy cow! Thanks for sharing.
Did you have something close to a control reference system you used to evaluate most of these or did you change speakers and amps too in parallel at times?
The reason I ask is I’ve changed other things in my system at times that sometimes makes me want to go back and retry some dacs I had before.
[btw] I always wondered how some of Frank’s older dacs sounded, never heard one, you answered that too. I'm sort of into wanting to retry some of the older dacs again with other amp, speaker, tube changes I've made since. Thx.
Thanks for the list. The questions are piling up. But here's a couple easy ones:
Q. Why do you try so many DAC's from the same company? E.g. there are many MHDT, Schiit, Metrum, Denafrips DACs there -- why? Do they really vary so much?
Oh - and no Mojo or Holo Audio DAC?
Great list! Legit proof (needed by some out there) that all dacs are not created equal. I’m interested in knowing more about your comment above-
“dacs are set up in a/b and even a/b/c configuration, easily switchable to allow comparison when needed”
Can you share more on how your going about that and how you avoid any additional tonal coloration or distortion in the approach?
"almost all dacs below have been owned, and spent extensive time (at least 2-3 months) in my system"
"How many hours do you actually listen to each DAC, with that kind of turnover?"
Curious as to your answer to mahler123 given it is hard on the surface to see how many critical listening hours were given to each with these many DACs going through your system - 2020- 9; 2021 - 19; 2022 -15 ; 2023 -6.
i will chip away at the questions my list has engendered
yes most of the time it was solid state amplification into magnepans (1.7i and 3.7i)
in the earlier period 2020/ early 21 was big harbeths or spendors with solid state (hegel, pass, musical fidelity)
i was never a computer streamer, so when i launched into this, i started with a bank of 3 bluesound node 2i’s (multiple can be sync’d through the app), then went to node 3 usb x3, then in 2021, i caved to roon, and subsequently migrated to a bank of ifi zenstreams (with lps), and then also to paralleled sets of sonore optical rendus with ether regens for lan cleansing when feeding unitized streamer/dacs
i tried other streamers against the zenstreams and o-rendu’s intermittently (lumin, auralic, innuos, pro-ject, volumio and so on)
when i heard a nice sounding one, i was curious to see how that company handled their model progression... i.e., when you spent more what did you get sonically? ...i was determined to hear this for myself (my overall guiding analogy is as with analog gear, you are really hearing the cartridge/arm/table mostly... so understanding performance gained up a maker’s model progression is key to finding the sweet spots in the curve ... dynavector karat to 20x2 to xx2 to tkr, and so on)
as you would imagine dave, what you get as you move up the line is different with different companies - with denafrips you get progressively more treble detail and ’openness’, with metrum you get more silky smoothness and richness, as two examples
mhdt is the exception, those dacs are not in a vertically stacked food chain, they simply use different r2r dac chips from back in the day, so my curiosity was to hear an orchid running a philips tdai1541 vs a stockholm using a burr brown pcm61k, with all else in the dac design being held constant
OP: Thank you taking the time to aggregate and post this thread. Very rare nowadays. Informative with first-hand experience. A systematic review of quality gear. These used to be common on AudiogoN. Sadly, they’ve been replaced by arguments and skepticism. It’s nice for the community to benefit again from a member’s enthusiasm.
I am astounded ...
Your expertise will be useful for people who will have hard choices ...
Myself i listen my Hidizs 200 bucks dac... I cannot fault it anyway... It is basic ... I throw off my very good French NOS dac tda 1543 , because i needed a more clean source...If i borrow your comparison the Hidizs is more denafrips and the French dac more metrum... But i borrowed your terms here i never listened to them... 😉
I will not say more about dac...
With more money i will buy the Dr. Choueri BAACH dac... a completely different kind of dac...
@jjss49 I appreciate the help you have given to me when I have asked you on DM, and I do recall you have said on past postings that you have tried some 30-40 Dacs over time, but still to see them listed like this is bewildering. I recall those times when we were all so fearful and locked in our homes not going out at all just being couch potatoes for months on end. Congrats on what you did in that time, making some great hifi lemonade out of the bushels of lemons that were sent to all of us in that period of time! I am envious of the enjoyment and knowledge you gained in experiencing these.
A few questions -- did you ever listen for enjoyment or were you always in critical listening mode? To what extent did you optimize the setup of each D/A? I ask because there are volumes of threads about how critical power cords, digital interconnect, analog interconnects and vibration controls are for each component. If you did try to experiment with any of these variable for each D/A, then it goes back to my first question. To rephrase, was changing all this equipment so frequently enjoyable?
amazing list! agree with all the comments and do think you can be a resource for many with all your experience.
took a minute to make my list, but it’s a 22 year list......not 4 years. OTOH my turntable//tonearm/cartridge/phono list would be much more crazy.
2001--2006--EMM Labs dac + transport
2007-mid-2015---Playback Designs MPS-5 w/DIY Windows Server ( after 2011)
2015----Lampizator Golden Gate dac + Trinity dac + w/SGM 2015 Server
late--2016----Lampi upgraded to GG 1.5
early 2017---Nagra HD dac (early version), Formula Aqua dac, Nagra HD (next version)
June 2017---MSB Select II dac
2019----Taiko Extreme server
2022 Jan----Wadax Reference dac + Wadax Reference server (only these two remaining).
let me try to cover off some add’l questions posed
i mentioned earlier using multiple parallel streamers jointly controlled by blu os, and later by roon as multiple endpoints, that is the input side to the dacs (cabling was cullen or audioquest coffee)
at the output side, depending on what i am comparing, i would use one of the reference dacs (msb, chord or weiss, each of which can adjust output volume to level match) against subject x... the dacs then output into a preamp or integrated with multiple inputs, controllable by remote -- when comparing fixed output dacs only with varying output levels (i did this earlier on) i used either a van alstine comparator which level matches, or a krell s550i which can set levels by individual input
plenty of time to listen... key to understanding the context is two plus years of strict covid lockdown, being newly retired from my real estate endeavors -- simple math -- call it conservatively 6-8 hrs a day x 350 days/year those years... if 2-3 dacs were connected and switch back and forth at will... lots and lots of hours available -- i much rather did this than stare at the tv for cnn/fox and netflix and go brain dead
other point to mention is that pretty much all these dacs were acquired used (even ben z’s mojo mystique he sent me was a customer trade-back), so break in was never an issue
mhdt tube buffered dacs are lovely, highly musical, small form factor dacs that allow tube rolling and also easy mods, by such a-gon community members as our own bill dion/grannyring
stock, they have a lush, rich midrange, plump, tuneful bass, with good (not great) treble inner detail -- so sonically very user friendly to traditional analog lovers -- but the magic of these little units is their ability to run better sounding 6dj8 and 6sn7 octal tubes via tube adapters, which makes their sound more extended, airy, transparent and then, with better output caps they gain needed speed and greater transient clarity without having their treble becoming overly forward and etched... among them, i liked the stockholm v2 and orchid best, but in stock form, they all sounded quite similar within a few whiskers
key takeaway for me for these dacs is that the sonic change from tube and capacitor/diode upgrades to any stock mhdt model overwhelms the sonic differences i could hear between different bone stock units (orchid vs stockholm v istanbul for instance)
the toucan is a newer model, using the 6dj8 tube natively... i don’t know exactly what jiun in taipei did here to this newer gen model, the unit has noticeably lower output voltage than its precursors (acrylic faceplate models with 2c51 tube), this one sounds even a touch more laid back, silky and ethereal than the others in stock form with jj tube... but of course, you can throw a dutch bugle boy ecc88 in there and it springs to life, with open airy treble and more snappy transients...but your downstream pre must have enough input sensitivity to run it to get sufficient output
I have heard these and ,not very impressed , imo roughly $5k in up to truly get
into high quality digital. By far the best which I am still saving for is the
class leading T+A200dac at $7200 retail is a true bargain , and has HQ player
built into it with multiple settings if you choose to since this too is built into Roon
even Innuous now implement this , this dac my myself and 6 others I have spoke with in New England it meets or beats anything in the $15k and under club it is That good . That my early 🎅 Xmas present 🎁 this year. And whatever the Mrs won’t approve of - lol.
Can you honestly remember the differences between them ? And especially if they have multiple filter options? I recently hauled a Denon SACD player out of storage that hadn’t been played for seven years and was surprised at how much better it sounded than I remembered, once it had warmed up. Otoh my amplification has changed . I’m guessing that the rest of your system has not been static during these years
A remarkable list, @jjss49, and thanks for your various, thoughtful impressions.
On the other end of the spectrum, I have owned a grand total of two DACs, despite having been 'in the game' for 40 years!
The first was a Denafrips Pontus II, and, interestingly, my current Aqua La Scala, is not on your list. Luckily I have no desire to change.
Nice, very nice. Lots of time spent. I get why you tried a few from one single company. I always wanted to know if the same companies product were that much better as you went up the line.
I did not really understand what sound you were looking for to select a DAC. Many DACs you tried were of the same design.
My company makes a a 101D Direct Heated Tube R2R (not a chip) design. Very few people have heard a DHT product. We have a separate 25 pound power supply. This is where we feel we are close to vinyl reproduction. That is until you hear our phono stage. Tone arms, cartridges, TT all make nice differences but the phono stage is the real key to overall sound.
Your desire and commitment are surely commendable.
responding to some quickies (i will take the time for more lengthy/thoughtful responses later to address some meatier questions... on mode of listening, best value dacs. how i chose dacs to try etc etc, pls bear with me)
no, sorry, i did not try benchmark’s more recent dacs... though well BEFORE the 2020 timeframe i had tried their dac1 -- that was a lean/mean/super clean sounding machine as i vividly recall, consistent with the overall benchmark house sound over the years
yes, i hold them in very high regard... built with utmost quality, love and attention by brian zollner and crew, very pure tonally accurate resolving sound that takes no prisoners in treble or bass extension - i loved the m1 mdx i had, but in careful a/b vs my weiss unit i could hear ZERO difference (m1 set on my most preferred ’linear 2’ filter), and given my preference for the weiss on form factor, and features, i let the m1 go
important note here is our friend and esteemed member @tvad is a longtime and multiple bricasti user, he says the m3 is ever so slightly warmer sounding than the m1... i think this this is worth noting - i trust @tvad's ears and sensibilities 100%
haha, well thankfully i have had two lengthy productive careers and money is not an issue (as hifi goes as a hobby, there are indeed much more expensive ones than this), as i have said on prior posts, with my second career developing real estate i acquired property, designed/built my home, and the cost of the home (and the listening room in it) makes money spent on hifi gear insignificant
that said, i regularly check the couple used hifi gear sites, buy units of interest at fair prices, and resell them in time for same, usually at zero or close to zero cost to try... like everything in life money-wise, there are smart and not so smart ways, provided one is willing to expend energy and effort
for purely sonic reasons, no, imo
@jjss49 Thanks for your answers!
Did any of your discoveries about DACs lead to any revelations about other gear? In other words, did the capability of a DAC lead you to hear your other equipment -- e.g. speakers -- do something you had never heard them do before?
I guess this is kind of the old "bottleneck" question, but I'm specifically wondering about that moment where you thought, "Wow! I didn't know my speakers could do that!"
@jjss49 Well my friend you certainly stepped in it this time! I’m sure you knew making this post would be a little like having a kid — it never ends. Thanks again for sharing all this extremely valuable, helpful, and insightful hands-on info, and RIP to your free time. Heh heh.
well you know me... i knew what i was doing when i chose to post the list, and i don’t mind the consequences 🤣
part of my motivation, frankly, is to establish a thread and a dialogue that puts this forum back into its proper (and positive) comfort zone -- dedicated and interested music lovers and audiophiles sharing experiences and info, without the b-s and negativity
i know my example with dacs here is extreme, but hopefully it helps reset the tone and nature of discourse here, at least on this thread
@jjss49 One thing is on my mind. The fact that you did these discriminations using Magnepans.
Why do you think Magenpans could provide you with the best judgment about DAC’s compared to comparing them using other speakers? Do you think that your conclusions, made with the Maggies, could apply, ceteris paribus, to very different kinds of speakers?
because when properly set up and properly driven, they are among the most honest, pure, transparent transducers out there, letting you hear quite precisely what is being fed to them with very minimal editorialization, for better or worse
yes absolutely (once again, with the critical caveat that said speakers are set up to perform properly in room)
over this period, i would on occasion swap the harbeths, spendors and proacs back in, just for fun... doing so didn’t change my takeaways about the dacs i was using... other than preferring a little more treble energy for the harbeths, and touch less for the proacs or spendors
@jjss49 I had a similar type of question about the testing process used. It's helpful to learn about the additional cone driver speakers referenced. Thanks for sharing that information. Those are some really nice speakers to test with and compare dacs.
If I may ask, and not that it was necessary nor do I know of your past setups, by chance were any high efficiency 100db horn type speakers with low watt tube amps used around the time you were testing these dacs? If so, what kind of differences did you happen to notice with treble energy, mids, or bass for that matter...