Just when I thought digital could not match analog

I recently had an experience that forced me to re-think a long held belief about audio sources. The experience was a recent comparison between the new dB Audio Labs Tranquility USB DAC (fed by a Mac Mini computer) to my reference analog rig (VPI Super Scoutmaster). In the past, every time I compared digital to analog, it was clearly evident which was which. The analog always sounded much more real, fluid and involving. No matter what strengths the digital had, it was never even in the same ballpark as analog. I have even found that inexpensive analog rigs have these particular advantages over digital. This has now changed. The dB Audio labs DAC is in the same ballpark as analog! In fact, it was difficult to tell the Tranquility DAC from the Super Scoutmaster. It felt like comparing two analog rigs, and my analog rig is no slouch costing approximately $7K. After more listening, I found that the analog is slightly more fluid and the digital is slightly more dynamic. Which do I prefer, hard call… But, this is the first time I have EVER found a digital source that is even comparable to analog! I will be adding a Tranquility DAC to my system and finally be able to enjoy digital as much as analog.
WOW, that has not been my experience. In fact I have not been able to get my computer Audio to match even my digital system. Most of the current articles have not been favorable to USB as a means of transfer. I use a Lynx card and connect via digital XLR to my Dac. I have tried it through my Classe SSP 800 Dac and my Aacoustic Arts tube Dac. It sounds really good but my cec transport sounds better. The transport is still not equal but closer to my TNT6 Analog system.
No offense, but this appears to be shilling. Sdfish's first post on Audiogon (after signing up this month) is a rave about a new product with little publicity. I was actually very curious about this Dac a few weeks ago, but the return policy is not that great. My suggestion is that db Audio Labs extend the trial period to 30 days, and not charge a restocking fee. If the product is truly worth $1000, then there should be no hesitation in doing so.
In fact, it was difficult to tell the Tranquility DAC from the Super Scoutmaster.

That statement shoots your credibility with me. I don't care how good either setup is, or the listener's preference, the difference is apparent. If you have $7k invested in analog and can't hear the difference, you've wasted $7k.
In fairness, the OP has been a member since at least '08 since he has feedback dating back that far. Could still be a sales pitch, but it's not as clear as if he had just signed up this month.
Last night I had the opportunity to hear and compare the Tranquility DAC to a highly accoladed CD player, the AMR. This was in a $100k plus system. The Tranquility and the AMR were also compared to master tapes on a special $6k reel to reel deck as our ultimate reference. Of course, the reel to reel was everything they say it is and even more. The Tranquility had very good sustain and decay and was analog like and it was similar to the reel to reel in terms of fluidity, voicing and detail, but it was obvious which was better, the reel to reel but not by a huge margin. We used Nils Lofgren as one of our music references and his acoustic guitar was clearly defined on the Tranquility where on the AMR, it was fatter sounding and less defined. The Tranquility did have more fluidity in the midrange than the AMR too. Lastly, the noise floor was a lot lower and on the Tranquility. All this being being said I'm ordering one after the holidays.
Never used a DAC before but this thread has me interested in one day trying this one. I currently have 2 cd players. What would be the best to get the most performance out of this DAC in my system or is the best way via an Apple computer?
Hi Foster 9,

From what I understand, in order to get the best sound from DAC, you would want to use a Mac Mini hooked up via one of the better audiophile USB cables. I'm pretty sure thats how I will configure my own personal system after I buy this DAC.

Might be interesting for those ONLY looking at a PC music server based syetem but the complete lack of flexibility in terms of any other input options (SPDIF or Optical) makes it a non-starter for me.
I don't believe a vinyl system end based on a super scoutmaster (you did not mention a phono stage or cartridge) can be taken seriously as a reference level analog front end.

Or even close.

Go fish.
The way the designer described the DAC to me is that it's meant to work with music coming directly from a computer's hard drive where the music rips to the hard drive had error correction enabled. So, the transport needs to be a PC but they have also found that Macs were slightly the better sounding. That is why the DAC is USB only, so the dac see's a perfect copy of the CD. He also told me they are working on a SPIF/DIF to be released at a later date. I think they wanted to make their best sounding DAC as their first offering.
I have used the Tranquility DAC for about a month now and while I cannot compare to analog as I have never used it, it transformed my system from a lifeless rendering of music to playing emotionally involving music. Granted my previous DAC was a Peachtree Nova (used exclusively as DAC), it is a different kind of comparison. Nonetheless, The Tranquility DAC is clearly more liquid, has better frequency extension and just sounds more real.

Like many others, I had to take a chance on an unknown product, but a few phone calls to Eric Heider made me understand that this company knows what it is doing. That I have not been dissappointed is clearly an understatement.

Jwglista; Thank you for the feedback regarding our return policy. We have now extended our trial policy period to 30 days so audiophiles don't feel "rushed" to make a final judgement about the Tranquility's performance. As far as charging a 15% restocking fee, we will revisit that policy once we now longer offer the $500 off introductory promotion and are selling the DAC for the full $1,500 retail price. Thanks to all here for the constructive feedback and the accolades too!

db Audio Labs staff
What does this DAC handle? Only 16/44? No info anywhere about sample rates, etc. Seems weird for a DAC mfg'er not to tout it's capabilities. I might be missing something. I'd love to tout it as a new HiREz (24/96+) DAC (on my forum) but so far no news is no news.

There is nothing but fluff on their website, no information at all.... with statements like "Cryogenically Treated Integrated Circuits", "Proprietary Multiple Tuned Regulation".

There is also another rave post on audiocircle that looks a lot like this one?!?

How a manufacture could choose USB over toslink is beyond me. I use a Mac mini and have tried several DACs over the last few months. All Macs have built in toslink outs. I have tried the USB and toslink back to back on a number of DACs and for the life of me I can not understand why anyone would choose USB when they have a toslink option.

I ended up going with a Benchmark DAC1-HDR fed by a Mac mini. Through the toslink it is pretty balance and seems to just get out of the way. But on USB it sucks, lots of midrange glare and brightness (probably why the unit gets a bad rap). I also found Peachtree's Nova to sound better on toslink but did not get into the details of it...

I would take this whole thread with a grain of salt until more review come out... and information about the unit.

On the Mac comments above. I have found the mac to be a much better music source than most PCs. It is just easy to use the toslink out. Set the output to 24/96, turn iTunes all the way up and forget about it. Also for anyone using iTunes you have to try an iPhone or iPod touch as your remote. The remote app is free and works great. You can browse your computer just like an ipod and you can also search (works on Mac or PC).
Ted, I've posted direct answers to your questions to the "whats and whys" about how the Tranquility DAC can playback higher rez files on the AudioCircle post you have participated in. Please read our responses there when you get a chance.

James, the whole purpose we attempted to convey on our website outlining the cryo and regulation trademarks was to show audiophiles the depth of our care for the even the smallest details that other digital manufacturers don't even consider. Basically trying to say; "Hey guys, we've turned over so many new rocks with this Tranquility design, have you ever seen 'chipset cryo' or 'multiple tuned regulation' in another digital product?". Unfortunately, some audiophiles seem to be turned off to the fact we are trying to give them much more than other companies by trademarking these processes.

As far as your USB listening results on your particular dac, we totally agree with your assessments. A little known fact about USB implementation is that there are many dacs where the USB will not be the best sounding input. The Peachtree unit also suffers with its poor sounding implementation too. However, when done correctly, USB is showing up again and again as a superior input scheme sonically compared to the other inputs (when done right of course), That's why we use it! And, we are anything but alone with the finding that USB can be superior sounding compared to the other input choices. A DAC was just named digital playback of the year by Stereophile and it also uses USB. Other DACs are just starting to show up that did careful design with their USB inputs and sound way superior via USB. PLEASE BE PATIENT for this next year to prove out what some of us already know about USB's sonic superiority in certain dac designs.

BTW: We also love great how the iTunes on a Mac is so easily controllable from the iPhone and ITouch. Everyone who has this says they seem to be discovering more music than every before. More music, more enjoyment. Isn't this what it should be about? And it makes music playback more fun too ;-)

Good to see manufactures jumping in. I might have come off harsh but I truly want to see all small business do well (especially audio manufactures and dealers). I am just jaded because I hear lots of good talk about USB and in all the products I have tried it is a step backwards.

I have never heard your product (or USB sound better than other digital connections) but I will take your word for it. I agree that USB is the new kid on the block in the audio world may just be having growing pains. I hope your product is the exception. If is I am sure your company will to well.

Best wishes,
Thanks for listing the specs and clearing up the basic issues. Sounds like a great product priced very nicely.

Thanks so much Ted for the re-considerations!

We realize that many audiophiles may find it a bit hard to fathom that a digital product priced so low could perform at such a level sonically. That was our intent though. To completely and utterly shake up the digital world with an offering that was a complete breath of fresh air for digital source capability. How many times have you all heard this statement from other reasonably priced digital, only to be let down when you auditioned the "breakthrough" piece? Hence, we REALLY do understand how some here could be very skeptical about the Tranquility's sonic capabilities.

In the end, we will let all of you judge us by how we actually compare sonically against statement digital choices (not budget, but the "big boy" stuff mind you). And then subsequently tell others if we actually have re-set the bar for digital refinement without charging the typical insane prices.

BTW: Please note that the $500 off introductory sale will be ending at the end of this year, 12/31.
I can only say that as an early adopter of a computer music server setup I've owned more USB DACs than I care to admit. I'm not sure why I chose the USB DAC route vs. other interface options. I was probably influenced years ago by the content on the Wavelength website and have found no reason to change. I use a Mac Mini with an external 500GB drive with music ripped in AIFF format.

My comments that follow are only to compare USB DACs to USB DACs as I have no basis for comparison to vinyl or other PC interface options (i.e. TOSLINK). I also have no affiliation with any manufacturer as over the years I've purchased USB DACs from Wavelength, Bel Canto, UltraFi and db Audio Labs, all at list price. For completeness the specific USB DACs that I've owned or auditioned (in chronological order) include the Wavelength Brick and Cosecant ver 2 (both non-async models), the Bel Canto DAC3 (using the USB interface), the UltraFi iRoc, and I auditoned the USB interface on the AMR CD-77. I currently own the Tranquility USB DAC from db Audio Labs which is the comparison basis for this post.

I don't have any formal training when it comes to understanding tech specs and I don't claim to have a trained set of ears. My evaluation is mainly based on what sounds good on my system. During my USB DAC journey over the past 2.5 years my system equipment has remained the same with some skr and i/f cable upgrades.

With some of the DACs that I've owned I would typically try to find songs that sounded good on my system rather than listen to the songs that I enjoy. What I experienced was that some DACs made the music sound lifeless as the music lacked dynamics. I also had a challenging time getting a low noise floor with some of the DACs even after following the 'best practice tips'.

With the Tranqulity USB DAC I now find that I've forgotten about the equipment in my system and can enjoy listening to songs that I like. The Tranqulity DAC is dead quiet but as soon as a musical source is applied is when the enjoyment begins.

The Tranquility possesses the dynamic range that we've all come to expect from any gear that we allow to part of our systems. Bass presentation from the Tranqulity is terrific. By comparison bass was totally void with the Wavelength DACs. The Bel Canto DAC3 reintroduces bass but it tends to be a bit muddy and at times gets in the way of the music. Improved bass with the iRoc and the AMR-77 but none of them compare to the Tranquility as you swear it's coming from a source different than your loudspeakers as the seperation from the other instruments is uncanny. Same high praise for mids and highs from the Tranqulity.

Enough about bass, mids and highs. Here's what's really interesting. I'm hearing new artifacts in songs that I've listend to hundreds of times. I think it's due to the sense of having much more space around the instruments creates a huge soundstage that provides width, depth and height.

I'm particually critical to the sound that should be produced when a drumstrick strikes a cymbal. This is the first DAC that gets that sound correct as well as the natural decay of the cymbal. If any of you have the Al Dimeola song 'Flesh on Flesh' listen to the splash cymbal from the 3:45 to 4:00 point in the song. With my previous DACs, this was a bit painful to listen to as the splash cymbal seemed to collide with other musical notes of the song. Digital harshness may be a term used to describe this. The Tranquility DAC is the first DAC I've heard that allows the splash cymbal to be heard correctly and seperately from the other notes. I now find myself enjoying this 15 second musical crescendo.

I've come to realize that the PC Audio area is so new that thinking I've found my last and final DAC is not reasonable and actually not what I would want. The good news is that you don't have to spend a small fortune anymore as the maturation of the USB DAC market has raised the sound quality and the introduction of more manufacturers has lowered the prices. This may sound counter-intuitive but I can't wait to hear my next DAC as they keep getting better.