DAC Upgrade Advice, budget $5k

stgr1m

Member
Jun 19, 2019
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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.
 

docvale

Well-Known Member
Mar 22, 2011
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Briarcliff Manor, NY
Hi and welcome to this forum!

your post is extremely detailed and, I’m afraid, it might be difficult for you to get a very informative feedback because, as you stated, your choice would be based on direct comparisons with a reference that only you have.
I’ve never listened to the Young, despite I know the brand being Italian and being some of the first ones to offer computer to DAC interfaces for consumer purposes.
My guess is that what you’re looking for is a better synergy between your components rather than a presumed big jump in quality, mostly because, to your ears, your setup was winner vs all the other combinations you tried.
I listened to the other components of your rig, albeit never together: so it is difficult for me (or anyone) to picture how they play together.

question: do you consider necessary to keep the preamplifier in your system? Would you consider solutions that would bypass the pre?
Within your budget, specially if going second hand, you could find DACs, among the ones I listened to, as the Mytek Manhattan, Berkeley Alpha+USB interface or Linn Selekt with Katalyst upgrade that could work very well. The latter is British and you might not click with it: personally I loved my Linn experience with direct driving of a power amp and you could benefit of the Space Optimization software.
DACs that I listened to that you could eye without getting rid of your preamplifier, instead, could be from Playback Designs, Meitner or Naim NDX2 (another British, very “fast” and rhythmic). The Naim would be unbalanced (if that matters to you) while I listened the others with tube amplifications.

with some of these solutions you might need a USB interface, with others you’d get better results going through an Ethernet based networking. In any case you would easily continue to use your Roon server.

by the way, have you tried working with Roon’s DSP?
I know it’s an unorthodox approach, yet it might bring you closer to your goal without spending a dime…
 

stgr1m

Member
Jun 19, 2019
3
1
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30
Hi Valerio, thank you so much for the response. The tube pre is in the signal chain because I need the home theater bypass option, and also I really enjoy the sound which the aesthetix brings to the table. I will research the various brands and models you mentioned. I also learnt from other friends that I should try to create convolution filters for roon DSP and perhaps try HQ player upsampling. I will also try these methods for a cheaper solution. Thank you so much for reading my post and replying.
 
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DSkip

Industry Expert
Aug 26, 2013
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Arlington, TX
www.audiothesis.com
I concur with it being difficult to recommend anything. My reference is the Norma DS-1, which is a DAC/CD Player. I am on my second demo unit and as is often the case you realize how good something truly is the second time around.

In your case, I'd argue that you should be looking at moving away from the NUC and into a dedicated streamer first and foremost. A good transport is every bit as important as the DAC. I find the Lumin U1 Mini to be an exceptional value and you would have money left over to potentially source a new DAC. The Lumin software does an excellent job handling the music (sound-wise) and would be an improvement over Roon.
 

Surge1

Member
Feb 12, 2021
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A pre-owned PS Audio DSD DAC is your best bet for $5K or less! You can probably get it for $3.5K. I just sold mine for around that much.
 

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