In search of a DAC which sounds excellent.

Al M.

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Sep 10, 2013
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Competent digital engineers don't necessarily chase the best measurements, even though some of them do.

Mike Moffat, formerly the digital engineer of Theta Digital and now chief digital engineer at Schiit, does not like the sound of delta sigma. He prefers making R2R DACs, and Schiit's top models (Yggdrasil in three different flavors) are all R2R. Moffat will readily admit that his entry-level DACs (I think priced at $129), which are delta sigma, have (far) better measurements in several parameters than his much more expensive top level R2R DACs (well, expensive is relative at max. $2,600). But he doesn't care. He wants his best sounding DACs (R2R) to have the best measurements that he can engineer them with, but just for measurements' sake he would never switch to delta sigma for his top offerings.

He *is* concerned about DAC linearity, and for this reason chose for his Yggdrasil OG an expensive DAC chip for precision applications (military, medical) that is not recommended by the manufacturer (Analog Devices) for audio applications due to zero crossing glitch energy. Moffat solved that glitch energy problem for the audio application in the Yggdrasil (1 kHz sine wave at -90 dB measures perfectly).

Interestingly, the one of Schiit's three Yggdrasil variations that measures best also sounds the worst, according to what seems broad consensus.

From the Yggdrasil website (I have the OG, prefer it to "Less is More"):


Yggdrasil Less is More.
Even better performance for lower cost. The most affordable Yggdrasil uses four TI DAC8812 16-bit D/A converters. Many think this is the best sounding flavor, hence less bits, more better…less is more.

Yggdrasil More is Less.
The best-measuring integrated multibit DAC, ever. This Yggy uses four TI DAC11001 20-bit D/A converters. If you’re one who thinks multibit DACs can’t measure well, this one’s for you—approaching -120dB THD+N.

Yggdrasil OG.
The Yggdrasil you’ve loved for years, same as it ever was. The original Yggdrasil with four AD5791 20-bit D/A converters remains in the line, because it provides an exceptionally engaging performance.

***

Several other digital engineers who also prefer the sound of R2R ladder DACs probably think similarly about measurements vs sound as Mike Moffat does.
 
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rando

Well-Known Member
Sep 22, 2019
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I don't have a link. Canto General was recorded in 1986. We produced it on LP and CD. The LPs sold out almost immediately since a public radio station in Boston played the piece in its entirety on Theodorakis' birthday. We still have some CDs in stock.

Thanks, armed with an album title I was able to find this one on Discogs. No luck on streaming platforms. ;)

Can I ask for a hint how many other CD you have produced?
 

Atmasphere

Industry Expert
May 4, 2010
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www.atma-sphere.com
All dacs measuring the same paramters in the same way with the same equipment and then using the same chips and parts sound the same, i.e. Chinese dacs…. It is no wonder you dont fully enjoy digital…. I don’t agree otherwise, which goes back to my original point. I get why you didn’t like my food analogy because produce is biological and audio machines are machines. So my analogy was halfway bad, but the other half applies. The instrument receiving the food or sound is biological. I am biological. My ears and brain are biological. I am not a computer. I am not a device and a device cannot tell me what I like. For me this goes beyond even biology, because I am also a soul. I have spirit in me and there is spirit in music. You can call that emotion if you like, but I see it as more. And that is not measurable. You can measure the dac, but you have no data that proves that the thing you measure results in greater pleasure for more humans. Did you do a statistical study to measure blind how many humans get up and dance with a Topping dac vs another? Of course not. Where is the proof that higher SInad = greater pleasure?

I don’t dislike ASR because they rely on measurements; I dislike them because they are mostly very negative and it is an unpleasant place to hang out. Many also troll other forums as well. They are know-it-alls and too full of hubris. As I said, my issue with your comments isnt that you like Topping, which i s fine, but that you imply that I should also like them the way you do and if I dont it is because I am trapped in the delusion of “Veblen goods” which you keep repeating pointlessly, including links each time…
All audio equipment is meant to serve the human hearing/perceptual rules (whether it does in practice is another matter). Apparently you missed the part where I've heard other DACs; a customer of mine has the dcs stuff which I've heard using recordings I know; I don't feel like I'm missing anything when I play CDs at home. I have a lot of respect for dcs; several of my customers I've visited (some for extended stays) have the gear and its impressive.

Music is processed by the limbic centers in the brain. This is where you get the toe tapping, the urge to move. When something is amiss, the brain transfers processing to the cerebral cortex; the emotional impact is thus reduced. Anything can trip this tipping point: the speed of the system, the tonality, distortion of various types. So when something is engineered for audio, if the engineer knows his stuff he is cognizant of human hearing rules. This might mean that the resulting circuit might not measure so well on the bench and we've all seen this. How the ear treats it can be a different matter. The 2nd harmonic of SETs is a good example- it causes SETs to not measure well but people like them and are quite militant about it.

But a good audio engineer knows that 2nd harmonic can mask higher orders, which he also knows are unpleasant to the ear. Sorry, but no audio equipment is made by people not acquainted with the math.

I provided a link to Veblen Goods only once. I mentioned it twice. This was because it was evident that the price of the DACs in discussion was playing a role. I apologize for my redundancy; none of that was meant to demean. My hope was to make the point that high end audio is not driven by price, but intention (and now the 2nd time I've said that on this thread...). I agree ASR is not a friendly place. IMO they, for the most part, have yet to make the connection that distortion is audible as tonality and is the 'sonic signature' of any audio product. This points to a lack of understanding of how the ear perceives sound.

Digital being what it is, the more bits available to construct each word representing a fraction of second of sound, the more accurately that sound can be portrayed. That literally is the basis of the art. So a DAC that has the resolution to do that should get attention price notwithstanding.

I picked up the Topping D90SE because it has balanced outputs. My first introduction to balanced lines was when a local engineer (Mike Shields) was recording one of the orchestra concerts I was in, back in 1972. So when I designed our first preamp, its was fully differential from input to output. It was also all-tube and zero feedback featuring a direct-coupled balanced output that supports the balanced line standard. As a tube preamp, its direct-coupled output allows it to be very transparent. It was also the first balanced line preamp made for home use (1989, if anyone is keeping track). I know what benefit balanced line can bring (and if we're all being honest, so does everyone here since all the recordings you play involved balanced lines). So naturally this feature was also attractive. I've not heard the unit run single-ended. One other item of note: when the unit comes out of the box its configured to use the internal volume control. You have to disable this feature or you don't hear what its about.
 

Sampajanna

Well-Known Member
Apr 1, 2021
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Just to be clear, I enjoy this conversation. I am learning and open to doing so. You are obviously very knowledgeable and I appreciate your curtesy and kindness.

I have heard lots of dacs in my system and tons around at buddies’ places, shows and dealers. They sound very different to me. I dont always think the most expensive is best. I do not like the price of a lot of audio gear and I always hunt for deals, as I am sure many of us do. Living in Asia gives me lots of opportunities to borrow and try pieces. I have heard all the Chinese dacs: Gustard, Topping, SMSL, Denafrips, etc. I didnt like any of them. However, I would never say they won’t work for others.

For me, music is subjective, personal and even spiritual. I am not a machine. I think you would enjoy reading this Book: https://www.amazon.com/Master-His-Emissary-Divided-Western/dp/0300188374

I really enjoyed it and I think it indirectly speaks to a lot of aspects of music appreciation and Hifi.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to share your perspective. I dont have any issue with it. In fact, I have learned from it, as I mentioned. What does bug me sometimes is when folks think that what they value should be what I value. For me, Lampi dacs are the bees knees. Of course, they are expensive and not everyone can get one, but man oh man do they glow. I have forgotten my system and my world is all music nowadays. i have a Horizon on the way, so we will see what that brings. I was so impressed by the Pacific and what it offers, I bought the Horizon without hearing, trusting others on this forum who also love the Pacific. My point is I dont care how it measures, I am not in love with it for how much it costs; I love the sound full stop. I fell in love with it 5 seconds into the first track I played…. No measurements could convince me I don’t or should not love it, just as no measurements should tell me I do not or should not love the music I love….
 

Tuckers

VIP/Donor
Nov 18, 2020
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It's my experience that audiophiles will build a system around their primary input. If that is analog, every choice made is with the intent of improving that. And for the sophisticated ones (which this site caters to thankfully) there are absolutely thousands of small choices from which the mature expression of their sound derives. I believe that many of these choices serve either analog or digital better. So to me it's no surprise that people believe one or the other is better. And listening primarily to one or the other cements the process, as that is how your hearing and brain is being continually tuned. To put a dac into a glorious all analog system is a fools errand. And the other way around.

Tape and vinyl are much more alike than different, so this doesn't apply there.

But viva la difference. I still have my reference TT setup gathering dust in the corner. I know that for me to get it up and running to be competitive with my digital front end will take not only probably 5 figures of expense, but a good 6 months of design and fiddling. And I know I tend to audiophilia nervosa, and I just don't need that in my life at this point.
 
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Solypsa

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Jun 7, 2017
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www.solypsa.com
Just to be clear, I enjoy this conversation. I am learning and open to doing so. You are obviously very knowledgeable and I appreciate your curtesy and kindness.

I have heard lots of dacs in my system and tons around at buddies’ places, shows and dealers. They sound very different to me. I dont always think the most expensive is best. I do not like the price of a lot of audio gear and I always hunt for deals, as I am sure many of us do. Living in Asia gives me lots of opportunities to borrow and try pieces. I have heard all the Chinese dacs: Gustard, Topping, SMSL, Denafrips, etc. I didnt like any of them. However, I would never say they won’t work for others.

For me, music is subjective, personal and even spiritual. I am not a machine. I think you would enjoy reading this Book: https://www.amazon.com/Master-His-Emissary-Divided-Western/dp/0300188374

I really enjoyed it and I think it indirectly speaks to a lot of aspects of music appreciation and Hifi.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to share your perspective. I dont have any issue with it. In fact, I have learned from it, as I mentioned. What does bug me sometimes is when folks think that what they value should be what I value. For me, Lampi dacs are the bees knees. Of course, they are expensive and not everyone can get one, but man oh man do they glow. I have forgotten my system and my world is all music nowadays. i have a Horizon on the way, so we will see what that brings. I was so impressed by the Pacific and what it offers, I bought the Horizon without hearing, trusting others on this forum who also love the Pacific. My point is I dont care how it measures, I am not in love with it for how much it costs; I love the sound full stop. I fell in love with it 5 seconds into the first track I played…. No measurements could convince me I don’t or should not love it, just as no measurements should tell me I do not or should not love the music I love….
@Sampajanna : your post is a wonderful example of how to be kind, considerate and yet still full of personal conviction. Thanks!
 

Fred Crane

Industry Expert
Apr 23, 2020
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The following are opinions formed by my ears only and boxes that I've had the pleasure of listening to, take them with a grain of salt. I was in digital audio design more than a decade ago, so I definitely have a clear idea of what I consider good digital sound which I am sure many won't share.

Compared to a good NOS R2R dac none of the chipsets I've heard hold a candle. That is where my tastes lie, and I am definitely in the camp of R2R sounding more like music than most anything else. I've heard AKM and ESS dacs up to about $3K (haven't heard higher end models), both have their sound.

To my ears, after extended listening he ESS ones tend to have a bit of focus on the treble, more separation of instruments, leaner through the midrange, but ultimately a bit fatiguing. These qualities tend to be great on a portable - I have an iBasso D200 that was about $1.5K that used the ESS and I love it. Those qualities help cut through outside interference that portable use has to deal with. Its funny when you read rave reviews of ESS chipped DACs one of the things that usually gets said is this design fixes the ills of the classic ESS sound. And from the ones I've heard they do, but on extended listening of a few months, its usually still there, but just patched over a bit.

AKM chips sound more midrange focused, rounded and softer. Usually at the expense of treble energy and bass taughtness and slam. Better for home audio than the ESS though for me, as you can spice it up with brighter silver cables, footers etc.

The classic Burr Brown and other New Old Stock chips can sound good, but never really grab me, and I listen to a lot of high rez and DSD, so that rules them out for me.
On the whole, we share similar findings. (there are for me, important exceptions in the higher cost arenas) In recent listening, advances in clock design and refinement of inputs, dac trees etc. that the upper echelon of dac design has made strides in non R2R implementations. In this way, they're mimicking what pro audio has been doing for some time, i.e. having outboard clocks to engineer around the shortcomings of typical chip implementations. I don't know if anyone mentioned Sonnet/Metrum, but I find their price/performance ratio impressive...especially with the new Sonnet Pasithea. I also like the Lessloss Dacs but fear they suffer in many systems due to their rather low output. (1.7v or less...right off of the module, so in some systems they sound a bit down by comparison.) Then I listen to the Destination Audio DAC and despite its cutting across the grain of my experience...it's where I spend most of my time.
 
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Fred Crane

Industry Expert
Apr 23, 2020
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Yep in fact I think for aa digital rig the electronics should be driven by the dac, so for example I will choose a Lampi with 242 valves and a preamp that works with it - the costliest and best combo I know with it is the audionet stern heisenberg. In valve preamps the Aries Cerat works well with Lampi 242. There could be others.
I feel your pain. Rest assured, we'll find away for you to spend even more money than the Audionet. (Wadax comes to mind, and down the line a Destination Monster DAC to Monster Preamp that is only deliverable via elephant parade-here we are on a break from practicing a delivering scenario for the prototype) Screenshot 2022-07-07 061614.png
 
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