Totaldac D1-Driver, the (pre)amplifier driver

I am not in the habit of starting threads unless I feel a product is of significant enough importance to do so. The Totaldac D1-Driver is such a product. The official product description states D1-Driver, the amplifier driver. I have deliberately added (pre) in the thread title.

The Totaldac website description reads:
The d1-driver is an analog driver. It is usually connected to the output of the DAC.
It is an answer to the endless question "is it better with or without preamp?".
The strength of preamps is there active stage more than their volume control. The active stage helps driving the power amp.
It was designed for directly driving a power (or integrated amplifier!) using the built in Totaldac digital volume control:
Its drive capability allows the d1-driver to improve the sound of a DAC, improving bass control, articulation, presence, soundstage and life. It has been tested when connected between a DAC and a power amplifier (transistor or tube), but also between a DAC and an integrated amplifier. The d1-driver has no volume control because it relies on the DAC volume control.
Around 6 weeks ago we travelled to Slovenia to deliver a SGM Extreme server to Matej Isak for a review. I ended up leaving being deeply impressed by the liveliness and dynamic range of Matej's reference system. Upon asking Matej told me something about the importance of proper gain matching. I did not give it much further thought until we visited forum member Mike Lavigne a few weeks later where he played a few tape cuts with a similarly shocking display of brute force dynamic range. Every since returning I have been searching for explanations for this particular phenomenon. Until I received a pair of Totaldac D1 drivers from Vincent last Friday.

I need to add a bit of history context to this now as I was not unfamiliar with the D1-driver. I have tested an older version before, the current D1-driver is in its second generation now. At that time I was impressed by its dynamic range and transparency, but found it lacking in refinement and micro detail rendering compared to my AudioNet Stern (Euro 35.000) preamplifier. If I remember correctly my commentary to Vincent was "a diamond in the rough". It also did not manage to match the Stern's sound staging abilities, upon which Vincent commented I would probably need a pair to get there. I shipped it back and did not give it much further thought, therefor the penny did not drop until Vincent told me he had a MK2 version of which he was confident it would solve my "issues" and if I would be interested in trying a pair of them. This turned out to be a totally different ballgame. Not only does it manage to match the Stern's sound staging abilities, refinement and micro detailing, it has also improved upon its previous strengths with even better dynamics, and an "Iron grip" control over the lower registers which sounds like it has doubled the already high damping factor of my AudioNet Heisenberg power amplifiers. It has incredible control and slam, at first I thought it was lacking low end extension, but after some back and forth switching it is just much better defined and controlled turning a mass of "1 tone bass" into a variation of cues and pitches. It does give me the eagerly desired dynamic range I found my system lacking of after hearing Matej's digital and Mike's tape. Therefor I consider it to be a substantial product worthy of its own thread.

Using both the Stern and D1 drivers in a DAC - Driver - Preamp configuration does preserve most of these qualities with just a slight decrease in overall transparency, clarity and a loss of ultimate "control". Inserting the Stern creates a slightly more distant, slightly more laid back perspective, where just the drivers give you a closer more direct perspective.

Matej Isak has reviewed the D1-direct and D1 driver here, worth a close read:

https://www.monoandstereo.com/2019/09/totaldac-d1-direct-d1-seven-d1-driver.html

I will copy a few relevant snippets:


d11.JPG

d12.JPG

d13.JPG

To summarize, this is a product to seriously consider, not just to combine with a Totaldac DAC, and not only to replace a preamplifier. But consider trying it with any brand DAC and/or any Pre-amplifier.
 
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Comments

Hieukm

Active Member
Oct 2, 2016
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#41
The D1-driver means 2 pairs of IC? Is it really worth it over buying an top notch pre amp?

What is this application when most DAC nowadays have gain surplus?
 

totaldac

Industry Expert
Aug 17, 2012
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www.totaldac.com
#42
The D1-driver means 2 pairs of IC? Is it really worth it over buying an top notch pre amp?

What is this application when most DAC nowadays have gain surplus?
The d1-driver with 0dB gain (most people take this version) doesn't add any gain in the chain, it improves the sound only, against all tested preamps up to now, at any price.
Yes it requires two pair of interconnects, one from the DAC to the d1-driver, and one from the d1-driver to the amplifier.
 
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Kris

Active Member
Mar 4, 2019
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#43
Kris,
my experience so far with set-ups according the Source First principle let me appreciate the impact of the pre amp.
So I would always prefer a passive set-up with a superior pre amp over an active set-up with an inferior preamp.
How Emile describes the d1-driver tells me that it is a pre amp which is most desirable to have in a set-up.
The other thing is that a passive set-up with a superb pre amp is in most cases less expensive than the active alternative with an inferior pre amp.

Matt
I agree with you Matt
I am convinced that TD drivers have a great potential.
Going to try them soon .
I have fantastic experience with products from Vincent.
Have some of his top solutions already .
 

Hieukm

Active Member
Oct 2, 2016
217
53
43
#44
The d1-driver with 0dB gain (most people take this version) doesn't add any gain in the chain, it improves the sound only, against all tested preamps up to now, at any price.
Yes it requires two pair of interconnects, one from the DAC to the d1-driver, and one from the d1-driver to the amplifier.
I understand this is an additional item between DAC and preamp to improve sound. And maybe another D1 driver after preamp and before amplifier would improve sound further.

If it were true that even top notch pre amp is benefited from adding D1-driver before/after then i am interested.
 

wil

Well-Known Member
Jul 22, 2015
233
93
58
#45
The d1-driver with 0dB gain (most people take this version) doesn't add any gain in the chain, it improves the sound only, against all tested preamps up to now, at any price.
Yes it requires two pair of interconnects, one from the DAC to the d1-driver, and one from the d1-driver to the amplifier.
If one does not have a matched pair of interconnects,
I’m curious if one pair of interconnects theoreticaly has more influence or importance than the other?

The pair from dac to preamp or the pair from preamp to amp?
 

BF38

Active Member
Nov 1, 2017
154
31
33
#47
According to the Source First principle the upstream component is more important, so go for this one.
Matt
Yes (or not far)... I made some tests with my 2 pairs of unmatched interconnects, upstream and downstream of d1-driver, and the idea of the most "fragile" signal coming just out of DAC was quite confirmed... it is not day and night but enough significant, at home, the first seems to be the most essential for the best listening.

I even confirm (if needed) the contribution of the d1-driver in my musical building... the Echole interconnect direct to integrated amp and now power amp was already damn good !... but with the Driver, in both cases, the distance with the acoustic event is still greatly reduced ! the feeling of presence, density and incarnation of the musical intentions by this powerful articulation on the whole band is really addictive.

It is nothing and that's all.
Nice day, snooooow is coming quite hard !
 

nonesup

Well-Known Member
Feb 16, 2017
469
104
60
Spain
#48
The volume control in the Totaldac DACs is not software nor analog hardware, it is hard wired in the FPGA. This is the best volume I could experiment with, so I would rather recommend using this one as long as you play digital media.

If another DAC is used, which has no or no good volume control, the d1-driver can be placed between the DAC and a preamp.

Another possibility, the Totaldac reclocker can be placed before the DAC. The reclocker gives a good volume control. It will also rebuild the signal based on an internal clock, so it will improve the sound.
Do you think that a DAC with a 10v output and no volume control, would the D1 Drive also produce an improvement by inserting it between the DAC and the pre Amplifier?
 

totaldac

Industry Expert
Aug 17, 2012
244
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www.totaldac.com
#49
Do you think that a DAC with a 10v output and no volume control, would the D1 Drive also produce an improvement by inserting it between the DAC and the pre Amplifier?
Yes it should improve the same way.
 

BF38

Active Member
Nov 1, 2017
154
31
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#50
Hi,
Tonight, a little extra test of cables before and after the d1-driver, this time with 2 ECHOLE, my OMNIA and the LIMITED EDITION version! (kindly lent by Vincent Brient, but no! not nice to try such stuff !!!) and here again the dominance of the first length is significant and in proportion that I could not have imagined... very surprised !

SHIT ! hihi... these ECHOLE LE interconnect are superlative !
 
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totaldac

Industry Expert
Aug 17, 2012
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www.totaldac.com
#51
Do you think that a DAC with a 10v output and no volume control, would the D1 Drive also produce an improvement by inserting it between the DAC and the pre Amplifier?
I just checked, I confirm that 10Vrms is fine for the d1-driver.
 
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heihei

Active Member
Jul 24, 2017
159
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#52
D1 Driver arrived today, and have slotted it into the system in place of the Stern. I had to swap out my Lampizator Golden Gate 2 for a borrowed Pacific at the same time as my Lampi doesn't have a volume control.
I can concur with Emile that this is stunning with the Heisenbergs. Too early to tell if it betters the Stern, and to work out how much the Pacific is bringing to the party over the Golden Gate, but very promising.
I'm also keen to try with a passive - I have a silver-wired MFA which should be close to the Bespoke that Emile and Matej use.
Interesting times!
 

Thieliste

Well-Known Member
Aug 31, 2014
337
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80
France
#53
D1 Driver arrived today, and have slotted it into the system in place of the Stern. I had to swap out my Lampizator Golden Gate 2 for a borrowed Pacific at the same time as my Lampi doesn't have a volume control.
I can concur with Emile that this is stunning with the Heisenbergs. Too early to tell if it betters the Stern, and to work out how much the Pacific is bringing to the party over the Golden Gate, but very promising.
I'm also keen to try with a passive - I have a silver-wired MFA which should be close to the Bespoke that Emile and Matej use.
Interesting times!
Looking forward to your findings on D1 Driver vs Stern.
 

Taiko Audio

Industry Expert
Feb 10, 2017
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#54
I can concur with Emile that this is stunning with the Heisenbergs. Too early to tell if it betters the Stern.
I have exchanged the Stern and D1 drivers a few times now, the drivers perform better, no doubt. But this is using the D1-12 volume control.

What I’m undecided on is the combination of Stern + drivers versus drivers alone, or maybe even 4 drivers with volume control in between, Stern or Bespoke.
 
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CKKeung

Well-Known Member
Jun 18, 2011
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#55
I have exchanged the Stern and D1 drivers a few times now, the drivers perform better, no doubt. But this is using the D1-12 volume control.
What I’m undecided on is the combination of Stern + drivers versus drivers alone, or maybe even 4 drivers with volume control in between, Stern or Bespoke.
Hello Heihei,

You have a Bespoke too?

Please find which of the following is better :
1. Twelve > Driver > Bespoke > poweramp
2. Twelve > Beapoke > Driver > poweramp
3. Twelve > Driver > poweramp

Many thanks!
 
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Taiko Audio

Industry Expert
Feb 10, 2017
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#56
Hello Heihei,

You have a Bespoke too?

Please find which of the following is better :
1. Twelve > Driver > Bespoke > poweramp
2. Twelve > Beapoke > Driver > poweramp
3. Twelve > Driver > poweramp

Many thanks!
The Bespoke does not drive the Heisenbergs well at all using balanced cables, it’s better unbalanced but still no match for the Stern. I do however feel it’s the combination Stern / Heisenberg which works so well rather then the Stern being better then the Bespoke 1 on 1.
I do intend to test option 2) myself.
 
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heihei

Active Member
Jul 24, 2017
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#57
I don't have a Bespoke but I have a MFA silver-wired, which is very similar. I've spent a lot of time with the Bespoke though, so know it pretty well. It left a Vitus SL-103 for dead, but into my Bernings could not match either the Stern or CH L1, largely through lack of dynamics (I had the Stern a while back to try with the Bernings without the Heisenbergs).

I'll report back my findings.
 
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Sablon Audio

Industry Expert, VIP Donor
May 22, 2015
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#58
I don't have a Bespoke but I have a MFA silver-wired, which is very similar. I've spent a lot of time with the Bespoke though, so know it pretty well. It left a Vitus SL-103 for dead, but into my Bernings could not match either the Stern or CH L1, largely through lack of dynamics (I had the Stern a while back to try with the Bernings without the Heisenbergs).

I'll report back my findings.
That was also my experience on the Bernings Adam. Was using xlr too, which they seem to prefer.
 

heihei

Active Member
Jul 24, 2017
159
98
43
#59
Yep remember you saying when I was testing the Bespoke. Took me while to work it out for myself tho ;-)
 

heihei

Active Member
Jul 24, 2017
159
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#60
OK a few thoughts having spent time with the D1 Driver and Pacific with volume control since Friday, including a session with Ked on Sunday.

First point to make is that the D1 Driver + Lampi VC is very good in outright terms, and exceptional when considering value for money. Given the cost of the VC upgrade is ~ EUR 3k + EUR 6k for the driver, I would think this compares well to pre-amps at 2x the price. Also remember that the Lampi has the ability to take an analogue input too. It does a lot of things right in terms of sound-stage, transparency, dynamics, etc., which is very impressive, especially for the price.

The key question for me though is whether it is better than the Stern, and here I will differ to Emile and say that in my system it isn't. This wasn't immediately obvious to me, as initially I had it the other way around as the VC + D1 Driver is fast, dynamic, and punchy, and so is very engaging particularly with rock music etc.
However, after a while, this becomes a bit too much and the music can lose some of it's natural ebb and flow, sounding a bit "rushed" - something that is most evident on classical music. There can also be a bit of edginess to the sound. In a way, it feels like the system has become over-driven.

I tried the D1 Driver with the Stern pre in the system, trying it both before and after the pre. Neither worked particularly well - before the pre really emphasized the downsides noted above, particularly on the rushed feeling to the music, while after the pre it became too noisy.

I also tried the D1 Driver with my MFA silver-wound passive. Again from a cost perspective (the MFA was an ebay purchase) this was a winner, but in performance terms would rank 3rd behind Stern, and VC + D1.

Overall it's been very interesting and informative, but at this stage my preference is for the Stern as a pre for the Heisenbergs, and if I were to sum up why, it is because it is more musical rather than any precise "hifi" definition of what it may be doing better.

I would stress that the one thing I've learned in audio is the importance of system matching, so am very happy for others to reach different conclusions.


Somewhat off topic for this thread, but in my listening session with Ked we took the opportunity to compare the Heisenbergs to Berning Quadrature Z, Golden Gate 2 to Pacific, and to tube roll in both Golden Gate 2 and Pacific. Given both Ked and I have been in the small minority who prefer the Golden Gate to Pacific, the surprise was the preference for the Pacific in this instance.
 

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