Tube DACs vs. Delta Sigma DACs vs Ladder DACs vs. Multibit DACs? Sonic Signatures readily evident for TOP Designs? Tubes give up Anything?

caesar

Well-Known Member
May 31, 2010
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#1
Can anyone readily identify which technology is used in top engineering implementations of the top DACs?

My guess is that identifying a Tube DAC would be easiest. Is that a correct assumption?

Do tube DACs sound softer, mushier, and less dynamic?





(For full transparency, my personal preference and bias: I'm ACUTELY ALLERGIC to analytic sound like that of Magico Q5 with Spectral or Magico Q5 with CH Precision and SEVERELY ALLERGIC to mushy and soft sound like that of DSD DACs or underpowered tube amps driving today's popular yet hard-to-drive box speakers that strip dynamic life out of the music.)
 

Mike Lavigne

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 25, 2010
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#2
honestly over the last 2-3 years since i got my MSB Select II i've not really paid much attention to other dacs. so i could not speak with any authority on what is going on exactly. but here is how it looks to me based on what i think i know.

with dac chip technology advances recently and noise being less an issue to be avoided by upsampling, the direction is bit perfect. everything native.

so there is the more recent bit perfect, and then older up-samplers.

then you have dacs without analog output stages (dacs themselves develop sufficient output gain), and ones with analog output stages. and then there are tube output stages.

as dacs have advanced they have less of their own sound. when i do hear dacs that do a great amount of upsampling, it does now seem to sound processed after my time with the Select II.
 

bonzo75

Member Sponsor
Feb 26, 2014
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#3
Can anyone readily identify which technology is used in top engineering implementations of the top DACs?

My guess is that identifying a Tube DAC would be easiest. Is that a correct assumption?

Do tube DACs sound softer, mushier, and less dynamic?





(For full transparency, my personal preference and bias: I'm ACUTELY ALLERGIC to analytic sound like that of Magico Q5 with Spectral or Magico Q5 with CH Precision and SEVERELY ALLERGIC to mushy and soft sound like that of DSD DACs or underpowered tube amps driving today's popular yet hard-to-drive box speakers that strip dynamic life out of the music.)
Tube dacs don't sound mushy or non dynamic at all. Quite the opposite. Why don't you listen to some and compare instead of theoretically generalizing. Tube amps sound mushy when they drive the wrong speakers. If you have a good tranny and drive the right speaker, it will be much more dynamic than a SS driven system.
 
Last edited:
May 30, 2010
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#4
(...) with dac chip technology advances recently and noise being less an issue to be avoided by upsampling, the direction is bit perfect. everything native.(...)
Mike,

There is so much processing in a chip that the concept of native becomes lost in many implementations. I was never able to see a clear technical description of how DSD and PCM are implemented in the Sellect II Hybrid dac (or in most DACs using custom chips, BTW).
 

caesar

Well-Known Member
May 31, 2010
3,444
213
498
#6
Mike,

There is so much processing in a chip that the concept of native becomes lost in many implementations. I was never able to see a clear technical description of how DSD and PCM are implemented in the Sellect II Hybrid dac (or in most DACs using custom chips, BTW).
Ouch! Connecting the dots, are you trying to imply that when one hears a rich natural tone it's a euphonic coloration that tubes may impart?
 

Sablon Audio

Industry Expert, VIP Donor
May 22, 2015
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#7
I’m told that the $2.5k Audio Mirror SE model is a great performer
 

caesar

Well-Known Member
May 31, 2010
3,444
213
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#8
And I also wonder why people are more accepting of tubes in preamps and amps but less so with DACs.
 

spiritofmusic

Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2013
11,469
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#9
Caesar, looking at the MHDT range of dacs. Sablon Mark has mentioned them to me, and 213Cobra Phil really rates them. If they're good enough for that particular Zu afficionado...
 
May 30, 2010
16,756
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#10
Mike,

There is so much processing in a chip that the concept of native becomes lost in many implementations. I was never able to see a clear technical description of how DSD and PCM are implemented in the Sellect II Hybrid dac (or in most DACs using custom chips, BTW).
Ouch! Connecting the dots, are you trying to imply that when one hears a rich natural tone it's a euphonic coloration that tubes may impart?
Oops ... Where did I address tubes in my post concerning DAC's digital processing? :oops:

But yes, it is an interesting subject to be discussed in another thread.
 

Mike Lavigne

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 25, 2010
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#11
Ouch! Connecting the dots, are you trying to imply that when one hears a rich natural tone it's a euphonic coloration that tubes may impart?
Oops ... Where did I address tubes in my post concerning DAC's digital processing? :oops:

But yes, it is an interesting subject to be discussed in another thread.
i think we get into personal taste and system synergy and expectations......throwing descriptors at tubed dacs. it's a matter of perspective......not any absolute.

i sailed along for a year enjoying my GGv.1 dac, not really feeling something was missing, i adapted to the way it worked in my system. even got it upgraded from the original GG to the GG 1.5. then got the Nagra and Formula dacs in to compare, which were both different in different ways, and realized that the Formula was a much better compliment to what i like and my system. it 'fit'. to my ears those tubed dacs displayed artifacts in direct comparison to the Formula. not that i did not appreciate tubes.

then later the Select II bettered all those and had more beauty than the tubes in a different sense. it got deeper into the musical content and improved my experience.

the Formula was an upsampling dac as was the Nagra HD. the Formula to higher PCM and the Nagra to 2xdsd. the Select a Hybrid PCM/dsd all native bit perfect.
 
Likes: SAINT65
May 30, 2010
16,756
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#12
(...) the Select a Hybrid PCM/dsd all native bit perfect.
Yes, Mike, this was my point. What is the meaning in technical terms of implementation and chips or similar of "Hybrid PCM/dsd all native bit perfect"? Does it have two separate DAC's as several other units?
 

Mike Lavigne

Member Sponsor & WBF Founding Member
Apr 25, 2010
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#13
Yes, Mike, this was my point. What is the meaning in technical terms of implementation and chips or similar of "Hybrid PCM/dsd all native bit perfect"? Does it have two separate DAC's as several other units?
here is how MSB describes it.....for me an entirely sufficient explanation......for you......maybe not.;)
Dynamically configurable between a discrete native DSD, or discrete native PCM DAC. The DAC has two modes, a multibit PCM mode and a massive parallel single-bit discrete DSD mode.
 

Crashem

Well-Known Member
Dec 22, 2015
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#14
I think the title is mixing metaphors and technology. tube or not tube doesn’t refer the to method of digital to analog conversion that your other listed methods do. It is more about how you bring up the signal or result to line level. As for the ”best” method of d/a conversion, I think it is still mixed. However, the trend on the high end, that I have seen, has been towards ladder or multibit conversion. But the watchword on the high end has been “custom.” For example, using a pld like a fpga to make a custom method. SD solutions typically use off the shelf SD chips as the development cost of an unique SD chip is cost prohibitive. And it gets hard to charge high end prices for at its heart is at worse a $30 chip.

Personally on the high end, I have seen all sorts of good and interesting solutions using every method. To me it is more about the total solution that seems to matter. power supply, signal path, amplification method, etc. all that seems to to matter more than the specific high level d/a method
 
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morricab

Well-Known Member
Apr 25, 2014
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#16
Personally, I find a good R2R ladder dacs to have a more natural, less "synthetic" feel, regardless of whether or not they have a higher resolution than a sigma/delta DAC. Not easy to put the finger on exactly why but it has something to do with solidity and foundation (architecture) of the sound and this is true whether it is with a tube or SS output stage (I have had excellent sounding examples of both). My current preference is for a tube output stage, which simply does the whole sonic holography thing better and usually has less electronic artifcacts and/or the whole tone thing. I also find that if one uses whole interger OVERsampling (not upsampling or sample rate conversion) with ladder dacs, this also works well, although with the best NOS DACs it is not really necessary...but still with something like the BB DF1704 you get a relatively artifact free digital filter with 8x oversampling (for those without math that is a frequency of 352.8Khz...I never really understood why they were pushing 192Khz upsampling as a better option...back in the day Krell and Wadia were pushing as high as 64x oversampling or 2.82MHz!) that works really well with 24 bit ladder chips like the PCM1704.

I guess MSB is the ultimate proponent of Ladder dacs (at least that is what they used to make themselves...is the Select II still a discrete R2R?) as is Total DAC and some others still using old multi-bit (Like Audio Note and Aries Cerat) or new discrete (like Soekris). Others are using single bit sigma/delta (pretty much all modern chips) or something in-between (like DCS). As I said, to my ears the R2R is the most natural sounding concept and I personally think it is still quite audible the difference in the technologies.
 

CKKeung

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Jun 18, 2011
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#17
My p
Personally, I find a good R2R ladder dacs to have a more natural, less "synthetic" feel, regardless of whether or not they have a higher resolution than a sigma/delta DAC. Not easy to put the finger on exactly why but it has something to do with solidity and foundation (architecture) of the sound and this is true whether it is with a tube or SS output stage (I have had excellent sounding examples of both). My current preference is for a tube output stage, which simply does the whole sonic holography thing better and usually has less electronic artifcacts and/or the whole tone thing. I also find that if one uses whole interger OVERsampling (not upsampling or sample rate conversion) with ladder dacs, this also works well, although with the best NOS DACs it is not really necessary...but still with something like the BB DF1704 you get a relatively artifact free digital filter with 8x oversampling (for those without math that is a frequency of 352.8Khz...I never really understood why they were pushing 192Khz upsampling as a better option...back in the day Krell and Wadia were pushing as high as 64x oversampling or 2.82MHz!) that works really well with 24 bit ladder chips like the PCM1704.

I guess MSB is the ultimate proponent of Ladder dacs (at least that is what they used to make themselves...is the Select II still a discrete R2R?) as is Total DAC and some others still using old multi-bit (Like Audio Note and Aries Cerat) or new discrete (like Soekris). Others are using single bit sigma/delta (pretty much all modern chips) or something in-between (like DCS). As I said, to my ears the R2R is the most natural sounding concept and I personally think it is still quite audible the difference in the technologies.
R2R is my preference too, although implementation does matter.
 

CKKeung

Well-Known Member
Jun 18, 2011
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#18
There are many top discrete R2R dac in the market : MSB, Totaldac, Rockna ...etc.

However there are other more affordable choices with excellent sonic performance too : Denafrips, Holo Audio Spring & May, Soekris ...etc.

A recent attraction is the new Denafrips Terminator Plus.
Three Terminator owner friends of mine recently sold their T and bought the T Plus at once after auditioning it at the local dealer showroom.
I will write a short review of it on WBF soon.

IMG-20200610-WA0026~3.jpg
 

Joe Cohen

Industry Expert
Jun 10, 2012
58
40
248
#19
Personally, I find a good R2R ladder dacs to have a more natural, less "synthetic" feel, regardless of whether or not they have a higher resolution than a sigma/delta DAC. Not easy to put the finger on exactly why but it has something to do with solidity and foundation (architecture) of the sound and this is true whether it is with a tube or SS output stage (I have had excellent sounding examples of both). My current preference is for a tube output stage, which simply does the whole sonic holography thing better and usually has less electronic artifcacts and/or the whole tone thing. I also find that if one uses whole interger OVERsampling (not upsampling or sample rate conversion) with ladder dacs, this also works well, although with the best NOS DACs it is not really necessary...but still with something like the BB DF1704 you get a relatively artifact free digital filter with 8x oversampling (for those without math that is a frequency of 352.8Khz...I never really understood why they were pushing 192Khz upsampling as a better option...back in the day Krell and Wadia were pushing as high as 64x oversampling or 2.82MHz!) that works really well with 24 bit ladder chips like the PCM1704.

I guess MSB is the ultimate proponent of Ladder dacs (at least that is what they used to make themselves...is the Select II still a discrete R2R?) as is Total DAC and some others still using old multi-bit (Like Audio Note and Aries Cerat) or new discrete (like Soekris). Others are using single bit sigma/delta (pretty much all modern chips) or something in-between (like DCS). As I said, to my ears the R2R is the most natural sounding concept and I personally think it is still quite audible the difference in the technologies.
The Lotus Group now represents SW1X of England. The designer, Slawa Roschkow is a huge proponent of Non oversampling, zero flittering R2R tube DACs. We have made the first sale ever of their Level V DAC. This will be custom DAC V Special with the following specifications:

  • · Non-oversampling – zero digital filtering DAC design
  • · Specially selected and harmonically matched component & material quality
  • · Discrete transistor shunt voltage regulated power supplies
  • · Dynamic Element Matching (DEM) powered by an asynchronous valve clock (vintage E180F and EAA91 tubes)
  • · Directly Heated Triodes valve output stage, DC-core signal output transformer coupled, zero negative feedback
  • · Passive I/V conversion via specially selected resistors
  • · Directly Heated double diode tube rectified CLCx2LC (3 x choke filtered) power supply
  • · Supports up to 24Bit/96kHz (optional up to 48 kHz only) digital coaxial S/PDIF signal input
  • · Pure copper chassis with panzer holz feet and 16mm panzer holz base
  • · XLR AES/EBU input and balanced XLR output
  • · Fine silver wiring in selected places
  • · Black Gate capacitors around TDA1541
  • · Black Gate capacitors in the HV power supplies in crucial places
  • · Super HiB DC-core mains transformers 3 x for digital and DHT/DHD power supplies
  • · Super HiB DC-core chokes for HV power supply
  • · Copper wound DC-core Super HiB signal output transformers
  • · Inter-stage signal decoupling capacitors: out of production Jensen Copper Foil in Oil in copper can
  • · Vintage NOS Globe 45 tubes
  • · 80 or 5Z3 tube rectifier
Needless to say we are quite excited. As with all finely handcrafted items there is a substantial lead time so I won’t be able to report on it for some months.
 

Abyss Man

Active Member
Jun 17, 2019
146
99
28
#20
There are many top discrete R2R dac in the market : MSB, Totaldac, Rockna ...etc.

However there are other more affordable choices with excellent sonic performance too : Denafrips, Holo Audio Spring & May, Soekris ...etc.

A recent attraction is the new Denafrips Terminator Plus.
Three Terminator owner friends of mine recently sold their T and bought the T Plus at once after auditioning it at the local dealer showroom.
I will write a short review of it on WBF soon.

View attachment 66502
As an owner of the TP, I’m sure looking forward to the review CK. Would be nice if you can mate the Gaia as well. Thank you.
 
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