Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by Torq, Mar 1, 2017.
Here's the FrankenVali
Singularity 19 (-) (!) ("Hands-On")
The Audio-GD Singularity 19 is an aptly named product.
Like the singularity that forms the center of a black hole, it warps time and space and relentlessly sucks in everything around it. Just that, in this case, it’s not time and space being warped – it’s one’s sense of utter disbelief, and it is not matter being sucked in but instead any hint of musicality or enjoyment. In other words, the various inputs of this DAC form a virtual event-horizon from which no sample data escapes unmolested … from which no music emerges … only a poor facsimile of what once was.
I often start these things with some brief comments on the architecture or implementation of the unit, which I will periodically refer to as the S19, in addition to it’s proper name. So, let’s do that; if nothing else it’ll let me put off more listening for a bit longer.
This is a discrete R2R DAC using an FPGA for control, custom DSP and high-speed shift-registers/switches in place of the more common 74XX series registers. The latter part of this should result in much higher available bandwidth and/or faster switching times. If there’s a real benefit here it’s not coming through in the audible performance of the unit.
Another curiosity of the unit is Audio-GD’s choice of resistors for the ladder. Generally discrete designs opt for the highest tolerances they can in order to minimize errors and thermal drift. TotalDAC, for example, use 0.01% tolerance resistors in their modules. And then they use multiple modules to both increase resolution and to further reduce error. Audio-GD are using, in their best modules (which are what is installed in this particular unit), 0.1% resistors (which in a parallel configuration should effectively halve that number and give, roughly a 0.05% operational tolerance).
I suppose something has to give when your entire DAC module costs ~$45. The Soekris discrete R2R boards are 6x that price … though they do feature 0.01% parts. They also don’t sound like complete arse.
How much of the performance, or lack thereof, of this design is down to the parts used vs. something else (e.g. the DSP code or tuning employed) is hard to say, but actual resolution has to be lower than the Soekris and TotalDAC approaches … and it certainly seems that way in actual listening.
Beyond the raw DAC modules, there are selectable clock modes and the ability to operate in NOS or a couple of different oversampling modes. These are controlled via internal jumpers, which isn’t particularly user-friendly … and I’m not sure if this approach is a cost-cutting measure (because tactile panel mount switches are SO expensive these days …) or just an artifact of the design requiring the power to be cycled anyway – so why not make it more of a pain in the arse to do?
This unit is equipped with the Amanero384 combo USB input. That it’s USB performance is not notably worse than its other inputs could be seen to be a good thing. But then overall it is so bad anyway that it doesn’t really matter.
Anyway … enough about the innards … except to note that this is the fully-upgraded version, and runs about $800 shipped.
I had planned to put the Audio-GD Singularity 19 DAC through my normal “Life after Yggdrasil” auditioning process. This is something that requires at least a couple of days of critical, audition-style, listening, post a suitable warm-up period (several days, generally).
That is not going to happen … as it would require a strong masochistic tendency; something that I simply don’t possess. And nor, frankly, is it really necessary at this point.
And you’re welcome to call that a failure on my part – provided you’re willing to spend the equivalent of 48 hours listening to the thing yourself. Personally, I’d consider that cruel and unusual punishment.
My experience with this unit is that this is, simply, a bad DAC*.
A very bad DAC.
I made it less than two hours into my normal listening cycle here (plus some listening here and there during the warm-up period). That’s a first. Even the most lowly-rated DACs that have previously come through my hands have generally completed that cycle (can’t think of one off hand that hasn’t). Okay, so, not all of them have made it all the way through Carmen without me nodding off, but I can’t think of one that didn’t at least complete the initial playlist that I have posted here.
Even that two hours had to be done in roughly 30-minute increments as that’s as much of the S19 as I could stand at a time. I am not prone to headaches (maybe one or two a year), but this little bastard can induce them quite reliably. I’m not sure if that’s a direct result of how it sounds, or the fact that listening to it seems to have me with a perpetual wince/frown on my face and that it’s muscle tension from that causing the pain but, regardless, I’m done dealing with it.
So … back to business …
Typically, when DACs, or other components, get a poor reception there will be questions about whether it was burned in, or warmed up, among other things. In this case, I think we can put those concerns to rest quite easily. In addition to the claimed 100-hour burn-in these receive at the factory, and the time both @Hands and @Marvey have let it run for, and the 72+ hours it’s been operating with me, it should be well beyond even the manufacturer’s claims for burn-in time. And it is most definitely warmed up.
While there was some small improvement in sound during the first 30 minutes of being powered on, I’ve not been able to discern any change at all from there in the subsequent 72+ hours that it has had music being fed to it. I don’t expect any magical change at some specific hour-number either; where warm-up is actually a thing, the changes generally occur gradually rather than suddenly at some magic number.
I’ve never had any unit go from “bad” to “good” as a result of warm up or burn in either. If I didn’t like it cold then subsequent changes have never been enough, with any piece of gear, to make it into something I did like.
Let’s be perfectly clear here …
I do not like the Audio-GD Singularity S19.
It doesn’t remotely begin to compare to Yggdrasil and is the antithesis of everything that the Schiit unit does well. The naming here is ironic. I want to refer to the S19 as a “shit DAC”, but I don’t want that getting confused with it being a Schiit DAC. And, besides, @Hands has already made that statement in a much more graphic and immediate form than I can (short of Googling for turd-shots all day … which might be preferable to further listening). Not only does it not compare to Yggdrasil in any positive way, even the baby Schiit … the Modi 2 ... is a far more enjoyable listen than the S19.
Tonality appears way off and seems to shift almost constantly. Timbre is also generally screwed. Never mind not telling a viola from a violin, this makes it possible to confuse a violin with a cello. As previously mentioned I was hearing a guitar in a piece I know to be played on a dulcimer. Piano, even a solo, is rendered in bizarre fashion. At times, it seems like every note was being played with either vibrato or tremolo when that was clearly not the case. This was, perhaps, the most egregious and obvious example of apparently-shifting tone in the replay of a lot of music.
Complex music is a mess. Separation is extremely poor and inconsistent. Layering … ha! Yeah, let’s not go there. With some very simple pieces, solos or four/five piece arrangements there is, sometimes, a reasonable sense of space but nothing approach consistency. If the S19 has a niche, then it would be with such simple music, but even then, it’s really not performing on par with much simpler, cheaper, more competent units (say, oh, I don’t know, the $9 Apple Lightning-to-3.5mm DAC/amp dongle).
In NOS mode, there is more top-end roll-off than I would have expected – yet even in that mode the unit is capable of quite piercing reproduction of higher treble. And that treble is both quite harsh and gritty (except when the thing is doing its Jekyll & Hyde routine … then it’s merely harsh and grainy).
And in NOS mode, transients can be quite startling … one moment, and then soft as a turd that’s been left out in the rain the next. None of the operating modes, be it engaging oversampling or changing how the clock is handled, did anything to really improve matters, either tonally or in terms of transient response.
Dynamics are average, at best, with micro-dynamics seeming to get lost in the apparent random fluctuations in how this wants to present sound at any given moment.
Perception of detail is exaggerated by the harsh, glaring, grainy treble performance. Listening closely, which incurs some additional wincing, detail is getting lost somewhere. No idea where, or why, maybe it’s down to the DSP being applied, or maybe it’s just the behavior of the raw ladder/switches, but things I can clearly resolve in other, far more modestly priced, DACs get lost here.
What can best be described as sibilance with deeper, male, voices? Yep, got some of that here. Female vocals were particularly grating. Some stuff I tried pre-playlist … well … Julia Fordham was screechy at best. Heart was like an ultrasonic test-track. And I had never realized that Nat King Cole was white.
If this sort of performance is down to problems in the engineering, that’s one thing. If this rendition is down to deliberate tuning of the sounds, then that’s another and would prompt a response of:
“You’re saying it sounds this way ON PURPOSE??!”
And if it is the latter then I’d be even more seriously concerned about future products from Audio-GD that were “tuned” in this fashion**.
This is the weakest, no, actually the right word is worst, standalone DAC I’ve ever heard.
And I’m including dongle-DACs in that statement.
The “Brotherhood of the Cardboard Transformer Mount” (aka “Gustards”) can rest easy in the knowledge that the X20 readily outperforms the S19. I don’t even need them back-to-back to make that determination. While I wouldn’t say I have ever really enjoyed the X20, it’s a technically competent, if uninspiring, overpriced and typically “Saber-y”, DAC. If I paid $800 for the X20 I’d be quite irritated. If I’d paid ~$800 for the Singularity 19 I’d be thoroughly pissed off. As it is, even at “free”, it’s less a case of “getting to listen to it” and more of “having to listen to it”.
So, what I can say that’s actually “positive” in nature about the Singularity 19? Not a lot, as it turns out, and even what little I can say there is surprisingly hard to do and is something I find I am doing grudgingly as the thing, as a whole, is sufficiently awful that my honest desire is that it vanishes from the Earth so that no other poor sod is bilked out of their hard-earned cash whilst expecting the sonic nirvana that certain Head-Fi types seem insistent on bestowing upon in.
But, the best thing I can say is that the power-switch works. Specifically, you can turn it off.
And you’ll want to … most likely moments after turning it on and starting to listen.
In short … @Hands first review post was really all you needed to know.
I’d be interested to see if it’s possible to explain either the shifts in tonality or the apparent “vibrato” effects I’m hearing via measurement. When I do the hand-off to @atomicbob I’ll talk to him about some ideas I have for capturing that (though he’d know better than I would).
No, switching inputs didn’t help matters … as previously stated they all somehow managed to sound worse than each other. Not technically possible, but that was the impression I was left with.
When I have new gear on hand I generally try and listen to it as much as I can, even if I’m not inspired by it, simply to add more data/experience for my future auditions. I had no such desires here - the less I have to listen to it the happier I will be.
From my perspective, and in my opinion, the Singularity 19 belongs at the bottom of the sea.
I’m willing to put it there too …
If you find yourself listening to this (I’m sorry), and liking it, I don’t think it’ll be down to the usual differences in "preferences" - it’s much more likely, in my opinion, that you’ve either never heard real music with real instruments before or that you’re suffering from one or more severe psychological disorders.
This is largely horrific on multiple levels and an absolute horror show from a value perspective.
Of course your mileage may … well … probably won’t vary.
So, there you go, about 2438 more words on something than was really necessary.
Finally, I have no axe to grind with Audio-GD, beyond the occasional giggle at their highlight being the number of chips I don’t care for in their DACs and the pending doom scenarios around their even-dwindling availability. However, if this is what you get from them for $800 I’m likely to have to revise that position.
This is bad enough to put someone off the hobby completely.
And while I do not enjoy shitting on products, in this case … the Singularity 19 started it …
*I do not believe that this unit is broken; I think it’s just exhibiting the results of its design and tuning. However, in the event the manufacturer thinks it is actually broken I’m willing to extend them an opportunity to get a replacement unit auditioned. That’ll have to happen as follows: 1) They initiate it (because I don’t want to and I don’t believe it’s a broken device). 2) They take this unit back at full value, absent a subsequently positive review. 3) They provided a fully-burned in unit, on loan, for the audition, and for follow-up measurements, at their expense. 4) I will listen again and provide, as always, my honest feedback – if it still sucks then that’ll be clearly called out if not, I’ll make an additional post to describe my experiences with the new unit.
**I'd tend to think the Singularity 19's performance here is down to tuning/implementation choices. It would be a real shame if it were, instead, just a cynical attempt to cash in on the current fashion for discrete R2R DACs.
Did you try different cables?
I get the impression that you are holding back here, @Torq. Please share how you really feel, we're all friends here.
So, would it be a long shot to say iPhone w/ 3.5 mm to RCA cable > S19?
It was a toss up as to whether it sounded best using wet string or with the new air-core-conductor series ("Emperor's New Clothes" Edition). Both were preferable to any of the alternatives I have on hand.
I lack @Psalmanazar's ability to convey suitably vivid metaphysical imagery using mere words - thus I'd need to draw diagrams. Those would be rude, probably unrecognizable due to my complete lack of artistic talent, possibly pornographic and definitely not safe for work. Plus, I still have the shakes from my last listening session.
As it stands, as tempting as it is to indulge in raw comedic release and/or possible payback for the unnecessarily unpleasant assault on my aural sensitives, I did sign up to listen to the thing in full knowledge that it hadn't been, shall we say, "well received". I feel I can stand behind my comments thus far. Describing it as shit is a realistic portrayal of how I feel - it is the same epithet I'd toss at if asked, casually, "What did you think of the Singularity 19?". You know, in between the PTSD-style flashbacks, the sudden onset of a migraine and the projectile vomiting.
At the end of the day ... data goes in. Sound comes out. It'd be charitable to call the results "music" ... it's more that they sound a bit like a tune you've heard before but can't quite put your finger on.
I suppose that depends on what your basis for comparison is ...
If you're looking to prop open a door, need something to stand on to reach a shelf, or have a desperate need for a sturdy metal box about the size of a shoe-box - then the Singularity 19 is absolutely a better tool for the job. If you want to enjoy a coherent, consistent, musical presentation, well, yes, I'd take the iPhone and it's 3.5mm output.
I would love to see this in the Head-Fi "For Sale" listings, complete with @Torq 's review in the description.
And with @Hands photo as the only item photo.
I assume this unit will not be available for a loaner tour then? Probably best when tried with the Parasound A23...
Well people pay to see to The Room. You just have to market it right.
I think after the tour there should be a video where the unit is dealt with. Put it on youtube and have the unit pay for itself through advertising. The karma police will be all over you if you try to sell it.
This is a genius idea! I vote we keep a loser-stack comprised entirely of gear we're ashamed to have bought. Stuff that in all good conscience we shouldn't even sell. Call it the Atonement stack and make it available at shows to adjust perspective.
Wow. words may not hurt those corporate manufacturers; but this is sticks and stones!
Personally, I'd have just walked away from STDBY lighting up the room, without even listening. Hello! A small, dim LED carries that message nicely. Maybe they applied the same engineering ethos to the audio?
Wait till you see the LEDs on a Vorzuge portable amp. Usable as a torch in the dark.
Hoping Denafrips guys won't get cold feet after this S19 disaster. I'm really interested in their sub 1000$ dacs and how they compare to the like of Gumby, Bimby etc.
My feelings exactly.
Actually I hope many manufacturers read this so they release so many overpriced shitty gear. If someone can translate these reviews to mandarim and Cantonese that would be great.
It was interesting to me that more than one manufacturer that had reached out to me and asked to have their units included in the original cycle of this, dropped out where, when, and how they did. The big upsets came when some of the more expensive units fell by the wayside. First it was "Maybe we should send you one of our lower-end models*" and slowly deteriorated to either non-responsiveness (which was funny, because they had asked to be included, not the other way around). Then it was a change from constantly asking "When can we send you our DAC?????!!!!!!" to "If you want it, you'll have to buy it - you can return it within 14 days - restocking policy applies". And then, generally it was silence.
The latter part of that I'd have tolerated if I had asked them to send me a unit, but in those cases it was them asking me if I'd audition their gear. As it was, I hadn't, so those units fell off the list. And that was when I was looking to BUY one of those units.
As it happens, the Denafrips guys are one of only two manufacturers that have specifically asked to be included in this cycle so far.
Burrito filter needed for the s19 on aisle one!
All kidding aside, a very useful disposition of the S19 would be educational for newcomers to the hobby. Imagine a meet transportable system comprising of:
Singxer SU-1 DDC -> (S19 / Bifrost MB) -> Saga -> Jotenheim -> HD650.
The ability to A/B compare two ends of the sound quality spectrum that are close in price should either be enlightening or self eliminating for the novice.
Separate names with a comma.