BorderPatrol DAC SE

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by k4rstar, Sep 9, 2019.

  1. k4rstar

    k4rstar On a journey... somewhere

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2016
    Likes Received:
    3,674
    Dislikes Received:
    61
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Canada
    I recently had the ability to audition the BorderPatrol DAC (hereby referred to as the BP) in my system at length. It is awesome and my favorite to date out of the many DACs I have owned. For those not in the know, the BP is a non-oversampling converter using the Philips TDA1543 chip. According to @MrTeaRex 'the chip is garbo' but thankfully he's behind bars and we can appreciate this DAC without him.

    [​IMG]

    Other interesting bits: there is no output buffer. The output pins of the TDA1543 are capacitor coupled directly to the RCA sockets. This is a ballsy move in today's modern hi-fi market as it leaves us with a measured output impedance of >2kOhm. A line stage or amplifier input impedance of >50kOhm should be present to avoid an impedance mismatch. So how can someone put a $5 chip with no analog buffer into a small chassis and charge over $1000 for it? The answer is supposedly in the power supply, which BorderPatrol makes a big deal about on their website and ad copy.

    I counted 4 transformers in the power supply, two mains transformers wired in parallel and two chokes. The exact PSU arrangement is unique and a bit beyond my wizardry level but it's supposed to be a 'hybrid' with one half traditional solid-state diode rectification and the other half featuring a EZ80 tube rectifier. The tube rectifier can be switched in and out of the circuit easily using a push button on the front. I'm not clear on the technical benefit of such an arrangement but I can say I seem to subconsciously prefer the tube switched in. The sound gets a bit richer.

    It seems like overkill to feed a little TDA1543 DAC board and S/PDIF receiver with such a power supply but according to BorderPatrol that's what the other designs miss. The BP DAC was recently the subject of controversy due to its coverage in Stereophile, which featured an initial positive subjective review; a hammering in the objective measurements section; and a follow up 'second look' from a different writer which could only be described as a thinly veiled hatchet job. Yes it measures like its defective, but it sounds great!

    [​IMG]

    The words that come to mind to describe the BP DAC are open (as if the music playback has become 'unconstrained'), vivid (as if the music has a new sense of immediacy and presence) and unfettered (as if the music playback is not being processed or massaged in a negative way). It has more of these qualities than any other digital source I've experienced to date, and that's why I like it so much. I was pretty skeptical reading both professional and user reviews of the DAC before I heard it, as many double-edged words like 'relaxed' and 'smooth' were used to describe its sonic signature. Warm-butt red flags went off. Was this one of those 'good for jazz' but bad for everything else DACs?

    The following will sound cliche but the BP DAC is 'relaxed' in the sense that it is not trying to hype up any technical parameter to grab your attention. Instead the focus is always on the musical performance. I cannot really think of a better way to describe the sound of this DAC. It is capable of bite and crunch with a fantastic sense of timing and 'beat'. Jefferson Airplane and Hendrix are a treat through this DAC. Other DACs sound veiled and/or processed in comparison. Perhaps for Megadeth or Metallica I would recommend turning the tube off for a bit more crispness. It won't win any awards for bass depth or slam, a byproduct of not having any sort of output buffer. The bass is good enough for my taste for acoustic and electric music. Maybe not electronic.

    Downsides? The pricing scheme is kind of dumb. $1350 for the SE edition of the DAC with either USB or S/PDIF inputs is a good deal. I would personally take this DAC every day of the week over the Gungnir Multibit (either generation, with any digital source). However if you want both USB and S/PDIF the price jumps $500 to $1850. I'm really not sure how an additional input justifies a $500 price increase but the value proposition drops quickly given the limits of the 1543 DAC and the output quirks. Also, if you're one of those 'pride of ownership' people, don't dare to look inside this DAC. You will see a digital board mounted on a piece of scrap wood and transformers mounted on pieces of cork.

    My experience with this DAC and the Audio Mirror Tubadour have shown that I have a definite preference for the non-oversampling sound. I think it's hard to explain what a good non-oversampling DAC does well in words but very easy to overstate their shortcomings. The only way to know for sure is to try it yourself.
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2019
    Priidik, Sqveak, tommytakis and 17 others like this.
  2. murphythecat

    murphythecat Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Apr 4, 2016
    Likes Received:
    698
    Dislikes Received:
    17
    Trophy Points:
    93
    what is the source you used?
     
  3. rlow

    rlow A happy woofer

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2017
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Dislikes Received:
    3
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Canada
    I came pretty close to pulling the trigger on this DAC a while back, but was concerned about the impedance mismatch with my preamp (you need a higher input impedance than the Schiit preamp’s 10k ohms to hit a good damping factor with this DAC). Glad to have a Friend who has put some ears in it. I may have to figure out my preamp situation and get one if it comes available on CAM again.
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2019
  4. dreadatcontrol

    dreadatcontrol Rando

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2019
    Likes Received:
    2
    Dislikes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location:
    Thailand
    @k4rstar.... thanks for your post on the border Patrol dac. This was one of the dacs I was considering. Did you do your listening through speakers or headphones? Also,did you add a tube amp or ss amp at anytime to the chain? If so, how did they play together when using the tube rectifier in the circuit?

    Cheers
     
  5. k4rstar

    k4rstar On a journey... somewhere

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2016
    Likes Received:
    3,674
    Dislikes Received:
    61
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Canada
    For USB, JCAT USB card powered by linear power supply

    For S/PDIF, coaxial output of Sony CDP-X779ES

    Mostly headphones, briefly on speakers. I used both tube and solid-state amplification, it's a quality DAC and will pair well with a quality amp. NOS DACs or DACs that employ valves somewhere in the circuit seem to be thought of as being warmer or having some tube coloration to the sound by default. The BP DAC, which uses a valve in the power supply only; and the Audio Mirror DAC, which uses valves in the I/V stage; are both no warmer tonally than the latest Schiit Yggdrasil.
     
  6. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend MZR
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    8,659
    Dislikes Received:
    27
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    The TDA1543 measures like absolute ass no matter what you throw at it (software, hardware, 20,000 of the ICs stacked on top of each other, etc.).

    And yet it's still very popular for its unique, but generally agreeable, sound, low cost, and ease of implementation in DIY projects.

    TDA1543 DACs can provide a much greater listening experience than its datasheet would have you think. Then again, this should be no surprise given how many people like vinyl or have heard many products with perfect measurements sound awful.

    Nonetheless, I am personally hesitant to ever consider anything more than low budget or DIY 1543 DACs. I think you can get a similar listening experience, with better technicalities, with many of the old school R2R DAC ICs. You just have to build everything else around them to make it happen. Even then, some people still just love the 1543.
     
    Priidik, Roman and monacelli like this.
  7. Ulises

    Ulises Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    12
    Dislikes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    Another owner here. Source is Allo USBridge or Denon DCD-3300 as transport. Prior to the BP I used a Bifrost Multibit and then a Gungnir Multibit A1 (both now moved to other systems). Rest of the system is a Sugden A21 SE , Proac Tablette 10s, and a Saga + Jotunheim combo for headphone listening in my home office.

    I'm a vinyl diehard, but records (for me) are too distracting while I'm working (cleaning, VTA adjustment, cart swaps, etc). I love records and record players, but I don't want either in my office when I'm trying to be productive.

    Despite the measurements, the limitations of the chip, and all the other factors mentioned, I find the BP preferable to my other DACS for longer listening sessions with Roon or CDs.

    Biggest difference I notice compared to the Schiit DACs (besides the absence of fatigue) is the liquid and cohesive qualities of the sound. It's less individual instruments in space and more of a blended presentation that (to me) better represents the relationships between instruments. No one part of the soundscape (e.g. bass, vocals, etc) is overly conspicuous. At the same time, the BP is less noticeably "thick" than the Metrum Flint I have in my bedroom system and still maintains a bit of air. I've long wanted to try one of the better Metrum Dacs, but pretty happy with the BP for the job at hand.
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2019
  8. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend MZR
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    8,659
    Dislikes Received:
    27
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    Does your Flint have the DAC two modules? Those are definitely thicker sounding and can be overdone as such in a simpler configuration.

    There’s actually probably those that would prefer the Pavane with original chips. More space, less thickness. But the highest end stuff with new chips is nonetheless pretty far above the low end stuff.
     
  9. Ulises

    Ulises Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    12
    Dislikes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location:
    Denver, CO
    Pretty sure I have the DAC one chips as I pre-ordered the Flint. If I remember correctly, the DAC Two chips became an option later—good to know they may not necessarily be an upgrade. Overall, I'm very happy with the Flint and its inconspicuous size and find it suits my tastes more than the Modi Multibit it replaced, but would love to check out some of the higher end Metrum DACs for my main system. There was an Onyx in the FS section the other day but it went before I spotted it. One of these days....
     
  10. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

    Staff Member Friend BWC
    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2015
    Likes Received:
    48,422
    Dislikes Received:
    78
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Antarctica
    This sounds interesting. From comments, I'm thinking it sounds like the Moth DAC. SBAF funds for loaner? Can we get accommodation pricing?
     
  11. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend MZR
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    8,659
    Dislikes Received:
    27
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    Interesting...

    If the Flint sounds at all like the Musette (had two of the DAC ONE modules), and the BP DAC is less thick than it, I'd be worried about it sounding too lean.

    But who knows. Almost impossible to try to triangulate like that. It's a NOS 1543 DAC, so I can't imagine it sounds lean. :)
     
    Ulises likes this.
  12. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend MZR
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    8,659
    Dislikes Received:
    27
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    I'm really hesitant this would be worthwhile, given the site audience, price of DAC, and how I have to imagine it will roughly sound.

    But they do have a 14 day return policy. Perhaps we could leverage that? If you get it, and it isn't worth the loaner, then return it.
     
  13. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

    Staff Member Friend BWC
    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2015
    Likes Received:
    48,422
    Dislikes Received:
    78
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Antarctica
    Like smooth, liquid, dynamic, but zero plankton (+zero subass)? :)
     
  14. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend MZR
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    8,659
    Dislikes Received:
    27
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    It may or may not be liquid and smooth. I think it stands to reason that the high noise and distortion of the chip can add a bit of dirtiness to it, at least based on a couple 1543 DACs I've heard. But it very well may not have that sort of problem. Guess I'm trying to say I would not make assumptions about these attributes. (The comments in first post about "bite," "crunch," and "unfettered" may or may not offer clues.)

    I don't think it will be plastic-smooth, with no plankton, like the early Metrum DACs, but it probably will not resolve some tiny details and nuances. Maybe a step better than the low end, early Metrum stuff, but less plasticky. Nonetheless, I think some might be surprised at what a low cost DAC can actually do despite the specs.

    I keep reading "relaxed" when checking other impressions and reviews for the DAC. My main concern is the DAC will sound dull to most, though totally understandable why some might like it.

    Again, all just a bunch of guess work on my end given we're tossing around the possibility of using a decent chunk of site funds for what I imagine is a very niche product. Only one way to find out!
     
  15. rlow

    rlow A happy woofer

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2017
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Dislikes Received:
    3
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Canada
    To clarify the point I mention above, this is from the Stereophile measurements (for whatever that’s worth):
     
  16. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

    Staff Member Friend BWC
    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2015
    Likes Received:
    48,422
    Dislikes Received:
    78
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Antarctica
    OMG. Just took a look at the measurements. I'm not a measurement extremist, but that stuff can be heard and is on par with transducer distortion. This is AGD S19 levels of bad (some aspects better, some aspect worse). Too niche for me.
     
  17. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

    Staff Member Friend MZR
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    8,659
    Dislikes Received:
    27
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Colorado
    Home Page:
    My bet is I could almost guarantee you the BP DAC won't sound anywhere near as bad as the S19.
     
    Jerry and Psalmanazar like this.
  18. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

    Staff Member Friend BWC
    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2015
    Likes Received:
    48,422
    Dislikes Received:
    78
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Antarctica
    Just realized it's a 1543, not 1541. Screw this. I guarantee you it will have no plankton and the high distortion / pattern of distortion only guarantees princess ultrasmooth. Maybe if I grind down records with a DL103 x1000 times...
     
    Abhishek Chowdhary and bazelio like this.
  19. k4rstar

    k4rstar On a journey... somewhere

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jun 11, 2016
    Likes Received:
    3,674
    Dislikes Received:
    61
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Canada
    Thank you guys for telling us all how the DAC sounds without hearing it. Your contributions are appreciated.
     
    dasman66, Olor1n and direstraitsfan98 like this.
  20. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Non Voting Friend

    Slaytanic Cliff Clavin
    Joined:
    Sep 27, 2015
    Likes Received:
    2,867
    Dislikes Received:
    98
    Trophy Points:
    113
    It's a NOS DAC with a shitty budget chip from the 80s. It cannot sound good. These aren't Cirrus or AK codec chips that usually sound normal but lack detail and can sound awesome when someone like SPL gets their hands on it.

    1543 was always the shitty low cost chip. Even the no crown 1541 is pretty bad. The QC and tolerances for r2r chips matter a shitton. 1541 double crown was the good one, the Marantz CD7 the most praised product with it and guess what? You'd still hate it and it totally sucks compared to good modern products. A 400 dollar Focusrite Claret 2 Pre takes a dump on it. A 600 dollar 2 channel Apogee interface sends it to the scrap heap. A 100 dollar Modi is more normal and way less offensive.
     

Share This Page