Easily Lost: "Portable" DAC/amp Comparisons

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by Torq, Feb 8, 2017.

  1. Audio Flynn

    Audio Flynn Rando

    Joined:
    Feb 8, 2017
    Likes Received:
    2
    Dislikes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location:
    Grand Rapids Michigan
    You guys are great at looking at this crazy crowded market niche in digital HIFI. My analog front end was updated last year to a VPI Classic 1 and Soundsmith Otello. Every year I get something new for the past 40 years. Grew up on Detroit FM radio and LPs. The only music I do not listen to is opera. My wife got me a Dragonfly 1.2 two years ago as an entry into the market (added Jitterbug) to my newer Toshiba AMD A10 laptop 8 gig RAM. I do not travel much but when I do I fly it is to Japan or Mexico. Torq mentioning the engine noise made me think I would have a hard time doing critical listening on a plane.

    Robustness being a mandatory but portability not such a big deal I am taking Chord Mojo off the list. Not looking to spend much over 500 USD for computer audio until I replace my MSB DAC III Channel Island Modified with outboard power supply next year. College students sucking cash...

    I have an older pair of AKG K240 headphones made in Austria in the 70s and some mid fi ear buds from Klipsch. Not really a headphone guy. I live way out in the country so I do not get opportunities to audition equipment.

    2 channel system is Audio Research SP-14 preamp (sometime CJ PV12)>NosValves point to point wired 72 pound KT88 power amp> Klipsch Belles 1978 Walnut oil with heavily modded crossovers

    My digital computer audio is Spotify premium, J River FLAC and soon to try Tidal.

    I have tried Creek and Linn amplifiers in past and have found them to be a bit too tame for my liking. My older J A Michel TT is very satisfying but I am not certain I am a UK sound guy.

    I have never owned Meridian or Music Hall so I was interested in the possibility of an Explorer 2 or MH 25.3.

    Or just get the Modi Multibit and call it a day.

    If you were not using headphone amps would it change the reviews significantly?
     
  2. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Likes Received:
    8,366
    Dislikes Received:
    13
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Quick update ...

    Haven't forgotten about this, just the usual life stuff getting in the way (quick Valentine's escape with the fiancé) ...

    Should have the two final pieces posted tomorrow (2/16).
     
  3. Senorx12562

    Senorx12562 Case of the mondays

    Friend
    Joined:
    Oct 26, 2015
    Likes Received:
    1,886
    Dislikes Received:
    50
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Limbo
    Hope you had the requisite amount of fun.
     
  4. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Likes Received:
    8,366
    Dislikes Received:
    13
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Finally got the comparisons to Schiit's Modi MB posted ...
     
    Dino likes this.
  5. Vansen

    Vansen Gear Master (retiring)

    Staff Member Friend
    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2016
    Likes Received:
    2,298
    Dislikes Received:
    3
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Seattle
    While I liked the Audioquest Dragonfly Red, and agree with you on its merits and shortcomings, I had to sell mine for two reasons not mentioned here.

    One, with the Apple Camera Connection Kit, the DFR would click and pop a lot. I shared this with the Audioquest guys at Canjam and they said that this can be resolved by updating the firmware on the device.

    Two, with sensitive IEMs, the DFR is too loud at its lowest volume setting for me. When I first got the DFR, the ER-4S was my daily driver, as my JH13 was in the shop. The DFR was really nice with the ER-4S. However, once the JH13 came back in and took the role of daily driver, the DFR never saw use again due to being too loud. I tried it in Win10, macOS, android, and iOS, and all had this issue. I have the same issue with the DragonFly Black. I shared this with the Audioquest guys, too, and had the issue with their units on the loud floor at CanJam. They were not able to offer a solution to this and I simply expressed my desire for them to release a unit targeted for IEM use.
     
    Last edited: Feb 18, 2017
    Kamikazi, Torq and barelyincollege like this.
  6. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Likes Received:
    8,366
    Dislikes Received:
    13
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Worth knowing.

    I didn't mentioned it in my commentary as I can't say I've ever experienced this, either with my former iPhone 6S or my current iPhone 7. And that's across three different versions of the Lighting to USB adapter (formerly known as the CCK).

    I could see this being an issue. It wasn't for me, though my most sensitive IEMs are less sensitive than the JH13. I was usually in the lower-half of the volume range ... but only used it with iOS and macOS systems "for real". One easy and inexpensive solution to issues like this (not specifically for the Dragonfly) is something like this. Shure include it with the SE846 (and other IEMs), though I've only ever used it when testing for hiss or when using the SE846 on planes.
     
    Vansen likes this.
  7. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Likes Received:
    8,366
    Dislikes Received:
    13
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Fundamentally, the differences would come down to imaging/soundstage. There is some basic commentary on that in this post. If soundstage was the most important factor for you, that might affect which way you went, but in general I'd say the ordering holds,
     
  8. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

    Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2015
    Likes Received:
    2,061
    Dislikes Received:
    13
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    small island claimed by China
    Thanks so much @Torq for your comparisons with Modi Multibit. I initially read it on my phone so I didn't get a good look at the spider chart.
    This had me rethinking whether I should buy the Modi Multibit as I don't really have any complaints about my silver iDSD and your impressions seemed to indicate a marginally incremental improvement in sonic performance, rather than a significant one.

    But then I looked at your chart in detail and you rank the Modi Multibit significantly better in 2 categories and only on par for plankton. I know these are your personal (biased) impressions, but I guess a Modi Multibit/Vali2 stack is still on my wish list.
     
  9. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Likes Received:
    8,366
    Dislikes Received:
    13
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    These differences are derived from audition-style listening in addition to just listening to music for the fun of it. But these comparisons still exhibit a heavy bias towards the audition-mode evaluation, particularly when it comes down to scoring. This will tend to skew things and exaggerate the importance/magnitude of specific differences.

    In real terms, in non-audition-style listening, overall differences in the audible performance of different DACs tend to be a lot smaller than reviews (mine included) will typically suggest. To put this in perspective, let's consider a couple of ways I've ranked the relative performance of Schiit's four multi-bit DACS in the past. We'll assume, for these purposes, that Yggdrasil scores a 10 (or, I guess, a 100, since I'll be using one decimal place of precision).

    In the first comparison, if we take my rough/casual "off the cuff" comments, over time, about how, say, Gungnir MB compares to Yggdrasil (or Bifrost MB compares to Gungnir MB), and then normalize them against each other ... we wind up with overall scores that look roughly like this (I'm not doing math here, just an illustration):
    • Yggdrasil - 100
    • Gungnir MB - 90
    • Bifrost MB - 85
    • Modi MB - 81
    But if I get them all together and rate them directly against each other it looks a lot more like this (again, roughly speaking*):
    • Yggdrasil - 100
    • Gungnir MB - 94
    • Bifrost MB - 91
    • Modi MB - 90
    Yggdrasil, Gungnir MB and Modi MB are clearly different sounding ... and have different takes on some technicalities (within a common theme), and I would consider a 10% difference between units to be a useful improvement (and for me a big enough one to justify a 9x price multiplier at this level) - might even trigger a "night and day" comment in a write-up, but in real terms ... it's just a factor of the law of diminishing returns. And that takes hold VERY fast when it comes to DACS and overall performance. By the time you're at the level of Gungnir MB it's as much about synergy as it is any specific component's performance.

    --

    And then, other factors can switch things around a bit when you're talking about "10%" as a difference in overall performance between DACs this far apart in price and technology. For example, I find Bifrost MB and Modi MB almost impossible to tell apart without focusing hard, using specific music, and doing multiple trials. If both are driven by their COAX inputs, from a good source, then after a few sequences I can generally call out the slightly better resolution, space and reduced "veil"** of Bifrost MB. Put both on their USB inputs and the Bifrost MB is a bit easier to discern from the Modi MB. Put the Modi MB on COAX and the Bifrost MB on USB and Modi MB will come up top most of the time.


    That chart really needs 8 or 9 categories rather than the 5 I have compressed them into - some categories are doing double-duty, which can have the effect of further skewing specific differences. It's a simplicity (readability) vs. precision trade-off. I may break those categories out further and update it, we'll see.

    --

    *My mood at the time, or what gear I was listening with, could easily shift these numbers around a bit over time.
    **"Veil", here, is often a polarizing term and possibly exaggerates the effect I'm trying to describe, but it's the best word I have.
     
    econaut, Chuck, topfunky and 4 others like this.
  10. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Likes Received:
    8,366
    Dislikes Received:
    13
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Another thought occurs based on the nature of the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label (when you say "silver iDSD" I'm not sure if you're using the original Micro iDSD or the Nano version), especially in relation to my last post ...

    While I think the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label sounds best via it's COAX input, if you compared it using it's USB input to Modi MB also using USB, I'm not sure the rankings would stay the same. The iFi unit certainly doesn't gain as much being fed by COAX instead of USB that the Modi MB does. It's all single-digit percentage stuff anyway, but I felt it worth mentioning.
     
    gixxerwimp, Dino and Dash like this.
  11. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2016
    Likes Received:
    5,159
    Dislikes Received:
    5
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Portland, OR
    I agree with you that the Modi Multibit and the GOV2+ generally trade blows, and between the two it's a question of which sound you prefer, which strengths you like and which weaknesses you're most willing to put up with.

    I use the Modi Multibit for my speakers and the GOV2+ for headphones. I think the multibit sound syngerizes best with speakers, and with the GOV2+ I can benefit from its balanced output to use as a source for my Jotunheim.
     
    Garns, Dino, Dash and 1 other person like this.
  12. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

    Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 30, 2015
    Likes Received:
    2,061
    Dislikes Received:
    13
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    small island claimed by China
    @Torq Thanks for your detailed clarifications. Far above and beyond the call.

    I have the original micro iDSD which I would think sounds very similar to the Black. I feed it USB with a Note 3 or occasionally a Thinkpad T540p. My usage modes are somewhat different to most as I move around from desk to bed to sofa, so the iDSD's portability really works for me.

    What I plan to do with the Modi Multibit/Vali2 (and possibly Jot) is predominantly use it bedside where I do most of my listening, and occasionally move it around for an extended session elsewhere. I have an iDAC2+iPurifier I use at work which I will replace with a Fulla 2. I'll use the iDAC2+iPurifier as a DDC to feed the Modi Multibit coax. You and @Marvey have said the micro iDSD is a decent DCC, so I'm going to extrapolate and assume that the iDAC2 will be as well.

    My phones are an HD650M, Blackwood Purpleheart and Andros. iEMatch will deal with Vali's cap-coupled output for the Andros (I have a set of prototype pigtails).

    So @Torq, as one of the few experienced SBAFers who's had extensive critical listening time with the micro iDSD and the Modi Multibit, what kind of sonic improvements, in your estimation, can I expect by moving to the Modi Multibit in the setup described above? As compared to a USB-fed iDSD into the Vali 2 or Jot?
     
  13. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Likes Received:
    8,366
    Dislikes Received:
    13
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Very hard to say - and quite possibly they're not big enough to warrant the switch unless you can do it at minimal cost.

    While I would expect that you'd hear a small improvement in dynamics, a little more slam, small bass-bump, slightly better transient response and a tonality that I find a bit more natural, you're also likely to get a slightly warmer presentation with a slightly less-present top-end (though that last part will probably be offset by Jotunheim). The biggest difference you'll hear is in layering and separation, which may or may not be relevant depending on what you listen to. Also, if you ran them into a speaker rig, the biggest delta would be in imaging ... but that's much less apparent with headphones here.

    Sometimes "technical improvements" don't translate into "I like this better". And I do want to emphasize that these are small changes and probably more about taste than immediately obvious "improvements" on those technicalities.

    If I was buying from scratch, with no existing gear, I'd go Modi MB + either Vali 2 or Jotunheim. But otherwise, I'd probably just stick with what I had and go for a bigger upgrade later on.
     
    Chuck, gixxerwimp, Dino and 1 other person like this.
  14. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Likes Received:
    8,366
    Dislikes Received:
    13
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    Comparisons to various DAPs still coming ... made a detour to do something a bit bigger and in a different vein, and that's probably of interest to more people, but more about that in a bit ...
     
  15. jexby

    jexby Posole Prince

    Staff Member Friend JK47
    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2015
    Likes Received:
    4,388
    Dislikes Received:
    30
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    CO
    there's a golden schlong reference in there somewhere.... ;)
     
    Torq and landroni like this.
  16. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Likes Received:
    8,366
    Dislikes Received:
    13
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    In between re-starting "Life after Yggdrasil", a much more sudden move than I expected (despite having been "in the process" for months), and my general tendency towards procrastination, I've been remiss in finishing this series of posts.

    I will correct that this week.

    As a little bonus, and as a test of Amazon's same-day delivery at the new address, I'll be adding the FiiO X5 3rd Gen to the DAP comparison part of all this.
     
    landroni, imackler and Grahad2 like this.
  17. Grahad2

    Grahad2 Red eyes from too much anime

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2017
    Likes Received:
    1,218
    Dislikes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Singapore
    The X5 3rd gen wasn't as FiiO as I thought it was going to be based off a short time with it (5 mins?). Should be nice to read your thoughts on it later this week.
     
  18. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Likes Received:
    8,366
    Dislikes Received:
    13
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    First two issues ... both library scanning related (I'm shocked ... SHOCKED I tell you ... ):

    I'm not sure why these clowns do things like put dual card slots in if they're going to fuck up the scanning so that it stops after 10,001 tracks. Which looks a LOT like a deliberate 10,000 track limit (and an off-by-one error). And, beyond manual inspection, there's no way to know which of the other 4,800 items didn't get indexed.

    There are a couple of FiiO posts about the scanning stopping due to some folder-size limitation in Android coupled with how non-Chinese users deal with album art, and apparently this is the "real" cause. However, it's very curious to me that this fails for me right at 10,000 tracks (I'm not aware of any such list in Android).

    And then the incremental scanning doesn't seem to do anything other than hang the player app. Forcing you to kill the app, restart it, blow away the current indexes (there's a "Database Reset" function specifically for this) and then re-scan from scratch.

    --

    Of course FiiO's short term suggestion is "use folder browsing" (if I wanted to do that, then I didn't need a dual-slot device). They're investigating a possible (as in, they don't know if they can fix it) fix for this - and expecting it to take a while.

    As always with these things, I'm now keeping an eye on my return window. If it isn't working properly before that expires then it will get returned.

    I will say that it feels much more nicely put together than the Onkyo DP-X1 and isn't forcing SRC on everything (so kudos for doing the deep-re-write/replacement of the Android Audio subsystem is definitely deserved). But then it's all but impossible to wake the thing without pausing what's playing or skipping a track due to the position, recess and squadginess of the power button. I would think some of this stuff would come up within five minutes of handing it to someone to try out.
     
    Dino likes this.
  19. Scubadude

    Scubadude Almost "Made"

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2016
    Likes Received:
    215
    Dislikes Received:
    8
    Trophy Points:
    43
    Location:
    Pretoria, South Africa
    Thanks for a comprehensive write-up and enjoyable read. In this category I rate the Nuprime uDSD very highly. In stock form it falls a little short of the GOV2+. However when splitting data and power supply (run mine from a 9600mAh battery pack) it is as good as I've heard from a portable device and good enough for main system DAC duty. Maybe you can the uDSD in a future revision?
     
  20. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

    Friend
    Joined:
    Jan 15, 2016
    Likes Received:
    8,366
    Dislikes Received:
    13
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Seattle, WA
    I finally got around to writing up the summary of how the various DAC/amps compared to a small selection of the DAPs I mentioned initially. And then I added some more thoughts in relation to the newer units, including basic comparisons to the Sony WM1A, WM1Z and FiiO X5iii, along with more-words-than-necessary on how some more recent IEM exposure has affected my listening here.

    You'll find that up at the top of the thread in the original place-holder post for that info.
     
    Kattefjaes and Merrick like this.

Share This Page