SBAF DAC Talk II

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by Maxx134, Jul 22, 2018.

  1. Scott Kramer

    Scott Kramer Friend

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    OPA2156s are in stock again! Installed in the GDA-600 and working well. Also socketed the bias resistors so it's easy to swap in the current regulator diodes. (ref: SBAF DAC Talk II) No smoke yet...
     
  2. EagleWings

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    Hugo 2, Cayin N8, Wavelight, Bifrost 2, Mojo 2, Abbas 2.3:

    I have been on a DAC pursuit for the last 3 years and have been through some notable DACs and I thought I'd share some thoughts on these devices. I am quite sensitive to treble, but I also like a fairly resolving sound. So finding an ideal DAC has been quite challenging. I prefer the DAC to be free of treble issues and have a good balance of micro and macro. I prioritise inner detail and nuances over a HiFi details. Lack of tonal realism can be a deal killer. I can compromise a bit on separation, stage width and imaging. But a compromise in depth and layering doesn't work for me. Overall, I seem to be very picky about DACs. Open the 'Impressions' spoiler under each of the DAC title to read more about each of the DACs.


    High Level Summary:

    -I admire the performance of Chord DACs, but the lack of organic-ness in their tonal realism is why these DACs don't seem to work for me
    -Cayin N8 was the most well-rounded and well-balanced DAC. I had to move on due to hardware issues and poor price-to-performance-ratio. I am still looking for a DAC that is like this one
    -I seem to like the mids of R2R DACs. But R2R DACs too seem to have treble issues. R2R DACs also seem to have a bit of murkiness in the mids. But I seem to like it.
    -I loved many aspects about the Bifrost2. But on headphones, the strident lower treble and pushed back mids did not work out for me. But I loved the DAC on speakers
    -Wavelight came close to nailing my preference. But the fatiguing treble was a deal breaker. Sold this one with a heavy heart
    -Abbas is macro tilted, very lively and has a wonderful tonal realism. So it makes for an engaging listen. I wish it had better micro and stage


    Chord Hugo 2:
    -Neutral-ish and a coherent sounding DAC with a dry tone
    -Great transients and chameleon like speed
    -Sound is slightly tilted towards micro than macro
    -Excels in HiFi details, separation and imaging
    -Excellent overall resolution and refinement
    -Very good stage with excellent depth and layering while being wide enough and airy
    -Not very authoritative and weighty in the bass nor with attacks generally
    -Tonal realism lacks an organic quality
    -Not a lot of meat on the bones. But not thin either
    -Not as textured as Schiit DACs but has more micro details than Bifrost 2
    -Treble can be a touch bright
    -Fairly transparent and can be unforgiving due to bright treble
    -The output stage is kind of weaksauce. Does way better with an external amp
    -The onboard digital volume control kills dynamics, details and depth, and I much preferred using the RK27 potentiometer on the BW2

    Cayin N8:
    -Most well rounded and balanced DAC I’ve heard
    -Neutral-warm in tone and fairly pleasing yet engaging listen without much treble issues
    -AKM4497 based. But not velvet in sound at all
    -A step behind the Hugo2 in overall performance but is more more engaging
    -Finds the right balance between micro and macro
    -A touch behind the Hugo2 in micro details but better than the Bifrost 2
    -Not as textured as the Biforst 2 though
    -Depth and layering is not as great as Chord and R2R DACs, but the stage is sufficiently wide and airy
    -Midrange has a bit of inner warmth and is full bodied
    -Has good transparency and walks the fine line between forgiving and unforgiving
    -Has a refined and resolving sound, without sounding Hi-Fi

    Bifrost 2 (OG):
    -A love-hate DAC. Loved it for what it did well and hated it for what I disliked about it
    -In the lower mids, it is warm and rounded in attacks
    -In the lower treble, it is bright and strident in attacks
    -This kills the otherwise beautiful tonal realism the DAC is capable of
    -Mids are bodied and have an inherent warmth
    -Not the best quality bass but hits quite hard
    -Not super refined or resolving. But provides an engaging listen with its energetic sound
    -Has the best texture among the 6 DACs discussed here
    -Micro details are not as great as Chord, Wavelight or Cayin
    -Resolution, refinement and separation are also not as good as even the Mojo2
    -Stage width and imaging are not comparable to Chord
    -But the depth and layering is excellent
    -On speakers, the weaknesses become less apparent and the strengths shine through
    -Sounds quite life like on speakers

    Rockna Wavelight:
    -The sound has a resemblance to both Schiit Multibit and Chord
    -Has the tonal realism in the midrange and ballsy sound akin to Schiit DACs
    -But is also HiFi sounding like the Chord DACs
    -This is another DAC that does the balance between micro and macro quite well
    -Scores high on both performance and engagement
    -Midrange has a bit of inherent warmth but is bright in the treble
    -Overall treble is a bit lifted and can be harsh or fatiguing for treble sensitive folks or in the wrong system
    -The lifted treble and the HiFi sound doesn’t let the tonal realism in the midrange to shine
    -This is the least grainy DAC I have heard in my system
    -Excellent stage with great depth and layering
    -Separation and micro detail is a tiny step above Hugo2
    -Inner detail and microdynamics may be the best of the bunch here but could have been slightly better for the asking price
    -WL and Chord DACs have a way of showing gradations of dynamics in a more nuanced way
    -For instance, on a spectrum of 1 through 10, WL and Chord DACs can produce dynamic gradations of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.
    -Whereas the Bf2 and Abbas can only do 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10. Cayin would slot somewhere between here 2 categories
    -On headphones, Mojo2 comes close in terms of separation and some micro and HiFi details
    -On speakers though, the WL pulls ahead quite a bit and has a huge sense of scale
    -Unlike the Bf2 where the weaknesses are less apparent on speakers, the issues of the WL are still apparent on speakers

    Chord Mojo 2:
    -Read Hugo 2 impressions first
    -Basically a Hugo2 but a touch less bright/sterile and a step behind in performance
    -Has an effective built-in EQ with which you can try and mimic the tonal balance of Hugo2 or the Mojo1
    -The output stage and the built-in digital volume greatly limits the performance of this DAC
    -Feeding Optical from a good source takes the performance one step higher (will apply to Hugo2 as well)
    -Optical input (or Poly) + external amp + external vol ctrl reveals how capable this little DAC is
    -I was willing to overlook the insufficient texture and truncated decay
    -But the lack of tonal realism was a deal breaker once again

    Abbas 2.3SE DAC:
    -Kind of the opposite of modern DACs and doesn't have a HiFi sound
    -The sound is macro oriented than micro
    -Unlike most NOS DACs, this has a very energetic and punchy presentation
    -Bass quality might not be as good as modern DACs. That doesn’t bother me, but might bother others
    -The DAC does decay quite well. But Wavelight is still the best
    -Mids are warm and meaty, but as already mentioned, it can lack a bit of inherent details
    -The tonal realism of this DAC is really something special. Very realistic/organic/life-like
    -Upper treble is a bit toned down (which I like). Lower treble has the right amount of presence
    -Can be a touch bright in the upper-mids
    -Texture, microdynamics, inner detail and micro details could have been better
    -Transparency is quite good but resolution is not its strength
    -Also doesn’t have a very refined type sound like that of modern DACs
    -Stage is NOS like. Condensed towards the center and not great with separation and imaging
    -Depth and layering meets the bare minimum
    -Works really well with wide-banders and full-range driver speakers due to similar strengths
    -May not work well with modern, HiFi sounding speakers

    DAC Comparison Chart:

    Screenshot 2022-12-15 at 5.54.58 PM.png


    Chains:
    Macbook > DAC > EC BW2 > HD800 (Hugo2, Cayin N8)
    Macbook > DAC > Tannoy Gold 7 (Bifrost2, Wavelight)
    Allo USBridge Sig > DAC > EC BW2 > HD800, HD650 (Bifrost2, Wavelight)
    Allo USBridge Sig > DAC > Yamaha AS2100 > Graham LS6 (Bifrost2, Wavelight)
    Allo USBridge Sig > DAC > Elekit TU8900 > HD800, HD650, HD580, Lii F15 (Bifrost2, Wavelight, Mojo2)
    Hydra Z > DAC > Elekit TU8900 > HD800, HD650, Lii F15 (Mojo2, Abbas 2.3)
     
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    Last edited: Dec 15, 2022
  3. ilikebananafudge_

    ilikebananafudge_ Almost "Made"

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    Are you referring to the Bifrost 2 (OG) or the Bifrost 2/64?
     
  4. EagleWings

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    Bifrost 2 OG
     
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  5. Baten

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    You're making a really compelling case for the Cayin N8... surprised you rate this thoing so highly. I'll see if I can audition it at a dealer in town!
     
  6. EagleWings

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    I didn’t like it much as a DAP. And I hated it’s Nutube implementation. Perfect example of how a tube shouldn’t sound. The solid state headphone output was much better. The Line Out however was immensely good. As you can see from the scores, it really isn’t a top scorer in any single aspect. But scores consistently good across the board.
     
  7. internethandle

    internethandle Almost "Made"

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    Great write up. It’s always really interesting when someone can espouse a personal vision of what great sound is like for them, communicate that clearly, and present impressions in a way that gives you a feel of how that vision might deviate or align with your own.

    Would be interesting to see how you would respond to LIM. Its highs are less sizzly and sharp, on the whole, than BF2, but retains and improves on a lot of what you seemed to enjoy there, and I assume from the above that you haven’t heard an Yggdrasil of any version. Still, I dunno - if you’re digging Abbas, Schiit (multibit) DAC’s in general are pretty incisive at least in a relative sense and may or may not jive with your preferences.
     
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    Last edited: Dec 15, 2022
  8. Erroneous

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    @ductrung3993
    Moving the convo over here where it's relevant.

    Absolutely, unless you're chasing a very particular colored sound keep looking at the Modis and whatever Geshelli stuff you're looking at. Don't pick up an MHDT or other weird DAC until you have your shit figured out and are specifically looking for a DAC that's colored in just the right way to fit into the puzzle piece you need it to fit into, and even then be prepared to mod it to your specific preferences.

    Until then, just use off the shelf stuff that you can easily sell. And even when you know what flavor and attributes you need, it's still great to just buy something you don't have to mod to oblivion just in case you hate it so that you can move on to the next thing.
     
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  9. Psalmanazar

    Psalmanazar Most improved member; A+

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    Don't buy a weird DAC in general. All of your music went through some dirty tube stuff or a bunch of old ass opamps, NE5532 if you're lucky. All you have to do is beat those, their multitrack, or their multi channel converter to get transparent sound and most studios aren't sporting a Lavry Blue or Lynx Aurora. You can beat an Avid converter with Schiit.

    If you want to make it better than the recording, get one of those super dacs with the super cleaned up jitter like Lavry, Crane Song, or Dangerous. You'll get radical stereo separation from records that were deliberately clipped or overdriven and slammed into stereo compressors to "glue" it together and reduce the stereo separation.
     
  10. EagleWings

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    Thanks for the kind words man. Yea, LIM is very much on the list of DACs I want to try. Importing stuff into India is an expensive endeavour, else would have picked one up already. I've already lost a ton of $$$ from importing the Wavelight and the Abbas and want to tread carefully moving forward. I have tried the Yggdrasil A1 in a friend's system (which I am somewhat familiar with) and it sounds very nice. While did not hear any stridency when I tried it, my friends have warned me to stay away from it. I actually do like an incisive sound. In fact all these 6 DACs are incisive. But yea, the Bf2 takes it a bit too far. As for the Abbas, I do like it a lot. But the micro and stage leaves a bit to be desired.
     
  11. ColdsnapBry

    ColdsnapBry Almost "Made"

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    Does this DAC exist? Sub $300, can be turned off / on (Schiit Multibit DACs that need 1 week of time on I'm looking at you), 230v option, galvanically isolated USB (to avoid graphics card noise).
     
  12. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth 2000% biased Planar Hater

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    iFi Zen stuff is worth a look
     
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  13. wbass

    wbass Friend

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    I've got a chain that seems to be on the soft side: iFi Neo Stream (with internal Burr Brown DAC) --> SPL Phonitor SE / Nitsch Piety --> Hifiman HE1000SE / Focal Elex / HD58X.

    The Hifiman are particularly on the soft side, and even the Elex seem to lack a little slam. I'm thinking that the DAC in the might be tuned a little on the gentle end.

    Wondering if a DAC with a bit more punch or bass heft would help. I think a go-to rec here would be the Bifrost 2, and I actually have one. But... not with me (it's in storage for the next year or so). I also have a Yggdrasil (Analog 2) and a Matrix X-Sabre Pro (ditto storage), so I'm maybe looking for something different or something to tide me over.

    Also helps if relatively available in the UK/EU. Tempted by the Soerkis DACs, but don't know how much punch they have. The iFi DACs come to mind, but I'm not sure they'd be much different than what's in the Neo Stream (whatever is in the Neo Stream!).

    Trying to keep it around/below $500/£500, but can go a little above that budget.

    Thanks for any suggestions.
     
  14. androxylo

    androxylo Acquaintance

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    I've got the impression that only 3 or 4 manufacturers are making non trivial DACs in volume, everything else is pretty much hand assembly and thus has terrible cost/sound ratio. And then there are 50 models under $200 that you can find on Amazon, all of them crap, that cannibalize all good quality sales. So either you are a rich guy with $3k+ for a DAC or you choose between Schiit and Chord, unless I stand corrected.

    As I'm not a rich guy with a wife and kids I was pretty much cornered between BF2 and Hugo2, not just from this thread but after reading this wonderful forum for a year. So I ordered Schiit Bifrost2 because I feel in this normal dad price range there is nothing else to think about at all.
     
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    Last edited: Dec 28, 2022
  15. Lyander

    Lyander Official SBAF Equitable Empathizer

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    Given the price of Chord stuff, I'd substitute them with iFi. I haven't tried their latest and greatest but I do rather like how their gear sounds at the price point (keeping in mind I'm probably a couple standard deviations below many on here in terms of number of DACs tried).
     
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  16. androxylo

    androxylo Acquaintance

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    I'll beat you with how little I tried. I currently own Schiit Modius for 2+ years, and I really really like it. I think Modius is great in details, that's what I like in a desktop system I have with near fields 3 ft from my ears. Mudius has mushy bass and weird sound stage, that's minus. I guess if I'm actually quite happy with it BF2 should make me even more so.
     
  17. Pharmaboy

    Pharmaboy Friend

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    If you consider a used DAC your search can go wider. I have & love the MHDT Labs Orchid. It's one of three or four MHDT Labs NOS DACs that have something of a cult following.

    Side benefit of any MHDT Labs DAC: it gets you over and away from the various obnoxious qualities of delta-sigma DACs. That stuff is just gone. These DACs are not for people who seek the ultimate in "resolution," but they are for people who want digital that sounds like music.
     
  18. luckybaer

    luckybaer Friend

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    If you’re looking for more heft or slam, would T it make more sense to find headphones that meet your desired profile rather than trying to find a DAC?

    Differences in media (mastering and actual physical media - tape vs. vinyl vs. digital) and different headphones/speakers seem to impact what I’m hearing the most. The differences from DACs and amplification are much more subtle to my ears, where as media and headphones/speakers will hit me without any effort on my part.
     
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  19. internethandle

    internethandle Almost "Made"

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    I'm now into TOTL territory (Studio B, Yggdrasil LIM), but I can tell you that I still sometimes look back at the time I spent with BF2 into a Valhalla 2 and then into a BHA-1 with a bit of a "I should have just stopped there" sentiment. BF2 really is that good, IMO, for price-to-performance. Extremely difficult to beat in its price range for what it does.
     
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  20. JayC

    JayC Resident Crash Test Dummy

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    Where do you guys find the sweet spot for a 2 channel system in terms of a DAC? I've been running a Modi MB (OG i think) for a long time now and I want to explore a bit upwards to see what I can gain. What I find I'm missing the most at the moment is stage depth and clean, detailed bass. I'm willing to hit as high as a Gungnir Multibit (based on price/size/etc) but I wonder if its worth going that far or just get to a BF2 or similar
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2023

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