Soekris dac1421

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by Vtory, Nov 1, 2018.

  1. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    [​IMG]

    DAC1421 in the house. Not mine though (the loaner program).

    A little bigger than my adi-2, but still very cute. I love this level of small sizes -- office/desktop-friendly.

    Right after turning it on, the sound is a little lean and harsh-ish on trebles. Not as severe as day 1 of Gungnir Multibit though. I know I know multi-bit needs time to be stabilized...

    Will have a shootout party with adi-2 dac prol on Sunday or so. Hope 1421 gets warm enough until then.

    P.S. I assume this thread is also for 1421, because presumably 1421 and 1521 share lots of sonic characteristics, as described in Soekris webpage.
     
  2. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    Several notes on day 2
    • Stabilization of 1421 is much faster than expected. OG Gungnir Multibit needed at least 3-6 days after power on. 1421 already seems to be there (or 95% there) just after 30 hrs of warm-up. A bit surprised -- really. Maybe is this because of discrete ladders (as opposed to IC-based multibit)? idk.
    • Soft minimum phase filter (filter lamp off) worked best for me compared to the others, by a big margin. I will use this filter in my evaluations.
    • Built-in hp amp is decent but surely it failed to address major issues of hd800. Didn't like it with elex, either. So, I will mainly look at this unit as a dac, not as a dac-amp.
    • The sound of 1421 so far is clean, pure, and honest-ish. Very impressively so.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2018
  3. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    Day 4, shoot-out -- DAC1421 (abbreviated as 1421) vs ADI-2 DAC (abbreviated as adi2)

    Associated gears
    • Headphones: HD800 (wo mods) and Elex were mainly used, because these two have the resolving ability needed to this kind of dac comparison.
    • Head amp: Black Widow 2
    • Speakers: JBL LSR 308, I don't think my pairs or lsr308 aren't as resolving as my headphones. So, these are only used to investigate (regular) stereo images and stages, in addition to head-stage and head-image tests.
    • All the active gears were powered via PPP ac re-generator.
    Setting notes
    • 1421 with soft minimum-phase filter, adi2 with short-delay sharp (aka steeper minimum-phase) filter, mainly because these settings maximized my overall listening pleasure.
    • Adi2's digital attenuation was bypassed.
    • 0.5 db of software attenuation was applied via foobar2000 to prevent potential clipping
    Observations and findings
    • I kinda categorize these two dacs into the same domain: Both dacs are far from rich tones and meaty bodies -- particularly compared with og Gungnir Multibit or qutest. Also, both (1421 and adi2) are rather on the clinical/analytical side, at least to my ears.
    • Tonality-wise, 1421 is brighter and stronger on trebles and tops than a tad bright adi2 (note: my previous dac before adi2 was og Gungnir Multibit). Not sure whether or not this is an appropriate expression, but 1421 sounds like "sabre done right". Downstream tonality may be a big decision factor if you consider 1421 in your rig. To me, hd800+bw2 with 1421 was nearly on the borderline between "acceptable" and "intolerable". Tubes and darker/warmer gears will benefit 1421 for sure. I am suspecting if previous high praises of 1421/1521 came mostly from hd650 or zmf.
    • Blacker background, super clarity, and cleaner sound are where 1421 really shines. Indeed, 1421 outperforms all the dacs I previously owned or auditioned in this aspect, with only exception of Dave. By contrast, adi2 sounds like having better resolution with more relaxed and less proactive presentations. This is funny, because I felt nearly the same way when I compared og Gungnir Multibit and adi2 (i.e., adi2's role was the opposite).
    • Micro and macro dynamics of 1421 are very good, but not as delicate as adi2 to my ears. Possibly because of more polite presentations of adi2, which helped me to focus on small details of music. If this is the major priority, I think going for Schiit dacs is a better choice because og Gungnir Multibit already destroys these two dacs.
    • Transient responses were great with both. Quite moving and authoritative with equally fast decays. What mostly differs is the softness of attacks. 1421 hits harder while adi2 does softer (and more rounded). I don't think one is superior to the other in this regard -- just a matter of preference and/or downstream synergy.
    • Staging and imaging are good. But a bit strangely, 1421 behaves more like DS implementations. When testing with speakers, 1421 reproduces a bit smaller stages. Also it's more upfront (i.e., I am sitting in front rows). Switching to adi2, stages are a little wider and deeper with more separation among instruments. Feel like I sit in row 7-8 or so. Headphone tests nearly mirror that experience except stage depths. 1421 renders stronger and more vivid (thus more realistic) center images. As a result, I prefer to use adi2 for classical works, symphonies and large-scale jazzes (e.g., "Live in Zürich" by Aruan Ortiz Trio) while 1421 is more pleasing with female vocal works (e.g., "Little Crimes" by Melissa Menago) and small chamber musics. This preference was consistent regardless of either headphones or speakers.
    Other things to be considered
    • 1421 can be better with later-added custom filters, which I couldn't test because this is a loaner unit.
    • Adi2 handles usb input signals superbly even when they are somewhat contaminated and dirty. So, it is likely that 1421 gets (relatively) better off with a careful choice of decrapifiers such as reclockers.
    Closing thoughts
    • For its asking price of $985 (as an aside, it's very encouraging for US customers to have a place to buy Soekris products handily), 1421 is really a solid performer. It doesn't have rich set of features like adi2, but has a number of meaningful strengths hardly bested by other alternatives. But at the same time, I found it very difficult to call one is overall superior to the others. All-time conclusion still applies to this case -- a matter of preference and synergy.
    • Practically, I once considered to switch to 1421. But at the end of the day, I found my preferred headphones (hd800 for now) favor adi2 more [1]. I will get a loaner auteur sometime next week or so, and have ether 2 prol around the end of this month. These two headphones may draw very different conclusion regarding adi2 vs 1421. It will be interesting, but not available for now. I have to send this unit to the next person next week. Feel a bit sad.
    Footnotes
    [1] With my current upstream gears, I have nearly zero motivation for modding my hd800 (maybe this is also partly helped by potential running changes of high serial numbers? -- mine is 4xxxx). But if 1421 is my dac, I will be probably eager to apply SDR and Vader mods (or equivalent ones).
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2018
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  4. Vansen

    Vansen Gear Master (retiring)

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    @Vtory and friends, I moved this out of the dac1541 thread and into its own thread since one did not exist.
     
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  5. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    Cool. I was hesitant to do so (staring a new thread) because some 1421 talks were already in the 1541 thread.. Totally fine with this movement. Thanks!
     
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  6. Vansen

    Vansen Gear Master (retiring)

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    I'll scroll through that thread this weekend and move any other relevant posts here.
     
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  7. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    My gut feeling was right.

    I am shortly confirming these by myself. 1421-BW2-Auteur is fucking fantastic.. Auteur's forgiving, polite, yet resolving bio-cellulose sound seems to pull most out of 1421 dac in a very pleasing way -- way higher level of synergy than RME. Will detail impressions and thoughts when I post about Auteur.
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2018
  8. sacredgates

    sacredgates Audio-Technica's high priest

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    Similar conclusion here with 1421’s big brother dac1541 and Auteur. Somewhat dry, etched presentation with deftness to each note of Soekris dac goes well with the bio-cellulose driver of the Auteur. But you still have to put a fitting amp in between...
     
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  9. soekris

    soekris MOT - Soekris Engineering

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    Black Friday and Cyber Monday Specials

    From Friday Nov 23, 2018 to Monday Nov 26, 2018 we're having a special discount of 15% on the dac1421, dac1541, dam1921 and dam1941. See http://www.soekris.dk/ordering.html for information about where to take advantage of this special offer.
     
  10. Syzygy

    Syzygy Friend

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    This is my first impressions post on SBAF.

    I was able to listen to the DAC1421 during the loaner tour, and this was my first experience with a Soekris product, and also with a modern discrete R2R DAC.

    While I briefly tried it out as a DAC/amp combo (plugging into the headphone port in the DAC1421), my primary goal is to decide on an upgrade for the home DAC, so I mainly used it as a DAC only.

    My setup for listening the Soekris DAC1421:

    DAC1421:
    • USB input
    • minimum phase filter (no light) [more below]
    • volume set to 0

    Audio Chain:
    2017 MBP, Audirvana+
    ⇢ USB-C/A adapter
    ⇢ Schiit PYST USB
    ⇢ DAC
    ⇢ PYST RCA
    ⇢ Amp

    I auditioned the DAC1421 both at home and at work.

    At home:
    Schiit Valhalla 2, stock tubeses.
    Schiit Modi 2 Uber.
    HD6XX stock.
    20-22 dB background noise level as reported by Smart Tools on a Pixel2.

    At work:
    Massdrop Cavalli Tube Hybrid, stock.
    Schiit Bifrost Multibit Gen5.
    Massdrop T-X0 stock.
    48 dB background noise level (constant HVAC blowing), Smart Tools/Pixel2.

    Note: since this is my primary listening environment, I've added some Apple AudioUnit ParametricEQ settings to Audirvana to flatten out the T-X0's response curve. The exact settings are noted in the T-X0 thread, and they are very small adjustments. I don't currently have time to journey down the road of hardware-based tweaks.

    Aside: I've discovered that I like those EQ settings even when listening to the equipment at home.

    Arrival
    -------

    I plugged in and started listening to the DAC1421 when it arrived at home, fresh off the white truck on a cold day. It was quite rough sounding, as I expected, as the metal housing of the DAC itself was still quite cool to the touch from being in the cold delivery van.

    I checked again after an hour, and could tell that it wasn't quite ready yet. I was busy for the next couple of hours, but finally about 4 hours after I switched it on, I was able to sit down and listen.

    Filter Selection
    ----------------

    My first goal was to determine which filter setting I preferred. For this, I decided to re-listen to Carmen Highlights, to which I'd been listening through the Modi earlier that day. It didn't take me long to find that I prefer the minimum phase filter (no light) setting on the DAC by quite a large margin.

    General Impressions
    -------------------

    Modi 2 Uber
    -----------

    As I expected, the DAC1421 was quite a big step up in sound from the Modi 2 Uber. Horns lost all sense of grittiness around the edges; vocals were more natural, and guitar reproduction sounded perfect. The soundstage was wider and deeper than the Modi.

    I swapped back and forth between the Modi and the DAC1421 for 2 or 3 songs, and then stuck with the DAC1421, because it was just so much nicer than what I'd been hearing all day.

    Throughout my time with the loaner I'd head to the home office to listen after everyone else went to bed, with the goal of listening to familiar music and see if anything at all was noticeably annoying. It wasn't. In fact, I found that I rather like how natural the music sounds, the soundstage, especially the depth and layering, and the timing.

    Oh, the timing! I was listening to Honky Tonk, and was struck immediately how the decay of the guitar chords sounded spot-on. I don't think it's something I'd be able to notice until presented with the difference. But it was stark.

    Bifrost Multibit Gen5
    ---------------------

    I'd wished my office environment was quieter, and in fact didn't realise just how noisy it was, since we'd just moved to a much quieter office! So I wasn't able to listen as carefully for microdynamics as I'd have liked. But I was more methodical in my comparison for most of the playlist.

    Since I didn't have the quietude I desired, I decided to listen first to a song with the DAC1421; then switch to the Bifrost and listen to the same song with it; and finally back to the DAC1421 once again for the third time. I wanted to be clear that I was actually hearing a difference I could quantify. So I did this for about half a day's listening before my boss intruded and I had to produce some work. By then I'd pretty much discovered my general impression of the differences between the two DACs (within the office constraints, of course).

    I also listened to several of the very same recordings I'd listened to using the home equipment, to allow recent audio memory to come into play.

    In general I'd say the DAC1421 provides a deeper soundstage, less surgical presentation, and a warmer sound than the Bifrost Multibit. Not sure if "warmer sound" is what I mean, in comparison to when others use the term. I noted "more musicality" in one case, which I think of as somewhat the opposite of surgical precision.

    Conclusions
    -----------

    I was surprised that the DAC1421 appeared to support a maximum of 96kHz as reported by Audirvana+. In contrast, both Schiit DACs are reported to support up to 192kHz by it. I avoided the higher-bitrate music in my library, and didn't investigate further.

    I would have no reservations pairing the DAC1421 with the Valhalla 2 / HD6XX combination as an upgrade to the Modi 2 Uber. However, I'd prefer a simpler implementation: DAC-only (same circuit design), and I'd only need one filter.

    I like the idea of flashing alternative filters, though I'm not an audio-nervosa kind of person, so I'd probably just try it once or twice to find the filter I prefer and stick with it. Until there's an upgrade to the preferred filter; then the ability to download and flash a new one at home is awesome.

    I think I'd also be fine pairing the DAC1421 with the MCTH / T-X0's. However, I'd want to listen in a quieter environment first.

    Playlist & Related Notes
    ------------------------
    I wrote terse notes as reminders rather than complete sentences so I could more focus on music than typing.

    I didn't take any specific notes with these:

    Here's to Us: Halestorm (96/24 hdtracks)
    I Can See Clearly Now: Holly Cole
    Down By The Seaside: Led Zeppelin (96/24 hdtracks)
    Born Too Slow: Crystal Method
    Ray's Rockhouse: Manhattan Transfer
    First of a Million Kisses (album): Fairground Attraction

    Carmen Highlights: Georges Bizet
    Used while also checking filter preference. Wider/deeper soundstage and layering compared to Modi2U.

    It's Been a Long Long Time: Harry James Orchestra
    An old recording; sounds as good as it can. Trumpet's not gritty.
    DAC1421 has vocals forward, orchestra behind. Bifrost a thinner, narrower stage with the trumpet more forward.

    Honky Tonk: John Tropea
    Guitar chord decay timing is more realistic than other DACs I've heard. Bifrost included in that. DAC1421 has a wider soundstage than Bifrost.

    Right to be Wrong: Joss Stone
    Soundstage is correct for a "small jazz club", as intended in production. Proper placement of the female vocal.

    Vienna, Part 1: Keith Jarrett (96/24 hdtracks)
    Heard a variance in the decay of a certain piano chord I hadn't heard before; kinda like a vibrato, but not quite. I attribute it to the DAC's timing.

    Fallen: Lauren Wood
    Sax appropriately staged; some other DACs have a problem with it in this song where it gets muddied. Sounds like a sax! timing.is.right.

    Nobody's Fault But Mine: Led Zeppelin (Celebration Day 2007 Live 48/24 Bluray RIP)
    Modi - DAC1421 presentation isn't crowded; vocals are clearly centered, with a wide enough soundstage that the amp'd guitar doesn't overlap it. It sounds like a live concert should.

    Bifrost - DAC1421 vocals are more forward; has a deeper and wider soundstage.

    Bonzo's Montreux: Led Zeppelin (96/24 hdtracks)
    DAC1421 provides nice separation of the different drums. Bifrost has noticeably more distinct (clinical) timing, with same apparent separation. DAC1421 has a much deeper soundstage.

    Isn't She Lovely: Livingston Taylor (96/24 hdtracks)
    DAC1421 warmer than Bifrost. Whistle presents more realistically, not as clinical.

    3am Eternal: KLF
    Deeper soundstage than I've heard on this track before.

    Shibuya Station: David Benoit
    Bifrost has drier, more technical presentation. DAC1421 seems more "musical". Bass seems tighter with DAC1421.

    (Edited only to add italics) Aside: everything should support Markdown!!!!!!!!!!! (11 !s for believability)
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2018
  11. soekris

    soekris MOT - Soekris Engineering

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    Thanks for the nice review.... Fyi, the dac1421 does up to 384Ksps, but it have a small switch of the rear to switch between UAC1 (up to 96K without windows driver) and UAC2 (up to 384K but mostly need driver). You might have the switch set at UAC1....
     
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  12. Syzygy

    Syzygy Friend

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    Thanks for the clarification. I didn't muck with switches on the back.

    I figured there was something set to limit it for Windows. And it was no bother, really, since very little of my library is greater than 96/24. I've kinda decided that's a good balance between disk space and sound quality.

    I only noticed because I happened to play a 192/24 track and the DAC's light stayed at 96, which struck me as weird. Audirvana automatically downsamples when necessary. I opened up Audirvana's settings and everything above 96k was greyed out.

    Thank you for creating such a nice DAC! I've been eyeing one of your R2R kits for a few years now (because I like to play with hardware), but as my current status notes, time the great equaliser has refused to allow me (yet).
     
  13. fp627

    fp627 Friend

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    My initial impressions of a recently acquired 1421 (not SBAF loaner). So far I've had about a week on it, 1-3 hours each day, most days, 1 6.5 hour session while typing/working at home (not focused listening) to test for fatigue/"digital glare". My first SBAF initial impressions/review and I'm not that great at writing reviews, especially when it comes to describing the "audiophile" terms and nuances of sound, so please forgive any shortcomings in this commentary.

    TLDR version -
    Would I buy this again? Yes.
    Will I be keeping this for a while? Yes.
    Mr SoeKris - you have a great product.

    Long version:
    After 1 hour, I already knew the answer to the above questions was yes. 1 week later (admittedly not that long), opinion hasn't changed. For me, buying and keeping something is close to the strongest recommendation I can give. Most gear I hear falls into either "don't like", "ok/neutral", or "it's cool and I like it but probably wouldn't buy + keep it for a few years". However, just like "there is no perfect headphone", this isn't a perfect DAC either. Was originally deciding between 1421, 1542, MB Gungnir, RME ADI-2 DAC. Tried MB Gungnir, was happy, but then bought this on SBAF w/o trying it. Like it slightly more than MB Gungnir (based on initial listening) but I don't like it so much that I won't also be getting a (most likely) RME ADI-2 DAC later for some music - see below for why, mostly has to do with transients. 1421 hasn't scratched the itch for an eventual Yggdrasil either, although that doesn't mean this DAC will go when the Yggdrasil shows up. It is different enough from the Yggys I've heard that I'd be willing to keep both if I have the space.

    Equipment chain and usage:
    2015 Macbook Pro --> Factory Soekris USB cable to 1421 --> Liquid Platinum (cans) / arcam rhead (IEM) / --> See signature for all transducers, but mostly used with LCD3, HD650, Focal Clear, UERM. Tried LP with factory EH 6922, Telefunken 6922 (Telefunken Production), and Amperex Bugle Boy 6922. Didn't notice particular/extra DAC synergy or bad synergy when tube rolling.

    Have not tried the crossfeed or filter settings yet. Running into Liquid Platinum at -20db from 1421 so I can keep the volume knob between 11 and 12' on the amp. 0db keeps the LP knob around 8:30 - 9:30, slightly lower than I like.

    Amp section of 1421:
    Only tried for 10 minutes to make sure it works properly. It does. Will try it more later.

    "Other" Thoughts:
    Has the distinct R-2R/Multibit sound, but different than Schiit offerings I've heard (Modi, Gungnir, Yggdrasil). I've heard some other R-2R and MB dacs, but not enough that I want to comment more and possibly give wrong info.

    Overall build quality, finish, buttons, inputs/outputs, and digital volume control on front all feel "of quality". Using power cable the unit comes with; not sure if it'd sound "better" with a different cable. Manual explicitly states a fancy cable is not needed or something close to this.

    Sounded rough as expected the first evening after plugging everything in. Left on overnight + listened again for 10 min before work about 6.5 hours later - sounded a lot better. Listening again after work - sounded the same as it did in the morning (memory only). Aside - the lights on this are potentially bright enough to bother some people if used in bedroom. Not a problem for me as I can still sleep at night with lights on.

    Music and Sound commentary
    :
    Most importantly to me, does not have a fatiguing sound or digital glare. Normally if I get it, it will be within 1 or 2 hours. 6.5 hours of background listening and 3 hours of focused listening didn't bring it on for me.

    Overall sound is somewhat analytical sound to me (where as the Yggdrasil is more "alive" and "musical") but still very fun and enjoyable. Mostly neutral freq response, something in upper mids sounded slightly "different" to me but I can't place my finger on what it is. Upper registers were pleasant enough (I'm a little sensitive for treble spikes). Managed to "tame" my Focal Clears a little - the treble + a little sibilance on these will get tiring to me after ~1hour of more treble intensive music with just about any DS DAC I've heard (if using a neutral amp, not amps fault, etc.).

    Soundstage feels slightly smaller and closer with this DAC. Syzygy said it well above, I'm sitting near the front rows of the stage. It feels slightly curved around my head as well (vs some headphones it feels like a "rectangle" area in front of you and some feel like a general "arc" around your head.). For a few live recordings of single instrumental performers when the camera was used to record sound (and not equipment), the distance of the shot in the video approximately matched the distance of the sound, everything did sound like you were slightly closer.

    Instruments are well separated. Listened to a few orchestras and was able to tell if cellos were placed beside violin 2 or on outside edge beside violas.

    Not sure if this is the DAC or LP amp yet, but the background is quiet when I plug in my UE5 (my most sensitive CIEM). However, it doesn't have that "pitch black" sound. Definitely no audible white or other noise though.

    Sennheiser HD6xx/650 veil was 85-90%removed as well. Remaining bit might be due to not have the right 6922 tubes or maybe overall amp for 1421. As a reference point, if I plug in my SDAC into the LP, the SDAC cannot lift this much of the veil when used with the LP.

    Marco and Bass Slam - DAC is not the limiting factor in my system. Quality of slam is good but needs a little more quantity. Doesn't make bass sound/feel "cheap" or "slappy" as some DACs do imo. See song notes below.

    Detail in music (is plankton the right term?): Don't know how to describe this other than I think it's about 8 or 8.5/10. For reference, best I've heard to this date for details in music would be either the Aurender A-10 (AK chips IIRC) or Resonessence Mirus Pro (which surprises me given that I don't generally like ESS based DACs).

    Transients - This is the 1 part of the DAC I had a little issue with (using both arcam rhead and LP, so probably not amp related. Don't have the same complaint with an arguably "simple" SDAC or Mojo either). Transients are not "fast enough" in a few instances when the notes start and end. Or even with other sounds such as when a singer breathes in/out to me. However, to me this is not surprising given that DS generally excels in regards to time while MB is better at resolutions in my own listening and experience. I suspect this is also part of why some people prefer DS over MB/R-2R.

    The most notable example is when listening to the decay of drum cymbals and hi-hats sounded like they were artificially chopped short to me. Instead of a full "ppsssshhhhtttttttttt*ringing*" I only hear "pssshhht ||| ", where ||| is the sound being cut, mostly at end, a tiny bit at beginning. Sounds also tend to merge together in busy songs. However, I typically prefer rock, metal, and busier music out of (well implemented) DS DACs as "all the stuff" generally seems to run on longer which separates out instruments + sounds a little.

    Despite the above, I don't think the 1421 is bad at transients. Just that it could be better.

    Some of the music I listened to (and what I was listening for). Note that not every song I listened to is here: Hungry and busy now, will post song impressions later.
    - Music in the SBAF Video game thread because I was already posting there. Note that some of these come from YT at 1080 (noted per song), so sound quality is gimped due to YT + browser algorithm/codec/etc.
    - Max Payne 2 Theme Cello - on YT - The cellos sound a lot more "lifelike" but not completely natural. "Colors" in the strings were there, at least as much as YT could put it there. "Layers" in vibrato sounded natural (something that a some other DACs I've heard muddy up slightly or make a little artificial IMO).
    - Witcher 3 OST - on YT:
    - You Belong to Me (Courtnee Draper) - on YT:
    - Stand by Me + Hunger by Florence and the Machine:
    - Mother - Danzig
    - Silverwing - Arch Enemy (with Johan Livia vocals):
    - Enemy Within - Arch Enemy (with Angela Gassow vocals):
    - Six + Not Alone - All That Remains:
    - Limit to Your Love - James Blake:
    - Sound of Silence - Disturbed - on YT:
    - Chandelier - Sia
    - Tightrope - Chvrches
    - Multiple Songs - The Used
    - Parallel Universe - RHCP
    - All That - Dillon Francis
    - Lose Yourself - Major Lazer + RDX
    - Cat Daddy - Rejectz
    - 4th Dimension Acoustic + Timing is Everything Acoustic - Lights
    - Half of each the Roses album and Blonde album - Coeur de Pirate
    - Somebody That I Used to Know - Pentatonix cover
    - Uh uh - Thundercat
    - Thousand Shades of Blue - Carmen Gomes
    - Impromptu - Tony Overwater + Bert van den Brink

    Test tracks and "proper audiophile music" with UERM to better test separation, detail, and sound stage will come later.
    HE-4xx for more pop music and some electronic music will come later.
    More cello, classical guitar, and sax music to come with Clears + LCD3.

    Feedback on how to improve my commentary is welcome. Even after lurking here for a year, this is something I still think I need to work on.
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2018
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  14. Joshvar

    Joshvar Almost "Made"

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    A review I guess. I own the Soekris dac1321 and Modi Multibit, and auditioned the Soekris dac1421 via the loaner tour.

    The dac1321 and dac1421 are separated by $416 ($266 as of writing during the BF sale at Mod House Audio). I’m a value shopper, and bought my dac1321 used but I to keep it apples to apples, I’ll go with full retail prices in any further comparisons.

    Things you get when upgrading from the dac1321 to the dac1421:
    • BNC digital input
    • Larger footprint
    • No wall wart - bigger internal SMPS
    • More LEDs, including a level display
    • Better buttons and a bigger/better knob
    • Power button on the front instead of a small switch on the back
    • Crossfeed
    • Slightly better specs on the DAC section
    • An onboard headphone amplifier
    How you value these things is personal, so I set out to answer specific questions that are likely not getting answered elsewhere:
    1. Can I tell a difference between the dac1321 and dac1421?
    2. How well does the onboard headphone amplifier perform?
    3. What other functional differences crop up during the evaluation that may help inform decisions of fellow humans?
    1. DAC Comparisons
    Done with constants: Eitr to eliminate nervosa, CTH and HD600 for familiarity. Level matched kinda poorly, with a phone using a DB meter pressed upon it. Minor tinnitus. Sighted.

    Modi Multibit

    Forward with a fairly flat but not terribly narrow stage. I don’t think I can hear vertically. Great but not over pronounced bottom end. A bit warm with some midbass bloom, very smooth, and detailed enough. Resolution in the upper registers is not amazing, and is where it loses out to those great measuring $100 delta-sigmas on my ears. Macro dynamics tend to be a bit compressed, microdynamics are where I have sensed the most difference in coming from entry level DS stuff. Has a bit of a softness but also due to forwardness and staging has a slight aggressiveness, which is what makes it interesting and enjoyable to me. It’s a bit much with IEMs though - going from forward to shouty - for my crappy ears.

    Soekris dac1321
    Relative to the Modi Multibit: Bottom end is punchier, but just as nice. There’s all those treble details! Stage is wider - I’d guess the HD600 is a limiting factor at this point. Makes the Modi Multibit sound like it has a 3 blob stage in comparison. Things sound a bit tighter - highs are crisper, decays on instruments are cleaner, can hear of the imperfections in vocals (raspy voices are more obviously raspy, for example). As smooth as the Modi Multibit is, this is smoother and more detailed at the same time - probably what would some folks perceive as “faster.” Highs are cleaner but not sharp. I am reaching for the volume and have to stop myself...that’s what told me it was a keeper in the first place. Macrodynamics are noticeably improved, which means it does delicate things really, really well. Quiet passages draw me in more, but it still brings the pain with a turn of the volume knob. Wouldn’t be surprised if I’m amp limited, even with this DAC. All that said, it doesn't grab you at first with any one thing - a number of these things begin to add up and make the flavor of it obvious.

    Soekris dac1421
    Slightly bumped up specs, probably inaudible, right? My setup is admittedly not optimized, so I probably am not a great candidate for this. But I’m realistically a customer...so…

    Basically sounds the same character-wise as the dac1321. Brain’s telling me the stage seems a bit deeper. And dynamics (micro and macro) may be a bit stronger, as well. Background is noticeably blacker, if I understand that term correctly. It’s sort of the whole “you don’t know what you’re missing” thing...I would probably fail a blind test unless I had a very fast switch between a few passages that I think demonstrate this that are beyond my cable swapping capabilities.

    I’m probably at or past the capabilities of the CTH and/or my hearing, but for me the differences were minor and possibly placebo.

    2. Soekris dac1421 internal amplifier vs CTH
    I've trimmed the bulk of my notes out because I found them annoying, so my conclusion is that the amp is decent. I’ve not sampled much of the recent $100-150 amp arena, but it’s a not insubstantial step behind the CTH in basically every subjective note I took, which points me to that $100-150 range - I’d imagine the Magni 3/Cavalli Spark/Vali 2/JDS Atom would all provide flavors to match preferences more closely. The bullet points I noted in favor of the CTH:
    • Soundstaging was significantly better.
    • Treble was smoother.
    • Less congested overall.
    And against the dac1421 internal amplifier:
    • Something in the subbass decay was strange to my ears (almost like cup reflections even with the HD600).
    • Just generally thin sounding with everything I threw at it.
    • Something was missing from the upper mids/lower treble.
    3. Other Notes/Functional differences vs dac1321
    • Internal amp isn’t completely off when in line out mode.
    • dac1421 USB vs Eitr: Can’t tell a difference, couldn’t with the dac1321 either.
    • Crossfeed: Green (-12 dB) Orange (-8 dB) Red (-5 dB) - Effect is pretty subtle going up. I can tell a difference, but can’t really describe it well. To me it kind of collapses the image but not severely - probably a preference thing, but I preferred it all the way off. Only works on the built-in headamp.
    • Filters: I found little discernible difference in the dac1321’s filters. Blame my shit ears. I stuck with the stock minimum phase/Butterworth (Green in Soekrish) on both.
    I’d personally value the additional features and improved (but inaudible to me with my gear) performance at about $150. This is obviously dependent on your use case.

    Where does that leave me? Well, the dac1321 + CTH is staying. I’m not hearing a gap substantial enough in my poorly controlled comparison to feel like it’s an upgrade sonically. I do like the display, larger volume knob, and internal power supply but the internal amp would be only considered as a backup for me. Taken as a whole, it’s a great device but the value for me to upgrade isn’t there, but if I was buying again I'd probably go for it. Your ears may vary.
     
  15. sheldaze

    sheldaze Friend

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    Introduction

    What does R2R mean to you? The first R2R I heard was Gungnir Multibit, which I purchased an hour after its initial release. The second R2R I heard was Yggdrasil, which I heard at a meet event a week later. These two DACs and their updated A2 releases are reference products. Each has industry leader quality to price ratio and well-written user reviews. With the slight shift of A2, one can almost triangulate to describe a sound lying between the four signatures. I will use these points to compare to the Soekris dac1421. However, to cut through to my conclusion, I like the Soekris dac1421. It has a well-implemented OS filter with an R2R chip at its core. It is a good representative of the breed.

    Sound (part 1)

    I used a simple setup to start:

    MacBook (2008, still works) > USB (PYST) > Soekris dac1421 > HD650K (stock cable, with XLR adapter in the middle)

    Like my first listen to Gungnir Multibit years ago, the Soekris was good. I hope to clarify something here, which I wrote about the Cyan. How do I listen to music - quietly. I do not need dynamic, quick volume shifts (e.g. Porsche 911) - just enough to hear what is happening in the music (e.g. Mazda Miata) will satisfy my listening needs. To kick, punch, thump or whatever everyone else calls it - I do not need it. I need clarity, and a full frequency spread. This the Soekris does direct from the headphone jack when played through the HD650K. I let it warm up for two days this way, generally switching between the Soekris and my baseline:

    Gungnir Multibit (A2) (RCA) > Black Widow v2 > JAR650 (stock cable, XLR)

    R2R means to me… Not suffering with the etched 90s disc player sound. Good R2R allows me the least sacrifice of things I expect from an audio listening experience. Prior to Gungnir Multibit (OG), Bifrost Uber was my source for headphones. Meridian Director was my source for speakers. I tried some consolidation via the highly recommended Arcam irDAC. But each DAC traded one quality for another. The Bifrost had some clarity, but left me tired of listening after a while. The Meridian was easy to listen to for long periods (on aggressive B&W speakers), but it was murky and not as clear as the Bifrost. The Arcam cleaned up some of the murk, but it was typical D/S boring. Gungnir Multibit was the one DAC that cleared the clutter, a shelf full of a dac-a-minute(s). R2R had weaved a proper balance between clarity, ease, and engagement. The Soekris dac1421 does this much the same. It is easy to hear that it is an R2R at its core.

    The Soekris also has its own signature sound. If it were just R2R, a Modi Multibit would suffice. The Gungnir is probably the correct reference level to compare. Had I still owned the Gungnir Multibit (OG), the Soekris difference would be more noticeable. Bass on Gungnir Multibit (OG) is fat. Bass on Soekris is deep and controlled. Treble on Gungnir Multibit (OG) is a little hazy, blocky, not as precise in the transition from each preceding note to the next note that follows. I hesitate to say it, but the Soekris imparts a sort of “HERE ARE THE NOTES” nature that reminds me of the Hugo 2. It is almost too easy to hear the notes, in a way that I suspect something a little unnatural happening in the filter. It is like a slight cleansing, which I have no idea how to describe by the math algorithms, the signal processing. It just sounds cleaner than I would expect. The Gungnir Multibit (A2) that I use today has actually moved closer to Soekris (continued in Sound, part 2).

    User Interface

    I changed my setup for better A/B comparison:

    Gungnir Multibit (A2) (XLR) > BHA-1 > HD650K (XLR)
    Soekris (RCA) > BHA-1 > HD650K (XLR)

    Soekris was set to +6 on the volume to best match the volume of the Gungnir Multibit (A2). This high volume was not due to balanced vs unbalanced. I later connected a Cyan, Grace Design, and Mojo (1.9 - 2.1 volts), and each output volume at unity gain that was close to Gungnir Multibit (A2). Setting the Soekris above 0 did cause another issue - many songs now went into clipping.

    I also want to mention the other features and interface design. I thought the Soekris dac1421 interface was done well. The size is small, a little light - minimal presentation, not cheap. I get how previous reviews state that pushing the button could cause the box to move. But there isn’t a lot that needs pushing. Power on. Input selection. A small niggle - the display for sample rate is incomplete. As I cycled through these (my playlist tests in order: 176.4, 48, 192, 44.1, 96, 88.2) only the 44.1 and 48 were clear from the output. At the higher rates, the Soekris displayed only X2 or X4, when I think it makes more sense to display the multiplier and the base rate. It should have X4 and 44.1 lit for 176.4. It should have X2 and 48 lit for 96. I did not use XFeed. I clicked through the Filter options, each indicated by a different color light. There’s enough variation between filters to satisfy most listeners. Output can be set to headphones or line, each retaining the last volume used. Fantastic! Volume is easy to adjust by a digital knob. The Soekris interface is the right way to design a user interface.

    Sound (part 2)

    Now using the BHA-1 to A/B, the sound of the Soekris seemed to hover in air. Sounds panned far left and right were extremely so. I have written notes that perhaps the depth of the Soekris is a little less than Gungnir Multibit (A2). I would not describe it that way after a longer listen. I used some Beatles tracks to hear stage width. On the Gungnir Multibit (A2), the sounds seemed less pinpoint, less stuck to the studio track location, and perhaps a little more 3D. Gungnir Multibit (A2) spread each sound a little wider from the point of origin. Gungnir Multibit (A2) gives more the sense of a real-world sound blob, versus a sound point. The difference versus Soekris was less to do with depth, and more to do with the sense of a 3D-ish “thing” at the point of the sound, from the Gungnir Multibit (A2).

    Gungnir Multibit (A2) is not Moffat typical-thick. Bass on the Soekris played deeper and had more volume output. Soekris was also more deliberate, harking back to my comment - “HERE ARE THE NOTES”. When switching back to Gungnir Multibit (A2), it took my mind a few seconds to sort through the extra sonic stuff. A quartet (3 violins, 1 cello) was no longer just hearing bows and strings. Each music note had to first compete with the scratching sound of the bow being pulled along the string, and the resonance of the violin/cello body, and then the room. Underneath all that extra sound was the original sound of the note. I’m not trying to describe the Gungnir Multibit (A2) as better - just different. As I listened to as many songs as I could, I could not conclude which was truer. I was not there in the room when the recording was made. A guess is the truth might lie somewhere in the middle, between the Gungnir Multibit (A2) and Soekris.

    Both Soekris and Gungnir Multibit are engaging to listen (dynamic, balanced, not sterile), but there is a layer of something removed from the Soekris sound. There’s still a bit of huff-and-gruff from the Gungnir Multibit (A2). Neither Gungnir Multibit (A2) nor Soekris have a SABRE glare - Soekris is still less GLAREY. I mentioned in the Cyan thread how my Gungnir Multibit, before upgrade, was fairly intense (not as warm as I recall the first Gungnir Multibit of 2015). And I stated, how the A2 seemed to take away some of that intensity, leaving just the clarity. Well, it does! But in relation to Soekris, some of the intensity is still residual in the Gungnir Multibit (A2). Listening to bad recordings on the Gungnir Multibit (A2) is an obvious mistake, followed by an immediate, painful slap across the face. Listening to bad recordings on the Soekris causes less pain.

    All-in-one

    The Soekris is a nice device to have within arms reach. It was quite easy to set up. It is lightweight, meaning if you are a constant button-pusher, it may annoy you. I thought it was most annoying when I tried to hear the differences between the filters. Each push caused the box to slide a little. Then I later removed my review of the filters. Two I liked - two I did not like. It sufficed to say, there is enough variance. So I summarized, the listener can find one they like.

    Soekris does have a failure in one use, which I did not try, but I have done in past. When I owned Ragnarok, its worst feature was it had no remote. As a pre or an integrated amplifier, it required frequent trips from the sofa to the stereo system. Changing inputs is okay. Volume, such as muting (e.g. phone call, answering the door) or adjusting volume at the correct distance, is maddening. The Cyan has a remote.

    When you use the Cyan remote, the horrible knob is a non-issue. The Cyan still has a blinking display, and it is still slow to change volume. But there is a fundamental question for most listeners. The answer is the Cyan has much more headphone volume and bite. For me, as a quiet listener, the Soekris is a compromise I am willing to take. For others, it may not be so.

    Sound (part 3)

    Soekris is a little dry. That is true. But it is not so dry that I found it unusable. I used it direct to headphone for two days. The next two days, I used it with the BHA-1, including for a mini-meet. Afterward, I made one last switch, to a setup that worked best for me. Someone at the meet left a gift of stock JJ tubes, which I used to replace the stock EH tubes in my Platinum:

    Soekris (RCA) > Platinum (JJ E88CC) > HD650K (XLR)
    Gungnir Multibit (A2) (XLR) > Platinum (JJ E88CC) > HD650K (XLR)

    I will repeat what others have said about the Soekris dac1541. Adding just a touch of tube bloom to the Soekris sound is wonderful. The pinpoint focus, Soekris foundation, worked well in combination with a slight tube bloom. This was the kind of setup where I forgot clothes were in the wash and dinner was heating in the oven. Sorry that doesn’t help you. Simply if you use tubes, I recommend trying with the Soekris.

    I chose to make a graph, to try to illustrate the last point. X-axis represents DAC clarity. How resolving is it of the smallest details? Y-axis represents how wet or dry the DAC is. NOS is wet. D/S is dry. The scale for both axis was 1 - 4, though I felt the Mojo fell below the scale in terms of dryness due to what I sensed as an extra effort to be different. Like turning up the sharpen on a television, it goes beyond the point of gaining any added detail. Though people like it, it is actually adding noise and losing definition. Cyan and Gungnir Multibit (OG) may be scored a little too low on the clarity axis, but these are still significantly higher than what I previously considered baseline, the $600 DACs. After seeing the chart, I agree with what I saw.

    [​IMG]

    The baseline for decent sound, in my experience, used to be Bifrost Multibit, Mojo, m9xx. The Mojo has no clothes. Though other sites would disagree, it is naked according to the common SBAF folklore. I sold my Bifrost Multibit when I realized I could no longer use it to tell how good other gear were. This happened twice - first when I heard grit in the Bifrost Multibit through a Gilmore Lite mk2. The Chord Qutest (used at the time) was brighter, but it also did not have the sonic grit. Next Bifrost Multibit error was heard through a ZDT Jr. When a friend stopped by, I do not think he ever heard the full resolution of the amplifier. It sounded the same as the Valhalla 2, both fed by the Bifrost. Last DAC, the m9xx is what I connected immediately after shipping the Soekris to the next loaner participant. It improves after 4-hours warm up, but still sounds blocky, blunt, unclear.

    From what I have heard of recent, Soekris makes a strong argument for the next baseline. It has enough of an improvement over what is offered today for $500-600. I have not heard the Airist, and will try to lock the sound of the Soekris into my memory for a comparison in May. But from what I’ve owned, the Bifrost Multibit has loopy bass. The Chord Mojo is a D/S, which tries to hide its underpinnings. After listening to Soekris for a week, I plugged in a Grace Design m9xx. It was terrible cold. It was significantly better 4-hours later. But the sound was missing the enunciated, deep bass. It is more of a thuddy, muddy wall of sound. Without having heard the Airist, I would have to state the Soekris is the next significant step up, and an alternative to the mainstream Gungnir Multibit (A2). Depending on which Schiit version, Gungnir Multibit (OG) might have the Moffat warmth, or might trade listener ease for a slightly higher clarity than the Soekris. Yggdrasil, Onyx, Dave, etc. are better but are also multiples of the Soekris cost. I think the Soekris hits a sweet spot of price, clarity and a usable level of dryness. It does this without the D/S boredom or glare. It is a good representative of what an R2R should be.

    TL;DR
    Good
    • Excellent representation of the breed of R2R
    • Headphone jack provides full-spectrum sound
    • Non-fatiguing good foundation
    Bad
    • Unity gain has lower volume than other DACs
    • Headphone jack provides diminished dynamics (expected)
    • Sample rate output, not as useful as higher rate (e.g. 88.2 vs 96)
    Not Ugly
    • Not too dry, not cold or brittle
    • A little tube bloom may be a welcome additive
    • Soekris “house” sound (compared to Soekris dac1541)
     
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  16. Metro

    Metro Friend

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    @sheldaze, great writeup! I have a Soekris dac1541, which I got based on feedback indicating close to Gungnir Multibit level performance in a small all-in-one. I use it as an all-in-one on my computer desk for headphones and powered monitors, and very happy with it.

    It is a bit shocking how lightweight the 1541 is, and the 1421 must be even more so. My 1541 replaced a Jot w/DAC, which is a heavy brick in comparison. The Jot's weight and solid build gives it a much more premium feel than Soekris. The 1541 retails for about $1400 USD, but I have to say that the box and controls have a fragile and cheap feel. However, as an all-in-one, the 1541 was a big step up from the Jot. Of course the Jot has a better amp, but the Soekris amp is good enough and its DAC is so excellent that in the end it was a very worthwhile upgrade.

    The Soekris is compatible with Apple remotes for controlling input selection and volume. I bought an iPod remote for my 1541, and I see in the 1421 manual that it works the same way.
     
  17. soekris

    soekris MOT - Soekris Engineering

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    I really don't get it why people like heavy audio equipment, I consider my case made of 2mm aluminum pretty high quality.... It's on purpose I made it lightweight, when shipping worldwide shipping cost matter.... Maybe I should make and offer an optional case of steel....
    To mute fast, turn the volume control fast to the left, or hold the volume down on the remote, the volume control is time/speed sensitive and will adjust using larger steps when turned fast....

    Output is standard 2.0V RMS single ended at 0db signal.
     
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  18. Taverius

    Taverius Smells like sausages

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    Nono, a luxury edition in rhodium-plated osmium xD

    20kg just for the casing.
     
  19. yotacowboy

    yotacowboy McRibs Kind of Guy

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    I don't want to sound like I'm shitting all over this thread, but @soekris, why don't you just do a plain old DAC? I'd be interested in one for my office setup if it was DAC-only.
     
  20. Taverius

    Taverius Smells like sausages

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    Isn't that what the 1321 is?
     

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