Soekris "dac1541": DAC/Amp - Stream of Consciousness Impressions

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by Torq, Jul 27, 2017.

  1. sacredgates

    sacredgates Audio-Technica's high priest

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    @Torq... thanks for all the comments so far... It gave me already quite a clear picture of what to expect...
    I am really grateful for all this evaluation work. I learned so much already because of SBAF. Not so long ago I was still listening with a Concero HD and a Violectric V200...

    Did you get more chances to play with the crossfeed settings after your early general comment?

    @new members and lurkers here: Torq has been using a handful of his top favorite dacs to compare the Soekris with. That the Soekris has not been put to shame is already an achievement for its price. Differences with dacs tend to be much smaller than is the case with headphones and amplifiers. As I understand it Torq here is mostly not talking about worlds of differences and some of them even might only be relevant with critical listening. For me extras like a good crossfeed implementation might be as important as the last bit of better SQ.
     
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  2. willsw

    willsw Friend

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    I suppose I was reading things a bit quickly and not very critically. The description of the analytical character of the DAC and having the positives of Sabre without necessarily having the negatives was what stuck out most, and knowing that this is the V1 release of what will probably have a few changes, and will definitely have DIY community refinement, and looking at the internal shot and seeing what looks like a couple of off-the-shelf switching power supplies, I immediately began imagining what could be made from this promising start.

    The OEM board itself isn't what I thought would be better - it is, I believe, at least equivalent to the boards in the 1541. How the power supply, input, and output are implemented around the boards is what I was thinking might possibly yield impressive products at those price points, based on what seems to be a well-designed, analytical core.

    It's possible I'll be buying the single-ended version when it's available, so I'll get my own idea for potential.
     
  3. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

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    I would not describe the dac1541 as "un-musical", so "no" not really.

    A purely analytical presentation would generally mean it was un-musical, but that's not the case here. In my opinion it leans more towards being analytical than it does towards being musical. It's not clinical - that would indicate that it wasn't conveying emotion - which isn't the case.

    I do find myself distracted by the technicalities more than I do with my preferred DACs, and that will pull me out of the moment, but if it was a purely analytical or clinical delivery then there'd "no moment" to "pull me out of". So, again, it's a leaning not an absolute.

    Another way to think of it, though it is not a direct alternative, is that the dac1541 has a "drier" delivery than, say, a Gungnir MB or a Spring DAC. It's closer, in those terms, to the signature (not necessarily the overall performance) of Yggdrasil than Gungnir MB or the Spring DAC.

    I might also describe the Spring DAC as having a somewhat sweet, or romantic, delivery, which is also not the case for the dac1541.
     
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  4. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

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    Yep.

    They work - the effect is definite and immediately obvious, even just casually stepping through the progressive levels of crossfeed available. It's going to be more valuable for certain types of music than others, nominally that with a lot of hard-panned content. They'll kill the "three blob effect" quite nicely, if that's an issue for you, and don't seem to make a mess of other areas in doing so (though obviously crossfeed does have downsides).

    I preferred listening with no crossfeed.

    Depending on your choice of player software (assuming a computer-based source), you may have more flexible/configurable options and other related effects (e.g. spatialization) that make the feature moot.
     
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  5. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    Measurements on Pontus begin later today and through the weekend. Should be finished early next week.
     
  6. GoodEnoughGear

    GoodEnoughGear Evil Dr. Shultz‎

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  7. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

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    Excellent!

    Sounds like we should stick with the original plan then and just do the hand-off directly once you're done and available. I should be around, with a good amount of schedule flexibility (for once), the latter part of the week and beyond.
     
  8. Nanekiu

    Nanekiu Rando

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    Been listening to my DAC1541 for a day now with my monitoring combo HD800+Phonitor2. i find the hard brickwall filter to be more dynamic than the other stock filters.
    But i eventually settled on using the soft buttersworth filter, and bypassing the fir1 filters by upsampling PCM to 352/384khz using the much more powerful/flexible filters found in HQplayer.
     
  9. m.i.c.k.e.y

    m.i.c.k.e.y Almost "Made"

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    So your early impressions?
     
  10. Nanekiu

    Nanekiu Rando

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    What's most noticeable is the sense of soundstage/resolution/transparency/layering. I don't really have many DACs to compare it too as higher end Schiit offerings are kinda rare in my country. But in my opinion it is definitely better than the Auralic Vega i had some weeks ago to audition.
    I'm a bit overwhelmed by the treble of the unmodded HD800 while previously i had no such problems probably because of the increased clarity of the Soekris dac. I don't really recommend using the stock HD800 without the SD mod or a tube amp with this DAC.
    As usual music that has been excellently mastered sounds fantastic while on the other hand you will be able to hear every little imperfection in the source material.
     
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  11. Asgeir101

    Asgeir101 Rando

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    I haven't had time to do extensive analysis/comparison of the 1541, but overall I agree with Torq and Nanekiu.

    This Dac clearly befits from a tube amp as long as the amp doesn't diminish the fantastic clarity, soundstage and layering provided. Compared to the headphone out my liquid glass adds some warmth, body and "heft" when driving my Ether 1.1

    I think torq's description of sabre detail without the grating is spot on and I also find it's background is pitch black with decay and reverberation beeing very natural and sustained
     
  12. Nanekiu

    Nanekiu Rando

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    There's also the option of flashing new filters if you open it up as soekris said it shouldn't affect warranty, or bypassing it by sending it 352/384khz.
    I didn't listen to the stock filters so much as i clearly preferred the sound using HQplayer+closed-form.

    There is a NOS filter on diyaudio filter brewing thread that I'm gonna flash when i receive my USB-TTL cable.
    I don't think torq has reviewed the DAC with modded filters so there could be SQ gains there.
     
  13. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

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    Nor am I going to - for this or any other DAC.

    What gets reviewed is what the manufacturer chooses to ship, otherwise things ultimately descend into the nonsense of "Well, it's not great stock, but if you stick cardboard under the transformers it becomes the bestest-evah!" I might re-visit units that have user-upgradable filters/firmware as a specific selling point and which are designed, form the outset, to make this easily available to the user (e.g. PS Audio, Linn), but otherwise no.
     
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  14. Nanekiu

    Nanekiu Rando

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    Are you joking about the cardboard or do people seriously believe that?
     
  15. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

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    Do a search on user "GUTB" and "Gustard" here, or Google for "Gustard X20 mods" ... and you'll see that's just the tip of the ice-berg (not to say that mechanically damping a transformer can't have benefits, but it's not going to change a lower mid-fi classic-Sabre sounding DAC into an Yggdrasil or DAVE).

    The point is less about what the mod is, however, be it physical or software, just that once we get into including arbitrary changes to a stock product then there is no limit to what people want to argue about in terms of how to change random-run-of-the-mill-product into world-beating-bargain-giant-killer.

    --

    It's a similar thing with doing oversampling to bypass filters with HQPlayer - there are just too many options and tweaks that can be applied there, even if you're willing to do it, for it to be in anyway practical, or relevant, to reviewing a DAC. You'll never get agreement on which is best and it will degenerate into mud-slinging between those who prefer stock, vs. filter A vs. filter B or C or N.

    So I just do them all on the same footing (bone stock) and people are free to fiddle with their units and how they run them from there.
     
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  16. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    I face the same with measurements. A typical analysis suite consists of 20+ measurements. Now pick a sample rate, bit depth, filter option and then perform the suite on spdif, USB, SE, Bal and there now are 80+ measurements, each which takes time to setup, measure, validate and document for accurate results. So I tend to use the lowest common denominator of 44.1 KHz but allow 24 bits to clearly demonstrate resolution. Filter choice is how the unit defaults at power on. For multiple filter choices I may show how they differ using square wave response on a 16 bit oscilloscope if time permits.
     
  17. alucart

    alucart Almost "Made"

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    The Soekris DAC1541 arrived at my workplace today - credit to @soekris and his crew for the quick order processing and shipping.

    Listening impressions using PC (Windows drivers installed) -> DAC1541 (via USB) -> Utopia (XLR) [soft minimum filter]:

    - My fears of a cold and uninvolving sound were unfounded = the DAC1541 doesn't have as much body or euphoria as the Pavane/ZDS/Stratus, voices still convey a great deal of emotion along with all the detail, and vibrato (voice and instruments sound oh so good),
    - The detail and clarity are definitely the highlight, and agree with Torq that these are what pops to mind when thinking of the DAC1541, but without the usual negative connotations that brings (the treble isn't shiny or piercing, though some female voices can sound a teeny bit shouty in the upper registers - this can be mitigated somewhat with the soft minimum filter),
    - Tonality is spot on = nothing in the spectrum is particularly recessed or over-emphasised,
    - Soundstaging (width and depth) and instrument separation are great with good amount of air around the instruments, though not as quite as good as the Pavane/ZDS,
    - Bass doesn't hit as hard as the Pavane/ZDS, but is still satisfying,
    - Comparing the stock USB to Audiophileo 2 and coaxial SPDIF = USB doesn't suck, I had trouble discerning differences between SPDIF and USB (will try to compare the AES input later if I have time),

    TL;DR = compared to the Pavane/ZDS/Stratus, the DAC1541 is slightly (but nonetheless noticeably) less musical but competes well on detail, clarity and soundstaging.

    BUT...

    I should very much stress @Torq 's point that the DAC1541 is solid value as an integrated unit, and add to this by saying that the DAC1541's strength and attraction is that it offers such a great sound with such a small footprint - and why it serves my purposes perfectly as an all-in-one DAC/Amp for work for full size headphones, where I often hotdesk and where it is impractical to lug around a large DAC, source with AES card and heavy tube amplifier and cables.

    I would be keen, however, to hear of any comparison with the Metrum Amethyst!

    NB: Someone will may counter with the argument that the Chord Hugo takes this practical argument further by being smaller, more portable and offering "high end" sound, so to pre-empt this, I would say that I once owned the Chord Hugo v1 about two years ago and currently own a Mojo, and within the limits of my memory, I agree with @Torq that the DAC1541 beats both hands down in term of sound, and is far more versatile with inputs, outputs and filters (that actually make more of a difference to the sound).
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2017
  18. Collusion

    Collusion Friend

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    I received my dac1541 this morning.

    Here are my quick impressions vs MSB Diamond V ( with Galaxy Glock, Diamond Volume Control and Isolation Base ). Not exactly a fair comparison due to the price difference ( 1600€ vs ~50 000€ inc. taxes ), but these initial impressions are focused more on the characteristic differences between the two units. I am doing most of the listening via Genelec 8030B monitors, which sit on a table with small stands about 60cm away from me. That means I am using the dac1541 as a dac and as a pre-amplifier.

    Like both MSBs I've demoed home ( Diamond V and Analog DAC, I had both for two weeks at two separate occasions ), dac1541 sounded utterly uninspiring and bright at the beginning. Probably has nothing to do with actual components breaking in, I think I've just got accustomed to less dynamic and resolving sound (again).

    After my first MSB demo with the Analog DAC, I was very impressed with the fluid, analogue sound. It somehow managed to remind me of a vinyl player AND a tape player at the same time. This is also true with the Diamond V, which sounds more dynamic, even ruthless from time to time. It still manages to preserve the delicate vinyl-esque character it has at the bottom of everything else. I fell in love, I guess, and thought this is how every R2R dac sounds. Before Soekris, those two were the only ladder dacs I had a change to demo at home.

    Soekris dac1541 is a bit different. While I could describe MSB house sound as extremely tight, very slightly warm, musical and highly intoxicating, the Soekris house sound is less tight, less warm and also less musical. It certainly isn't un-musical. I guess I could call it just less analogue. MSB also sounds less in-your-face, but is certainly not recessed. Soekris in turn is somewhat more lean.

    The analogue-esque feeling of the MSB units did not manifest itself in the frequency balance. I think it had more to do with how notes started and diminished into the black background. Between MSB and Soekris, I think MSB has somewhat fuller mid-range. The difference is not big. I also can't seem to shake a feeling that Soekris has very slightly pronounced upper frequencies. Luckily they sound very clean and resolving.

    Treble
    Whereas Soekris sounds slightly shimmering at the top end, Diamond V sounds (sheer) metallic, dynamic, life-like and less-unforgiving. Treble is certainly not overdone, but if your recording is bright and hard-sounding, Diamond V will tell you exactly how it sounds.

    Midrange
    Can't really say more that MSB seems to have somewhat fuller mid-range (now I am repeating myself). Soekris may have very slightly pronounced upper mid-range compared to MSB, now that I think of it.

    Bass
    MSB has same kind of attention here as it has at the other extreme. Very tight and articulate. Very tight, but still very lifelike. Soekris has a solid bottom-end too, not boomy or one note.

    Macro-dynamics
    Not whole lot a difference here, as far I can remember. Soekris is already quite impressing.

    Micro-dynamics
    I feel MSB either manages to dig out more small details or just present them in a more natural manner or/and with better timbre. MSB's mid-range sounds more tight but not less fluid. At the both frequency extremes MSB fares better, bot Soekris does very solid job too.

    As a complete package, Soekris manages to sound like a very solid product. Not as good as car-priced MSB with multiple accessories. I feel like it is safe to say that MSB manages to do almost everything right, but it fails to put Soekris to shame.

    So, here are my initial thoughts. I'll be writing my further comparisons with more reasonably priced competitors (Chord Hugo&Mojo, Marantz HD-DAC1) soon.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2017
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  19. sacredgates

    sacredgates Audio-Technica's high priest

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    @Collusion: I am sorry to say I find it a bit hard to follow your impressions of the Soekris dac (Besides that, I am also a bit doubtful that the Genelec speakers can fully expose the qualities of the dacs you mention). I find the sound description terms you use confusing and/or contraditory at times, and they seem not to be quite like I understand them here on SBAF:
    - I could describe MSB house sound as slightly dry, very slightly warm, musical
    - the Soekris house sound is less dry, less warm and also less musical
    - Like both MSBs I've demoed home ( Diamond V and Analog DAC ), dac1541 sounded utterly uninspiring and bright at the beginning. Probably has nothing to do with actual components breaking in, I think I've just got accustomed to less dynamic and resolving sound (again) >< While I could describe MSB house sound as slightly dry, very slightly warm, musical and highly intoxicating.
    Confusing... or do you mean they change after warm up? Or does your brain needs warm up?

    - Also, are you familiar with the "house" sound of Soekris?


    @alucart: thanks for your valuable impressions. Is there a chance you will evaluate the Soekris dac as a pure dac feeding your very fine tube amplifiers? Like this we could have a more direct comparison against the Metrum Acoustics Pavane dac.
     
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  20. Collusion

    Collusion Friend

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    It is generally quite hard to describe in words what you are hearing, since there is always somebody who understands the terms you use differently. But I try to define my impressions better below.

    Really? In your experience, what is it exactly in Genelecs that is holding them back?

    dry = not bloated, not spread out, black background, not same as analytical. Has a lot to do with soundstage and ability to pinpoint instruments. Also, more even frequency balance and better timing. EDIT: now that I have thought about this more, I would just say dry instead of slightly dry. EDIT 2: Maybe "tight" would be a better term here.
    musical = able to convey emotion. Usually means something related to timbre.



    less dry = more round, or imprecise, in terms of instrument separation. Less black background. Also less even frequency balance and less accurate timing. EDIT 2: Maybe less "tight" would be a better term here.
    less musical = ability to convey emotion is not as good. As previously stated, IMO this is related more to timbre than anything else

    As the bold part says, its more of a brain warm up thing than anything else. The "musicality" that you get out of R2R dacs, in my experience, is more subtle than from delta-sigma dacs. That is why I need to accustom to it first.

    Highly intoxicating = highly musical, just one more song, don't want to analyze the sound, just listen to music...

    Well, I am now!

     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2017

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