Soekris DAC2541 Review And Measurements

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by purr1n, Nov 11, 2020.

  1. futbutts

    futbutts Friend

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    I was thrilled to be able to join the Soekris 2541 loaner tour. I've had my Bifrost Multibit -- my first major DAC purchase ever -- for quite a few years now, and having found a solid state amp that I'm very happy with in the Jot 2 have been itching to update my DAC as well. (Note, I did update my BF to Unison.) Everything I'd heard about the Soekris sounded like a perfect fit, and with its crossfeed feature I thought it might be the one.

    It's not quite. For one thing, the crossfeed only works on the headphone outs, which for some like me who listen to quite a bit of old hard-panned jazz, is a huge disappointment. Of course, if the sound was a substantial improvement over the BFM I still may have considered the upgrade -- but for my money differences between the BFM and the Soekris are too small, for too hefty a price (nearly double what I paid for the BFM, not including Unison) to justify.

    For the purposes of comparison, and comparison shopping, I also visited the Schiitr and bought a new Bifrost 2. I didn't like the BF2 upon release -- I found it too warm, too syrupy. But upon BF2's release I was using the Asgard 3, so I figured it was time for a revisit -- plus I'd read impressions suggesting that Schiit had updated/improved its sound profile. I also figured that would be more useful to readers since the BF2 is a more current DAC than my Bifrost Multibit and so people are likely debating between the 2541 and the BF2. (I wasn't able to audition a Gungnir before needing to send the 2541 off to its next foster home, but am planning to in the near future.)

    All impressions are via the Jot 2, which I find to be a fairly neutral amplifier with maybe a bit of sweetness/forwardness in the mids. I did all my listening with the ZMF Ori's and HD800's, which I'm deeply familiar with and have a strong grasp on their respective sound signatures.

    The change displayed in the 2541 during warm-up is striking. A listen during the initial 12 hours or so sounds strained and etched, there's a gravelly quality to it. But it begins to open up and become more spacious, more relaxed. The sense of space is to my ear what most clearly separates this DAC from the Schiit offerings I'm comparing here -- both the BFM and BF2 are comparatively more focused, straight-forward; it's not a night-and-day thing (really, very few of these impressions are -- I'll note when they are night-and-day). I'd describe the warmed-up 2541 as involving, absorbing -- the Schiit stuff is engaging, more in your face. It is, indeed, easier to get lost in the music with the 2541 than with either of the Schiits.

    I think this can be attributed to a few things in the sound of the 2541. Layering, because of its sense of spaciousness, is really pleasant. Instrument separation feels a touch more apparent, and textural nuances in guitar and vocals are a touch more immediate... they're there on the BFs, but the cleaner soundscape the 2541 provides makes them 'jump out' more. Bass reaches ever-slightly deeper than both Schiit offerings -- but I can't stress enough how subtle that is, and also that it's at the expense of some bass bloom that both Schiit DACs have. This lack of bass bloom makes bass drums hit just a hair heavier, which is really nice on some tracks, and floor toms can be really, really satisfying. There is what I perceive to be a slight treble roll-off on the 2541, which makes it sound just a bit darker and muted-ish -- the BF2 and BFM both have more of a shimmery quality up top, to varying degrees, which lends them more airiness, but also just the slightest hint of haziness or brassiness, for lack of a less pejorative descriptor. With the 2541 there is a feeling that the instruments and voices come out of more of a black background, with the BFs being just the smidgest shade off-black.

    I'll save my more in-depth BF2 impressions for that thread, but want to illustrate where the 2541 outright trumps the BF2 -- which is more due to weaknesses of the BF2 than strengths of the 2541, in my opinion. The 2541 has better timbre, the BF2 in comparison has a flatter presentation. Snare drums sound less rounded, less material. The BF2 is indeed more effervescent up top, but sometimes to a point that is almost fatiguing or glarey, despite its overall honeyed sound signature. The whole reason I didn't keep the BF2 when it first came out was because it sounded way too warm -- while I think updates may have leaned it out a bit, there is still an awful lot of bass bloom, to an unpleasant degree. I think this last point in particular will be very subjective as some people will doubtlessly love the extra bass 'resonance' -- I may just prefer leaner bass, which is more the realm of the 2541 and the BFM.

    I was absolutely shocked to find that the BFM and 2541 are really so, so similar. I was initially hard-pressed to detect differences between the two, even when quickly A/B'ing repetitive sections of songs -- but they're there. The BFM does have a brighter top-end and subsequent tiny bit of haze, but in comparison the 2541 sounds slightly rolled-off, so it's a pick-your-poison situation for me. Some tracks benefit from the 2541's roll-off, and some benefit from the BFM's extra energy up top, but minutely either way. The BFM has more bass bloominess than 2541 (not nearly to the extent of the BF2), and the 2541 gives the impression of reaching about a millimeter deeper, but I find the BFM's bloom down low pretty appealing and actually kind of missed it when listening to the Soekris.

    If there was a trait I could transplant over to the BFM it might be the 2541's way of conveying texture. Bass guitars in particular have just a little extra zest that on certain tracks is very appealing... caveat being that I sometimes somewhat disliked the textural effect the 2541 lends vocals. This is likely by extension of that extra sense of contrastiness that 2541 lends, but certain types of vocal production were suddenly almost distracting -- you can really pick up on the hotness and noisiness of some mics, and certain vocalists who have a grainer or grittier vocal timbre sound almost hyped in comparison to the slightly smoother presentation of the BFM (and, also, the BF2). The aforementioned blackground of the 2541 is also a strongsuit that I would love my endgame DAC to have someday, minus that tiny bit of treble roll-off I detect.

    As mentioned, I think the lack of line-out crossfeed is a huge missed opportunity, especially since the headphone out is nothing to really write home about. It's serviceable, but kinda compressed and a bit gritty. I don't think anyone aching for an all-in-one solution would be utterly depressed about it, but the real value of the 2541 is in its DAC section, and the headphone out in comparison seems ill-equipped. I basically couldn't detect a difference between the 2541's various filters -- on some tracks I noticed what I thought might be just the tiniest extra roll-off with the strongest filter, but it was so subtle it was moot for me. Perhaps I don't know what to listen for. I also have to admit that the crossfeed is okay -- not great. The Corda Meier Jazz ff that I sometimes use for my bedroom set-up is a much more enjoyable implementation. 2541's crossfeed does a good job of making hard-panning sound less claustrophobic, but the Jazz ff sounds more natural while also being, tastefully, a little more overt.

    I have to question who is looking to spend $1300 on an all-in-one solution. I think it's pretty standard at that price level to want separate components to maximize upgrading flexibility... then again, the RME ADI stuff is pretty popular, so what do I know. (I've only briefly listened to the RME ADI-2, which sounds like a textbook AKM implementation, and would pick the 2541 over that in a heartbeat.) If Soekris knocked off a few hundred dollars and eliminated the headphone out, I think that would make for a really competitive product.

    I'm very thankful for the loaner tour as I never would have guessed the BFM would remain so competitive with a shiny new DAC like the 2541. I guess this may fall under Azimuth's observation in his excellent Mjolnir 1 review that obsolescence in this hobby of ours isn't as linear a progression as, say, computers. After a certain level of competence, you are basically paying for a subjective experience, it seems, and what are marketed as 'improvements' can sometimes be to the detriment of your own preferences.

    In short, if I were a BF2 owner and upgraded to the 2541, I'd see it as worthwhile, primarily because it fits what I look for in a DAC much better. The 2541 is also a better DAC than the BFM, but for me they're so similar that I can safely look elsewhere for that next step up.
     
  2. GoodEnoughGear

    GoodEnoughGear Evil Dr. Shultz‎

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    Nice review! Just a comment on the headphone out - per Soekris it's a convenience, it doesn't add much to the cost outside of the connectors, so removing it wouldn't add up to a few hundred dollars. It's decent enough for what it is, so it's more like that headphone jack on an integrated amp that you're surprised to find is not bad and useful every now and then.
     
  3. futbutts

    futbutts Friend

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    If I could lose the headphone outs entirely but have crossfeed implemented onto the line outs that'd be a much preferable design, even if the price remained basically the same. Seems a shame that such a (in my opinion) great feature is relegated to what sounds like a bit of an afterthought.
     
  4. Beefy

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    What's your transport? Foobar has an excellent tunable crossfeed implementation, I'm sure HQPlayer and others have options as well.
     
  5. futbutts

    futbutts Friend

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    i just use the Amazon HD desktop app like a heathen
     
  6. Beefy

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    Yeah, that's a bit more difficult then. I am also a heathen frequently using Amazon and Spotify, and just naturally assume that everyone else is more advanced and enlightened.

    System-level mixing/EQ can be done to help these, but I haven't really found an easy plug and play solution I was willing to try. So yeah, no software crossfeed I guess, LOL!
     
  7. Azteca

    Azteca Friend

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    GoodHertz CanOpener is my weapon of choice. You need to handle working a VST or AU into your signal though. If you're on a Mac, use Audio Hijack. If you're on Windows, maybe JRMC? Either way, worth trying out. I use it regularly.
     
  8. Cspirou

    Cspirou They call me Sparky

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    I've used AU Lab before for Mac but don't know if it's still available
     
  9. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    I just got the loaner 2451 setup and running. The red clipping light flashes sometimes pretty frequently actually with the volume output set to zero. I want it set to zero so the volume is matched to my Yggdrasil for comparison. Is this normal? I don't understand why it would be ciipping with no gain.

    I'm surprised how similar it sounds to the Yggdrasil A2. And it's so much smaller! How can it sound this good and be so small and why is the Yggdrasil so big if the 2451 can be so small?

    My first impression is that the Yggdrasil is more resolving and spacious and immersive, while the 2451 is a little less resolving and expresses music with an emphasis on tone over details. I think the phrase "painting with broad strokes" is a pretty good description. It also sounds more dynamic than the Yggdrasil. So far I prefer the Yggdrasil but man, they are very close and the 2451 is much cheaper and smaller.
     
  10. soekris

    soekris MOT - Soekris Engineering

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    Once music goes though the digital filters, a few samples can go above 0 db, and the clipping indicator is sensitive, even if you can't hear it.... Just set volume to -1 dB. Anyway, you can't assume levels are matched between two DACs just because volume is set to 0 dB, although the dac2541 and Yggdrasil are both specified the same level for 0 dB....
    It's mostly a problem with never recording as they tries to get close to 0dB in the ongoing volume wars....
     
  11. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    Thanks for the response! I'm not just assuming, it is pretty well volume matched at 0dB. I guess I have to lower it though.

    You did an amazing job with this DAC! I don't know what kind of magic is inside here that allows it to sound this good and be so small.
     
  12. Beefy

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    The wonder of transistors, my friend! We'll convert you yet! :eek:
     
  13. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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    @rhythmdevils regarding clipping, see this post and the subsequent one for the measurement and technical explanation.

    With dac1421 & dac1321 I found some of my material needs lower than -1dB to avoid red light action completely. I now have it set at -3dB.
     
  14. GoodEnoughGear

    GoodEnoughGear Evil Dr. Shultz‎

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    Or if your OCD is bothering you, cut a few dB in your media player (assuming it has a competent digital volume control) and set DAC2541 to 0. I use JRiver's "Internal" volume mode and do this. "00" FTW.
     
  15. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    Time to revisit these posts on Soekris dac2541 gain staging:
    Soekris dac2541 technical measurements - gain staging part 1
    Soekris dac2541 technical measurements - gain staging part 2

    Note how the potential for clipping is dependent on filter type. This is not limited to dac2541. Many dacs exhibit similar behavior. The real issue, as @soekris states, is production of media that has content with both 0 dBFS samples and high transition rates. In my system I drop the digital level 2 dB before sending out via Dante, which provides multiple dacs with the same digital data stream for comparison while avoiding filter overshoot clipping issues.

    The dac2541 is a small footprint champion. Very high performance / price ratio.
     
  16. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    Craig would always say, there is no such thing as a bad tube amp. He meant it. He loved those high-value tube amps from Russia, Central Europe, etc. and was honest in saying that he could never make anything that sounded as good as those prices.

    Likewise, there is no such thing as a bad multi-ladder R2R, R string, DAC. Well except the Audio-GD S19.
     
  17. JeremiahS

    JeremiahS Almost "Made"

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    I wonder if we will ever have a chance to revisit Audio-gd DACs? Their latest releases seem to have excellent measurements based on GoldenSound testing.
     
  18. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    Which one did you mean? I couldn't find any agd r2r dac measurements done by him. See this: https://goldensound.audio/category/measurements/
    One ddc (di-20he) measured but that's nearly unpredictive to r2r dac goodness imho. Let alone very uncomfortable price (1k-ish usd).
     
  19. Vtory

    Vtory Audiophile™

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    This 2541 dac has survived for roughly seven months in my place. At this point, I think I finally mastered how to hear its full details and resolution. The dac's capability along with its synergy with the rest of my chain made me too lazy in thinking of any upgrades. I know some products (e.g., Holo spring2 kte as long as I heard) I may still benefit from.. but price delta to any is too substantial to consider atm.
     
  20. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    Soerkis 2541 vs Yggdrasil A2

    Gear

    Pi2AES w/NoiseNuke ->

    AES -> Yggdrasil A2 -> iso max PO-2XR -> SE -> switcher input 1 ->
    BNC -> 2541 -> iso max PO-2XR -> SE -> switcher input 2 ->

    -> @Fallenangel made Cavalli SOHA1 -> modded LCD-X

    Resolution

    I think "painting with broad strokes" is a great way to describe the 2541 especially compared to the Yggdrasil. Listening to the Yggdrasil there is fine detail "grit" along the surface of notes, whereas with the 2541, the surface is smoothed over and you are only listening to the tone of the note. This is an exaggeration to make a point of course, both DAC’s are resolving, but the Yggdrasil is on another level.

    The 2541 reminds me of noise reduction in photography. The Yggdrasil shows you all that noise - all those pixels that make up a shape, whereas with the 2541, noise reduction is applied and many of those pixels have been smoothed over showing basic forms rather than forms along with the tiny pixels that make those forms.

    For me, the 2541 applies too much noise reduction. I absolutely prefer the Yggdrasil, first and foremost because of this. Switching to the 2451 I just find everything too smoothed over. I want all the information that the Yggdrasil conveys.

    That is the biggest difference but there are other differences as well.

    Soundstage

    The Yggdrasil has a much bigger soundstage and sense of depth. Switching from the 2451 to the Yggdrasil, the sound suddenly has spots that move way back in the presentation while others remain forward. In other words, the Yggdrasil doesn’t shove everything further out, it has legitimately more depth in it’s staging. Some parts of notes stay in the same place, while they are given sides that move back in space and other notes are placed in varying degrees of depth back in space. It’s just a much more holographic presentation. The 2541 is much more flat.

    Dynamics

    The 2541 I would say might have more macrodynamics. Partly due it’s broad strokes approach, dynamic swings are more in your face. I’m not sure it actually has better macrodynamics or if the removal of all the "fine detail grit" makes dynamic contrast more apparent because the sound is simplified. You’re listening to these more smoothed over tones, so when dynamic contrasts come through in the music, you hear "large paint strokes" swinging rather than lots of "finer paint strokes" swinging all at once. The 2541 kind of sums lots of information into one, so you notice when these larger clusters of information swing more easily.

    Tonality

    I am not completely sold on the tone of the 2541. It sounds a bit plastic-y to me. It is also a bit leaner than the Yggdrasil A2 which is more rich and full in the lower mids. I don’t know which one is more accurate. I’m guessing somewhere in between.

    Midrange
    Vocals are just slightly more forward on the Yggdrasil.

    Treble
    Treble presentation is slightly different. The 2541 is slightly brighter. The Yggdrasil is more resolving in the treble though.

    Bass
    The Yggdrasil is bassier. Quite noticeably. Both have good quality bass to my ears I have no complaints. I think the transducer is going to be a much bigger factor when it comes to bass quality than either of these two DAC’s.

    Size

    Amazing how small the 2541 and how well it performs. This is probably a big consideration for many people. The Yggdrasil requires dedicated space or a rack, while the 2541 could be put on a desk with a J2 on top.

    Final Thoughts

    I wanted to hear the 2541 to see if the Yggdrasil was off tonally or colored. I wanted to hear a different flavor. They are so close that I don’t think it will affect how I tune headphones. If they sound good on one, they will sound good on the other as well. I also don’t think either DAC would make or break your choice of headphone. It’s more about what sound qualities you want to influence your headphones rather than which will fix or ruin them.

    I would say the 2541 is pretty fairly priced between the Gungnir and the Yggdrasil. Though for my preferences I think I would take my Gungnir A1 over the 2541. I’m not a fan of the smoothing/large strokes presentation. But technically speaking, if I put preferences aside, I would say their prices are just about where they are technically. If the Gungnir A1 is given #1 than the 2541 would be a #3 and the Yggdrasil a #7. Something like that. But this is from memory, I can only compare two DAC’s at once and I can’t swap out my Yggdrasil for my Gungnir they’re too big and plus I’m not unplugging it and going through the warmup time again.

    Thanks for reading
     
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