Sokeris dac1321 - Stream of Consciousness Impressions

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by rtaylor76, Apr 30, 2018.

  1. rtaylor76

    rtaylor76 Can't wipe his tag

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    Since there was not a thread on this Sokeris DAC did not have a home, I decided to put it here. I know it is the little brother to the balanced dac1541 and even more closely related to the single ended dac1421, as well as being slightly more mature than the dac1101.

    Review Disclosure:
    This is a loaner unit that I have only had for 4 days and is being boxed up tomorrow to go to the next person.

    Equipment Used for review:
    Source - Raspy Pi with HiFi Digi+ hat being fed S/PDIF straight into the 1321 via Coax.
    Amps - Vahalla 2, MTCH
    Headphones - HD650, T20 V2, D2000
    Comparison DAC: Bifrost 4490

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    TL;DR - This DAC is awesome albeit a bit "soft" in presentation.

    Let me just say, yes it is awesome. This is a clear step up from Bifrost 4490. It feels like you just knocked down the walls and there is this big wide open sound, like you are in a clear room. I would call this very much soundstage, as in massive soundstage. The most striking thing is the smoothness of the vocals. Gone is that harsh grainyness and just so clear as if they were in the room standing right in front of you.

    I would not say this is a very authoritative sound however. As in it is not very aggressive or sharp or has any slam at all. Overall I would say that bass is light and tight. It does have some very decent bass texture and does not bleed into the low mids at all and you can actually hear the personality of the bass guitar. Very easy to go and switch focus from one instrument to the other as the clarity of detail and layers are quite nice. On great recordings, it made them sound more great, on more aggressive recordings it made them sound more refined (opposed to how you might be used to hearing them in a more hard hitting way). Dynamically, it is kind of soft, however this effect gets better as it settles in after a couple of days and gets better, but does not totally totally go away.

    Going back to the 4490 was kind of more closed off, but had some more details peak through, but certainly less "focus". It was sharper, more aggressive and with more energy. I also heard more low-mids and was missing some deep lows. I only presume this is just part of the "Velvet" sound of the 4490. However, the grainyness is more apparent. Not nearly as smooth, but had similar microdetail.

    Now I would not call the dac1321 "airy" as I usually attribute that to some high end detail. I think the high end is there, just not boosted or accentuated in anyway. It is very lush in the midrange with an "open" sound, but not any added high end openness like Sabre DAC's. However, there was something kind of sterile that kept me just so far away from total engagement. I could not quite put my finger on it, but something not quite totally real, but not quite totally fake. This is a minor quibble that is probably overstated just me mentioning it. Most would just likely say it is a "clean" sounding DAC.

    Function wise, I honestly did not like the volume control. It is kind of hard to understand how it works, but if you set it and forget it, you hardly notice it. It has a detented encoder digital volume that goes from like -80 to like +10 dbu. To set it you can turn it up until the volume LED is blinding, then go 10 clicks down to 0 dbu. Then hold the filter button down for 4 seconds, then it will be set for when you turn it back on.

    The filters are also kind of interesting, but one that you I just sat and forgot. I preferred the Off or Minimum Phase for its overall smooth and open soundstage. The Linear Phase was sharper in presentation, but more closed off soundstage wise and a bit harsher on the top end. The other two are still closer to the Linear Phase, but never quite gets that smoothness or pleasant with the Minimum Phase. I can see how some may want to use different filters to tailor to your tastes or even your source to what you are listening to. It is a personal preference thing and why there are options.

    Overall, this reminded me of the sound of 30ips 1/4" tape and using Dolby S. Very clear, open, with an almost like sterile like quality to it...smooth and refined. And so comparatively, the 4490 I would say is 1/4" quarter track at 7 1/4" ips.


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    Notes:

    This DAC was the hardest DAC or any gear I have ever had to review. Mostly because the sound kept changing. When first plugged in, there was NO bass and sounded WAY harsh. After a minute or two it settled down tremendously, but had a very "soft" quality to it. It sounded like there was this soft knee limiter or something. I also felt like I was missing details. Stuff sometimes would just come out of nowhere. I actually went back to the 4490 for awhile as the soundstage was nice on the dac1321, but the dynamics just so mushy and lacked detail. Then, on the third day, it opened up gloriously, then I could not turn back and just kept playing and playing. It finally had the attack and transients that were missing, but the softer quality never totally went away, but sounded 10x better than it did after just an hour or two on the first day. I read some other reviews and this seems to be common with Sokeris DAC's (and probably other MB DAC's).

    The other odd thing is that I was using Coax S/PDIF, but on input showed TOS. I confirmed this several times. There maybe a firmware upgrade that fixes this. This is not my unit, but I will pass the information on.

    The other odd thing is that I could only get it to recognize 16/44.1 files. My collection is mostly FLAC and some mp3's, but I do have some 24/96 and 24/88.2 .wav files and this unit did not play them. I confirmed they were playing in my player, and would play on my 4490, but no confirmation was getting signal on the dac1321. Once again, something I did not explore further and maybe some other issue either with my Pi or something else.

    I also never tried USB or Toslink, so YMMV.

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    Self Conclusion:
    This kind of throws a wrench into my plans, which was to upgrade the 4490 to MB at some point later this year. Not sure if the MCTH softness does not have as much synergy (for myself personally), but I will do some more listening tonight and tomorrow.
     
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  2. dmckean44

    dmckean44 In a Sherwood S6040CP relationship

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    @rtaylor76 If you think it sounds good after being on for three days, you should hear what it sounds like after it's been on for a month, stellar. The "softness" is a feature of r2r dacs in general, it's something you get used to quickly and I think of D/S dacs as being harsh and edgy now.
     
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  3. rtaylor76

    rtaylor76 Can't wipe his tag

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    I wish I had it for a month...lol. This one is part of the loaner tour and belongs to @captkirk. I am trying to take good care of it while in my possession.

    I guess I have always heard of the harshness, but I guess I would not expecting this kind of softness - just dynamically soft. Other MB's I have heard were not as soft, but most of those are old school MB chips (TDA1541, PCM1702, etc.). Glad to hear that it is not just me though and also gets even better even after a few days.
     
  4. dmckean44

    dmckean44 In a Sherwood S6040CP relationship

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    Part of it is filter choice too, the dac sounds less soft with a brickwall filter but the default brickwall filter included on the DAC isn't very good and has a good amount of pre and post ringing and poor phase response at high frequencies. There's better choices with the community filters and the 4000 filter taps in the new beta firmware should go a long way in reducing the ringing in the default brickwall filter.
     
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  5. soekris

    soekris MOT - Soekris Engineering

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    It's good to see some reviews, I'm glad that you like the sound.

    The dac1321 firmware should really be upgraded to the new 1.20 available on soekris.dk, that will also correct the RCA/TOS indicators. The dac1321 is not that sensitive on the RCA SPDIF input and need a strong signal, have been improved on units shipping now.
     
  6. Jinxy245

    Jinxy245 Friend

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    I'll throw some quick impressions from the loaner.

    I'm not very experienced at dissecting a DACs sonic attributes. I'd need a heck of a lot more time to listen, but I'll give it a shot.

    I only recently traded for my current Gungnir D/S, and I'm still getting used to it (and enjoying it very much) so that will be my reference point. I was feeding the 1321 from JRiver on my HP All in One > 1321 > ifi iCan Pro.

    (edited for redundancy)

    - 1st thought, there's a lot of talk about the different filters, but they all seem to be different shades of the same color. Again, I'm not nearly as experienced as many here, and I guess for those with very precise musical tastes they can be helpful, but after playing with them for a while, I just left it on the default setting and enjoyed.

    - Very good sense of space and detail retrieval without pushing info unnaturally (not 'in your face' treble/mids). Quality R2R implementation IMO.

    - After coming from the Gungnir, I was worried about the bass presentation, but the Soekris is excellent in that regard. Not overblown or muddy, but definitely solid and impactful. Great tone, probably a little tighter than the Gungnir.

    - The biggest difference I noticed was in the mids, with the Soekris being more detailed. Not night & day, but I am sensitive in the lower mids, so that's what I noticed in particular...I think I've read that the Gungnir has smooth mids, so this does seem to fit.

    - Another thing is how the Soekris runs very cool and the Gungnir more warm to the touch. It's amazing how much performance they got in that little box (you see, size doesn't matter after all )

    - An excellent IMO value overall with the current exchange rate about $730.
     
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  7. kray

    kray Rando

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    Thanks to everyone on this site that helped me decide on a Soekris 1321. Ordered one today, looking forward to firing it up once it gets here. I currently have a Maverick D2 with Tesla tube and Sparkos op-amps.

    This will be my first R2R DAC and I like the fact I can use it as a pre with remote volume, and user can install their own filters or go NOS. Lots of options, but mainly from everything I read about it performance, sounds like exactly what I've been looking for.

    Had to contact Soekris.eu cause their US$ exchange rate was wrong if you chose to view in US$. They replied right away and updated the website. €490 = $583
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2018
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  8. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    @dmckean44 was kind enough to let me borrow his 1321 for a while. While I don't think it had the latest Soekris filters installed, he did have some cool custom filters on it.

    I wasn't a huge fan of the 1321 myself. Compared to both the Metrum Amethyst and Modi Multibit, using a NOS or OS filter on the 1321, I found the 1321 to be somewhat dull sounding in comparison. In particular, it lacked a sense of low-end power and overall dynamics. It also sounded a bit muted in terms of ultimate transient sharpness and clarity. It reminded me more of a DS DAC. It also didn't sound as spacious or airy to me.

    Now, that's not to say it's a bad DAC. You could argue it's more neutral and less colored than the other two DACs. And the custom filters were cool to play with. Always nice to have OS and NOS as options in the same DAC at last. I didn't personally use it, but the volume control is handy too.

    Still, I guess I just found it serviceable but ultimately a bit boring to listen to. At least it's not expensive and has features the other DACs don't.

    Then again, I was using a basic wall wart for the 1321. A nicer PSU might go a long way in improving the DAC.

    FWIW, I found the 1541 to be considerably better based on memory.
     
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  9. rtaylor76

    rtaylor76 Can't wipe his tag

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    @Hands, FWIW, I did notice much more sharpness on the third day of being on. It was still somewhat soft, but not near as much as the first or even second day.

    And I could not agree more that a nicer PSU would likely improve things in the macrodynamic department.
     
  10. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    I had it left on for a couple weeks.
     
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  11. dmckean44

    dmckean44 In a Sherwood S6040CP relationship

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    I actually have a linear PSU coming for it, but it hasn't arrived from china yet.
     
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  12. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    It sounds sublime with a LPS-1 power supply ;)
     
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  13. bFlat

    bFlat Rando

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    I've had the dac1321 for about a month now and had trouble getting coax to input properly. Changing cables and DDC has mixed results, but always problems at certain frequencies or 2. Finally decided to use an iFi SPDIF iPurifier and that finally did the trick. All frequencies play fine up through 192 using a Schiit EITR.

    Will report back after a thorough listening. Plan is to use this with Shure KSE 1200 for my office system.
     
  14. kray

    kray Rando

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    Just got my 1321 today. So far so good (and can easily tell it's already better than my Maverick D2), gonna let it play for a couple days without doing any critical listening.

    For those of you using a computer to feed audio to the DAC...
    1. Which input on 1321 do you find the best, is it obvious or slight?
    2. When feeding it via software, like Audirvana, are you upsampling in software or passing native?

    Also is there a way to tell the firmware version without opening it up and using a FTDI cable and serial connection?
     
  15. soekris

    soekris MOT - Soekris Engineering

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    We can continue the SBAF special pricing on the soekris advanced R-2R DACs, although pricing need to be adjusted up a little in EUR, but as the exchange rates have changed some we can keep the pricing in USD....

    dac1321: EUR 469, USD 555 - including free shipping.
    dac1421: EUR 761, USD 900 - including free shipping.
    dac1541: EUR 1120, USD 1325 - including free shipping.

    Interested ? Send an email to [email protected] for how to order.

    Pricing can be adjusted if exchange rates changes. There might be a shipping surcharge for destinations other than EU and US. We might end the special offer at any time.
     
  16. bFlat

    bFlat Rando

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    My quick impressions - chain is JRiver on Mac to Schiit EITR to iFi SPDIF iPurifier to dac1321 to Woo Audio WA8. My only other DAC comparison using the same chain is Modi Multibit. Headphone is Noble Katana.

    As I noted above the coax input is not very sensitive so to Soren's point, you need a strong signal so the iPurifier fixed that for me. Without it, I would get all frequencies except 176 to play. When I tested that on my Kitsune SU-1, it would not play past 96 so YMMV. I don't think cable matters too much as I got same results using a low quality coax and a Wireworld Silver Starlight coax that costs 10x more. Optical seemed to work fine.

    Filters - I got the latest firmware installed from Soekris before he shipped out.

    Red - I find this to have the most liquidy bass and sharper treble
    Orange - nearly the same bass as red, but smoother treble
    Green - tighter bass and slightly smoother treble than orange
    Off - not really distinguishable for me from green

    The relative comparisons above are subtle unless jumping from red to green/off.

    Inputs - I only compared USB and coax. USB I find the sound a little more energetic than coax. It's similar to comparing red versus green filter. With coax, it sounds more neutral and smooth with a little more weight in the mids. However, using green for USB and red for coax I think gives similar results with coax mids being a little more forward. I must note that in all cases I wired power to the dac1321 from my generic linear power supply. For USB I used an iFi iDefender to separate power from signal.

    Overall sound and comparison

    My experience with R2R DACs are limited to Schiit and Spring Level 3. I would say dac1321 and Modi Multibit are similar in tone which is pretty neutral and nicely extended without harshness. Using the appropriate filter, I think the dac1321 can have more bass presence that I find a little lacking on the Modi Multibit. Similar, I hear better extension with the dac1321 on the top end using red or orange filter. I would recommend the dac1321 over Modi Multibit mostly due to the flexible features of the filters and higher sampling rates plus DSD through USB. I did have a Bifrost Multibit a long time ago and my opinion is that using coax, I can't recommend the higher cost of Bifrost Multibit over Modi Multibit. Just like Gungnir Multibit is a significant step up, I expect the higher end Soekris DACs to do the same so these are nice alternatives to Schiit if you want discrete ladder versus multi bit.

    Of course, a lot of my impressions are colored by the Woo Audio WA8 so please keep that in mind. I don't have a neutral solid state amp on hand to get a true comparison so all of my notes are relative between dac1321 and Modi Multibit.

    End note - I had originally planned on getting the HD820 for my office which I think would have gone well with the whole chain. However, on second thought, I think staying with IEMs is a lot more practical so I have sold my WA8 and will likely do the same for the rest of the chain. In hindsight, it is too ridiculous to have a full discrete audio chain in my office.
     
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  17. bilboda

    bilboda Friend

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    @bFlat I had the same experience with coax. Luckily my 502 dac streamer has a setting for 600mv or 1 volt. 1 volt works fine.
    I also had a Modi Multibit, did not use it's USB much. I had a fidelirizered Win10 machine and regen and it just could not hold up to the pi streamer thru coax. The USB is very good on the 1321. Still using the regen as much for an extender as anything else and it is very competitive with the the coax/pi streamer, Too close to call right now.

    Soren's USB driver works very well. ASIO from JRiver21 just works.
    JRiver turns DSD to PCM. I did have it working briefly native DSD. Settings are a little convoluted to allow mixed DSD and other bitrates, still working on it though.
    Prefer it to Modi Multibit. Everything is just more detailed. This is a little early too give a fair comparison. I simply like the 1321 better.
    Nice to have an excellent USB connection, though, and DSD, the few I have, is nice too. I have to downsample DSD in the pistreamer with LMS. Just not the same.
    I am listening with A Crack/speedball, MCTH and Magni3. Just used a HD650k for now. I still use the Loki for movie dialogue.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2018
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  18. Luge

    Luge Acquaintance

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    By chance, has anyone compared dac1321 to dac1421? The only comparison I have found was made by @raif in dac1541 thread:
    Maybe @Clemmaster?

    Thanks
     
  19. paras1te

    paras1te Rando

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    All those damned, discrete resistors "breaking/burning" in. See lower right in following image from Soekris site:
    [​IMG]

    BTW: Why is top-of-the-line given the confusing model-name dac1541?

    Uh... didn't Philips already use that model number (1541)??

    Speaking of the Philips 1541, has anyone extensively compared the Soekris to TDA1541-based DAC (or CDP)? If so, thoughts?

    On the topic of R2R ladder NOS DACs, Stereophile( June 2018 print edition) just reviewed the $17K Aqua Acoustic Quality Formula xHD d/a processor from Italy. It measured terribly, but the subjective review was favorable. The Aqua DAC uses FPGA and resistor "banks" -- not sure how similar this is to Soekris topology.

    More on Aqua here: http://www.aquahifi.com/formula.html

    Inside the Aqua:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]


    More photos here: http://6moons.com/audioreviews2/aqua2/3.html
     
    Last edited: May 23, 2018
  20. Elnrik

    Elnrik Super Friendly

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    If I had $17k just kicking around, it would be spent on a down payment new Porsche convertible and I'd be cruising around the Rocky Mountains enjoying the wind in my hair.
     

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