Sonic Frontiers SFD-1mk2 Vintage DAC for $750 That Stomps Most Modern DACs

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by purr1n, Nov 9, 2015.

  1. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    I'm not sure, but this may be of help.

    The clicking noise is probably the output relays.

    1. You mentioned volume dropping about 50%. Could it be one channel dropping out?
    2. When you turn on the dac, how long does it takes before music comes out?

    By design, there is a delay circuit that allows the tubes to warm up before playing music. When everything is perfect, there will be a delay of some seconds (30 sec?) followed by a click (relays) and music. When I got mine, there was no delay and in a few weeks, I started to get full drop out and eventually no sound at all from the SFD-1 Mk2.

    Not knowing anything about the circuit, I sent mine to Canada and they changed the electrolytic capacitors in the timing circuit and everything is fine. Those capacitors are C501 (33 uF, 16V, 85 C) and C502 (47 uF, 16V, 85 C). The capacitor names are marked on the circuit board and are located at the back of the circuit board, below and slightly left of the input circuit board. The capacitors are not in the signal path, so audio quality isn't important. I do recommend replacing them with the same value caps. PCX put 100 uF caps in mine because its what they had on hand and the delay is about 90 seconds.

    If you have no or low delay for music when you turn it on, then the caps below are probably the issue. That wouldn't be surprising given they are small electrolytics that are nearly 30 years old. Actually, all of the electrolytic caps in the unit are candidates for replacement and Ed's excellent documentation of his DIY version of an SE upgrade also accomplished replacement of all suspect caps.

    If your problem is only in one channel, then it still could be the caps with one relay opening at a lower voltage than the other. Also the relay itself could be the problem.

    There could also be other problems in that circuit from the chip that the caps are close to, to resistors themselves, but my best guess is that delay circuit.

    Of course, it is a complex circuit, but the clicks suggest the relay circuit. Good luck and let us know what you find.
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2021
  2. A Child of the Jago

    A Child of the Jago Facebook Friend

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    After nearly two years of trying to track a good one down I finally took a huge risk wiring a total stranger with no internet presence £700 ($950) and five days later this has just cleared customs from Portugal and dropped through my door in London.

    Front.jpg

    Back.jpg

    I got incredibly lucky - having said that, it might not even work and I can't check if it does yet as I need to switch the voltage to 240v.

    By coincidence, Chris at Connexion Parts emailed me a couple of days ago apologising for the delay (Covid) and offering his help - he's happy to switch the voltage which he says anyone could probably do but is also offering this upgrade for $600 all-in (which I asked about) - anyway, question for you guys - is this kind of upgrade worth it - anything else that I might ask for to make it A++ ?

    Also for reference the Portuguese guy I bought the SFD1 from also has this lot for sale - he collects vintage audio - he's actually lovely - a slightly eccentric audiophile collecting vintage stuff in his retirement - I'm posting it here just in case anyone's interested - I have no idea - but he had an SFD1 (and even gave me the option of a black or gold front) so his other stuff might be interesting to some (all prices Euros):

    Amplificadores:
    Harman Kardon Citation 16 revisionado 1200?, Nakamichi PA-7 II Staxis 2X 225W 1300?, , Cello Duett 350 6000€ , ,.. Bill Beard P-35 ,1000€ , . ,. Belcanto 80 monoblocos 3800€ . Quad II Forty válvulas monoblocos 2800€. Mcintosh MC-275 Commemorative Edition Gordon J. Gow amplificador a válvulas , 4000€. .., . Quad 405-2 400€. Accuphase P-102 en pura class A 2300€. , , Bedini BA-803 2000€ :«tenho 2 ». , , Joule VZN 80 MK IV de válvulas OTL 5000€ . Blue Note Demidoff Signature integrado 3000€ . Audio Research CL-30 1700€ . . Copland integrado CSA-8 800€ . Naim conjunto leitor CD- 5 + amplificador modelo 150 + pré amplificador 112 x 1300€ . Mark LEVINSON ML-332 ,3000€.
    System Crown mad in USA com amplificador Power Lin Four + pré amplificador Straight Lin Two + TunerFM Two + Crown stands em madera ,2000€ . Mcintosh MA-5100 integrado ,1600€ . . 3 amplificadores QUAD modelo 50 E . Ampli QUAD 303,400€ .QUAD 405 II revisionado 450€ . amplificador integrado Primare 301, 800€ . Kora Titan monoblocos 1800€ . Conrad Jonson CAV-50 amplificador integrado con nueva estética 1800€, Naim amplificador 250 1300€ revisionado na Naim em 2010 . Sansui 9090 1200€ . Sansui 8080 900€. Gryphon Callisto 2100 ,2400€.
    PRÉAMPLIFICADORES :
    , . Accuphase C-270 2000€ . , Marantz 7T revisionado 1400€ . .., Sonic Frontiers Line 2 todo revisionado y con válvulas nuevas 2400€ .., Mcintoch MX-112 1000 € , . Convergente Audio Tecnologi ( CAT )SL1 Signature com phono 2800€ . . MBL pré 4010 1000€. Mcintosh MX- 112 pré com tuner 1500€ . .. Pré amplificador a válvulas JG com phono 1300€ . Pré amplificador de Joaquim Pinto JP a válvulas com andares de phono MM+MC com alimentação separada 1500€. Classé Audio CP -60 , 1600€. AUDIBLE ILLUSIONS 3A 1500€ revisionado 1600€.
    GIRA DISCOS :
    Tchnics SP-15 con plinto y braço Technics modelo 500 / 501 en titanio 2700€ ., Pioneer PL-630 ,800€ . ,
    TUNERS :
    Mcintosh MR-77 , 800€ .
    Colunas :
    , Braun L-1000 3500? , , . ,, Klipsch Belle 3500€ , Acoustat MK 121.2 2000€ ,, Tannoy Super Red Monitor 15" 6900 € . ,., Dynaudio Confidence Center 2800€ ,. . Lumley Studio Monitor 800€ .Yamaha FX3 ,3200€ . DIATONE DS-3000 , 3700€ . . JBL com caixa de graves 4530 com woofers JBL 2225 e cornetas 2395 e motores 2445j ,3500€ .
    WADIA 121 DAC 500€.
    GRAVADORES DE BOBINES :
    , REVOX B-77 2 pista revisionado 1200€ . TEAC A-3440 1000€ . Tascam 34B 1000€ . OTARI 5050 MKII 1300€ .
    Gravadores de cassetes :
    Nakamichi 1000, 1200€ ..
    Conjunto Meridian: prévio model :101 +2 amplificadores monos model :10

    The upgrade list from Chris at CP is here - let me know if you feel this is worth $600 or what upgrades I should be asking for instead (or not at all.)

    ******************* MOD PARTS *******************
    8 x DIODES-68247
    1A 600V, Schottky, CSD-01060A, TO-220, 2-Lead

    4 x DIODES-56739
    1A 1000V,SF4007, Vishay-Telefunken, Fast Recovery Epitaxial Diode (FRED)

    2 x NICHICON-76206
    100uF / 16VDC, KA Series

    1 x NICHICON-76215
    1000uF / 16VDC, KA Series

    2 x NICHICON-72591
    4700uF 16Vdc , FG Series, Electrolytic Capacitor +/-20% Tolerance, 18mmD x 35.5mmH

    2 x NICHICON-76227
    4700uF / 35VDC, KA Series

    2 x NICHICON-77412
    47uF / 450VDC, VY Series, Aluminum Electrolytic Capacitor

    2 x NICHICON-77413
    100uF / 450VDC, VY Series, Aluminum Electrolytic Capacitor

    2 x ANSOCKT-81898
    9 Pin Audio Note Silver Valve Base PCB Mount Socket

    4 x MUNDORF-76432
    3.3µF / 450V, Mcap EVO Oil Series

    4 x AMTRANS-73864
    47R / 0.75 (3/4) Watt, Carbon Film, gold-plated leads

    4 x MILLS-72391
    18K Ohm 5 Watt, MRA5 Non-Inductive Wirewound Resistor, 1% Tolerance, 20ppm, Axial Leads

    1 x FTECH-76081
    FT-903(G) RCA Chassis Mount, Gold-Plated Pure Copper Conductors

    6 x EAR-56858
    Small Isolation Feet / 1.0" (25mm) D x 0.52 (13mm) H

    2 x SOUNDCT-55503
    GP-3 Sheet Pressure Sensitive Adhesive backed, 12" L x 6" W (30....
     
  3. k4rstar

    k4rstar Britney fan club president

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    I would not bother with those 'upgrades'. enjoy the unit as-is for what it is, a good vintage DAC. just eyeballing that stuff my gut feeling is it can make the sound worse. in any case the swap of random parts for boutique audiophile stuff is not worth $600 and shipping both ways.

    don't Portugal and the UK share 230/240V mains? it seems the bottom right of the PCB contains the voltage jumpers. anyone can change it quite easily.

    P.S. I eyeballed the rest of the gear the guy has for sale. nothing exceptional jumps out (other than the Nakamichi 1000 but not sure anyone here cares about cassette decks) BUT the Beard P-35 amplifier for 1000 euros, I would buy. it's a great EL84 amp from the 80s and seldom seen these days.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2021
  4. loadexfa

    loadexfa Friend

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    I can't speak from personal experience but a number of people have done the SE+ upgrade either as DIY or by sending it in and so far the feedback has been mostly positive.

    I need to send mine in anyways, the repair mine needs is beyond my abilities and I want to add an AES input. I'm very tempted to do the upgrade so I won't need to bother with it later. Chris is the original designer of the DAC, I would assume he's not going to make suggestions to make it sound worse. Of course that can often be a matter of taste so it's possibly worse for one person while being better for another.

    My plan is to get details on what they think will change/improve before making my final decision. They do make the process of sending it in easy, they sent a UPS label and said shipping is not nearly as expensive if I go through them. Other locations could change that drastically, I'm in the US.
     
  5. k4rstar

    k4rstar Britney fan club president

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    dunno if what he referenced above is the 'SE+' upgrade, but let me break it down into four categories:

    will make the biggest difference, but you can do at home for cheaper:
    4 x MUNDORF-76432
    3.3µF / 450V, Mcap EVO Oil Series

    somewhat debatable, depends what is in your exact unit stock:
    8 x DIODES-68247
    1A 600V, Schottky, CSD-01060A, TO-220, 2-Lead

    4 x DIODES-56739
    1A 1000V,SF4007, Vishay-Telefunken, Fast Recovery Epitaxial Diode (FRED)

    2 x NICHICON-76206
    100uF / 16VDC, KA Series

    1 x NICHICON-76215
    1000uF / 16VDC, KA Series

    2 x NICHICON-72591
    4700uF 16Vdc , FG Series, Electrolytic Capacitor +/-20% Tolerance, 18mmD x 35.5mmH

    2 x NICHICON-76227
    4700uF / 35VDC, KA Series

    2 x NICHICON-77412
    47uF / 450VDC, VY Series, Aluminum Electrolytic Capacitor

    2 x NICHICON-77413
    100uF / 450VDC, VY Series, Aluminum Electrolytic Capacitor

    4 x MILLS-72391
    18K Ohm 5 Watt, MRA5 Non-Inductive Wirewound Resistor, 1% Tolerance, 20ppm, Axial Leads

    waste of money tier:
    2 x ANSOCKT-81898
    9 Pin Audio Note Silver Valve Base PCB Mount Socket

    1 x FTECH-76081
    FT-903(G) RCA Chassis Mount, Gold-Plated Pure Copper Conductors

    6 x EAR-56858
    Small Isolation Feet / 1.0" (25mm) D x 0.52 (13mm) H

    2 x SOUNDCT-55503
    GP-3 Sheet Pressure Sensitive Adhesive backed, 12" L x 6" W (30....

    no thank you tier:
    4 x AMTRANS-73864
    47R / 0.75 (3/4) Watt, Carbon Film, gold-plated leads

    so again, really not worth $600 USD which is the cost of a DAC itself. there is no justifying this, you're getting hosed for audiophile nervosa. spend $100 on the coupling caps and solder them in yourself if you really want to tweak the thing. I would replace Solens with Mundorfs but if WIMAs, leave them alone.

    P.S. living in Toronto I have been around a lot of Sonic Frontiers gear including the pre-amps, power amps and CD transport. have never been impressed with any of it. the DACs are another story, I never tried, but as far as I know Chris Johnson is not the designer - they got outside help with the CD player SFCD-1 and the DACs were borne from that.

    he was the President of SF before they were bought out. of course now he runs a DIY supply store and makes good money off of charging people $600 for upgrades he performs with overpriced parts he gets at wholesale cost. As far as I'm concerned, fuck that. if you have it, it's a great $600 DAC I'm sure, enjoy it for what it is. if you want a $1200 DAC, this upgrade won't get you there. save your money and spend it when something worthwhile comes along.
     
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    Last edited: May 5, 2021
  6. A Child of the Jago

    A Child of the Jago Facebook Friend

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    Also have these Reflektor 6H23N tubes in mine (specifically 6H23N EB) - whilst I'm still in the early forays of getting my head around the sound here (and the 6H23N are the only tubes I've heard so far) I can tell you this immediately - synergistically the SFD1 is other-worldly good with the Eddie Current BW2 - I'm listening with different phones on each amp, so it's not a like-for-like comparison, but the BW2 is currently 'out-bassing' my ECP DSHA-3F and gets very close to the 3F's crazy 3D, holographic presentation, but warmer and just a little lovelier. Totally gobsmacked.

    The 6H23N EB tube is exactly as per the quad on this link (not even that pricey):

    https://www.usaudiomart.com/details/649255918-nos-reflektor-6h23neb-croyd-matched-quad/

    Will follow up in a couple of weeks with thoughts of SFD1 v. BF2 and v. Pavane but initally I am feeling this much more than the Pavane (the BF2 is smoked) - partly because the SFD1 excels with Electro, Electronica, digital ambient - it even slams hard - really it's no overstatement to say even on day two of listening that this is the kind of warm, dirty (ish), bass-heavy, tonally dense, luscious and seemingly massive presentation I've been chasing. It's so good I am going to insure it tomorrow.
     
  7. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

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    So you did the voltage swap yourself? Or it was 240V already? There are pics in this thread showing the jumper settings.

    This is good to know. I didn't receive any response to my several emails asking about my SFD-1. I guess Chris is more prone to respond if you're asking directly about servicing something.

    Oh, and congrats on the DAC!
     
  8. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    Sorry I didn't reply earlier. I was on the road and didn't remember my log-in.

    While I may agree that paying PCX $600 to upgrade your SFD-1 may be a high price to pay, if you have DIY skills, there are some things from that upgrade to consider doing yourself. If you look at the SE upgrade component list posted by here,

    https://www.superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/sonic-frontiers-sfd-1mk2-vintage-dac-for-750-that-stomps-most-modern-dacs.508/page-13#post-323783


    The vast majority of the components are electrolytic capacitors. There are a few boutique resistors, but it is mostly 'lytics'. Then consider that these dacs were built in roughly 1993 and those caps have about 28 years on them. I have already had the smallest caps, the ones that control the turn-on delay, die on me. If you like the sound, consider replacing all of the electrolytic caps. You can use the caps that are on the link or your own choice, but that DIY process will insure longer life.

    Jac

    PS I too love the sound of this dac with the 6H23N tubes. I have both the Reflector and the Volkshod (rocket logo) and slightly prefer the rockets, but both are an excellent match for the SFD-1, IMHO.
     
  9. A Child of the Jago

    A Child of the Jago Facebook Friend

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    Thanks for the advice on the caps - will certainly look into that. By sheer coincidence, as I've been so impressed with these 6H23N tubes, I'm about to pull the trigger on a matched 1975 Volkshod Rocket pair of SN23Ps for silly money but if it's got the same DNA as the Reflektors, and by many accounts the mid-70's Volkshod Rocket is the best of that Russian military lineage, then it's worth it - have also tried Mullard CV2493's (1980s) - was less impressed with these but might suit classical listeners and the bass shy as it has a lot of liquid middle energy and a wide open presentation - the mids are really quite special.

    The transformative powers of different tubes on this DAC can't be overstated - just adds to the magic.
     
  10. Clear Water

    Clear Water Friend

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    Don't pay silly money for the Voskhod 75 tubes. Yes, they're good but I've found that other years are the same if not better (I've tried 72, 73, and 74, and various ones from the 80s). I have an extra matched pair that I can send to you for the cost of shipping if you're really curious what they sound like.
     
  11. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    I will just point out that Partsconnexion has matched pairs of Reflektors for $99.95. That's not cheap, but not bad. I bought a pair last fall as back up since these tubes are such a nice pairing with the dac. Of course, it is all down to the pairing. I tried the Reflektors in my phono pre and they were nice, but not magic.
     
  12. edwyun

    edwyun Acquaintance

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    Agreed. IMHO, the DIY upgrade path is worth it, even sonically. If you can't DIY and have to send it to PCX, at least you can usually get most of your money back for a SE+ upgraded SFD if you ever decide to sell it (maybe not shipping as it can be a lot given the weight and where you're shipping to/from). So there is that.

    I would at least do the Mundorfs in the DAC section and the electrolytic capacitors in the power supply section. If money allows, the remaining electrolytics and etc.
     
  13. Truman k

    Truman k Rando

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    Having been inspired by this thread @ SBAF, I bought my SF SFD-1 mk2 at a local online auction in June 2020. Exactly as it's acclaimed here, SFD-1 is truly a remarkable DAC built in the late 20th century yet still a stand-out amongst the rest today.

    A couple of weeks later my SFD-1 started to spark and sometimes pop at the soldering points of D303 and C304 on circuit board when I switched it on. But I wasn't aware that the glitch would become much worse until 5 weeks ago it literally caught fire.

    The next day I sent it to a technician who previously fixed my preamplifier and the deal is the owner to get the repair parts while the technician responsible for the repair work. I bought the parts, majorly electrolytic capacitors, at pcX online shop basically according to the invoice posted by Xecuter (#59 feedback) plus 2 pairs of Audyn Plus film capacitors for upgrading the output caps.

    The result of repairing and modding is satisfying. The sound quality becomes clearer, richer, more refined, more 3-dimensional, and I'd say twice better than before.

    Heat is the killer of aged HiFi gear, especially those with vacuum tubes, so I leave my SFD-1 topless and cool it down with an electric fan when listening to music.

    Happy listening

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2021
  14. JeremiahS

    JeremiahS Facebook Friend

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    I have been thinking, do you guys with the SFD-1 or SFD-2 feel that this DAC is forward or laid-back sounding?
     
  15. dncnexus

    dncnexus Friend

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    I found the SFD2 MKII to be more laid back sounding. Not extremely so, but more laid-back vs forward sounding.
     
  16. M3NTAL

    M3NTAL Friend

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    In comparison to the Schiit Yggdrasil - I feel like the SFD-1 is more laid back.
     
  17. loadexfa

    loadexfa Friend

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    I have the SFD-1 and find it laid back, for me the best part is the tone. Maybe I'll do a write up at some point including working with Parts Connexion, need to stop joining loaners so I have time. :eek:
     
  18. JeremiahS

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    Thanks for the feedback guys. I did compare my SFD-2 with the Gungnir Multibit, it's more laid back but surprisingly the SFD-2 is also more neutral and resolving especially in the midrange.

    In my experience the SFD-2 is not warm at all, only very slightly so I'm curious how the SFD-1 compare.
     
  19. dankef

    dankef Rando

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    Does anyone know how the Processor 3 compares with the SFD1 (or 2) Mk 2? I might have the opportunity to buy one locally for what seems to be a decent price. I would be using with a DNA Starlett which I'm ordering. (EDIT: I should add the price is in the order of US$1800 if anyone has a view about that.)
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2021
  20. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    That's what I love about this forum. Two years ago, I didn't know anything about Sonic Frontiers, even though I had been buying DIY parts from Chris Johnson for years. I certainly didn't know about the SFD-1 & 2. And now I play my SFD-1 everyday in my office rig.

    Until a couple of days ago, I didn't know about the Processor 3. I guess I need to do more reading.

    @dankef,

    I have no idea what a good price would be for the Processor 3, although the "sold/expired" tab on a hifishark search might give you some idea. It certainly is a nice design and should be a step up from the SFD series. Of course, synergy counts pretty heavy, so you don't know how a technical upgrade changes the character or synergy, but it would be an interesting listen. If you get a chance to listen to it, I hope you will share your impressions.
     

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