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. RestoredSparda

    RestoredSparda Friend

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    Last edited: Nov 2, 2022
  2. edwyun

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    Difficult to say but I would try to go a bit higher, maybe 1W. Also, at the time, I assumed (and did not verify whether) both resistors have the same value.
     
  3. RestoredSparda

    RestoredSparda Friend

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    Thank you. I also sent an email to pcx to see if they are willing to divulge that info.

    Edit: Glen at pcx was able to confirm the resistors should be ¼ W. He also sent over a schematic.
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2022
  4. RestoredSparda

    RestoredSparda Friend

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    I need to vomit out some of my thoughts here. The SFD-1 MKII and Yiggy fight is going strong at my place and I'm running across some steady results finally while swapping dacs between well known songs and albums.

    The stands out of both of these DACs for me has to be:
    • SFD-1, for lack of a better descriptor, sounds like real f'ing music.
    • Yiggy LIM has excellent tone, and exceptional detail retrieval (PLANKTON).
    When swapping DACs it takes me longer to get into the music with Yiggy, but when I do, there are usually more technically impressive moments and details coming through. However, when I move over to SFD it takes about 2 seconds and I'm struggling to analyze and just feel like I'm listening to live music. Toe tapping commences instantly.

    How can something with less resolution sound more real? Must be the tone/timber mixed with the body. SFD-1 definitely has more meat on its bones in direct comparison.

    Anyways, I think the goal of all this equipment fuckery is to find a system where I don't get lost in the OCD equipment swapping. So far SFD might be a lot closer to just listening to music and having fun than Yiggy for me. Less brain and more heart.

    I'm going to give this a few months I think before deciding on which to live with. I'm excited for mods. As an aside, I used an AES to coaxial adapter I had lying around (from PI2AES) and it was a nice improvement to clarity across the board (just like with Bifrost 2), compared to straight coaxial. This gives me hope that the AES input mod will provide even a wee bit more resolution.

    PI2AES -> Yiggy LIM / SFD-1 MKII -> DNA Stratus v2 -> ZMF Atrium / HD650 KISS
     
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2022
  5. edwyun

    edwyun Facebook Friend

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    Outatanding. Can you post or provide a link to the schematic.
     
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  6. RestoredSparda

    RestoredSparda Friend

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    Here you go! Unfortunately doesn't show the AES layout, just optical, ST optical and coax. However, it's very helpful to understand the circuit.

    Once I get the AES balanced socket installed properly and working I'll post a short walk through with correct parts, etc.
     

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    Last edited: Nov 3, 2022
  7. edwyun

    edwyun Facebook Friend

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    A very apt description of the SFD. It really is satisfying and the mods bring it up a notch. Enjoy the listening.

    I'm also looking forward to hooking up the soon to arrive Mercury V2 to the SFD.
     
  8. RestoredSparda

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    Wonder of wonders I didn't break it. Wow what a pain in the butt working on this dac.

    I've achieved signal lock and sound is coming through with the new AES input. Time to let it power on for a while, warm up and listen.

    Parts needed:

    NC3FD-LX-0 / Neutrik XLR Connector
    Mouser link
    Quantity: x1

    YR1B127RCC / Metal Film Resistors - Through Hole YR1 0.1% 127R
    Mouser link
    Quantity: x1

    CMF5047R500FHEB
    Metal Film Resistors - Through Hole 1/4watt 47.5ohms 1%
    Mouser Link
    Quantity: x2
     

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    Last edited: Nov 4, 2022
  9. dasman66

    dasman66 Self proclaimed lazy ass - friend

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    Was fired up to do this... until I saw the photo showing that you had to take the entire board out and not just the little input board.

    Did you do that because you had to? or just because you wanted to? (I'll have to open mine up to look later this week... been meaning to try some different tubes anyway)
     
  10. RestoredSparda

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    For sure need to take the entire board out as you need to drill a larger hole in the case where the optical port was. I would not want to drill with the main board in as tiny metal fragments get everywhere and you might slip and damage it.

    If not for the need to drill a hole, you could just remove the input board by desoldering, but in this case that's actually more work.

    It's not too difficult to remove. Just remove all screws, take off the front plate, etc. But you need to desolder the coax and se and balanced connectors before sliding the main board out as they cannot be removed otherwise.
     
  11. Clear Water

    Clear Water Friend

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    Initial comparisons between SFD-1 mk2, SFD-2 mk2, and Sonic Processor 3.

    I've had the SFD-1 since January of 2021, the SFD-2 since October 2021, and the "SFD-3" for the past week. To my knowledge, all three are stock (although the SFD-1 has had an AES input added). The tube choices are from what I found was the best synergy for each.

    My chain is: JRiver>Pi2aes via AES>SFDs>Stellaris>Utopia

    The DAC I'm most familiar with outside of the Sonic Frontiers family is the Gungnir Multibit (A1). Compared to the Schiit, each of the SF units casts a wider and more 3D stage, with a really pleasing sense of holography to each image. I think the Gungnir Multibit's resolution is actually quite similar to SFD-1; however the overall presentation is quite a bit more forward. This gives the impression of more resolution on the Gungnir Multibit. The biggest difference to me, though is in the overall presentation. Comparatively the Gungnir Multibit is much more forward especially in the upper mids. It's a bit much with the Utopia to my ears. For me and my setup, SF works better here.

    I also pretty much only listen to "classical" and the bulk of my collection are rather upper-mid strident recordings from the 60s (think early Columbia Stereo and Mercury, ouch.) so a huge test for me is whether these recordings are not just listenable, but also enjoyable.

    SFD-1 mk2 with Voskhod rocket 1973
    • super airy and wide open stage--you can hear the atmosphere of the recording space. Huge wraparound effect (more pronounced with coaxial input than AES)
    • images themselves, however are dense and richly saturated
    • images jump out of nowhere, and have a nice 'halo' effect. It sounds like each image is smoothed slightly when it comes to upper mids. This can sometimes make it feel that it's lacking the last bit of resolution
    • lots of grunt and grit (in a good way) with string textures, especially in the midrange. This somewhat confuses me because of the smoothing effect above
    • bass is very present but kind of diffused. Midbass is stronger than on the SFD-2
    • everything sounds good on this
    • output volume is quite low (volume between 4-5 on Stellaris for classical, 3-4 on everything else)
    • I would typically apply a low bass shelf (4.5db at 80 Hz)
    SFD-2 mk2 with Amperex 7308, USA white label
    • stage is deeper than SFD-1, but perhaps a touch less wide. The presentation differs from the SFD-1 in that the overall shape of the stage is projected more forward. There is definitely not the same wraparound effect--images that would be panned hard left on the SFD-1 are at more of a 45 degree angle on the SFD-2 and placed slightly farther.
    • images have a greater tonal density than the SFD-1
    • images have more pronounced holography, and images do not have the SFD-1 smoothing effect at all. We're splitting hairs here, but for me, SFD-2 is the "brightest" of the three. None of the SFD dacs have the degree of "brightness" or treble etch that the Gungnir Multibit exhibits, however. I feel the SFD-2 is on par with the Gungnir Multibit in terms of resolution.
    • just as much grunt, with tighter bass and more subbass presence. SFD-2 is quite a bit more dynamic than SFD-1 in this regard, and so this can be a little more tiring depending on the recording. I still wouldn't regard the bass on this as "tight" but also consider the chain I'm using.
    • More strident recordings suffer, especially trumpets and upper strings (Szell/CO/Hindemith Symphonic Metamorphoses, or Dorati/LSO/Dvorak 8).
    • output volume is much higher, between 2-3 on the Stellaris
    • I would typically apply a low bass shelf (4.5 dB at 60 Hz)
    Sonic Processor 3 with quad Mullard ECC88 (6DJ8 equivalent). I promise I'm not trying to make this a love-fest. Huge grain of salt because new toy and all that...
    • stage is wider and deeper than both SFD-1 and 2. It's not even close. On some recordings I get both the wraparound effect of the SFD-1 and the more "in front of you" effect of the SFD-2. If I think about the utopia on my head I am aware of its physical limitations. If I don't think about it, I get a deeply immersive, enveloping, and expansive stage. However the ability that this dac has in casting a distant image is beyond the capabilities of either of the other two SF iterations. I know it's still headphones and it will never be like speakers, but the illusion is so powerful and compelling here.
    • image size is larger than with either, and the tonal density approaches the point of oversaturation. It's intoxicating. Overall placement of images are more like SFD-1 than SFD-2, which is a touch more forward.
    • the overall presentation of the sound initially seems to be more polite than either of the two at first. However I think it's because the treble is situated slightly more recessed in the stage. Details are abundantly present, just not spotlit. I am still unsure how an overall "warmer" sound can still have what I feel is superior resolution. I suspect that part of it is due to the expanded stage and the lower noise floor.
    • images are smooth, but at the same time there's plenty of texture that seems to define each individual image better without becoming etched. I'm not sure I can describe this well, but it's very evident when listening to not-so-well recorded mass strings. If I exaggerate the differences, the SFD-1 sounds like a big violin with some shimmer on top. The SFD-2 sounds like lots of violins with the overall shimmer veering on the edge of treble etch. With the Processor 3, you still get the sense that there are lots of individual violins--you can hear individual textures--but the shimmer on top of that massed sound is more similar to the SFD-1, if that makes sense. It's really astonishing to hear that level of detail on recordings that would make me wince a little on the SFD-2.
    • atmospheric detail is incredible--the tiny little grunts and noises that make recordings sound like they were made by humans. Is this plankton? I'm not sure.
    • Subbass is more present, midbass is less than SFD-1. I guess it means the bass is tight, idk. I don't really have great recordings to test this.
    • 90% of my recordings (mostly redbook) sound not just listenable, but actually enjoyable.
    • output volume is insane. Between 1-2 with Stellaris
    • no EQ at all
    • the biggest thing that has stuck out to me is how the Processor 3, more than either of SFD-1 or 2, is able to make the recordings in my collection sound more "similar." My experience with the other two DACs is that they sort of apply the same house sound to each recording: brighter recordings sound better and warm ones get ...even warmer. However on the Processor 3, the effect works both ways: bright recordings become fuller and more enjoyable, and warm recordings are more expansive and clear. I know some may hate this because it seems to lack transparency to the recording. Don't get me wrong--bright recordings are still bright and mushy recordings are still mushy. However, the ability that this DAC has in "normalizing" the sound so that everything I put on is enjoyable is not something I've experienced before.
    • one final point: the HDCD filter on the Processor 3 is wild compared to the SFD-1 or 2. I had to go back and forth several times to confirm what I was hearing. Honestly, on SFD-1 or 2, the HDCD activation doesn't really sound all that much different from the redbook version of the same file. With the Pro3, HDCD takes on an absurd dimension in terms of the recorded space. I kind of feel guilty after listening to these (mostly RR label)
    One big caveat is that all 3 of these DACs have very different output power--I did not try to level match or do a lot of back and forth A/B. I just listened to each one for a normal listening session and adjusted the volume to where I was comfortable. YMMV and all that good stuff.

    Big thanks to this forum and its members for introducing me to the SF sound, and I'm so glad to see it's still getting a lot of love here!
     
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  12. JeremiahS

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    So it seems that Processor 3 is even more polite and laid-back than the SFD-2?
     
  13. RestoredSparda

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    Interesting. I've listened to every Tool album about 200 times, and have always had my favorites recording quality wise.

    I was a bit disappointed when Fear Inoculum was released. The album itself is incredible, but the mastering seemed a bit wanting. Everything just sounded a bit flat and lifeless. Drums and toms didn't have much impact or authority.

    With the SFD-1 I'm finding that it is very, very, very easy to notice when an album has shit dynamic range. FI just sounded lifeless. Only Chocolate Chip Trip sounded decent.

    I switched over to Aenima (one of my favorites) and holy hell the magic is back. Incredible dynamic swings.

    I'm thinking the seriously impressive macro and micro dynamics on the SFD-1 is making it much easier to detect an album with squashed dynamic range.

    I thought I would share this as it's the first time dynamic range has been so noticeable to me with any DAC.
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2022
  14. Clear Water

    Clear Water Friend

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    I'd say it has a greater ease of presentation, but I don't find it to be polite or laid back in general. It's very dynamic and vivid, just more refined. Maybe we're trying to articulate the same thing here.
     
  15. gixxerwimp

    gixxerwimp Professional tricycle rider

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    My SFD-1 Mk2 SE+ just stopped outputting sound while playing. Powered off, then on. No change.

    Lock LED comes on immediately after power up if there's signal input (HDCD comes on briefly, then goes off as usual). I now don't hear the relay click about 30 sec after power up when it should start outputting sound. Could it be as simple as that relay dying?
     
  16. RestoredSparda

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    Not sure if he wants his email public, so I will PM you Glenn at Pcx's contact info. He's the resident expert and I'm sure could help you troubleshoot. Super friendly guy.
     
  17. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    That sounds like the failure I experienced. In my case, C501 and C502 failed and needed to be replaced. They are on the main board just to the left of the input board. They are part of the timing circuit that turns on the tubes for warm up, then connects the sound to the output some seconds later. The value of the caps isn't very critical as long as it is close to the original. The difference will be how long the tubes get to warm up while you are waiting for music.

    Given the age of the dac, I would recommend replacing all of the electrolytic caps while you have the main board out to replace the timing caps. Which reminds me, I have all of those parts sitting here. I just have to put them in.
     
  18. edwyun

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    Lustening sessions with a new to me Processor 3. Sounding great with a Mercury V2. And now looking for a I2Se input(!)

    Photos for posterity...

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
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  19. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    Very cool !! It's very interesting how they evolved the design over the years. The P3 is technically much more modern than the SFD-1, but they didn't seem to lose their sense of what was important.

    Jac
     
  20. edwyun

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    Agreed, I like how the SFD1 is 1 large board, the SFD2 is 3 separate boards, and the P3 is 3 separate board plus an outboard power supply. Overall circuit layout doesn't appear to have changed much.

    There are also some neat little things:

    On the SFDs, the non-HDCD signal is -6db as compared to the HDCD signal. The P3 allows you to keep this as is or increase the non-HDCD signal by +6dB by moving a jumper. This will allow the non-HDCD and HDCD signal levels to be the same.

    The SFDs use the UA D20400A DAC module, which also converts the DAC's current into an analog voltage within the module. The P3 seems to have a slightly different D20400A DAC module with a separate downstream module that handles the I/V conversion. Note the label for the DAC module has "1"s and "0"s printed on it, while the label for the I/V module has "I"s and "V"s printed on it. LOL.

    On the SFDs, the DAC modules are soldered in place directly on the PCB. I thought this was going to be the same with the P3. But the DAC modules on the P3 are easily removable from their sockets on the PCB (maybe that is why the labels on the P3 have not peeled off like they do on the SFDs due to the heat generated by the DAC modules). Although I am not sure this is original, it does make for easy DAC module changes and comparisons (like with the AD1862-based replacement DAC modules PCX sells).

    Just like the SFDs, the P3's power supply uses soldered jumpers to switch from 120v and 220v. Makes things very easy.

    And I personally like the gold color over the black!
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2023

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