Vintage DACs

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by Luckbad, Apr 26, 2016.

  1. Luckbad

    Luckbad Traded in a unicorn for a Corolla

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    There is unlikely to be enough discussion in single threads for these old timers, but I think it's worth starting a thread here for vintage DACs.

    The most interesting ones to me are old school R/2R converters.

    The two I've owned so far are the Monarchy 18B (technically the new version) that uses AD1860 chips and now an Assemblage DAC-2 (same as TransDAC) that uses PCM1702 chips.

    I know some folks like @Clemmaster have several old school DACs, and @RAZRr1275 snagged the Sonic Frontiers DAC I've wanted to hear for some time from @purrin.

    The Monarchy 18B is a really excellent vintage sounding unit. Very warm with good overall detail. It's also a preamp, which is really nice if you need the volume control. It's limited to 44.1/48kHz.

    The Assemblage DAC-2 is very good for the price and is actually a pretty compact DAC even for today's standard. Similar dimensions to a Bifrost but 2-3 inches deeper. I just got this thing in 15 minutes ago so it's hard to comment accurately just yet, but it is pretty impressive for the price.
     
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  2. RAZRr1275

    RAZRr1275 Acquaintance

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    I'll write up a detailed comparison of the SFD-1 and my MisterRogers DAC after finals are over for me and my Mutec gets in. Might have some more tubes for the SFD-1 by then as well. For the sake of this comparison being relevant, despite not having heard a Yggdrasil, I'll assert that the MisterRogers DAC sounds like one to give a solid reference point. Mike tells me it sounds similar and AustinValentine who I bought it from said he'd have to AB with a Yggdrasil to hear a difference. In terms of reported small differences, that Mike said were observed, his design might be a tad warmer in tone with a tad wider soundstage. So essentially, it won't be perfect, but it'll be good enough to give an idea of where an old tube DAC sits against one of the more modern titans. I'd say I'll have something in about a month or two depending on how soon I get a couple of pieces in.
     
  3. Mr.Sneis

    Mr.Sneis Friend

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    I've had a vintage dac or two in my day....Never could stand the lack of power switches for some of them, even some of the ones with switches still remained powered but in a standby state when switched off. Why was that a good idea?
     
  4. bixby

    bixby Friend

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    keeps the clocks warm and stable is my guess.
     
  5. RiddleyWalker

    RiddleyWalker Friend

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    I just picked up a Theta Progeny, a DAC from 1994 which supposedly utilizes PCM67P-K (an interesting chip that Burr Brown describes as "Advanced 1-Bit BiCMOS Dual 18-Bit"). @wahsmoh has posted a lot about this DAC (though his is Version A) and he seems to really like it.

    The Progeny replaced my Modi 2. The difference was clearly audible the moment I pressed play - mainly in the form of much more bass quantity. Like MUCH more. Just a rich, full sound. Really brought the subbass out of my HD650s to the point that I no longer use SonarWorks EQ to boost that region. Now, the Modi 2 is obviously a humble device and I assumed an upgrade would reveal it's technical shortcomings, but I wasn't expecting such a huge change in tonality. The imaging is also really interesting. The best way I can describe it is that I can hear "around" the instrument rather than just in front of it.

    Although I'm super satisfied with my Progeny and would probably be happy with calling it quits on DACs for the foreseeable future, I can't help but wonder how the Theta Basic III and Gen III / V sound... Also curious about some of the EAD and Sonic Frontiers DACs...
     
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  6. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    My experience with some vintage DACs:

    Classe DAC-1 - UltraAnalog-based, solid state. Not sure I've heard a DAC sound so ballsy and powerful (not even Gungnir Multibit, Yggdrasil, or Theta Gen Va). Very dynamic and punchy. Very holographic soundstage, very resolving, very detailed, blah blah blah. It just sounded too rough, grainy, and bright. Fatiguing. Some have said it is lean, which I did not find. It was NOT fatty or bloomy. Think incredible, thick muscles, just overall too dry sounding.

    Theta Gen Va - Damn good DAC. Precursor to the Gungnir Multibit and Yggdrasil, just as Marv has said. A bit more euphonic in a thick or bassy sense than the new Schiit DACs, but ultimately they share the same magic. The PCM63 chip might have its own sonic traits over what Schiit is using in the new DACs. Based on memory alone, Gungnir Multibit might be a bit more balance and neutral sounding overall.
     
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  7. Vastx

    Vastx Almost "Made"

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    Few month ago I enjoyed a lot listening to a loaner counterpoint DA10 (ultra analog 20400). It really was good, though it was a base version, I felt it was superior to a Gungnir Multibit in every way. Well IMO I felt it was superior to a few sub1500ish dacs and cdps I heard from marantz, cambridge, hegel. Be advised that my taste leans towards euphonic clarity and harmonic richness, but if you are reading this thread you know what you are digging :)
    It was not as warm and euphonic and dreamy as, say, a sonic frontiers but still very involving. Damn... My friend won't sell it to me. I'll wait.

    Edit - Need a decent transport to shine (like other dacs don't lol)
     
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  8. Mr.Sneis

    Mr.Sneis Friend

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    Do any of you vintage dac users omit the PC/USB as a transport component and instead feed from a CDP based transport instead? I never hear much about this scenario anymore.
     
  9. bixby

    bixby Friend

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    Not surprised the older Theta beat the poor Modi2, it is a pretty thin and bright sounding dac to my ears. As for wanting to hear EAD, I would not seek one out. I had the $2800 at the time EAD 7000 MkIII. All I can remember was sand, as in rather grainy or gritty highs, as the reason to upgrade i, but hey back in the day it was pretty darn good.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2016
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  10. Mr.Sneis

    Mr.Sneis Friend

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    From recent memory, Ead dsp 1000mk3 did not beat out a parasound 1100, unfortunately I lost all my notes on the matter! I think the ead was not far behind though. Another thing that I wish there was more data on are any diy mods regarding these old dacs.
     
  11. Vastx

    Vastx Almost "Made"

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    I used pc/USB as a transport. I now use a raspberry network streamer. I still haven't heard a pc sounding better than a good cd transport. But also I have not heard any 1000ish interface yet tbh.
     
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  12. Smitty

    Smitty Too good for bad vodka - Friend

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    I have a CDT that I use with Yggdrasil, and it's now the go-to thing for critical listening. We'll see which one is better when I get my mutec.
     
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  13. songmic

    songmic Gear cycler East Asia edition

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    Even if a vintage CDT sounds better, I don't think I'll ever use one instead of my computer--unless the CDT sounds massively superior to computer--because changing CD's has become too much of a hassle for me (I know, I've been spoiled and become lazy). I have a huge collection of CD's ripped in uncompressed lossless FLAC, not to mention those I had purchased from sites like HDtracks. I also listen to a lot of music on YouTube. On top of that, I use the OOYH software for almost all of my listening sessions. Giving all this up for a marginal improvement in sound quality is too much. But that's just me.
     
  14. Luckbad

    Luckbad Traded in a unicorn for a Corolla

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    I will never go to CD. Virtually my entire collection was stolen years ago, and I'm not planning on spending thousands of dollars to find them again.

    Perhaps one day I'll go vinyl, but even that I doubt. Vinyl is a massive can of worms, incredibly expensive, and has tons of problems with it you have to work around.

    Do I believe the best vinyl setup is going to sound better than the best digital? Yep. I just can't imagine it's worth all the money and inconvenience to get that last 5-10% of performance.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2016
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  15. bixby

    bixby Friend

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    CD transports that sound better than a well setup computer are rare. Not saying they can't sound good, but all the folks I know who have been there and done that, have moved on and not because it is convenient, we just found a source that sounds better.

    If your cd transport sounds better than your pc, then you need to properly set one up and that means dedicate it, not use it for surfing the web, etc.
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2016
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  16. Luckbad

    Luckbad Traded in a unicorn for a Corolla

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    Assemblage DAC-2

    Very good for the price I paid (~$200 + shipping). It's a little bright and slightly unrefined in its presentation. It's also the only DAC I've ever used that seemed to have better sound from the RCA input than BNC. Both coming from the Mutec MC-3+USB.

    It doesn't better my precious Atlantis. I was secretly hoping it would be close, but it's simply a league or two below. It's a great price and form factor for a work DAC.

    That said, I'm looking into modding to see if I can find any good and somewhat comprehensive mod lists out there. I'll probably use this as an experimental test bed for improving my soldering skills (beyond the basic projects I've tried).
     
  17. Mr.Sneis

    Mr.Sneis Friend

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    Wow I am a dinosaur! I still have tons of cds, just bought the new Deftones album today in fact. I also listen vinyl predominately.

    My computer as a source game is really lacking but it doesn't bother me in the slightest, at least not right now.

    In the context of vintage dacs and the transport used, I've found some are picker than others and I don't just mean from a performance standpoint. My adcom gcd750 (pcm1702) does not like most asynchronous usb/spdif adapters I've tried. Oddly it sounds best with an old clunky hiface 1, I think the oldest model has a strange output impedence and it just seems to gel better. I got up to a jkeny mk3 and resonessence concero and they both sounded horrible with it!

    I suppose my point is, it can be finicky what you feed these old guys because they come from a different time, maybe the adcom is just a weird one.
     
  18. BioniclePhile

    BioniclePhile The Terminal Man - Friend

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    Go vinyl if you want to have more fun with your music.
    Computers are great storage and convenient, but playing a record is just plain fun. It's personal, hands-on, and sounds much more natural in my opinion.

    Vintage DACs seem to be unanimously more euphonic than most of today's DACs, and to be honest, if you're listening to music for perfect playback reproduction, you're doing it wrong.
     
  19. Pyruvate

    Pyruvate Friend

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    Haha. Wahsmoh posting a lot about his "vintage 1994 Theta Progeny Version A (the better one)" is an understatement, seriously every post he makes on HF he has to bring it up. Don't get me wrong, it is a very good DAC, there's no doubt about that, but still doesn't contain the finesse that Gungnir Multibit and Yggdrasil has.

    I actually have the Theta Progeny on loan from a buddy at the moment to compare with my Bifrost 4490. For a DS DAC, the 4490 comes VERY close to the Progeny.

    4490:
    Moffat bass - check
    Mids less forward
    Smooth yet extended highs - check
    More expansive soundstage (width, depth is more or less same)
    More plankton/microdetails
    Quicker sounding

    Progeny:
    Moffat bass - check
    Mids more forward
    Smooth highs you'd expect from R2R DACs
    Soundstage is more constricted, but still plenty air between instruments
    Imaging is a tad bit better, things within the listening field are better separated
    A little grainier, overall sound is more smoky/lush
     
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  20. Luckbad

    Luckbad Traded in a unicorn for a Corolla

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    A lot of these vintage DACs have a polarity switch.

    http://www.audiocheck.net/blindtests_abspolarity.php

    I got 8/10 on this and wasn't really guessing, so apparently I can hear a difference.

    However, I can only definitively tell a difference if I'm A/B testing like that.

    Anyone know if there's a way to detect for polarity inversion as a file is played in something like JRiver so I can either clean it on that end or flip the switch on the DAC?
     
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