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DACs recommendations for 3D soundstage

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Harris11235, Apr 11, 2021.

  1. Harris11235

    Harris11235 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Minneapolis, MN
    I’m in the early stages of auditioning some DACs in my system, and I’m interested in some suggestions on what I might try over the coming weeks.

    The equipment in the rest of my system does a good job of creating a natural, easy, “real” sound with good dynamics and soundstage. I’d like a DAC that compliments that sound, but I’m not necessarily trying to find a DAC that mimics my vinyl playback.

    Before I started auditioning, I was using the internal DAC from my Node 2i in my lounge system (equipment listed in my profile). I have used a Chord Mojo as an external DAC with the Node, and I prefer the sound of the Node’s DAC. It’s not as clean and detailed as the Mojo, but it does a better job of presenting the music with the qualities I’m after in my system.

    Based on comments, measurements and reviews, I am interested in:
    • RME ADI-2 FS
      • This has been connected to my system since yesterday morning. I immediately noticed a big jump in accuracy and detail over the internal DAC in my Node 2i. It sounds great, instruments are precisely placed in the soundstage and the low-level detail is incredible, but I’m not hearing as much of that wide, 3D holographic quality from the soundstage that I’d like. It’s more like looking through a telescope at the vista than taking in the whole view. I like that it has a lot of options for EQ and filters, but I haven’t had the chance to experiment with them much. I’m only a third of the way through the ~70 page (!) manual. I am not particularly interested in the headphone amp or preamp functions, but I don’t mind that they’re there. The 30-band analyzer is fun to watch, and the display shows all sorts of information that is useful. It’s such a well-designed, comprehensive package that I may trade the desire for an expansive soundstage for all of it’s features and customization options.
    • Benchmark DAC-3 B
      • This has been ordered, but it hasn’t arrived yet. From what I’ve read, I can expect a somewhat more natural presentation and better soundstage compared to the RME, and retain the same (or better) level of detail. I look forward to seeing if that’s true in my system. I opted for the B version because it omits the preamp and headphone amp features, but is otherwise identical to their flagship DAC-3 HCG. The price is on par with the RME, and I suspect that more of that money is going to the DAC implementation instead of the other features. The casework complements the rest of my system better than the RME. That’s not a huge deal, but all things being equal, I would pick the component that matches my other gear.
    • Schiit Yggdrasil
      • This has not been ordered, but I’m interested because of what I’ve read about R2R and multibit ladder DACs reproducing music more naturally than Delta-Sigma DACs. Just a different design philosophy that may deliver more of the sound I’m looking for. The typical knock against this type of DAC is that they don’t measure well compared to Delta Sigmas. I don’t particularly care how things measure, as long as they deliver the right sound for me. I also like that this design is modular, so there’s a certain amount of future proofing built in.
    • Modwright CXN V2
      • This component could replace the Node and DAC. I’ve noticed all of the admiration for the CXN, and I like the idea of the tube modification. Everything else in my system is tube based. Obviously, I can’t audition this one along with the others. I would need to buy the CXN and ship it to Modwright for the tube upgrade, which means returns are not possible either. It would be a total leap of faith, and I gather that the other DACs listed above outclass the CXN. In contrast to the Yggdrasil, this design is not modular, and the streamer and DAC are in the same box.
    • Chord Qutest
      • This DAC is frequently compared to some others on this list. The only experience I have with Chord DACs is the Mojo. I’m not sure if I should expect the Qutest to have the same sound signature as the Mojo. If that’s the case, I’ll probably skip it.
    As you can see, I’m all over the place here. I’ve read quite a bit about other DACs that aren’t on this list, and find myself in a bit of a paralysis over it all. Everyone was very helpful when I was selecting a phono preamplifier last month, and I ended up with a suggestion that wasn’t on my original list. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
    sushimaster, displayname and Shawn like this.
  2. I can only say that I’ve been very satisfied with both the SQ and the ergonomics of my Gold Note DS-10. I find the sound extremely engaging.
    gestalt and Harris11235 like this.
  3. Dahuky

    Dahuky Well-Known Member

    Gustard X16.
  4. rockin_since_58

    rockin_since_58 Forum Resident

    Simi Valley, CA
    You should consider Denafrips also. Check out this thread: Denafrips Dacs
  5. Harris11235

    Harris11235 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Minneapolis, MN
    I’ve read a bit about that one. It’s a Stereophile A rated component. Here’s what they have to say about it. Is that consistent with you experience?

    Gold Note DS-10: $2995
    This modest-sized, MQA-capable, Roon Ready, Italian D/A processor includes a volume control, AES/EBU, S/PDIF, Ethernet, USB, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi inputs, and a headphone output. DSP presets allow the DS-10's functionality to be adjusted by an almost infinite amount. The sample reviewed was powered by the optional PSU-10 EVO supply ($1299), and while JVS didn't feel the DS-10 retrieved as much detail as his more expensive reference DACs, he felt its presentation delved deep into the music on his favorite files. The DS-10 "conveyed the smile, warmth, and love behind the notes in ways other DACs miss," he wrote. JVS summed up his time with the Gold Note by saying "This little baby sounded so good—so musical—with its optional, identically dimensioned PS-10 EVO power supply that I'd urge anyone who can shell out $4300 to try them together."
  6. I use it as a streamer DAC and can only describe it as “extremely musically engaging” and one of the most satisfying products I have ever purchased. Very satisfied to say the least.

    BTW as versatile as it is I’m a “set it and forget it” type of guy but it’s very assuring to have the built in versatility.
    displayname and Harris11235 like this.
  7. Gi54

    Gi54 Forum Resident

    I'd add an Exogal Comet + Exogal PSU to the list - £3k new or half that s/h.

    Sublime air & soundstage - not in your face but slowly beguiling - accurate, punchy and agile too when music demands.

    My musician and vinyl friends have been very impressed too.
    Harris11235 likes this.

    HIRES_FAN Well-Known Member

    Denafrips Venus!
    bever70 and rockin_since_58 like this.
  9. timind

    timind phorum rezident

    Westfield, IN USA
    I'm about two weeks in to a Benchmark Dac3 HGC and am a little surprised by it. Even though it reveals lots of detail, it manages to do it without sounding harsh. In fact, it's very pleasant. For nearly two years I've been using an inexpensive SMSL SU8 which I'm overall happy with, but thought I should see how much better one of these upper dacs would be. I have them hooked up so I can do quick compares and there is a difference. Not sure it's worth the $1,800 price difference, but it's there.

    Sound stage and 3D imaging are at the top of my sound quality list, and this is one area where the Benchmark has an advantage. Still though, the difference isn't overwhelming. The only advantage the SU8 has over the Dac3, besides price, is a feature SMSL calls "sound color" settings. It uses DSP native on the ESS dac chip to provide different flavors to the sound. After going through the different settings I found I preferred a couple of them over the straight, no color, setting.

    I also considered the Denafrips Pontus, but a lack of remote volume control eliminated the Pontus.

    One more thing. Last week I ordered a Gustard X26-pro. Hoping it arrives this week and I'll be able to compare it against the Benchmark.
    SinnerSaint, james, Shawn and 3 others like this.
  10. Harris11235

    Harris11235 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Minneapolis, MN
    That sounds like a good match for what I’m looking to achieve. I’ll give it a closer look.

    I liked the looks of their phono preamplifier when I was researching them. The ability to connect multiple turntables and the digital interface for selecting loading, RIAA, etc. almost pushed me that direction.
    Khorn likes this.
  11. shug4476

    shug4476 Forum Resident

    If you can find it, Arcam D33, beautifully engineered.

    I run a Chord at the moment but I will confess it doesn't do the best soundstaging I've heard.
  12. Harris11235

    Harris11235 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Minneapolis, MN
    Interesting, that’s a new one for me. There’s comparatively little information on their website about the technology they use.
  13. Gi54

    Gi54 Forum Resident

    Ex Wadia guys.

    Quite a few reviews out there via a Google search.
  14. Sterling1

    Sterling1 Forum Resident

    Louisville, KY
    Want a 3D sound stage. Get a multi-channel UBP Player with HDMI output to an HDMI Pre-Pro.
  15. Drew769

    Drew769 Buyer of s*** I never knew I lacked

    Search HiFi Shark for a used Meitner MA-1 or a used EMM Labs DAC2X. There is currently a Meitner for sale on US Audio Mart for only $3500. You will not believe the air and space you get with either of these two units. The Meitner is $8,000 new, and the EMM just shy of $16,000 new. They are in a whole different category than any of the lower priced consumer grade ones. Meitner helped invent SACD, and his electronics are found in most recording studios. He makes his own chipsets (has then made for him). He also has very reasonably priced upgrade paths. Basically you can get a DAC2X, send it to Meitner for the $1750 V2 upgrade, and you have basically same unit that they are currently selling for $15,500. The Meitner version is also upgradable to V2 status. There are not many better deals than that.

    Steve Gutenberg reviewed the Meitner MA-1 and compared it to his Denefrips Terminator, and said the Meitner easily beat it. The EMM beats the Meitner, but very slightly.

    The major difference between the Meitner MA-1 and the EMM Labs DAC2X is the quality of materials and power supplies. The EMM uses ceramic circuit boards (aerospace grade supposedly), for example. Both feature significant isolation.
    SinnerSaint and Harris11235 like this.
  16. Harris11235

    Harris11235 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Minneapolis, MN
    Thank you, I read some of that thread before making my original post. It got me interested in R2R, and it’s one reason the Yggdrasil is on my short list.

    Do you have any personal experience with Denafrips DACs? They’ve got a lot of glowing reviews, but I’ve got to say I’m put off by the shoddy looking manufacturing in their marketing photos. I wouldn’t buy something that looks that beat up used, let alone new. I’m specifically referring to the LPS photo on their site. Maybe they don’t normally look that bad and this is an unfair judgement. It still feels like a red flag for me, though.
  17. Harris11235

    Harris11235 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Minneapolis, MN
    This has me anticipating the DAC-3 B even more. I’ll be curious to see if I hear an improvement in soundstage comparing it to the RME. I’ll circle back on that with you, and please let me know what you find when you compare it to the Gustard. Have fun.
    timind likes this.
  18. Harris11235

    Harris11235 Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Minneapolis, MN
    I’m of the opinion that if I go the Delta-Sigma route, I’d like to get something new. There’s been a lot of changes in that technology over the past 10 years. But, I could be wrong about that. Is there something specific about the Arcam that you think would fit for me?
    jusbe likes this.
  19. Hendertuckie

    Hendertuckie Forum Resident

    Belmont, Nevada
  20. Linger63

    Linger63 Forum Resident

  21. toddrhodes

    toddrhodes Forum Resident

    South Bend, IN
    I've had both an Yggdrasil "analog 2 output" and I am currently listening to the DAC you linked to - a Venus II. To me, there is little comparison. I didn't keep Yggdrasil for very long. It's a good DAC but, I hate to say it, it's utterly forgettable. And I love Schiit gear as a rule - I currently use a Sol turntable and a Freya+ preamp. I'll buy their CD transport when it ships as well, and probably their phono stage upgrade if they ever do a full chassis, better-than-Mani version. So anyway, that's my Schiity street cred.

    Yggy IS a pretty 3-D DAC with the right source material* But to me, for my tastes, it was soft. It's a tiny bit "gray" sounding - so basically you get the distinct impression it's in the chain. I also had a Qutest in my room while I had Yggy. I preferred Yggy. Ultimately I sold Yggy and gave the Qutest back to my buddy (who returned it to wherever he bought it, it wasn't for him either) and used a Dangerous Music Convert-2 DAC for quite awhile. It doesn't do 3D at all, but holy hell it's a fun listen.

    Venus II is totally different. Feed it as high quality a source as you can manage, and it will return the favor. It's transparent, yet it still seems to magnify the best parts of music. It's very dynamic, it captures very slight changes in tonality with exceptional realism, it can draw out those long sustains and decays, and it will illustrate harmonics and lower level fundamentals. And the coolest thing is, with a very good source, it will hang all of those elements in space in a way that you feel like you can reach out and touch them.

    I had a couple friends over yesterday. I turned on Art Blakey - Mosaic, off Qobuz. We were just talking and chatting about music and stereos and then Art's drum solo starts.

    All three of us - me an audiophile, my buddy is a car stereo basshead junky and his neighbor, a vinyl collector - just stopped talking at the same time, and turned to face the music in the room. I turned it up, and we didn't say another word til it was over.

    That's what it does. It's startling at times.

    As for that LPS photo? That's inside the unit and I don't think they pay much mind at all to what it looks like. I've never seen that part, because it's isolated within the chassis, ostensibly for maximum sonic benefit. I kinda take the opposite view - they're not sugarcoating anything. That's their power supply. It doesn't have to look fancy or be anything special beyond its operating directive. And it must work, because this DAC rules.

    Just my $.02 :D
    Kyhl, james, Shawn and 5 others like this.
  22. Calvin_and_Hobbes

    Calvin_and_Hobbes Music Lover

    Seattle, WA
    I'm using a Denafrips Pontus II that I just got about a week ago. I'm sure the Venus II sounds better, but the sound of the Pontus itself is amazing in how it can sound both natural and detailed at the same time. I had a Qutest in my system for the last two months & the Pontus manages to sound more detailed than the Qutest while being also more natural and real in sound.

    FWIW, I believe the Qutest is quite a bit more precise in its sound than the Mojo which seems to have a bass emphasis to my ears.
    displayname, bever70 and toddrhodes like this.
  23. Black Elk

    Black Elk Music Lover

    Bay Area, U.S.A.
    Not quite. SACD was entirely developed by engineers from Philips and Sony. What Ed did was develop DSD converters that were much better (sonically) than the 'black line' and 'silver line' converters made by Sony Japan. He also produced the Switchman M-ch pre-amplifier that was used in virtually all SACD demos.
    Kyhl and jusbe like this.
  24. JumpingBean

    JumpingBean Forum Reedmaker

    Phoenix, AZ
    I've had two Denafrips DACs and one USB DDC in for review from them. The build quality is tank-like. Here's a link to my review on the Pontus II which sounds like its in your price range: Denafrips PONTUS II DAC — Audiophilia

    I ended up buying my review sample of the Pontus, if you want some pictures I can try to snap some tomorrow.
    bever70 and toddrhodes like this.
  25. shug4476

    shug4476 Forum Resident

    No you are right - things have moved on a lot in that time, but the Arcam does have a very nice output stage and PSU.
    timind likes this.

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