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April 2012
Enjoy the Music.com
USB DAC Shootout!
Six Budget USB DACS Put To The Test!
USB Audio Heaven In Two Affordable Steps
Clive Meakins checks out some USB equipped DACs and how to get the best out of them.

USB DAC shootout featuring JPLAY and the Rega DAC, Beresford TC-7520 (modified + Burson Buffer), Halide Design DAC HD, JKDAC , MK3 JKSPDIF and JKDAC32.
Review By Clive Meakins

 

  I'm either a most unlikely or a most ideal person to run a DAC review. You'll have to decide for yourself which you believe I am. I've been a vinyl junkie for some years. I flirted with CD, starting out in the mid-1980's with a Philips CD-104B. I was hoping for a more "lifelike sound" as I progressed via various transports & DACs until I reached a Meridian 588 not long after the turn of the Millennium. More recent mid to upper-mid market CD players haven't really delivered much improvement to my ears. During my journey I never quite left my record decks behind and over the last 10 years I moved my prime focus back to vinyl again, my current decks being a Trans-Fi Salvation rim-drive and Garrard 301 idler.

The better of my two record decks is the Salvation, it's by no means warm and cuddly, it digs tremendous detail from the grooves, produces massive 3D images and lifelike sounds; it's no shrinking violet that's for sure. The Salvation is close to as good as it gets with a record deck so it's a useful reference as well as a huge pleasure to listen to. What I've been searching for is a CD or computer audio system which sounds lifelike and at a price that won't bankrupt me. Sure the likes of DCS produce great sounds but at great cost too. Does it have to be like this? It's just technology after all and this progresses really quickly. The biggest problem I've had with CD sound over the years is a slight upper-midrange harshness or over-emphasis coupled with a sound that's closer to 2D than 3D. Where folks don't have a good analogue front-end to compare with, the deficiencies I mention become accepted. The slight harshness can be smoothed over but usually with a consequent loss of fidelity. A couple of years ago I setup Foobar2000 with ASIO4ALL for "bitperfect" running on Windows XP. Once I'd cut out many unnecessary operating system processes I found the sound was better than my Meridian 588 so I proceeded to rip my CD collection and sell the Meridian. Even though the sound was improved over the Meridian it was still somewhat stereotypically CD-like in my view. Having a very good record deck to compare with meant it was hard to adjust to my CD sound. I was ok to listen to my file-based audio one night and vinyl the next. Mixing the formats during the same session usually led to dissatisfaction.

A few more words about my system; it includes a DHT preamplifier or TVC preamplifier as my mood takes me. I run 300B SET amplifiers feeding purely Open Baffle speakers with a serious bass capability assisted by DSP and solid-state clout.

Ok, so now you know something of where I'm coming from it's time to dig into USB-Audio Heaven!

 

The First Step to Heaven = JPLAY
Garbage in, garbage out (GIGO) very much applies to the front-end of an audio system. Amplifying garbage just results in louder garbage.  I'm going to be assessing a clutch of USB-equipped DACs so the first step is to ensure they are fed with a high quality datastream. There are various choices for DAC-feeding; a traditional CD transport usually S/PDIF or optical connections. Many people now expect a computer to be their music source and realistically it has to be the future. Whether with local music storage or streamed from the cloud, computers for audio are the future, if not the present.  USB is ubiquitous and frankly there's little wrong with USB as an input medium. Any issues that exist concern the quality of the data exiting the computer, not the reception side of USB DACs.

If we are to use a computer as a music server the main options include specialized hardware from the hi-fi industry, MACs, Windows PCs, and Linux PCs. I'm not an electronics designer so I'm not going to even try to preach what is the best technical solution. Here's my take on some of the options.

Off-the-shelf Hi-Fi servers: A known quantity and quality, a dedicated and convenient solution for a family to use.Generally expensive.

MAC: In standard setup sound quality is ahead of Windows, optical output seems preferred with some reporting issues with USB.

Windows: So very prevalent and it is well understood what needs to be done to easily improve on the sound that can be corrupted by the operating system. Windows 7 SP1 was a big improvement in terms of USB.

Linux: This low cost or free operating system is a tweakers delight and should be technically the easiest to get a great sound out of. The problem is that there's a learning curve and little standardization or pre-packaging.

 

So what's the big issue here? Whilst DACs re-clock the data as it hits the input buffer, jitter still impacts sound quality. The chances are that no two general purpose computer setups will have the same jitter profiles; there are so many variables involved. All the above options will sound different, having their own personality if you will. All the computer has to do is deliver data to the DAC within a narrow time slot. The problem is that with Windows, MAC and Linux we're expecting a general purpose computer to perform a very precisely time-bounded task. What we're talking about here is the requirement for data to be delivered at very precise and repeatable time intervals. This in computing terms looks more like a Real-Time requirement, more akin to process control equipment found in factories.

A general purpose computer is not a Real-Time computer so for our data packets jitter gets introduced when it does not arrive in the required timeframe. Real-Time? Imagine a vital industrial process, this could be the control of robots on a vehicle assembly line. Just imagine if the computer couldn't respond in time to install a windscreen (aka windshield). Sorry the disk was accessing some other data and other processes were running so the windscreen became a sunroof. Maybe next time we'll have more luck....

My installation of Foobar2000 with ASIO4ALL, albeit tweaked, cannot in truth get close to mimicking a real-time computer; Windows is doing so many other jobs in parallel. I tried Jriver in various modes, the user interface is sexy and the sound improves a little over Foobar too. At the behest of John Kenny, one of the DAC producers involved with the review, I tried JPLAY. JPLAY cordons off its own memory, reading tracks from disk ahead of playback. In hibernation mode it stops much of Windows operating; it does all this to enable the computer to respond with data packets with very low latency. Want to run it on a Mac? I hear JPLAY works well running under Windows on a Mac.

Finally we have something approaching a Real-Time computer. There is the capability to run JPLAY under Jriver, Foobar and iTunes but the very hairshirt option of JPLAYmini on its own sounds best. The improvement over the likes of Foobar is massive. The 2D nature of my Redbook (i.e. standard resolution CD) experiences is now banished. The sounds I hear with JPLAY are realistic. Digital die-hards will have to put up with my saying the sound is like a really good record deck! 3D and realistic without upper-mid harshness. Previously I only heard this effect via a very few ludicrously expensive CD players. As a basic player JPLAYmini may seem pricey at 99 but compared to a DCS it is amazing value. You will need to have the temperament of a vinyl junkie to put up with the 20 to 30 seconds to load an album into memory and the total lockup of your computer while music is played in the highest quality mode. If viewing cover art is more important to you than achieving very high sound quality then I suggest you read www.EnjoyTheCoverArt.com instead of www.EnjoyTheMusic.com. You can however run JPLAY with the likes of Jriver for your more casual moments.

Media players aren't just for hi-fi nerds so don't assume sound quality are their number 1, 2 and 3 objectives. A sexy and intuitive GUI will be more important as may be their ability to play lossey formats. JPLAY on the other hand will only play WAV, FLAC, AIFF and ALAC formats and there is no GUI, unless you hook it up to media player but then you lose some sound quality at times this may be a trade-off that works for you. I'm extreme with this stuff, I want the best for my main system; if the family want to be able use a system they can use an iPod & dock.

Running a basic DAC via USB - the impact of JPLAYmini was immediately obvious. Redbook / CD had now grown up, I had not expected it to ever sound this good at anything other than truly high-end prices. You may dismiss record decks and warm and euphonic sounding, this not my view of a good record deck. When I say JPLAYmini bears comparison with a good record deck this is praise indeed!

I was now hearing the effects of what some smart people have worked out is critical in reducing jitter. Many of us assumed the stereotypical CD sound was due to the format. It seems not. I could often detect a CD source even from outside a room, not so now. JPLAY is responsible for getting rid of the CD sizzle, which to my ears has been prevalent since CD's inception. JPLAY is not your only option, some relatively costly pre-built servers are available or building your own server should get you there too.  JPLAY ultimately makes the music realistic and analogue-like there's a really solid bass performance too providing a powerful musical underpin.

Using JPLAY in my system is a no-brainer but I wondered whether I would hear the difference between JPLAYmini and Foobar2000 with ASIO4ALL through a more mid-range system setup for AV around our plasma TV. The system comprised a Burson Audio PI-100 solid-state amplifier with Visaton Topaz speakers. The amp and speakers are really rather good, most people would be very pleased to own them as their main system. If this space constricted and AV-biased system setup could benefit from JPLAY I would be surprised but I didn't know what to expect. First up was a tweaked XP laptop running Foobar2000 with the Halide DAC HD, the tracks I played sound restrained, laid-back and pleasant, very suitable for background music. Very "nice" but the pacier tracks were done little justice.

I swapped to a laptop with Windows 7 running JPLAYmini and continued to use the Halide HD DAC. I wasn't shocked but I was surprised. The TV slap-bang in-between the speakers does the sound no favours whatsoever but even so the differences were immediately discernible. The sound was still quite relaxed but there was more get-up-and-go, there was a decent amount of instrument separation, bass was cleaner and more tuneful. The overall sound was musically more coherent and something you would listen to rather than have on as a background boredom killer. I'm sure that if the system were setup as a music system with space all around the speakers and especially between them, then there's no question that JPLAY would be a justifiable part of the system.

JPLAY will cost you 99. I've heard comments such as "you can get a copy of Windows for less money!". This is true but consider this:

1) A Windows license is very restricted, probably a Home OEM license tied to one PC for life.

2) The JPLAY license is for your household, it's not restricted to one machine.

3) How many millions of Windows licenses do Microsoft sell? Once their development and support costs are covered they are making pure profit.

 

When you buy a Windows license and a JPLAY license, who do you think makes more profit? I'll give you a hint; it's not JPLAY.

You owe it to yourself to download the trial version on JPLAY. Do it, set it up with Throttle ON and Fullscale Hibernation and then decide for yourself. While you're doing this check out the two "engines" in JPLAY; Beach and River. I find Beach sounds dry (as a beach should be) and detailed whereas River is err... wet or at least fruity and more flowing. River suits my taste and system better.

 

The Second Step to Heaven Pick Your DAC!
What was going to be a simple DAC review turned into a 5 DAC marathon with 7 configurations auditioned. I was concerned I would get lost between subtle differences exhibited by the DACs so I enlisted some help in the form of a review panel. I also lived for several weeks with my preferred DACs. Aside from myself, the review panel comprised Adam, a fellow vinylisto and John Cahill, a very musically knowledgeable person.  Adam's system and mine are similar. Adam uses a TVC preamp whereas I switch between a TVC and DHT preamp. Our power amps are 300B SE types and the speakers are Trans-Fi / Bastanis hybrid open baffle with two dipole 15 inch basses per side. The speakers are not quite one-offs but they are only available from Trans-Fi in very limited numbers in the UK.

We used JPLAYmini for the panel assessments, for ease of use reasons we did not use Hibernation mode. The differences between the DACs were mostly very clear to hear and there was generally consensus. What we heard fell into 3 categories:

1) DACs with standard (adaptive) USB - where the computer controls the data timing.

2) DACs plus an asynchronous USB converter module outputting S/PDIF -- where the DAC controls the data timing.

3) DACs with inbuilt async USB capability and an I2S internal feed to the DAC

 

Standard (Adaptive) USB
7th Place: Beresford TC-7520 (modified). This DAC is by far the lowest cost here and is being superseded; it was included as it's quite a well-known budget benchmark. The DAC uses a Burr Brown PCM1716 DAC; it had been modified in that the OpAmps output stage was removed and replaced with a pair of Bastanis capacitors. This is known as the "passive mod", it adds a lot of air and dimensionality to the sound over the original version. The sound was characterized as a little thin and slightly hard sound. Even so the sound was felt to be good. This DAC would get its own back later!

 

6th Place: Rega DAC, this uses a pair of parallel-connected Wolfson WM8742 DACs. Considering the expansive soundstage the auditioning system was capable of we all felt the soundstage was compressed and the sound simply didn't stand out as special.

 

DAC Plus async USB Converter Outputting S/PDIF
Here we have USB from the computer being converted to SPDIF for two of the tested DACS. The 24/192 async USB converter used was the John Kenny MK3 JKSPDIF with S/PDIF attenuator. The attenuator is an important accessory which is there to reduce reflections in the S/PDIF cable. We didn't do a test with and without the attenuator but the feedback from users and measurements John provides give a good validation. Given my days in the distant past working on the technical side of Ethernet, it's easy for me to appreciate that reflections in RF cables exist. Getting signal levels right will improve the transmission performance via the cable and its plugs. Ensuring you have the correct impedance is also important, 75 Ohm BNCs being much preferable over RCAs. John comments that high frequency sharpness and poor soundstaging result from cable reflections and impedance mis-match.

John is well known for upgrading the M2Tech HiFace async USB to SPDIF converter. The HiFace board used here has various upgrades and is battery powered. The MK3 JKSPDIF and both JKDACs require a HiFace USB driver to be installed on your PC, there is also a 32-bit/384kHz resolution Young version. The Young driver was found to be richer sounding and was preferred by the panel so this was the driver used for the auditioning. Later in my time with the JK DACs I grew to prefer the HiFace driver. It's a choice you can make around what suits you and your system, it's rather like changing interconnects.

The MK3 JKSPDIF, in common with the two JK DACs also reviewed, is battery powered. These JK units all use Lithium NanoPhosphate (LiFePO4) batteries which are said to have a 10 to 15 year lifetime, no memory effect and low noise.  Fully charged batteries will deliver around 8 hours continuous playback. You can extend the playback time by turning off the unit for a few minutes before the 8 hours is up, this tops up one of the batteries from the other one. When you've finished listening to music you simply switch off the unit via the switch at the front to leave the unit on charge. You can leave the batteries on permanent charge. You will need to supply an external power supply; 9V to 12V. I already had three suitable power supplies, if you need to buy one you'll find them easily and at low-cost. I expect these power supplies are not provided as you may have one already plus coping with all the different international power plug considerations add unnecessary complications to the ordering process.

The casework for the MK3 JKSPDIF and both JK DACs is common to all. It is a small aluminum chassis with plastic end plates. The quality of the casework is fine though nothing special. Given that the prices for the units are between 335 and 500 we're not talking high-end audiophile jewelry here. No doubt a chassis hewn from a solid billet of aluminum could be produced but I've a horrible feeling prices would increase substantially, probably more than doubling them. Personably I'd rather prices stay as they are.

 

5th Place: Rega + MK3 JKSPDIF, this did not disappoint; the addition of async USB resulted in a much more open sound and released the soundstage. The sounds we were hearing were very good spacious and detailed with instruments playing within their own location in space. Bass was tuneful and deep. This is the level where Redbook (CD) sound does not disgrace itself in comparison with a really good sounding record deck. I'm not saying they sound the same but it's possible to switch between sources and not feel short-changed.

 

4th Place: Beresford TC-7520 (modified + Burson Buffer) + MK3 JKSPDIF; async USB also benefited this DAC and to assist it further we added a Burson Buffer stage following the "passive mod" capacitors. The buffer stage helped the DAC to be to drive the TVC and power amps. The result was impressively propulsive bass, much smoother treble than before and a feeling of space. The Rega had the greater detail and both DACs handled guitars equality well.

The MK3 JKSPDIF brought a very considerable performance lift to the Rega and Beresford DACs, if you have these or similar DACs and you use a computer to serve your music I urge you to consider adding async USB to your setup.

 

DACs With async USB Capability And I2S Internal DAC
Firstly let me try to characterize the uplift in sound this category brings. The initial DAC I hooked up was the JKDAC32 but in truth the effect would have been the same had it been any of the top three DACs. As the first notes played all three of us looked at each (tricky for three people to do at once), there was an instant and concurrent reaction, we all went WOW and looked wide-eyed. We probably all thought these DACs would be highest performing but we were taken aback by the improvement in dimensionality, solidity of image and visceral conviction in the way the music was delivered.

3rd Place: JKDAC. The two John Kenny (JK) DACs share the same enclosure, LiFePO4 batteries and modified HiFace 24-bit/192kHz async USB device. You get a single input (USB) and a single pair of outputs presented as RCAs simple and all that most people need. Where the JKDACs simplify matters over the MK3SPDIF is in their connection to the DAC - they skip the S/PDIF connection. The HiFace module connects to the DAC via very short internal I2S wiring. Not only are a pairing of S/PDIF transmitter and receiver omitted, I2S separates clock and data lines thereby reducing data-to-clock crosstalk. This all sounds great in theory and the technical gurus can argue over the finer points. What I wanted to investigate is what sounds best.

The JKDAC uses a 24-bit/192kHz Sabre ES9022 DAC whose output I'm told is strong enough to drive headphones, you would of course need a converter cable to use headphones. Certainly this raises an interesting high quality portable music possibility for aircraft trips and the like.

Note the photos below show both JK DACs.

I found the Sabre-based DAC presented a broad central image with a very expansive sound, far much more expansive than the previous DACs auditioned.  On some systems the bass seems particularly strong but on systems which dig really deep and do so cleanly with a good room setup (avoiding room modes), I find the DAC doesn't excel so much deep down. It doesn't quite deliver the absolute ultimate in bass texture. For bass-bandwidth limited systems the bass on offer here could work out better than the two DACs in 1st and 2nd place. The upper-mid and treble is clean sounding, on a clean or lean system the sound could be a little too explicit over long periods. It's as though the leading edge of treble notes rises especially quickly. If you want a sound where you can relax into the music then this isn't your perfect match, if you want a listening experience that's just a touch towards "active" or "edge-of-the-seat" then the JKDAC gives you this. Although this DAC sits here in 3rd place, with some recording mixes it's a contender for 1st place, as indeed is the Halide.

2nd Place: Halide Design DAC HD. This DAC has its origins in the devilsound DAC. You get more than you might at first expect. If you ever felt the need to buy an audiophile USB cable then there's no need with this DAC as you get Wireworld Starlight USB cable hardwired in to the DAC, I requested the 2m option which comprises 1.8m of Starlight, the DAC and then short silver interconnects terminated with Eichmann Silver Bullet RCA plugs. You can purchase a total length of up to 7m should you require this. The DAC enclosure is CNC machined from a lump of metal, presumably aluminum, which is anodized black and laser engraved. Overall it's a cable integrated with a very slick looking DAC. It seems a shame to hide the DAC behind an amplifier but that's most likely where it's consigned to live.

As the DAC is featured here in the async USB section it's no surprise that this is a key feature. It runs the Streamlength code licensed from Gordon Rankin's Wavelength Audio. Like the JK DACs there and I2S connection feeding the DAC except this time it's a Wolfson WM8716 running at 24-bit/96kHz. The async USB protocol used here does not require a special driver to be installed. I noted that the output stage uses silver mica capacitors so I was particularly careful to ensure a good burn-in as I've found these very good capacitors need quite a lot of time to settle down.

The DAC HD derives its power from the USB 5V feed, Halide describe on their site how a lot of filtering and decoupling of supplies takes place to provide 3.3V, 3v and -4.5V required by the digital circuitry, clock and output stage respectively. There are 8 voltage regulators employed.

As you'll now be aware I've taken to using JPLAY for playing my music. JPLAY sounds its best in Hibernate mode but it's still way better than most other players when not in Hibernate mode. That's just as well as the DAC HD and JPLAY in Hibernate mode are incompatible. It seems there's something in the Streamlength async USB and JPLAY code which means they won't work together in Hibernate mode. The panel auditioning was done without Hibernate mode for all DACs to ease switching music so the DAC HD was not disadvantaged, indeed you could say the other DACs lost out to some extent as they weren't able to operate in the highest quality environment. Anyone who must have a very slick user interface such as Jriver and doesn't care that JPLAY won't hibernate with the DAC HD will love the Halide.

It is interesting that the three DACs in this section share sonic characteristics, notably an expansive sound with very palpable 3D images. Async USB seems to be part of this as is I suspect the lack of a S/PDIF connection; I2S being a better method to transfer data and clock information. I always want to extract the best possible sound out of anything I use and whilst pursuing this quest I found that via one server (laptop) the DAC HD improved its sound when running purely on batteries. One of the tricks when you find this is to ensure the laptop is running an ungrounded mains connection. Given that with some power sockets you don't have a ground in the first place, running a laptop without a ground will be safe but if you aren't confident don't do it. What seems to be happening is that there's potential for a ground loop between laptop and amplifier as the USB specification includes a ground on pin 4 of the Type A and B connectors. Sometimes this can result in a hum, as indeed it did with the system used for the panel session.

The DAC HD mid-range and treble was very hard to tell apart from the JKDAC, they shared a slightly clean or etched character leading to an ever so slightly intense listening experience. I do not characterise this as a stereotypical old-fashioned CD glassiness, it's more a slight emphasis that any source could emulate in the some circumstances. This is more an observation / synergy thing, not a criticism; the overall sound quality on offer here is truly excellent. There's great detail and strong imaging in a way that I've not heard with Redbook data -- except for with some very expensive equipment. Then there's the bass which was exemplary; it did everything you could possibly want; it goes deep, it is dynamic, tight and textured.

1st Place: JKDAC32
These three DACs sound so good - a couple of years ago you couldn't have dreamt of achieving the quality we have here with any of these three for less than something like $10,000 or probably rather more. There has to be a winner, it is the JKDAC32. The JKDAC32 sports the now familiar aluminum enclosure with plastic end plates, NanoPhosphate (LiFePO4) batteries, modified 24/192 HiFace async USB to I2S. This time the I2S feeds a Burr Brown PCM5102 32/384 capable DAC. I should mention that with this DAC you may find you need to flick the on-off switch in the front panel to reset the DAC itself if no music pays, the USB connection is fine, it's a foible of the configuration.

Bass is very impressive, the equal of the Halide DAC HD, so it's got a great bass dynamic, it goes deep, it's tight, textured, indeed it's really propulsive. Where the JKDAC32 wins extra points is that the upper-mid and treble are sweeter yet still very detailed. This is no treble cover-up job! The next thing that struck the auditioning panel was the separation between the instruments; this was a step ahead of the best of the other DACs being tested here. Imaging was found to be very three dimensional and we agreed there was an especially strong focus for the central image whilst the expansive nature of the soundstage was maintained.

The best DAC here? The panel was unanimously in favor of the JKDAC32. So much so that the owner of the Rega sold it the next day. He purchased a JKDAC32. So have I.

 

A Few Cautionary Words
A word of caution on how to treat the battery powered DACs and any DACs referencing their ground to the computer. Some of these DACs are direct-coupled with little protection for the DAC chip. Plugging and unplugging RCAs when the rest of your system is powered-up risks giving the DAC chips an electric shock! This is because the system runs at its own potential difference and with the DAC/computer possibly operating un-referenced to ground. There can be a potential difference of several volts. When swapping RCAs ensure your amplifiers are powered down.

 

An Interesting Tweak
During the review I was contacted by John Kenny asking what USB cable I was using. He suggested I try direct USB connectors versus a USB cable.

This turned out to be interesting. My 2m screened but cheapo cable made treble a little hard at times. The direct connectors made quite a difference, more substance and a more refined sound with the occasional hardness banished. This rigid connection was rather inconvenient so I tried various non-audiophile cables I had to hand. The closest to the direct connection sound was a screen 0.5m cable from a Toshiba disk drive, this cable has a ferrite core on the "B" end. The sound was close to the direct connector, not as good but reasonably close. The JK DACs don't use the power wires in the USB cables except for the ground connection so I expect these DACs are less influenced by cable quality than some other DACs. I really don't want these cables to make a difference but they do. One theory is that many cables don't conform to the 90 ohm impedance standard at the high frequencies employed by USB.

I've heard the argument that as a printer using any competent USB cable will print character or pixel perfect copies there can therefore be no sonic benefit due to audio USB cables as no data is lost. This argument misses the point; the correct analogy would be whether the printer printed the character at the allotted millisecond. This is not about loss of the data; it is about whether the data arrives within the correct time window.

Having heard clear differences between USB cables and a direct USB connector I decided to get my hands on an audiophile cable. I contacted Russ Andrews who very kindly loaned me a Kimber Ag cable. This was a 1m cable and as its name suggest there's silver used in it. The signal conductors are pure silver; power, drain and shield wires are copper with silver plating constituting 6.1% of the wire. The connectors are gold plated.

I now compared what had been the best USB connection to date direct connectors with the Kimber Ag. The direct connection gave a more authoritative bass but was a little lean in the mid-range, at times just a little too explicit. The Kimber cable gave a sweeter presentation that was more extended in the upper reaches too, so it wasn't curtailing frequencies to sound sweet.  Overall the Kimber was easier to listen to but there were occasions when the direct connectors sounded more impressive. For me on balance the Kimber won. Of course the direct connectors are just a couple of bucks but they are rather impractical, then there's the considerable risk that at some point broken a USB port will be a consequence of forgetting there's a direct connection in place.

 

The Heaven Recipe
A quick roundup of what was found during the USB DAC review is that:

1) You don't have to spend a fortune to get a sound that bears comparison with a very good vinyl rig even with "lowly" Redbook / CD as the source.

2) The player you use makes a massive contribution to the sound. The JPLAYmini in-memory player was found to be vastly superior to some of the commonly used players. To get the best sound you need to put up with reduced usability. There's no gain without pain!

3) Removing conversion from USB to S/PDIF, using Asynchronous USB and using I2S connection internally USB to DAC these all delivered highly with the top three DACs auditioned here.

4) I know it's "just" data but don't overlook your USB cable, it really does make a significant contribution to the sound you achieve.

5) The DAC chip type and the way it is implemented is still important but it's just one factor in this recipe, don't overlook the other factors.

 

 

Specifications
See manufacturer's Website For Details

 

Company Information
Beresford www.homehifi.co.uk
TC7520SE 150

Burson Audio www.bursonaudio.com

Halide Design www.halidedesign.com
DAC HD $550

John Kenny google.com/site/hifacemods/home
JKDAC32 500 Euros
JKDAC 500 Euros
MK3 JKSPDIF 335 Euros (including RF attenuator)

REGA www.rega.co.uk
REGA DAC 498

Software
JPLAY jplay.eu/
99

Cables
Kimber USB-Ag Cable www.Kimber.com
1.0m 142
0.5m 86

 

 

 

 

 

Gryphon Audio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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