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The DAC that you use in your P3ESR system

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  • The DAC that you use in your P3ESR system

    I brought home a pair of P3ESR immediately after auditioning them at my local dealer just a few days ago. I don't think the demo even lasted half an hour, I absolutely loved them to bits, even after sitting through a Compact 7 audition before that. These little wunderkinds are fantastic things, more than anyone could ask for from tiny boxes and perfect for my application on top of that.

    Coming from the head-fi world and having a steadfast preference for value, I am currently using an Audio-gd DAC-19, which I have had for a few years now. Versus other DACs that I've listened to and owned, they have a well tempered, un-digital sound. The combination now, with the P3ESR, is nothing short of magnificent. I seem to be getting everything - imaging, clarity, transparency, balance, natural tones and timbres, the lot. They do seem to be producing a lot of treble now though, not glaring or fatiguing but not quite my cup of tea.

    What DACs are you using to great effect with the P3ESRs and are there any that you would recommend?

  • #2
    I am using TEAC UD-501 in my P3 system, highly recommended if you don't need volume control in your DAC.

    Comment


    • #3
      I'm using a Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100 with my C7ES-3s. It's small, reliable, and sounds fine.

      I should admit that I've never been able to hear any difference due to DACs (including whatever cheap DACs are built into my Mac mini and phone). So I think of an external DAC as cheap insurance against bad sound (i.e., one less thing for me to worry about), but also no guarantee of improving anything.

      Comment


      • #4
        For my main system I just use the DAC in the Chromecast streamer, and I am perfectly happy with it: http://archimago.blogspot.nl/2016/02...ast-audio.html In my desktop system with the P3ESR I use the ODAC usb dac (source is my desktop computer). I am not convinced properly designed DAC's have much of a sonic signature, if at all. These days that can be achieved by even very cheap units. Do not forget that even the best DAC chips are dirt cheap if bought in large quantities.
        The only exceptions in my experience are built in DAC's in most laptops and many smartphones. Apparently the operating environment is just too full of electrical noise. The same seems to apply to many usb stick DAC's.

        Comment


        • #5
          With my P3ís I have an old Lite Audio DAC that was modded by the company that I bought it from. Itís been a little wonky, so Iím gong to replace it with a Schiit Audio DAC - either the Modi 2 or Bifrost.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by willem View Post
            For my main system I just use the DAC in the Chromecast streamer, and I am perfectly happy with it: http://archimago.blogspot.nl/2016/02...ast-audio.html In my desktop system with the P3ESR I use the ODAC usb dac (source is my desktop computer). I am not convinced properly designed DAC's have much of a sonic signature, if at all. These days that can be achieved by even very cheap units. Do not forget that even the best DAC chips are dirt cheap if bought in large quantities.
            The only exceptions in my experience are built in DAC's in most laptops and many smartphones. Apparently the operating environment is just too full of electrical noise. The same seems to apply to many usb stick DAC's.
            I have an ODAC too. It was my primary DAC for a few years before I got my DAC-19. With headphones the difference between them is significant. The DAC-19 conveys instruments distinctly in and around the soundstage and produces a more natural timbre and tone. The ODAC has a slight artificiality and lack of definition in the treble region with high-hats, cymbals and the like, whereas things sound as they should with the DAC-19. The ODAC is a good DAC for its context but the DAC-19 brings oodles of refinement and realism, elevating it to an excellent DAC.

            On the contrary, I do find that there are distinct differences between good DAC implementations, since there are multiple methods of conversion and different treatments of the signal once it has been converted within the DAC itself. It's the same way with amps - Mr Shaw himself admitted that he'd heard an amp sounding different even after stating that all good amps should sound the same. I've heard the difference between amplifiers myself - between stereo amps and between headphone amps.

            In the end, I suppose what I'm looking for is a more rolled off treble to bring it in line with how it sounds like in real life, which is to say that there isn't really much of it, definitely not in abundance as many DACs provide. At the same time, there should still be plenty of detail. I've had to manually roll of the treble on some tracks with the tone control on my Onkyo A-9010, which is doing a tremendous job of it, by the way.

            I will definitely give my ODAC a listen with the P3ESRs though, just to see what they're like together.


            Originally posted by S_Pilchard View Post
            I'm using a Cambridge Audio DacMagic 100 with my C7ES-3s. It's small, reliable, and sounds fine.

            I should admit that I've never been able to hear any difference due to DACs (including whatever cheap DACs are built into my Mac mini and phone). So I think of an external DAC as cheap insurance against bad sound (i.e., one less thing for me to worry about), but also no guarantee of improving anything.
            Thanks for the suggestion. While I haven't actually listened to any Cambridge Audio products, I somehow have it in my mind that they will have an unintrusive treble that is politely rolled off.... Would you say that's the case? If it is, then this is a good option.


            Originally posted by Milosz View Post
            I am using TEAC UD-501 in my P3 system, highly recommended.

            Nice! I've been seeing that on Massdrop. Will give it some consideration.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by exsomnis View Post
              In the end, I suppose what I'm looking for is a more rolled off treble to bring it in line with how it sounds like in real life, which is to say that there isn't really much of it, definitely not in abundance as many DACs provide.
              In real life, treble is not rolled off, and consequently a DAC should not need to exhibit a rolled-off treble in order to make things sound life-like. Do you really mean that you find that many DAC's boost treble?


              Comment


              • #8
                Looking at the measured response from quality DAC's I cannot imagine how they could possibly sound different from each other under controled conditions. The latter is important. Remember that Alan thought he heard a difference between amplifiers (and I am sure he did) but did no longer once he had equalized levels properly.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by exsomnis View Post

                  Thanks for the suggestion. While I haven't actually listened to any Cambridge Audio products, I somehow have it in my mind that they will have an unintrusive treble that is politely rolled off.... Would you say that's the case? If it is, then this is a good option.
                  The DacMagic 100 is the only Cambridge Audio product I've heard, so I don't know if the company has a house sound.

                  From my highly informal listening tests (nothing scientific or ABX), it sounds (to my ears) exactly like my Mac mini's DAC, my phone's DAC, my iPad's DAC, my DVD player's DAC, and whatever DAC is built into the Line 6 guitar interface I have hooked up to my PC (it also serves as my sound card). Someone else might be able to identify something distinctive about the DacMagic 100's sound, but I can't.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by exsomnis View Post
                    I have an ODAC too. It was my primary DAC for a few years before I got my DAC-19.

                    In the end, I suppose what I'm looking for is a more rolled off treble to bring it in line with how it sounds like in real life, which is to say that there isn't really much of it, definitely not in abundance as many DACs provide. At the same time, there should still be plenty of detail. I've had to manually roll of the treble on some tracks with the tone control on my Onkyo A-9010, which is doing a tremendous job of it, by the way.
                    The DAC-19 has a maximum output of 2.5V and the Onkyo A-9010 has a rated input sensitivity of 0.15V.
                    Before you audition any other DACs, you should probably try an attenuator between the DAC output and the amplifier input.

                    You may wish to review this topic:
                    http://www.harbeth.co.uk/usergroup/f...volume-control

                    Also, perhaps the brightness is a function of the recording and/or your headphones.
                    In that case, there's nothing wrong with using tone controls to make adjustments to suit your particular preference.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by IMF+TDL View Post
                      The DAC-19 has a maximum output of 2.5V and the Onkyo A-9010 has a rated input sensitivity of 0.15V.
                      Before you audition any other DACs, you should probably try an attenuator between the DAC output and the amplifier input.

                      You may wish to review this topic:
                      http://www.harbeth.co.uk/usergroup/f...volume-control

                      Also, perhaps the brightness is a function of the recording and/or your headphones.
                      In that case, there's nothing wrong with using tone controls to make adjustments to suit your particular preference.
                      Originally posted by willem View Post
                      Looking at the measured response from quality DAC's I cannot imagine how they could possibly sound different from each other under controled conditions. The latter is important. Remember that Alan thought he heard a difference between amplifiers (and I am sure he did) but did no longer once he had equalized levels properly.
                      Perhaps some examples of these quality DACs would be nice? I do not discount the premise that similar measured response values from different DAC designs at a high enough level of sound reproduction quality will mean that they sound similar. But I keep in mind that I don't listen to the test tones used to make these measurements - and surely, a sweep through all the audible frequencies on a spectrum graph is a different prospect from the conversion of the complex combinations of sound coming from instruments forming music and in the time domain? (There are yet more measurements to consider too, for example here - http://www.stereophile.com/content/r...U0mGMGpdCxT.97)

                      Also, despite output measurements looking similar on a summarized spectrum graph, it's important to note that there is a difference of 19980 hertz between 20hz and 20000hz. What difference will it make to a sound signature if DAC A is 1 dB louder at specifically, say, 1023hz, 2047hz and 4095hz compared to DAC B? These are difficult to quantify on the type of graphs that are used but the differences are there and will always be there because there is no standardized method to handle the analog signal once it's been converted. And while you have some commonly used methods for the conversion itself, ie, delta sigma, resistor to resistor ladder, etc - how exactly manufacturers achieve it will be different not only in design/approach but also in the specific components that they use, DAC chips in particular too. Not to mention the methods to deal with digital jitter and power conditioning, as well as a designer meddling with the circuitry for the purpose of 'voicing'.

                      Are these differences going to be significant? Maybe, maybe not. But despite only recently getting into hifi stereo, I grew up spending hours in a day most days, listening to hifi and to the different combinations and components going through the family system. That's what's given me a trained ear and the ability to pass the Philips Golden Ears test at the highest level, which basically means that I can detect subtle differences in the resulting sound outputs of different systems.

                      I took the time to do some tests. For example, on my stereo system - Onkyo A-9010, Audio-gd 19, USB > PC > Tidal - with Suzanne Vega's Caramel, a reverb 'halo' surrounds Ms. Vega's voice. I assume that this is artificial and is an effect added by the sound engineer for some artfully retro vibes (sound studios are usually well sound-proofed or sound dampened and are not going to be producing any reverb, unless the voice track was recorded in a reverberating room).

                      With the same song, but with the P3ESRs transferred to my HTPC system - Pioneer VSX-323 AV Receiver and HDMI audio from the PC display adapter - that reverb is no longer noticeable. The natural tone and timbre of the P3ESRs somewhat carries through but the overall sound lacks refinement in details and subtleties, most significantly in the air and sound-stage surrounding the instruments. The voice and instruments don't sound like they're here as opposed to my stereo system where they do. The P3ESRs sound merely OK in this instance.

                      Back to my stereo system but with the ODAC instead of the DAC-19, the reverb 'halo' is there but the hand drum that plays on the second beat of each bar throughout is more diffuse in the image. Rather than being slightly to the left of centre, it is a bit hard to pinpoint and sounds more like it's in the centre but maybe not. Also, the transient from hitting the hand drum is diminished, which makes the sound tubular (as in pipe not vacuum tube) and not entirely realistic instead of sounding like an actual hand drum. For the price, the ODAC is still a fantastic DAC but it isn't the best that DACs can offer.

                      I don't have an attenuator but I did do some volume matching with a decibel meter app on my phone. The difference in output volume between the ODAC and DAC-19 is about 1 dB at the same volume knob setting. I set the volume at a 75 dB average reading for each, with a max of 78 dB.

                      As for the brightness, as it turns out upon further listening, the P3ESRs are resolving more details and producing more high frequencies on certain tracks vs the Elac Unifi UB5s that they have replaced in my stereo system. I have to admit that after spending more time with them that I've gotten used to it and am able to fully enjoy them with tone controls disabled. So I'm still interested in getting another DAC but it isn't immediately imperative.


                      Originally posted by Jeff_C View Post

                      In real life, treble is not rolled off, and consequently a DAC should not need to exhibit a rolled-off treble in order to make things sound life-like. Do you really mean that you find that many DAC's boost treble?

                      To be clear, what I meant to say is that treble isn't as emphasized in real life, as it tends to be when reproduced digitally. And thus, treble is 'rolled off' in real life, if in context, you compared it to the sound coming out of a low quality DAC. I've heard more than my fair share of these - from phones to soundcards to portable DACs.

                      With more consideration though, if the recording isn't mastered and engineered well - that results in a bright recording that any good DAC will output as bright.

                      The other thing to consider is that microphones are typically placed as close as possible to their sound sources and will produce treble as if you were listening just a foot or two away as opposed to the distance you would actually be at when listening to a live and un-amplified performance. And as we know, the high sound frequencies are attenuated a lot more by air and distance than the mid to low frequencies, so sitting further away from the source of the treble means that it won't be as bright as if you were in the band itself.


                      Originally posted by cornelius View Post
                      With my P3ís I have an old Lite Audio DAC that was modded by the company that I bought it from. Itís been a little wonky, so Iím gong to replace it with a Schiit Audio DAC - either the Modi 2 or Bifrost.
                      Word has it that the Bifrost Multibit is the one to get. I'm tempted to get one myself but in all likelihood it will probably be a side-grade or downgrade for me.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by exsomnis View Post
                        But I keep in mind that I don't listen to the test tones used to make these measurements - and surely, a sweep through all the audible frequencies on a spectrum graph is a different prospect from the conversion of the complex combinations of sound coming from instruments forming music and in the time domain? (There are yet more measurements to consider too, for example here - http://www.stereophile.com/content/r...U0mGMGpdCxT.97)
                        Yes, agreed, a sweep through all the audible frequencies is indeed a different type of signal than the complex combination of sound coming from instruments forming music in the time domain. However, it needs to be remembered that the DAC and its amplification is essentially a linear system. Within its linear operating range, it should therefore produce very, very small amounts of distortion. This appears to be the case with the majority of DACs with any sort of pedigree for use in audio applications.

                        Also, despite output measurements looking similar on a summarized spectrum graph, it's important to note that there is a difference of 19980 hertz between 20hz and 20000hz. What difference will it make to a sound signature if DAC A is 1 dB louder at specifically, say, 1023hz, 2047hz and 4095hz compared to DAC B?
                        If you are referring to linear differences in loudness at various output frequencies, they are simply just that, differences in loudness. Nothing more and nothing less. There is no special reason to care that one DAC may produce an analog output waveform that is 1 dB louder than another DAC. Of course, that assumes that the input of the device to which it is connected is not overloaded by the higher signal levels.

                        Not to mention the methods to deal with digital jitter and power conditioning, as well as a designer meddling with the circuitry for the purpose of 'voicing'.
                        Hmm. How do you "voice" a device that is supposedly transparent by design? By adding distortion producing design changes? Not a very hi-fi approach, that's for sure!

                        Are these differences going to be significant? Maybe, maybe not.
                        All other things being equal, as the DAC is ostensibly the most linear device in any hi-fi sound reproduction system, any measured differences are going to be essentially, to all intents and purposes, totally and utterly inaudible. That is, unless something is seriously amiss.

                        I took the time to do some tests. For example, on my stereo system - Onkyo A-9010, Audio-gd 19, USB > PC > Tidal - with Suzanne Vega's Caramel, a reverb 'halo' surrounds Ms. Vega's voice. I assume that this is artificial and is an effect added by the sound engineer for some artfully retro vibes (sound studios are usually well sound-proofed or sound dampened and are not going to be producing any reverb, unless the voice track was recorded in a reverberating room).
                        And many tracks actually are recorded in a room that has been chosen specifically because it has a pleasant sounding reverb characteristic. There may even be separate microphones to capture the room ambience.

                        With the same song, but with the P3ESRs transferred to my HTPC system - Pioneer VSX-323 AV Receiver and HDMI audio from the PC display adapter - that reverb is no longer noticeable. The natural tone and timbre of the P3ESRs somewhat carries through but the overall sound lacks refinement in details and subtleties, most significantly in the air and sound-stage surrounding the instruments. The voice and instruments don't sound like they're here as opposed to my stereo system where they do. The P3ESRs sound merely OK in this instance.
                        If your HTPC system is in a different room, I can say that I am not at all surprised that you have discerned audible differences between the reproduction of reverb tails in the two quite different acoustic environments.

                        Back to my stereo system but with the ODAC instead of the DAC-19, the reverb 'halo' is there but the hand drum that plays on the second beat of each bar throughout is more diffuse in the image. Rather than being slightly to the left of centre, it is a bit hard to pinpoint and sounds more like it's in the centre but maybe not. Also, the transient from hitting the hand drum is diminished, which makes the sound tubular (as in pipe not vacuum tube) and not entirely realistic instead of sounding like an actual hand drum. For the price, the ODAC is still a fantastic DAC but it isn't the best that DACs can offer.
                        What you are finding is quite typical of both large and more subtle differences in output levels at the amplifier terminals. In addition, we can't be 100% sure that one DAC was causing more or less overload than the other.

                        I've tried something similar, comparing the output from a good quality CD player with what's come out of my TV's analog output. Very careful critical listening, with some semblance of output level matching, indicates that there is essentially no audible difference. To be able to hear a difference between two highly linear DACs is seemingly quite implausible.

                        I don't have an attenuator but I did do some volume matching with a decibel meter app on my phone. The difference in output volume between the ODAC and DAC-19 is about 1 dB at the same volume knob setting. I set the volume at a 75 dB average reading for each, with a max of 78 dB.
                        From your description, I am still not quite sure how closely matched the volume levels were. Was it 1 dB or 0.5 dB? I would suggest that even a 0.5 dB difference in outputs between the units will produce audible differences between two otherwise identical signals. I'd be aiming for 0.1 dB matching to try to minimise the effect of volume level on any perceived sound quality differences. That 0.1 dB is not easy to achieve. Also, maybe some kind of frame is needed that ensures that one's head is placed in exactly the same location and orientation at the listening position each time one tries to compare different pieces of equipment? If one is matching levels to 0.1 dB, then possibly that's the next step in maintaining a test setup that removes other variables from affecting what one hears.

                        As for the brightness, as it turns out upon further listening, the P3ESRs are resolving more details and producing more high frequencies on certain tracks vs the Elac Unifi UB5s that they have replaced in my stereo system. I have to admit that after spending more time with them that I've gotten used to it and am able to fully enjoy them with tone controls disabled.
                        That's not really surprising, considering that they are two quite different loudspeakers! Andrew Jones, the designer of the UB5s, is after all, by some people's description, a "rock star" speaker designer! (c|net UB5 review)

                        Additionally, I am unsure as to how well the use of aluminium cones, such as those in the UB5 loudspeakers, would go down in more traditional BBC loudspeaker designer circles. An example of the typical frequency response that one can expect from an aluminium-coned woofer can be found here. Compare that to the frequency response of a polypropylene-coned woofer that can be found here.

                        To be clear, what I meant to say is that treble isn't as emphasized in real life, as it tends to be when reproduced digitally.
                        I haven't found that to be the case at all. The treble is more lifelike for me with digital recordings and CD reproduction.

                        With more consideration though, if the recording isn't mastered and engineered well - that results in a bright recording that any good DAC will output as bright.
                        Would anything else be expected of a highly-linear, relatively distortion-free device such as a typical DAC designed for hi-fi reproduction?

                        The other thing to consider is that microphones are typically placed as close as possible to their sound sources and will produce treble as if you were listening just a foot or two away as opposed to the distance you would actually be at when listening to a live and un-amplified performance.
                        To some extent, that is entirely true. Many modern recordings use close-micing techniques. However, there are others that eschew that approach and prefer to place their microphones away from the performers. Mic placement then often takes into account a pleasing blend of direct and reverberant sound, as chosen by the producer and recording engineer.

                        One has to keep in mind that many modern recordings do not strive for a totally realistic tonal reproduction of the instruments that are being recorded. The recording and mixing is done to create a musical production that stands on its own merits, not someone else's perception of tonal accuracy.

                        Word has it that the Bifrost Multibit is the one to get. I'm tempted to get one myself but in all likelihood it will probably be a side-grade or downgrade for me.
                        Is it really? Who's word? And will it be just another flavour of the month in the routine cycle of the marketing products that, by their own inherent design qualities, are essentially, to all intents and purposes, audibly perfect, especially when compared to other pieces of equipment in the audio reproduction chain? If you want better, more high-fidelity sound reproduction, there are other speakers in the Harbeth range that have been carefully engineered and would be worth considering, rather than embarking on a DAC "upgrade", which available evidence suggests is an "upgrade" in name only.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Based upon the claimed high level of hearing acuity, it seems rather obvious that the OP should settle for nothing less than the CAD 1543 DAC, which was demonstrated to great acclaim in conjunction with Harbeth P3ESR speakers at a recent Bristol UK show. http://www.computeraudiodesign.com/



                          On another note, see the comments about the use of reverb toward the end of this review of the Suzanne Vega recording cited by the OP:
                          http://georgegraham.com/vega.html

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I am using a DAC as a module in the integrated amplifier Vinnie Rossi's LIO. The integrated amplifier is "off the grid" and the combination with P3s is remarkable. It throws some 35W @6Ohm.
                            On his forum he announced a new DAC module to be released this summer so things could only get better. Those AKM chips really sound "natural".

                            There is one other thing, though. The ultimate setup for good sounding DAC is a low noise USB source.
                            The last piece I'll add in the digital domain will be to add either MicroRendu or sMS-200 (powered by either Sbootster linear power supply or UptonAudio LPS-1), or in the best case scenario a network streamer module in case Vinnie gets a chance to create such module.

                            If latter is the case, the end result is fully intergrated AMP off the grid in a single box and Harbeth P3s. Very minimalistic, one component and a pair of speakers.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I am glad you like your setup. However, I am not sure how much difference one usb source can make compared to another, given that almost all decent usb DAC's measure virtually identical at Red book CD resolution. I am even less sure taking it off the grid will make a difference. See here: http://archimago.blogspot.nl/2016/10...erry.html#more

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