by Kevin OBrien on October 6th 2017


MUTEC REF 10 MASTER CLOCK  REVIEW

 

Mutec has recently released their new state of the art external 10 MHz master clock which has been talked about since last April at the AXPONA show in Chicago. We finally got our hands on our YFS demo unit and we want to share our thoughts on this latest piece of digital source gear.

 

 

We got our first taste of an external clock when we purchased the M2Tech clock to add to our M2Tech EVO USB to SPDIF converter 4 years ago. It made an impact that was hard to describe unless you were in the room comparing the EVO with and without the external clock in place. We always hope for more of an 'in your face' result when auditioning review gear. However, everything did sound better with a more 'liquid' sound when the EVO clock was in place.

This is the same sound we're after when we listen to vinyl and we tend to call this a smoother, more 'analog' sound. Digital gets a bad reputation when it sounds bright and harsh. This is the main reason vinyl is so popular and remains the source of choice for many audiophiles.

 

 

Fast forward to 2017. The Ref 10 from Mutec is now the latest external clock we have been able to audition mated alongside our YFS modified Mutec MC-3+USB SPDIF converter. The Ref 10 is housed in an industrial chassis and has more of an 'audiophile look' to it based on the thicker more substantial CNC'd face plate. The unit measures 8" wide by just under 4" tall by 12" deep and weighs in at approximately 9 pounds. The larger chassis compared to the MC-3+USB is needed based on the fact that a beefy power supply and toroidal transformer sit inside the Ref 10. 

The Ref 10's rear panel consists of (2) 50 Ohm outputs and (6) 75 Ohm outputs which allows the user to mate the master clock to several devices in his or her rack. This is pretty slick. The blue light on the faceplate blinks for several minutes before the clock is ready for operation. This is the warm-up cycle the Ref 10 goes through every time it is power cycled. Another handy feature of the Mutec clock is the ability to turn off the outputs you're not using. We decided to use output #3 and turn the other outputs off for our review.

 

 

The most important aspect of the clock that we've all been patiently waiting to find out about is how does it sound? Is it worth adding to your existing Mutec MC-3 converter or other compatible digital device? We have to say the Ref 10 made a very noticeable difference when we placed it in our chain. The difference in sound quality was immediate when listening to hi-res material. This is the 'in your face' change to our system we like to hear. We didn't have to go back and forth more than once to hear the change as it was not subtle. The sound stage grew and enveloped the entire room. Without the clock the sound stage barely reached past either side of the speakers and lacked depth. The detail and overall presentation of the music was lifelike. Our music now sounded as if the musicians were almost playing in the room with us. The tone of the music changed slightly and we could hear very minute details in the background of our favorite tracks that were hidden deep in the background when the clock was removed.

When listening to red book material, the changes were more subdued and subtle but were still there. We tried to play our favorite DSD tracks through the Mutec pairing but our EMM Labs DA2 would not play nice with the Mutec stack unfortunately. Bob from Sonic Distributions told us some DACs will grab onto the incoming DSD data stream and some will not. It's just a matter of whether your DAC can handle the 0's and 1's or not. In our case, the DA2 DAC could not lock onto the DSD stream and instead converted it to PCM. This was our only complaint and it appears the DAC is the deciding factor not the Mutec gear as the MC-3+USB does indeed pass the DSD stream to components down the chain.

 

 

Should you buy the Ref 10? Is it worth the asking price of $3400 USD? In our case, we're keeping the Ref 10 along with our YFS modified MC-3+USB SPDIF converter. You cannot pry them out of our hands and we're not going to listen without the pairing from this point forward. The Ref 10 was a very welcome addition to our system and it could very well transform your rig as well. 

Contact us for pricing and availability of the entire Mutec family of products as YFS is an authorized Mutec dealer.

Thank you for reading and happy listening.

- YFS Review Team

 

Associated Equipment for this Review:

  • YFS Computer Music Server - HD-Ref-3
  • EMM Labs DA2 DSD DAC
  • JPlay Digital Playback Suite with Bit-perfect Volume Control for Preamp
  • McIntosh MC202 Monoblocks (1 Pair)
  • Von Schweikert Unifield II Mk2 Speakers
  • REL 528 SE Limited Edition Subwoofer
  • YFS Custom Room Treatment
  • YFS Custom Interconnects and Cables

 

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by Kevin O'Brien on April 14th 2016.

 

EMM LABS DA2 DSD DAC REVIEW

 

 

 

We have taken delivery of our new EMM Labs DA2 DSD DAC. This is one very special piece of gear which has been slated to be an instant 'game-changer' by the lucky few who have been able to get one into their rack for audition. We feel truly blessed to have made it on the roster of the first production run.

According to Meitner, the DA2 needs 150 hours of continuous play for its output stage to reach a 'steady state' condition and that's when the DA2 really sings. We made sure to 'burn-in' our unit for 3 weeks straight before writing this review. The AES/ EBU input as well as the USB input were played for a week and a half each as part of our 'burn-in' process. There is no doubt at this point whether or not what we're hearing is what this piece can do. After reaching out to Shahin at the Meitner factory and confirming our run-in time, we are now certain we are dealing with the absolute best digital reproduction Meiter currently has to offer.

 

 

Our YFS HD.Ref-3 / Mutec MC-3+USB music server combo as well as our YFS Mac Mini music server performed source duties. The Mac Mini was equipped with Audirvana Plus (latest edition with current updates) and our Ref-3 was implementing Album Player (Windows-Only playback suite without DSD capability).

One thing that struck us immediately when first auditioning the DA2 is that its presentation was the most natural, analog, life-like sounding piece of digital gear we've ever heard. This piece will surely give any high quality vinyl playback system a serious run for its money, if not flat out beat it. The DA2 is using the U8 version of the XMOS USB input chip which allows for playback of all formats except DSD256. This includes DXD at 32/384! Also, we do not know of any current source location online or otherwise for DSD256 files. It's hard enough to find titles in DSD64 and DSD128, let alone DSD256 so we're going give Meitner a pass on this one. 

 

 

After serving up Dire Strait's 'Brothers in Arms' in DSD64 via our YFS Mac Mini, our jaws dropped. We have never heard this album sound so real, so lifelike, and with so much detail. It sounded like Mark Knopfler was in our listening room. I won't use all the cliche audiophile terms here to describe what we heard but all of them apply, especially PRaT, which was delivered in spades. We then cued up Miles Davis' 'Kind of Blue' in DSD128 and more of the same emanated from the DA2. The piano, which is one of the most difficult instruments to render correctly, sounded exactly like it should. The body of the piano and the strings could be heard as well as the overall tone of the Bill Evans' playing, which is a tough feat in and of itself.

Now that we've touched upon the sound of the DA2, let's talk about the overall look of this DSD DAC. The metalwork is second to none and really gives you a feeling of looking at top notch artisan crafted kit. Everything is meticulously machined and looks absolutely gorgeous in person which pictures cannot do justice. One has to see this piece of gear in person to truly appreciate what Meitner has accomplished here.

 

 

Now on to the technical features such as what exactly this unique piece is actually doing when you feed it a digital signal. The DA2 DSD DAC takes any signal, whether it be from the TOSLink, COAX, AES, USB, or EMMLink inputs, and upsamples it to 16X DSD resolution. That's something no other piece of digital gear on the market can do right now. Ed Meitner's genius as far as digital prowess and ingenuity is showing itself once again manifested in the DA2. Just as with the MA-1, the DAC2X, and now the DA2, this is the only DAC that we know of that can provide a Delta Sigma DAC design with absolutely NO pre or post ringing whatsoever. This is an amazing feat just on its own. One listen to this unit and you'll know what we're talking about.

 

 

The DA2 rear panel has the exact same layout as that of the MA-1 (minus the EMMLink input) and the DAC2X. When the DA2 was in its infant design stages, plans were made to make firmware updates available over the Internet. That is not possible as an Ethernet port was not integrated into the DA2 to keep costs down. A separate chassis for the power supply was also in the works in early design stages but was scrapped to keep costs down as well. As far as we're concerned, the price tag for the DA2 is high enough at $25,000 MSRP so none of these features will be missed by us.

As usual, there are always one or two things to nitpick about any product and there is at least one issue we came across when auditioning the DA2 DAC. When switching between different digital file sample rates on the fly (using the shuffle function within our playback suite), we noticed a small "blip" sound emitting from the outputs. This was made very apparent when switching between 44.1 files to DSD128 files. This is a small price to pay for the amazing sound quality and presentation the DA2 gives us so we're not going to complain too much. When playing back an entire album start to finish, this will not come into play at all obviously.

 

 

Our overall conclusion regarding the DA2 is that Meitner has a clear winner on their hands and has yet again raised the bar another notch above the competition. Sure, you could pay 6 figures for a dCS or MSB DAC but why would you? We've heard these pieces at shows across the country and the DA2 can hang with any digital product any manufacturer has on the shelves at this point. Of course, this is just our opinion but we feel we have plenty of experience with high end digital gear and we've never heard anything quite like this, especially in our personal system. Ed Meitner deserves the highest of praises for his work in the field of digital playback and he has another wonderful product on his hands yet again. If you're willing to pay the price of admission, you'll be kindly rewarded for it. You won't be disappointed, that's for sure.

Thanks for reading and we hope to get you more in-depth reviews of cutting edge digital gear in the future.

 - YFS Design Team

 

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by Kevin OBrien on March 27, 2016

 

MUTEC MC3+USB DIGITAL TO DIGITAL CONVERTER REVIEW

 

 

 

We recently became a US dealer for the full line of Mutec products. We are very excited to bring the Mutec computer based devices to the US audiophile scene and spread the good word on this German based digital company.

 

 

 

It's been 3 weeks and 500 hours since we took delivery of our Mutec MC-3+USB. Our YFS 'Custom' Digital XLR and our Mutec are all 'burned-in' and ready to audition. This review won't take long as it was a pretty easy task on our part. Besides burning the unit in, there wasn't much to ponder and compare once the smoke cleared.

 

 

We are using our Schiit Yggy DAC paired with the Mutec MC-3+USB, the M2Tech EVO/ M2Tech Clock/ YFS LPS combo, and the Channel Islands Transient MkII for our review. The EVO combined with the external clock powered by our YFS linear power supply is our current reference SPDIF converter.

The 3 SPDIF converters above were hooked up to our YFS Mac Mini. The Mini was armed with the latest version of Audirvana Plus and identical tracks were played on our source component to keep things fair. The YFS Custom Ref 'Split' USB was implemented as our digital link to each SPDIF converter's input. We used our latest all copper YFS 'Custom' Ref Digital XLR to link the SPDIF converters to our Schiit Yggy except in the case of the Transient MkII. The Transient uses I2S and BNC outputs for its digital signal instead of XLR (AES/ EBU). In the Transient's case, we used our all copper YFS BNC cable. This was an attempt to make sure conductors in both digital cables were equivalent. It's not a perfect review scenario but the best way to determine the differences between all 3 converters without being too unfair.

Side Note: The M2Tech EVO is a 'data-only' device while the Mutec MC-3 and the Transient MkII use USB bus power to run the USB input chip (XMOS in both cases). This means we let the power leg of our 'Split' USB cable hang unused when playing the EVO unit but implemented our YFS PS-5 USB power supply for the Mutec and Transient units. See our 'Data-Only' article here for more information.

 

 

The M2Tech EVO with external clock and LPS gave us a nice smooth, liquid sound but it has always been a pain to use as it requires switching the external clock frequency for files with a multiple of 44.1 kHz and 48kHz sampling rates. This is a major problem, especially at audio shows. Needless to say, sometimes great sound requires some extra work. The Transient MkII has been the most detailed SPDIF converter for the money we have ever tried, and that includes the Berkeley 'Alpha USB' SPDIF converter that has won over many demanding audiophiles. The Transient is a great unit as it does not require any user tweaks to play different sample rates and sounds very nice. It doesn't have the liquid smoothness of the EVO with external clock but it comes VERY CLOSE for less coin and is handy, convenient, and easily bests units such as the Musical Fidelity V-Link 192.

Enter the Mutec MC-3+USB. This unit surprised us as it put out a nice liquid, smooth analog presentation without the need for tweaking or adding an external linear power supply. Mutec has a proprietary clocking process that pretty much removes all jitter from the data stream entering your DAC. This was very apparent as we listened to some of our favorite tracks sans some harshness and sibilance that we're used to going directly into the Yggy via USB. The other thing we noticed is that the Yggy could now be used in our system to play at sound pressure levels previously not played at due to some 'breaking up' of the music. It's hard to explain but Yggy's one downfall is that it tends to not sound 'natural' at higher volume levels and can be a little forward or bright at times, especially with brass, harmonicas, and vocals. Again, this all went away when hooked up to the Mutec. This end result was eye opening and not expected when we set out to put the MC-3 through its paces.

 

 

Keep in mind we are nitpicking here for the purposes of our review. All 3 units sounded amazing but we're all in this hobby to get the most out of our recordings and more importantly, our investments in gear. None the less, the clear winner was the Mutec MC-3+USB mainly due to the fact that no linear power supplies or external clocks were necessary to achieve such high level of playback. One downfall of the MC-3 is that the user must select between DSD input and PCM input. This will be solved shortly in the form of a firmware update this Summer.

 

 

To wrap things up, there's a new king of SPDIF converters and it's the Mutec MC-3+USB! At $1,099 MSRP, this unit is costly but not that bad when you consider what it's capable of. Compared to the Berkeley unit that comes in at $1,800 MSRP, the EVO and clock at $1,050 MSRP sans LPS, and the Transient MkII at $700 MSRP, this Mutec piece is a no-brainer as it surpasses all the others in the performance AND convenience. Way to go Mutec!

Thanks for reading and tuning in. We look forward to continuing to get the word out on some of the latest HiFi components that are worth an audition in your rack and worth your hard earned money.

- YFS Design Team

 

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by Kevin O'Brien on April 12, 2013

Holy SCHIIT!!! We didn't believe it at first but it's true... Schiit Audio has their sh*t together!  :-)  With all the buzz going around concerning the Schiit Gungnir USB DAC, we couldn't resist getting our hands on one and finally put the madness to rest. Looks like we're really knee-deep in Schiit now... No turning back!

Yes, that's their name and they're out of California. Right outside of Santa Clarita to be exact. All their products are made in the USA and carry a 15 day in-home trial period and a 5 year warranty. We first got wind of them when their little USB DAC, the Bifrost, hit the market. Everybody was raving about the sound for the money and it caught our attention briefly until we looked at the price. We weren't going to bother with a $450 USB DAC, right? Well, maybe...

About 6 months ago Schiit came out with their latest achievement, the Gungnir USB DAC, which caught our attention once again but this time for good. It appears they have been up to no good and have a little surprise in the form of a USB DAC for about twice what the little Bifrost goes for. Hmmm? This could be interesting.

The real story lies in what Jason and Mike of Schiit have termed the "Statement DAC". This DAC, still in its design stages, should be an all-out assault on the high-end DAC market according to Jason. Unfortunately, this piece of special gear won't be available for a while. Not at least until closer to the end of 2013. This is the DAC we've been waiting for that should handily out perform ANYTHING anywhere near $1700. You may ask yourself, why would someone take another person's word for anything these days? Not a bad point. We wouldn't be saying all this if we hadn't heard the Gungnir USB DAC. Can you tell where we're going with this?

Well, we heard the Gungnir USB DAC and we felt impelled to write about it. The unit itself weighs in at ~10 pounds and has a brushed aluminum faceplate and chassis in a silver/ gray finish. We really dig the way it looks. It's fairly compact too with a faceplate measuring just over 2". The unit employs the C-Media CM6631 USB input chip which is completely original to us. We're familiar with the USB input chips from the likes of XMOS, Tenor as well as OEM input boards from M2Tech but we've never heard of C-Media. The Windows 7 driver is downloadable from Schiit's website here. (Win 7 as well as XP, Vista, Win 8, and MAC OS are supported) The crucial part is that ASIO drivers are embedded in the C-Media USB drivers similar in fashion to the XMOS Thesycon USB drivers. This is very handy when setting up the DAC with Album Player and makes achieving bit-perfect playback a breeze.

Any drivers needed are packaged together in one compressed folder on Schiit's website. Double-click the "setup.exe" file within the unzipped folder after download to automatically let the installer choose your correct drivers. This all happens after you plug the Gungnir into your server via USB. Your server will want to "see" the device before proceeding with the driver install.

If you're intent on using a SPDIF converter instead of a USB input directly on the DAC, don't worry. You can order the Gungnir without the USB input for $100 less. Schiit sells the USB version of the Gungnir internet-direct at $850 and the non-USB version at $750. Not bad at all considering the Gungnir's performance which we will get to momentarily.

The Gungnir employs two AKM4399 DAC chips which handle the actual digital to analog converting duties. The really cool part is that the analog output stage is all discrete! That's right. You won't find a single opamp in the output stage, period!!! This type of design is VERY unusual for a DAC at this price point! There is no remote or volume control and there shouldn't be for this price. A volume control is always tricky and could degrade the signal if not implemented properly anyway. This unique piece of gear has four digital inputs on the rear panel along with the on/off switch and IEC power connector. USB, BNC, COAX and Toslink make up your digital input options. We love the fact Mike and Jason included the BNC input! The Coax input brings jitter along with it and we've noticed BNC provides a much better transfer method for digital signals. We hooked the Gungnir up to our April Music Stello U3 to test out the digital inputs with digital signals ranging from 16/44.1 all the way up to 24/192 with no issues whatsoever. Nice work guys!We did install the C-Media software for the USB digital input and we wanted to share with our readers what the ASIO control panel and the C-Media USB device look like within Foobar. The shot below shows the C-Media device within Foobar under "Preferences" -> "Playback" -> "Output" menu. Make sure to select "ASIO: ASIO for C-Media USB Device" as your output sound device in whichever software you decide to use. Foobar 2000 is shown below. Notice the "TUSBAudio ASIO Driver" in the menu as well. This is the device we select when we want to use our Stello U3 SPDIF converter as our USB interface between our YFS HD.Ref-3 SE server instead of the Gungnir DAC. Schiit made a design decision to implement the 5 volt USB power bus to power the C-Media CM6631 input chip. We think this was a great decision because it allows us to use our YFS 'Split' Ref USB cable and our YFS PS-5 power supply to boost the Gungnir's performance just like we do with the XMOS chip. Let's hope they keep this exact same scenario for the USB input on the Statement DAC. Hint, hint guys...  :-)

We have attached a shot of the ASIO Control Panel below. The ASIO 2.2 drivers come embedded within the C-Media USB Windows drivers. This is a VERY CONVENIENT way to get bit-perfect playback with ANY server or computer as your transport!!! To get to the screen shot shown below go to "Preferences" -> "Playback" -> "Output" -> "ASIO" menu. Double-click on the "ASIO for C-Media USB Device" heading shown below in the "ASIO drivers" box. The ASIO Control Panel will appear as shown below. Choose your appropriate settings such as 'Bit Depth' and 'Latency'. We went with '32/24 Bits' and '50 ms' for our bit depth and buffer respectively. This is the maximum buffer setting for the C-Media chip. After the above mentioned steps are completed the music should stream to your Gungnir with no issues. If you do not have the most current version of the C-Media USB input module, 24/176.4 files may not work. The other digital inputs will pass 24/176.4 files just fine so no worries there. The 24/176.4 issue was ONLY concerning the C-Media USB input chip and NOT a function of the AKM4399 DAC chips themselves!!! Send Jason an email if your USB input module doesn't pass 24/176.4 files and he'll exchange your module for an updated one. After speaking with Jason we found out an "Official Update" to the USB input module is in the works so it looks like an upgraded USB board will make its debut soon. Look for more information in the VERY near future from Schiit. Customer service is a TOP priority for Schiit and it shows.So, how does it sound? We set up a comparison of the Gungnir and the Minimax Plus to see how this Schiit held up against another internet-direct USB DAC.  We used the Stello U3 SPDIF converter and ran a YFS XLR digital cable from the U3 to the Minimax Plus. We then ran a Veloce Silverstar 75 BNC digital cable from the U3 to the Gungnir. Both DAC's were hooked up to our Quicksilver 12AX7 preamp via our YFS analog interconnects. This way we could quickly switch back and forth between DAC's with a simple switch of the inputs on the Quicksilver preamp. After comparing the units to one another for several hours we decided the Gungnir was a real winner...

Our Minimax Plus wasn't a run-of-the-mill Minimax either. We decked our Minimax Plus out with four Dexa Discrete Opamps to give us an edge over the stock unit. Our Minimax's output stage was totally discrete now too! We pulled the input tube from the rear of the Minimax and placed it in solid state mode. We wanted the least amount of distortion, the most resolution and the most revealing sound we could get out of the Minimax Plus and this scenario has worked very well for us.

Specifically, how did the two DAC's compare? The Minimax Plus gave us a little more pronounced snare hit and a little more air in the top end of the frequency response compared to the Gungnir. The Schiit DAC had a SLIGHTLY darker, more laid back presentation than the Minimax Plus. The Gungnir still gave us essentially all the detail of the Minimax which was incredible for a DAC in this price class. I'd call the Gungnir's overall sonic signature neutral. The DAC was very responsive to changes in playback software as well as changes in software settings. Foobar 2000 sounded a little more forward and lean with the buffer set over 25000 ms. Album Player as usual sounded more analog than Foobar. The real icing on the cake was the fact that we couldn't tell which DAC we were listening to once we listened for more than a minute or two without looking at our input selector. That's when we stopped the comparison and just started enjoying the Gungnir...

We're not really sure how to put this any more clearly than saying the Schiit Gungnir is the new King of Affordable DAC's!!! There's nothing that can give you all the features and sound quality of the Gungnir for the price! So go out and give this USB DAC a shot and keep in mind the real mind-blowing Schiit has yet to take its full form as the Statement DAC. We'll all have to wait and see what the future holds as far as new Schiit is concerned. Keep on listening and we'll catch up with you all next time.

 -YFS Design Team

 

Associated Equipment:

  • YFS HD Ref-3 SE Music Server Transport
  • EE Minimax PLUS USB DAC w Dexa Discrete Opamps
  • Quicksilver12AX7 Preamp
  • Quicksilver S60 Monoblocks
  • Von Schweikert Unifield II Speakers
  • PS Audio Power Plant P-300 for source gear
  • PS Audio Duet Power Center for amps
  • YFS Cabling and Interconnects

 

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by Kevin O'Brien on February 21, 2013


We've been hearing a lot of buzz about DSD. It's been around for a while now. I think since the early 2000's but recently it's making a serious comeback as far as computer audio is concerned. When I was first introduced to DSD in 2001, I remember purchasing the Miles Davis 'Kind Of Blue' SACD. I popped it into my 5.1 compatible Sony SACD player and I was listening to my first hi-res recording at home! 

Fast forward to this past year's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 11 years later. We were introduced to a little DAC called the Mytek Stereo 192 DSD-DAC. Quite a few folks at the show were talking about how good this fairly affordable (~$1,600) DSD-capable DAC sounds. Upon making our return to Rochester we began digging up more info on this little guy. Turns out from what we could dig up online and on other forums, the Mytek was fabulous for DSD playback but lacked the same quality playback for standard WAV and FLAC playback. We weren't willing to give up WAV and FLAC playback performance to get into DSD.

A lot of folks are wondering what all the fuss is about as far as DSD digital files are concerned. We wanted to know too. We found out that you can rip your standard SACD discs that you purchased a while back but you'll need a Sony Playstation 3 with a specific firmware to do it. The files you can extract from your SACD discs are playable within Foobar 2000 after downloading the .DFF Plugin. There are two main file types when it comes to DSD. There is the DFF file extension as well as the DSF file extension. The only difference between the two as far as we can tell is concerning metadata. DSF files can handle metadata better than DFF files. DFF files play back natively at 24/88.2 when ripped from a SACD. Files with this resolution are referred to as "64fs" or "DSD64". Files that have a resolution of 24/176.4 are referred to as "128fs" or "DSD128". These files can be downloaded from just a few sites at this point. The available DSD128 titles are few and far between right now. That's another reason to hold off on DSD for a little while longer. The native sample rate of a DSD file is 2.8 Mhz at 1 bit. This is compared to 16 bit /44.1 kHz for Redbook CD. This is why folks are getting so excited about DSD. That's a sampling rate of 64 times that of a 44.1 kHz CD!!!

An individual was given the task to come up with a way to make all this happen and his name is Ed Meitner. Meitner started EMM Labs which developed DSD for Sony. We decided to contact Ed and see what his latest DAC was all about in hopes he would be able to loan us a unit for review. After contacting Ed, all we can say is he is a true gentleman! THANKS Ed!

Mr. Meitner sent us his latest EMM Labs DAC2X which we were so excited to put through its paces! Let's talk about this wonderful piece of digital gear we were so lucky to receive for demo/ review. The DAC2X is one of a handful of DAC's in the world that can be fed a pure DSD audio stream via USB without converting DSD to PCM. I believe this process is called DoP v1.0. VERY COOL! When your DAC isn't compatible with DSD, your digital player (Foobar, JRiver, etc) converts DSD to PCM before it streams the data output via USB. We've tried the latter and we could not hear a big difference between the 24/176.4 WAV and DSD128 files we played. Now that we finally had a DSD-capable DAC we could play all those DSD files we had gathered over the past few months the way they were meant to be played.

The first thing we noticed was how heavy the unit was boxed up. It came in at 34 lbs in its standard double box. Upon opening the package we noticed a super-beefy CNC'd aluminum remote control. The DAC itself was protected with a nice soft cloth sock. This was a nice touch to make sure the unit stayed pristine before it found its way into the equipment rack.

Holding the DAC2X in our hands gave us a feeling of impeccable build-quality and a sense of audio luxury. The DAC2X just looks great with its silver brushed aluminum CNC'd chassis. The DAC2X is also available in black. Just as all EMM Labs components, you can choose between a silver or black finish. We personally like the silver finish but some folks will want to match the DAC2X up to their current equipment. It's nice to have options.

The silver front fascia lights up with blue LED's to indicate whether it's locked onto an incoming digital signal. The only downfall here was the fact that the LED's only indicated a multiple of a sample rate of 44.1kHz or 48kHz. This was good but it's nice to know exactly which sample rate your files are playing at for review purposes. Again, not a deal-breaker what so ever! The other set of LED's showed which source was currently selected as well as Polarity, Mute, and ALT. The feet mounted to the base of the DAC chassis appeared to be made of some type of special rubber compound to help absorb vibrations. Overall, the DAC2X looked like a force to be reckoned with sitting in our rack!

Now we're going to run through setting up the DAC2X with our Ref-3 Windows 7-based server. We must say right out of the gate that the DAC2X was by far the EASIEST DAC we've ever had the pleasure of setting up. The Windows-based Thesycon USB drivers for the XMOS USB input chip were installed after hooking up our YFS Ref USB cable from the Ref-3 to the DAC2X. The install went smoothly and we were off to the races!  MAKE SURE TO UNINSTALL 'ASIO4ALL' PRIOR TO INSTALLING ANY THESYCON USB DRIVER!

Something to note here, the Thesycon drivers were the latest version of the drivers I've seen to date. I believe they were up to version 1.62, which is several iterations past most of the competition. Download the EMM Labs DAC2X Windows drivers here. You'll be prompted for a password when trying to unzip the zip file. The password is: meitnerdesign12. We selected the STREAMING BUFFER SIZE at "Extra Safe' and then selected the longest corresponding ASIO BUFFER SIZE for that setting within the "TUSB Control Panel". The control panel is accessed by double-clicking the little red "T" in the bottom right-hand corner of the desktop. The shot below shows this control panel. The shot above shows where the little red "T" is located...(next to the clock that shows the time in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen)The user must select these buffer options before moving on any further (not the exact options shown above - the pic above is just an example). Once these settings were selected, we made the proper adjustments to the Album Player preferences so the ASIO buffer settings matched the Thesycon settings and we were good to go.

We played the DAC2X for several days straight before we got into any serious listening and evaluating. This wasn't due to "burn-in" but instead based on our findings from past reviews. (The DAC was pre burned-in before we received it) The errors we've been hearing do not always surface within a few hours or even a day of playback. These USB data errors can show themselves after several days of playing digital files so this is how we evaluate all USB DAC's from this point forward. In other words, you cannot just hook up your new USB DAC, listen for a few hours, and then assume you will be free from pops because your quick audition went well. It can take days for errors to surface and show up as blips and drop-outs. Just a heads up...

We wanted to let our readers know that the DAC2X did not stutter at all with ANY files we fed it including DSD128 files! This is the very first DAC we've auditioned to play perfectly for the entire time we had it in our rack. WOW!!! Impressive work EMM Labs! In this situation, you get what you pay for... Roughly $16,000 MSRP!  :-)

One VERY small gripe we had with the DAC2X, and it's pretty much the only one besides the LED indicators on the front panel, is the delay in locking onto incoming digital signals. We first hooked up the DAC2X in unison with our April Music Stello U3 SPDIF converter utilizing our custom YFS AES/ EBU digital cable. It took the DAC2X between 1 and 2 seconds to lock onto the digital signal from the U3. So, when the bit rate of the digital files we were playing changed, we'd experience a drop out until the DAC2X locked onto the new files' resolution. Again, this was a small complaint but we had to include it in our findings. Alternatively, the DAC2X locked onto the incoming USB data stream with absolutely no problem and playing various bit rates had no ill-effects on computer audio playback via straight USB.

Another note to bring to our readers' attention is the fact that Album Player is not compatible with DSD yet. We ended up using Foobar 2000 with the DFF plugin installed to audition our DSD128 and DSD64 digital files. We spoke with Peter, the AP software developer, and he has no plans in the immediate future to implement a DSD plugin so we're stuck with JRiver and Foobar2K for now. We were a little bummed out by this but I'm sure if DSD catches on, Peter will be able to update AP with very little effort. It looks like plenty of folks are waiting to get into DSD until the standard irons itself out. Let's hope this happens sooner than later.

So how does the DAC2X sound? All we could say was, "WOW!" The DAC2X is the most impressive DAC we've heard to date and that's not exaggerating one bit. We've heard some seriously nice DAC's but the EMM Labs took the cake. Sound staging and image palpability were second to none. I have to agree with Chris Connaker of Computer Audiophile when he said the DAC2X basically sounded more realistic and intimate than any other DAC he's heard. We feel this statement is right on. Nice job Chris!!! This DAC will get you as close to the performance as any other DAC out there that's comparable in price. One way to know how a review component sounds in your system is to take it away and then listen to your original component and see if you feel like you're missing something. I replaced the DAC2X with my reference EE Minimax PLUS DAC with Dexa Discrete Op Amps and I immediately knew the DAC2X was something special! Don't audition this DAC unless you plan on buying it. It's that good!

Now that we'd established how great the DAC2X was, we decided to take the DAC2X to the next level by implementing our YFS 'Split' Ref USB cable and our YFS PS-5 power supply. We separated the data from the power leads so we could use an external linear power supply to power the XMOS USB chip inside the DAC2X. One Type A head plugs into the rear of our YFS PS-5 power supply and the other Type A head plugs into our Ref-3 server. The Type B connector plugs into the DAC as per usual. This configuration gave us the most realistic, analog sounding music we've heard from any server/ DAC combo as of yet!

We'd like to chime in on the WAV and FLAC vs. DSD argument as well. Yes, DSD files sound smoother and more analog but in general, we still feel WAV and FLAC files are more than adequate for most listening. A good analogy is comparing vinyl to CD. You're getting essentially the same material but presented in a slightly different manner. In fact, in some cases, we preferred WAV's to DSD files especially when listening to very dynamic music such as rock or fusion. It all boils down to personal preference. Don't get us wrong here, DSD sounds amazing but not so different that it warrants ditching your current DAC to upgrade to a DSD-capable DAC. Just our two cents but take it for what it's worth.

To tie things all together, if you can afford the DAC2X, go ahead and give it a shot. You won't be disappointed! I GUARANTEE you'll be happy with it. If you're willing to shell out even more cash, maybe the Stahl-Tek, MSB Diamond, Viola Crescendo or Light Harmonic DAC's are on your radar. No matter which one of these DAC's you go with, you'll be listening to one of the top tier DAC's in the world, period! We wanted to give a shout out to Shahin Al Rashid, the Director of Sales at EMM Labs, for all his help and support and allowing us to report on DAC2X. THANKS for reading and we hope we've shed a little light on DSD and how it compares to WAV and FLAC. Until next time...

- YFS Design Team

Associated Equipment:

  • YFS HD Ref-3 SE Music Server Transport
  • EE Minimax PLUS USB DAC w Dexa Discrete Opamps
  • Quicksilver12AX7 Preamp
  • Quicksilver S60 Monoblocks
  • Von Schweikert Unifield II Speakers
  • PS Audio Power Plant P-300 for source gear
  • PS Audio Duet Power Center for amps
  • YFS Cabling and Interconnects

 

 

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by Kevin O'Brien on December 21, 2012

 

***UPDATE 03/22/2013***

 

  ***v1.61 Thesycon USB Drivers & Updated Firmware Available Now!!!***

 

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***Click here to download!!!!***

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Install Instructions:

1.) Download and Extract Software Installer

2.) Update Firmware via TUSB Control Panel

3.) Uninstall v1.22 Thesycon USB Drivers

4.) Install NEW v1.61 Thesycon USB Drivers

 

***This update should fix the main issues we've experienced with the Stello U3's performance such as drop-outs, etc... This install should eliminate these problems!!! We will report back after our testing is complete which is currently in progress...***

 

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We got a hold of an April Music Stello U3 USB to SPDIF converter and we ran it through the paces. Turns out, it's a nice little unit and it sounds good too. We're here to tell you that if you can get it dialed in, you'll be rewarded with a great sounding SPDIF converter that's really convenient to use.

April Music is out of Korea and they are the makers of the popular Eximus DP1 USB DAC/ Headphone Amp/ Preamp that everyone is raving about. We were able to hear the Eximus DP1 at this year's RMAF 2012 and we were impressed. We heard about the little Stello U3 from 6Moons and other online forums so we were pretty excited to audition the little black box everybody's talking about.

The Stello U3 utilizes the XMOS input chip and uses the 5V from the USB cable to power itself. There is no power supply or wall wart to plug into which makes it convenient to use but also degrades its performance in our eyes. A cool project would be to add an external power supply to the Stello U3 and take it to the next level. Maybe we'll tackle the challenge in the next few months.

UPDATE: We did end up coming up with a solution to the USB bus power problem. The answer is here. We developed a dual-headed USB cable with a data head and a power head. The data head plugs into our server and the power head plugs into our YFS 5V DC power supply. It's the perfect USB power solution and a great way to boost your DAC's performance.

You get a Coax and an XLR digital output and your standard USB input on the rear of the U3.  We could not discern a real difference between Coax and the XLR digital output but some folks are convinced that the XLR provides a better connection. As far as jitter goes, we agree so that's what we ended up using.

We installed the drivers from the manufacturer's website and the unit was recognized by our Windows 7 based HD.Ref-3 server with no problems. The U3 uses the Thesycon drivers that all other XMOS units use. We like the Thesycon USB drivers as they have ASIO drivers embedded within them which makes setup a breeze in most cases. The Stello U3 proved to be one of the exceptions to the rule. We were unable to get our U3 to play without at least some very tiny hiccups. We experienced a pop or blip every now and again with no way to alleviate the issue no matter what settings we played with. We did upgrade the firmware with the latest version on April Music's website and still no help. We've heard April Music is coming out with another driver version with updated firmware so this may allow the U3 to behave somewhat better in the near future. We're sure hoping so because if we could get this sucker to play nice, we'd definitely be game for adding a power supply to the unit.

The sound we got after 3 weeks of break-in was really nice. The Stello U3 falls between the M2Tech EVO and the Berkeley Audio Alpha USB. In general, the U3 has great resolution and great bass. We noticed the EVO, which was hooked up to our custom 9V DC linear power supply, had more laid back highs but more mid range and bass punch than the Stello U3. The Stello U3 had very similar highs to the Alpha USB but the Alpha had more punch in the bass region. As you're probably noticing all these units sound great, just a little different from one another. Depending on your system, you may prefer one unit to another.

More importantly, we wanted to let our readers know that we had a little trouble getting the U3 to behave with the SOtM USB card in our Ref-3 SE server. We haven't been able to completely get rid of pops but we've been able to keep them at a minimum. We're not sure why we cannot get the unit to work perfectly? Our other SPDIF converters work fine so we can't figure out why the Stello U3 doesn't want to play nice. And yes, we used JRiver, Foobar 2000, as well as Album Player and they all had similar issues with playback.

We're fairly positive these issues mentioned above will be ironed out but for now, we're still scratching our heads on this one.

UPDATE: We played the Stello U3 for 3 days straight with the updated firmware and the new v1.61 Thesycon drivers and most of our problems went away. The data streams smoothly no matter which bit-rate we're playing. The real bonus is that it streams 24.192 data to our EE Minimax DAC Plus now without a hitch! We will continue to test the Stello U3 and make more observations in the future if necessary. We've heard one "pop" so far and that's 4 days into our testing. Finally, now this U3 device is a real winner. :-)

If you're wondering if you can keep your favorite DAC and still use your computer as a transport, the answer is yes. Give a few SPDIF converters a shot and see which units are best for your personal system. As we've stated before, we've found no ill effects by adding a USB to SPDIF converter to the chain of source components in our system, just a small change in overall balance and presentation which is why we love this hobby!

 -YFS Design Team

Associated Equipment:

  • YFS HD Ref-3 SE Music Server Transport
  • YFS Custom Ca-60 Preamp
  • Bricasti Design M1 USB DAC
  • McIntosh MC275 MkV Amplifiers (in mono configuration)
  • Von Schweikert VR-44 Aktive Speakers
  • PS Audio Power Plant Premier (one for each monoblock)
  • Equitech 1.5Q Balanced Power Isolation Transformer (used for source components)
  • YFS Cabling and Interconnects

 

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by Kevin O'Brien on October 18, 2012


We've heard a lot of buzz about the Bricasti Design M1 USB DAC especially in Stereophile. We picked one up to show in our listening room and we mainly wanted to find out what everybody was talking about. We're definitely glad we made the effort. It took us a while to get one but it was worth the wait!

The first thing we noticed was the build quality which was second to none! Each piece of the Bricasti M1 is machined in-house and great care is taken in order to make sure every DAC looks top notch before it leaves the factory. We could tell as soon as we took it out of the shipping container it was going to be a piece we couldn't take our eyes off of for the next few months.

The M1 has undergone some improvements since it first showed up on the scene. The addition of a USB input and a volume control as well as the extra filter settings were the added features worth noting. Without the USB input, the M1 was just another DAC to us. After the addition of the extra input, we could now pair it with our YFS Ref-3 servers which we really liked.

Setting up the M1 was an absolute breeze and required popping in the drivers which were located on a tiny CD on the last page of the owner's manual. At first we thought Brian Zolner forgot to give us drivers but after reading through the manual, we found a small CD attached to the last page of the booklet. That was very tricky and quite frustrating if you didn't know where to look which was exactly our case. Either way, we found the Windows 7 drivers and off we went.

The M1 utilizes the classic Thesycon USB drivers. The same drivers are used with a plethora of DAC's including the Ayre Acoustics QB-9, the Berkeley Audio Alpha USB, the Audio Research DAC8, as well as the Stahl Tek A.B.C. SPDIF to USB converter. Thesycon is out of Germany and they write software drivers for USB devices all over the world. The driver they write for the XMOS USB input chip, which is implemented in the M1, has embedded ASIO drivers which is a very nice feature. This definitely comes in handy when using the M1 in unison with Album Player. ASIO4ALL MUST BE UNINSTALLED BEFORE USING THE M1. If the user does not uninstall ASIO4ALL, they will likely run into driver conflicts. This also goes for any other device which implements the Thesycon TUSB drivers. Uninstall those drivers BEFORE installing the M1 drivers or you will run into conflicts. Download the drivers here!

Once our M1 was installed and ready to go we ran through our usual hi-res staples such as the Talking Heads' 'Speaking In Tongues' 24.96 FLAC's and Diana Krall's 'The Look of Love' 24.96 FLAC's. We also ran through several of our favorite Redbook WAV files which included Dave Brubeck's 'Time Out' and Miles Davis' 'Kind of Blue'. Every sample rate passed through the M1 with absolutely no problems. The display gives you the option to show  which sample rate is being played which is always a nice feature and comes in handy when comparing different sample rates of the same title.

We were very impressed with the fact that the M1 had no preference as to how it was hooked up. Each input, whether it be COAX, AES or USB, all sounded amazing. A lot of DAC's have their favorite input which brings their performance to a higher level. This was not the case with M1. All inputs sounded exactly the same.

The volume control was an extremely handy feature which allowed us to bypass our preamp and simplify our rack. The one thing we noticed was missing was a way to defeat the volume control entirely. This would have been a nice feature for folks who are looking to keep their preamp in the chain.

The different filter settings were also very cool and definitely allowed the end user to tailor the sound of the M1 DAC to their specific system. We ended up leaving our M1 set to the "Minimum 0" setting but there's definitely no correct setting and it all comes down to personal preference. The instruction manual gives a run down of each filter setting and what it does to the signal. Again, it will take some time to roll through the filter settings to decide exactly which setting sounds best in your system. 

The remote control is another handy feature of this DAC although we don't like the fact that you have to shell out $500 for it and we feel it should come included along with the DAC. At $8600 MSRP we feel the remote should be complimentary. I guess that's the way it goes for now.

The sound we got from the M1 was amazing. We've never heard the detail and high frequency information we heard from the M1 in any other DAC we've auditioned. Vocals were absolutely fantastic and gave us that "in the room" feeling every time we sat down to listen. Soundstage was the only area where we felt the M1 was lacking. We've definitely experienced more 3D imaging with other DAC's but you can't have everything...

Make sure to let the M1 warm up for several hours before doing any serious listening. Another handy feature is the internal DAC temperature readout on the display. Access this feature by pressing the "Status" button several times toggling through various options. We noticed break-in wasn't an issue with the M1 like it is with a lot of DAC's. The 50 hour run-in at the factory seemed to be enough to get the M1 ready for listening and our 200 or so hours of additional play did not affect the sound of the DAC.

The M1 is based on a dual-mono design with separate power supplies and boards for each channel. This allows the M1 to keep both channels divided and minimizes cross talk between components. Overall, we really liked the M1 and we have only very tiny gripes, if any, to report. Those being the non-defeatable volume control and the lack of included remote. If that's all we have issues with, consider the Bricasti M1 a real winner.

If you can afford the price tag, make sure to put this DAC on your short list for USB capable DAC's to audition in your system. We offer package deals pairing the Bricasti M1 along with a YFS Ref-3 music server. Contact us for more information and pricing.

Thanks for reading and hopefully you have one more DAC to keep your eyes and ears peeled for in the near future.

-YFS Design Team

 

Associated Equipment:

  • YFS HD Ref-3 SE Music Server Transport
  • McIntosh MC275 MkV Amplifiers (in mono configuration)
  • Von Sclookkert VR-44 Aktive Speakers
  • PS Audio Power Plant Premier (one for each monoblock)
  • Equitech 1.5Q Balanced Power Isolation Transformer (used for source components)
  • YFS Cabling and Interconnects

 

 

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by Kevin O'Brien on Oct 16, 2012


We are big fans of SPDIF converters around these parts. All USB DAC's have SPDIF converters inside them anyway so why do some folks refuse to use them? Simplicity is the answer but don't let that stop you from giving them a shot. These converters allow you to switch DAC's in and out of your rack as fast as you can physically unhook your cables to your device. This is very useful when reviewing DAC's or doing quick comparisons between equipment. We've noticed no loss in sound quality when we place a SPDIF in the chain versus going straight USB into a DAC.

We finally got our hands on the famous Berkeley Audio Alpha USB and we've got some photos of it topless for all those folks who are wondering what's under the hood. The Alpha seems pretty light when we first placed it in our hands. For some reason, we were expecting it to be heavier after looking at it online and in various magazines. I don't feel a component has to be heavy to sound great but it's just one of those things I suppose us audiophiles look for. The other random thing that caught my attention when looking over our Alpha was that it did not contain a power switch to turn the unit on or off. It stays on when plugged in and the LED on the front panel turns from orange to green when a USB signal is present. This keeps the Alpha warmed up and ready to go at all times.When we removed the top cover we noticed the 2"x2" plastic plate the USB input jack was mounted to as well as the extra shielding between the USB input section and the AES/ BNC digital output section on the circuit board. This close attention to detail must have resulted in better performance and subsequently resulted in the highest price tag of any SPDIF converter we've seen to date. We were eager to get the Alpha set up and playing as we've heard around the campfire that this little bugger sounds amazing. Verifying this gossip was important for not just us but for any potential buyers out there.

Well, setting the Alpha up was basic and involved plugging the unit in to our HD Ref-3 server and installing the Windows 7 driver. Download the Windows driver here. The driver is the standard Thesycon TUSB driver which is used in conjunction with the XMOS USB input chip which the Alpha utilizes. We really like the Thesycon drivers as they have embedded ASIO support so setting up Album Player was an absolute piece of cake. After a few tweaks to the TUSB buffer settings and uninstalling our previous Thesycon device drivers, we were on our way.

We ran the Alpha USB in for 24 hours to make sure it was warm and then we gave it our usual listening test. (The unit was previously broken-in before we received it) We played all digital file formats successfully from 16.44 all the way up to 24.192 with no issues. The product manual states WASAPI should be implemented along with Foobar or JRiver but we went with ASIO and Album Player and we had no issues with playback what so ever.

Wow, this does sound slightly better than the M2Tech EVO (without the external clock option) and any other SPDIF converter for that matter that we've tried!!! I guess it better considering it's hefty $1900 MSRP. We noticed slightly more detail and a nicer soundstage as well as an overall "tighter" or "more together" sound. That's not a good description but we don't know how else to describe it. Everything just sounded right. The difference between the M2Tech EVO and the Alpha was not night and day by any means but there was a discernible difference none the less. The law of diminishing returns comes into play here.

So, it turns out the current reviews out there are correct. The Alpha is the king when it comes to SPDIF converters and if you're willing to pay for it, you'll be rewarded with some of the best sound we feel is possible from any SPDIF converter. Well, that's disregarding maybe Empirical Audio's Off-Ramp SPDIF converters or the latest Audiophilleo SDPIF converters with Pure Power? Or maybe the entire M2Tech EVO 'Complete Stack' takes the cake? We haven't got our hands on all of these yet but we're keeping them in mind. We're enjoying the Alpha especially as a way to switch between two DAC's for comparisons and we're going to hate to see this one leave the YFS listening room. All good things must come to end sometime, right? Well not if we want to fork over some serious cash. Maybe some time down the road but not now as we've got more pressing matters...

-YFS Design Team

 

Associated Equipment:

  • YFS HD Ref-3 SE Music Server Transport
  • Eastern Electric Minimax DAC Plus
  • Bricasti Design M1 DAC
  • Jolida Glass FX MkII DAC
  • YFS Custom Ca-60 Preamp
  • McIntosh MC275 MkV Amplifiers (In mono configuration)
  • Von Schweikert VR-44 Aktive Speakers
  • PS Audio Power Plant Premier (one for each monoblock)
  • Equitech 1.5Q Balanced Power Isolation Transformer (used for source components)
  • YFS Cabling and Interconnects

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by Kevin O'Brien on October 15th, 2012


We made it out to Riverside, CA to visit the VSA factory to give Albert and Damon a demo of our YFS Ref-3 SE music server. The trip gave us a chance to hear some fantastic speakers and other gear including the Audio Research DAC8 USB Digital to Analog Converter. We wanted to let folks know about our general thoughts and opinions on this interesting USB DAC.

We were able to install the ARC DAC8 drivers without any problems but we ran into some small snags after we were up and running. We could get every file we played to output perfectly except 24.192. We're not sure what the exact problem was but we're confident if we got the DAC back to our listening room in Rochester, we'd be able to get it figured out. We didn't like their drivers in terms of all the options we had to choose from. We've used the Thesycon USB drivers previously but for some reason the ARC drivers were a little different. (More than just the fact that the little red "T" was replaced by the "ARC" symbol in the system tray) Some of the buffering options and file format output options started to get a little frustrating especially when you factor in how many combinations one can choose from while trying to dial in the USB input settings. The main comment we have that we'd like ARC to pay attention to when designing their next DAC iteration is to include a bypass-able volume control and leave the Thesycon drivers alone. Let Thesycon do their job and you guys do yours. USB software and USB hardware are two entirely different areas. We feel Thesycon has it covered for now. Don't fix it if it ain't broken, right?

The XMOS USB input software includes its own ASIO drivers and we like that. Unfortunately, ARC took it to the next level by modifying the basic TUSB software and we think they may have turned an easy-to-use software driver into a little more difficult driver than we'd like to see. We've noted other folks having some difficulty with getting hi-res files to work as well so we'd really like another shot at getting the DAC8 to work perfectly with our Ref-3 server. Maybe we can convince the head of equipment acquisition at VSA to send it out to us for one more shot? We'll see...

We eventually bypassed the USB input by hooking up an M2Tech EVO that was laying around and we tested the XLR and COAX inputs which passed 16.44 all the way up to 24.192 with absolutely no problems at all! Nice work ARC. We've tried using SPDIF converters in the past with DAC's and we've run into incompatibility issues especially regarding 24.176 and 24.192 file formats. A lot of equipment specs say their specific DAC can handle those two formats when in reality they cannot.

The DAC8 is well built and has the classic ARC look with a silver or black faceplate with their signature handles to compliment the utilitarian look. It weighs in at a just under 12 lbs so it isn't the heaviest DAC we've moved around but not the lightest either. We were definitely digging its looks in Albert's rack. We were hooking up to the silver unit in our case and it matched really well with the rest of the gear. We particularly liked the indicator lights on the front of the DAC that told us which sample rate we were currently using from 44.1 up to 192 including 176.4. That's a nice touch especially when you're wondering if you're playing the redbook or the hi-res version of an album while you're comparing the two.

Most importantly, the DAC8 sounded great. It reminded us of a tube DAC with that extra bit of dynamic range and less distortion than a tube solution. NICE JOB ARC! If you're looking for that laid back sound with great bass and mids without the sometimes edgy solid state highs, this is the DAC for you. Again, we could have sworn there were tubes in there somewhere!!!  :-)

Aside from the tweaked Thesycon drivers and not being able to get full compatibility with all the accepted hi-res digital formats, we loved the ARC DAC8 (the latter could have also had to do with our lack of set up time). We have a feeling if one were able to score the DAC8 on the used market for a good price, it would be well advised and a great pick-up. All in all, we really enjoyed the sound and the build quality of the DAC8. The next ARC DAC8 iteration should be a little friendlier as far as setup goes and a volume control would be helpful. Being able to totally defeat that volume control would be even handier and a welcome change to what otherwise is a real winner. Until next time...

-YFS Design Team

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Associated Equipment:

  • YFS HD Ref-3 SE Music Server Transport
  • YFS Custom Ca-60 Preamp
  • McIntosh MC275 MkV Amplifiers (in mono configuration)
  • Von Schweikert VR-44 Aktive Speakers
  • PS Audio Power Plant Premier (one for each monoblock)
  • Equitech 1.5Q Balanced Power Isolation Transformer (used for source components)
  • YFS Cabling and Interconnects

 

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