My DAC journey

Decided to document my experience with different dacs I’ve owned. I’ll go back to 2018 with the soekris 1321. It was a nice DAC and my first R2R. I was fairly satisfied with it and even installed customer filters since it also has a FPGA. I didn’t need the volume control as I only need a DAC to be a DAC, but the sound quality was quite good coming from a Maverick D2. It’s a very small DAC. Although I enjoyed it I had a bad experience with soekris customer service on several occasions so decided to try something else. Sorry but customer service is a big deal to me. If you suck more than once I basically won’t use your product again if I can’t help it.

Being picky I think the faceplate wasn’t designed very well. The Soekris is almost being cutoff by the rounded edge. And the industrial green metal is not very pleasant. It’s obvious the company is run completely by engineers.

so what replaces the Soekris 1321?
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Decided to try the much hyped and one of the “best measured” dacs in the RME ADI-2

This is a AKM based delta sigma DAC. It’s a German pro audio company and They have an excellent forum. Bought it from Sweetwater so no CS issues their. They are great to work with. This DAC has a bajillion options/features and comes with a 68 page manual
:eek:


I was using it in a less than stellar room with Zu speakers so the PEQ came in handy. After I moved into my dedicated audio room and switched to Harbeth speakers I turned the PEQ off with great results. But after a while I thought something was missing for me. It was very clean, neutral, and transparent but maybe too much so. I love tube gear so tend to lean towards more warmth and musicality and since I no longer needed the extra features of the DAC I decided to try something else.....
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So what replaces the RME ADI-2?

I’d been itching to get back to a R2R/multibit DAC and after some research ended up with a minty used Gungnir MB with Gen5 usb and the latest analog card. To me the Gumby was much better that the rme in my system. It added back some meat on the bones of the music. It didn’t sound as “clean” as the rme but I found it a little more enjoyably to listen too over long periods of time. For me I liked the size and heft of the Gumby as well. And let me add to the comments about warming up. The gungnir definitely needs to stay on all the time. I never turned mine off, but when I did to make some component changes etc I swear to you the first couple hours after it was turned back on the sound was more thin and edgy. So if you have a Gungnir mb don’t turn it off.

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Also to add. The Gungnir does something really cool with live recordings. I’m not sure how to explain it but is feels like there’s some added dimension or something in the filter they use for live audio.

next DAC I decided to splurge a bit more on, but also found a killer deal on it..... more to come...
 
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Next I decided to bump the budget up a little and after researching got interested in Audio Note dacs. There’s the original Audio Note UK and then the Audio Note Kits company out of Canada. Using lots of the same components as AN UK (especially 10yrs ago).

So after some searching a scored a Audio Note Kits 4.1 LE. this one was built 10yrs ago so still used more original AK UK parts. Filled with black gate caps. Uses 2x 5670 tubes in output section along with being tube rectified. Weighs in at 33lbs. It’s a beautiful piece. Mine has a usb input but I only use the RCA coax as the usb board (hagerman) is really old. Before my Lumin I fed it via a Eitr usb to spdif converter.

So how does it sound? My easiest comparison is much like the Gungnir but not as edgy and “blacker” background. Tends to sound more smooth but I never felt it was rolling off any HF. Is it worth 2x a Gungnir? That’s a tough call as I do feel it’s better and gives you opportunities to tube roll if you so choose. I think once you get past $1k for a DAC the diminishing returns kick in.

funny thing is as I was writing this my next DAC for the battle arrived..... will post more on that soon.1FCDB84A-93A6-4F62-A80E-D1A279FC2525.jpeg

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Olson_jr

Active Member
I’d been itching to get back to a R2R/multibit DAC and after some research ended up with a minty used Gungnir MB . It added back some meat on the bones of the music. It didn’t sound as “clean” as the rme but I found it a little more enjoyably to listen too over long periods of time. And let me add to the comments about warming up. The Gungnir definitely needs to stay on all the time. I never turned mine off, but when I did to make some component changes etc I swear to you the first couple hours after it was turned back on the sound was more thin and edgy. So if you have a Gungnir mb don’t turn it off.

I have a Holo Audio – Spring – “Kitsune Tuned Edition” R2R DAC and the comments you make about leaving it on apply to this DAC also.

Thanks for documenting your DAC journeys.
 
I have a Holo Audio – Spring – “Kitsune Tuned Edition” R2R DAC and the comments you make about leaving it on apply to this DAC also.

Thanks for documenting your DAC journeys.

Interesting.... also that's the one DAC on my list I never got to try.
 
Next DAC was a fully upgraded MHDT Orchid. Bill (Grannyring) upgraded tons on it as it was his personal DAC too.

listed here:
- output caps upgraded to Vcap Cutf .01uf and Vcap Odams 2.2uf (4 total)
- 4 large power supply caps upgraded to Mundorf Mlytic
- 8 diodes upgraded to Cree Schottky Diodes
- 10 Audio Note Kaisei caps throughout the unit
- 13 resistors upgraded with a mix of Vishay Nude Z Foil, Audio Note Tantalum non-magnetic, Mills MRA and Shinkoh
- 4 SonicCap Gen 1 film caps

so the best comparison I can make is the ANK is smooth as hell at the trade of a little micro detail. Very analog. The modded Orchid is crazy value for the money. It smooth (not as much as ANK) but extracts more detail. It’s a little more “airy” and a tad more neutral than the ANK, which leans towards the warmer side.

there’s certain small details that come thru more on the Orchid, like the sax valves open/closing, on live recordings hearing glasses clank, tables being cleared off etc. for some that may be too distracting, which the ANK would be the clear choice.

you get more connection options on the Orchid too. USB, Coax, toslink, BNC.... vs just coax on ANK (mine had usb input too but the usb board was very old and very inferior to the Coax)

so TL;DR for me the Orchid is my choice based on listening preference and system synergy. I already have a SET tube integrated so maybe the ANK came across the way it did in my system because of that.

*Note I never heard a stock Orchid....

what was next you ask? Well I have a new and final DAC in the house to compete. A lot of people are saying it’s the DAC to beat under $5k
:dunno:


My plan was since I was really happy with the Orchid, to battle these two out and be done with dacs for a while

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Next and final DAC coming next....
 

rogerfederer

Junior Member
thanks for the write-up; fun to follow your journey. i bought a paridisea+ on CL after reading lots of great reviews. then splurged (for me) on a used Pagoda. alas the right channel dropped out after a year or so so it is in the shop. i like the idea of non-oversampling DACs; i am suspicious of the artificial nature of oversampling, but maybe i am being a luddite. both MHDT DACs sound very good to me.
 
thanks for the write-up; fun to follow your journey. i bought a paridisea+ on CL after reading lots of great reviews. then splurged (for me) on a used Pagoda. alas the right channel dropped out after a year or so so it is in the shop. i like the idea of non-oversampling DACs; i am suspicious of the artificial nature of oversampling, but maybe i am being a luddite. both MHDT DACs sound very good to me.
I completely agree with this, especially for 16/44 material. but after all my NOS R2R experience, I'd never go back to a delta sigma DAC.
 
thanks for the write-up; fun to follow your journey. i bought a paridisea+ on CL after reading lots of great reviews. then splurged (for me) on a used Pagoda. alas the right channel dropped out after a year or so so it is in the shop. i like the idea of non-oversampling DACs; i am suspicious of the artificial nature of oversampling, but maybe i am being a luddite. both MHDT DACs sound very good to me.
There was a problem with the main board in the Pagoda. I had a problem with the board in the MHDT Havana I had and Jun sent a replacement board.

 
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rogerfederer

Junior Member
*I* think there was a problem with the main board in the Pagoda. I had a problem with the board in the MHDT Havana I had and Jun sent a replacement board.
Thanks; that is very good to know; I have sent to the authorized service outlet, Linear Tube Audio in MD--gonna assume they are up to date on that sort of thing
 
I completely agree with this, especially for 16/44 material. but after all my NOS R2R experience, I'd never go back to a delta sigma DAC.
+1 from me on the above. There is no right or wrong it's simple preference. I'm not interested in hi-rez. To my ears 16/44 material via a NOS R2R DAC is fine. I've had the Orchid a little more than 2 years. I changed the caps to AudioCap Theta and like the result.
 
My DAC journey finale...

Well let me see how best to describe this comparison...

Fully modded MHDT Orchid (Grannyring’s personal DAC with more upgrades than normal) with WE396 tube and HiFi Tuning black/copper fuse. vs Audio Mirror Tubadour III SE with SR Blue fuse. Both using USB with Audio Sensibility Statement USB cable.

Source a Lumin U1 Mini with Qobuz.

Trying not to use too many audiophile words... the Orchid was the best DAC I‘ve had so far. From a Soekris 1321 to RME ADI-2, the Gungnir MB to Audio Note Kits 4.1LE.... The Orchid was the best of of both between the Gungnir and ANK 4.1. Not as hyper detailed as the Gungnir.... better black background... but not overly smooth like the ANK, but better detail and air. The RME was too clinical and sterile so not even close to these IMHO.

The Orchid is smooth and musical but has lots of detail and air to it. Such a great combination.
I thought I was pretty much done looking for dacs but the AM was so intriguing and one popped up used, so I snagged it to compare then sell the one I’m not gonna keep. Both dacs have plenty of time on them. Both over 300hrs.

So short to say the AM does everything the Orchid does right but just adds something special. It’s not night and day, but there’s just a bit more 3D to it. Some of the details come thru with a little more weight to them. The lingering notes and air is a little more prevalent. Maybe this is attributed to the monster Duelund caps?

The AM is my final DAC for now. It’s a keeper. I give it the nod due to the extras it has for future use as well. It has AES & i2s digital inputs and XLR balanced outputs (I don’t have any XLR connections now but nice to know I have them down the road) and Isoacoustic Gaia feet.

That said the Orchid is an amazing value even with the mods added. If you don’t need the extras the AM has I’d say the Orchid is 90%+ the sound equivalent to the AM SE. it’s really close and a testament to the orchid and Grannyring’s great work.

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Nice work here. As much as I hate to say it, most DACs I’ve run across under $2500 have different flavors of similar performance. Above there you start running into DACs that can really open up dimensionally, especially front to back. I used to think depth was the hardest thing to create, but it’s really the extension of the soundstage out towards the listener. There is a dimensionality that is intoxicating with these units that takes music that usually sounds flat and puts you in a different realm. I’m not talking about roger waters or stuff that plays with phase that any system can recreate, but the slight phase changes that become much harder to deliver.
 
Nice work here. As much as I hate to say it, most DACs I’ve run across under $2500 have different flavors of similar performance. Above there you start running into DACs that can really open up dimensionally, especially front to back. I used to think depth was the hardest thing to create, but it’s really the extension of the soundstage out towards the listener. There is a dimensionality that is intoxicating with these units that takes music that usually sounds flat and puts you in a different realm. I’m not talking about roger waters or stuff that plays with phase that any system can recreate, but the slight phase changes that become much harder to deliver.
Thank you for making this observation. While I can’t speak to the $2500 (retail) price point since I tend to buy used and from direct vendors, the recreation of depth is one of the markers I value for an audio system. Depth seems somewhat easy for most modest analog rigs I have experienced, but more difficult with digital. I’ve been able to get satisfying depth with my own NOS DACs, but hadn’t considered the appropriate management of phase as important to this characteristic.
 
Very good, it sounds like you are at the end of the journey. I have to agree that the Orchid is a relative bargain and it is easy to upgrade/fine tune.
 

MrEd

Senior Nobody
Great read, thank you for the insight.
I have been wanting to try r2r for a while and think this has given me the needed little push.
 
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