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The three DAC Cavaliers

The-three-Dac's

Everything started when I made a DIY DAC just for fun and I let Tony to try it out for few days.

So Tony, that knew very well the DAC’s of the other two cavaliers, had the idea to do a comparison test of the three DIY pieces.

He told me his idea and I offered my home and system since I had a well tuned digital frond end that was going be used as our reference (Jadis JD1 MKII transport and Metronome C2A Signature DAC).

The days before the test the normal teasing between audiophiles, of the type… “my DAC will kill yours” and even stronger than that, was going back and forth.

Kyriakos story...

Actually I needed an extra DAC, apart my main Metronome, to use it with my computer based music and video center that is located opposite my main system. After a long investigation on the net and lots of reading in many forums, I got the knowledge that I should look for a kit DAC that you can buy on the web, using the CS8416 chip. I was told in a DIY forum that this can be super good sounding DAC with almost no money.

So the real story is, that I didn’t make any DAC on my own, I just did the construction putting a kit together.
So I got a DAC board with a very good reputation, obviously from China, a very good R core transformer and some other parts and put them together in a very nice chassis.

Now the big game is when you get to the output part of this kit’s. They come with a variety of Opamps some are good and some are cheap and sound horrible.

I tried three or four output opamps but finally Manos advice a National opamp that was the best solution so far. I was happy for some time, until I found a better solution. I was in Amsterdam visiting a Hi end work shop and a friend there proposed me to try an analogue output like the opamp, but with discrete components. The problem was that I had to assembly these two circuits myself (I’m sure that is a Chinese product as well). These analogue output consisted of two small PC boards facing each other and about 100 components for every channel. The ready circuits had an ending pin set that could be plugged in and directly replace the normal opamps. So I took the time and effort to assembly the two circuits and I can tell you that the operation worth the money (40€ per channel) and the time (one weekend). The improvement of the sound was so significant that was no way back to normal opamps.

This is the short story of my DIY DAC and this is my offering to the three DAC Cavaliers test…

Tony Pothitos, opinion...

Jadis JD1 MKII transport We started with the Metronome.
It was used as the Master of all, since it is, the master of all. Not because it’s incredible, but its good on all points. The boys warmed up the machines, each on its own circuit. To make sure nothing would be unequal......

Metronome C2A SignatureWe first heard the Metronome. Three songs to be exact of one minute each. The only mistake we made was to not turn off the large light which brought a hum to the entire session.
That was corrected and we started again, with the three one minute songs.
Secondly we put on Mano's DAC. The first seconds gave me a digital signature, with moist to compressed feelings. This was not for long though since the bass was sincerely the best of the three in the end of the trial.

The digital signature was there only because we tested it right after the metronome and before the second DAC which has a tube output.

Manos Dac

Third DAC was Kyriakos. Kelly liked the sound overall compared to the second DAC but also heard the bass to be over hyped and off in too many areas. Interestingly enough, on my setp at home, it does not do this at all, but it did for the enormous speakers we were listening to at the time. This DAC was musical indeed!!

Kyriakos-Dac

Fourth up was the ugly boxed Buffalo. Protos didn't say anything but he knew it would do well. Actually so did we. It killed the metronome in the mids and highs department and suffered from off the line bass which made it the best of the group but not perfect.

Nikos Buffalo

I wish we had time to listen to more tunes to see if it was across the board the same. I wish he had his old dac which had amazing mids and bass but lacked highs only.

Nikos Protonotarios (Protos), opinion

My take on the shootout. I wish I had brought my non oversampling 36x 1543 DAC just to compare.

Technically

1. Two of the DAC’s were based on the same digital chip CS8416 and in fact looked quite similar in layout. However Kyriakos dac had discrete outputs, the other (Manos') had very good opamps. The buffalo is the well known ESS Sabre 32 bit chip implementation from Twisted Pear Audio with shunt regulated power supplies and opamp output.

2. The audition was a bit short. We only compared two tracks due to time limits on our host. So we cannot be very conclusive. However the differences were quite clear I think to most of us with regard to mids and highs, transparency and overall naturalness of presentation. The buffalo was really ahead in this and even in soundstaging .In fact I would say it was even a little better in this than the Metronome.

3. Now regarding the bass situation I can say that clearly the buffalo seemed to me too as if it had "less" bass compared to the other two. However we did not have time to go into the "bass quality" issue and the two tracks were not really a good test for clean well recorded bass.

4. My impression is that the buffalo initially seems to have less bass. This is also in comparison with my nos DAC. However closer inspection with listening closely to bass lines and well recorded bass reveals something very interesting. The other DAC’s are actually a bit "looser" in the bass. What I mean is that there is slightly less control so the notes are slightly fatter and more resonant. In some rock recordings and depending on the system this could sound more "fun". The bass sounds fuller and resonates an extra millisecond which gives the impression of " more".

5. I can say that the CS8416 DAC with discrete output (Kyriakos DAC) to my ears sounded much better than the one with the opamps -much cleaner and extended. I was surprised at the difference. And it is really very close to a high end dac at a very small fraction of the cost. In fact various people including Kyriakos prefer it to the Benchmark.

6. I think the buffalo with a good discrete output will sound even better and that is the next plan for me.

Manos Bitsakakis, opinion

In my opinion something extraordinary has happened in this meeting ...

Three (3) different people build up three(3) DAC’s and compared them...

In a strange manner, every DAC, happened to characterize and personalize in a way the identity and character of its owner...

- My CS8416 DAC, with opamps for analogue output...built upon an old semi-chassis, open, rough, ugly...

But rocking and rolling like a punk band... Some loose bass, some digital signature... but everything there...Feeling and music... Basses, toms, bass drum, electric and electro-acoustic guitars in Tom Petty's track, club atmosphere, claps, voices, sax in Clark Terry's track...

- Kyriako's CS8416 DAC with discrete analogue output... A copy of top 'benchmark' DAC... A good 'all rounder' DAC with the 1/15 cost...
Built carefully and arranged to be strict and nice... Also Played strictly and absolutely...

- Niko's buffalo DAC... The 'different' way... Every section better than the CS8416 DAC’s...
Only some minor points (in my opinion)... Bass line in Tom Petty's track(SHM reference grade quality recording) completely absent and voice some how laid back...also sax in Clark Terry's(Chesky reference track) some kind of compression...

All those points been present in minor-minor degrees, highlighted and exposed from a top quality reference system... showing the very-very small differences in the lesser digital music format...

Summing up

We didn't write much so we could all express our views freely. We agreed that the Buffalo won, but the bass was not on par with Manos's kit. The DAC from Kyriakos was not on par with the rest of the pack in the bass department, with his system, this was due to its infatuation with heaving the bass up quite a bit, although it did sound very musical. As a matter of fact it could be said it was the most musical of all.

And the prizes are...

So, the souvlaki goes to Kelly, because she didn't lose anything. The beer goes to Nikos Protos, for the Buffalo, and both Manos and Kyriakos get some potatoes with ketchup for their DAC's.

Manos-Alex-NikosKyriakosAlexKellyNikosKyriakos-Dac-backKyriakos-Dac-frontKyriakos-Dac-switch

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