For anyone who was following my initial thread promising a comparison of a few entry level DACs, I'm guessing by now you've all given up on me and have assumed that this comparison wasn't going to happen. Well that was probably a safe assumption, at least in the sense that this comparison isn't going to be done in the manner and with the results laid out the way I had originally envisioned. Stuff happened, life got in the way and I never had the chance to sit down with all of these at the same time like I wanted and devote a weekend to doing the shootout.
As you may recall, the original goal was to take a weekend and sit down with them all in the same room and do a proper comparison between them all. During this process I'd take detailed notes on each model. I did have all these in my possession at the same time at one point and even made it so far as to 'rule out' a couple models, but never got the chance to do the comparison the way I wanted.
Fast forward a few months to now, things have calmed down around here and, although not with all the models initially indicated and not all at the same time as originally hoped, I've had enough time with a few DACs to be able to offer my thoughts. I'll start with a list of the DACs I did get to review and with my methodology, then I'll re-post some of my early results from back when I started this whole thing, then post my thoughts from the last few days I've spent with the gear.
Musical Fidelity V-DAC Mk II
Audio-GD NFB 3
PeachTree Audio DAC-iT
Cambridge Audio DACMagic
HRT Streamer II+
Musiland Monitor 02
Oppo 83-SE DACs
Squeezebox Touch DACs
I tested these on two different systems, the HT setup in the living room (see specs in Sig) and my headphone rig(s). Honestly the HT setup is very good, but not quite revealing enough to easily hear the differences in some of these DACs, so I relied more heavily on my headphone rigs. I could hear the differences on both systems, but they were more apparent through headphones so I tended to start there.
My general approach was to formulate an opinion on the headphone rig, then have my wife assist with a blind test on the speakers, and luckily my opinions always lined up between the two, with an exception I'll talk about later.
I have lots of headphone gear, but here's what I used for the testing: Schiit Valhalla tube amp, Woo Audio WA6 tube amp, Sennheiser HD600, HD700, HD800 and Beyer Dynamic DT880 600-ohm version. In my opinion the HD700 are actually the best of the bunch (even though they're cheaper than the 800), but I'm most familiar with the HD600, so I tended to use a combination of those two for most of the testing. The Beyers have a better soundstage than any of the Senns, and even though I don't like their overall sound as much, I did use them occasionally when I was questioning the soundstage I was hearing with the DACs. All the headphone gear was connected to my iMac running Amarra HiFi on top of iTunes. Amarra replaces the crappy built in iTunes playback engine, providing superior sound and more importantly, automatic sample rate conversion. DACs were connected via the Musical Fidelity V-LINK USB to SPDIF converter and directly via USB, each where possible and where needed, I'll expound on this more as I review each DAC.
In the living room, I alternated between the Oppo and SB Touch as a source, although I used the Touch more often so I could play and compare the exact same files on both systems.
As for material, there was a bunch, too much to list out. I did save a playlist of my core comparison tracks that I can post up here, but went outside of that list quite a bit in doing the comparison, there was too much of "hey, I wonder how it would handle this song" to stick to my original list. All lossless of course, and a fair combination of CD and Hi Rez material