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  1. #1

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    Default 'Entry Level' DAC Comparison - Results

    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.

    The DACs
    Musical Fidelity V-DAC Mk II
    Audio-GD NFB 3
    PeachTree Audio DAC-iT
    Cambridge Audio DACMagic
    HRT Streamer II+
    Musiland Monitor 02
    Schiit BiFrost
    Keeces DA-151
    Oppo 83-SE DACs
    Squeezebox Touch DACs

    Methodology
    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
    Last edited by AsSiMiLaTeD; 06-21-2012 at 09:45 PM.
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

  2. #2

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    Results

    Cambridge Dacmagic, original version
    The Cambridge is fairly resolving but has no real sound to it, I guess sterile is the best word I can think of. One man's 'sterile' though could be another man's 'extremely accurate'. I'm sure the DAC is very accurate but honestly to me sounds a little lifeless. I've heard people say this DAC is typical Cambridge sound, but I'd only somewhat agree. I realize that Cambridge gear isn't the most lively stuff out there but I've always found it pleasing to my ears, especially their small integrated and the 840 CDP that I heard. This one just seems to have less energy to the sound. There's less impact than with the other models. With the DAC I preferred the sound using the V-Link converter as opposed to the USB on the DAC, but honestly it was very close and it could have been a slight bias towards the v-link, either way it didn't materially impact the sound.

    HRT Music Streamer 2+
    I did not care for the HRT at all. It has asynchronous USB and seems to be well liked but I just don't hear it. It's very 'digital' sounding (yes I know that's not all that helpful but it's the best I've got). It's not like there are artifacts in the music or anything dramatic, and it's not really overly bright or anything like that. The instruments just didn't sound real, the soundstage was flat. This DAC sounds exactly the same as the other HRT Streamer that I heard a while back, and I didn't like that one either.

    Musiland Monitor 02
    The Musiland is actually a good DAC at it's price but just isn't quite in the same league as the others. For me there was honestly no obvious sound characteristic or flaw with it like there were the other 2. It's just not quite as detailed and the soundstaging just isn't quite as good as the other models. Simply put, there are things in the recording that I'm hearing with the other DACs that I don't hear with this one. I'm not talking about obvious things like notes but more ambient sounds. When you hit a low C on a piano you not only hear that note but some slight harmonics as the adjacent strings vibrate a little as well, I don't hear those as much in this DAC. I have a recording of the One O'clock Lab Band at UNT from 1992, on track 2 there's a part where I can hear the keys hitting the pads as the sax section plays through a part, and I can't hear that very well on this DAC. If those was the only DAC I'd heard I'd likely be satisfied, but knowing what I'm missing kills it for me.

    Musical Fidelity V-DAC Mk II
    I had the original version of this DAC and the MKII. The main advantage of this version is that it basically has the VLINK built it, so does synch USB itself. I hooked this one up directly via USB and through the VLINK and it sounds exactly the same. I also compared this to the original version and could not hear much difference. I told myself that this one sounded a tad better because it should sound better, but this is the one exception that I mentioned above where my blind test results in the HT did not line up with what I did on the headphone rig. It could be that my HT system isn't revealing enough, or it could be that this really does sound just like the first version, either way on my setup it didn't make a difference. I would describe the sound on this to the Cambridge, but to a lesser degree. I found the Cambridge to be sterile, and while this DAC had more life to is, there was still something clinical about how it sounded. I don't want to slight this DAC because it is very good and is actually what I used and recommended for a good while, but when compared to some of the other models here it just seems to be lacking in some regard, and the best way to describe that is a bit lifeless. I bet it's a very bit-accurate DAC, but what I'm looking for is more impact to the sound, and I feel like it's missing here, but only when compared to the other models.

    Schiit BiFrost
    Oh I wanted to like this one! I have a couple of their amps and they're very good, and they've got a new exciting DAC coming out soon, and despite what other people say I love the name. I tried this one both ways, hooked via the MF VLINK and directly via USB. The USB implementation on this DAC is an afterthought, the guys who sell it are open about the fact that they're not crazy about USB, the VLINK hookup option sounded better here by a mile. That being said, I didn't like this DAC all that much. It definitely had the impact I'm looking for, but carries with it more of a bright sound, I'd almost call it digital, kinda like the HRT Streamer but not to that extreme. This DAC brought too much of an edge to the sound. This doesn't surprise me as even their tube headphone amps (which I own and love) have a bit of SS sound to them. It seems like the house sound for Schiit is a tad on the bright side of neutral. That works great with their headphone amps because it gives them a very balanced sound (alot of tube amps almost sound too syrupy, especially the OTL amps I've owned), but not so much with this DAC. It is very revealing and very detailed, so if you're looking for something to bring a warm sounding system back to neutral this just may do the trick, just didn't blend well with my systems which are all fairly neutral.

    Oppo 83 SE DACs
    I have the Oppo 83 Special Edition, which I believe has either Sabre or Wolfson DACs, think it's Sabre. I decided I'd throw this in the mix to get some perspective of the value of an external DAC over a very good CDP. I honestly didn't get the results I expected. I was looking for a night and day kind of difference and didn't get that at all. Whatever they did in this player was well done. It has a very smooth and detailed sound, that's been documented on here by multiple people. It doesn't quite have the impact that my favorite DAC has, but it's very very close. This makes me happy, because this is what I use for SACD playback, it was nice to see it stack up so well against the other models. It wasn't really fair to throw this one in the mix since it can't be used as a stand alone DAC and therefore can't server that purpose, but wanted to give some perspective nonetheless.

    Squeezebox Touch DACs
    The Touch actually has a nice built in AKM DAC. I'm not familiar with that company but they appear to make several DACs and I read somewhere that the DACs in my Pio SC are also AKM. The best way I can describe their sound is a very balanced overall sound. They don't really do anything wrong, and yet don't do anything outstanding either. Honestly, most people would be perfectly satisfied with this DAC. If I'd never heard anything else I would be satisfied using this DAC. It has better sound than the DACs in my AVR and I used the built in DAC for some time after I got the Touch, and posted lots about how much I liked the sound. The issue arises when you compare it t a very good external DAC, it just doesn't have the resolution, high end extension and low end impact that my favorite external DACs have. In comparison, even the Oppo's DAC sounds better than this one, but not by a mile.

    Audio-GD NFB 3
    Well this was one of the favorites among the group here and expected to do very well. Sad to say then, that this one did not work out for me and I'm waiting on a replacement, which unfortunately won't be here for a while. When I received this one I let it burn in (as I did all the others) for about 48 hours and it just sound awful. I immediately knew something was wrong, it didn't look physically broken and it was functioning, but no way was that the sound thing puts out if so many people love it so much. It sounded very, artifacted, almost like I could HEAR the jitter. I'm talking some of the worst sound I've ever heard. I tried multiple sources and material, not an issue there. Clearly there's just something wrong with the unit I got and am trying to acquire another. I don't know how long that's gonna take though, so for now best thing is to put this on hold.

    Keeces DA-151 MkII
    This one surprised me a little, actually a lot. Of all the models I tested, this was on the cheaper side. It is a USB only DAC, so using the VLINK was out of the question as was testing in the HT system, only USB to computer on the headphone rig. What a superb sounding DAC! The very first things I noticed was the soundstage, a very wide open soundstage. This thing paired with the Beyers was unreal, almost literally. This thing just has a very transparent, neutral sound overall. It's hard to describe, it just sounds perfect. If I had to criticize I'd say it can be a little forward sounding, but that's getting picky and not even consistent from track to track, but on some vocal focused tracks it does tend to happen. This DAC is the perfect case of a DAC not being all about the chip used but more about the design. I believe the chip used in this model is a fairly standard chip that I've seen used in a lot of other models, so it's not like they've got some super duper chip in there, they've just done a helluva job designing it. So is this my favorite DAC? It's hard to imagine something sounding much better than this so it has to be, right? No. There are two reasons this is not my favorite DAC. Mainly, it's USB only and simply won't work for everyone, hell it won't even work for me in my HT. For a USB setup at it's price, there simply cannot be a better DAC on the planet, but if you need a multi-purpose DAC this isn't the one for you. Secondly, I tested a DAC that sounds even better!

    Continued in next post
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

  3. #3

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    Peachtree Dac-IT
    This is, simply put, the best DAC I've ever had in my possession. Is it as good as one of the more expensive models like the Benchmark or W4S DACs? I don't know, this is an entry level comparison. In reality, it's hard to even call this an entry level DAC. But at $450, it is on the low end in terms of price in the overall world of DACs, though is on the higher end of all the DACs here. The sound on this thing is just perfect, its hard to imagine anything better yet I know there are lots of more expensive DACs out there. Since this is my favorite of the bunch I've spent more time with it now I'm going to write up a separate review on this one. For now I will say the sound is very musical, this thing is just fun to listen to. I would call this very neutral, but if I had to narrow it further I'd say its just a tad warm of neutral, it has a very 'analog' sound to it. I know that's another audio buzzword, but that's the best way I can think of to describe it. The top end is a tad soft but still very detailed, the mid range is also very detailed but just a tad recessed, and the low end is just extraordinary.
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

  4. #4

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    Very, very nice write up. Thank you.

    How does the SE stack up against the regular Oppo?

  5. #5

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    The comparison was a lot of fun, I suppose I'll end by ranking the best I can in order of preference

    1 - PeachTree Audio DAC-iT
    2 - Keces DA-151
    3 - Oppo 83-SE DACs
    4 - Squeezebox Touch DAC
    5 - Musical Fidelity V-DAC
    6 - Schiit BiFrost
    All others sorta end up n a tie for "don't like very much"
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

  6. #6

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    I love the Keces DA-151. It's just a very "correct" sounding dac. Dead neutral, great soundstage, great bass, smooth, open and my favorite description is "effortless". The music just flows naturally. It edged out the Audio GD NFB-3 in just about every area.

    Attention to design details and high quality parts sets this above all in it's price class and many that punch higher. It's a superb sounding USB dac. Surprised the hell out of me and continues to everytime I listen.

    H9
    Last edited by heiney9; 06-21-2012 at 10:17 PM.
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

    Pass Aleph 30; Eastern Electric Mini Max; Adcom GDA600; MIT S3/Z Pc; SDA 1C; Squeezebox; Tubes add soul!

  7. #7
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    Nice review / write up ! Well worth the wait, good job.

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    @AsSiMLaTeD..Thanks for posting this review on DAC's just what i have been looking for.Just a note the H/K3490 use's the AKM in it,I emailed H/K about this and an email back and they did say in the email they do not use it in there H/K3600 or the H/K2600 the email i got he went on about the H/K3490 that was the only unit they used it in..I did a A/B between the H/K3490 and the H/K3600 and hands down the H/K3490 for 2.1 is much better for music that is the main reason it is still in my 2.1 set up.However i have been looking for a PRE-PRO two channel or one with a 2.1 with a really good DAC digital so i can use a highend stand alone CD player.I want it too replace the H/K3490.After reading your great review on the AKM and all the others what most everyone has already said about the AKM DAC i just may keep the H/K3490 after all.Thanks!
    Last edited by Tankman; 06-22-2012 at 07:10 AM.

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    Thanks for the write up! I'm glad I kept my Keces :)

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    @audiocr381ve..Yep really good write up!!!

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    Thanks for posting this!
    Advice is free, the Flea Market is earned - F1Nut

    Lessons cost money, good ones cost LOTS - Tony Beets

    HT: APC H15 | Pio 51FD | Uverse | Xbox 360 | Squeezebox Classic | Integra DTR 5.9 | Carver AV-705x & M1.0t MKII Opt002 | LSi 15 | LSiC | LSi F/x | Kimber Hero IC & 8VS SC

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  12. #12

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    Great write up. Certainly helps with any future upgrades!

    Quote Originally Posted by audiocr381ve View Post
    Thanks for the write up! I'm glad I kept my Keces :)
    *shakes fist*

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by audiocr381ve
    I'm glad I kept my Keces :)
    You're welcome

    H9
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

    Pass Aleph 30; Eastern Electric Mini Max; Adcom GDA600; MIT S3/Z Pc; SDA 1C; Squeezebox; Tubes add soul!

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    At what rate did you output to for the Audio-gd? If memory serves me right, using the usb input
    There are some sample rates that didn't sound good. All my collection is lossless flac from cd's, and 44.1
    was the rate that worked best. There was a higher rate that sounded just like what you described.
    "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." --Thomas Jefferson

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    Quote Originally Posted by heiney9 View Post
    You're welcome

    H9
    ..Lolo...H9 ya one of the best Ole Timers in here!Your post are just as good!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tankman View Post
    @AsSiMLaTeD..Thanks for posting this review on DAC's just what i have been looking for.Just a note the H/K3490 use's the AKM in it,I emailed H/K about this and an email back and they did say in the email they do not use it in there H/K3600 or the H/K2600 the email i got he went on about the H/K3490 that was the only unit they used it in..I did a A/B between the H/K3490 and the H/K3600 and hands down the H/K3490 for 2.1 is much better for music that is the main reason it is still in my 2.1 set up.However i have been looking for a PRE-PRO two channel or one with a 2.1 with a really good DAC digital so i can use a highend stand alone CD player.I want it too replace the H/K3490.After reading your great review on the AKM and all the others what most everyone has already said about the AKM DAC i just may keep the H/K3490 after all.Thanks!
    Keep in mind that the only device with the AKM DAC is the Touch, which ranked 4th on the list. The Touch sounds very good and the DACs are surprisingly good for what they are, DACs inside a $300 device that has tons of functionality where the DAC wasn't the primary design feature. Like I said, if you never hear another DAC most people will likely be satisfied with the Touch as is, but when you hear a better DAC you can instantly hear what you're missing.

    Also keep in mind that there are multiple DACs floating around from AKM, so the ones in your HK may not be the same.

    Also keep in mind that, as noted in the Keces review, the chip alone doesn't dictate the sound. You simply cannot make a statement like 'Oh this device has the Sabre or AKM or Wolfson chip in it so I know I'll like it", there are simply too many other variables to be able to draw that conclusion.

    The 3490 sounds very nice (I have one in the bedroom as you can see in my sig), but I've moved the Musical Fidelity DAC into that system and it improved the sound noticeably, and that DAC is 6th on my list.
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

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    Quote Originally Posted by sucks2beme View Post
    At what rate did you output to for the Audio-gd? If memory serves me right, using the usb input
    There are some sample rates that didn't sound good. All my collection is lossless flac from cd's, and 44.1
    was the rate that worked best. There was a higher rate that sounded just like what you described.
    THis was at regular 16/44 playback rate for CDs, standard rate that this DAC supports just fine, I just think I got a lemon.
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

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    I also forgot to mention that my evaluation of the Touch was with the upgraded power supply, in fact everything was evaluated with my gear as it appears in my sig. The DACs on the Touch are not very good with the stock power supply
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

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    Actaully in regards to the Audio GD NFB-3 I think the USB input is pretty good, not as good as the coax/toslink however. I had high hopes because of all the hype surrounding these units and Audio GD in general. I compared it in my office rig (USB) and the main rig (coax) and in both instances it fell short. Still a nice dac, but as a USB dac, not better than the Keces; and in the main rig the Adcom really was superior in all aspects.

    My Audio GD NFB-3 had a bad USB driver board in it which they promptly sent me a new one, free of charge even though I was the third owner. It's been working fine, but honestly I keep going back to the Keces. The Keces is more organic, effortless and the bass is phenomenial. The soundstage is so much larger than the Audio GD. And the Keces just keeps drawing you into the music.

    You can't really go wrong with the Audio GD, but if you have an opportunity to buy the Keces, I'd choose that everytime.

    H9

    P.s. I will also add in my system the ASIO plug-in works better for the Keces and it's Burr Brown chipset vs the TE USB interphase for the Audio GD.
    Last edited by heiney9; 06-22-2012 at 09:52 AM.
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

    Pass Aleph 30; Eastern Electric Mini Max; Adcom GDA600; MIT S3/Z Pc; SDA 1C; Squeezebox; Tubes add soul!

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    @AsSiMiLaTeD..Thank you SIR! for the heads up! You OleTimers Rule in here!This is why us younger Audio guys come in here to get the great help you guys give us!

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    Very nice write up. Appreciate your efforts to convey your listening impressions and will help others in their search I'm sure.

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    Now that I"m re-reading my review, I wanted to clarify further on the Keces and Peachtree. These two are much closer than my writeup may have indicated. These two DACs sound very similar to each other, they're both very smooth and detailed, and have an 'analog' sound to them, yeah there's that word again. The Peachtree has two advantages over the Keces, one is obvious and the other is more preference I suppose.

    First, the Keces is USB only, so it has a limited application. That's not a fault or opinion, it's just fact. If you're only needing USB then this is a non-issue, but if you want to move the DAC around to other systems then it is a factor.

    Second, and this is personal preference, poor recordings sound better on the Peachtree, especially on my headphone rig. The Keces is probably more transparent and probably specs out a tad better on paper and may be more 'correct', and that's what you want from a DAC. However, with any audio gear there's always the trick of getting the balance between listenability and accuracy correct. I have ~4500 CDs and a wide range of musical tastes, with that size collection there are bound to be poor recordings, some of my favorite music falls into that category. The Peachtree just nails that combination, I don't feel like I'm loosing any details in the music and yet it smooths over some of the edges in poor recordings. I don't feel like it's coloring the sound either, which is what you'd normally find, it's very transparent and yet still manages well with poor records. That's somewhat of an oxymoron I know, but that's what it is.
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
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    To add to the above David Keces felt that concentrating on one single aspect of the DAC whether it be USB or Coax/Toslink was more important than offering an all in one dac. The Keces DA-131 is essentially the same as the 151 (a slightly different chipset) but the 131 is coax/toslink only. So you have a choice, they just don't offer both in a single unit, as David Keces felt that would be too much of a compromise.

    H9
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

    Pass Aleph 30; Eastern Electric Mini Max; Adcom GDA600; MIT S3/Z Pc; SDA 1C; Squeezebox; Tubes add soul!

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    I would like to listen to the 131 at some point. I've read that it sounds a bit different than the 151, but wondered how much it was just sticking a different input in the same DAC.
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

    Office Rig
    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

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    Nice write up! Very useful info there! To Brock, if it has no "warmth" it's NOT musical IMHO. I've heard all the detail, sound stage and imaging I could ever want and yet, often those "best" systems are not necessarily enjoyable. You can hear "everything" but I often shrug my shoulders and say "So what?". "Is that all there is?" Where is the "life"? Where is the "sweetness"? Where is the "music"?

    cnh
    Last edited by cnh; 06-22-2012 at 11:43 AM.
    Onkyo TX-SR 805 System #1 HT AVR
    Office Two Channel: LSi-7s (Nakamichi CA-5, NAD 214, Pioneer BDP51fd)
    Vintage Polks: Polk Monitor 5As, Monitor 7Bs [HK 730], Monitor 10As [Marantz 2265], SDA-2Bs [Jolida JD-303, Jolida MV-MK4]
    Headphones: HD600, Q701, ATH-M50s etc. Bravo Audio Ocean amp., Onkyo P-304, Adcom GFA-555, Technics Direct Drive TT

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    Quote Originally Posted by cnh View Post
    Nice write up! Very useful info there! To Brock, if it has no "warmth" it's NOT musical IMHO. I've heard all the detail, sound stage and imaging I could ever want and yet, often those "best" systems are not necessarily enjoyable. You can hear "everything" but I often shrug my shoulders and say "So what?". "Is that all there is?" Where is the "life"?

    cnh
    When did I say it didn't have warmth? The Keces is a superb dac, simply superb. I am a very particular person about sound and this is not in the slightest digital sounding, it has no glare, no edginess, the music just flows and flows and everything seems effortless. I don't tend to use the word "warm" unless it is overly warm (like Mullard tubes, which can be too warm), this dac is not what I would characterize as warm, but it has a soul and the music just draws you in.

    There is something very correct about it's presentation. It's not the last word in detail, but it just effortlessly flows, best description I can think of and I keep coming back to it.

    Musical, effortless, flowing, draws you right in, great sound staging, very open. You sort of forget it;s there. Keep all this in context of where it's positioned on the cost scale and the fact that this is an office rig. If I ever see a good deal on a DA-131 I will give it a run in the main rig.
    "Appreciation of audio is a completely subjective human experience. Measurements can provide a measure of insight, but are no substitute for human judgment. Why are we looking to reduce a subjective experience to objective criteria anyway? The subtleties of music and audio reproduction are for those who appreciate it. Differentiation by numbers is for those who do not".--Nelson Pass

    Pass Aleph 30; Eastern Electric Mini Max; Adcom GDA600; MIT S3/Z Pc; SDA 1C; Squeezebox; Tubes add soul!

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    Very nice write up.
    Quote Originally Posted by AsSiMiLaTeD View Post
    Keep in mind that the only device with the AKM DAC is the Touch, which ranked 4th on the list.
    The bifrost has the new AKM 32 bit D-A chip.

    Also keep in mind that, as noted in the Keces review, the chip alone doesn't dictate the sound. You simply cannot make a statement like 'Oh this device has the Sabre or AKM or Wolfson chip in it so I know I'll like it", there are simply too many other variables to be able to draw that conclusion.
    Exactly, while I believe there can be significant sonic differences between actual dac chips ,power supply/voltage regulation scheme and the analog stage have a big bearing on the final result.


    Quote Originally Posted by AsSiMiLaTeD View Post
    I would like to listen to the 131 at some point. I've read that it sounds a bit different than the 151, but wondered how much it was just sticking a different input in the same DAC.
    While they each use Burr Brown sourced dac chips they are vastly different IC's.The PCM 2702 used in the 151 is 16bit/48k restricted to USB only use.The PCM 1793 in the 131 is a hi performance dual differential 24/192K capable device so one might reasonably expect sonic differences between them based on the different dac chip used.
    Last edited by FTGV; 06-22-2012 at 03:23 PM. Reason: clarified

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    Thanks for the excellent review, Assimilated.

    I have the Keces 131 and would say that the stuff written above about the 151 pretty much applies to the 131. Neutral, analog, transparent, not overly warm. I like it very much, but wish I had bought the usb version to be used in the office rig.

    The Audio-gd that I tried in the office is the 12.1 includes usb, coax, opt, headphone amp. It's a bit less detailed than the Keces and didn't have as good a sound field (coax comparison on den rig). I liked the price, flexibility, inclusion of headphone. Good value. But now that I have the Dared tube integrated with hp, I don't need that function.

    The one that has really surprised and pleased me is the HRT Music Streamer 2+. 150 bucks. Not as smooth as the Keces - there's a slight digital edge at the top. But - and maybe it's a synergy thing or maybe the async, I dunno - but this little guy gives me a remarkable soundstage and just seems more detailed and dynamic. Feeding the Dared pre and splitting to the little Dared integrated pushing Hartley H200's and the Aleph 30 pushing CRS's, they're both just sublime. [I'll try to write about those two amps soon] I guess it could be that the double dose of tubes take the edge off. Dunno, but I'm lovin' it.

    If the Keces 151 can give comparable detail and sound stage along with the smoothness present in the 131, I believe I'm going to have to try it out. If anyone has the 151 and wants to trade for the 131 let me know.

    Craig
    Den: Rega RP6 , Jolida jd9ii , Jolida jd100 , SBTouch , W4S DAC1+ , Belles 20a , MIT Shotgun3 , WW Electra , Sunfire Sig II >> Polk SRS 1.2 (full upgrades, Dreadnought) , Schiit Valhalla >> HD600
    Office: MediaMonkey (wasapi) , Arcam rDac , Dared sl2000a , Pass Aleph 30 >> Revel Performa M22 , Dared MP-5 >> Hartley Reference Mini-Tower

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    ^^^ Sorry, that should read HRT Music Streamer II (no plus).

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    Looks like I'll be getting the replacement audio gd in sooner than I thought, may have that review up by the end of the week.
    Main HT
    Magnepan 1.6QR fronts, POlk R15 surrounds, Pioneer SC-25, Parasound Halo A23, Oppo BDP-105, Panasonic TC-P60ZT60, Sony PS3, Apple TV

    Bedroom System
    Polk Blackstone TL3, Polk PSWi225 Wireless Sub, HK 3490 Integrated, Oppo BDP-103, Sharp Aquos 32" TV, Apple TV

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    27" iMac w/Amarra, AudioQuest Dragonfly 1.2, Focal XS Book, Schiit Valhalla, Cypher Labs Theorem 720, Philips Fidelio X1, Sennheiser HD600, HiFiMan HE-500, B&W P7, LG 47LM7600, Sony PS3, Apple TV

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