A DAC that can make digital sound analog?


Hi All,

I have a ModWright Oppo 105D. It’s excellent....but it sure don’t sound like vinyl or tape.

What DACs have you heard that really work like magic on digital audio files? 

I am interested in DACs that kill that digital glare/blare, that gives you that sense of ‘blackness’ or ‘darkness’ to the audio soundscape, really letting you hear into the mix...ya know that layering, space and depth that is very evident on tape.

Very curious to hear your thoughts.

Thanks!
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Check out the R2R DACs, lots of options that aren’t too expensive. The designs are centered around the height of chip development for CD playback. Just when they got it right the industry turned the development another direction. 
Cool.  Can you suggest any particularly good implementations of an R2R DAC?
This might sound silly, but my modest Schiit Modi 2 Uber does just that.

I like the way CDs sound better than vinyl so for me the effect is not really exactly what I want but it takes the harsh bright edge off of digital recordings.

It might not be up to your sound quality expectations otherwise but it definitely takes the digital edge off a bit. My wife preferred the Schiit to a CD played on the CDP.
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Any DAC with a tube or tubes in it's design!
Overdrive transistor output sounds like a clean, fast tube.  My last DAC had tube output.  This is better.

Steve N.

Empirical Audio
I am an analog fanatic. Most of my source listening is from vinyl and, over the years, I have owned many CDPs and several standalone DACs. Recently, I traded in a high end DAC for a PS Audio Gain Cell DAC to use as both a DAC and a multisource preamp. I have to say it is a major upgrade for digital playback, both from my PS Audio Transport with the I2S interface, and even more importantly, with USB streaming/file playback from my MacBook Pro. Until now, never has digital sounded so warm, natural and analog-sourced in my system. This is a very fine, high value DAC/preamp! I can’t say enough about the quality and value of PS Audio’s products. I am not affiliated with the company, though I wish I were!
I've never been a vinyl guy but I'll throw in another vote for PS Audio. I recently got the DirectStream Junior and it sounds incredible. I stream hi rez from Tidal and FLAC CD rips from my computer and I've never heard anything sound even close to this good in my system. They offer a 30-day in home trial if you want to give any of their products a shot. The funny thing is I find the DAC so good I'm thinking of selling it because the rest of my gear isn't anywhere near the same level and I am worried about getting to much upgrade-itis in order to match the DAC!
I have always been a vinyl guy, and also had CD players and then DAC's that did the digital chores.  IME digital kept staying clearly inferior due to something just not right in the highs - - until I started using R2R DAC's.  I first built an Audio Note Kits 4.1 LE DAC, and it just had musical soul like my string of CD players had not.  Then I got on the Lampizator train, and have not looked back.  I found the Big 7 to be very competitive with my vinyl rig.  I would strongly suggest looking for a deal on a good used Lampi for something that can pair successfully with a vinyl loving system and audio nut.
I bit hard on the vinyl bug for about three years. Had an analog rig that was about 7k all in, and 600+ LPs which were curated in such a way that they are the very best pressings of the music I wanted. Several Mofi One Steps, AP 45 RPMs, original Floyd, Zep, etc... Taking any "vinyl noise" out of the picture, the sound quality - not as a function of stark accuracy, but rather, how into the music I could get. How emotional it felt, how it moved me. It was amazing!

Then I got an Yggdrasil (with updated analog out board) and a very nice CD transport, and some CDs. I get that exact same window into the music, but the media is far less fussy, there's no real setup to deal with, and I can pop in the disc and just hit play, same ritual as vinyl except no sides to flip. 

I will be keeping my vinyl stuff, I just don't use it nearly as much, now. 
I have analog rig but its usage dropped significantly after my Marantz SA-10 was fully broken in late last year.  It's the master tape transfers to DSD (up to 2x, 4x) by 2xHD and others that really impressed me (bought from Native DSD and HDtracks).  Live recordings straight to DSD is also very good by both Blue Coast and Native DSD. 

I built my own digital player using Intel NUC7i5 and use USB to SA-10.  I still play CD and SACD physical medias occasionally. 

The upsampling of Redbook CD to DSD 4x enables more details to be heard.  Despite that, Redbook CD does not sound better than true-analog vinyls.   It's the DSD format that killed my analog rig which costs 4x more than SA-10.

The convenience of selecting albums/artists from smartphone, jumping tracks, the lack or surface noise, no need to change vinyl sides make me just relax while listening.  However, when the sound is too perfect, some of my hard-core vinyl friends don't like it, but that's not a problem for me.

My suggestion is to go into hires if you want the best from digital.
I'll never understand the PS Audio Directstream love.  It sounded distant, soft, and boring in my system.  Too laid back.  Maybe it was just poor synergy but yeeesh.  The touchscreen they use on there makes it look super dated as well, the credit card swiper at wal-mart looks better.

The T+A DAC 8 DSD sounded much, much better in my system, and it retails for $2k less.  It really takes that "digital" sound and throws it out the window, particularly at 512 DSD.  The soundstage is massive and 3D.  It has tremendous body with vocals and bass has great weight.  It has very high resolution without sounding skeletal and uninvolving - and that is a RARE combo in the DAC world.

I’ve used Mytek and Bryston DACs, after upgrading from an Opp 105.  Both are fantastic, with the Bryston being a bit less clinical sounding.  The Mytek have multiple filter options that you can experiment with and are MQA compatible
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As one who still listens to TTs, I would recommend a latest tech "DAC+ regenerator/re-clocker/ reviver, etc combo" —which is what I was loaned by a dealer trading-in my trusty old PS Audio PW....
To my ears (analogue, remember) the sound is excellent: very open and detailed, not harsh - i.e. not "digital" - excellent dynamic punch, powerful bass and a great sense of "air", hence, three-dimensionality. The 2-box combo I was loaned comes under the unlikely names of "Master-time" reclocker / regenerator, etc, & "Ayazi Mk-2" no less (DAC)* and is probably inexpensive as hi-end things go.
My digital front-end is either a PC/ MusiChi or Mac/ Audirvana. Currently looking for inexpensive cables to improve upon the bog-stard usb stuff.
Anyway, this combo works so I’m guessing regeneration is good for the dac?
*The trade-in was in the UK, not the US
Ayre CODEX. It has the warmth and relaxed presentation similar to vinyl. New, goes for $2000. Used between $1200-$1350.
Get some 96k/192k FLAC rips of vinyl records and see if you get your DAC setup to play analog sound.  I did that and am very convinced that it's the surface noise and dynamic headroom limitation that gives me all the perceived warmth and depth of analog recordings.  Boy do I sound blasphemous now.
I'd do a two-week trial of an SW1X DAC.  Everything I've heard from owners of these DACs implies a very organic and 3D sound I associate with vinyl.  Hey, they offer an in-home trial with very little financial risk (just shipping).  AND, it sounds like you can speak with the designer and he actually responds and cares!!!  Frankly, if you try one I doubt it's going back based on comments from owners.  Best of luck in whatever you decide. 
Johnsonwu....  I might agree with you. 

The reason why I all of a sudden am worried about my digital front-end is because I just purchased a reel to reel player and have started listening to tapes.

i think something like stochastic or random noise being an asymmetrical compounded component of signal (left channel and right channel not identical) of multichannel tape recordings and then listening to those recordings via commercially produced tapes (again more noise) and also the natural compression tape imparts to sound coming from the original master and again compounded by listening to those recordings via commercially produced tapes with more natural compression is causing this huge perception of something sorely missing from my digital playback system. 

I know that Carver intentionally EQs his left and right channels of his solidstate amps just a bit differently to create that phasy, tubey, holographic sound we all know and love, so I wonder if it’s all just subtle random phase variation between left and right channels that feels more natural and revealing about analog? 

Mans yes I think vinyl and tape ask less of your preamp and amp. Most digital formats have information way above and also below human hearing and your poor speakers and amplifiers are trying to reproduce all of those sounds for you. With vinyl and tape much less of those superhuman frequencies are there to be reproduced. 

Food for thought.
Follows is my complete list of digital components that I've heard perform as well or better then my vinyl rig.



Shal I repeat the list?
I find many of the latest DACs are absolutely excellent and digital glare is much less of an issue these days.

The PS Audio Directstream Sr is Stereophile Class A+ and is notable for a very analog sound without any loss of detail. Lots of blackness and a deep soundstage from Row 10. 

+1 border patrol dac.  Sublime. My fav for the price. 
Never heard of the SW1X DAC, but their website makes for some interesting reading. Their design approach reminds me of Audio Note, both based in the UK and believe R2R NOS is the way to achieve analogue-like sound. SW1X even offers Signature (upgraded) and Special (custom) models using primo parts such as Black Gate caps. 
They also stress that minimal components and filters be used in the current/voltage conversion and analogue stage.


Lampizator dacs are definitely worth checking out. In fact, equalling the quality of analogue playback was kind of their raison d’etre. 

My Ethosz Audio tube DAC with Philips TDA 1541A chip does that.

I have my Oppo and iPad plugged in to it, and it sounds great :-)


All DAC’s convert a digital signal to analog. That’s how we hear it. But I understand the question. Also, we are led to believe ALL analog sources sound great. I mean does everyone own a Well Tempered or VPI turntable and great phono preamp? Does everyone have a great cartridge and tonearm? Just as there exists WIDE differences in the quality of sound coming from a DACs it is also the same for analog devices. 
How many of you are familiar with the ModWright Oppo 105D?

Which of these excellent suggestions is going to best the ModWright Oppo?

All in all the Oppo with upgrades runs about $4,000.
I own the Lumin D1 and X1 streamers with DAC. Both produce the ultimate analog sound, especially with tube amps.

Increase the analog texture with an optical network bridge (duplex optic cord - I hate metal digital cables)
With Oppo effectively out of business, will ModWright fix your $4000+ modded Oppo if you have a problem in the future?  Not the way I'd go for that amount of money with so many other excellent DACs out there these days. 
I also had an Oppo BDP105 and I upgraded to the PS Audio DirectStream DAC. I remember not playing a record for weeks after adding the PSA to my system. Very analog like without losing any detail. It is definitely is a superior unit than the Oppo. However, since the PSA uses a field processor gate array (FPGA) and not a traditional DAC chip like SABRE, AKM or Burr Brown, it is software upgradeable. This means each upgrade can change the sonic characteristic of the DAC. The upgrades do not have to be applied but in general each upgrade is an improvement over the next. So when someone likes or does like the sound of a PSA DAC you also have to know which version of the software they were listening to. The most recent version is code named "Snowmass" and the prior was "Redcloud" Here is a thread on the sonic differences that people noticed in their systems. If you like stability and don't want the hassle of dealing with software upgrades like a computer then I would not look at the PSA. If you want the potential of your DAC getting sonic improvements without having to buy new hardware every 2 years then I would look at the PSA. Every upgrade is free and you can run any prior version if you don't like the latest. Good luck!
Another vouch for the PS Audio Directstream. I only have the DSJ but it is the best DAC that I have put in my system to date. Being able to upgrade as mentioned by @ayang90 through software updates is a big plus too. I am curious about the Lumin streamers though. I have heard that they bring some of the best out of digital so I am curious how it would sound like in my system. 
Ayon Audio Stealth or Stratos tube dac.  
My Lumin D1 is paired with Devore Orangutan speakers and my X1 with Focal Scalas. They both aren't fatiguing at all. Their strengths are articulated mid range and 3D imaging: Voices and snares are precisely 3D centered, wich my Chord 2Qute DAC can't achieve with as much efficiency, even though I move the speakers. Imo, it has nothing to do with the eq curve, but more with the stereophonic capabilities
@vinci92 Your comments are making me very interested in the T2. Curious to hear the difference between it and the PS Audio Directstream Junior that I have. 
Naim ND555 but it’s expensive in its homeland and the markup crossing the Atlantic isn’t trivial, oh and it’s a streamer. The DAC chip isn’t fashionable, or even produced any more but its implementation is outstanding. I’ve had one since August and it competes with analog on the latter’s strong points. If your budget is up to it give one a listen, if not don’t go near it.
Not sure I understand this.  You are looking for a transistor set-up that sounds like a non-transistor (tube?) set-up.

Wouldn't that entail having the transistor (DAC) programmed to change the sound of the music so it sounds like something else rather than what it sounds like before introducing (programming-in) these "changes?"

I thought the objective was to reproduce the music as accurately as possible without "changing" it to sound like something it is not.

Sorry to be so confused, but if you like the music played accurately, why buy something that, by definition, introduces electronic modifications to the sound you are hearing?  Seems a bit schizophrenic to me.  Why not just use equipment that reproduces the sound accurately throughout the chain?
Depends, are you looking to cover up the glare or have a great sounding digital front end.  Any CEC transport will help to eliminate glare if you use a transport.  Any DAC can be made to remove glare by upgrading parts quality is specific areas especially power supply.  Also SS vs tube DAC designs.  Some DACs have filter settings such as NOS, etc.  You can filter AC by using filter chokes which can also help.  So IMO it is more of what sound you are looking for, cost, and the design of the DAC.  It is not magic, just implementation.

Happy Listening.
Nope richopp73 

I am looking for a digital front end that is much closer in sound and presentation to a tape or vinyl front end.

Vinyl and tape sound like they are ‘played’ for you. Digital always sounds ‘presented’ or ‘propped up’.  
You have several fine choices: SW1X, Lab 12, and Metrum among them.
These are the 3 DACs I considered:

- Border Patrol SE DAC
- MHDT Pagoda
- Audio Mirror TUBADOUR III
Decided on the Audio Mirror DAC because it’s built around the AD1865 chip which is the foundation of the Audio Note DACs which are very highly regarded. Search online. I also like it that the manufacture is in the US. The Border Patrol looks interesting but I don’t like the limited input options and to get more than one it’s a switchable input (design compromise?) and bumps the price up considerably. The MHDT looks interesting but doesn’t seem to hit the WOW level with people who have tried them. I was looking for something that frames the music similar to my Rega DAC R which is very musical and works across a broad range of music, hoping for something that builds on the parameters of the Rega. The AD 1865 chip sounded like the best path. I like what I hear so far (1 week) but being patient before I form an opinion, sound wise it’s definitely better, musical differences come as it breaks in and over extended listening through exploring my full CD collection.

I don’t think it’s specifically the R2R that makes things special I believe that is the foundation needed to bring out the best in these older chip designs. Research the chips.
Good luck!

One vote here for the Sparkler Audio model S504 "unison" ― 16 bit Non-Oversampling DAC. It sounds lovely. 
I had a chance to hear the Audio Mirror DAC recently and it was very impressive, especially considering the relatively modest price. The word that seemed apt to several of the listeners was "dynamic".  If I was looking for a new DAC I would definitely give it a more extended audition. Based on that brief first impression, it seemed like a real contender for DAC bargain of the decade.

On the other hand I've been living with a PS Audio Directstream for about a year now, and I am very happy with the sound of that. 

Since I haven't had a turntable in my system for about a decade, I can't really say if either sounds much like vinyl. I can say that neither sounds 'digital' in the negative sense that people seem to have in mind when they ask this sort of question.


...I'm still laughing at the concept of a DAC with tubes...(freediver, 2/7). Forward, into the Past! *L*  Thanks, free.... ;)
@bretmckee,

Thank you for the clarification.  I think what you are looking for, in my words to see if if understand, is something that will play digitally-recorded music, which you like better than analog (? I think), in a way that mimics analog but keeps the digital "quality?"

I think I am still confused. However, it is YOUR system and your listening experience, so have at it.  I am sure you will find what you are looking for given the lists of DAC products given here.

Good luck and happy listening!

Cheers,

Richard
I have heard many good sounding CDs so I don't think the problems with digital sound are inherent in the medium; it is mostly the case of how recordings are mastered.  A lot of digital recordings are mastered to sound hard-edged and bright.  

There are some CD players that sound less brittle, tizzy, and hard edged (i.e., not as sibilant), and whether or not they are altering the sound and are therefore not as "accurate," I personally don't care.  I think all of the Audio Note DACs fall in the "more analogue" sounding camp.  The emphasis in their lineup is on the analogue amplification/buffering side, and not on the actual digital conversion.  As you got up the line, the improvements are made on that analogue side, not the digital side (which is simple and barebones).

The older, recently discontinued Naim CDP555 player, also sounded more like analogue (warmer tonal balance) than most digital gear; the problem here is that this is  VERY expensive player.  I know this because I own this name player and I own their 555 server; the CD player is more warm sounding.
@larryi  is spot on with his assessment of Audio Note DACs. They are NOS with no filtering in the digital or analogue stages. 

And I agree the mastering is the all-important element in creating digital music. Many original CDs which were transferred from analogue sources have excellent sonics. The countless times that discs have been remastered makes for some rough sounding CDs.

richopp74 

If 74 is your birth year we are the same age. If not you now know how old I am.

I know you are trying to be coy and/or kind about my point of view and/or system and thanks for that I think. 

No you are not confused. I’d like to not have to deal with tape and/or vinyl all the time but I want the tape and/or vinyl sound from a digital source. The ritual and fragility of both tape and vinyl is frankly annoying. And honestly I don’t want to listen to my favorite albums or tracks with clicks and pops intermixed all the time.

Now that I can play back 7 1/2 tape in my system, I can hear what is lacking in both vinyl and digital. Above average quality tape feels supremely integrated and without any softening or rounding (or clicks and pops). It has a very natural contrast and excellent reproduction of space/time. Vinyl does some of this but it’s more warm and syrupy sounding. Vinyl, due to its additional mastering phase generally has a pleasant—essentials only—sound. Digital can occasionally do space/time as good as tape and can go get details buried under tape hiss and/or vinyl surface noise. But quite often digital is too stark, there seems to be something extra added to the presentation, something offputting that is never present in vinyl or tape. I believe most often it’s inaudible brief transient overloads of the analog-to-digital processor at time of initial tape capture resulting in aliasing in the audible frequencies. 

I am certain digital can sound as good, if not better than, vinyl and tape. And I am curious to find solutions towards that end.
Well I received my Ortho Spectrum AR-2000 Analog Reconstructor the mystical, mythical Japanese filter that's supposed to remove all the digital nasties from the analog signal coming out of ones DAC.  Will try it out this weekend and let you all know.

It's old voodoo, but potentially strong voodoo.
@lowrider57 

I agree with you. Most initial CD pressings are more natural sounding and spacious. I have gotten very close on occasion to getting a real tape feel from my digital setup using older Zeppelin, Hendrix, Genesis and Cream discs. 

I think tape noise might be important to space/depth/time. I think it may act as a sort of bias towards signal.

The only remaster so far (which really is a remix) that is better than every other format is the Wish You Were Here SACD. Very nice.