A DAC that crushes price vs. performance ratio

I felt strongly that I wanted to inform the Gon members about a new DAC that ranks with the very best on the market regarding performance, but costs around $2,000.00.  The Lab12 DAC1 SE was compared to three reference level DACS that retail for over $12.000.00 in my review for hometheaterreview.com and was at least on the same level sonicly, if not better.  This DAC from Greece is not just "good for the money" but competes with virtually anything on the market regardless of price!

For all the details about the Lab12 DAC1 SE performance and what other DACS it was compared to take a look at the review.  If you are shopping/looking for a new digital front end to drive your system, you owe it to yourself to check this DAC out, unless you like to spend tons of more $ without getting better performance.
I like reading the measurements to see if they correlate what I hear in subjective listening. But I agree that great measurements alone don’t signal great sound, nor do poor measurements signal poor sound.

Case in point: I’ve owned several great SET and triode amps (Air Tight, VAC, and Woo) which have even been described as measuring “broken.” They sounded wonderful.

With digital, I tend to take the measurements more seriously, including total bit depth, channel separation, noise floor, and jitter. Strong results seem to correlate better with good sound in my experience, and poor results seem to correlate with colored sound. I’ve heard several DACs based on the classic Phillips chips and they tend to have a laid back, mellower sound that, while pleasing, is less dynamic and more colored sounding than modern chipsets, especially those using FPGA implementations. 

Certainly the quality of the analog output stage will have a big impact, more so than the older DAC itself, in my experience, which is why my Musical Fidelity TriVista DAC, with its well regulated power supply and tubed output stage, still gives modern DACs a healthy run for the money despite using a now pedestrian TI1792 Chipset. I’m currently eyeing the Chord Qutest as a possible upgrade, and I am charmed by the sound and dynamics of the FPGA DACs I’ve heard. They measure really well too.

i am sure the older Phillips based DACs have their charms but giant killers? My gut tells me otherwise. You can only tweak and squeeze so much out of these older chip designs. I’d love to compare these in my own system but without the chance, I’ll probably focus on the newer technology.

Tubes are where you can’t go off measurements, as it’s performsnce is influenced by the impedance of the speakers it’s hooked up to.


Jitter is pretty much a non-issue nowadays. Steve Nugent (@audioengr, owner of Empirical Audio) can tell you he hears a drastic difference using his $700 reclocker going from 22psec (~20Bit) to 7psec (~22Bit), but that’s just baloney unless you are over amplyfing the signal. Also, even the $80 Grace SDAC has a Jitter-Test result of better than -130dB (~22Bit), so even if he could, it wouldn’t sound any different if the Grace DAC or better was the one being used.

Most every setup does not have a low enough floor noise to get the full benefits of even 16Bit, and I doubt any music takes full advantage of 16Bit either. This is why is very unlikely for any setup to benefit rom using higher bitdepth than CD (and of course no benefit going higher than 44.1kHz, unless your DAC’s filter isn’t that great, then maybe 48kHz like most audio tracks in movies).
That makes sense...fifteen years ago jitter was still a problem, and the asynchronous designs like early Gordon Rankin designs were all the rage.

is jitter still an issue with the Phillips chipsets, or is it just that the source components have largely eliminated this as a factor, or that reclocking approaches solve for errors originated at the source?

Jitter out of the source components isn’t that great, which is why it’s good to have a DAC with good jitter reduction, and while the $80 DAC mentioned does, there are very expensive, poorly designed DACs that don’t perform as well. As price from a random brand as little relation on quality.

Okay, mr don here, this was a great thread abounding on the merits/demerits of DAC's and specifically the Lab 12 Dac1. Let me paste the response from Lab 12 themselves that I received Monday in the AM to clear up a small matter about this little marvel that stole my heart (even though we never kissed).

Per Lab 12:

Please be informed that our dac1 SE, had from the beginning the below mentioned specifications (http://www.lab12.gr/dac1). Nevertheless, please be informed that dac1 SE is currently out of production.

We are planning on releasing a new DAC based on the same philosophy and core as dac1 SE, clearly upgraded though. However, there isn’t a certain timeframe that we can inform you about at the moment.

If you are really interest in dac1 SE, maybe you can refer to our Canadian distributor to check if he has some units on stock. You can find the contact details of our official distributors worldwide in the following link http://www.lab12.gr/dealers

mrdon) So, it would seem we are in for an improved Lab 12 possibly before it even got off the production floor so to speak. The review by Terry London was completed in Sept./Nov 2018. This thread started in 9-2018 so, it could be possible that due to the critique or quick attention to bring out the flaws in this DAC could have caused the "let me start over" action on the manufacturer's part. Couldn't say for sure but we could be in for a real treat if we are patient.. Comments welcomed...