Cambridge DacMagic fits into your system nicely and the sound improvement will be remarkable.
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Yeah, I have to agree about the Valab. When I was comparing a Valab to some other dacs (Dacmagic being one of them), the one thing I really liked about the Valab was it's ability to allow me to totally crank up my nastiest sounding rock/metal cd's, and they remained listenable and enjoyable, even with my Magnepans. I ended up settling on a Jolida player, but I hung onto the Valab and I'm considering throwing it back into the rig, and use it on occasion as a "party" dac :-)
Newbrook. Yes, most accurate is usually best overall, but not all CD's are recorded/mixed the same, and many rock/metal CD's can sound overly aggressive and annoying on many high resolution systems. Some players and dacs are known to sound more "forgiving", and the Valab is one of them. Far from the bottom line in detail, soundstage, air and recorded space, but it can be very "listenable", as far as "just enjoying some music".
Ideally, your system should sound good with all types of music, from acoustic to amplified, but that's not always the case. Throw in the fact that some CD mixes sound terrible, regardless of music type, and things get even more inconsistent. Everyone has to "balance" their systems for what works best for them, and there doesn't seem to be a "one size fits all" system, at least in my budget.
"many rock/metal CD's can sound overly aggressive and annoying on many high resolution systems"
Not sure I'd agree with this.
A good high res system only gives you what is there. Rock/metal can be a lot more difficult for a system to reproduce well than many think. You have to have good overall system synergy and component matching and amplification that is up to the task of reproducing dynamics and transients effortlessly, otherwise things become nasty, fatiguing and annoying.
I like to rock out here and there... and Use some very aggressive metal far beyond metallica! But also listen to Jazz and several other variations between.
This I can say, Original recording will vary greatly. Today in the last 5 years, close to 10 years now the recordings on many more popular Rock and heavy music have come a long way from that 1989 Megadeth copy of a CD for sure. However the rule still stands, some CD's are just gonna sound great in the Car, or Headphones...
Dac's are also tuff to classify for this, almost all can play back a perfect Jazz recording or even the beatles and sound perfect. Metal is not as easy for sure, you will need speed, clarity, and warmth, neutral dacs in this case will most likely not cut it. Or at least sound as enjoyable or musical in many cases...
I would suggest look at Monarchy audios dacs, very heavy built power supplies, robust sound, good features, and fairly cheap on the used market. Also to really smooth out the excess distortions of these recordings it takes some serious jitter reduction, Monarchy also builds the device to handle this very well from personal experience, its called the "DIP" they make a standard and upsampling version. However they only build it on its own, its the top selling device so they don't build them into their DACs your forced to add another power cable and coax.
Also these devices can convert your digital to true Balanced connections which can have some good factors on distortion to the sound.
Finally don't waste to much time chasing the dragon, many cases you will never hear the full results especially in super hi power heavy distorted complex music unless you invest in perfecting your room acoustics, this really puts your dynamics, acoustic energy, and overall clarity/musicality to the test.
I think the choice of DAC will depend on the inherent character of the rest of the system. Personally, I do not want any artificial warmth or charm especially when it comes to rock/pop/metal music. The end results should be neutral, lively, dynamic and perhaps even sometimes unnerving, like dropping a bomb.
Okay accept how do you get that balance when most of these recordings are far from Neutral!
Thats kinda the point, some heavy metal discs take heavy doses of equalization in the first place to bring back the missing clarity, full vocal sound, and bottom end bass. So thats the only reason I suggest tilting the spectrum the other way, especially with Klipsch and Onkyo gear, they are much more steril and thin by nature in many cases. Dynamic yes, but neutral?...
No easy answer
The recordings are what they are as you point out and are rarely perfect.
Better to get what you can out of a variety of recordings regardless of the flaws and not try to make a particular flawed recording sound "right".
Only you can judge what sounds best to you in your system. Some systems benefit from injecting a little warmth and others do not for sure.
Undertow,.....I'm glad someone else understands what I'm trying to say. First of all, I'm a beer budget guy, so I'm pretty limited on what I can work with. It's been easiest to "synergize" my current system for certain music types, and getting acceptable results from many of my hard rock CD's has been an effort.
My previous CDP was a well regarded budget unit, and although I enjoyed how detailed and deep it sounded, it's overall balance was tilted more towards the treble, and some of my rock CD's had become painful to listen to. The last time I enjoyed these CD's was a couple years prior, when using a Theta Chroma 386 dac (I started to regret selling it).
I decided to try a couple popular DACS, and the Valab was one of them. It was decent, overall. Sounded smooth and dynamic from top to bottom, but sounded less 3d and lifelike, then what I was used to. AT one point, I popped in a rock CD, that I would be hard pressed to listen through just a single track, on my player (Linkin Park's "Meteora", and I ended up sitting through the whole CD, and listening at the highest volume level I've ever had my system at, and I really enjoyed it. I now understood why so many people say the Valab is a very easy dac to listen to, and just enjoy the music.
I ended settling on a completely different CDP, which has turned out to be a balanced compromise between musicality and critical detail, and I'm once again enjoying a wider range of not only music types, but recording/mixing qualities.
BTW, I'm using Magnepan IIc's with less then optimal room placement, so you can imagine my difficulties in "rocking the house", although I am using dual Velodyne servo subs, which greatly helps.
Prior to my music major in university, I have been in a rock band before, don't ask, though i wasn't the only classical trained musician to be involved in rock.
This makes it tough to put together a system, I love the natural timbre and soundstage for classical and jazz music, but with rock, i like it aggressive, as i was also into sound recording, the modern rock recordings are heavily compressed in the final mixing, started in the late 80s like Motley crue, Extreme etc. then now bands like system of down and nu-metal stuff everything is so compressed from guitar to vocal. That's why DAC like havana dac(non oversampling) would sound great with classical rock, like led zepplin and rolling stone. My friend has ps audio dac(upsampling), and it does metallica really well, as with modern rock you might want to enjoy the instrument separation. This is not to say my Havana makes modern rock stuff sound bad, the kings of leon really rock with my Havana, you can really feel the vocal, or the emotion of it, if you analyse vocal as one instrument as well. And if you like the sound more alive, Havana does it very well, i love the drum snare it produces, so realistic. i highly recommend auditioning on havana and ps audio.
My setup sounds a little smooth in the highs since I got the new tweeters. There's not enough 'bite'. I don't know if a DAC will make any different there.
I'm guessing I just need something that separates instruments well and is good at bringing out the initial sound of a percussion or guitar attack.
Your Onkyo is a Class D amp I believe. Not sure what design it is (IcePower or other), but I recently acquired an IcePower Class D amp and have found it to be quite good for hard rock/metal type music. The top end is quite smooth and not aggressive or fatiguing in any way. If your amp is similar, I would think it a synergistic match for Klipsch or horn speakers in general.
I have both mhdt paradisea tube ( 1 step down from havana) and Contantine SS DACs. I much prefer the SS DAC for rock/metal on my good system for just that reason. It provides more bite. The tube DAC is warmer and more enticingly smooth and rhythmic perhaps and works best for acoustic music I find. Note that tube rolling in the tube DAC can have a big effect. A NOS Tung Sol tube rather than the stock GE tube tightens things up and delivers a more SS sound.