Dodson is the best unless you are after a "warm" sound, in which case the ECD-1 would be the best choice. If you want the "tubey" sound, the Audio Logic is a good choice.
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I would normally just say the ECD-1 but considering the Krell's (solid states) I would jump to the AL. It's alot more bucko's but worth it.
On the other hand, you could get a good tube pre-amp (Audible recommended) and the Chord for the same money.
I found the Dodson to analytical and the Chord to expensive. Needless to say the AL was out of my budget also. The ECD-1 is amazing at it's price plus the bass and soundstage is to die for.
I was doing some critical listening last night and the ECD-1 is really superior to anything in the midrange.
I had the following DACs in my system. I slightly preferred the Chord 64 to the Audio Logic but I did not get a chance to experiment with NOS tubes in the AL. I thought the ECD-1 was the biggest bang for the buck using my Sony SCD-777ES as a transport. I also preferred using the ECD-1 with the Audiomeca Mephisto CDP and a highly modified Shanling CDP. The ECD-1 is a very good DAC for the used prices. The ECD-1 had the best/deepest bass of all the DACs I listened to. It also had a wider soundstage. The Audio Logic had better separation and placement of vocals and instruments and was clearer sounding. I also liked the mid range better as it was more real sounding versus the ECD-1 which as a SS unit sounded laid back but not real. The Chord slightly bettered the AL DAC in the same areas and has a 4 second delay which took some time to get used to. I also felt that NOS tubes in the AL would better the sound of this DAC and that I could taylor the sound with tubes. It was also cheaper then the Chord although I saw one on Agon for around $1500 yesterday.
I may have posted this on Agon in another thread but overall all three are very good DACs and the ECD-1 would be a good choice for someone on a budget, or an older model AL 34 DAC if you prefer the sound of tubes.
I would slightly disagree with Audioengr in that the current version of the Audio Logic, with its transformer coupling, is not really a "tubey" sounding piece anymore in the classic sense--earlier versions, particularly the early Model 34s, could be described that way, and with tube-rolling you could do a lot of tailoring of the sound to your taste. The AL offers excellent bass and detail retrieval, though perhaps not state of the art in those areas, but has a "realness/liveness" factor and dimensionality to its presentation that I haven't heard in any of the pricier DACs like Wadia, Levinson, dCS and Krell. Cannot comment on the Chord, Dodson or ECD-1 (Bigkidz compared the Audio Logic to the EC, check the archives under Audio Logic, you'll see what he reported), although looks to me like you've narrowed it down to some good choices. If there's any way to audition any of the units (if you live in NY metro area, you're welcome to hear my unit) it would be advisable, as your musical tastes and sonic preferences may not match ours, and these units, as all equipment, have different strengths and weaknesses.
oops...sorry, I hit "submit" too early...
Someone at Audiocircle did a direct comparison of the Dodson DA-218 and the Electrocompaniet ECD-1 here:
We did a shootout between the Dodson DA-218, Audio Logic 24MXL, Orpheus Labs DAC, Empiracal Audio-modded ECD-1, and Modwright-modded Sony DVP-NS999ES. Write-up and discussion of the shootout is here:
I also compared the Benchmark, Birdland and Wavelength DACs to the ones I mention above and although these are very good, they IMHO did not offer the same sonics as the AL or Chord. I also tried a preamp by the person who mods the Benchmark and while it was excellent, it did not better my Pass X-1. Hope this is helpful. You need to hear a few on your own to understand what each of us are saying about the sonic signature of each DAC.
I participated in the shootout Philnyc hosted and mentions above.
I was the only person there who didn't own or wasn't selling one of the units.
To my ears and tastes, the Audio Logic was the one and I put my money where my mouth is and bought one.
The newest Audio Logic is absolutely NOT tubey and has very good performance at both extremes and is special sounding in the midrange.
I owned the ECD-1 for over a year and the Audio Logic replaced it. If you do go the ECD-1 route, I highly recommend having it modified by Steve at Empirical Audio. The stock ECD-1 is good, but once you hear the Audio Logic, Dodson, modified ECD-1, you will hear how apparent its short comings are (bass isn't as well defined as it could be, highs are scattered and not coherent).
I have lived with the Dodson for 3 years now, first as the 217 MKII D, then with 218 upgrades including isolation transform at coaxial input. Stated simply, it has "disappeared" into my system. I never give it a thought. It is so neutral, detailed and natural I would not think of replacing it; in fact, it is the only componentin my system I haver not considered "upgrading". You will hear voices as natural as if they were present, sparkling highs and deep taut bass. No trace of digital harshness. I use a CEC TL-1x transport, PAD Dominus (latest)digicable (trying out as replacement for Kharma Grand Ref)and an Elrod EPS 2 Sig power cord on the DAC. It is sensitive to transport,IC's and PC's, which should be carefully selected.
Also, Ralph Dodson is a fine, knowledgeable gentleman who is always helpful in answering questions or providing service.
FYI, I have a Krell 300cx amp, Wyetech Opal pre and Von Schweikert VR5 HSE speakers.
Have not heard the other contenders, but was an early adopter of CD's in 1986 (Magnavox 650) and have had a number of CDP's and DAC's since.
Hope this helps.
I have a friend who owns the Chord and also has coincident speakers. I listened to his system when he didn't have the Chord, but a Wadia. I thought it sounded absolutely outstanding (he also has Atmosphere tube equipment). He says that since he added the Chord dac (with a older Audio- Research transport)it is sonic heaven. He says the Chord is one of the few dacs that actually corrects any deficiencies in your transport.
hello I have the Audio logic MXL-24.
1. If you want it at it's best it is a force compared to Zanden and the rest then it comes down to personal taste.
1. the transport to be the best mate should be phillips based as even Jerry Osment agrees with that ,the dac is Phillips based,in turn the transports software.
2. take the phillips tubes out and get some N.O.S
Seimens-CCA , OR TELE88CC with Herbs tube dampers.
3. A decent power cord .4. Stealth DIgital the prototype
Indra digital cable is serious. Now it comes down to personal taste .
The bass may be slightly better in the Dotson.
The Zandan may be a little better through the top.
the Audio Logic I feel is more natural where it counts through the mids. this is over a one year comparison with freinds dacs it is well balanced and I feel the best dac
at even 2 times the moneys.the Audionote special 4 is probably the best out there in absolute terms about 18k.