Your question is an oxymoron, digital is digital, analogue is analogue. Even the so called tube cd players can't get an analogue sound, IMHO. Have the Sound valves unit you mention, a great sound and value. Maybe a some point some producers will take their original analogue tapes and do a super high resolution transfer to the blue ray spec. I am waiting for Miles/Blue which is in the works. Until then your money will chasing the impossible DAC.
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It's a sort of cliche of audio reviews to praise a DAC by comparing it's sound to vinyl playback, and the Neko D100 has gotten several reviews like that. I've had one at home for more than a week, and can say it's a very fine DAC, smooth and relaxed. Apart from a lack of inputs, I highly recommend it. But a comparison to vinyl is not very helpful, IMO.
Oxymoron, you know, two things that are mutually contradictory. Famous examples : jumbo shrimp, military intelligence, sex worker.
There are external DACs that sound sort of hi-fi, drawing attention to their wonderful sound, and there are others that stand aside and let the music play. I like the second kind and you can get them at different price points.
The cheapest I've found goes for 50 bucks on eBay, a Chinese-made unit branded Muse with four TDA1543 chips wired in parallel. Up the scale a bit might be the Valab TDA1543 DAC at $200, but I haven't heard it yet. Another one I like a lot, for more money, is the Apogee Mini-DAC. In fact any Apogee converter I've heard has sounded great to me.
One key to getting good sound with an external DAC is the length of the digital interconnect. In every system I've tested, a 1.5m cable sounded better than a shorter one.
Depends what your definition is of analog sound. Most people I know think analog is bloom sounding sort of like the tube dacs in Kora Hermes and Musical Fidelity Tri-Vista. If you are saying that you want an easeful sound then that would be one way to look at it. Some of my favorite DACs are the Museatex Bitstream stock and modified form, the Lampinzator DAC and the one I had built for me which uses a stacking chip set and transformers. Adding the transformers really improved the sound by removing AC noise and keep a few caps out of the signal path. This produced fantastic tone and let the music just flow out. While all this worked for me, the most improvement I hears was using direct heated tubes in a custom built preamp. That has been the single biggest upgrade I have heard.
The new Tranquility Signature DAC does a pretty darn good job of delivering a sound with a lot of vinyl-like characteristics, IMO - extremely smooth, lush, detailed, nice dynamics and presence. Doesn't necessarily deliver the sheer weight, momentum and huge soundstage you're going to get with a high-end vinyl rig, but I haven't heard another DAC that would do a better job at a price that isn't stratospheric. There's a review out now in something called "Digital Audio Review" that compares it to the new WFS DAC 2 and it comes out very favorably, especially in terms of sounding more analogue.
Depending on what you mean by Vinyl.
If it's "warm, thick and laid-back"
"fast, extended, present, and liquid".
I had a good listen with the Tranquility and compared it to Weiss 202 and Bel Canto DAC 2.5. It's very good and the analog-like quality people posted here and in other forums were apparent.
Still waiting for Lukasz to send me the level2,5. Can't wait!
Sirotseta - great review on the Tranquility, and gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to know it can punch with the Weiss 202! Your description of "decent vinyl" playback mirrors my own opinions - for me, the unique thing about vinyl has nothing to do with warm or laid-back, it's more about delivering torrents of detail and sound space with each passing instant, all in an extremely vivid and non-fatiguing fashion. I think the Tranquility offers a good taste of this, although you're obviously not going to get quite that sense of raw power and effortless momentum that you get with a really good vinyl rig. But in my experience, not even higher-end names like DCS can quite do that, either.
Soldersplatter, I hear you. I gave a four-chip TDA1543 DAC to my son after using it on my computer system for a while. I was very impressed. Fifty bucks gets music, fun-to-listen-to stuff, the same kind of fun I used to have with a tube-amplified Sears Viking LP changer when I was a kid. Fun, not a sound signature. Great stuff.
So, you want a DAC that sounds like a piece of plastic with grooves cut into it which created a terrible noise, so the RIAA (like Dolby) was applied in an attempt to reduce the noise, but really created its own set of distortions. And now you are dragging a needle thru this which spreads out the grooves that never return to their original shape causing wear everytime the record is played and slowly degrading the sound. This is what you want?
A Playback Designs DAC via DSD IMHO bests any vinyl I have ever heard. In fact I know a person that recorded the output of a reconditioned tape machine playing master tapes and played it back via DSD through a VERY transparent system. If his life depended on picking the difference he would be sweating profusely - he doesn't believe he could do it - its that close.
If you like an analogue type sound DSD via a top of the line DAC such as the PD is the way to go IMHO.
07-05-13: RrogYou can describe the mechanical process in the most derogatory way possible by which the LP reproduces sound, but that in no way describes how well this playback process works. From a results perspective, one could just as legitimately say, you mean you want a playback system that puts a smile on your face and makes you feel a little sad when it's time to turn the system off rather than one that causes you to emit a sigh of relief when you're done listening.
There are none. You will have to listen to lots of DACs till you find one that appeals to you. I listened to lots of them till I found the dCS Debussy. IMHO it has very good sound stage and depth that I had not heard with other DACs. It still does not sound like analog just excellent digital and that for me was hard to find.
Hevac1 is right, there `re some excellent sounding DACs available,take your time and you`ll find what you want.
Analog playback is no different in that some are superb and others can sound rather poor.There`re analog systems that sound very etched and make your ears plead for mercy(holds true for some digital front ends as well).Avoid the stereotypes and just listen and judge.