Different R2R DACs


Several months ago, I bought a used Hono Spring Level 2 DAC to see how R2R would compare against my Mytek Brooklyn DAC+. I like the Brooklyn+ a lot, but, given the other components in my system, I'm thinking about building in a bit more warmth (without losing significant detail). I'm not looking for sweetness or holography. Unfortunately, I was thoroughly unimpressed by the way the Holo Spring Level 2 smeared the music. I returned it within two weeks. Perhaps the unit I bought was defective (though I bought it from a highly reputable seller of used equipment), but it started me wondering how much of the hype surrounding the newer generation of R2R DACs was just that, hype. However, I keep seeing so many glowing reviews of reasonably priced R2R DACS from Denafrips, Aqua, Lampizator and others. So I'm wondering whether I should give them another try. Unfortunately, where I live the only real (suboptimal) option is to audition by purchasing one DAC at a time. Before I start down that road again, I thought I would ask the collective brain of Audiogon about how much of a difference I might expect, as against the Holo Spring level 2, from a new Denafrips Pontus II or used Terminator II, a used Aqua La Voce or Lampizator, or some other R2R DAC under $5K. I don't require require resolutions greater than 24/192 (beyond which I discern no difference). I do like the option of MQA decoding, but it's not a deal breaker. 

The rest of my system (source components aside), at present, include a Parasound JC2 BP preamp, a pair of VTV Purifi mono amps, and Harbeth C7ES-3 speakers.

audio-satisficer

Good question. Maybe add Audio Mirror Tubadour III to your list. I have not heard it, but it gets rave reviews.

If I were you I’d look into the Musician Pegasus that offers R2R with both NOS and oversampling options depending on your tastes.  Also there’s the iFi iDSD Pro that seems like another potentially great option...

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/new-kid-on-the-block-2

Post removed 

My sources are a Zotac fanless pc set up as a Roon server and a Cambridge CXC transport.

Though R2R DACs represent the current flavor of the month, it may just be that they’re not your cup of tea. I know that they’re not mine. I personally value clarity and detail and look elsewhere to dial in a preferred sound--though I personally try to keep it as neutral as I can. Enough neutrality so that the warmth comes from the software.

My humble suggestion is that the DAC (or other source components) should not be the place to build in a bit more warmth.

Have you thought about a tube preamplifier? Or a speaker that gives you what you are looking for? Or a really good linear power supply for your Brooklyn Bridge, for that matter?

Thanks Melm. I have an LPS for my DAC. I've had a tube pre in the past, a Schiit Freya+, but it added to much distortion for my taste. It could be that I prefer a really clean sound. 

I never buy by technology. It is always in the implementation. I read only reviews of how equipments sounds in itself and within the context how it sounds given upstream and downstream components.

 

Have a look for a used Audio Research DAC 8. It is highly detailed and musical with nice midrange bloom and excellent detailed bass. Also t true piece of audiophile equipment.

While the Schiit guys are a little annoying to me with their sense of humor, I find their DACs first class.  I bought the Bifrost 2 because it was cheap and available and though I'd use it until I could find a flagship DAC of my liking.  I've slowed down my search considerable.  I do like the R2R DACs.  In a DAC I'm looking for accuracy, soundstage, and clarity.   As previously mentioned, I'd look for warmth elsewhere.  I wonder if the Denafrips popularity isn't exaggerated by the temporary shortage caused by shipping problems from China.  Give schiit multibit a try.  

Consider reinforcing the bottom octaves with a sub instead of trying out DACs. The Harbeths seem to have a very linear on-axis response in the midrange and treble, but it starts to roll off fairly early - 100 Hz according to this link. That might balance out the sound and get you the warmth you seek.

I will only buy a fpga based dac that also includes Ethernet and i2s inputs. I don't us usb for a number of reasons.

There are dozens and dozens of R2R DACs available with significant  varying performance levels ( Poor to sublime)  amongst them. It is not clear to me how a specific encounter with a single R2R DAC can establish such a broad brush conclusion.

 

What about the very important analogue output stage, I/V conversion and power supply quality that very likely are more influential on the sound quality of a given DAC. There seems to be substantial extrapolation occurring here. This applies to delta sigma designs as well, vast differences within this group.

Charles

Responding to Charles1Dad. I wasn't extrapolating; I was asking. 

Responding to Yage: Thanks for the suggestion. I've got a pair of subs in the system. I wouldn't say the sound of my system is edgy. I'm just looking for a tad more smoothness. It's a matter of a a few percentiles. Perhaps I should just abide by my moniker and be satisfied that I'm so close to what I want to hear.

Okay, maybe I inferred your post incorrectly but you seem to place a lot on R2R based on the Holo May DAC experience. 

Charles 

The best way would be with different speakers or EQ. Switching around DACS  isn't going to do it unless you buy one purposely designed to have a sound.  IMO DACs should be transparent to the system. 

+1 Audio Mirror Tubadour III.  I had the Audio Mirror Tubadour III SE.  It is an excellent sounding DAC.

Responding to DJones. Thanks. I think you're right.

Responding to Charles1Dad. I can see how it could be interpreted that way. Sorry to have created the misimpression.

audio-satisficer,

 I might have missed it, but did you give a budget for how much you want to spend on a new DAC?

 I'm still using the original Schiit Bifrost multibit and I'm thinking about getting the Pontus, but I'm not in a great hurry. I just bought new speakers and an amp this year and my wife will go nuts if I come home with anything but groceries for a while!

All the best.

JD

I have reached a state of zen in which I feel no need or desire to extoll the virtues of my particular choice of R2R DAC. As CharlesDad noted-once again as he tends to hit the nail on head-it is a matter of implementation. System synergy and individual sensitivities too. I am very sensitive to digital sound and listener fatigue. That might sound elitist but I truly don't mean it to be. I do think that at lower price points achieving great digital sound is very unlikely. Thanks to the popularity of streaming, DAC's are here to stay and CDP's are an endangered species. So things become more complicated. A talented design team or single engineer can craft a great CDP but accounting for all of the variation between possible music storage systems (typically with integrated streaming) and the variations of connections (I2S, S/PDIF, or other) and then the design of the DAC itself is nigh impossible. As you move up to more pricey designs and implementations the variables become paradoxically easier to match and more difficult at the same time. Just my humble op. 

@audio-satisficer I agree with the above comment about not building warmth into your system via the DAC. I am also wondering if there is a contradiction in wanting warmth but preferring a clean sound. I take your use of clean to mean detailed. This makes me think there is a contradiction here. Nonetheless, I prefer detail from my DAC. But I also like the tube sound and soundstage, depth and imaging one can get from tubes. So my recommendation, is to go with a good R2R ladder DAC. That is where the detail will come from. I have a Denafrips Terminator Plus and I love it. But there are a range of Denafrips DACs in different pieces. All have been well reviewed. Pick the one that is in the top end of your DAC budget. If you don't see a used one, then go to Vinshine Audio and order one. Alvin Chee the owner is a pleasure to do business with. All those DACs are R2R by the way. As for the warmth you can either look at a tube preamp, tube integrated and or tube power amp. You apparently didn't like the Freya+. You might have better luck with the new Doge 8 preamp or a Backert preamp. I think PrimaLuna makes a preamp too. There is also a tube stage in PS Audio's BHK Preamps and amps. Rogue Audio makes a fine tube preamp. There are many others. But bottom line is look for detail in your DAC and complement it with warmth in the preamplifier or amplifier. 

Every DAC I've owned has had a unique sonic signature, just like every analog source has sounded different. 

In the R2R realm, I have a MHDT Labs Orchid and an Aqua La Voce S3. I had a Schiit multibit Bifrost for a while. 

The Orchid is warm and "analog" sounding, but not the most detailed. The Aqua is very neutral sounding and more detailed. The Bifrost is great for its price, but had a bit of an "edge" to it I couldn't live with. I had a Mytek Liberty DAC and would choose any of the three I mentioned over it. It was very "digital" sounding and a bit bright to my ears. 

My Teac NT-505 is not R2R, but strikes a nice balance between a bit of warmth, detail, and easy to listen to "analog" like sound. 

I agree that it's more about the implementation than the technology and more about what sonic characteristics you desire. 

If your ears and / or system aren't good enough to detect differences, then it doesn't really matter what you use. 

op

my 2 cents as follows

- harbeth c7 es3 is a warm toned speaker, with a full mid bass, you have done well to use solid state electronics, though i think purifi modules’ sound tend to ’flatten out’ the sound some, and given this, i would go with dac choices that have clarity and drive (but with smoothness as well), a slightly forward quality, rather than the overtly richer more euphonic sounding dac choices

- as such i would err in the direction of the dena terminator or better holo models, rather than aqua voce, mhdt, lampi’s, audio mirror, which definitely add more tubey warmth at some expense of prat, air, overt detail

- others that i suggest you might also try, are chord dacs (hugo tt2 for instance), soekris 1541/2541, or benjamin zwickels mojo dac - each with great clarity and smoothness but without the robotic, extruded quality of sound that comes with lesser, cheaper dacs that have upfront treble

- as you move up in cost in the dac game, i find that ’you get your cake and eat it too’... meaning, you get space, air, effortless detail, but with no trace of digital grain or mechanical quality to the sound - and you can choose a slightly leaner/cleaner solid state type or presentation, or one with a touch of tubey richness and smoothness, but still with excellent pace, drive and timing

Copy and pasted from another thread:

Rockna wavelight is one hell of a DAC.

It’s and FGPA R2R DAC that has the clarity of a chip based design, massive soundstage, 3D Layering, and a very accurate timbre. Bass has weight, density, agility, and is very transparent to the source.

You might want to throw that on your list.

Goes up another level if you use a good power cable and aftermarket fuse.

 

I am using a PC with a modified Matrix H USB card, battery powered, into the Rockna USB input via Silver/Gold foil USB cable. (Roon/HQPlayer DSD 512)

Rockna has the weight and density of an R2R design, with the transparency/Clarity of a chip DAC.

You might want to give it a listen.

I am really satisfied with my Rockna Wavedream BAL Signature

You should try the wyred4sound 10th anniversary dac, it's the most analog sounding dac I've had in my system and the reviewers are saying the same thing, 

The recent Stereophile review of the Sonnet Morpheus makes a point I think most of us already appreciate: it's all about implementation. The Morpheus is an R2R DAC that according to the review manages to achieve the stereotypical virtues of both R2R and DS chip DACs at an attractive price point. Supposedly it gets the tone right (as a good R2R should) yet is transparent and linear (like a good DS). Piqued my curiosity.


For kicks I'll be taking one for a spin and comparing it to some (for me) pricey and well regarded R2R and DS DACs.

Easy, the border patrol dac(s)...plural because there are different levels and configurations. Surprised, then again not, that no one ever mentions it. A pity, as it is a terrific affordable r2r dac with a tubed power supply section (defeatable). Made in the USA.

Hi,

I want to be 100% upfront, we import and distribute Aries Cerat and Rockna Audio into North America.

We have actually A/B tested almost 100 different DAC's. We did the testing on 6 very different systems so not just one person giving their opinion. Our top 3 dacs after years of testing are the Aries Cerat Kassandra, Rockna Signature and Total DAC. All quality manufacturers with great technology and very experienced designers.

At the $5000 price point, the Rockna Wavelight DAC is a great swiss army blade. Reliability and build quality to among the best in the world at this price point. Sound quality at $5000 is the best we have tested. We also like the fact that the Wavelight has a great preamp section and 4 different filters to choose from which allows you to match the DAC perfectly to any home environment. What we don't like is that there is no physical remote control and you can only control this unit with your phone or an IPad.

I would also like to say that there are several other very good sounding $5000 dacs but what we look for when importing product is build quality, reliability, designers knowledge and last but not the least the sound quality. When you start to look at these 4 factors, perhaps this might help you narrow down your decision.

Cheers,

Please remember "it is easy to build a system that can play music but very difficult to build a system that is musical".

We have actually A/B tested almost 100 different DAC's.

Can you elaborate on your methodology  ? Thanks.

I sold my MHDT Pagoda and sort of regretted it. So I placed an order for a Denafrips Pontus II. After owning several R2R dacs I guess I'm just hooked on that type of sound. I'm hoping the Pontus is a good 'un.

Oz

 

 

@worldwidewholesales 

We have actually A/B tested almost 100 different DAC's. 

 

Would love to see the list of the DACs that you did A/B testing as you mentioned.  Thanks

@ozzy62 

Let us know what you think of the Pontus. 

+1 @worldwidewholesales 

 

Please remember "it is easy to build a system that can play music but very difficult to build a system that is musical".

Both @worldwidewholesales  and @verdantaudio  have posted on DAC comparisons. Take a look at their posts / evaluations.

You likely do not want to hear this... but none of us can tell you what you are asking for:

 

Before I start down that road again, I thought I would ask the collective brain of Audiogon about how much of a difference I might expect, as against the Holo Spring level 2, from a new Denafrips Pontus II or used Terminator II, a used Aqua La Voce or Lampizator, or some other R2R DAC under $5K.

We are not you. We do not have your experience. We do not have your system chain. We do not have your room. You get the picture...

My first cent, don't give up on R2R DACs because of your experience with one.

My second cent, be open to all DAC designs...by this I mean delta-sigma versions.

 

Finally:

- Don’t focus on the component...focus on the whole: the system, your room, and your own experience.

- Don’t worry about getting it wrong. You are learning. Learning is priceless. The payoff is waiting for you in your future.

 

 

Please remember "it is easy to build a system that can play music but very difficult to build a system that is musical".

+2

Charles 

I never buy by technology. It is always in the implementation.

 

Bingo.  As i point out i once desigend three circutis - one tube, one BJT one FET.  They all had the same baic sound (except of coruse whne the tube on had a challenging load).

 

Things like the type of chip/chipset are far less deterministic than you might think.

 

When they have a "sound" it is often becuse everyone copied the same datasheet, so the implementationis the same. Not kidding.

 

Thanks, everyone, for responding to my question, and offering good suggestions. I don't think it's the case that my request for assistance was futile because no one else hears precisely the way I do and no one else can know precisely what it is I'm after. I actually find it very helpful to have the advice and experiences others share. In this case, the information I found most valuable (I'm not suggesting everyone else should find it as valuable) are the comments suggesting that I should not look to affect sound quality by changing DACs (unless, I presume, my current DAC is obviously deficient, which it is not). I'm sure I could hear noticable improvements from other DACs that I have yet to hear). But, like most, I don't want to spend twice as much to get a few percent improvement. I might still spring for a new DAC down the road. If I do, as always, it will be an experiment.

metaldetektor, Alex Halberstadt's Sonnet Morpheus review along with his $3K Sonore, Denafrips Iris comparison to the $1K Sonnet Hermes Digital bridge was all timely for me too. I'm looking to upgrade a Squeezebox, Metrum Acoustics Mini NOS.

For what it's worth the Stereophile reviewer and owner of a Denafrips Terminator, Halberstadt closes his review with, "I ended up buying one" [Morpheus]. Accommodation pricing? Must be nice.

If you read enough of these DAC posts you may come to find that one guy

sold his Pontus for the Pogada and the next guy did the opposite.

 

You may like the Ayre Codex or Benchmark if detail is your thing.

Another Swiss DAC Menapaws?? (forgot name-$5k)

Chorus,  In his age of digital, it is my opinion that a dac makes more differnce than an amp or a preamp.  a good amp takes what goes in and sends out a higher level version of the same thing.    However, a DAC is creating a new analog signal from a digital descritpion--a translation so to speak, giving much more room for "interpretation".  So after finding speakers that sound like you want, finding a DAC that sounds like you want is 2nd in my opionion.   I wish it was easier to audition DACs.  But what we end up doing is buying and selling until we get the one we like. 

I bought a Denafrips Ares 2 after sampling the Chord Cutest ( as good but not better IMO), the Mytech Liberty (seemed slow and slightly muddy) and the Burston Conductor ( just not my cup of tea). I have generally found my other chip based dacs a little bright and harsh in comparison to the Denafrips that includes iFi iDSD BL, now used nicely with headphones, a Marantz dac in my NA7005, and a Project dac which sounded plain awful, didn't work correctly and failed to last a day?

 

@david_ten  i hope you get your send button unstuck!  😁

as for @worldwidewholesales - i just want to see the list of the 100 dacs a/b'd and also understand their process for doing this  😉

People seem to be weting themselves over the new Holo Audio R2R DAC's. The Spring 3 KTE and May L2 or KTE are getting rave reviews. Stereophile gave them Class A reference status. 

* Quite a discussion over on PS Audio's forum site: https://forum.psaudio.com/t/holo-audio-spring-3-dac-impressions/24921/99

* This UK based review was impressive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhf9GpGC55w

* Stereophile: https://forum.psaudio.com/t/holo-audio-one-of-the-best-dacs-ever-john-atkinson-seems-to-think-so/22913/545

 

 

@m-db Yes, industry accomodation pricing must be nice! There’s not much money in reviewing, however, so when you consider the overall comp package (accomodation pricing included), I understand why many reviewers do it essentially part-time.

I’ll be getting the Sonnet Morpheus and Hermes today and putting it through its paces. Even at full retail, it’s a bargain proposition if it can do what it’s purported to do. Holo/Denafrips have been getting all the attention as the best bargain R2R DACs, but when you add in a good streamer and consider how hot the used market is for them (they trade at minimal discount)...the Sonnet starts to look like the better bargain. Proof will be in the pudding.

 

 

 

@worldwidewholesales  have you had the chance to compare the Rockna wavelight preamp function to a good quality dedicated preamp?

How does it stack up? Please let me know

Thanks