I´ll also appreciate comments!
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I've had the pleasure to own the EE DAC for the last seven weeks and find it to be an exceptional piece. Most impressive are its dynamics. The specs claim a dynamic range of 129dB and listening certainly bears this out.
The backplane is flexible and includes BNC, AES and USB along with the traditional coax and SPDIF inputs. Opamps are socketed should you choose to roll in different ones. It has a true tube output stage, not just a buffer, that can be toggled in or out. I prefer the solid state to the tube option but its nice to have a choice.
The box is substantial with solid heft when picked up and is attractive on the rack.
Njs, the 129dB dynamic range is of the Sabre chip alone. Very impressive! But the EE dynamic ranges are 90dB through the tube output and 95dB through the solid state output. So over 30dB are lost between the DAC chip and the outputs!
Which other DACs did you use before this one?
How do you find its volume control? Do you use a preamp after the DAC?
I too own the EE DAC and I think NJS describes it pretty well. It's nicely made and its presentation is detailed and dynamic; it responds pretty well to tube rolling too.
The other day I compared it to the Cary Xciter DAC, and these are different animals. In my set up, the midrange and upper midrange of the Cary is fleshier, which makes the EE seem a bit recessed in the mids--of course, I am not sure I would have said that before the A/B. The EE is more detailed and "faster" sounding.
I like them both, they're just different.
I am feeding these FLAC files fed by a Logitech Touch. Neither the Touch/EE nor the Touch/Cary sound as good to me as my Cary 303/300 CD player, but they're not too far off.
Joaco, I apologize if I sounded annoyed, I wasn't.
I should have made clear that I've reconfigured my main system, so I don't expect to have the Cary back in anytime soon. Indeed, I should have tried it as a transport when I had the chance, I just didn't think of it.
I think the Cary is a terrific player and, as Njs reported above, I bet it would serve as a better transport than the Touch. But that's just a guess.
If I ever try it that way, I'll report it here.
I'm with you on finding the Squeezeboxes to be inferior transports to cd players. I felt my stock Touch was bested by a modest Philips 963SA I had on hand feeding my Minimax DAC.
That said, I have since thrown a regulated PSU (Bolder modified elpac) and had the Bolder digital mods done to my Touch and it blows the 963SA out of the water as a transport. Feeding my Minimax its the best digital I've heard and at a bargain basement price.
The bargain basement price part may be going away soon though as I'm tempted by Bolder's upcoming EE DAC mods which will probably be pretty darn spendy....
I am a current owner of the EE DAC. I have also owned the Peachtree Nova Amp./DAC. This is the primary reason that I bought the EE DAC, The NOVA is a piece of Chinese shit as an amplifier (and build quality for that matter), but the NOVA DAC is fantastic.
As a point of reference, I have also owned the following DAC's: Benchmark DAC1, Audio Note 1.1, Audio Note Kit 2.0, modified Scott Nixon Tube DAC, Beresford 7520, modified Lite DAC AH, and the Birdland Odeon-Ag.
Of these DAC's, the Nova and Birdland Odeon-Ag are both similar sonically to the EE DAC. I'm not sure I could note a difference at all between the Nova and EE, and between the Birdland and the EE, I wouldn't say one was better than the other, just a very slightly different presentation.
I had the opportunity to directly A/B the Benchmark to the EE in my home. This was interesting. As soon as I switched to the EE after just listening to several tracks with the warmed up Benchmark, it was like taking a breath of air and relaxing! The detail of the Benchmark is maintained, but there is a very subtle linkage between notes that is VERY appealing to the ear. It is a very dark, full, liquid sound, which is definitely what I like (the rest of my system consists of an Audio Note Oto amp. and Audio Note AN-J speakers).
The tube / SS switch is interesting, I prefer the tube output, it sounds a bit more alive to my ears, but at the expense of a bit of noise compared to SS. I have rolled a few $50 or so NOS tubes in it and frankly the stock tube is about as good as any of the others. I currently have a nice NOS Mullard in it, but it doesn't really sound any different to me compared to the stock tube.
On build quality, I will say that the unit is far heavier than I expected. Ergonomically, there are things that scream "Chinese aesthetics": The lightweight knobs (very cheap feeling), the on/off switch that does not always turn fully engage for me the first time, and the dizzying array of different colored LED's on the front panel, it is a bit tuner-car looking if truth be told. Oh, and one more thing, the tube socket is impossibly tight, and it is in a little cutout that is near impossible to jam two fingers into to remove the tube, so tube rolling is not so easy as with most units.
At any rate, these mechanical things aside, I have had the unit for a month or so now, and I love the sound of it, and it's a keeper.
I don't think EE has re-invented the wheel here, they basically just stuffed the current best DAC chip on the planet into a standalone DAC and priced it competitively, but all of that being said, the Sabre 9018 DAC chip is CLEARLY, to my ears, the current champion.
P.S. - Bill at Morningstar is a first class guy to deal with, friendly, very good communications and quick shipping.
I wasn't saying much, though I would have liked to. My article has just been published on Dagogo, and suffice to say I find the Minimax DAC quite enjoyable.
I do not think most people understand the importance of the development of the ESS ES9018 Sabre Reference 32 bit chip. Not all chips are created equal, not even ESS chips. One needs to pay attention to that fact.
I point out in my article how I feel the Sabre chip's performance in DACs like the Minimax will negatively influence Hi Rez downloads. In my observation, the playing field has shifted... again.
I read your review. You were blown by the DAC! I´d like to listen to it myself.
If you don´t mind, I disagree with some of your thoughts. I don´t think a 32 bit DAC makes 16 bit recordings equal to 24 bit recordings at same sample frequency! A 24 bit recording has much more information in it! The fact that a 32 bit DAC can make both recordings 32 bit doesn´t mean they´ll have the same information. The original 24 bit recording will still have lots of more information after conversion and, therefore, will sound much more real.
I think that the conversion to 32 bits is not the only thing that makes the EE DAC special. Actually, the DAC is limited to 24 bit 96KHz at the receiver and is only upsampled to 32 bit 192 KHz at the DAC chip. I´m not even sure it´s what makes the Sabre chip special. The Sabre chip also is very jitter imune and has great performance.
The EE DAC is also said by Alex Yeung, Bill at Morningstar and many others to have a really great output stage apart from the DAC chip. The tube output stage being generally preffered.
If I misunderstood your review or you think different, please don´t get upset, lets discuss.
Joaco, Thanks for your comments; I am impressed with the ESS chip, as are many others. I think the EE DAC is a great expression of its capabilities. I also agree that the chip alone cannot make a great DAC and the Minimax has a fine output stage, but my point is that one cannot achieve the new standard of sound quality without it.
As to the ability of the DAC to make 16 bit and 24 bit sound similar, I can only point to my tests with varying outputs from players. I was quite surprised that I heard no distinction between them. Unless the players really were outputting only 16/44.1 then the chip does what I suggest, makes 16 and 24 bit sound alike at 32 bit. One of the most powerful aspects of the Sabre technology is the dramatic reduction of noise floor, which allows one to hear "deeper" into the music without grunge. It's quite a dramatic difference from 24 bit.
in addition to the fact that other parts affect the performance of the dac, haveing a 32 bit chip does not guqrantee superior sound. there are other dacs using 32 bit chips, that may not outperofrm dacs having 16 or 24 bit chips.
i liked the minimax and will buy it . the tube provides flexibility to "shape" its sound.
Doug - The 24/48 or 24/96 files I play through my EE dac sound significantly better than redbook. I just don't see how the dac can create additional data simply because it's 32 bit. Calling for the death of high-rez digital because we have 32 bit dacs now is just silly, IMO.
Mr T. - In your review I think I saw that you use a passive pre - The dac has a very high output impedence from the tube stage (22K) - I was wondering if you tried it with an active pre, and if not I suggest that you might not have heard all that this little wonder can do.
No, nothing that I could know came from the same master. I'll have to reread the review to see if/how you accomplished this. It just seems like most everything I have in high-rez has a walk-around/walk-through soundstage that I rarely if ever get from 16/44 sources. Tonally they are very close but spatially far apart, no idea why.
I still don't understand how the use of a 32 bit dac can add info to a 16/44 file that is present in a higher bit rate/bit depth source. I appreciate your reporting your experience as you experienced it.
Great dac, though, that's for sure!
OK, just quickly reread the review. I see that you were simply playing redbook material that had either been upsampled to 24/192 or left at 16/44. This is completely different from comparing 16/44 vs. higher-rez data. No suprize to me that 16/44 that is internally upsampled in the Sabre sounds the same as 16/44 upsampled to 24/192 and then further upsampled by the Sabre sounds the same. It's essentially the same data.
On my quick re-read, I did not see that you actually listened to any hi-rez data, yet you surmize that hi-rez has now been rendered moot by the existence of 32 bit dacs.
You should really listen to hi-rez through this thing before commenting that there is no advantage to using hi-rez files vs. 16/44.
Mike, If you haven't used the same signal path, then it cannot be said definitively that the Hi-Rez through the Minimax is superior. One would have to feed the Hi-Rez files through the exact same pathway/equipment & cables to conclude that. That is why I used the same player/pathway to experiment.
In the article I do say:
This fairly makes Hi Rez downloads a moot feature. If Hi Rez streams at 24 bits, but one can take plain old streaming audio at 16 bits and get the same result, theres not much incentive to pursue costly downloads. Alternatively, theres a lot of incentive to gravitate toward music websites like Rhapsody, or one of my new favorites, Lastfm.com; the final outcome as treated by the Minimax is theoretically better than your typical Hi Rez sound! I say theoretically, as I have not actually compared Hi Rez files to those upgraded by the Minimax. However, there is no mistaking the upgrade to the sound of even a 24 bit signal from a Redbook player.
(Back to discussion) Two points: 1. My main contention is that the powerful upsampling and gorgeous result from the EE will so please most people, except for the hardest of hard-core audiophiles, that they simply won't care; they'll be quite content with the result from mere streaming audio versus paying for Hi-Rez downloads. 2. I do say "...theoretically", and "...if", so, if you say there's a big difference, I believe you. BUT, is your comment based on a tight test or another "theoretically"? :)
I'll see if I can't experiment. However, to run a true test I'd need an identical recording save for the bit/frequency, as well as a source which can accommodate both.
As to your struggling with the upsampling, the EE DAC is simply taking 24/192 upsampling to a new level. New info is being added when going from 16/44.1 to 24/192, and the Minimax is doing the same thing at a higher performance level. I had both Morningstar Audio and ESS Technology proof the article for technical corrections, so I'm fairly certain my analysis is good. :)
i have a reference recording 24/172 sampler and listened to one of the tracks, rachmaninoff symphonic dances, thru the minimax, mentioned in my review (audiophilia.com), which sounded stunnning, better than most other discs i have heard.
according to bill of morningstar audio, the dac will output 24/176.
Hi Doug, Thanks for the reply,
You are correct that I haven't been able to compare redbook vs. hi-rez directly, but I have heard many hi-rez sources and they certainly do things better than most any of my redbook sources, which clearly sound better than the lossy MP3s I listen to frequently (the Linn Jazz/Radio/Classical streams at 320 k sound very good). None of the 256 K or 128 K stations I frequent sound as good as the 320 Linns. (through Logitech Touch into EE dac)
IMHO I feel that you overstated the similarity of lossy MP3 vs. redbook vs. hi-rez sources.
Great dac though, that's for sure. I'd encourage you to seek out some true hi-rez material (there was a free download of Stravinsky's History of a Soldier (sorry if that's not a perfect translation) and it's superb).
As good as you think you've heard from the dac, I can assure you there's more to be had if you try some hi-rez material.
Thanks for the friendly banter!
Why do you say "New info is being added when going from 16/44.1 to 24/192" when upsampling?
I absolutely disagree with that statement. That is not what happens when upsampling. It´s not impossible but it´s not what happens. If you wanted, you could write an algorithm to insert/create "average" information between 2 points but it wouldn´t be true to the original analog signal before it entered the first ADC. It would only be a guess of what probably might have happened.
You can´t "rescue" bits that aren´t there or that have been taken out.
Upsampling is about another thing. It´s not about having more information but, as I understand it, making it "easier" for the DAC to process.
Making a parallel between audio and visual, having a DAC accepting more bits is like having a LCD TV being able to reproduce more colours. And, having a DAC accepting a higher sample rate would be like a TV being able to receive a higher rate of frames per second. So, if you have a HD TV and feed it with a Bluray, you will be able to appreciate perfect visual definition. But, if you feed it with cable TV or even a conventional DVD, it will look worse, not the same as a Bluray! The processing in the HD TV might help to make it look better than in a common TV but it won´t look the same as a Bluray just because Bluray has lots more information.
I think the discussion is valuable but I wouldn´t like the thread to turn into a tech discussion and stay about the EE DAC. Much better to have comments about experiences listening to it!
My bad, I thought that when you said "Alternatively, theres a lot of incentive to gravitate toward music websites like Rhapsody, or one of my new favorites, Lastfm.com; the final outcome as treated by the Minimax is theoretically better than your typical Hi Rez sound!" that you meant that the final outcome (of listening to lossy mp3s from Rhapsody or Lastfm)as treated by the Minimax is theoretically better than your typical Hi Rez sound.
Joaco, ok, if we want to get technical, let's call what's happening to the bits in upsampling interpolation. Interpolation is adding something which wasn't in the original. Perhaps that is a clean enough explanation. :)
I do agree that the value of the EE DAC should not be lost on technical discussions, but center around its sound. It's quite the bargain.
I can see where my previous comment can be misconstrued; I do listen to streaming audio on the big rig, and I did work with it extensively with the Sonos review. However, I try to use music from my collection for reviewing, as I feel it sounds better for assessment.
I'm finding the quality of streaming audio through the Minimax to be so good that I am prepared to start using it as a source. But no doubt I'll look for an opportunity to compare Redbook to Hi-Rez in a controlled test.
Ask me again Sunday evening. Comparing the EE Dac to my Cary 308T is one of my primary tasks for this weekend.
And how momentous this is!
Do I need a cd player from now on for my high end sound?
Alas my wifi has been very flakey recently so.... it may not just be a matter of sonics.
Based purely on memory, I'd say the EE Dac (prior to break-in) is incredibly natural sounding with deep tight bass, a lot of detail and good authority. It is a little more neutral than my Cary 308T tubed cd player, and more detailed, but a tad more mechanical sounding or etched in the treble. That could be a function of break-in or just what you get with neutrality.
Yes, based on my experience so far, it is going to be a horse race, and that is a very high complement to the EE DAC indeed.