I currently have the Wyred4Sound DAC 2, and it's very detailed and powerful, I think I liked the Havana better.
I had the Bryston BDA-1 for about a year, and in my system that was the best DAC I have heard. It was just sublime. I think I may go back to that DAC.
Went from a Havana (with the Bendix) to a QB-9 for the same reasons: just not enough detail and control from the NOS DAC. Didn't listen very widely before I got it, but just so happens I did in fact compare it pretty closely to the new Bel Canto 3.5, and preferred the Ayre (again) because it was less clinical than the Bel Canto. Of course, any DAC is just a small piece of a much bigger puzzle, but very pleased with the move from the Havana to the Ayre in my setup.
First: FORGET most of what I said about the Bel Canto DAC 2.5. I had been running it direct using the built-in digital volume control. When I plugged it into my Placette it improved considerably! Less harsh, more depth, subtlety, and delicacy. It is a very good DAC! Still not quite as natural and organic as the Havana, but technically superior and still a touch warm and pretty liquid. The differences running into the Placette are pretty surprising since the Placette is nothing more than a passive resistor ladder!
Mezmo, how much better/natural is the Ayre vs. the Bel Canto in your opinion? Right now I'm considering replacing the Paradisea in my bedroom with the Havana and keeping the DAC 2.5 so I can swap in the Havana when I feel like it. It is very hard to let go of that DAC. If I went to the Ayre I would have to sell the Havana, so I would only want to do this if the improvement from BC to Ayre is substantial. I have read a couple comparisons between the 3.5 and QB-9 stating that they are more similar than different but the Ayre has a just a little more air and delicacy.
Macdadtexas, I have read your thoughts on the Bryston a couple times in other threads. :) I would like a second opinion, ideally from someone who has heard the Bryston, Havana, and Ayre.
If organic is your thing (like me), I recently went from the EE minimax (ultra organic) to the new Calyx DAC. Comes in slightly under your budget and has all that wonderful (tube like) warmth with tons of detail and air. I'm using it with Harbeth C7's and class A tubes (Audiomat Opera).
Oh my Meiwan... I had JUST told myself, "F- it, I'm getting the Ayre. Otherwise I'll constantly be thinking about it.". And immediately I read your post about the Calyx. Another, even more affordable, async DAC that I have seen in 2 independent reviews best the Ayre, Tranquility SE, and Bryston. At that price, I don't think I can resist!
THANKS! [That's a double edged thanks :)]
I hav mhdt COnstantine SS DAC and also Paradisea. Have not heard Havana.
I prefer the Paradisea in my second system where its warmer, softer and more tubelike sound plays well (no tubes otherwise).
THe Constantine is absolute top notch in my main rig where the Constantine's cleaner more detailed and more extended sound is required. I feel no need or desire for a different DAC there.
Out of curiosity, which interface are you using to hook up your digital files to your Havana? I ask, because I found the USB as implemented on both the Havana, and Paradisea+ to be entirely lackluster. The SPDIF on both were easily heard improvements to my ears.
That said, I actually found the PS Audio DLIII to be a more resolving DAC and at less cost than the Havana. It is available with various degrees of modifications from Cullen Circuits, but the one I directly compared was bone stock. There are lots of DACs in that price bracket that make for stiff competition. For the same money as a Havana, or just a bit more, if you can find a used Audio GD Reference 8 or 7 I'd jump on that. I have the 8 in my office system and it's a really great DAC, with remarkable resolution with no stridency throughout, and sounding entirely natural with all of the program material I listen to. I am particularly sensitive to the front end in that system because I listen to it frequently on headphones which are not very forgiving to various digital nasties.
Eugene81 - the Calyx is really something special at it's price point. It's not widely know in NA, but is getting killer reviews in Europe and Australia. I was also leaning to the Tranquility DAC, but opted for this instead. I had the Moon 300d at home for a bit (apparently very similar to the Bryston), and it left me completely cold (I called it vanilla).
The Calyx uses the Sabre chip, which like the Minimax when well implemented is really something.
Thanks for all the suggestions. Lots of interesting stuff out there! I think I'll stick with the Bel Canto for a while -- it is really growing on me -- and then skip a level and go straight to the Berkeley Alpha DAC. :)
Eugene I would definitely consider the Eastern Electric Minimax Plus based on what you are looking for. I too have the Havana and I too have the same reservations about it with large scale music. Having said that I still don't want to part with it just yet. The Minimax Plus is just an amazing piece, I have NEVER heard any component I've owned go through such changes to reach its voice. It is at once rich and resolving of the fundamental and harmonics of instruments in the soundfield. The reproduction of piano of which I am quite sensitive to is telling and nothing I've heard in my system approaches the sound I am getting with this DAC. I am still in the process of trying different tubes but let me say that this DAC may be exactly what you are looking for. The differences in tubes is even more readily apparent in the Plus than the Havana. The V-Cap upgrade will not give you more detail in the Havana but will increase dynamics, a friend did it and while it was an improvement and took some time to break in, it is not going to give you more of what you are looking for, detail. One big consideration of the Minimax is that out of the box I noticed the sound was light, it took quite a while to break-in and a few times I wondered if that was all there is? It is worth looking into and at the price point I can hardly see how you can lose anything. If you like the Havana but want the added detail, the Plus is a no reservation recommendation. The detail does not overwhelm nor is it overemphasised, it is complete and natural. Feel free to e-mail me for details.
Feel free to read what I say about the Minimax DAC Plus in my Audio Blast article at Dagogo.com. I make some extreme statements about it, but I believe the product supports them.
Tubegroover is not exaggerating, and neither do I in my article. :)
OK, just got a response from the US dealer of the Calyx 24/192 who has it in stock, albeit in black while I slightly prefer silver. About to pull the trigger, but have questions about return policy and warranty service. I'm so ADD.
I hope returns are offered, at least with a restocking fee. I get the feeling I won't need to exercise such options, but I would imagine resale value is pretty poor with a brand like Calyx, however hot the item is in some circles.
Doug - Went over to dagogo and read your rave which is very interesting. For you passive users, the MiniMax has a tubed output impedance of 3k ohms (too high) but solid state impedance of 200 ohms, which is perfect. Output vootage is 2.5v in both stages.
Doug - Could you comment on how you'd compare the Eastern Electric to other good NOS DACs (Mdht, Audio Note, Nixon) and how would you compare the tubed & solid state outputs from this DAC?
Without having much information on specific DAC specs, I would suspect higher output impedance of tubed versus SS DACS in general is a key factor in determining best general application of each similar to output from tube versus SS pre-amps. I would expect a correlation in general between lower DAC output impedance and resulting better dynamics, better detail, and lower distortion levels all other things aside. Whether the system as a whole sounds better or not as a result is harder to predict because so many other factors come into play.
Eugene sorry I missed the requirement concerning the output impedance. Yes, it is as Jult notes 3K for the tube side which would certainly not be a match for your passive pre, certainly not ideal in your situation. Then again you can always fool around with changing out op-amps, I'll bet thats fun.:)
Nice review Doug,I concur fully
Jult52, you hit upon my next area of interest, comparison to NOS DACs. To date I have heard some such as the Niko but not done side by side comparison. I know that users of NOS DACs are claiming wondrous things for them, so it should be intresting to compare.
However, I'll be honest; I have reservations that any 24 bit processing, NOS or not can perform at a level of that achieved by the stacked and paralleled ESS chips. I had an opportunity to use the PerfectWave transport/DAC which I believe has a "Native" setting and let's just say even the previous version of the EE DAC comapred quite favorably to it.
However, I am open to correction through comparison over time.
The SS output is a bit more pristine but a tad thinner, with less body, not dramatically so, but noticeably. The use of the stock tube vs. others might depend heavily on the rest of the system. But the extreme revelatory nature of the DAC is such that all tube rolling is highly efficacious.
If the rig is bass-shy I sometimes use the stock Shuguang over the Siemens, but with some loss of fine detail and air on the top. I have been staying with the tube output to add a bit more fullness in the bottom end; the Legacy Whisper DSW's in my rig are open baffle and are 22Hz, but I try to get as much out of their bottom end as I can.
I also cannot stress enough the importance of finding a superb digital cable. The quality will literally kill the performance or allow it to shine through beautifully. I would try no less than three different brands and perhaps as many as five or six to find one that is superlative - this is true with any DAC. If I were not reviewing and shooting for my best I might try as many as six to nine different digital cables; they make THAT much of a difference to the end result!
Doug - I look forward to seeing your comments on other NOS DACs when you have time to do the comparisons. In the meantime, you've really raised my curiosity about the MiniMax. Completely agree about digital cables. They make a big difference.
mhdt SS Constantine is NOS I believe and despite going second hand for under $500 generally and having heard some very expensive and top notch digital in other reference systems, I find it hard to fault whereas teh Paradisea though lovely sounding in teh right system does demonstrate some clear deficiencies and biases, at least with the stock GE tube (warm/soft but musically engaging, slightly rolled off bass, limited dynamics) although tube rolling does make a big difference as I would guess it might as well with the Havana.
I had the Havana and Bryston in my system side by side for quite a while and I thought the Bryston was better and have that as my DAC in my main system right now. I also have the Paradisea which I replaced a 3500 Wavelength Cosecant a few years ago with (I thought the Paradisea sounded better) even thought the Cosecant was 5X the price. I still think the Paradisea is really nice sounding and I ended up keeping that for my bedroom system. I just bought a Benchmark DAC for my shop system that I am upgrading so that should be a sharp contrast to either the Bryston or Paradisea. I think both the MHDT DACs are the kind where when you back and forth vs a more resolving DAC you are thinking ohhh the reverb trails aren't as long or I can hear the triangle way in the back but the thing is they seem to just flow better and make music good to listen to when you are not worrying about resolving every little nook and cranny or being in that kind of critical mode. If you like the listen ultra critical maybe some of the others are better but for just great musical flow the MHDTs are pretty great especially for the money I think.
I would agree in general with Ejlif's assessment.
I was eyeballing the Benchmark after owning the Paradisea but decided to try the Constantine first for less than half the cost and have not budged since.
The Paradisea sounds lovely even with stock tube in my second family room A/V system. Tube rolling is required to use it in my main rig otherwise things get too "tubey" sounding. WIth NOS Tung Sol tube in the Paradisea, the sound is more SS like and similar to the Constantine, but I think the Constantine is still better, at least in my rig.
I listen to a lot of rock/pop/electronica. That is where I find it harder to live with a tube DAC in my big rig. Its less of an issue in my lesser rig. If these kinds of music are not a concern, then a tube DAC is perhaps an easier choice. Of course a lot depends on the rest of your rig and getting the right balance end to end accordingly. Even the best most expensive DAC will not shine unless the whole end to end synergy is taken into account.
Well, I've got a Calyx 24/192 DAC on the way!
I also got the V-Cap OIMPs installed in my Havana. They only have about 24 hours on them but there is definitely a significant level of added clarity (and in turn inner detail) and immediacy. At this point things sound a little shut in narrow, but soundstage expansion is supposedly one of the hallmarks of these caps so I'm not worried. Interestingly it also sounds a little warmer, which may not be the best thing for this DAC.
I'll post my impressions of the Calyx once it's burned in.
Well, the Calyx is burned in and it is sounding marvelous! The scale is a great deal larger than the Havana and Bel Canto -- wider, deeper, and taller. In terms of timbre and tonality, I am more than satisfied coming from the Havana. Inner detail and articulation, image precision, dynamics, and bass definition are all great improvements over the Havana and Bel Canto. Despite the high level of detail it is not hard, etched, or bright in any way. On the contrary, some may find it too soft, but I think it is just right. Transparency and noise floor are also very good. Build quality is superb.
I am very happy and will not upgrade until I can try something like the Berkeley Alpha DAC or something else in the $5k+ range, but that is a long ways ahead. I am not even using an outboard power supply, which is now available from Calyx.
By the way, no longer using the Placette, but that was after the Calyx came in. Also upgraded my power amp twice and the Calyx is in no way outmatched by the rest of my gear. In fact, I am planning on upgrading the speakers and pre before the DAC:
Sonus Faber Cremona Auditor M
Audience AU24e speaker cables and IC (DAC -> pre)
JPS Superconductor 2 IC (pre -> power)
Audience powerChord e
Some helpful links about the DAC:
Eugene, can you tell me who the US dealer is for the Calyx? Maybe I missed it but after several failed google searches as well as failed email attempts to Calyx, I think it's time to admit defeat and just ask. Thanks...!