Well, I have a Meridian 563 DAC. It's quite good on Redbook CDs; obviously it won't decode DSD or higher sampling rates. I've had a chance to compare it to a Naim DAC (the larger case, not the shoebox nDAC), and the much newer and more expensive Naim is quite a bit better - more extended, better grip, more transparent, etc. It retails new for something like $4500 and I wound up with the 563 for less than 10% of that.
I also thought the Meridian was decisively better than the DA section of the Oppo 105 (I had one in home for the 30 day trial).
On the other hand, the Chord Hugo was quite a bit better, and new retail in the US is, IIRC, about $2500.
Moving down pricewise, the only other modern DAC I've tried was the Wyred $1500 version. I'd give the edge to the Wyred, but not by much, and not in everything - the Meridian has a better sense of ease - things flow better - but the Wyred offers more clarity and transparency.
Most of the vintage high end dacs used Multibit dac chips, today these are very expensive and hard to get, some dac manufacturers are even making discrete version Mulitbit for their costly dacs.
If you want just to get the best from your 15,000 PCM Redbook cd’s then go either new age Multibit, which will cost you, or go used vintage hi-end.
One vintage Multibit cdp I can particularly point you to, would be the Mark Levinson ML39. good luck finding one, as they need to be pried away from their owners.http://www.stereophile.com/cdplayers/292/#QmLYpoGWQvrRLq9m.97
I have been buying and listening to cd players and dacs since digital started. Recently I came across an old Phillips cd player which used the very famous 1451 or is it 1541 multibit chip. The unit sounded very nice and very musical. I now own an Audio-GD Master 7 dac and it is way beyond the Phillips sonically though more money. Digital today is much better than it used to be. Even a few years ago. Even yesterday. I am a big fan of R2R, Ladder or multibit dacs especially if they are NOS (non oversampling)
My own experience, having owned a Theta Casanova long after it’s prime, is that it’s sadly very much still touch and go.
More than a decade after the Casanova was out of production it was still better sounding than a lot of mass market processors I tried to replace it with. This wasn’t just me, this was also done with music lovers who came to my home and didn’t know brands at all. They clearly preferred the Theta.
I’m not able to afford modern Theta, or really been able to listen to it, so it took me a long time to find a DAC I thought was actually better, and affordable.
This is actually a shame to me. Usually over time technology trickles down, so that what is "high end" in one decade becomes common in the next. What HAS trickled down is features, what has not is sound quality. The Casanova did 96/24 (believe it or not) and while 96/24 decoding has become quite common and mass produced, the quality of the sound is still inconsistent at EVERY price range.
One oddity I discovered when examining test results from vitamin suppliers via Consumer Labs is that the vitamin quality was WORSE at the very top and the very bottom. However, vitamin suppliers within the median range of pricing tended to have the most consistently good quality. I’ve observed this to remain true in audio gear as well. These are generalities, not absolute guarantees that any product, given price X will have quality Y. It has however kept me from aspiring to gear I can’t afford anyway.
What I will say is that you have to have an open mind and open ear. If you do, you can find some really nice bargains. Like the wine bottle analogy I use. I don’t want to find a $300 bottle of wine that tastes great, I want to find a $20 bottle that tastes great. :) And unfortunately that takes work as well as an iconoclastic disposition, so when I find it, I grab on tight.
Most of the vintage high end dacs used Multibit dac chips, today these
are very expensive and hard to get, some dac manufacturers are even
making discrete version Mulitbit for their costly dacs.
want just to get the best from your 15,000 PCM Redbook cd’s then go
either new age Multibit, which will cost you, or >>go used vintage hi-end.<<
vintage Multibit cdp I can particularly point you to, would be the Mark
Levinson ML39. good luck finding one, as they need to be pried away
from their owners.
This gets exactly to the core the issue. I take your comments to suggest that >>>SONICS<<< have not
really improved, at least not against the $5000+ DAC's of the 90's. In features and connectivity the old stuff is clearly primitive, but this isn't about that. As it happens I'm running the once-legendary combo of Sonic Frontiers SFD-2 MKIII + Assemblage D2D-1. [see system here https://systems.audiogon.com/systems/6097
By my reading the SFD-2 MKIII starts where the ML39 leaves off: PMD-200 filter (upgraded PDM-100 with HDCD and more) vs PDM-100 in ML39 and 8x PCM1704 D/A's vs 4 in ML39. SF said at the time: "These chips are placed in a fully balanced topology with 2 converters in parallel per channel per phase." It's fully balanced throughout (of course ;-) and goes up to 24b/96khz with lots of other technical bells and whistles that I don't understand.
So, if the ML39 qualifies as superb vintage high end kit then the SFD-2 MKIII certainly would too - though it's even more obscure and was produced in tiny numbers. All the tech stuff wouldn't matter if it didn't sound good - which it does! Superb in fact. It has no sonic shortcomings that trouble me, my concern was that advances had left it behind. I'm not interested in all the hassles of researching, auditioning, shipping, yada yada if the odds aren't good that I'll find a major audible improvement for less than $3000 (kind of arbitrary budget).
Elaboration or rebuttals welcome. Cheers!
Ive heard the modded trivista from parts connection it hits wayyy above the cple g investment
and it 10 yrs old
All you guys are convincing me that trying to improve on the SFD-2 MKIII - which is "free" cause I already have it - would be very expensive at best and maybe not result in meaningful improvements anyway. That's a happy outcome cause it makes my life easier, thank you very much! Thanks for saving me a lot of money and effort!
[sidebar - interestingly the SFD-2 MKIII uses the same OPA627 op amps as the modded Trivista. Those boys at Parts Connexion do know their stuff.]
@raueda1 I can't find much online about the Mk3 but the Mk2 version of your dac looks pretty killer very robustly built with a serious looking power supply! And some great reviews as well. Assuming the Mk3 is built along the same lines it's undoubtedly a very fine dac that might indeed give modern dacs a run for their money. Here's a thought rather than improve on it perhaps improve it? Parts Connexion does mods on SF gear, why not see if there is a mod they recommend for your dac?
@raueda1 I’ve often wondered the same thing. My Redbook NOS DAC was fairly hi-end in the late ’90’s. Replace, upgrade or what? Since I’m comfortable with a soldering iron, I decided to replace all of the caps with really good ones recommended by fellow Audiogoners. Wow!!! It’s sounds amazing. Being local to T.H.E. Show in Newport Beach, I can easily reference it to other systems on display. Mine still holds its own quite easily. Yet, even before the cap swap, I’ve always been a firm believer that tweaking the cabling, power and isolation can change the sound of a component. My jaw nearly bounced off the floor when a WyWires Gold PC was plugged into my DAC. If I had been blindfolded, I would have sworn that somebody substituted a totally different component. As we all know synergy is king. The fun part of this hobby is trying to find it.
The short answer to your question is easy: No. You will not get better sound from Redbook CDs than what you have now without spending more than $3K.
I use a Meridian 598 DP as transport into the 563, and the combination sounds very good, and on Redbook CD is competitive with most of what's available today.
So stick with your SFD.
I can't find much online about the Mk3 but the Mk2 version of your dac
looks pretty killer very robustly built with a serious looking power
supply! And some great reviews as well. Assuming the Mk3 is built along
the same lines it's undoubtedly a very fine dac that might indeed give
modern dacs a run for their money. Here's a thought rather than improve
on it perhaps improve it? Parts Connexion does mods on SF gear, why not
see if there is a mod they recommend for your dac?
The MK3 was offered as an upgrade to the MK2. The main thing was a new digital board and input modules compatible with the D2D-1 (which was thought of as companion piece). I think they only built a couple hundred boards so they're rare as hen's teeth, hence very little info in the larger audiophile community and not something Stereophile would review. SF claimed that the MK3 digital module blows the MK2 away. When I did the MK2 ==> MK3 upgrade Parts Connexion did indeed offer several further upgrade packages. I actually did spring for one of them but I can't remember exactly what it was - some fancy new caps and direct output coupling maybe. So it's like an MK3 Gold Edition.
In any case this thing is very serious hardware. It sounded great in 2001 and it sounds great now. Yet there's this mantra of "digital has improved greatly." The farther this thread goes the more I'm convinced that it's much more nuanced than that. Maybe something like this:
- New(er) gear has far more features and flexibility than in the past.
- At the low and medium end things ARE much cheaper than earlier and perform far better than their counterparts 15 or 20 years ago at a similar price point.
- At the high end this doesn't follow. To make a sonic improvement I'd have to spend a bloody fortune.
So, this is all wonderful! I keep it, quit worrying and just enjoy it. For tweaking I'll look at cables, room treatments etc. Thanks to all!
Sounds like a great plan to me! Happy listening!
Room treatment will also be jaw dropping , easily one of my best upgrades . I use gik
Next to speakers, room treatment is 2nd most important component! Cheers,
I'd say room treatment was more important than speakers. :) In the sense that once you have good room treatment you won't swap it out, but you may change speakers a dozen times.
It's also a bit of a chicken and egg problem though. Consider for instance, that with room treatment, smaller speakers seem fuller, and larger speakers don't sound muddy and boomy. So, in fact, good room treatment changes what speakers you may be happy with.