Before you give up on your DACs, you may want to try a different connection method such as a M2Tech Hiface or Evo.
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thanks for the responses.
Paul - yours is most interesting to me. Actually did a comparison tonight using both Macbook with M2tech hiface and Accustic Arts as transports and it wasn't subtle that the Oppo se was better. So question is what is wrong with my Audio Note dac if it is different in yours system. Maybe tubes, maybe my ears, not cables as used the same to compare - a headscratcher that I need to figure out.
thanks Paul - very eclectic music tastes - Classical - been reading book Cello Suites so have been listening to a couple versions of this lately, some folk - lots of Greg Brown of late, jazz - 50's Monk to Jason Moran, and yes some hard rock - been enjoying the new Black Mountain of late. All of it sounds pretty average on my Audio Note dac. As noted above some is cd and some is from hard drive (some even itunes downloads).
Ok. If you would have said you listen mostly to rock or even more processed modern pop, rap, etc. If you are listening to well-recorded acoustic music I am indeed quite surprised.
After some thought I would say it is likely you are legally deaf.
Just kidding. My AN DAC is the kit 3.1 Signature, roughly equiv to a factory DAC 3 I believe. To me it excels in smoothness and correct timbre. I hear this most (in relation to other DACs) in horns, which are so difficult to reproduce with correct harmonic balance and integrity. I find other DACs - especially ones that don't employ the AN NOS/filterless philosophy - to without except sound a bit thin or bleached in harmonics on horns.
It's been awhile since I've compared anything else but two recent players were a Marantz SA11 (pretty good on SACD) and a Modwright Transporter.
IME most decent NOS/filterless DACs get the smoothness/naturalness and the timbre fairly correct. Where the AN DAC did better to me than any of those other NOS DACs was in micro and macro dynamics. In fact until I got it (I built it almost two years ago now) I had started to conclude that NOS, while being smooth, sounded a bit flat and lifeless. That's not the case with the AN DAC *at all*. (For example, it has thunderous and very dynamic bass, possibly partly related to the very low Z of the transformer-coupled output.)
Do you find that your Oppo player makes horns sound properly full and harmonically complete? What's the rest of your system? I see you have AN/E speakers - which are certainly great and definitely have truthful timbre.
I may well be legally deaf - certainly something going on when a 3k dac and 4k transport aren't in same league as $800 blueray player.
My other gear is decent - a 300b amp and Lamm preamp. My dac is a 2.1 kit and wondering if something is not quite right with it but there was a time when it was blowing away my other sources. One of my thoughts is to see if I can get it upgraded to 3.1 dac. Going to spend some time doing serious listening with it this weekend. The Oppo is way ahead right now on both detail and dynamics - there is meat on the bones and less so with the AN / AA combo. Maybe I have become easily seduced by detail and dynamics and am missing the truthful timbre. My father in law was a horn player so will have to pull out his favourites Miles, Dizzy and some Roy Hargrove.
I wouldn't think the differences in timbre & tone would be subtle, but color me confused. Your system sounds top-notch - just the kind of gear I like - and I'm sure you can hear.
I would certainly try replacing all the tubes. In fact my DAC is probably due for a new set too. Good thing they're all cheap.
Okay - pretty embarrassed to write about this one. Had a new set of 6922's around so opened up the dac this morning to replace my older pair and found I had a set of herbie's (I love your products most of the time) tube dampers on the 6922's. Popped in the new tubes, left the dampers off and bingo dynamics, detail, and tone galore. Will let the new tubes burn in a bit but right out of the box a big improvement - don't think it was the tubes, more likely the dampers just weren't the right thing for my dac - like the cotton is out of ears! Paul thanks for all your good feedback - think problem is solved.
I knew this was the problem right away - has been a couple of years at least since I opened up the dac and timing is perfect for me being generally unhappy with it. Happened to me before with an amp where the dampers did just that - yes they got rid of the micro-phonics but they also damped the life out of the amp. Going to let the new tubes break in a bit but will do some comparisons with both new and old tubes next weekend. I have the dac in my second system right now with accuphase amp and Ellis Audio speakers and sound is now full figured and quiet compared to the dacmagic.
don't think it was the tubes, more likely the dampers just weren't the right thing for my dac
More likely the tubes. I have herbies dampers on all my tubes, but have experimented with and without them and, frankly, have noticed no discernable difference unless a tube is truly microphonic (e.g. it rings or pops when I tap on it while playing music), in which case a damper seems to help. Personnally, I have never experienced a situation where a damper actually "damped" the tone or performance of an otherwise good tube. On the other hand, individual and pairs/sets of tubes certainly can vary tremendously in performance, so the replacement of the tubes seems the most likely explanation for the improvement. IMHO. In any event, glad you were able to resolve the problem. AN DAC's are very good and are certainly sexier in a high end system than Oppo or DAC Magic :)
judging by how close it comes to my Audio Note dac and Accustic Arts transport the Oppo se is really good. I actually was surprised there wasn't more discussion about how good the se is in this thread.
That said, I think it is the weak link in my system - may start a thread about how good a cd / sacd player you have to buy to significantly hear an upgrade from the oppo.