I'm getting my digital closer to analog while retaining the "good" qualities of digital...
I thought I'd drop in a post on this subject because it’s one that is of interest to many folks.
I’ve always run digital and analog front ends--since about 1988. As of the late 90s, I really though digital had the edge. In about 2015, someone here pushed me to get a ’real deal’ phono preamp. I took the plunge to a Manley Chinook and it was eye, or shall we say, ear-opening. When I compared the best analog record to the best digital, my analog won out time and time again. So I had an issue--I just couldn’t buy everything on vinyl and Tidal has so much to offer. Hence I began exploring making my digital sound better.
I tried 3 different DACs and settled on an NAD M51. When I paired the M51 with a Schitt Freya preamp and ran it with NOS tubes, I was a couple of very big steps closer to closing the gap between my vinyl source and digital.
Today I inserted a Doge 7 tube DAC into the mix. The Doge 7 is a poor man’s Lampizator. Even with the stock Shunguang tubes this is really a superb piece of equipment. The unit shipped via DHL and FedEx from Asia. I got it about 9 days from payment. It came in a custom built crate and was triple boxed. The Doge 7 is weighty and well-built. The remote is splendid. It’s small, heavy aluminum and well laid out with simple features. Without going into detail, there’s nothing I don’t like about the build, feature layout, inputs/outputs, etc. This is a quality piece of gear. There is nothing I can find about it that looks or feels like anything but high quality. I have built 3 tube amps and have sourced internal and external components. I can say in my humble, limited building opinion, Doge did a nice job. Now, I have to reserve judgment on the innards as I haven’t opened the unit to tube roll or explore--you know to see if Doge actually used the high capacitors they tout on their website. I trust there will be no issue and I’ll find the circuitry is well laid out and quality parts are inside--but I really do not know that yet. Just trying to be honest and accurate here. Based on the service and communication I had in buying it from the Asia distributor, I expect to have no complaints, yet we shall see. [Note: I’m a little fussy; while I love my top of the line Primaluna I wish they would have used some better caps in certain spots--I would’ve paid more for them.]
Now onto the sound. I have 3 immediate takeaways.
First, the unit sounds wonderful and really does sound more analog than a lot of traditional DACs. The DOGE 7 uses a 32 bit ESS Sabre ES9018 chip and a 6 tube analog output stage if you use unbalanced outputs or an 8 tube analog output stage if you use balanced outputs.
Second, the NAD M51 paired with the Schitt Freya was really, really good to at this act. But the NAD needed tubes to add more holographic picture and dial back that digitally forced sound I typically associate with digital sources. I could happily live with the Schitt Freya tube preamp stage + NAD M51 or this Doge 7. Both get me demonstrably closer to analog sound.
I have to say that comparing the Schitt NAD setup to the Doge setup is a little tricky so early because the NAD M51 DAC has so much more SNR that I think I have to get used to the Doge for a bit to really see into the nuances of their differences. My initial reaction is the NAD is bolder sounding than the Doge. The Doge may be more delicate with detail, allowing details to easily walk into the picture.
Third, I need to break it in and also explore tube rolling. The stock Shuguang tubes sound fine, but my experience tells me I have to exhaust some tube rolling potentials to see where it takes me.
If you are looking for a poor man’s Lampizator, try the Doge 7. It cost me $1400 or so shipped (they give a discount if you give them a couple of friend’s email addresses to send marketing mailers to, which I did). I’ve seen so many folks in the same camp as me--loving the vinyl section of their rig but wanting to get more out of their digital.
What a great time we live in!