The EE dac is excellent. I owned the original. Highly recommended. More of a warm, organic sound than the W4S, which is likely more neutral.
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I'm new to DACs. I began with the HRT Streamer II+, and followed that with the Centrance DACmini. I was able to audition both. They are both good DACs. The Centrance in particular is excellent in the area of clarity. I only used these first 2 DACs with a Toshiba laptop however, which I no longer have. I wanted a weightier sound than I was getting from either DAC otherwise I would likely still have one of them. I recently got the Eastern Electric MM DAC Plus and it's still breaking in after 5 days. I have to say that it's made a bigger improvement in the sound coming from my speakers than any digital device I've purchased. I've owned many cd players but none of them have affected the performance of any speaker I've owned like the Eastern Electric MM DAC PLus. (separation of instruments, clarity, weight, dimensional sound, improved soundstage) It's running via coax. When I purchased this DAC, I new it was a gamble since there is no 30 day trial policy, but it's been well worth the gamble. Also, I predict that for anyone who does not like their Eastern Electric DAC Plus (which would really surprise me), I'm sure the resale value will remain high. It' my guess that this DAC will be at home in many systems. It has made me wish I tried DACs years ago. if I had, I wouldn't have gone through so many cdps. Good luck with your choice.
Van Alstine makes excellent DACs. You will not be complaining about missing any part of the spectrum, that's for sure. The output stage is what separates the wheat from the chaff in DACs and you will not be shortchanged there. A used Ultradac goes for under $700 today and that's an incredible bargain.
First off Srz888, beware of any comments that uses the phrase "crushes the competition". The EE and W4S are different but alike in the sense that they both use the Saber 32 bit processor and along with the Oppo 95, retrieve detail better than anything I am aware of at this price point. I own the EE Minimax Plus and Oppo 95 and a friend has the W4S which I recently heard extensively in my system and he the Plus in his. In addition we both listened extensively to each other's system with both DAC's. Our systems are quite different but the differences in the presentation of the DACs remained the same in both.
First off it seems that Meiwan might not have heard the W4S. I'm not sure what he means when he uses the word "neutral" and describes a completely different DAC, the original EE and giving sonic impressions of that one. After speaking with Bill at Morningstar and reading other comments concerning the original, it is evident that the Plus is sufficiently different. If I were you don't take into consideration any comments regarding the original and read into it that the Plus will be the same or similar. I haven't heard the original so have no personal opinion one way or the other but only from what others that have noted.
I find the sound of the W4S organic with a full, believable tonality to instruments with a natural pace to the presentation that lends to long listening sessions without fatigue. In this regard it is preferable to the Plus in both systems. The Plus is a bit lighter and airer from the upper midrange on up and not quite as full or rich in the midrange although it sure is no slouch in this area for sure. If you heard either for the first time I'm sure you'd be more than a little impressed. They both do detail and extract ambient information and delineate instrument and vocals equally well. It is in tonality that the differ. The bass in the W4S is more solid and a bit more visceral, at least in both systems, although I wouldn't say deeper. When I first received the Oppo 95 I was just amazed at the sound of piano especially the retrieval of ambient space and the weight of the instrument. I never heard this reproduced so well before from digital, a living breathing piano reproduced in my living room minus the live dynamics that only the real instrument has. I have a 6' Chickering Grand in an adjacent space so can compare. When I received the EE it improved in all paramenters over the Oppo. What the W4S did was offer greater weight and density of tone over the Plus. I suspect that some of these differences may be related to the differences in the power supply. Also the W4S uses a discrete regulated FET output and the Plus two separate outputs, tube and op amp and two separate power supplies for each offering many different options for fine tuning the presentation. Some will enjoy the presentation of the tube output others might prefer to keep it simple and go with the op-amp output but in any case the Plus gives you two options not to mention the ability to fine tune by using different tubes which will really allow you to do just that.
The consideration in choosing one over the other will probably come down to your system and taste more than anything else. If you have a system that is warm and on the forgiving side the Plus might prove a better fit. If you have a somewhat leaner system that highlights the midrange and upper frequencies the W4S will fill in on the weight and offer a denser tonality. In any case neither of these DAC's are bright, cool, etc. but may seem that way if introduced into a system if there is anything wrong downstream. A case of the messenger being shot for telling the truth. It would be best to audition both if you can, really only you can decide which might work best for you in your system and fit your taste. I doubt you will find a better all around performer than either of these two for the price that delivers it all, particularly detail. One more thing, if you read somewhere words to the effect of "not overwhelming you with detail" take it with a grain of salt, there is no such thing as too much detail as long as it doesn't highlight problems in the rest of your system. Less detail often equates to more forgiving as well. In the case of both these DACs it will only highlight a system issue. Good luck and Happy Hunting!
SRZ88, based on everything I've read, if low end is "what you find missing in most dacs", then you may want to increase your budget to $1500 rather than $1k and get the Wyred DAC2. I wanted a DAC with more sonic weight and low end too, but the industrial appearance of the DAC2 is an acquired taste so instead, I went with the EE Plus. At some point, I may try the Wyred DAC2 though. The EE DAC Plus is solid from the mids on down however, apparently not as much as the Wyred.
Thanks to all for the input. I especially appreciate your review, Tubegroover. Let me be a little more clear in where I am coming from. My current source is the Oppo 95 and I am more than satisfied. It provides excellent detail and soundstage (with the right cables of course), and best of all a dramatic musicality. I always found that a somewhat ridiculous term; what isn't musical about music? That is until I decided to go with a dac for my huge collection of music on an external hard drive and compared it to the Oppo. When I play a CD through my MacBook and Musical Fidelity m1 DAC (Stereophile class A), the music loses drama and the bass disappears. It is just not as enveloping. It's stale. Going back to the Oppo was an amazing difference. So I thought that perhaps a DAC that shares the Oppo 95's 32 bit Sabre chip might be the way to go, hence asking about the EE tube plus and Wyred's DAC 1 & 2. Tubegroover, I find it particularly intriguing when you say that the EE improved in all parameters over the Oppo and that in some ways the W4S even bests that. I agree that I must audition both. Unfortunately Bill from Morningstar won't allow it. I'll let you know when I am able to get my hands on each for a head to head comparison. Thanks again.
A few clarifications concerning the differences between the W4S 1 and 2. The only sonic difference is the capacitors used. My friend has a DAC 1 with the upgraded caps, the same ones used in the DAC 2. This option cost 150.00 extra over the 1K price. Sonically there are no other differences according to the manufacturer as told to my friend. The other differences are the DAC 2 has a remote with volume control, the remote also has a phase inversion option. The DAC-2 USB is 24/192 asynchronous as compared to the 24/96 Asynchronous USB the DAC-1 uses. The 2 also has HT bypass and two additional digital inputs, I2S and AES/EBU.
Srz888 yes, the Plus does improve over the Oppo. I think the Plus is a great DAC my only nit with the Plus which was a reservation even prior to purchase is greater focus on one power supply and output instead of providing two, IMHO. Maybe at 750.00 that's ok but 1.1K is more serious dough. Trying to do both, I just don't understand the thinking behind that. It is obvious that Alex Yeung of EE is a very talented designer, the Plus is an excellent product. I just hope next time around he goes all out on one output, preferrably tube, and one power supply and forget the op-amp output.
Another option for an outboard DAC that uses the Sabre DAC chipset is the new Audiolab M-DAC... http://www.audiolab.co.uk
I just (pre)ordered one from the North American distributor (Planet of Sound, in Toronto), based solely on the Pink Fish Media forum discussions (with input from John West, the designer). The specs and features compare very favorably to the W4S and Eastern Electric DAC's, at a lower price point. Early reviews have been favorable, but not much feedback yet, as few units have been shipped.
I always wonder why the chip set in the DAC is the primary concern for a prospective buyer. There is an "A" in DAC which is the analog output you are actually hearing. A cheap output stage cannot equal the sound quality of a better quality well designed output, no matter what chip set
is in front of it. A case in point, expensive amps outperform cheap ones.
RHljazz, you're absolutely correct! The analog output stage is just as (?? even more) critical than the chipset and digital implementation. Power supply likewise important. The M-DAC reportedly has a robust linear power supply (with an upgraded power supply option coming in 2012), plus a "Class A" analog output. Looks great on paper, and in the early reviews, but I've yet to hear one.