Playback Designs vs. Berkeley


Anyone compared the Playback Designs DAC or player to the Berkeley Alpha DAC head-to-head? With or without external source for the PDS?
bigamp
I was about to ask the same question. Have you learned anything insightful? Thanks.
Contact Bruce Brown at Puget Sound Studios. He has done the comparison. Also Mike Lavigne.

Jonathan Tinn
Playback Designs
Let us know what you think.
i did this comparison a few years back and at the time it was only on Redbook. i had just got the Playback and a friend sent me the Berkeley to compare for him as he was considering the 2 units.

i used the Playback as a transport into the Berkeley.

it was not close; the Playback was much better.....more dynamic, more detail, more body, more real.

again; this was not using a music server as a source and no hi hez content.

i would also refer anyone with this question to Bruce Brown for the best answer; who not only has these 2 units but most of the other SOTA dacs as well.
From everything I've read about the Playback Designs, sounds like an exceptional unit and I would love to own one.
For those that can afford one it's probably the way to go.
The thing is, many of us have to be satisfied with the Toyota rather than the Bugatti.
Of course, I take it for granted the Bugatti will beat the Toyota, but the Toyota will still get you there.
The PD MPS-5 was reviewed/tested in the 2/10 issue of Stereophile.

Some folks over on the Computer Audiophile forum think the Metric Halo ULN-8/LIO-8 also sound much better the Berkeley Alpha DAC.

Unless you have a large DSD collection, I'd check those units out before spending $15K on the PD MPS-5.
Kana813: I think he was asking about the Playback Designs DAC (MPD-5), not the player (MPS-5). It is $4000.00 less.

SACD/DSD collections really have very little to do with why people are buying a PD. Most of the owners we have use them for redbook and hi-res off of a computer. Being able to play SACD is just a bonus.

Best Regards,
Jonathan Tinn
Playback Designs
I guess we've had our Playback about 2 years now. To me, it's the best sounding, most honest DAC I've heard.
I spent about 2 years trying a bevy of digital converters for mastering. Before I got the PB, I felt the DAD AX24 had the best DAC section made. We've had in here the Berkeley, Prism Dream, dCS 9xx, PM2, Lavry Gold, EMM/Meitner, UA2192, Crane Song Avocet, Dangerous ST, Genex and more I can't remember right now. We still have the AX24, EMM/Meitner and Avocet that we're using every day.
The best thing about the PB is the coherency. From the lowest of lows to the upper frequency extremes, the PB is the most linear of them all. The DAD excells in the mids/upper freq and the EMM/Meitner does great from the mids on down. The PM2 is bottom heavy to me which the Berkely also exhibits that trait. The only downside I see to the PB is that the USB only goes up to 48k. We use the Lynx AES16 via AES/EBU into the PB and it sounds magical. The DAD is very analytical, which is good for picking apart music. The PB will let you hear deep into the music as well but it won't draw attention to itself and it's not fatiguing over extended periods of time unlike the DAD.
The Berkely we felt is musical, but it didn't allow us to hear the low level details needed to make critical adjustments to clients files without second guessing. With the PB, it's the only DAC that I've heard where I can actually sense the size of the venue by the ambience. If I make a .5dB adjustmet at 125Hz on the mastering console, I know it's because the music needed it and not because of a poor DAC design.
Mr.Tinn-

Sorry I missed that he was asking about the $11K Playback Designs MPD-5 DAC, which still cost more than twice as much as a Metric Halo ULN-8/LIO-8.

The MPD-5 has no analog inputs and it's USB can only handle sample rates up to 48kHz. It's other digital inputs are formatted for stereo linear PCM data, so there goes the SACD bonus of the MPS-5.;-)

In addition to their analog and standard digital inputs, PCs & MACs can be connected to the Metric Halo ULN-8/LIO-8 via asyncronous 24/192 firewire. They're multi channel units which can provide digital crossovers and EQ for subs and surround systems.

Aloha.
Kana813: The Metric is a good pro-audio dac. It certainly does not compare to our products, nor is it meant to. You should really find a way to listen to it.

I will tell you that we have a DAC coming out which will be officially released at CES in January at half the price of our current converter. It will do beyond 5.6 mHz through USB. This feature will also be available to all of our existing customers with their current converters.

As far as analog inputs, we never felt a need for it, nor is there a demand from any of our customers for this feature.

You stated: "Unless you have a large DSD collection, I'd check those units out before spending $15K on the PD MPS-5." My statement was related to your referencing the MPS-5 which, of course, is an SACD/CD player and you absolutely benefit from it playing SACD which is a bonus.:) What I mean is, I do not think the majority of those that have purchased the MPS-5 bought it for SACD. They mostly listen to redbook and seem to love it. Also another correction, the MPD-5, indeed, can play multi-channel SACD through the PLink digital optical input.

You and I have gone down this road before and I sense a bit of sarcasm and hostility. I certainly hold no ill will toward you and would be happy to entertain further discussions off line.
Jtinn: "It will do beyond 5.6 mHz through USB. This feature will also be available to all of our existing customers with their current converters."

Hi,
Will this be a software or hardware upgrade for existing customers?

Also what are the features of the new converter and how would it compare to the MPD-5.

I ask as I have just ordered the MPD-5.

Thanks
Jtinn,
Will the new DAC have volume control?
Mr.Tinn

“The Metric is a good pro-audio dac. It certainly does not compare to our products, nor is it meant to. You should really find a way to listen to it.”

The Metric Halo ULN-8/LIO-8 are great DACs and can compare to best audiophile units.

I’m interested in hirez PCM playback from a PC or NAS without the use of a soundcard or converter, so there’s no reason for me to find a way to listen to the Playback Designs units.

I hold no ill will toward you. I understand that you’re a dealer/distributor promoting his products. I’m not interested in any of the products that you sell, so there’s no need for us to communicate off line.

Good luck with your new DAC.

Aloha,
Kana813: Thank you.
I've heard and used the MH converters a number of times doing location recording. It's a great, but it doesn't hold a candle to the PD or even the Grimm, AX24 or even the Meitners.
Crna39-

If you've compared the MH UNL-8/LIO-8 to the PD MPD-5, what
was system?

Most audiophiles that are using the MH UNL-8/LIO-8 as a DAC/preamp are feeding it via firewire from a Mac using Amarra playback software.
I switched from Berkeley to PD MPS-5 earlier this year. First, I think Berkeley is an excellent unit and for the price, it is hard to beat and it was significantly better than my old DAC Esoteric D-05. Also, I supposed I never used it to its full potential as I am using ASR integrated amp so I never tried it connecting directly to amplifier which is supposed to be the best way to connect Berkeley.
However, in my system, PD improves upon Berkeley strenght in just about everyway. Berkeley weakness my system was its bass' tendency to be on the fat slow side. PD was much better in that respect. PD has as nice rich sounding mid range, a tad more forward than Berkeley but offer better detail and imaging and more open top. Berkeley sounds a bit darker in this respect. I can't tell if value wise it is worth 3x the price but adding a good transport and SACD capability, I consider it a good buy. I listen to my digital music mostly through a computer music server so the comment between Berkeley and PD was through the same server.

Jonathan, I wonder if you can elaborate the upcoming USB upgrade a bit more. I am in the process of auditioning Weiss INT202 to compare to my Lynx AES 16 card but it seems like I should wait to see what's going on with PD USB first.
"If you've compared the MH UNL-8/LIO-8 to the PD MPD-5, what
was system?

Most audiophiles that are using the MH UNL-8/LIO-8 as a DAC/preamp are feeding it via firewire from a Mac using Amarra playback software"

The system was a Mac Pro using FW to the MH unit. The sofware was Sonic SoundBlade. We also used the MH with AES/EBU so we could quick A/B with the other converters.
Crna39-

"The system was a Mac Pro using FW to the MH unit. The sofware was Sonic SoundBlade. We also used the MH with AES/EBU so we could quick A/B with the other converters."

What MH unit did you use and what soundcard was in the Mac Pro to output AES/EBU?

Where the DACs connected directly to active monitors/amps?
Su,

Did you run the intergrated wide open and use the dac's volume control?
We're comparing a $5000 DAC to a $15000 CDP here, isn't that kinda like apples and oranges?
It's not surprising that the PD sounds better, it should.
Tab110s

Usually I set Berkeley DAC volume at 55 and use ASR volume control. I also tried setting ASR volume at 51 which according to ASR is a neutral position where there is no active gain and use Berkeley volume control. However, Berkeley gain is rather low and at full volume on Berkeley sometimes it still was not enough.
"Jonathan, I wonder if you can elaborate the upcoming USB upgrade a bit more. I am in the process of auditioning Weiss INT202 to compare to my Lynx AES 16 card but it seems like I should wait to see what's going on with PD USB first."

Suteetat: We already have transfers through USB of up to 384 kHz. We expect to be able to transfer over 5.6 MHz through a USB connection shortly. You might even hear it at CES if you care to visit!
"What MH unit did you use and what soundcard was in the Mac Pro to output AES/EBU?

Where the DACs connected directly to active monitors/amps?"

Kana813: We were using the Sonic 305 which is a Sonic branded ULN-8 with a Lynx AES16 card.
The DAC's were connected through a Crane Song Avocet (modified by Dave Hill) and Pass Labs XA-100.5 monoblocs.
Jonathan, thanks for the information. Another quick question, is there already a firmware upgrade or something that would let the current PLayback support 384 kHz USB input available or is it only a working prototype that will be incorporated in the USB upgrade that you mention.
This is a bit unclear to me. I assume there will be some kind of USB driver to support this as it is unlikely that Window will support this natively.

Also for 5.6 MHz transmission, I assume that it would be useful for DSD but I am not sure how useful that is going to be unless there is a way to copy SACD to HD.

I will not be at CES but some friends are going there and I will ask them to take a look for me.
"We were using the Sonic 305 which is a Sonic branded ULN-8 with a Lynx AES16 card.The DAC's were connected through a Crane Song Avocet (modified by Dave Hill) and Pass Labs XA-100.5 monoblocs."

Crna39-

Appreciate the additional info.

Computer Audiophiles don't need or use a control units like the Crane Song Avocet with the MH units to directly driving their amp(s)or active speakers.

Perhaps the Avocet masked or colored the superior sound of the MH based unit in your system.

IMO, less boxes and cables = better SQ.
As the original poster, just FYI, I bought the PD DAC last year. Couldn't be happier.

Jonathan, that's very cool news about DSDx2 via USB. I've been tinkering in the computer audiophile world for a few years now, and for me that capability has been the ultimate format that no one has provided. Before I bought the PD, I considered getting the DAD AX24 because it can do 5.6MHz via some esoteric connections and soundcards, but that didn't seem practical. If PD can do it via USB, that's a great solution.
An old thread, but worth revisiting as some changes have hit since. The USB-X is out. The Berkeley has been rev'd and now has an outboard USB converter as an available "upgrade".
I have not compared the two DACs, but as the owner of an Alpha with its USB interface (just arrived) I can say that the result is incredible. I am not quite in agreement with those who suggest a direct coupling with the power amplifier, in my case a pre DMC15 and a DMA 150S2 (Spectral). The addition of pre gives greater detail and depth, as well as dynamic.