Possible New DAC for Discrete Opamp Rolling


It's been a while...
I got into discrete opamp rolling in the Eastern Electric Minimax DAC Supreme years ago when I reviewed it for Dagogo.com. Time has passed, and I still use the beautiful DAC, sans tube, and roll discrete opamps in it. Knowing how technology advances, I'm sure that there are a few new toys on the market for discrete opamp rolling. 

So... what are the contenders for best new DAC toy for such rolling? Anyone with experience with the EE DACs have a recommendation? I am talking about the socketed opamp that is dropped in. I'm not looking to solder these. I want quick change ability. 

I see that since I last demoed the Burson, DEXA NewclassD and Sparkos Labs there are several new models of opamps from them. Any new players? 

I would appreciate information on any of the following:

1. Experience with the latest discrete opamps for the EE Minimax DAC Supreme, including both the companies I mentioned and new companies. 

2. New DACs offering quick change discrete opamp rolling. I would entertain ideas of a dedicated DAC or integrated DAC, but I am not seeking headphone use; this is for the big rig. 

Thanks; your contribution will save me hours of searching! 
douglas_schroeder
I've been using an older ( V3's, I believe they are up to V5 now) set of the Burson Op amps in my DAC. It allowed me to hold on to my ancient MSB DAC for another couple years. I'd say the Burson units have improved all aspects of the sound. most notability the sound stage, mid bass and bass. I had to mount mine on the flexible extenders, no issues. Even though its time to dump the old MSB DAC the Burson op amp's will find a new home in something else.  

glen 
glen, nice to hear from you, and you seem to know the benefit of rolling discrete opamps. I have an email sent off to Burson to see what they recommend for my EE Minimax DAC Supreme. I saw one guy put the V5 into it (dual and single), so I know that would work. I presume the V6 would work, and from the highly scientific analysis (facetious; they show a chart of descriptive factors) it seems the V6 Classic would appeal to me. 

But, I'm also talking DACs, and I'm somewhat surprised that there have been no recommendations yet. What does that mean? Aren't there any high quality DACs with swappable opamps? One should not have to go to a megabuck MSB to get to roll opamps. I sure hope that we're not down to cheap headphone combo DAC/Preamps as selection for rolling opamps.  :(


I tried the Burson V5 at one point and wasn't too terribly impressed.  However, the new V6 Vivid op amps are excellent.  Much better resolution and they sing!  However, the best opamp I think are the Sonic Imagery 994Enh (or the 992 if you need a single channel op amp).  They have the absolute best resolution and clarity, but they are huge and are very demanding on the power supply and require power supply capacitors mounted very close to the pins.  I actually have soldered 3 caps directly onto the top of the op amp itself (330uf + 100uf + 47uf + 0.1uf MKP).  If you want a clean/clear bipolar Krell type of sound, these are the best.  However, the Burson are slightly warmer but with excellent clarity if you want something towards that sound.  Burson are very compact, but even they need some good power supply caps very near the pins.

I tried the Orange discrete opamps.  They are okay I guess, but lacked resolution and clarity.  They are probably about equal to the opa627 monolitic op amps.

The Sparkos are nice, much better than any monolithic opamp, but they are soft in the highs and slightly warm in a clean/bipolar way (when you have proper power supply).  Overall excellent, but the V6 Vivid and Sonic Imagery are better.

If you can find a used L.K.S MH-DA003 DAC, that might be a good platform to do op amp rolling. 
auxinput, splendid reply, thanks! You obviously know what you are doing in regard to this subject. 

Are you indicating that the Sonic Imagery 994 Enh (or 992 single) require additional caps? i.e. That it is not recommended to use these without modification of the EE Minimax DAC Supreme? Or, are you indicating that optimal performance will not result without addition of caps? The way you described the use of the Sonic Imagery opamps it sounds like damage could result if the unit is not modified. 

I'm not sure if Sparkos Labs has changed their discrete opamps in the past several years; they appear the same. NewClassD looks revolutionized, and I have a message in to them, too. 



Hey douglas.  None of these op amps will cause damage if they are put into an un-modified device.  Don't even worry about that.  They are all designed to work exactly as a standard monolithic op amp.  However, these high current discrete op amps can sound somewhat bright/thin and have a solid state harshness if they are starved for power.  Looking at internal pictures of the Minimax, I can see that there are some capacitors close to the op amps, but I cannot tell if these are power supply caps or if they are DC signal blocking caps.  In any event, if you want to try out different op amps, go for it.  As I said, the Sonic Imagery are the best in my opinion, but they are absolutely huge and will not physically fit in some locations.  The Burson V6 Vivid is second place and gives a little less resolution and more warmth, but it still has more overall resolution than the Sparkos.  The Sonic Imagery are the most demanding, but even the Burson V6 Vivid and the Sparkos can sound a little thin/bright without good power.  Making sure you have a good amount of power capacitance very close to the op amp will make the op amp sound smoother and fuller.

I have tried the previous generation NawClassD op amps and regulators and was completely unimpressed with their stuff.  The op amps were the Special Edition with super fast slew rates.  In some ways they sounded better than monolithic, but after some time listening, I could tell that there were problems with the sound and resolution/air.  The regulators were complete crap and made any equipment sound like low resolution consumer electronics.  I have not tried the new models they have release.  The design is different and uses different discrete components, but I don't know what the result is.

The Sparkos regulators are absolutely amazing!  I recommend them for replacing any existing 78xx/79xx voltage regulators (if you are adept at desoldering/soldering projects).

In my opinion, the best monolothic op amps are opa627, opa827 and ad797, but all three of these have compromises in one fashion or another and are not as good as the discrete op amps.
You may have missed my suggestion, but if you want, keep your eye out for a used L.K.S. MH-DA003 DAC, which is the previous model (maybe on ebay or audiogon). These are excellent DACs and have sockets for swappable op amps. Not many DACs have the sockets and most are soldered directly in. I have a Emotiva XDA-2 DAC and i have to remove the op amps and put in sockets so that I could "roll". You could probably get the LKS for about $1k or maybe less.
auxinput, have you tried mixing and matching the the brands? I did a lot of that with the first flight of Burson, NewClassD, and Sparkos years ago, and I was able to attain much more range of results. It's a time consuming thing to try all variables with many Opamps, but imo well worth it. With the variety of combinations I was able to tune the DAC to any rig I established. I'm looking for even more capability with the new Bursons, and I will probably try the Sonic Imagery. 

Yes, I saw the DAC recommend. Your advice has been hugely helpful! 
Yeah, I have tried a massive amount of combinations.  It's always a give-and-take or elements of additive/removal depending on what combinations you use.  At this point, I run a combination of Sonic Imagery 994Enh and Burson V6 Vivid in my Emotiva DAC and Rane stereo line mixer / preamp.  I only run the Burson because I have several spots where the Sonic Imagery just won't fit and the V6 Vivid is the next best op amp (for resolution and transparency).

There are hardly any DACs out there that I know of which still use socketed op amps.  Most will have the op amps soldered directly onto the board and many actually use the very tiny SMD op amps.  The LKS is one that I know of that still used sockets.  You could also look at an Asus Essence DAC (such as the Essence III), but I suspect the LKS is highly superior (but could be hard to find).  There could be other DACs with sockets.

On another note, if you want to roll opamps, the Kinki Studio EX-M1 integrated amplifier has socketed op amps for the preamp/driver stages.  These are ripe for some Burson V6 op amps and would make a really "awsome for the money" integrated with discrete input stage when upgraded with the Burson.