For 349 Euros (about $440) this looks like a WORLD beater DAC! The Price is Right! (said on that old Game Show!). Lookout all you multi-kilobuck DAC's (Wadia, EMM, Chord ...)!!! Project does it again, offering superb sound and features at a beer-budget price! DISCLAIMER: I have NO affiliation with Project! Just someone sick and tired of all the B.S. hype about uber-expensive DAC's!
Well, I have owned one for about 3 weeks. I'm very happy with it. But, I definitely don't qualify as a DAC aficionado. My only prior experience was with the Audioquest Dragonfly Red.
Truthfully, I didn't expect to hear much of a difference between the Dragonfly and the Pro-Ject...I'm very skeptical of all the hype related to the uber expensive DAC's as well.
But, I was wrong. There was a noticeable difference as soon as I first fired it up. More detail in the music. More transparency and I guess I would say better imaging?
I stream Tidal and listen to their Masters MQA files quite often. I wanted to stick my toe in the water so to speak with a little more expensive DAC with MQA decoding capabilities. Had my eyes on the Brooklyn DAC+ that was mentioned above, but being skeptical of the benefits of pouring more money into a DAC, went with a "cheaper" alternative. I guess my eyes have been opened a bit to the benefits of higher quality DAC's.
I'm now actually wondering if the Brooklyn DAC would make as much difference over the Pro-Ject as the Pro-Ject made over the Dragonfly Red. Geez this hobby will put you in the poor house! Haha.
For reference, I have an Arcam AV850, B&W 804d3's / 805d3's and McIntosh MC601's / MC301's. Don't know if that means a higher quality DAC would even benefit.
Anyway...the Pro-Ject is great. Would highly recommend.
This thing arrived last night. I am very impressed so far! I thought the DAC in my Marantz NA7004 was pretty good as it has its own "filter" in the M--DAX feature. (N/A these days on newer models BTW).
Streaming TIDAL-The Project S2 took my system to an immediate and instantly recognizable level of detail. Be aware that using the supplied 5v power adapter is not recommended with the USB connection. ( I did as purist seem to swear off USB power from a pc) The 7 filters on the Project are also not available when playing MQA files.
Either way this unit , as well as the addition of the Jolida Foz SS-X Tube buffer & sound stage expander, have given me unlimited options in screwing around with different tweaks and adjustments for my OCD listening habits. A+ for value.
Actually, others have found that using the supplied 5v power adapter improves the sound even when connected via USB.
The quote below is from a discussion on the Computer Audiophile forums...
"Everyone including the designer agrees the included external power adapter will improve the sound over USB power alone. Beyond that it's not at all certain you'll hear a difference after adding other products on those inputs, because everyone's ears and systems are different. But if you like to play with these things just because you can, then in my book that's a good enough reason to spend at least whatever you've saved over the US price. :-)"
My thoughts on the Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital - terrific in its price range. Smoother, less edgy presentation than my Cambridge Audio DacMagic, without giving up any detail. I would describe the sound as right down the middle of the road: not bright, not warm. Different recordings sound different from each other, as you’d expect. Dynamic, good enough soundstage in all dimensions. Couldn’t ask more from a less than $400 DAC.
Plug and Play? No. Yes, you can plug it in with a USB connector, and all downloads will have CD quality sound, but this will not get you the MQA performance that you bought this for. Download the driver AND the digital firmware from the Project site or on the supplied CD.
MQA is available only when using a USB connector, and the external power supply is not required with connecting with USB. I haven't experimented with the power supply, upgraded power supplies (or even with non USB connectors).
With TIDAL: Settings - MQA Passthrough should be turned ON. You’ll know that you have it all correct - from listening, naturally, but also - when the S2 display shows the letters MQA and a blue dot. If you show MQB and a purple dot on the display, then you not turned on the Passthrough in TIDAL settings.
MQB vs MQA: MQA has two stages of unfolding its signal. With MQB you are instructing Tidal to perform the first of the two stages. I don’t know exactly the difference, but performance and sound are better on mine when set up as described above.
MQA vs. SACD: Usually MQA is a bit better to my ears, but its not a slam dunk, and not in all cases, at least not on my (decidedly mid fi) system, which is Adcom components and Tyler Acoustic floor standing speakers. Vs CD quality though, MQA is an enormous upgrade, in every respect.
UPSAMPLING? No. CD is CD quality, with no upsampling, and MQA is its own beast.
FILTERS: Filters are NOT engaged when listing to MQA. When not listening to MQA there are 8 filters to choose from. Too technical for my knowledge, but they all seem to deal with pre ringing, and to my ears have very very very very subtle audible differences.
PRE AMP: Meh. Leave it all the way open and use your existing pre amp. Listening direct to amp with the S2 pre amp, the sound was about the same as I described above, but lifeless - no punch, no dynamics.
Glitch: Switching back and forth from MQA to CD quality while listening throught TIDAL seems not to be perfected yet. When going from MQA back to CD, sometimes the sound quality will be thin, lacking in bass. My only solution so far is to disconnect the DAC then reconnect, or go into the TIDAL settings and manually change it from MQA to Lossless, which should happen automatically, but doesn't always. This seems to solve it. This problem does not seem to exist going FROM CD to MQA, only FROM MQA to CD.
@philtangerine - Thanks for your post. It is very informative. I actually prefer the option of non-upsampling if a DAC upsamples, and if this one doesn't, that's fine with me.
I am still curious to hear what users think of this DAC's non-USB performance at Red Book and higher resolutions. Especially curious how this might stack up against the internal DAC on the Bluesound Node 2 (for $100 more you get a streamer).
I’m also curious about its comparison with the Node2 but keep in mind a direct comparison may not be possible. Node2 delivers/streams full MQA only from its analog output. If you use any of its digital outputs, you’ll need an MQA compatible external DAC to get MQA output. For the Pro-Ject, you’ll have to either stream MQA from a laptop (presumably using Tidal app) or use MQA files on a thumb drive, through the USB port. So I guess what I’m saying is the comparison is sort of pointless since the two devices serve very different applications and you can’t substitute one for the other. In fact, you can’t even use the Pro-Ject as an external DAC downstream of Node2.
Following up on my own comments of 07/09
POWER SUPPLY: Adds a little dynamics, slightly punchier drum kicks, maybe a hair smoother presentation vs not using the power supply (which is only an option when using a USB cable). I won't bother with using the power supply, as I'm happy with the sound as is, but if I had no pre amp and were playing straight to an amp with the S2, I would use the power supply. Caution: the one poor quality component on the S2 is the power supply connection...its thinner than an iphone connection...looks like it can damage easily (which has been commented on in other reviews outside of Audiogon), so if you use it, better be ultra careful about connecting, disconnecting or accidentally pulling on it.