Yes, a comparison to the Tranquility SE would be interesting and helpful.
- 22 posts total
- 22 posts total
I have to say this DAC is quite a step up from the signature. I've been living with the Tranquility for about a year and had the opportunity to listen to both the signature and the 41 for a week. It took me a couple days to really pinpoint the differences from the Tranquility to the Signature, but after the 41 it took 2 songs. It is amazing how clear everything became. The sound stage focused. A superb presence of each instrument in its own space, width and depth. But the most amazing part is how natural (real) vocals sound. Yes, it was there before in the other DACs but not at this level. It is like a veil was lifted. Not only in detail but in the air around every word, every breath. I was not expecting such a dramatic difference. Trying to put a percentage on the sonic difference is tough. If we are talking DACs only and the Tranqulity is the base, from tranquility to signature was 15% change, it wasn't an immediate sonic difference, but when you AB them it was easier to hear the clarity and smoothness of the signature. Going from signature to the 41 would be 40%. I instantly heard the difference and could blindly pick the DAC everytime. This is only my second week so there is still is a lot of listening to do, but after the 41 I can't go back to the others (which are pretty dam good already).
I promise I’ll get to your concerns and requests, but while I have your attention, please indulge my thoughts for a moment or two.
My review might seem to be side-stepping a direct head-to-head contrast/comparison of the Tranquility SE DAC and the Ultra Fi DAC-41. And, in writing it, to a certain extent I was.
I wanted to avoid as much of the left-brain chatter that intrudes into this sort of thing as possible. If only to avoid the consumerist mentality that is supported by that kind of thinking. Yeah, I know, this is audiogon, not the tao of audio. Nevertheless, if not here… where?
Listening to music when we are there to enjoy the music and nothing else… is similar to what happens when we read a novel that takes us into its world, its people, its conflicts; we cease noticing that we are reading black and white blocks of letters and words and sentences and paragraphs and chapters on the page; in other words, instead of noticing word choice, sentence patterns, usage, style, etc. we are propelled into our imagination, and we imagine that world. The same is true of film. We walk into a building after having paid for our ticket, smell the smells of popcorn, elbow our way through the crowd, find a seat, sit looking at a screen among many people also taking their seats, and talk with one another. We are in this world. When the lights go down, the commercials and other junk pass, and the world of the film opens and is sustained, we cease to notice the projection, the screen, the crowd, the seats, in fact, we forget we are watching a movie, we are in its world.
We are perceiving in that imaginative world.
Ideally, when we listen to music for the music the world of audio disappears. If you are asking, does the DAC-41 disappear the audiophile’s left brain world into the imagined world of musicians and singers performing, similar to that of a good novel or film… well, in a minute.
Listening to music for the music involves both left and right brain processes, and one of the things that I think is very limiting in audio, time and time again, are left-brain focused reviews. Very linear, and very either-or, A vs. B evaluations occur 100% of the time when our audiophile ears are on or heads.
A implied argument in my review is the suggestion that this is not what is going on when we are listening for the music.
Is the imagined world created by Shakespeare better than Tennessee Williams in a head-to-head contrast/comparison? Is the imagined created by Bill Evans better than the world of Beethoven? I hope you can appreciate the absurdity of making such A-B evaluations.
Is the imagined world created by the DAC-41 better than that created by the Tranquility SE? I’ll get to that…
When we listen to music to experience what we value in music that left-brain linearity diminishes and is replaced by something else, which I find for the purposes of this review much more interesting and valuable. So, my fellow left-brainers, one of the things I wanted to attempt in my review was different approach. Whether that is a success or not, I’ll leave to you and interested Audiogon members to decide for themselves.
One of the things I have come to realize in the reproduction of recorded music, aka audio, is that what makes a pleasing listening experience pleasing is made up of many factors different for each system and listener. So much is subjective, something I tried to predicate in my review.
But you have asked about the differences between the Tranquility, the Tranquility SE, and the DAC-41.
Having said all these things (and remember that I am in praise of Larry Moore’s designs and products and his evolution from the iRoc to the DAC-41)… on my best system, the difference between the Tranquility SE and the DAC-41 is equivalent to the difference between the iRoc and the Tranquility SE (and more). It is an amazing step into a non-digital sounding, lifelike quality in recorded music. Bad recordings remain bad recordings. But on well-recorded music, the life-like sense of flow is amazing. And at Larry’s price, a bargain.
Understand, I have high praise for the Ultra Fi iRoc, the dbaudiolabs Tranquility and the Tranquility SE. I have lived with these DACs for a long time listening to them day in and day out, and in the case of the iRoc, for five years. The iRoc, the Tranquility, and the Tranquility SE on many systems should be outstanding fits, and the greatest capabilities of the DAC-41, particularly bass and treble extension, might be entirely lost on those systems that are optimized by those other DACs.
In order to hear all of what the DAC-41 is fully capable of, it needs to be on a system that allows the revelation of those capabilities and qualities.
On my two other systems which also have DAC-41s, (btw, my review was based on the commercial DAC-41, not prototypes), the DAC-41is just amazing, much better in bass, treble, midrange, liquidity, depth, and presence than the Tranquility SE, the Tranquility, or the iRoc. But because of the limitations within those systems what the DAC-41 brings to them is less than what is revealed on my most revealing system.
On my most revealing system, the DAC-41 makes my preamp’s medical grade Telefunken 12AX7s and Brimar 6060 T 12AT7s strut and swag their upper register extension in ways I’ve never heard before on my system. The bass extension is, likewise, as they used to say in the 70’s, “not too shabby.”
I fully realize that if I had amps, a preamp, speakers and cabling of far better quality than I currently own, the DAC-41 would probably reveal qualities in music which are currently unavailable in my system. So, in my opinion, the DAC-41 is mispriced. It is a bargain.
I don’t know Electromatic who posted above this reply, but I agree with his comments entirely. I’m not too enthusiastic about percentages in this context, but I agree with his conclusions.
Now as to “audio porn” that highfinut604 brought up… That, I had never thought of.
Immediately I thought of the possibilities:
in reviewing cabling, single-ended verses Xlr;
in reviewing speakers, the o qualities of woofers and tweeters; the big bad bass and tiny tweeters (“I like champagne glass tweeters myself’);
in reviewing amps and preamps, tube vs. solid-state;
in reviewing speaker cables, naked connections vs. banana-plug…
ah, the endless possibilities… so little time… so much possibility!
but thanks for the inspiration.
It made me think of that famous quote from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in his remarks regarding the case known as Jacobellis vs. Ohio in 1964 when he said, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it…” (from Wikipedia).
You must have known it to see it; beauty is in the eye of the beholder, etc. etc. etc…
Get your hands on DAC-41; in my humble opinion, you’ll love it!
One other thing I thought I might add to my comments.
I attend house concerts on a frequent basis. Friends who have connections in the music industry book musicians and their groups to play their music in someone's home. We all pay up equal shares to meet the costs of the gig.
So I have a great familiarity with sitting in very close proximity to musicians playing and singing, usually unamplified aka acoustic.
When I listen to my best systems with the DAC-41 on board, and I listen to these same musicians whom I have heard live, I have that distinct sense of "being there."
I know the proxemics of a live performance and their effects on music. The DAC-41 replicates that for me.
Hope that answers a few questions!
Ed, as a regular concert-goer I appreciate how your comments are based around the context of real music and musical enjoyment. As an audiophile, however :-), there are some things I would like to know. In my searching I have not found any information about even the basic I/O of this new DAC. The picture on AC (and on the Ultra website)is only of the front. What sort of conectivity does the DAC-41 have? Does it have a built in PS or an external supply?