Running DCS Vivladi DIRECT?


Hey Folks,

Anybody out there who cares to comment on running the Vivaldi DAC direct  to the Power amp.

Please compare with running through your favorite preamp and elucidate the differences.

Thanks & keep enjoying our hobby!

Ag insider logo xs@2xsthekepat
While I have nothing to observe regarding the transparency of the digital volume control in then Vivaldi I can observe that the line driver circuit in the Vivaldi is not as good as it could be. Having compared single ended and balanced outputs using identical cabling I found the single ended to be substantially more transparent.

I run my Vivaldi into an ARC Ref 40 and this is a great combination, the RF then drives 10M of balanced cable to my amps - something the Vivaldi would not be comfortable with at all

I also found marked differences between the output level settings with .6V sounding much better than 2V, this may however be a function of interaction with the preferred range on my preamps volume control

Very interesting. I saw you mention
the single ended vs balanced difference before. Running into my Soulution 700, I do see transparency is better running directly. The Preamps I use are the best I have tested so far (MFA Magnetic Reference Silver edition). Of course I only run 2 meters of balanced cable from the DAC.

Were the input impedance of the amps very low in your case?

Regards & Thanks.

The Ref 40 input impedance is 60k SE, 120k balanced. The Vivaldi spec recommends 10k-100k ohm

Isn't the Ref 40 the preamp?

What 's the input impedance of your amps?

I run my Rossini into my pre-amp, but I haven't plugged it directly into my amp as yet. I could check, but I am not sure what condition I would be looking for apart from a different sound, no change, or no sound. It's no Vivaldi (drool), but if sounds bl**dy great.
42k for the VTL MB450III, but not sure why that’s relevant as I’ve never tried driving them direct from the DCS ...
I have run my Vivaldi DAC directly into my ARC Ref 250SE’s and felt running the DAC into my Ref 10 preamp gives better sound - I agree with Folkfreak the line stage in the Vivaldi is not as good as it should be - especially for the money.
I run my Vivaldi into an ARC Ref 40 and this is a great combination, the RF then drives 10M of balanced cable to my amps - something the Vivaldi would not be comfortable with at all

I agree with Folkfreak the line stage in the Vivaldi is not as good as it should be - especially for the money.

This has to be a subjective colouration/distortion preference statement, or something was horribly wrong, one needs to look at from an electronic engineering viewpoint.
The output stage of the Vivaldi (2.3ohms at 6v) will be far better at driving anything than what the AR Ref40 can possibly hope to. As this graph of the Vivaldi shows driving into an horrendously evil load of 600ohms!!!
The AR Ref 40 has no chance in the world of doing these figures.

https://www.stereophile.com/images/114dcsDvivFig16.jpg
Fig.16 shows the output spectrum as the DAC drives a full-scale 50Hz tone at 6V into 600 ohms. The only distortion harmonics visible are the third, at –130dB (0.00003%) in both channels, and the second, at –126dB (0.00005%) in the left channel (blue trace). Intermodulation distortion was also vanishingly low.

Cheers George
Here we go again, turning this into another preamp or no preamp thread...
george, we have heard your arguments ad nauseam. Let's not go through them one more time...., please.
Kalali, 
 I suspect that quite a few feel as you to no avail.
The continued beating of the proverbial dead horse.
Charles 

These Vivaldi tested figures don’t lie, can’t see the forest through the trees?

It's not possible that a tube/capacitor output coupled preamp can drive 10mts of cables with an amp at the end, better than that tested output stage of the Vivaldi.

" I run my Vivaldi into an ARC Ref 40 and this is a great combination, the RF then drives 10M of balanced cable to my amps - something the Vivaldi would not be comfortable with at all"
and then this confusing statement for the same poster?
" VTL MB450III, but not sure why that’s relevant as I’ve never tried driving them direct from the DCS ... "

Cheers George

BTW this is from the Stereophile review and bench tests of the Vivaldi, from the reviewer Michael Fremer who owns the darTZeel NHB-18ns preamplifier. and darTZeel NHB 458 monoblocks. Looks like he had no issues going direct to the monoblock amps, instead of the $23k NHB-18ns pre.

I ran the Vivaldi’s directly into my darTZeel amplifiers for the last week of the review auditioning, and though couldn’t play any vinyl that week, I didn’t miss it.
Depending on your needs, you might be able to get away with just the DAC or the DAC-and-clock combo, which, directly driving my amplifiers, produced high-resolution digital sound that I found easy to warm up to.

Cheers George
George is probably right in this particular case. The Vivaldi performance into a punishing 600 ohms load is about as perfect as I have ever seen. Even a broken watch can be right twice a day ;-)
Even a broken watch can be right twice a day ;-)

Your all heart Sunshine. Remind me to give you a ***** ****** one day.

Cheers George
The Vivaldi driving a 600 ohm load is commendable, no denying that fact. The VTL MB 450 has an input impedance of 42K. So the question is which option provides the best sound quality, DAC direct to the VTL or via the ARC REF 40? Well you have to listen to both and decide (As always subjective ). The VTL amplifier doesn’t present the unusually difficult 600 ohm load. Depending on the particular listener either approach could be preferred. Excellent specifications though admirable do not imply or dictact superior sound quality.
Charles
It's surprising how definitive people can be based on measurements of components they do not own, and may never have actually heard?

Anyway I'm happy to connect my Vivaldi directly and report back. As I prefaced in my original post this is not something I've ever tried given my setup and my past experience with direct connected digital components which always sounded worse but I'll have an open mind 😏

But perhaps you have all forgotten about this long discussion ...
https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/the-jadis-ja200mk2-review-or-slam
It’s surprising how definitive people can be based on measurements of components they do not own, and may never have actually heard?
Only when things are dismissed, and the opposite said, too much of this goes on, and many have been shown the wrong way because of it. Without measurements your left with hear-say and voodoo, good luck to you going that way.

" I run my Vivaldi into an ARC Ref 40 and this is a great combination, the RF then drives 10M of balanced cable to my amps - something the Vivaldi would not be comfortable with at all"
and then this confusing statement for the same poster?
" VTL MB450III, but not sure why that’s relevant as I’ve never tried driving them direct from the DCS ... "


Anyway I’m happy to connect my Vivaldi directly and report back. As I prefaced in my original post this is not something I’ve ever tried given my setup and my past experience with direct connected digital components which always sounded worse but I’ll have an open mind
And if it’s doesn’t then there is a problem elsewhere, and going direct is showing it up.

I believe there are two options of 2v output or 6v output. If so I would try the 2v first to see if you can get enough level, close to full up will be fine for loud listening (and you will NOT loose any dynamic head room) If anything it should be more Dynamic than with the preamp in the path.
The maximum level at 1kHz from both balanced and single-ended outputs was 2.035V with the level set to "2V," 6.013V with it set to "6V."

The worst you can have is to back off the volume less that 3/4, as you could start to "bit strip" if too low and loose resolution..

Cheers George

It could simply be that a tube preamp sounds sweeter and more polished and smooth and therefore is preferred by folkfreak to the Vivaldi directly. In this case, both George and folkfreak are right for different reasons. The Vivaldi output has nothing limiting about it (as measurements suggest) but the sweeter tube sound is preferred for system synergy and listener preference....
The Vivaldi driving a 600 ohm load is commendable, no denying that fact. The VTL MB 450 has an input impedance of 42K. So the question is which option provides the best sound quality

This is where things fall apart, the "best" to me is like a piece of wire, the most transparent/dynamic/least coloured/distortion.
So how can a preamp provide the best sound "quality" if it colours the sound? What it's doing is providing a colouration (which is distortion) that the listener prefers, but! all preamps sounds different, so which one with which colouration/distortion do you pick?
Wouldn't it be better not to do a band-aid fix and to  get the source sound "right" and forget about trying to change it with a preamp.?

Cheers George   
The input sensitivity of the VTL MB 450-iii is a function of damping factor but at the setting I use (minimum damping) is a low 775mV hence one needs to be very careful in setting the level on the Vivaldi. Luckily dCS provide a 0.6V (and a 0.2V) setting as well as 2V and 6V.

I currently use 0.6V with my active pre-amp and find that this works well with the volumes I like to listen at (i.e. operating the amp at close to unity gain in effect) so my presumption is this would be the best place to start with a direct connection so as to minimize the amount of cut I need to take in the DAC volume control and more importantly avoid the danger of over driving the speakers with catastrophic effect (this has happened to me in the past when I had a cable short and it blew the woofers in a set of Magico V3s)
Driving the DAC direct to amp has coloration as well. Use a half dozen different DACs to drive an amplifier and you’ll have 6 different sonic characters, they are not straight wire with gain. Common sense approach is what folkfreak is going to do, listen to both in his system and make a choice. ARC REF 40 coloration/signature or Vivaldi coloration/signature . You have to hear something before you can choose a preference. 
Charles 
Use a half dozen different DACs to drive an amplifier and you'll have 6 different sonic characters, they are not straight wire with gain.

Correct, why pile one on top of the other, just get the right one to start with..
I need to take in the DAC volume control and more importantly avoid the danger of over driving the speakers
And also just as important is not too start "bit stripping" if the volume is too low.
Also it would be interesting to find out if the ring dac chip in the Vivaldi is single ended output or balanced, if single ended then to make a xlr output they would need an extra opamp in the signal path, which would mean the se output should sound better. But if the ring dac chip is balanced then the the opostie will be true..

Cheers George
The preamplifier may have a superior analog output stage than the Vivaldi, who knows? Folkfreak's listening impressions will be interesting. 
Charles 
And wherein perhaps lies Solomon’s answer ... for if the dCS output is truly native SE then my experience that SE sounds better than balanced via a preamp (same cable, same length) then it could be the case that dCS->VTL balanced sounds worse than dCS->ARC (SE)->VTL (BAL) especially as the VTL itself is a balanced design ... so lets see

ps the Vivaldi has seperate output stages balanced and SE, and both can be driven at the same time, question is which is closer to the Ring DAC output ... which is ostensibly a balanced design but not clear what they have implemented in analog circuitry after the DAC -- clearly there’s quite a bit there at least to switch output levels and so on (btw interesting side note is that the BAL and SE output levels cannot be set independently ...)
I know the earlier Ring Dac chips were SE in output, in these the analog SE outputs after the chip sounded better, due to one less amplification stage in the signal path that wasn’t needed. (just like a preamp)

Cheers George
Folkfreak, ,
This is really shaping up into a very interesting listening evaluation. It is essentially a comparison of the quality and implementation of the  ARC REF  and DCS Vivaldi signal pathways.This is fun and informative. Time to put the ears to work😊.
Charles 
@charles1dad 

   +1 it doesn’t get much better than this...I bet both sound sublime yet one will be preferred by a listener.
Shadorne,
Yes, exactly ! I'd expect two different presentations with preference totally dependant on the particular listener. Which sonic flavour appeals more. Subjective by default,  the gift of High End audio. 
Charles 
Yes two different sound will be presented.

1: Either better with preamp, and not so without, which means to me, don't like the sound of the source.

2: Or better without preamp not so good with, which means to me don't like the sound of the preamp.

Cheers George   
Time to report back on my experiment with comparing the Vivaldi DAC direct vs via my ARC Ref 40 preamp. The full description of my setup can be found in my virtual system but the key things today is that we were comparing two different analog outputs from the DAC to my VTL MB450III

Path A was my usual setup
  • DAC to ARC via 2M Single Ended WEL Signature
  • ARC to VTL via 10M Balanced WEL Signature

And Path B was direct
  • DAC to VTL via 10M Balanced WEL Signature

The DAC is set at 0.6V output and the VTL has 0.775V input sensitivity

All levels were matched using pink noise (Stereophile test CD2 track 15) and incidentally my listening levels for the tracks were between 9.5dB and 14dB cut on the DAC

Four tracks were used for comparison, all CDs 16/44.1 upsampled to DSDx2
  1. "Bye Bye Blackbird" by Nancy Harms from "In the Indigo"
  2. "Old Coyote" by The Weepies from "Hideaway"
  3. "Jardin d'hiver" by Stacey Kent from "Raconte-moi"
  4. "Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe" track 1 from "Bach in Jazz" by Stephan-Konig Trio

All are tracks I know intimately

Overall it was an interesting experience with as some have suggested two different presentations. If I use Path A (via ARC) as my reference the direct route was in comparison definitely more analytical, arguably clearer but with some important caveats

On the plus side
  • Preserved full soundstage width, possibly sounding even a fraction wider?
  • Very analytical ie. ability to distinguish artificial reverb on the Harms track vocal
  • Greater clarity on individual instrumental lines e.g. different elements in a percussion kit could be followed very well
  • Seems louder than the route via the pre-amp (note they were level matched)

But a number of significant negatives
  • Overall homogeneity to the sound, the instruments all tended to sound like one another
  • A sense of compression (matches with the perceived louder)
  • Tensing up on peaks - especially male vocal (e.g. the Bach track) which sounded forced
  • Massive collapse in soundstage depth (maybe 20% of the perceived depth conveyed via the pre-amp) -- especially evident on simple miked track like the Bach where its key to keep the scale and relative position of each instrument distinct -- direct they all seemed to be on top of each other
  • Some tailoring at both frequency extremes -- bass seemed less deep, very high treble (supertweeter range) seemed to be missing
So if I was in a studio and doing a mix I might prefer the direct but for recreating the sound of real musicians in space the pre-amp is definitely adding something -- I don't know if its coloration but if it is its a very beneficial one. I think the massive power supply and ability of this pre-amp to swing peaks while still preserving the lowest level details (i.e. the soundstage information) is actually what's making a difference here

I can understand that others may prefer the direct path, arguably my Magicos sounded more like classic Magicos going this way that's fine, and also bear in mind that my entire system is built and optimized around including the pre-amp
@folkfreak

Yup - ARC preamps tend to add depth to the Soundstage. I have heard the difference myself on an ARC Ref 6. I think the tubes do it as my Mcintosh tube preamp does the same vs SS. I know there is added harmonics (in minuscule quantity with ARC) and McIntosh is even more lush or warm than ARC. At the end of the day it is what works for the listener - lose some resolution but gain some musicality!
One quick addendum (albeit from audio memory)

I previously noted a difference between the balanced and single ended outputs on the Vivaldi and my preference for single ended. The difference manifest as somewhat of the same sense of compression and homogenization noted in the direct so perhaps this is largely a function of how dCS have implemented the balanced output (perhaps another amplification stage). 

I did not see any difference in soundstage however between the two connections when going via the amp -- so as @shadorne suggests perhaps that is an (artifact) of the pre-amp 😏
Folkfreak. 
 Thanks for taking the time to post your well written listening impressions. Given the description of what you heard I can understand your preference. I would make the same choice.  I'll always prefer the more involving and emotionally engaging component. 
Charles 
Well written and explained, your plus’s for going direct are all expected improvements, especially the transparency reference (ability to distinguish artificial reverb).
Any negatives are possible the result of the source it’s self, or maybe the type of interconnects used as there is 10mt per side of it and any character it has will be magnified by that length, WEL Signature interconnect is silver, and to me silver interconnects can have a cold quality to the mids/highs but is great for tightness of bass.
I use it on the bass but for mids and highs I use ofc cooper.
But it’s with the preamp that lets you relax into the music more then it’s the colouration you need to counter any negatives.

Cheers George
“I use it on the bass but for mids and highs I use ofc copper.”

george, are you referring to the ICs or speaker cables? Just intrigued on how you route the bass and the treble separately between the components. By the way, my (limited) experience with speaker cables is consistent with your remarks about silver being a bit drier sounding than copper.
george, are you referring to the ICs or speaker cables?

IC’s, I have a bi-amped active to the bass and passive to the highs, all driven from the source

By the way, my (limited) experience with speaker cables is consistent with your remarks about silver being a bit drier sounding than copper.
Every time I tried it it’s been my experience as well. And I use the word "lit up", rather than dryer or even colder. 

Cheers George
@folkfreak Thanks for taking the time and effort to do the comparison. Your findings are helpful and add to the discussion. A great read also!

I was wondering how your comparison was going (this very morning) while reading Positive Feedback’s ’revisit’ of the Prism Sound Callia DAC. Highlighting some takeaways here, by the author Larry Cox, who compares the Callia Direct vs via a Pass Labs XP-12.

[Note: my focus is around the ’notional’ and not the DAC itself]

"Connecting the Callia to Pass Labs XP-12 transformed the sound....The Callia Pass Labs XP-12 combination added a measure of warmth with an increased humanity being presented....with a fuller bodied preamp, like Pass Labs’ XP-12, the Callia transforms into a richer, fuller bodied DAC that is delightful."

Article here: https://positive-feedback.com/reviews/hardware-reviews/prism-sound-callia-2/

My own experience finds that adding an active preamp injects body and richness and a ’completeness’ to the music that brings it closer to what I experience with music in person. Larry sums this up as "warmth not added but ’realized’."
"Warmth not added but realized"
Terrific cursory summation David, spot on. I heard 2 hours of live unamplified piano 1 Week ago at a Steinway piano gallery recital. Wow, full bodied, rich, dense tone and harmonics, just beautiful! Much warmth and emotion. If active preamplifiers get one "closer" to this realism they’re doing something right regardless of what the measurements say. Sometimes you just have to get out and hear the real thing. I experience the same when I visit local jazz clubs.Warmth, body, dynamics and rich tones dominate these live settings.
Charles
Just to add to this discussion on space and warmth. I cited the example of the Nancy Harms track and the reverb. Via the direct connection it was clearly artificial reverb in a halo around the voice. The striking double bass was clear and direct but with no sense of body or presence in space.

However via the preamp the bass was palpably in its own space and had scale and heft, almost three dimensional, and the reverb on the vocal dropped back behind in space.

So ok maybe this was all studio trickery but via the preamp it sounded more like a group playing together in one space while direct it was just like a bunch of tracks on a mixer

Of course for recordings that were more honest like the jazz trio Bach the spatial cues and scale were all present via the preamp but much less distinct and appreciable in the direct connection


@folkfreak

Thank you so much for such a well written and understandable post on your listening experience. The Ref40 is one heck of a preamp for sure. My past experience with this sort of comparison yielded the exact same results although I never summarized it as wonderfully as you have here.

Also, thanks for the music references! Listening to Stacey Kent right now and love it.


Also like Nancy Harms.  I am really getting into Americana music since  moving to the Nashville area. Part of this includes folk.  Love for you to list some folk artists I should listen to.  
The Vivaldi volume control is digital one, you cannot switch it off or bypass it. Therefore no matter you connect the line preamplifier or not - you would always use its analog output section. If you find that preamplifier makes the Vivaldi sound better, this is because it introduces its own sound to the system usually by limiting high frequency, rolling off the spectrum above hearing capabilities.

The analog output section of Vivaldi seems to be top quality, I can hardly imagine it could be any better.

Any preamplifier would introduce something of its own to the sound, some may like it more and some may like it less. I can understand that introducing the preamplifier can make the sound more "digestible" is some systems, my advice is however to use Vivaldi direct to gain unlimited transparency, unless my must use preamplifier because of turntable or other analog source. If your sound is too bright or not so musical, search a weak part in your system that is responsible for that but this is not Vivaldi DAC, but rather a source component feeding it with the data or some digital jitter.

Changing cables may help a lot. I have found that putting some vibration control device under Vivaldi makes the sound much, much better. I would also recommend switching the Vivaldi buffer off, turn to 6V and use higher filter. I like the MAP 1 or MAP 3 better than MAP2. Also using power conditioner can help reducing a lot of "digital-like artifacts" from the sound helping to get more analog sound - check Shunyata Denali or Triton 3.
Well put  jareko, enjoy your literary skills. Hope you hang around.  

Cheers George
@jareko if you look at my virtual system you will see the (somewhat extensive) steps I have gone to to optimize around the Vivaldi. As you note such details as footers, power cords, cabling, clocking, damping all matter and are very audible.

However even with all of the above I for one would never choose to listen to it direct when I have the option of a pre-amp like the Ref 40. 

This of course is in my system, built up to suit my preferences, silver cable and all. 

The continued observations of "experts" who based only on specs and their biases know what other users systems sound like and which is obviously "best" is one of the mysteries of on line forums such as AudioGon

My rule is to take note of input based on personal experience only and discount all others
@grannyring asking me for folk recommendations is opening rather a can of worms ...

Firstly I will note in passing that I am not much of a current US, so-called folk/Pickathon fan -- all rather arch and affected to my taste

My preferences are more towards the stalwarts of the 80s and 90s. It is great to see Cry, Cry, Cry back up and touring again and of course any of the work of their three members (Dar Williams, Richard Shindell and last but in my opinion best Lucy Kaplansky) is worth looking up

I’m also on a big Jonatha Brooke jag at present -- a very solid artist with a long history

Among new artists I’m really liking The Harmaleighs

My real passion however is for the folk tradition of the British Isles, which is where I am from. What makes this community distinct is how the historic tradition is constantly reinvented and revitalized by each generation. I love hearing the sons and daughters of the past generation taking the music and making it their own.

Great places to start are the artists on The Elizabethan Session album, or any of the work of Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman, or of course Kate Rusby -- I’m really into her 20th anniversary album where the cross over with guest artists (including many Americana names you will recognize) gives a different take on her songs

Finally the Scottish tradition is very much alive - check out Salt House and my current number one album and something you must listen to (it’s a concept piece so ideally you listen all the way through) -- A Pocket of Wind Resistance by Karine Polwart
@folkfreak 

Big thank you for your great response.  Listening today to your offerings and particularly like the Scottish tradition suggestions.  Salt House is right down my alley.
"The continued observations of "experts" who based only on specs and their biases know what other users systems sound like and which is obviously "best" is one of the mysteries of on line forums such as AudioGon"

Well said. Indeed a mystery...
First of all I tend to agree with jareko and georgehifi... As far as I'm concerned it's better to use the Vivaldi straight into the power amp.
As for the WEL Signature interconnect.... Silver it may be but never bright, lit up, dry or cold. On the contrary, it's got way more body and warmth then copper cables (top notch cables not entry level). My AQ Everest has the same attributes as well. 
Johndoe,
It may be better to run the Vivaldi DAC straight to the power amplifier for you. Folkfreak clearly and thoroughly described his experience doing so and prefers the better sound quality with the ARC REF 40. These are his findings listening in his own system. Granted you may choose otherwise but he simply reported what he heard. Strange how this seems to be discounted because it doesn’t meet someone else’s expectations. Very strange behavior.

I get the impression that folkfreak is an experienced listener who knows what he likes and trusts his ears and judgement. We're all different in our hearing and perception,  this is an obvious truth. 
Charles