Thinking about getting a R2R DAC


Dear community,

I currently have a chord qutest DAC. I like it a lot, very full sound, accurate detailed and exciting.  However, whenever I go back to vinyl (with a well-recorded nice pressing) I find the sound so much more satisfying.  There is a warmth, yes, but there is a presence, a 'there-ness' that I just don't get with the digital.  I'm wondering if an R2R DAC would get me closer to that?  my budget would be around the same as the qutest.  I was looking at the MHDT Orchid or the Border Patrol.  Don't get me wrong, I really like the Qutest.  I am thinking of putting it in the upstairs system to pair with the Node2i I have up there.  Any thoughts?  Will analog always just be a different animal than digital?

Currently in the main system I have a Sonore uRendu feeding the Qutest which is going to a LTA MZ2 going to a Pass XA 30.5

thanks!
adam8179
EQ would work as well as an R2R DAC,  perhaps better at trying to mimic vinyl. 
Analogue‘s euphonic virtues are indeed best emulated by R2R Dacs, conversely euphonics tend to go along with reduced resolution. Delta Sigma DACs in my experience depend on very good clocking accuracy: ideally you should compare R2R to Delta Sigma Dacs clocked by a 10m clock. I‘d posit that the resultant trade-offs between euphonics and resolution are not obvious. 
thanks djones51,  The qutest does have some filters that you can enable to warm things up a bit.  3 levels of it but there isn't any fine tuning available.  I find though that the DAC retains its character with the highs rolled off a little with these filters.  Both my girlfriend and I agree that when we put on a record there's an "ahhhhh" moment where the music just feels in the room with you.  There are areas where digital sounds better but I guess I'm looking for that magic of vinyl and I was wondering if the R2R comes closer
djones513,040 posts09-29-2020 3:48pmEQ would work as well as an R2R DAC, perhaps better at trying to mimic vinyl.
Sorry, that’s not how it works. It has nothing to do with equalization. It has to do with micro and macro inter transient timing and placement in the singular and complex whole.

Which is where the R-2-R dac type excels and the delta-sigma types fall flat on their face.

tubes have it
LP’s have it
Speakers have it. (not as perfect, but it is intrinsically in there)
Reel to Reel tape has it (IF the electronics are tubed--even better!)
Tube based cutter heads have it (Doug Sax’s set up)
V-Fet and SIT transistors have it 

List of things that don’t have it:
All known FET, MOSFET and BJT transistor based designs of any type or nature.
As in all class D amps, all BJT based solid state amps, all DACS, and so on. anything solid state.

The R-2-R Dac type has enough of it that it seems more believable and real to the ear.
Op
i use an ultrarendu to feed a Metrum Onyx dac Which replaced a PS Audio dac for similar reasons.

Does it mimic the warmth of my admittedly much more expensive vinyl rigs?
No but it is getting closer, especially after adding an Audioquest Diamond usb cable between them today.

You do not have to spend a fortune on a r2r dac.
The Onyx can be found around $1500 and the MHDT Orchid around $1100. I have owned both, I went with the Onyx for it’s balanced output which the Orchid does not have.
Its a fairly cheap trial.......
The R-2-R Dac type has enough of it that it seems more believable and real to the ear.
As they say, R2R Multibit is "bit perfect", where DS (Delta Sigma) can only give a facsimile.

Cheers George   
The Border Patrol’s moment in the sun largely seems to have passed, but I have found there is something special about this DAC’s sound.  I tried to switch to a Metrum Amethyst but ended up going back to the Border Patrol.  I know it measures terribly, but it has such a rich, beguiling sound, it’s definitely a keeper for me.
Great analogy @georgehifi!!

Well said @teoaudio! But in all honesty, replying to Dow Jones is useless. We all know what his opinion is. In ALL things audio.
I agree @zm the border patrol would probably come close to giving you a more vinyl sound. 
If you can use EQ in order to mimic vinyl remember this is not going to sound  like a good analog system you're just trying to soften the digital. Cut at 47hz and 12khz do a sharp rolloff -24dB at both ends this is a classical RIAA AES rule, put a little notch exactly at 4.5khz and if you want a little softer attenuate slightly maybe -1.5dB curve between 3khz and 7khz. You can also do a boost around 200-300hz. It's easier to attenuate than boost though. 
OP, what is your vinyl setup - cartridge through phono stage? I’m curious what the digital side is up against budget wise.

Just in case anyone was interested, the 4 Qutest filter settings are incisive neutral, incisive neutral w/HF roll-off, warm, and warm w/HF roll-off. The HF roll-off is “a high frequency filter past 20kHz to remove HF distortion and noise from [high sample rate PCM recordings] recordings.”
@adam8179 "I was looking at the MHDT Orchid or the Border Patrol."

It’s worth reading more on BP’s tube rectified power supply approach vs. MHDT Labs tube implementation for the Orchid DAC. The first time I heard my own R2R Ladder tube DAC, it quickly pulled me in to want to just sit and listen to music again.
The BP DAC is my go to.  Is it’s good as my vinyl rig?  No.  But it is pretty darn close and great bang for the buck in my opinion. 
@djones51 -- Given that we have had the ability to EQ for quite some time now, why is that it we have so many different implementations of DACs, preamps and amplifiers? Don't get me wrong, I use EQ on my headphones with great success, but I do find it difficult to believe that EQ will give you the attributes of an R2R DAC, especially one with tubes. If that was the case, we would not be seeing a resurgence of this particular implementation. 


Consider a used Audio Note. I think it's the kind of sound that you're looking for. 
I can’t believe that someone in this thread tried to state that R2R DACs are “bit perfect”, implying that they’re more accurate than Delta Sigma, which is actually the opposite of the truth.

This place is a caricature of itself sometimes.
No, it is true to itself.  It is a caricature of the real world.
They're not looking for truth but reinforcement. 
Putting aside the particular technological approach, given what the OP said about the sound he is looking for, I agree with Roxy54's suggestion on looking for something from Audio Note.  
but I do find it difficult to believe that EQ will give you the attributes of an R2R DAC,
I didn't say it would. I said you can use EQ to get a fairly good mimic of vinyl. I didn't say it would sound exactly like vinyl or a R2R dac, I suggested the Border patrol which distorts more than any other I have seen so it might come close.
Several reviews lately about the Denafrips Pontus seem to sync up with what you are looking for.
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I can’t believe that someone in this thread tried to state that R2R DACs are “bit perfect”, implying that they’re more accurate than Delta Sigma, which is actually the opposite of the truth.

This place is a caricature of itself sometimes.
I agree that this Board is often filled with mistruths, bias, ignorance, and the like. But here, you are the one who is appears to be misguided. 
"Bit Perfect" is a meaningless term. It is meant to imply lack of jitter but with the problems of ringing presented by filtering and the adverse affects of upsampling, it is still meaningless. However, I have to ask, are you confusing "bit perfect" and "bitstream"? Do you know the difference? 
Personally, I think emphasis on the nature of the converter employed is secondary to the nature of the sampling. 
This article is informative https://jeffsplace.positive-feedback.com/audio-note-uk-peter-qvortrup-on-making-digital-sources-soun...
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There's always the Schiit Modi Multibit.  It's a great entry level R2R Dac.  It's cheap
enough at  $249 to let you know if you'll  like the R2R sound without spending much.

And its resale value is great.  😃
I've had limited experience with DAC's -- Audioengine D1, Peachtree DAC-IT, Nodi 2i built in DAC, and my MHDT Orchid R2R DAC. The Orchid came with a very nice tube, but I wanted to mellow out the sound a bit, add some warmth. With some good suggestions from folks here, I changed out the tube and now I have a very warm but not too colored sounding system, even when streaming. For further context, I have both a solid state integrated and an all tube setup. When using the solid state, the Orchid is especially helpful. 
@fsonicsmith 

I actually know exactly what “bit-perfect” was originally intended to mean, and it has nothing at all to do with what’s being discussed in this thread. 

Bit perfect originally described software that could faithfully play back or pass on a digital signal to an outboard DAC without performing any resampling in the process. This only became necessary when people started using computers seriously as digital front ends and realized that Microsoft’s “DirectSound” resampled everything to 48khz before output. The solution was “KernelStreaming”, then ASIO and eventually WASAPI. 

So, the way it’s been used in this thread, including your post is inaccurate. 
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I don't think simply going to an R2R DAC is going to bring you the sonic nirvana you are looking for. 
+1 @dannad — I think you’re much more likely to achieve the sound you’re looking for by going with an R2R DAC with NOS.  Further, going with a tubed DAC will probably be beneficial as well and gives you the ability to further tailor the sound to your liking.  Models from MHDT and AudioMirror among others offer these characteristics and offer a trial period so you can try them in your own system, which is a really nice plus.  Best of luck. 
i have the following outboard dacs in house

sonnet morpheus
metrum jade
metrum amethyst
van alstine fet hybrid
dena pontus
schiit gumby
neko d100-2
audio mirror troubadour se
ayre codex
chord mojo, qutest tt2 with m scaler
mhdt orchid, paradisea and stockholm2
jolida black ice tube
auris d1d

sold the border patrol se-i, schitt yggy and bifrost mb, dena ares2 and term, rme adi2, w4s dac2v2, topping d90, chord 2qute, psa ds, mytek liberty, benchmark dac2

r2r is important to SQ but DS chips can sound very fine if other aspects of the dac are well designed and tuned to sound good

i am not a dealer, not ’in the biz’, not affiliated with any of the above - just want to hear for myself what works well for me in my system my home, lucky to have the means to pursue this

commercial reviews and hearsay comments from keyboard jockeys may be a useful rough screening tool, but if you really wanna know, you gotta pony up and do the work
@cat_doorman,

My vinyl setup is a Rega P3 with all the upgrades (neo psu, white belt, groove tracer everything) and an apheta 2 cart.  Phono stage is an Avid Pellar
Choosing a dac is like choosing any other audio component. There are compromises to be made. Proponents of R2R dac's, so it goes, are attracted to the notion of simpler signal paths. With no filtering, noise shaping, error correction, upsampling or oversampling it theoretically leads to less "mucking up" of the sound. Proponents of Delta Sigma dac's say that that all the processing is necessary to pass along the most accurate data that can be transformed into the most accurate analog waveform. Both camps have valid arguments. I will say that in my experience, measurements are not the end all. The proof is in the listening.

I was looking for a dac for my streaming and file playback sources (Laufer Teknik Memory Player and Mojo Audio Mac Mini). So I tried several dac's and kept an open mind:

1. Yamamoto YDA-01, Delta sigma. Very nice, balanced sound if all you need is a coax connection. Unfortunately, it has no USB input. I used a SPDIF/USB adapter with this dac and with this implementation it did not sound as good as the next dac that I tried:

2. Border Patrol DAC SE, R2R. A bigger, wider soundstage with what seemed like naturally filled in images that created an intense "you are there" feeling. Analog sounding, but not as good as my LP playback system. The BP was a little smeared, especially in the low end, compared to the Yamamoto, but the midrange had more "pop" in my system.

3. Benchmark DAC3L, Delta sigma. A front row presentation that amazingly was easy to listen to despite its in you face character. Perfectly sized images, great soundstage. However, to my ears it was ultimately sterile sounding, with the sense that the performers were each in their own sound booth at a recording studio, instead of performing together on a stage. I can see how this dac would appeal to those who want to hear every bit of detail in their recordings. 

4. PS Audio DirectStream, FGPA. Very smooth sounding. Too smooth. Images were noticeably smaller than any of the other dac's that I listened to. Bass is similar sounding to the Border Patrol dac, but weaker than that of the Benchmark. Not what I wanted.

5. Mojo Audio Mystique v.3, R2R. The one I kept. Huge, seamless soundstage, images perfectly placed and perfectly blended together. Most realistic sounding among the dac's that I tried. I listen to digital sources with the Mystique more than I listen to records now, but my LP playback system is still a little better. Just a little. The sound I am going for is "performers on a stage" versus "performers in sound booths" which is why I chose this over the Benchmark, which came in second place in my view. 

Compared to the others, the Mojo has the best parts and the most beefy power supply. The signal paths are short, although short signal paths can be seen in some of the other dac's that I tried. Anyways, I bet it is these attributes that is more important for good sound, not whether the chip used is R2R or Delta Sigma.


Thanks everyone for your responses!  I'll look into the Audio Note idea and the Audio Mirror Toubador III.  I'm still considering the MHDT Orchid.  I've heard mixed things about the multibit offerings from Schiit but they offer a great value.  (I had their $120 phono stage for a while and was blown away by how good it sounded for $120!)  I'd love to hear the Border Patrol but the distortion gives me pause.  I know there is good euphonic even order distortion that is pleasing to the ear but I think my preference is more in the middle of the euphonic vs ultra resolving spectrum.  @jjss49 I agree that there's really no substitute for listening.  As an out of work musician I don't have the funds to buy a bunch and compare at home unfortunately.  Can I come over and listen to yours?  JK
@jjss49 That's an amazing array of DAC's man. Wow. Do you have a spreadsheet where you baked them off against one another? I'd love to have the experience of trying such a range. OP, this is why this forum is so helpful, not to mention @thaluza rich descriptive abilities. I wish I had this post when I was trying to pick a DAC. Cornucopia! 
@jjss49

I am thinking of giving the Jolida Black Ice a try. Was curious if you tried the headphone output on it. I'm currently using a Qutest/Headphone amp combo right now and I am thinking of downsizing and pairing the Black Ice with an easy to drive headphone. How does it compare to the Qutest? Any other DAC's that stand out on your list? How about giving us a ranking and blurb on each?
@thaluza, I just picked up an R2R Mojo Audio Mystique V3 Balanced and after going through a list of DACs over the last 6 months in my system have liked it the best as well.   I've owned the SimAudio 380DSD (kept for 5 years), Bricasti M3, RME ADI 2 FS (which I still own), Topper D90, and now the Mojo.

I find the Mojo incredibly musical and to me it simply sounds more like live music than the others.   It also packs bass and dynamics that I wasn't expecting (which is what I liked best about the M3).   I find the high frequencies good but not as detailed or as forward as some of the others.   To me, the high frequencies do not offend and sound very natural, but it is not the last word in detail retrieval.   Personally,  I'll take the musicality vs the mega detail retrieval.   The D90 was amazing at detail retrieval but I found it forward and too fatiguing for me to listen to after a short while.
@ddafoe, my perception of the Mojo and high frequency detail was upended when I bought a pair of Altec Lansing Valencia speakers last month. The horn based Valencias have their faults, but their presentation of cymbals has been revelatory to me. I give the Mojo at least some of the credit for the clean, full bodied, unforced sound I hear. I would bet that some of the other dac’s I tried, or the Topping D90 that you owned, would not be so friendly with the Altecs. The Mojo is a fine example of a well implemented R2R dac.
Dollar for dollar vs. Delta Sigma, R2R DACs win all the time. They tend to have a much pleasant sound to the ear. Less fatiguing, and closer to well done analog. And don’t listen to the keyboard jockeys who tell us we cannot hear the difference. These are the same guys who always say we cannot hear a difference from anything.

Now.... they are R2R DACs and R2R DACs. They are not created equal. To my ears, MSB DACs are the best sounding. They don’t often come for sale in used market, if at all, other than previous generations from a decade ago.
I’ve got the BlueSound Node2. About 2 weeks ago I purchased the MHDT Orchid. I use Tidal Hi-Fi exclusively. The Node2 does all of the MQA unfolding and then sends it to the Orchid via digital coax. I opted for the upgraded Tung-Sol 2C51 tube that Linear Tube offers (total of $1,300). I couldn’t be happier with my choice. I’m into musical much more than analytical. I listen to music literally all day long every day and the last thing I want is ear fatigue. Before purchasing I spoke to Nicholas with Linear Tube Audio, Jiun the main designer of the Orchid and Terry, the 6Moons reviewer whose review turned me onto the Orchid. They were all great and Terry provided me with many great tube options and sources. He’s tried everything under the sun. In his opinion, the Orchid is his favorite DAC at any price point. He’s reviewed many over the years, including very expensive units. Feel free to message me directly. I know everything you would want to know about the Orchid (as well as the balanced Pagoda if you are wanting balanced XLR for 2x the price of the Orchid). I also thoroughly researched the Border Patrol DAC which Linear Tube Audio also happens to sell (tube is on the power supply stage instead the analog stage like in the Orchid).

Well, OP, I just went from chord qutest to holo audio may (r2r). It’s a non oversampling dac, although it does oversample too if you want that. Wow, what an upgrade! Slightly less crisp, but warm, smooth, natural, wonderful deep rich soundstage. There's more "air" in the music now, as herb reichert talked about in stereophile. The 2 DACs are not equally priced, so it’s not entirely fair, but I am thrilled with the change. The r2r part is key, but power supply, clocking, and quality of output stage all contribute. Go NOS r2r and don’t look back.
@parker65310

just a point of clarification re your posted comments on the bs node 2 unfolding mqa... if feeding an outboard dac, the streamer function in the node will only do 1 of the 3 total ’unfolds’ for full mqa rendering, an mqa-capable dac would need to do the 2 remaining steps for full mqa rendering... this being said, many believe (and i concur based on my own listening) that you get a lion’s share of the sq benefit of mqa with the first unfold (to 96k), remaining two unfolds adds a touch more ’air,’ but rather minimal difference i can hear

@hilde45

haha well i am still kinda old school when it comes to note taking, so i have a spiral notebook and handwritten jottings on each - it has been fun... since the covid shut in in february i finally stopped procrastinating and dove head first into streaming... the SQ was so impressive and beyond my expectations that i decided to go whole hog and run through any and all of the leading suspects to build my ideal streaming front end, to go along with the cdp and turntable

@snatex

jolida tube dac is a good one... for the money it is a real steal... it does not have quite the ease of presentation of the better ones but it images big, wide and deep, has a sweet luscious midrange, but with a little more sizzle up top than you would expect in a tube output dac - i have tried to tube roll some but it is still more in the clear and punchy school compared to most the others - this may be due its being based on a DS dac chip, or may just be the output stage implementation

i am not a headphone guy so much so i cannot comment much on the sq of the headphone jack on it, but for the money it is pretty feature laden, with headphone out and volume control for outputs

finally on your wanting summary blurbs, my evaluations are still a work in process... one day i may try to collectively summarize ... the caveat of course is it is only my system, my tastes, my network - if you or others have specific questions i will share my thoughts if my experience is relevant - i do have firm reasons for selling off the ones i decided to move on from, those i can speak to more definitively
@jjss49 

How would you rank the Black Ice, Qutest (w/o MScaler), Codex and Orchid? Any others under $2k with a small footprint that stand out? 
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Good thread - I'm also looking for a new DAC and there seems to be a lot of buzz on R2R, so I appreciate opinions on both sides.
@thyname  - please just stay on topic and don't pick fights. No one want to waste time on that.
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