Seeking an R2R DAC recommendation for a tube preamp and tube amp system

Stu

Well-Known Member
Oct 10, 2015
9
13
108
Silicon Valley
Hi WBFers!

My first post and long time lurker. I never purchased a DAC and have been using my old Sony CDP X799ES player that I purchased new in 1991. I finally had my small 500 CD collection converted to FLAC.

Seeking input recommendations for a DAC.

----------

Existing System

Turntable
* Sota Saphire (original owner back in 1985); just had Donna at Sota do a complete restoration with all the upgrades (mag lev bearing, platter, chassis, Eclipse controller/motor)
* ET2 arm with carbon wand
* Shelter 901 mark3

CD
* Sony CDP X799ES

Phono Preamp
* Wavestream Kinetics (tube)

Line Preamp
* Wavestream Kinetics (tube)

Amps
* MFA 200c (tube class a; monos)
* Audio Research D100B (solid state)

Active Analog Crossover
* Nelson Pass / Siegfried Linkwitz crossover

Speakers
* Siegried Linkwitz LX Mini +2

Digital Source
* Mac Mini (solid state disk) and Roon

-----------

Other comments on myself that can help provide DAC recommendations

* As you can tell from my gear, some of this is pretty old - I began purchasing this gear starting in 1985. I have zero intention of upgrading my turntable, preamps, amps, and crossover / speakers even though there is probably much better equipment.

* I listen to jazz, classical, and some rock
* This is in our music room: here


* I play and practice piano (classical and jazz) about 1 to 2 hours a day...for fun; wife plays violin; older son percussion (marimba, xylophone, piano), younger son (tenor sax, piano) ...so we "hear" a lot of natural sounding instruments in our room every day.

* 30% of the time I listen to records, 30% to CDs, and 40% streaming Spotify. I use Spotify to identify new music. If I like what I hear, I go out and buy the vinyl (first choice) and CD (second choice). If I have the CD, then I use my Mac to convert to FLAC.

* After hearing a few DSD's of piano and violin, while these recordings are impressive, I am sticking with the CD/FLAC/PCM approach

* 50% of my listening is to hear how a piano player is playing a song (dynamics, timing, grace notes, hammering etc.) whether this is classical or jazz. 50% is because I like the music but would not want to play it. Example: I like Steely Dan (and those guys are really great technical musicians) but after site reading their sheet music and playing a couple of bars, I will not play this on piano...even thought I love what they created. Same with a lot of rock music.

--------------

Narrowing down choices.

* I don't absolutely need a DAC that has DSD unless the PCM DAC also happens to have a DSD. My first musical priority is PCM...not upsampled...just straight through.

* I am really leaning toward R2R, but I am concerned that some of the DACs are too warm sounding...I have enough tube gear to "give a romantic and warm" sound. So if I am portfolio matching my existing gear to a DAC...I am thinking that a straight forward neutral R2R DAC would be a better choice...but I could be completely wrong. I want to avoid delta sigma based DACs.

* I was thinking that the Lampi TRP (I think there was an R2R version) would be a good fit...but I am concerned with the Lampi tube architecture will be driving an already warm romantic sounding system...and result in an overly warm / gooey sound.

* Budget - sub $7K. I am ok with new or used gear recommendations.

* A really good USB to connect to my Mac Mini desired. I have no desire to add more equipment / clockers / power supplies etc. except a good USB cable.

* The Sony CD player has Toslink output


Thanks for your help in advance.

-stu
 

stephen_volker

Well-Known Member
Nov 2, 2015
168
5
148
In this price point the Rockna Wave light might be good for you. They also have a matching server (maybe not out yet) that would be a big step up from a Mac Mini.

I also know someone who might be selling their Phison PD2SE, which is what I have been running for years.
 
  • Like
Reactions: CKKeung

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
7,363
3,001
738
Greater Boston
Schiit Yggdrasil DAC, $ 2,449.

Excellent resolution and musical engagement, as well as dynamics and timing, very neutral in tonal balance. Here is a review of the original version in TAS:


The conclusion:

I don’t know how Schiit Audio has done it, but the $2300 Yggy is in many ways competitive with any DAC I’ve heard regardless of price. In some criteria—transient speed without etch, clarity of musical line, whole-body involvement—the Yggy is as good as digital gets. Yet the Yggy’s bold incisiveness may not resonate with listeners who prefer a more relaxed and easygoing sound. I, however, have no such reservation; this is a DAC I could listen to and enjoy for a long time. In fact, there was something different about the Yggy that pushed my buttons—I felt a musical exhilaration that was experienced not as some intellectual abstraction, but at a more fundamentally visceral level.

If you’re looking for a DAC that does quad-rate DSD, decodes MQA, offers a volume control, and includes a headphone amp, look elsewhere. But if the very best reproduction of PCM sources is your goal, the Yggdrasil is the ticket. It’s a spectacular performer on an absolute level, and an out-of-this world bargain. The Yggy is not just a tremendous value in today’s DACs, it’s one of the greatest bargains in the history of high-end audio.


Couldn't agree more, having heard much more expensive DACs.

The current second version is even better. Features both an advanced USB and a Toslink input, among others.

I listen mostly to classical and jazz as well, with some rock, and love this DAC in my system with tube amplification (Octave HP 700 pre / Octave RE 320 power).
 

sbnx

Well-Known Member
Mar 28, 2017
702
551
205
Denafrips Terminator (Definitely R2R)

Lampizator is a great choice -- would have to check if the Amber 3 uses that R2R chip. But a note: Mr. Lampi states that the chip is only about 10% of the sound of a dac.

MSB analog dac used is also great (Definitely R2R)

Aqua dac -- uses an R2R chip

Total DAC -- (Definitely R2R) -- not sure what is available for $7K
 

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
7,363
3,001
738
Greater Boston
Denafrips Terminator (Definitely R2R)

I had the DAC in my system almost two years ago. At first I was smitten by the perception of heightened transparency, but then I discovered that this apparent transparency was an artifact of tonal coloration and spotlighting. The beautification of sound worked for some things, but solo violin for example sounded fake. I ditched the DAC in favor of the Schiit Yggdrasil version 2, which has genuine, not souped up, transparency, and in general sounds far more natural and real. In fact, very much so.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Stu

Stu

Well-Known Member
Oct 10, 2015
9
13
108
Silicon Valley
Thank you for the feedback!

I need to start searching users who have the DACs listed with tube preamp / amp gear.

Any more insights or recommendations highly appreciated.

-stu
 
Last edited:

Stu

Well-Known Member
Oct 10, 2015
9
13
108
Silicon Valley
I had the DAC in my system almost two years ago. At first I was smitten by the perception of heightened transparency, but then I discovered that this apparent transparency was an artifact of tonal coloration and spotlighting. The beautification of sound worked for some things, but solo violin for example sounded fake. I ditched the DAC in favor of the Schiit Yggdrasil version 2, which has genuine, not souped up, transparency, and in general sounds far more natural and real. In fact, very much so.
Thank you AI. I began reading up on Yggdrasil and the Terminator.

Were you able to compare solo piano, violin, or even nylon classical guitars with a chip based R2R DAC versus the physical ladder R2R DACs? If yes, how were they different with your tube based gear? The "growl" of a Steinway in the lowest octave, trills, grace notes are always curious to me as I listen to piano pieces...especially when fast slow fast 16th and 32 notes are played in a bar (because I am terrible at these!). It is sometimes hard hearing the bass clef played soft and fast while the treble / melody is louder relative to bass clef....your getting a sense what I am looking for in a DAC! And hence my concern (perhaps unfounded) for adding more tube equipment into my system resulting in an overly warm /mushy sound to the cliff point of all sounds sounding dithered.

In fact it might not surprise me if neutral to just left of neutral (on the clinical side / cold side) "could" be a better fit in my system.

Thanks!
 
Last edited:

jespera

Well-Known Member
Jan 12, 2018
430
441
150
Copenhagen
Abbas audio dac.


 

christoph

Super Moderator
Staff member
Dec 12, 2015
4,070
3,397
565
Principality of Liechtenstein
With the TRP you can taylor the sound with different tubes exactly to your liking/preference :cool:
 

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
7,363
3,001
738
Greater Boston
Thank you AI. I began reading up on Yggdrasil and the Terminator.

Were you able to compare solo piano, violin, or even nylon classical guitars with a chip based R2R DAC versus the physical ladder R2R DACs? If yes, how were they different with your tube based gear? The "growl" of a Steinway in the lowest octave, trills, grace notes are always curious to me as I listen to piano pieces...especially when fast slow fast 16th and 32 notes are played in a bar (because I am terrible at these!). It is sometimes hard hearing the bass clef played soft and fast while the treble / melody is louder relative to bass clef....your getting a sense what I am looking for in a DAC! And hence my concern (perhaps unfounded) for adding more tube equipment into my system resulting in an overly warm /mushy sound to the cliff point of all sounds sounding dithered.

In fact it might not surprise me if neutral to just left of neutral (on the clinical side / cold side) "could" be a better fit in my system.

Thanks!

You're welcome, Stu. The Terminator is a physical ladder DAC, and the chip based Yggdrasil was better in my system. I don't think it's the architecture but the implementation that matters most, and the chip in the Yggdrasil is an expensive precision chip originally designed for industrial purposes, like medical and military equipment. If you want precision and timing on piano (as on anything else), the Yggdrasil is the DAC to have. I have heard that not just in my system, but in the systems of two friends, one with the mighty Magico M Project speakers. The DAC really should address the things you describe.

Violin and nylon stringed classical guitar sound excellent as well. You'll get a neutral sound, for sure. The designer of the Yggdrasil, who himself loves tube gear in his system, was asked why the DAC doesn't have a tubed output stage. His answer was something like "I prefer not to put lipstick on a DAC".

Purchase is relatively risk free. You can return it with a 5% restocking fee ($ 125) plus shipping costs. The audition window for return is 15 days; an issue is burn-in time, but after two weeks you should have a good idea where the sound is heading. Just leave it on 24/7 with audio signal playing though it. Serious listen is best after at least three days on.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Mikem53 and Stu

geopolitis

Well-Known Member
Apr 6, 2016
13
9
110
I would suggest you try out APL DSD-AR in your system... IMHO it sounds as organic and analog as a R2R dac but without some of its deficiences.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Stu

matthias

Well-Known Member
Mar 14, 2019
821
312
138
Germany
I would suggest you try out APL DSD-AR in your system... IMHO it sounds as organic and analog as a R2R dac but without some of its deficiences.

I am curious, did you compare your APL DAC to the Pilium DAC?
Thanks

Matt
 

geopolitis

Well-Known Member
Apr 6, 2016
13
9
110
I am curious, did you compare your APL DAC to the Pilium DAC?
Thanks

Matt

Not yet. I have compared the APL DSD-SR mk1 with a pre-production version of the Pilium ELECTRA dac and the Pilium clearly had bigger sound than the first generation of APL DSD-SR. Both of them sounded extremely natural but the Pilium dac was better in terms of bass, scale, resolution. Of course we are talking about completely different price range. A more proper comparison would be between the Pilium Elektra and APL DSD-MR. I know a friend has compared the two and sold his APL immediately.

But things have improved a lot for the APL after the MK2 version upgrade so it would be interesting to compare the two. I have already compared the APL DSD-SR mk2 with a friend's MSB Diamond V and the MSB wasn't even close.

So my feeling is that gap between the ELEKTRA and the DSD-SR mk2 might have narrowed a bit....
 
  • Like
Reactions: Forte

matthias

Well-Known Member
Mar 14, 2019
821
312
138
Germany
Not yet. I have compared the APL DSD-SR mk1 with a pre-production version of the Pilium ELECTRA dac and the Pilium clearly had bigger sound than the first generation of APL DSD-SR. Both of them sounded extremely natural but the Pilium dac was better in terms of bass, scale, resolution. Of course we are talking about completely different price range. A more proper comparison would be between the Pilium Elektra and APL DSD-MR. I know a friend has compared the two and sold his APL immediately.

But things have improved a lot for the APL after the MK2 version upgrade so it would be interesting to compare the two. I have already compared the APL DSD-SR mk2 with a friend's MSB Diamond V and the MSB wasn't even close.

So my feeling is that gap between the ELEKTRA and the DSD-SR mk2 might have narrowed a bit....
Thanks,
since you have Pilium amps it would make certainly sense to go for the Elektra as well (or the DSD-MR).

Matt
 

geopolitis

Well-Known Member
Apr 6, 2016
13
9
110
To be honest, I wouldn't bet that the APL DSD-MR mk1 is better than the APL DSD-SR mk2!!!!!

I agree with you regarding the Pilium ELEKTRA dac but I have to admit that the APL 's latest dac sounds fantastic.

Hopefully, a friend of mine will receive his ELEKTRA in the next couple of months so I will be able to have an extensive listening. The plan was that it would have been already in my hands for testing but there were some delays in production due to the extremely high demand from the customers.

If ELEKTRA is significantly better than mine I will definetely buy it....
 

luisma

Member
Nov 13, 2018
10
1
8
51
Hi Stu:
This comment of yours

"I am really leaning toward R2R, but I am concerned that some of the DACs are too warm sounding...I have enough tube gear to "give a romantic and warm" sound. So if I am portfolio matching my existing gear to a DAC...I am thinking that a straight forward neutral R2R DAC would be a better choice...but I could be completely wrong. I want to avoid delta sigma based DACs"

It is right on, with an entire tube system you could perfectly use a SD (Sigma Delta) DAC.

I do have tube preamp and amp (Atmasphere MA-1's and MP-1) maybe I'm not the best example because I consider my amp and preamp on the not so warm side of the spectrum, that said I have used Denafrips Terminator with my system, which is both PCM and SD, you are using Roon which will feed PCM natively and you don't want to do any upsampling (which Roon's is not good IMO) the Terminator with Roon was good but it was even better without it, Roon pass thru SQ with a DAC attached is pleasant but not great. I know you are against upsampling and I don't want to derail you but I was personally using HQPlayer to do upsampling and in reality it is technically not so much upsampling but "good digital reconstruction" and it integrates beautifully with Roon and runs on MAC, you can download it and do a trial if you are interested. Not trying to get you to use it just mentioning my experience.

Currently I'm using a $300 Project S2 which is purely DS, feeding it with a triple LT3045 regulator and it sounds amazingly good, for the record of course the Terminator is better.

With your budget if I would be you and strictly following your initial requirements I would research
Denafrips Terminator+
Denafrips Terminator (Vanilla, not plus)
Holo Audio May
Denafrips Venus II
Holo Audio Spring II (not I)

IF you are willing to consider SD DACs
RME-ADI2 is an excellent SD
There are others of course Topping and such

IMO with R2R you can't go wrong, I preferred the PCM through my Terminator a little more than DSD, with the exception of DSD using HQPlayer and EC (Extended Correction) modulators which were really remarkable

EDIT: EC stands for extended compensation
 
  • Like
Reactions: Stu

Stu

Well-Known Member
Oct 10, 2015
9
13
108
Silicon Valley
Thank you AI, luisma and others with your input.

AI and luisma....your input was incredibly helpful since both of you have tube amplification and have used Yggdrasil and or the Terminator....especially since AI has used both in his tube system.

While the Terminator is very interesting, I feel like I would be spending a lot of money on features that I will unlikely / never use myself (filters and DSD, for example). This makes the Yggdrasil very intriguing....moreso with the try / return stock fee policy in "my system".

I read a lot of the search results here on WBF and the reference link to SuperBestFriends...and especially the SBF thread by Torq entitled "Life after Yggdrasil". Ignoring how the they treat each other, Torq sounds like he plays piano on an early Steinway grand piano. If I were a betting man (I am not), he probably works at Microsoft Labs or the Microsoft XBox hw engineering team based on his grasp of chip fab and firmware; I almost envisioned Torq works/ed on the XBox GPU. He has a very good grasp of technology and music playing. His responses are very old school Bill Gates DNA biting responses. Once I got past that, Torq's critical feedback and AI and luisma comments and use in tube amplification really helped me start with my first DAC purchase.

I would be remisce for not starting with the Yggdrasil.

Thank you!

I will post my feedback.

-stu
 

sbnx

Well-Known Member
Mar 28, 2017
702
551
205
for more on the Yggdrasil you could look through the later pages of Ack's thread.

 
  • Like
Reactions: Stu

Al M.

VIP/Donor
Sep 10, 2013
7,363
3,001
738
Greater Boston
Thank you AI, luisma and others with your input.

AI and luisma....your input was incredibly helpful since both of you have tube amplification and have used Yggdrasil and or the Terminator....especially since AI has used both in his tube system.

While the Terminator is very interesting, I feel like I would be spending a lot of money on features that I will unlikely / never use myself (filters and DSD, for example). This makes the Yggdrasil very intriguing....moreso with the try / return stock fee policy in "my system".

I read a lot of the search results here on WBF and the reference link to SuperBestFriends...and especially the SBF thread by Torq entitled "Life after Yggdrasil". Ignoring how the they treat each other, Torq sounds like he plays piano on an early Steinway grand piano. If I were a betting man (I am not), he probably works at Microsoft Labs or the Microsoft XBox hw engineering team based on his grasp of chip fab and firmware; I almost envisioned Torq works/ed on the XBox GPU. He has a very good grasp of technology and music playing. His responses are very old school Bill Gates DNA biting responses. Once I got past that, Torq's critical feedback and AI and luisma comments and use in tube amplification really helped me start with my first DAC purchase.

I would be remisce for not starting with the Yggdrasil.

Thank you!

I will post my feedback.

-stu

Congratulations, Stu!

I bet you will like the DAC. I look forward to your impressions.

Next to what sbnx said, we also had a thread on WBF dedicated to the DAC:

 
  • Like
Reactions: Stu

About us

  • What’s Best Forum is THE forum for high end audio, product reviews, advice and sharing experiences on the best of everything else. This is THE place where audiophiles and audio companies discuss vintage, contemporary and new audio products, music servers, music streamers, computer audio, digital-to-analog converters, turntables, phono stages, cartridges, reel-to-reel tape machines, speakers, headphones and tube and solid-state amplification. Founded in 2010 What’s Best Forum invites intelligent and courteous people of all interests and backgrounds to describe and discuss the best of everything. From beginners to life-long hobbyists to industry professionals, we enjoy learning about new things and meeting new people, and participating in spirited debates.

Quick Navigation

User Menu

Steve Williams
Site Founder | Site Owner | Administrator
Ron Resnick
Site Co-Owner | Administrator
Julian (The Fixer)
Website Build | Marketing Managersing