Various DAC Audition Impressions

Phantom-Audio

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I prefer to assess audio products in real-world settings, such as actual companies or my own listening space, rather than commenting on audio shows where several factors can potentially impact the audio systems' full potential. Therefore, audio show events are not a suitable standard for me to evaluate a system.

Although I appreciate the comparison made on this thread among various DACs, I suggest taking it with a grain of salt because it has its shortcomings. We are comparing different DACs with various cables and streamers, as well as time differences between each DAC, relying on audio memory, which can sometimes be unreliable.

I have invested countless hours testing various DACs, such as DCS Dacs, MSB Dacs, Lampizator Big 7, Aries Cerat Homerus DAC, Ithaka, Helene DAC, Aqua Acoustics, Chord Dave, Playback Design Dream Series, Audio GD Terminator, and several other DIY DACs. Although I consider myself a novice in the digital domain, I have familiarized myself with many DACs from different companies in this field.

Out of all the DACs I have tested, only a few have been completely fatigue-free, such as the Aries Cerat and the Playback Design. Both are significantly different in design, with the Playback Design utilizing internal converters to convert all incoming signals to DSD, and the Aries Cerat being a tube-based DAC with an over-engineered power supply and an extreme level of build quality but using ladder-based chips. Both DACs display a fine, smooth quality that can play poorly recorded files effortlessly and without fatigue, without losing transparency or dynamics. The flow just feels right, akin to experiencing the flow from an excellent analog turntable.

I am not familiar with WADAX, so I cannot comment on this DAC personally. Still, my friends' opinions in the industry are not so favorable when it comes to price versus performance comments.

Comparing one company's top-flight audio product to another company's lowest level DAC is unfair. Why not discuss each company's top-of-the-range offerings, including Aries Cerat's 230KG Homerus DAC, which utilizes two massive power supplies and an inverted triode output stage, versus the top-flight MSB DCS offering or the WADAX. I have no doubt that once this DAC is heard, it will make every other DAC seem expensive.

Even the Aries Cerat Ithaka DAC is significantly superior to the best of the best current MSB and DCS units, and the Homerus is just on a level not heard before and has to be a contender on this forum. With this particular DAC, I am sure it will give the Wadax a run for its asking price!

While I think Playback Design Dream Series should have been included in the mix, as to my ears, it is significantly superior to MSB or DCS. This one was missed out, and the OP should give this DAC a listen if he has the opportunity, as I believe he will be pleasantly surprised.

Although I do not intend to promote any products on this forum, I do enjoy sharing my personal opinions and experiences. I typically only take on distribution for audio products that I believe perform exceptionally well and that I would personally use myself. I do not rely on magazine reviews as I believe many of them are merely advertisements masquerading as reviews. It is important for me to share my genuine thoughts and feelings, even if they may be seen as biased due to my involvement in the industry.
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Phantom-Audio

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Unfortunately, I do not possess the complete technical specifications of the Aries Cerat Homerus DAC. However, it is a three-part system, consisting of two colossal power supply boxes that individually feed each channel, along with a central box comprising an inverted output triode stage and a ladder DAC processing board. To the best of my knowledge, the entire system weighs a staggering 230 kilograms. The DAC processing box incorporates numerous tubes, as does the power supply section. I have never encountered anything comparable to this in my entire audio experience. Its scale, size, and weight are truly extraordinary. The estimated retail price is approximately 160,000 euros, placing it within the same category as the Wadax.
 

Phantom-Audio

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Below are additional images of the power supply modules for the left and right channels.


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lordcloud

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I don't understand any comments on this thread, and the forum in general, where people are warning others that a comparison is not to be taken as unimpeachable gospel, because of various factors relating to the details of the comparisons. Yes......we know. We already know this. We really already know.

I don't think anyone has given their credentials as professional audio scientists, and are looking to have their findings picked apart, peer reviewed, and then repeated to the letter so that their findings can be viewed as fact. This is all just a bunch of people trying stuff and telling you what they heard. That's it. Nothing any more serious than that.

It's weird to me that people feel the need to dispute the findings of what someone has heard, when they're literally just trying to tell you what they did and what they thought of it over a nice weekend.
 

TDX

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I don't understand any comments on this thread, and the forum in general, where people are warning others that a comparison is not to be taken as unimpeachable gospel, because of various factors relating to the details of the comparisons. Yes......we know. We already know this. We really already know.

I don't think anyone has given their credentials as professional audio scientists, and are looking to have their findings picked apart, peer reviewed, and then repeated to the letter so that their findings can be viewed as fact. This is all just a bunch of people trying stuff and telling you what they heard. That's it. Nothing any more serious than that.

It's weird to me that people feel the need to dispute the findings of what someone has heard, when they're literally just trying to tell you what they did and what they thought of it over a nice weekend.
agreed...
 

acousticsguru

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I don't understand any comments on this thread, and the forum in general, where people are warning others that a comparison is not to be taken as unimpeachable gospel, because of various factors relating to the details of the comparisons. Yes......we know. We already know this. We really already know.

I don't think anyone has given their credentials as professional audio scientists, and are looking to have their findings picked apart, peer reviewed, and then repeated to the letter so that their findings can be viewed as fact. This is all just a bunch of people trying stuff and telling you what they heard. That's it. Nothing any more serious than that.

It's weird to me that people feel the need to dispute the findings of what someone has heard, when they're literally just trying to tell you what they did and what they thought of it over a nice weekend.
I must have missed where people claim there's anything scientific about comparisons that, for the most part, aren't based on single, let alone double blind testing. If I'm warning people, then against jumping to conclusions (making a financial commitment, and not an unsubstantial one at that) based on a casual comparison (or a demo at a trade show) unless they've at least given each component a chance to strut its stuff. So if Lukasz from Lampizator recommends using a USB server, or dCS recommends using Ethernet and their Mosaic app, or Playback Designs recommends e.g. their Stream IF and fibre optics, to get the best out of their products, then why not follow their advice and proceed from there?

Greetings from Switzerland, David.
 
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bryans

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I don't understand any comments on this thread, and the forum in general, where people are warning others that a comparison is not to be taken as unimpeachable gospel, because of various factors relating to the details of the comparisons. Yes......we know. We already know this. We really already know.

I don't think anyone has given their credentials as professional audio scientists, and are looking to have their findings picked apart, peer reviewed, and then repeated to the letter so that their findings can be viewed as fact. This is all just a bunch of people trying stuff and telling you what they heard. That's it. Nothing any more serious than that.

It's weird to me that people feel the need to dispute the findings of what someone has heard, when they're literally just trying to tell you what they did and what they thought of it over a nice weekend.
This is exactly why I tell people to use their own ears to decide what is best for them.
 

Kingrex

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Did I see Phantom write
I do not rely on magazine reviews as I believe many of them are merely advertisements masquerading as reviews.
Sounds like another topic hot on the forum. Now there is no one to trust. Accept for maybe your dealer!!!
 

Mike Lavigne

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these perceptions are data points. useful data points. imperfectly perfect, and more than we had before they were done. so we are thankful we have them, and keep a lookout for more and better ones.

and we add our data points together with what we think we already know and form opinions. reach conclusions. make decisions. or.....maybe they push us to do our own investigations.
 

lordcloud

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I must have missed where people claim there's anything scientific about comparisons that, for the most part, aren't based on single, let alone double blind testing. If I'm warning people, then against jumping to conclusions (making a financial commitment, and not an unsubstantial one at that) based on a casual comparison (or a demo at a trade show) unless they've at least given each component a chance to strut its stuff. So if Lukasz from Lampizator recommends using a USB server, or dCS recommends using Ethernet and their Mosaic app, or Playback Designs recommends e.g. their Stream IF and fibre optics, to get the best out of their products, then why not follow their advice and proceed from there?

Greetings from Switzerland, David.
I didn't claim there was anyone saying that their comparisons were done scientifically, or that their comparisons were scientific in any way. In fact I'm saying just that...that they aren't scientific, and that they make no claim to be.

I VERY much liked reading your thoughts and experience listening to different dacs. And I would love if you expanded on it, as you seem to say things that others may not have picked up on.

My issue would be where someone would come in and try and throw salt on what you've said about your experience with these dacs.....because of a perceived flaw in how you've compared them.

We're all just telling people what we hear and what we like. It's almost cringy when people saying something to the effect of......well you should have tried this DAC or that DAC in order to make the comparison more valid. As though it's just that easy to get whatever DAC you want in for a listen. Or that it wasn't fair to compare this 49k DAC to this 96k DAC......again, as though there's an unlimited supply of dacs to have in your home for audition, on the same days, with everything being in perfect alignment. Or that people should have thought about what everyone else would like to be compared, versus what they want to compare or have access to compare.

This forum is very strange in that way to me.
 
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acousticsguru

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I didn't claim there was anyone saying that their comparisons were done scientifically, or that their comparisons were scientific in any way. In fact I'm saying just that...that they aren't scientific, and that they make no claim to be.

I VERY much liked reading your thoughts and experience listening to different dacs. And I would love if you expanded on it, as you seem to say things that others may not have picked up on.

My issue would be where someone would come in and try and throw salt on what you've said about your experience with these dacs.....because of a perceived flaw in how you've compared them.

We're all just telling people what we hear and what we like. It's almost cringy when people saying something to the effect of......well you should have tried this DAC or that DAC in order to make the comparison more valid. As though it's just that easy to get whatever DAC you want in for a listen. Or that it wasn't fair to compare this 49k DAC to this 96k DAC......again, as though there's an unlimited supply of h dacs to have in your home you audition, on the same days, with everything being in perfect alignment. Or that people should have thought about what everyone else would like to be compared, versus what they want to compare or have access to compare.

This forum is very strange in that way to me.
I for one believe so much in system synergy that I’m not sure one should observe a price limit either way. Brands, like it or not, tend to have a house sound. That it may not be “fair” to compare DACs from different price categories (for example, I’ve so far not been able to warm up to the Bartók, severely lacking in get up and go, having said that, I haven’t heard the Apex version) would be correct if we were critics and expecting others to base their buying decisions on our ranking, but we’re not, besides, this is the exact thing I’d want to warn against: whatever one does, be sure to demo in your own system. Having said that, if a dealer doesn’t have the top of the line unit of a brand, demoing one a step or two down within the portfolio may give a glimpse into functionality, house sound and, hopefully, system synergy. Certainly as far as engineering driven brands go, I’d be highly surprised if, for example, one couldn’t swap a Rossini for a Vivaldi in one’s system to stay within the dCS family as an example. Well, never say never. I know from personal experience I don’t like all their products, and I’ve owned ones and auditioned most since the millennium. It’s just an example, as in a similar vein I’ve had the opportunity, thanks to several audiophile buddies, to hear a wide range of Lampizator DAC models, conversion boards, updates, server reiterations, along with tubes, cables and tweaks in systems I’ve gotten to know fairly well over the years, a fascinating journey, the best part of which has been meeting and getting to know the respective owners. I’m not one to ever tell anyone what to buy, much less judge someone on the basis of their preferences, but I’m naturally curious and will listen given the opportunity. This thread reminds me of another of my hobbies, wine, and what a terrible mistake it can be to buy based on ratings, as our tastes are based on grape varieties and winemaking styles, so that the only relevant information to be gleaned from tasting notes and reports is within a known paradigm, for example, whether the latest vintage of a wine one likes was successful and how, whereas there’s little to learn when one knows nothing about it. There’s no point in telling a Pinot Noir lover looking for subtlety and finesse that he or she should forget about overpriced (as with audiophile gear, that part of the equation is indisputable) Burgundy and look into Amarone or Aussie Shiraz instead because it’s on a similar level of quality - even if that is true (depending on one’s perspective, completely irrelevant). But that’s exactly what some audiophiles do.

Greetings from Switzerland, David.
 
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Phantom-Audio

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Please accept my apologies if my content or opinions have been conveyed in an unintended manner. Although it is widely acknowledged that comparing audio equipment can be a flawed approach, some online readers consider these comparisons as the absolute truth and are quick to judge or form an opinion. It is important to acknowledge that different readers may perceive the situation differently, and misunderstandings can arise easily.

Nevertheless, if we are going to make a comparison between high-end DACs costing upwards of 100K, we should ensure that we are comparing equally-priced DACs. It is crucial to take a fair and balanced approach when making such comparisons to avoid any misrepresentation or misinterpretation of information.
 
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Al M.

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Please accept my apologies if my content or opinions have been conveyed in an unintended manner. Although it is widely acknowledged that comparing audio equipment can be a flawed approach, some online readers consider these comparisons as the absolute truth and are quick to judge or form an opinion. It is important to acknowledge that different readers may perceive the situation differently, and misunderstandings can arise easily.

Sure, there are all kinds of caveats that apply, including system context, optimization of sonic presentation by each DAC, and personal perception which will differ between individuals.

Nevertheless, if we are going to make a comparison between high-end DACs costing upwards of 100K, we should ensure that we are comparing equally-priced DACs.

I don't see how "equally priced" has much to do with a fair comparison. I have not heard a convincing correlation between price and sound quality in diverse DAC comparisons.

On this point I just have to disagree.

It is crucial to take a fair and balanced approach when making such comparisons to avoid any misrepresentation or misinterpretation of information.

When it comes to optimizing the circumstances for each DAC in a system, I agree. And as I said, other caveats apply.
 

acousticsguru

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Feb 17, 2014
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Please accept my apologies if my content or opinions have been conveyed in an unintended manner. Although it is widely acknowledged that comparing audio equipment can be a flawed approach, some online readers consider these comparisons as the absolute truth and are quick to judge or form an opinion. It is important to acknowledge that different readers may perceive the situation differently, and misunderstandings can arise easily.

Nevertheless, if we are going to make a comparison between high-end DACs costing upwards of 100K, we should ensure that we are comparing equally-priced DACs. It is crucial to take a fair and balanced approach when making such comparisons to avoid any misrepresentation or misinterpretation of information.
I do not agree with the assumption that price equals quality, maybe in an ideal world it would, but not in ours. An example you’ve given yourself further above would be the Playback Designs Dream DAC: I wouldn’t want to automatically exclude it from evaluation only because it costs less than the top models by dCS, MSB, Lampizator and Wadax. On the contrary, if anyone can come up with a great or even better sounding DAC for less, I’ll want to hear it, and more power to them.

Greetings from Switzerland, David.
 

Gregadd

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Just to weigh in price is the province of the potential purchaser. If you have got the itch and the scrilla for a WADAX good got you. I t is becoming apparent the WADAX is not as exclusive as I. thought.
If price is your thing there is always the Mola Mola Tambaqui.
 
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Phantom-Audio

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I do not agree with the assumption that price equals quality, maybe in an ideal world it would, but not in ours. An example you’ve given yourself further above would be the Playback Designs Dream DAC: I wouldn’t want to automatically exclude it from evaluation only because it costs less than the top models by dCS, MSB, Lampizator and Wadax. On the contrary, if anyone can come up with a great or even better sounding DAC for less, I’ll want to hear it, and more power to them.

Greetings from Switzerland, David.

I would like to assert that a higher price point does not necessarily translate to better performance. However, in the interest of fair comparison and review of DACs across various companies, it would be ideal to evaluate their highest offerings. It is noteworthy that certain DACs are priced above 100,000 USD, while others are in the low 20,000 USD range. As automotive magazines tend to review cars with equivalent prices, a similar approach should be adopted in evaluating DACs. Unfortunately, in our current scenario, we are comparing a 20,000 USD DAC to those priced at 100,000 and even 160,000 USD.

As has been previously mentioned by other contributors (and we are already cognizant of this fact), I believe it is now appropriate for me to abstain from further engagement on this particular thread. Moving forward, I do hope that any subsequent reviews posted by members of this community will take pricing into consideration when evaluating products.
 

acousticsguru

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Just to weigh in price is the province of the potential purchaser. If you have got the itch and the scrilla for a WADAX good got you. I t is becoming apparent the WADAX is not as exclusive as I. thought.
If price is your thing there is always the Mola Mola Tambaqui.
The Tambaqui is one DAC I'd be curious to hear, as I haven't yet had the opportunity. It's an FPGA DAC (unlike most we've been discussing in this thread, with the exception of Playback Designs), correct?

Greetings from Switzerland, David.
 
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Levitator

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I would like to assert that a higher price point does not necessarily translate to better performance. However, in the interest of fair comparison and review of DACs across various companies, it would be ideal to evaluate their highest offerings. It is noteworthy that certain DACs are priced above 100,000 USD, while others are in the low 20,000 USD range. As automotive magazines tend to review cars with equivalent prices, a similar approach should be adopted in evaluating DACs. Unfortunately, in our current scenario, we are comparing a 20,000 USD DAC to those priced at 100,000 and even 160,000 USD.

As has been previously mentioned by other contributors (and we are already cognizant of this fact), I believe it is now appropriate for me to abstain from further engagement on this particular thread. Moving forward, I do hope that any subsequent reviews posted by members of this community will take pricing into consideration when evaluating products.
I think the real issue is that if a lower priced DAC called brand X (which also has higher priced alternatives in the product line that are not compared) is compared to a much higher priced DAC called brand Y and it isn’t made clear to a reader that there are other options in the brand X range that need to be considered but weren’t available, it may be implied that Y is always better than X. I have no issue with lower priced DAC’s being compared to higher priced ones, as long as the reader is made aware as unfortunately people are influenced by what they read.
 

Mike Lavigne

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It was such a fun reading for comparison, trashed by so many critics who do not provide any help in terms of gear comparison.
while i don't see myself as any critic of the compare efforts put forth in this thread, i would say that some here do quite involved and very serious compare efforts with dacs and servers. compares that take weeks between only two dacs and two servers, and much effort to pull off.

it can be done and has been done.

clear conclusions were reached, and outside participants were involved. plenty questioned that effort too, of course. just the way things go. normal stuff.

especially with dacs, you put forth an opinion, there is going to be turmoil. everyone is a dac expert, sometimes they run in packs, and we all have a dac.

it's all good. :rolleyes:
 
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