Didn't know where to post this, since it is mostly headphone impressions with the DAC, but here you go anyways. Enjoy the little writeup I whipped together
Alright, so to spruce up my headphone setup I caved and got a $200 budget (but very popularly modded) DAC, the Lite DAC-AH, and a nice Woo Audio tube amp (or as some people around here call them distortion generators).
Anyways, the tube amp is custom made, so I have to wait for it. To be honest I wasn't very excited to get my DAC because it was like ho hum, it probably won't make that much of a difference. I mostly did it because it supported optical connections, and it was only right to feed my nice new tube amp a good analog signal.
I hooked it up, and plugged it right into the analog in on my headphone amp. I was in for a huge surprise.
I postponed my headphone impressions until all of my real equipment came in, but I thought I'd make a separate post about the DAC because of the results I heard. Here is a picture:
When I first heard the sound out of the DAC, I thought something was wrong with the unit. I was hearing distortion, all sorts of high end hissing, etc etc.
What I really came to realize was, I was hearing exactly what the recording was
For a background on my headphone amp/dac history, it went like this: Yamaha RX-V557 provided muddy sound. When I first got my Senn 595's, I thought they sounded great. When I got my UHA-3 Portable amp with its built in DAC, I thought the Yamaha sounded muddy and the UHA-3 sounded clean. The muddy sound from the Yamaha most likely was because of the headphone amp in there, but it may have had to do with the DAC as well.
Then I got the Lite DAC-AH. Hoooly crap. It was like a new dimension of music was opened up. I heard exactly what was recorded. In good recordings it sounded great, in bad recordings I thought it was fun hearing all the things they could have brushed up about.Hearing "Distortion"
One of the first distorted sounds I noticed heard were some voices. At this point I thought something must be wrong with the DAC, but on further listening that was not true.
On one song, the part I was hearing distortion on happened to be distant-recorded vocals that were boosted to be the same volume as the rest of the track. Not only did the voices sound a little grainy, but when the voices were silent, I could tell when the recording studio faded in/out that channel
because of the hissing noise that appeared and disappeared in passages around those distant voices. I thought that was truly amazing. I could go on with lots of other examples, but that was the most notable one.
When I listened to clean recordings, that all went away. They sounded great.I...heard that?
In the same vein, I heard things like picks hitting the guitar strings, and also weird things like the guitar strings vibrating against the frets making a "buzz/boing" sound. A/B ing with my UHA-3 amp proved that these sounds were simply shuffled away in the background, and I was really hearing new things with the Lite DAC.
While some people might find these details annoying, I found them easy to look past while just listening to the music. This also made the music sound so much more real, rather than just recorded magic. Music has errors, odd sounds, and never sounds perfect. It's created by humans, and the DAC just opened up a new area of realizing the reality of that.
Some of the coolest things that I noticed with this extra detail was in classical music. There was one point where I was listening to Beethoven's 5th Symphony in FLAC, and at one point I audibly said "Holy...what...I just heard someone's shoe squeak!" It was also during a somewhat complex passage! I was amazed.The Expanse of Sound
The sound staging was immensely
improved. Headphones often suffer from the "3 blob" effect around your head where the soundstage is spread out into an area in the left, center, and right. While most fine soundstage delicacies are not very apparent in rock music because of the small range of instruments and the way it is mixed, Drums, guitars, vocals just sounded so
much bigger. They had air, reality, and dimension added to them. Wonderful.
With classical music, it almost brought a tear to my eye. In complex orchestral movements, violins were layered just behind the violas on the right side, with each one taking turns poking out to the left and right of each other. It wasn't like they were moving very much, it was like I could hear the difference between someone sitting playing the violin sitting five feet to the right of someone playing a viola - while being 60 feet away sitting in the audience. Instruments were beautifully layered in the soundstage - slightly to the side of each other, slightly behind, slightly more forward, slightly more muffled - horns, drums, violins, cellos, oboes, cymbal clashes, piano - beautiful!Overall feelings and sonic ramifications
Overall, the DAC brought me really close to the music, and obviously added a whole level of so much more detail.
Some sonic ramifications were that it completely enhanced and changed the way I listened to my headphones. My Senn 595's used to be shy in the highs, but not so with the DAC. Loads of detail, a lot more punch. My Alessandro MS-2's (they are in the Grado family) were much more forward and bright. The MS-2 already revealed things I never heard with my Senn 595's before on my UHA-3, so with the Lite DAC-AH and MS-2's it was almost like an information overload - in a good way. I did, however, feel that some recordings were a little too bright and harsh if turned up to listening levels I was used to on the UHA-3.
I used to barely be able to tell the difference between a V0 encoded MP3 and FLAC. With the Lite DAC, I can easily tell the difference if A/B'ing tracks...as long it is a well recorded album. If I'm listening to a V0 MP3, I'm not thinking "Oh, this sounds bad, this isn't a FLAC." I usually can't tell what the file format is just by listening to it without any other reference.
If an album is not recorded well, it's not like it sounds bad on a first listen, but it sounds like utter crap next to something that is recorded well. The Lite DAC rips bad recordings to shreds and eats them for lunch.
I'm beginning to learn that this is the one draw back as you march ahead in high-end audio equipment. Sometimes you look back in remorse because some of your favorite recordings were badly recorded and your setup completely butchers the sound. But, I'll take those losses over some amazing sound.In closing...
All in all my only complaint is that I missed some of the warmness lost from my UHA-3, and the Lite DAC introduced some additional details and high end stuff that can sound bright/harsh. Of course, that should be fixed by my warm-sounding
tube amp :-).
I haven't tried looping back the DAC to my receiver and A/Bing my M22's that way. I'm going to be getting an optical cable in the mail soon, so I should be able to do some impressions and easy A/B ing by switching inputs on my Yamaha for impressions with my Axioms. While headphones give a much more immediate and intimate presentation of the music, I hope to hear the same impressive improvements on my M22's as well.
I'm also going to try listening to my headphones with my Subwoofer on and my M22's off to experiment with that sound :).
Thanks for reading, when I get my tube amp I'll post some more impressions, and a much more detailed review of all my headphones in my other "Can Addiction" thread. I felt that the results of the DAC might be of use to you guys here.