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#235686 - 12/18/08 02:45 AM Got a new DAC. Unexpected results.
danmagicman7 Offline

Registered: 12/16/05
Posts: 1467
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 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 distortion generator 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.


M22s|VP100|QS4s|HSU STF2

#235687 - 12/18/08 02:50 AM Re: Got a new DAC. Unexpected results. [Re: danmagicman7]
CV Offline
Founder, Axiom Upgrade Club
shareholder in the making

Registered: 07/20/06
Posts: 11677
Loc: Richland, WA, USA
Nice read, Dan. Thanks for taking the time. I kind of want to get my sister a nice headphone setup at some point, so I may need to refer to your posts. \:\)

#235694 - 12/18/08 03:40 AM Re: Got a new DAC. Unexpected results. [Re: danmagicman7]
grunt Offline

Registered: 12/04/06
Posts: 3569
Loc: Nirvana
Thanks Dan, great write-up. I’ve been pining for a tube amp ever since I got my Sennheiser’s but now I might have to look into a new DAC. I would love to hear your impressions running it with your M22s. Also how the whole system sounds when integrated with your distortion generator. ;\)

3M80 2M22 6QS8 2M2 1EP500 Sony BDP-S590 Panny-7000 Onkyo-3007 Carada-134 Xbox Buttkicker AS-EQ1

#235859 - 12/18/08 07:34 PM Re: Got a new DAC. Unexpected results. [Re: grunt]
Shane White Offline

Registered: 10/05/08
Posts: 144
Loc: Perth, Western Australia
I bought a new DAC last year. I almost bought the DAC-AH, but ended up with the Zhaolu. From what you are saying it would have also been a good choice.
Raspberry Pi running Squeezelite->IQAudio Pi-DAC->NAD C320BEE amp->Usher S-520 bookshelf speakers

#235861 - 12/18/08 07:47 PM Re: Got a new DAC. Unexpected results. [Re: grunt]
oldskoolboarder Offline

Registered: 05/25/03
Posts: 2181
Loc: Menlo Park, CA
 Originally Posted By: grunt
Thanks Dan, great write-up. I’ve been pining for a tube amp ever since I got my Sennheiser’s but now I might have to look into a new DAC. I would love to hear your impressions running it with your M22s. Also how the whole system sounds when integrated with your distortion generator. ;\)


I've got a Sophia Baby Amp sitting unused in my rack...

My ASL-20's have been doing duty in my stereo system for a while. But every time I see Dan's post on cans, I resist the urge to get some real headphones. Must...resist...

#235876 - 12/19/08 12:23 AM Re: Got a new DAC. Unexpected results. [Re: Shane White]
danmagicman7 Offline

Registered: 12/16/05
Posts: 1467
Reasons why headphones are awesome:

1) You can get several types to suit different moods/music
2) They have a high resale value (I.E. If you buy some used you can probably sell them for the same price if you don't like them)
3) They give a much more intimate and detailed perspective of your music for a lot less cash.
4) Your room can suck and they will still sound great.
5) You can listen late night or in noisy conditions without bothering others...etc. :-)


Don't get me wrong, when you want pure sound movement and a "big" sound, speakers are where it's at. Nothing can really replace them. But headphones are a superb distraction.

 Originally Posted By: Shane White
I bought a new DAC last year. I almost bought the DAC-AH, but ended up with the Zhaolu. From what you are saying it would have also been a good choice.

Okay, cool. My friend actually just bought a used Entech Number Cruncher (it retails for about $400 ish) and I'm interested to hear the differences.

M22s|VP100|QS4s|HSU STF2

#236402 - 12/22/08 07:14 PM Re: Got a new DAC. Unexpected results. [Re: danmagicman7]
danmagicman7 Offline

Registered: 12/16/05
Posts: 1467
For the curious, I'm starting my listening impressions of the DAC in my Yamaha and my Lite DAC-AH. Just received my optical cables in the mail. The sound is definitely a bit different.. I'll investigate whether I should actually recommend it as an upgrade or not.

M22s|VP100|QS4s|HSU STF2

#237962 - 01/03/09 02:30 PM Re: Got a new DAC. Unexpected results. [Re: danmagicman7]
danmagicman7 Offline

Registered: 12/16/05
Posts: 1467
Long story short, this DAC was distorting on hot recordings. In my initial review, I did not really listen to hot recordings, because I generally gravitate towards better recorded stuff when I review.

Anyways, I had to break out the soldering gun and make two small modifications. Basically, the DAC's were not getting enough juice, so they were distorting. The reason why this DAC is so good is because the chinese copied this DAC design from some expensive piece of equipment, then toned it down to fit in a small enclosure, and somewhere in the mix decided to tone down the DAC voltage to prevent the chips from heating up. Anyways, failure on their part.

Had to piggyback two 1/4 watt resistors on two circuits to lessen the resistance. Did this so taking out the old resistors isn't necessary. Anyways, after the mod the DAC has no distortion and sounds great. So, firstly, I can't even recommend this DAC to anyone who doesn't want to poke around in electronic innards.

For details on what I did to mod it (with pictures) go here: soldering fun

Here's my review:

The Lite DAC-AH provided a slight edge on performance. To be honest, I could barely tell the difference - if at all. However, that statement comes in a mixed bag.

I also tried my UHA-3 going directly into the Yamaha. It was a few baby steps behind in fullness and detail, but for the most part it could have sounded the same to my ears. This was the DAC my Lite DAC-AH DESTROYED!

This even questioned my belief so much that I went back and listened on my headphones, again. No, there was a difference. In Beethovan's 5th Symphony, I envisioned myself as the conductor, and with the UHA-3 I'm like, where is the PASSION? give me MORE! C'MON!. Lite DAC-AH, I'm a happy conductor immersed in the music.

Therefore, I have come to many possible conclusions:

1) To hear the difference in speaker setups, one must spend much more money on sources/amps to hear a difference. The intimacy with the music is unparalleled in headphones. However, the gusto and power in speakers is unparalleled.

2) The Yamaha amp was a limiting factor. Good possibility, who knows.

3) M22's were the limiting factor. Doubt it, but really really high end speakers would probably make a difference.

So, in conclusion, be happy with whatever receiver DAC you have. If I had a super-expensive speaker setup, I have no doubt a difference could be heard between the setups. Otherwise, invest in those hefty mono blocks to give some raw power to your speakers and enjoy the sound pressure of good sound coming from your axioms.

I hope you enjoyed the review and experience :-)

M22s|VP100|QS4s|HSU STF2


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