Semi-Customized DAC Part III - Success! (Provisional but sweet)
by, 05-09-2013 at 03:28 PM (2109 Views)
Having connected the output wiring properly this time (had wired my output jacks to metal-rimmed mounting holes near the contacts rather than the contacts themselves), I was eagerly awaiting the new transformer. It came yesterday. Like Christmas in May - which, having been raised Jewish, is saying something.
Soldered the transformer wires where they needed to go, hooked everything up, powered it on, turned on the amp, turned off the mute switch, turned up the volume, and - Music! Yee-hah! Unlike the initial run a couple of weeks ago, nothing overheated at all. (In fact I had the unit burning in overnight, and when I checked this morning, again nothing was hot.)
I played the first batch of songs using a normal garden variety fuse. In this first batch I included a DSD file, "We Belong Together," from the MoFi release of Rickie Lee Jones' Pirates, because I'd never had the opportunity to hear native DSD playback before.
Ho-lee Sh**t! Jaw-dropping. There's some really well-recorded percussion on this song, and the absolute slam! of it with native DSD was something I hadn't heard before outside of live concerts and high end shows. Nothing sloppy about it (I can't stand distortion), just good tight drum impact.
After that, I decided it was time to try the Hi-Fi Tuning Supreme "Black" audiophile fuse. (The IEC inlet I bought incorporates a fuse holder, making changes a breeze.) And odd/dubious as it may seem, yes, I really think it improved the sound. Replayed "We Belong Together," and the slam! was still there, but also more subtle low-level detail, e.g., more instrumental technique audible and more prolonged decay of the piano chord at the end of the song.
After that I figured it was time for burn-in, so I loaded pretty much my entire collection of ripped and downloaded music into the latest Audirvana Plus beta and set it on shuffle. One of the first songs that came on was "I Will," from the Beatles' White Album. It sounded so good I thought it might be from the Love album, which I have as a 24/96 rip. Actually had to get up from the couch, go over to the computer and check to make sure - nope, "I Will" isn't on Love, it was my Redbook rip from the '09 remastered White Album CD.
At this point a reminder may be in order: I have Audirvana Plus set to do power-of-2 oversampling to the max the DAC will accept, which in this case are the 8x rates (352.8 and 384kHz). Those are the same rates the DAC sends to the D/A conversion step. In other words, with this setup there is no in-DAC oversampling. Any oversampling is done solely by iZotope, which is bundled with Audirvana Plus.
So far everything is sounding wonderful. Not the same, each track has its own distinct sound, but I'm hearing more from each track than before, to the extent some sound almost like entirely different songs. ("No Good with Faces" from Jack Johnson's well-recorded To the Sea is one I particularly remember thinking this about.) IMO this isn't a commentary so much on my prior main system DAC (Bifrost), which I still think is very good, but on the current combination of an improved DAC and excellent software-only oversampling. I'm eagerly anticipating trying some of the 2L 8x sample rate downloads, to hear what no oversampling at all sounds like.
So now everything's working well (or better than well), it's time to try to gild the lily. In the next few weeks I plan to get started with changing the point-to-point wiring to Omega Mikro ribbons, changing out the Radio Shack(!) RCA jacks for Omega Mikro, and putting all this into two maple cases with Mapleshade vibration control. My PCB supplier has also mentioned that some folks like to roll the output caps; might think about that at a later date, though all thoughts and suggestions here are certainly welcome.
I'm very, very happy with how it's going so far. Next time, we'll see whether there's any "burn-in" effect (whether the sound seems to change as more hours are put on the DAC); and I'll finally get around to letting you all know a little more about the chassis and who the CA forum member is who's said he'll step outside his normal line of work and fabricate them for me.