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  1. #1

    Audio Research DAC 8 Good News & Bad News

    Chris's review of the Aurender had me reassess my DAC8 status.

    Prior to his review, I noticed fairly significant variations between PM/Audirvana Plus vs. Amarra Mini, with the latter being my SQ preference.

    Then Chris's relative sound preferences in his Aurender review, which I rather not repeat on this thread other than to say, got me wondering as well as some of the comments on this board about the possibility of the ARC USB not being as good as their AES/EBU or asynchronous USB implementations of other DACs. Some on these threads also reported better sound using some other USB box between their Mac and DAC8.

    Gathering some great recommendations from the posters on this forum as well as a call into ARC gave me some fuel and direction for some experimentation. I got the "feeling" after talking to the folks at ARC that their Windows driver was rock steady as compared to their MAC driver, which had/is giving them some issues with "all the updates in OSX".

    While I have a Wavelink being lent to me, where I will once again try my Mac Mini, my first and easiest comparison was loading Bootcamp, Windows, ARC's Windows drivers and J River trial. After a fair amount of experimentation I think those with a DAC8 would do themselves a favor and try a Windows machine with ARC's Windows Driver. My preliminary listening is a quantum leap in the right direction, clearly and easily surpassing my PWT direct into my XLR input experience, which surpassed my Mac/Amarra USB.

    My preliminary impression that the "USB issue" on the DAC 8 may be more driver and/or player related than a real USB issue.

    I am not criticizing Mac solutions in general, just stating my observations with this particular DAC. I would love to hear from others who use the DAC8 and their experiences.

    Bad news is I could not get JPlay to work with the DAC8

  2. #2
    Sophomore Member dummy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Montréal, Qc


    Windows possibly better than Mac?!?!?! IMPOSSIBLE!!!

    You should be banned from here Monsieur for using such hate words!!!


    Arcam rDAC / Oppo BDP-83 / NAD 315BEE / Totem Arro

  3. #3

    ARC DAC 8 / USB / Wavelink

    Priaptor, I own an ARC Dac 8 and feed it through the Gordon's Wavelink. I originally used the Dac 8 through it's own USB port with a 2010 Mac Mini. After trying the Wavelink I found the sound of the Dac fed through the SPDIF / BNC port to be quite superior when compared to the USB direct sound. I believe you will find the same. I did confirm with ARC that their implementation of USB is "async" although it is clearly not as good as Gordon's "driverless" implementation. I trust you will find the same in your tests. I have yet to try the Windows driver but will attempt to do so with my Macbook Pro where I have Windows 7 with VM Ware Fusion and post my impressions.
    Mac Mini (2012) SSD / Lampizator Big 7 / ARC Preamp + Amp / Martin Logan Speakers and Subs.

  4. #4
    Senior Member barrows's Avatar
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    Jul 2008
    9,300', above Boulder, CO


    I am glad that you are getting better sound. I am curious though, did ARC share with you any details of the "problems" with their Mac driver? Perhaps it is not even bit perfect...

    I hope that you will still give the Wavelink a try via bnc (and recommend using Mac and Ammarra)-I am also curious if you will find an improvemnt via SPDIF as others here have reported with the DAC8.

    Clearly this is not about a problem with Mac/OSX, but as ARC admits, a problem with their driver for Mac.
    If you find using windows to be uncompromised via USB (in comparison with the Wavelink) perhaps the best solution for the DAC8 would be a CAPS with an SOtM USB output card...

    Sonore µRendu with Sonore Signature Power Supply--Buffalo IIIse/NTD1v.4/Sonore Async USB--DIY Ncore 400 Stereo-Focus Audio FS888 cap mod-DIY Parallel AC Filter-Cardas Clear power cables-Cardas Clear audio cables-Curious USB Link-Synergistic Black Fuses

    Design/Build Consultant with Simple Design/Sonore

  5. #5
    Señor Member Jud's Avatar
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    Mar 2010
    Born in Bethlehem (PA)
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    A virtualized Win 7 may not provide the same sound quality as "actual" Win 7 installed via Boot Camp. (That might be an experiment for someone to try.)

    A fair while ago with my old system (V-Link into Theta Pro Basic II) I tried Audirvana on OS X compared to XX High End on Win 7. I very much liked XX High End, but overall preferred Audirvana. I also heard Audirvana and Decibel on Mac OS X with a DAC 8 in a system in the $70-80k range at a dealer friend's, and was frankly unimpressed. Heard the same dealer's home system with the same players on a QB-9 and it was gorgeous. So perhaps the DAC 8's OS X driver really does sound less good than its Win driver.
    The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein
    One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

    MacBook Pro, A+ -> 2 Mapleshade Clearlink USB Plus flanking Regen (powered by LPS-1) -> iFi micro-iDSD -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

  6. #6

    DAC 8

    My impression with DAC 8 vs QB-9 in 70 K system using MAC was completely differentAC 8 sounded great.

  7. #7

    dummy, I am

    an equal opportunity lover/hater of computer OS. I have no loyalty to any computer or OS, particularly if it impacts SQ.

  8. #8
    Site Founder The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Minneapolis, MN, USA

    Jud is absolutely correct

    Jud is absolutely correct about VMs.

    Never use a virtual machine for audio playback unless your just screwing around.

    Chris Connaker

    Computer Audiophile

    Listening Room | System Details

  9. #9

    pawel8 , that is awesome

    I have been using the DAC8 for close to 8 months now, have what I personally consider a very capable resolving system have been very involved in making it "better" and always keep an open mind.

    I never said the Mac/Amarra didn't sound good and in fact claimed it was my favorite and only chose to investigate alternatives after reading reviews and comments of people who on this forum I respect. I have nothing to gain and in fact have something to lose by coming to the conclusions I have come to but the SQ speaks for itself.

    These last two days have been eye openers for me.

  10. #10
    Sophomore Member dummy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Montréal, Qc


    I do hope you got the irony in my comment... I have no loyalty either. Although I must admit I am fairly new to the Mac world... and I do have some love for my Air...

    I am quite interested in your future findings when you will try the Wavelink BNC versus the DAC8 USB.


    Arcam rDAC / Oppo BDP-83 / NAD 315BEE / Totem Arro

  11. #11

    Chris, couldn't agree more

    My comments were just the start of my experiments and at this point, compared to the same Mac Mini with the same USB ports, there is no doubt in my mind, that the drivers for Windows for the DAC8 are better optimized (or J River is just that much better than the Mac alternatives, which I doubt) compared to the Mac variants.

    Next step is a dedicated Windows environment.

    I by no means am making a Windows v. Mac comparison, just a DAC 8 driver comparison. As I said in a prior post, my experience on ONLY a Mac environment, between a Debussy and DAC 8, I liked the latter v. the former.

  12. #12

    Dummy, I did

    I was just giving my misanthropic cynical viewpoint of hating all therefore I love none perspective.

  13. #13

    Barrows, I am definitely

    going to get a Wavelink for comparison. Hopefully early part of next week.

    The Alpha USB is a more difficult product to get my greedy hands on as they are so back ordered. However, I do have some connections so I hope to have one in 2 weeks time.

    I should have my dedicated Windows server set up no later than Sunday.

    As a "scientist" I try to keep my perspective objective, but subjectively believe your last sentence is going to be the correct one. I am also, just for completeness sake going to take my buddy's "newest" Mini for a run.

    Their comments were generic stating that they had issues with drivers for "the new MacOSx environment" but that their windows drivers were stabile and asked me if I had tried "J River" which they have had great results with. I read between the lines. If I remember correctly, V1.30 for Mac was written significantly before Lion. It is for both 32 and 64 bit environments, who knows what is or is not optimized as I am running in 64 bit mode.

    My CAPS with an SOtM USB output card will be ready on Sunday for a real comparison. I really like what I have been hearing the last two days.

  14. #14
    Sophomore Member dummy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2010
    Montréal, Qc

    I hear you Priaptor,

    Whenever you try the Wavelink though, you'll be bypassing the DAC8 USB altogether therefore Its drivers as well.

    You'll then be able to get a better idea wether you prefer Windows or Mac players and make your own mind instead of wondering/obsessing because of other's findings.

    I am not sure your own findings will cure the sickness though...


    Good luck Monsieur!

    Arcam rDAC / Oppo BDP-83 / NAD 315BEE / Totem Arro

  15. #15

    CAPS v.2 + SOtM tX-USB + ARC DAC8 + JRMC 17

    For the past three months, I have listened to the combination of a C.A.P.S. v.2, including the SOtM tX-USB and SOtM SATA cards, an ARC DAC8, and JMRC 17. Using the USB interface, this combination has produced superb sound and has been rock-stable. I'll be very interested in what others find.

    I don't have any Mac gear, so I can't comment on how that sounds.

  16. #16

    Dummy, I understand

    and that is why I want to try it.

    I have an idea there is an issue with Mac drivers on the DAC8 relative to Windows drivers. The reason to try the Wavelink (I am not buying it at this point) is because of the findings I was getting with my Macs, OSX 10.6.7-10.7.2. I have a friend who is sending me one in order for me to do some trouble shooting. My preliminary findings so far support my belief that their Windows drivers are superior, which I hope to prove over the weekend.

  17. #17

    e seal I believe

    that is going to be a superior combination compared to running a Mac on the DAC8.

    I will hopefully have that setup in total in place by Friday. My preliminary findings parallel yours.

  18. #18

    Sonore Server - AES to DAC 8

    I'm trying out a Sonore server with SOtM AES output card into the DAC 8 right now. Both pieces are new to me (a PS PWD /Bridge owner) and, I have to say, I'm very impressed with what I'm hearing. I don't have the SOtM usb option on the Sonore, so I can't make a comparison. However, from what I'm hearing on a system very similar to yours (including Baby Grands), I'd highly suggest that you give the Sonore a listen into your DAC 8.

    Sonore microRENDU with Sonore Signature PS & PS Audio PWT --> Bricasti M1SE DAC; Spiral Groove SG2 TT w/ Centroid arm & Ortofon MC Anna Cartridge --> Merrill Audio Jens Phone Preamp; Technics RS1500 reel-reel with Bottlehead Tube Tape Repro preamp --> VAC Master Preamplifier --> KR Audio DXL "Kronzilla" Monoblocks & Merrill Audio Veritas Monoblocks--> Lawrence Audio Double Bass Loudspeakers ; MG Audio Designs interconnect & speakers cables; Ansuz power cables & conditioning.

  19. #19

    Tom, it does indeed look

    like we have similar systems. In fact I too once used a PWT/PWD. I still have the transport on hand which I use as a backup but lately have been using as a standard of comparison.

    My understanding from the Sonore folks was that since the DAC8 uses proprietary drivers their USB server would not work and your solution is the one they recommended.

    If you still have the PWT I would be curious, if you don't mind doing a little comparison, of how the PWT via the AES/EBU to the DAC8 compared to the Sonore.

    Incidentally, I don't know if you are aware but Carl just came out with a Series II Baby Grand that, from my understanding, you can upgrade your Baby Grands (assuming you have the first version). The new ones do not have external crossover boxes and are not biwired. He introduced them at RMAF.

  20. #20
    Sophomore Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Blog Entries

    What a turnaround

    Great to see you're making some very shrewd decisions from this blog-like thread. As dummy mentioned nicely about loyalties, I hope your findings won't be too reserved, even if there might be the odd disdainful comment.

    Even if you don't to hear the benefits of the SOtM card from CAPS immediately, there's some nice routes to take (thinking power supply here).

    It's no surprise to find a number of CA readers still eternally waiting for to-be-answered answers (Light-Peak Macs, CAPS V3, L1000).

  21. #21

    k-man, I have say

    this site has been incredible helpful with some of the most useful info and personal experiences enabling one to get the most of their systems.

    Unlike other forums, those on these forums have open minds with great advice.

  22. #22

    Sonore-PWT- DAC8

    Yes- I still have my PWT (and the PWD / Bridge), so I'll try to do the comparison that you suggest. From what I understand as well, Linux-based servers can't run the Mac proprietary drivers for usb. I wasn't expecting AES to sound as good as it does, but I'm guessing that this SOtM card has a big influence (it's essentially a usb>Spidif/AES converter). I did briefly try the Sonore Signature server with I2S out into my PWD- really nice! Unfortunately, haven't had the 2 of them here at the same time for comparison. I really like the way Jesus at Simple Design works closely with you to find the right combination. If I'm not mistaken, you are not far away from them? Might be worth experimenting.

    Followed your excellent contributions on the PS Audio Forums and noticed that you dropped off- now I understand why.

    Yes- I'm aware of the Baby Grand v 2. I heard it at RMAF and it sounded great.

    Sonore microRENDU with Sonore Signature PS & PS Audio PWT --> Bricasti M1SE DAC; Spiral Groove SG2 TT w/ Centroid arm & Ortofon MC Anna Cartridge --> Merrill Audio Jens Phone Preamp; Technics RS1500 reel-reel with Bottlehead Tube Tape Repro preamp --> VAC Master Preamplifier --> KR Audio DXL "Kronzilla" Monoblocks & Merrill Audio Veritas Monoblocks--> Lawrence Audio Double Bass Loudspeakers ; MG Audio Designs interconnect & speakers cables; Ansuz power cables & conditioning.

  23. #23

    Tom, I am looking forward to your


    I had spoken briefly with the Sonore people but was pretty much sold on sticking with the Asynch USB route after having some close discussions with the ARC people. However, I am obviously having second doubts about that and hence the reason for my "quest".

    I may indeed contact Jesus once again and see what arrangements they would be willing to make with me, depending upon what someone like yourself finds. I was also looking at the Aurender, a totally different economical beast, but whether or not it is any better who knows as it is close to impossible to get them all for comparison. My PWT was giving me better sound via XLR on the DAC 8 than I was able to achieve with a Mac/Player solution so I was starting to buy into some people's observations about the "less capable USB" solution of the DAC8 which, during my own experimentation I am starting to believe may be an implementation issue of drivers rather than the Mac and any player.

    While I really loved the concept (and sound) of the PWD I just couldn't continue with all the implementation issues they were trying to solve. During those frustrating times I was experimenting with a Debussy and DAC 8, the latter broken on two occasions, which I ultimately found out was a problem with some of the early boards and connectors and ARC was great in turning it around; this before I made a choice to buy it. Once I had the DAC 8 up and running I felt it was superior to the PWD and to my preference, superior to the Debussy.

    My Series II should be arriving in a few weeks so I will keep you informed as to the differences. Remember, at the RMAF Carl was playing them with the new REF250 monoblocks, which IMO, are outstanding so how much his upgrade vs. the electronics influenced the sound is anyone's guess although Carl swears by the changes and believe the new Series II are more open and 3 dimensional, something I have a hard time believing given how open and 3 dimensional the Series I are. The thing I love about his speakers are, and they obviously are not for everyone, is how listenable they are without any fatigue factor.

    If you do the trial (and even if you don't since we have a very common frame of reference) I would love to hear your continued experience and will continue to post my findings as I tinker over the next few weeks. I am still reserving the Aurender as a possibility.

  24. #24


    I'll update you and all here as I hopefully can get this listening done over the next day or so.

    I have heard the Aurender in the system of the US distributer. I was extremely impressed with its sonics, build quality and engineering, and, especially, the user interface (iPad app) . The system that I heard it in was completely unfamiliar to me without any real frame of reference, but it was sonically very impressive. I'd highly recommend auditioning for anyone who has that kind of budget and is looking for a packaged solution. However, you'd be pretty locked into it, and at a high cost.

    The ultimate question for me would be how it performs, for example, against an all-out Sonore Signature with Signature power supply & SOtM board. They have a lot in common but vastly different prices. And yes, I agree with you- I have heard awesome Mac-based systems and don't believe that the Mac/ Player solution is the issue, if there is one, with the DAC 8 in USB.

    Sonore microRENDU with Sonore Signature PS & PS Audio PWT --> Bricasti M1SE DAC; Spiral Groove SG2 TT w/ Centroid arm & Ortofon MC Anna Cartridge --> Merrill Audio Jens Phone Preamp; Technics RS1500 reel-reel with Bottlehead Tube Tape Repro preamp --> VAC Master Preamplifier --> KR Audio DXL "Kronzilla" Monoblocks & Merrill Audio Veritas Monoblocks--> Lawrence Audio Double Bass Loudspeakers ; MG Audio Designs interconnect & speakers cables; Ansuz power cables & conditioning.

  25. #25

    Priaptor- ARC DAC 8, PWT & Sonore

    As I mentioned in my earlier post, I had the great opportunity to borrow an Audio Research DAC 8 and Sonore Server with SOtM digital output for a couple days. My system is typically based around a PS Audio PWT transport and PWD DAC with most of my listening being via the PSA network Bridge fed via a MacBookPro. I was interested in comparing the various combinations. Unfortunately, other priorities won out and I couldn't devote the amount of time that I had hoped to this and do a proper job, so please take these high level comments as a "first impression" only.

    I need to say up front that I have been very satisfied with the sonic performance of the Bridge/PWD. Like many others, my issue has been all of the trials and tribulations of PSA getting the Bridge, their eLyric music management software, and their eLyric iOS apps working correctly. This has been very frustrating, but underneath it all is the pretty impressive sound of the PWD/Bridge combination (mitigated, somewhat, by audible variations- more like "voicing"- of different Bridge firmware updates).

    I had only a couple of hours to audition the various combinations and I was not able to set up to do a rather obvious one- MacBookPro / Pure Music via USB to the DAC8. (The PWD does not have an asynchronous USB input, but the new Version 2 digital board, shipping imminently, will add it as well as some other nifty things). Also, the DAC 8 only had about 150 hours on it, and ARC recommends that it be given at least a couple hundred hours before the top end "sweetens".

    Since the Sonore was set up for AES out, I compared the PWT & Sonore via AES to the PWD and DAC 8. I typically run the PWT to the PWD via PSA's proprietary I2S over HDMI and it does indeed sound best this way.

    Priaptor- in response to your question of PWT vs Sonore into the DAC 8- I'd have to say that it is extremely close, with different sonic signatures akin only to a level similar to changing cables to voice a system or component. The PWT came across as very slightly more open and tighter but with less bottom end bloom and overall weight than the Sonore/SOtM. (FYI- all of my files are AIFF, which the Sonore handles perfectly). The Sonore sounded slightly warmer and "weightier"; the PWT very slightly more open sounding. Both had a similar level of resolving power of inner detail and transparency on both redbook and 24/176 files ( HRx discs and transcoded files to AIFF).

    Note that this particular configuration of the Sonore/SOtM uses an internally mounted SOtM card but requires an external USB cable to link the motherboard usb jack to the SOtM input. This would imply at least that the particular usb cable used may have some influence on the sound. I used a Cardas usb cable, which is excellent, but I don't believe is the best I've heard, and this may be a contribution. Given my short time with these components, I'd have to say that it's pretty neck and neck between the server and PWT, with minor variations in sonic signature and there is no clear answer other than an audition in one's own system. I'd also suggest that AES is not the preferable output option and better results may be obtained with the Sonore /SOtM usb output (except MAYBE into the DAC8, which I was unable to verify).

    Of course, we're only using the PWT here as a reference point for ultimately comparing various server options, right? I am extremely interested, Priaptor, in hearing your thoughts on your new CAPS 2. I personally tend to lean more towards a Linux solution and, given the availability of a PWD-compatible I2S output, and the exceptional support that Jesus and Adrian offer, I'd probably prefer this route.

    As far as the DAC 8, I'd have to agree with Priaptor that it sounds better, via AES, than the current PWD. I was a bit bothered by a slightly edgy top end vs the PWD, but as I mention above, this unit was not fully burned in and ARC specifically states that a sweetening of the high end is one aspect to be expected after several hundred hours. The jury is out, however, until PSA delivers the Version 2 digital board for the PWD in January.

    The article on Computer Audio Sound Quality in the latest issue of TAS certainly raises questions about whether we should even use the PWT/PWD as the reference point for evaluating server sound. Whether one believes the basic premises of the evaluation or agrees with the authors' methodology, I think that their relative findings should give all of us neurotic audiophiles ample fodder for further questioning what we hear. Hey- look at the apparent panic caused by just a few of Chris' words about a "sluggish and washed out" sound of his Mac servers compared to the Aurender!

    Finally- Priaptor- I sent you a private message with some other background.

    Sonore microRENDU with Sonore Signature PS & PS Audio PWT --> Bricasti M1SE DAC; Spiral Groove SG2 TT w/ Centroid arm & Ortofon MC Anna Cartridge --> Merrill Audio Jens Phone Preamp; Technics RS1500 reel-reel with Bottlehead Tube Tape Repro preamp --> VAC Master Preamplifier --> KR Audio DXL "Kronzilla" Monoblocks & Merrill Audio Veritas Monoblocks--> Lawrence Audio Double Bass Loudspeakers ; MG Audio Designs interconnect & speakers cables; Ansuz power cables & conditioning.

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