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The NAD goes back home, now for a DAC Comparison

SteveR750

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The NAD is a fantastic amp, but I am not going to make an impulse buy, partly because I still think the M2 is a thumping good amp, and has a better bottom end punch and control than the NAD has. So I want to try some better DACs to be fair to the Caspian, as the dacmagic isnt the most neutral smothest sounding around.

I've shortlisted the M-DAC, I'd like to listen to the Qute, but can't find any in stock to do a home demo or close enough to travek to; and there are no less than three Naim DACs on ebay - is there something wrong / unlikeable with them?
 

Balderdash

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Erm, not wanting to start a storm, maybe there are alternatives to Naim that are equally good and a bit more interesting. Yes, I own a Cyrus amp which is mainstream, but i hanker over something more unusual and probably better.
 

CnoEvil

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SteveR750 said:
and there are no less than three Naim DACs on ebay - is there something wrong / unlikeable with them?
At a guess, I suspect people may be going down the streaming route, as it's possibly more satisfactory/convenient - leaving expensive Dacs somewhat redundant.
 

SteveR750

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It got some great 5 star reviews and not just WHF, but funny how times change so quick - no USB 2.0 input for a PC, but plenty of iPod/Pad/Pid USB connectivity.

There's one starting at £900, the rest are too much given it's already a bit dated. I'm going to try a used M-DAC and take it from there, can always sell it on with the rest of the wave if I'm quick!

I'm having reservations about the NAD's bass, plenty of it, but it's a bit more one note than the Caspian that simply excels in that respect.

balderdash said:
Erm, not wanting to start a storm, maybe there are alternatives to Naim that are equally good and a bit more interesting. Yes, I own a Cyrus amp which is mainstream, but i hanker over something more unusual and probably better.
I'm sure, but what are they???!

Any suggestions welcome.
 

Balderdash

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There is a dealer in Stoke that distribute a number of excellent items- if you have £1000 or so to spend. Red Wine, Antelope. Check out 6moons for a review.
 

SteveR750

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I've shortlisted some I'd like to try

Chord Qute

M-DAC

Leema elements - I like two things about this already - 3 optical + USB 2.0 inputs, plus the ground shielding to prevent PSU interference. The NAD is absoluetly silent on USB, and the benefit is noticeable

Moon 300D
 

Shanka

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Jan 10, 2011
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Hi,

Have been reading your posts re NAd/DAc's with some interest.

I looked at DAC's earlier this year to partner my Caspian, note I currently have a dacmagic which I use with my Arcam which may or may not be replaced by NAD c370 so I feel our listening preferences may not be a million miles apart.

I found in demo situation there was very little to choose between the Rega and the Audiolab but felt the Audiolab slightly shaded it but this is minimal, I also feel it has better features , both are excellent products but what I read here shows there are a lot of rega supporters out there.

However the best DAC I heard with a Caspian was the MF Clic, knocked the socks off the other two to my ears and if you are considering a streamer I would advise you give it a listen. I must add that the MF DAC was hugely disappointing but maybe listen to see what you think.

If the MF Clic had spotify and android app I would happily blow my budget and get one, as it is I can't see how I would benefit from the facilities of a streamer.
I think I only need a dac at present and will probably be going the Audiolab route but can't wait to see how you get on.

Good luck, have fun and keep posting.
 

jerry klinger

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As you can see from the list below, I'm using a Naim ND5XS streamer as a DAC with a Caspian M2. I had the Naim DAC but actually prefer this - especially with the XP5XS PSU. For USB I use an rDAC - don't forget Naim don't seem to want to implement USB inputs. Understandable, given the criticism that always seems to accompany them!

Interesting that you were happy enough with the Caspian to pursue it over the NAD. This rather begs the question - how can the NAD be 'one of the best 5 amplifiers available' if some prefer a £1600 analogue amp (given the much more expensive - and better - amps that exist)?
 

drummerman

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Without wanting to read like someone else well known on here ... DAC boards are cheap ... around a fiver.

Many of these 'audiophile' DAC's are deliberately overengineered to give them a USP (not USB!) and audiophile appeal. Add expensive casings etc and voila.

These DAC boards are engineered to perform well as designed. Often the manufacturers, Wolfson/BB et all have spent huge amounts on development and machinery. The hifi companies using them just add elaborate output stages, again often probably unncecessarely complicated (Audiolab is only one example, their 8200 as well as other 'high-end' designs don't actually measure better than a well engineered 'ordinary' cheap cd player). At worst, they (hifi companies) change what is already a good, proven DAC design to the detriment of it. As always, there are exceptions. Companies that actually design and manufacture from ground up. Whether a .00001 percentage in improved distortion is worth hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of prounds ... only you can decide. Clearly, the law of diminishing returns is heavily at work here.

Of course, you pay for features too and here is where the Audiolab, for example, justifies its cost but for performance, I wouldnt count on it being superior in a significant way (or at all) over something from say CA, or, to go to an extreme, even something for 40quid from china, if well engineered.

As for paying £2000 plus for something from Salisbury for a DAC or streamer ... (I love their XS amplifier by the way).

Just my opinion of course

regards
 

SteveR750

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I share your scepticism DM to a point. I've heard the Chord QBD with my own ears with a K2 and a the M2 and it was pretty damn impressive (and remember that it uses a proprietry in house DAC array, not an off the shelf Wolfson, Sabre or Burr-Brown chipset.

I've organised a 14 day trial of the Qute, since this shares 99% of the sonic virtues of the QBD. If the M2 + Qute is not as good as the NAD, then I know what to do. I don't think it's worth the hassle of upgrading the DM+ to the M-Dac or rega; not enough of a difference.

Should add how accomodating Analogue SEduction have been with the Qute, for those interested they have the biggest range of DACs of any other specialist retailer that I could find.

jerry klinger said:
This rather begs the question - how can the NAD be 'one of the best 5 amplifiers available' if some prefer a £1600 analogue amp (given the much more expensive - and better - amps that exist)?
Easy, just shows how subjective this all can be, and bear in mind I have yet to connect the M2/DM+ back into my system, that will provide a better reference comparison.

Even better, hopefully on Saturday I can compare the Qute to the Leema DAC using the same system that I own (though not in my own house). By that time I'll also have a good idea of how a top performing mid range analogue amp + DAC compares to the NAD to my ears. I can easily understand why the NAD is getting such great reviews, it really is beguiling, but the more I analyse it, the more I'm content, maybe even prefer a bit of tonal coloration which would explain why I might end up prefering the ultimately less acurate (but more satisfing for me) analogue option. Who knows, maybe the NAD is the start of mass acceptance and thus the start of the shift of the digital vs analogue debate from the source into the preamp.
 

Craig M.

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SteveR750 said:
I share your scepticism DM to a point. I've heard the Chord QBD with my own ears with a K2 and a the M2 and it was pretty damn impressive (and remember that it uses a proprietry in house DAC array, not an off the shelf Wolfson, Sabre or Burr-Brown chipset.
You may be aware I used to own the QBD76. I once took it round to a friends to put to the test some of the comments made by a certain someone about dacs costing peanuts and it being simplicity itself to make one as good as it can be if you just followed the chip manufacturers instructions. We plugged it into the analogue inputs of his active speakers and set it up so we could flick from analogue to digital (so the onboard dac was in use) and compare the same music playing without delay. To cut a long story short, it took a long time to identify any difference whatsoever, after trying all sorts of music it was actually an Oasis track that showed a difference. And the difference was tiny, there was a particularly jangly guitar part and it was a tiny bit quieter through the QBD - and that was it! My friend couldn't hear it even after I'd highlighted it to him, that's how small a difference it was. It made a complete mockery of what I'd paid for it, and also what my own opinion of it was. I have no ulterior motive for mentioning this other than to highlight how easy it is to kid yourself. Buyer beware, the emporers new clothes can leave a big hole in your wallet.
 

BenLaw

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Nov 21, 2010
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Craig M. said:
SteveR750 said:
I share your scepticism DM to a point. I've heard the Chord QBD with my own ears with a K2 and a the M2 and it was pretty damn impressive (and remember that it uses a proprietry in house DAC array, not an off the shelf Wolfson, Sabre or Burr-Brown chipset.
You may be aware I used to own the QBD76. I once took it round to a friends to put to the test some of the comments made by a certain someone about dacs costing peanuts and it being simplicity itself to make one as good as it can be if you just followed the chip manufacturers instructions. We plugged it into the analogue inputs of his active speakers and set it up so we could flick from analogue to digital (so the onboard dac was in use) and compare the same music playing without delay. To cut a long story short, it took a long time to identify any difference whatsoever, after trying all sorts of music it was actually an Oasis track that showed a difference. And the difference was tiny, there was a particularly jangly guitar part and it was a tiny bit quieter through the QBD - and that was it! My friend couldn't hear it even after I'd highlighted it to him, that's how small a difference it was. It made a complete mockery of what I'd paid for it, and also what my own opinion of it was. I have no ulterior motive for mentioning this other than to highlight how easy it is to kid yourself. Buyer beware, the emporers new clothes can leave a big hole in your wallet.
Craig, you didn't mention what that was compared to, is it the dac in AVIs?
 

SteveR750

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Craig M. said:
SteveR750 said:
I share your scepticism DM to a point. I've heard the Chord QBD with my own ears with a K2 and a the M2 and it was pretty damn impressive (and remember that it uses a proprietry in house DAC array, not an off the shelf Wolfson, Sabre or Burr-Brown chipset.
You may be aware I used to own the QBD76. I once took it round to a friends to put to the test some of the comments made by a certain someone about dacs costing peanuts and it being simplicity itself to make one as good as it can be if you just followed the chip manufacturers instructions. We plugged it into the analogue inputs of his active speakers and set it up so we could flick from analogue to digital (so the onboard dac was in use) and compare the same music playing without delay. To cut a long story short, it took a long time to identify any difference whatsoever, after trying all sorts of music it was actually an Oasis track that showed a difference. And the difference was tiny, there was a particularly jangly guitar part and it was a tiny bit quieter through the QBD - and that was it! My friend couldn't hear it even after I'd highlighted it to him, that's how small a difference it was. It made a complete mockery of what I'd paid for it, and also what my own opinion of it was. I have no ulterior motive for mentioning this other than to highlight how easy it is to kid yourself. Buyer beware, the emporers new clothes can leave a big hole in your wallet.
The problem is then Craig, then what the hell is reality? Why bother with an audition at all?

It wasn't some really hard to spot change, the K2 + QBD was better than the Cyrus 8xpd / mono x and the caspian + peachtree.

Using the same DACs, the M2 was better than the K2, couldnt compare the Cyrus directly; but I know from a previous home demo I preferred the K2 to the 8xpd integrated.

Trouble is, if you don't believe your ears then what? It's one thing to ignore what you (think?) you can hear and make a concious decision to not try to improve anything, but altogether different if you set out t improve the sound. Ultimately, I wasn't in that room listening to the DAC comparison with you, so I can only take it as an opinion.

I guess then, if a DAC is mostly just a DAC, then a digital preamp is just another digital box, right? In which case, the NAD (and it's ilk) are simply very good power amps?
 

DocG

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May 1, 2012
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Craig M. said:
To cut a long story short, it took a long time to identify any difference whatsoever, after trying all sorts of music it was actually an Oasis track that showed a difference. And the difference was tiny, there was a particularly jangly guitar part and it was a tiny bit quieter through the QBD - and that was it! My friend couldn't hear it even after I'd highlighted it to him, that's how small a difference it was. It made a complete mockery of what I'd paid for it, and also what my own opinion of it was. I have no ulterior motive for mentioning this other than to highlight how easy it is to kid yourself. Buyer beware, the emporers new clothes can leave a big hole in your wallet.
But still, you bought a 1000$ Benchmark DAC? :?
 

Craig M.

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Ben, yes. I wanted to put their theory (on dacs) to the test.

Now for an epic attempt at multi quoting.

SteveR750 said:
Craig M. said:
SteveR750 said:
I share your scepticism DM to a point. I've heard the Chord QBD with my own ears with a K2 and a the M2 and it was pretty damn impressive (and remember that it uses a proprietry in house DAC array, not an off the shelf Wolfson, Sabre or Burr-Brown chipset.
You may be aware I used to own the QBD76. I once took it round to a friends to put to the test some of the comments made by a certain someone about dacs costing peanuts and it being simplicity itself to make one as good as it can be if you just followed the chip manufacturers instructions. We plugged it into the analogue inputs of his active speakers and set it up so we could flick from analogue to digital (so the onboard dac was in use) and compare the same music playing without delay. To cut a long story short, it took a long time to identify any difference whatsoever, after trying all sorts of music it was actually an Oasis track that showed a difference. And the difference was tiny, there was a particularly jangly guitar part and it was a tiny bit quieter through the QBD - and that was it! My friend couldn't hear it even after I'd highlighted it to him, that's how small a difference it was. It made a complete mockery of what I'd paid for it, and also what my own opinion of it was. I have no ulterior motive for mentioning this other than to highlight how easy it is to kid yourself. Buyer beware, the emporers new clothes can leave a big hole in your wallet.
The problem is then Craig, then what the hell is reality? Why bother with an audition at all?

It wasn't some really hard to spot change, the K2 + QBD was better than the Cyrus 8xpd / mono x and the caspian + peachtree.

Using the same DACs, the M2 was better than the K2, couldnt compare the Cyrus directly; but I know from a previous home demo I preferred the K2 to the 8xpd integrated.
First off, I don't think all dacs (or cdps) sound the same, I do think the differences are a helluva lot smaller than is often reported (including by myself in the past). I would suggest that the test you conducted between dacs had many areas where a change in sound could originate, starting first and foremost with the difference in levels between the amps. There are a number of conclusions from listening tests between amps online that state they sounded the same, as long as the amps are properly level matched and used within their capabilities. I'm sure you're aware that a very slight increase in volume doesn't sound that way - it sounds like in improvement in sound quality. Then you have to consider that the output of one dac may be higher than the output of another - the QBD outputs something like 3v through the rca's, that is very high - so even through the same amp with the volume control being untouched between dac changes, there could still be slight differences between the amps output volume depending on the dac. That is all before you even consider your own expectation of the sound from reviews etc.

SteveR750 said:
Trouble is, if you don't believe your ears then what? It's one thing to ignore what you (think?) you can hear and make a concious decision to not try to improve anything, but altogether different if you set out t improve the sound. Ultimately, I wasn't in that room listening to the DAC comparison with you, so I can only take it as an opinion.
I definitely agree you should not make any decision based on what I say! I read opinions on what other people think of audio components and I don't give them any credence at all, there are just too many reasons why someone might come to an erroneous conclusion about something, it's my opinion that other peoples subjective appraisals of sound are utterly worthless to me, you shouldn't view my opinion any differently. I suppose I (arrogantly?) hoped I could steer you towards a realistic appraisal of what a change of dac might achieve whilst pointing out that the price of it should have nothing to do with it, given a dac board with a reported cost of a fiver was almost identical to a dac that cost 3k (actually 3.3k given the nickel finish).

SteveR750 said:
I guess then, if a DAC is mostly just a DAC, then a digital preamp is just another digital box, right? In which case, the NAD (and it's ilk) are simply very good power amps?
I haven't heard the NAD, but I do know I wouldn't like to say what was causing an apparent difference in sound given the reasons I've posted above.

I don't know why you want to change anything, maybe you aren't happy with the sound, maybe you think your source is letting the side down, maybe it's a hobby and you're not actually after a setup you can keep untill it breaks. If it was me that was looking for a change, then knowing what I know now, I would first off demo as many actives as I could afford and would physically fit in my room, if I wasn't prepared to consider actives I'd consider changing speakers, if I wasn't prepared to change my speakers I'd look at amps. A dac would be the last thing I'd change, and I'd want to blind test them at home - if there was a very noticeable difference between them I'd strongly consider an spl meter to make sure one wasn't louder than the other. But in reality, I'd draw the line at a dac/pre and some actives.
 

Craig M.

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Overdose said:
DocG said:
But still, you bought a 1000$ Benchmark DAC? :?
And the rest!
I wanted something that had a pre/headphone amp. The Audiolab doodah wasn't available at the time, and I liked the ethos of Benchmark - totally engineering based with measurements to back it up and no audiophile claims about musicality or such. I didn't demo it beforehand, although the distance selling regs meant I could've returned it.
 

SteveR750

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Impressive Quoting Action there :)

To answer the question why upgrade, see my thread on aural deception etc. In the objective analysis there is no reason at all, but since when did the emotional connection with music, whatever that is, have much to do with practical commons sense or any reasoned logic.

This is why I can't understand the motives behind the great cable etc debates, other than an ego driven debate (and I mean that in the truest sense and by no means meant to be derogatory towards anyone: ultimately science cannot predict nor control that holistic emotional response.

All I know for a fact right now, is that Spotify is hi-fi. :bounce:
 

Craig M.

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Thanks, when I clicked preview and saw it had worked... :dance:

I think a part of the reason I'm so happy with what I have is down to realising (to my own satisfaction) that there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, and it is getting caught up in some of the dodgier upgradeitus (or believing what you read in mags/forums) that leads to dissatisfaction with one's own kit. So far, every time I've 'gone' with the objectivists, I've been happy. The other part, just to contradict myself, is actually finding the pot of gold. ;) Good luck with the search.
 

plastic penguin

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SteveR750 said:
The NAD is a fantastic amp, but I am not going to make an impulse buy, partly because I still think the M2 is a thumping good amp, and has a better bottom end punch and control than the NAD has. So I want to try some better DACs to be fair to the Caspian, as the dacmagic isnt the most neutral smothest sounding around.

I've shortlisted the M-DAC, I'd like to listen to the Qute, but can't find any in stock to do a home demo or close enough to travek to; and there are no less than three Naim DACs on ebay - is there something wrong / unlikeable with them?
After your initial crowing over the Nad, I thought it was a 'done deal'. Can totally understand after a longer listen you could pick-up small deficiences, in comparison with the M2, but at around £1700 sounds like a 'no brainer' to me.

I suppose one answer would be to look at a high quality streamer/dac, something in the region of Linn Sneaky.

If the Nad 390 is as good as you say then pound-for-pound it's hard to beat.
 

SteveR750

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I repaced the M2 and DM+ back into my system after a few days of the NAD. It's really not clear cut, the NAD is probably morw accurate, it's certainly slightly more detailed, and has a smoother tonal balance - the M2 and DM can sound a bit glassy on edgy recordings. It's on acoustically recorded classical tacks where the openness and detail of the NAD shines, but on rock blues, pop, anything with a driving bass and rum rhythm I prefer the M2. It grabs the drivers of the ProAcs and shakes them like an Orca chasing down a seal. It has a tighter, deeper, more powerful and more tuneful bass than the NAD. Overall, it's a more coloured sound perhaps, but it's musical, tracks bounce along infectiously where the NAD is a little more restrained.

I suppose crudely the NAD is a string quartet, the M2 is Angus and Malcolm in your living room, and I think I know which I really prefer when I shut my eyes.

So to stop any more visual diversion from the real "truth" I've put the NAD back in its box, the affair is now over, for the time being. Qute arrives tomorrow, long live the King!
 

CnoEvil

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SteveR750 said:
I repaced the M2 and DM+ back into my system after a few days of the NAD. It's really not clear cut, the NAD is probably morw accurate, it's certainly slightly more detailed, and has a smoother tonal balance - the M2 and DM can sound a bit glassy on edgy recordings.
If there is not a clear advantage across all areas, you are doing the right thing.

The problem as I see it, is the Nad and Roksan are not that far apart in terms of price...so there will be pros and cons to each, rather than outright superiority.

I've generally found that it's surprising how often my rule of thumb works out, where you have to double what you spend, to get outright improvements across the board.

You obviously love the Roksan/Proac mix, so source improvement is the obvious next step.
 

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