Topping D90 vs RME ADI2 DAC?

Mycroft Holmes

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May 17, 2020
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Hello forum,

I currently use a Cambridge Audio CXN as DAC: I generally rip my own CDs to flac, then send music via USB, and the CXN is connected to a very good pre/amp with balanced cables. The CXN DAC is not bad at all, nonetheless I'm constantly investigating how I could get audible improvements and I found a few options.
1) a cheap hi-tech DAC, e.g. the Topping D90
2) RME ADI2 FS DAC
3) Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M

However I'm a bit confused by how reviews measure the "quality" of a DAC.

There are some Chinese DACs that have very favourable reviews and moderate prices.
Most of these devices get evaluated purely on the "technology" side, e.g. they get bonus points just because they use the latest ESS chipset, when we are lucky, we get quantitative measurements on distortion, etc. but little information on how the device actually sounds.
Some people are convinced that all good DACs sound exactly the same, and some, on the opposite, say that these devices are "designed for measurements" and not "designed to sound good".
In this set, prices are generally "low", but variability is huge: the SMSL SU9 is more than 2x cheaper than the D90, but it's considered "comparable".
Additionally, very rarely the reviews mention some independent factors (e.g. how good is customer support, how good is the software, etc.).

The ADI2 is a totally different beast, it looks like a fantastic machine on paper. it has a lot of tweaks and fine tuning options. however it seems a lot "headphone-oriented" (which I don't care).
From a pure tech point of view, it's also vastly inferior to the D90 (the chipset is inferior, for example), and its price is about 1.5x; part is definitely for the extra tweaks, but is the "audio quality" superior?

The CA DacMagic 200M seems a decent compromise: it's made by a reputable audio company; they use good chips, but they do have an idea of how they want the device to sound.
However I'm afraid that I won't notice the difference much from my CXN.

Does anybody have any advice or experience with these DACs?
thanks
 
As with all things hifi you are going to have to audition for yourself as DACs have so many filters that can alter the resultant sound it's going to be hard to compare two purely on sound alone which is why many reviews concern themselves with functions.
The Cambridge should be fairly easy to audition, not so sure about the others you mentioned.
 

nopiano

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The RME is really a pro/studio device that’s garnered a following on Hifi forums. As you say, a lot of the cost will be in the adjustability and headphone side, plus the screen, support and finish.

Even expensive DAC chips aren’t that costly, but arguably they themselves have less effect on the results than how well they’re implemented, and the analogue output stages. Power supplies are reported to make a big difference and this is where cost savings often arise, hence the healthy market in upgraded supplies.

Chord and RME are two makes who declare that their power supplies are perfectly suitable, but rafts of owners still upgrade them!

FWIW I think the CXN is pretty good as it stands, but those who’ve upgraded to the 851 claim it is distinctly better. My Linn streamer contains a modest Wolfson DAC but it’s a well implemented design.
 

Gray

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Nov 27, 2015
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You'll be well aware of the proprietary upsampling that Cambridge use in your CXN.
I've seen comments from a couple of users both suspecting this might be having a negative effect on the sound (one wished it could be switched off!).
Whatever its effect, it's likely to be making at least as much difference in any comparisons as chip types.

I'm sure most people that have tried different DACs will tell you that differences vary from subtle to non-existent.
I doubt you're missing much by not seeing many sound quality reviews.
The best stuff doesn't have any sound of its own.
 
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amormusic

Well-known member
Feb 24, 2016
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Hello forum,

I currently use a Cambridge Audio CXN as DAC: I generally rip my own CDs to flac, then send music via USB, and the CXN is connected to a very good pre/amp with balanced cables. The CXN DAC is not bad at all, nonetheless I'm constantly investigating how I could get audible improvements and I found a few options.
1) a cheap hi-tech DAC, e.g. the Topping D90
2) RME ADI2 FS DAC
3) Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M

However I'm a bit confused by how reviews measure the "quality" of a DAC.

There are some Chinese DACs that have very favourable reviews and moderate prices.
Most of these devices get evaluated purely on the "technology" side, e.g. they get bonus points just because they use the latest ESS chipset, when we are lucky, we get quantitative measurements on distortion, etc. but little information on how the device actually sounds.
Some people are convinced that all good DACs sound exactly the same, and some, on the opposite, say that these devices are "designed for measurements" and not "designed to sound good".
In this set, prices are generally "low", but variability is huge: the SMSL SU9 is more than 2x cheaper than the D90, but it's considered "comparable".
Additionally, very rarely the reviews mention some independent factors (e.g. how good is customer support, how good is the software, etc.).

The ADI2 is a totally different beast, it looks like a fantastic machine on paper. it has a lot of tweaks and fine tuning options. however it seems a lot "headphone-oriented" (which I don't care).
From a pure tech point of view, it's also vastly inferior to the D90 (the chipset is inferior, for example), and its price is about 1.5x; part is definitely for the extra tweaks, but is the "audio quality" superior?

The CA DacMagic 200M seems a decent compromise: it's made by a reputable audio company; they use good chips, but they do have an idea of how they want the device to sound.
However I'm afraid that I won't notice the difference much from my CXN.

Does anybody have any advice or experience with these DACs?
thanks
Here is a third option for you. Upgrade from the CXN to the big bro 851N. I have already done this previously myself. The jump from CXN to 851N is significant and easily audible. The DAC is actually very good.
My own standalone DAC is a modded Jolida FX Glass valve DAC with decent and pricy tubes in it. There is very little to split the 851N DAC stage against my Jolida, it is that good.
 
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Mycroft Holmes

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May 17, 2020
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Here is a third option for you. Upgrade from the CXN to the big bro 851N. I have already done this previously myself. The jump from CXN to 851N is significant and easily audible. The DAC is actually very good.
My own standalone DAC is a modded Jolida FX Glass valve DAC with decent and pricy tubes in it. There is very little to split the 851N DAC stage against my Jolida, it is that good.
That's definitely interesting to know.
Do you know how it compares to the ADI2 for pure sound quality? (I read in forums that the ADI2 is considered on par with the Chord Qutest, so quite good)
 

millennia_one

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Sep 1, 2014
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That's definitely interesting to know.
Do you know how it compares to the ADI2 for pure sound quality? (I read in forums that the ADI2 is considered on par with the Chord Qutest, so quite good)
Look up John darko on you tube, he has videos on both. I have a qutest and all I can say it’s very good but it really boils down to the output stages of any given DAC. And I got the qutest because it has class A output and I have a class A amp and wanted to double up on the presentation that class A offers. Ie fast transparent and weighty.

Another option could be denefrips r2r DACs. If you want something special and certainly would sound different to what you have valves of the dac world full of soul and character so I’ve read . They have one in the price bracket you’re looking at.


All the dacs mentioned are very good but don’t expect night and day differences. One won’t “crush” another in regards to performance but you generally get what you pay for, the differences are small but noticeable, but your speakers have to able to render those differences. For example One dac might give more bass but do your speakers offer much bass to begin with? So that dac might be lost on you if they don’t.

Just things to bar in mind . I’d leave topping alone just because it will be a side step rather than an upgrade.


Hope that helps a little. But probably just adds to the confusion
 
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MUSICRAFT

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Another option could be denefrips r2r DACs. If you want something special and certainly would sound different to what you have valves of the dac world full of soul and character so I’ve read . They have one in the price bracket you’re looking at.
Yes in the same ball park at a RRP of £800 Denefrips have the Ares II R2R DAC and just to add like I recently said in another thread a few days ago Denafrips DAC's are not chips based R2R DAC's but discrete ladder DAC's which depending on the model use banks of hundreds or thousands of ultra precise resistors for digital to analogue conversion.

denafrips r2r pic close up 3.jpg

According to Denafrips "The architecture uses the most primitive R-2R DAC technology, it is probably the most suitable architecture to reproduce music. Despite the test results of various measurements and parameters of conventional R-2R DAC's are usually not as good as mainstream integrated DAC chips, but the sound of R-2R DAC's is often filled with emotion, comfort, high fidelity, transparency and addictive musicality that most of the common mainstream integrated DAC chips cannot match."

Our store system currently consists of an Ares II, ATC SCA2, Kinki Studio EX-M7, Monitor Audio 5G Gold 300's and a JL Audio Fathom f112 v2. So far we've found the Denafrips DAC's to have an analogue like presentation which is very reminiscent of R2R tape decks.
 
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Mycroft Holmes

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thanks for the hints, very appreciated

1) I've seen some reviews made by J.D. but my (admittedly very naive) impression is that he rarely finds any issue in anything, he probably only looks at the good side, but I'll definitely go and look immediately

2) I was also considering the denafrips pontus, but I read something that scared me, namely that it's a device with a "personality": it has a nice and distinctive sound, but it's considered not "faithful" in the signal conversion.
I may be wrong, but as I have a decent preamp, that's where I'd like my music to get the "personality", not up in the chain.

3) you are totally right about the rest of the equipment chain, but at the moment the DAC seems to be the weakest link.
part of the motivation of this thread actually is: as I mentioned, I like the sound of my CXN, but being my only "serious" DAC, I don't have any other datapoint to compare, and so I've no idea about how much I could improve.
 

amormusic

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Feb 24, 2016
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That's definitely interesting to know.
Do you know how it compares to the ADI2 for pure sound quality? (I read in forums that the ADI2 is considered on par with the Chord Qutest, so quite good)
Not sure. However, to comment on the 851N. This is genuinely one of the best bits of kit I have ever bought. Rock solid streaming performance, a great control app, plus it can be used as a DAC (and excellent one at that), if required. It really is a leap up from the CXN. An excellent bit of kit.

If you go this route, you would get money back on your CXN via the sale. You can also pick up an 851N in superb condition for £900 used.

You can also pick them up new (advertised as refurb) direct from CA on their eBay store regularly for a little more. Those come with warranty too.

Link to one for sale on the Wam at the moment (no connection to seller) - I particularly like the quote 'you'll have to prise it from my cold dead corpse' 🤣

 

MUSICRAFT

Well-known member
Just had the courier deliver a new ATC SIA2-150 MK2 and a new Denafrips Terminator II DAC. A few choice words from the driver about him having to carry the weight of the SIA2-150 MK2 and the Terminator II in the heat :D

If it's as hot again tomorrow then we're likely to get a few more choice words again from the same driver when he has to deliver a new pair of ATC curved passive SCM19 monitors :D
 
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insider9

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Yes in the same ball park at a RRP of £800 Denefrips have the Ares II R2R DAC and just to add like I recently said in another thread a few days ago Denafrips DAC's are not chips based R2R DAC's but discrete ladder DAC's which depending on the model use banks of hundreds or thousands of ultra precise resistors for digital to analogue conversion.

View attachment 2525

According to Denafrips "The architecture uses the most primitive R-2R DAC technology, it is probably the most suitable architecture to reproduce music. Despite the test results of various measurements and parameters of conventional R-2R DAC's are usually not as good as mainstream integrated DAC chips, but the sound of R-2R DAC's is often filled with emotion, comfort, high fidelity, transparency and addictive musicality that most of the common mainstream integrated DAC chips cannot match."

Our store system currently consists of an Ares II, ATC SCA2, Kinki Studio EX-M7, Monitor Audio 5G Gold 300's and a JL Audio Fathom f112 v2. So far we've found the Denafrips DAC's to have an analogue like presentation which is very reminiscent of R2R tape decks.
As usual Rick, you're way ahead of a curve. When most were into Sabre DACs I believe you still championed Burr Brown chips which I'm still a massive fan of and all I use. R2R topology or non oversampling DACs are still very small portion of the market. Which we both know is only a matter of time before they blow up.
 
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millennia_one

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Sep 1, 2014
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thanks for the hints, very appreciated

1) I've seen some reviews made by J.D. but my (admittedly very naive) impression is that he rarely finds any issue in anything, he probably only looks at the good side, but I'll definitely go and look immediately

2) I was also considering the denafrips pontus, but I read something that scared me, namely that it's a device with a "personality": it has a nice and distinctive sound, but it's considered not "faithful" in the signal conversion.
I may be wrong, but as I have a decent preamp, that's where I'd like my music to get the "personality", not up in the chain.

3) you are totally right about the rest of the equipment chain, but at the moment the DAC seems to be the weakest link.
part of the motivation of this thread actually is: as I mentioned, I like the sound of my CXN, but being my only "serious" DAC, I don't have any other datapoint to compare, and so I've no idea about how much I could improve.
I hear the word faithful a lot I don't see the fascination, it's boring. Most don't just want a coffee they want a cappuccino with little sprinkles of chocolate and maybe a little hazelnut syrup.

My argument would be how do you know what faithful is? ruler flat may give you the best chance of reproducing a faithful sound but when it comes to it we don't know how the artist heard it. And your Cambridge will be far from faithful. But it's Cambridge's interpretation of faithful sound and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that!

BUT I say what's wrong with character, you might like it bass-heavy, sharp, clinical, soulful, that dreaded word musical and so on. All of the words imply a character in which case means it's not faithful. Or we be describing the sound with numbers and there be only one product on the market. No product is perfect.

Don't sweat the numbers and ruler flat responses, have fun with your hi-fi, mine is far from ruler flat, sugden and Klipsch Hersey 3's but it's the best system I've ever had, why? because it puts on a show like nothing else I've heard! It's my little event and that's what i wanted, it has a soul.

The numbers really mean nothing I've had things in my room that are supposed to be hot products and turned out to be underwhelming over hyped rubbish.

And another thing don't let people pick holes in your system you chose it because you liked it and I'm sure you like the sound it, if you have a plan to move up the ladder do so by all means! But not because someone says that's not right or could be better. All i was saying was you just need to be mindful of your speakers if they're small you're not going to see that bass increase that a review might be banging on about for instance.

All we can do is give our experiences but no one here would have heard everything you're mentioning not even Rick above, but he's heard more than most and has a good set of ears, I don't agree with everything Rick say's as i have my own set of ears and I know what I like and what I'm after.

Pick a few have a listen. RME is a good shout as is chord and denefrips this is the sort price range where you should notice the difference. If you don't then no harm carry on the way you are.
 

Mycroft Holmes

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May 17, 2020
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Most don't just want a coffee they want a cappuccino with little sprinkles of chocolate and maybe a little hazelnut syrup.

And your Cambridge will be far from faithful. But it's Cambridge's interpretation of faithful sound and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that!
I see your point and I partially agree, but let me use your own metaphor:
If you want a coffee, there is nothing like "the coffee", so you probably want a reasonable interpretation of a coffee, but definitely not a cappuccino, which is an entirely different beast :)

Yes, I know CA has an interpretation of "faithful", I find it very reasonable, and I find it very compatible with my taste and especially with the rest of my equipment.
As I may have mentioned, I like the idea that the D/A conversion stays reasonably close to the original, because that's just the first stage, and there's more... and please, don't tell my pre/amp that it's "faithful"... it may get angry and try to fry you ;)

Anyway thanks for all the hints.
 

MUSICRAFT

Well-known member
As usual Rick, you're way ahead of a curve. When most were into Sabre DACs I believe you still championed Burr Brown chips which I'm still a massive fan of and all I use. R2R topology or non oversampling DACs are still very small portion of the market. Which we both know is only a matter of time before they blow up.
Thanks (y) and in addition to discrete ladder based DAC's something I hope that DDC's (Digital to Digital Converters) will also take off. We recently took in a Denafrips GAIA DDC. Last Friday afternoon I unboxed and used the GAIA with the Ares II DAC and I kid you not when I say the difference the GAIA made was simply OMG. WOW. Spoke to a client to whom we sold an Esoteric D-02DX DAC (RRP £17500) about the GAIA DDC on Saturday. Sunday our client into the store and bought the GAIA. Monday afternoon client rang me to say" the GAIA is simply wonderful"

Based on my brief experience with the GAIA DDC I would say that those using a DAC think their DAC's are being fed with a clean signal from their laptops, CDP's, etc. then think again and try a DDC such as the jitter busting GAIA DDC.
 
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Thanks (y) and in addition to discrete ladder based DAC's something I hope that DDC's (Digital to Digital Converters) will also take off. We recently took in a Denafrips GAIA DDC. Last Friday afternoon I unboxed and used the GAIA with the Ares II DAC and I kid you not when I say the difference the GAIA made was simply OMG. WOW. Spoke to a client to whom we sold an Esoteric D-02DX DAC (RRP £17500) about the GAIA DDC on Saturday. Sunday our client into the store and bought the GAIA. Monday afternoon client rang me to say" the GAIA is simply wonderful"

Based on my brief experience with the GAIA DDC I would say that those using a DAC think their DAC's are being fed with a clean signal from their laptops, CDP's, etc. then think again and try a DDC such as the jitter busting GAIA DDC.
unless he has bottomless reserves I don't see how this promo applies to the OPs question
 

insider9

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Apologies @Al ears if my remark took this off topic. Just impressed with Rick's @MUSICRAFT innovative approach. Would be much easier to suggest Arcam/Cambridge and all the usual UK brands we see over here. Instead Rick is really opening up new conversations and tech that's going to eventually dominate audio market. I think that's commendable.
 

Roog

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I have the RME ADI-2 fs DAC, I use it as a DAC/Pre between my streamer and power amp. I use the functionality of the ADI-2 and it is very useful to me. I particularly like the built-in 5 band parametric EQ which is helpful in dealing with correcting room acoustics issues. Even the loudness button, which is configurable in DSP is useful, I know its heresy. It also has tone controls!
 
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Vincent Kars

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From a pure tech point of view, it's also vastly inferior to the D90
Is it?
 

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