I’ve become increasingly interested in hard disk playback of audio and the many variables, that each creates a slightly different playback quality. I’m increasingly beginning to believe that jitter while it’s become the well known bête noire of the audio industry is not the only serious concern.
I was listening yesterday to the Cambridge DacMagic connected to my HP2133 via USB. The sound quality was really unpleasant: especially in the treble where it was very splashy and relentless. I then connected the DacMagic via an optical isolating USB hub. Not a practical solution as the hub, which is designed more for medical applications, is more expensive than the Cambridge. I won’t say the music was transformed into something truly audiophile but it was significantly better. The splashy quality was still there but much less obvious, the sound was more three dimensional and the bottom end was easier to follow. Realistically the jitter shouldn’t have changed (much). If anything, one would perhaps expect jitter to have increased but the sound was definitely better.
Today I played the DacMagic versus the V-Dac both connected via USB and using the USB isolating hub. I think I can here now where the differences in opinion between CA and MF come from. Back to Bananarama: Robert DeNiro’s waiting and the Cambridge sounds faster but the MF has a more airy 3D feel which is instantly appealing. As I listen for longer though I become aware of a irritating quacky quality to sibilants from the MF.
Bananarama isn’t the last word in great quality recording so I chose Tumbleweed from Bill Miller’s album Reservation Road, a live recording of Bill singing and playing guitar. Again the MF does an excellent job and had I not compared it with the DM, I would have been happy. The Cambridge just has more dynamics; it goes quieter. Bill’s guitar playing improved as it was now possible to easily here how hard he was strumming. On this track the DM had the better sense of acoustic space and, most important of all, it communicated the passion of the song.
A friend is popping round tomorrow so I’ll play all this stuff to him and see if we hear any more differences.
Previous post on the comparison
I’ve been following the suggestions and informative comments of JS on the Naim Forum for a good while. JS appears to be very knowledgeable about digital audio and computer audio. JS has been suggesting that the best way to get low jitter S/PDIF digital audio out of a PC or a MAC is to use the TC Konnect 8.
It’s around £200, if one shops around, so I decided to risk it. I also purchased a cheap PC Express to IE1394 card to fit my HP2133 netbook. Lots of fiddling around and finally all the drivers matched up and were running.
My best DAC, or at least the best that will do anything above 48kHz, at the moment is the Cambridge DacMagic so I tried it it with the output from the TC.
Very interesting, the combination delivers the best computer audio sound quality I’ve achieved so far. It has a rightness and a feeling of grip that is so much better then the shiny chromium plated sound that it’s so easy to get.
Huge amounts of listening to do and many experiments to carry out and hopefully a Naim DAC to play the Konnect through in a month or so.
More as I get time to listen
Over the past day I’ve had a chance to listen to the comparison in two systems, both this time, using the coax S/PDIF input. Overall I prefer the Cambridge DacMagic. The DM is a little more even handed: on first listen it sounds a little flatter than the V-DAC but after a while it’s obvious that vocals are a little more intelligible even though they are further back in the mix. The MF has a litte more LF energy, a slightly more forward vocal area and is a little better at the 3D stereo stuff : it recreates reverb tails with far more authority. What it doesn’t do it hang music together in such a strongly cohesive way as the DM.
OK, these differences are not huge and you may think that the extra hundred (ish) quid for the DM is just too much for the small differences. Have a listen for yourself then you can judge.
For those interested in upgrading the power supplies of the MF V-DAC I compared the supplied walwart supply with the Maplin and although there were differences with the Maplin having a touch more weight and grip, the differences were smaller than a change of digital cable might bring.
The Musical Fidelity V-DAC arrived early this morning so after about six hours running in impatience got the better of me and I tried my first comparisons. The Cambridge DacMagic was powered by the Maplin AC-AC converter, the snappily coded L54BR, and the V-Dac by a Maplin VN10L AC to DC adapter set to 12 Volts. The reason for using the Maplin PSs is that the MF looked as if it was a SMPS and they really affect my system. SMPS and Naim systems don’t really mix well.
The two DACs are pretty close; in fact I’ve not drawn a conclusion yet. The MF is initially very enticing, it has a very direct quality as if a veil has been removed from in front of the speakers but at the same time it wasn’t quite as cohesive. The DacMagic – set to my preferred Minimum phase setting – was a little more relaxed, laid back in presentation but the bass was together with the rest of the band. The MF, although it timed, somehow managed to sound a tad slow on bass lines.
Lots more listening to do with coax S/PDIF as today was with optical. More soon.
I’m told the MF will be here tomorrow, so assuming I give it a day or so to run in, I’ll be doing some comparisons on Thursday and Friday – More then
Decided to use Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, but slightly more unusually, the DVD-A rip so the source is 24/96. Unlike quite a few DVD-As, this one appears to have some content above 22k. Amazing though, that given the total available dynamic range they still needed to ‘clip’ the recording. Still sounds rather good though.
To start I compared the standard power supply with the Maplin L54BR. Pleasant surprise, the Maplin delivers a subtlety of delivery that doesn’t emphasise any particular instruments. The original PS, in comparison, seems to make the bass line and the hi-hat a little more obvious in the mix of Dreams and decreases the importance of Stevie Nick’s voice.
Using track 7 , The Chain, showed the original as having a slightly ‘sharper’ delivery, more detail perhaps but certainly less music. The main difference was in the low end but this changed the overall presentation. The Maplin just delivered more music but in a controlled and balanced manner.
I then dug out the 500VA transformer I’d tried before – now in an aluminium box and with a ferrite on the output – in common with the original Dacmagic’s supply. This PS delivered more power to the presentation, more extension apparently but was slightly slower. It had better separation of instruments, but not really more music.
The more comparisons of power supplies I do with the Dacmagic the more impressed I am of the overall balance of the design.
I will carry on using the Maplin PS. It is easier to hide away, as it isn’t a walwart, and more importantly it improves the performance making it just that little more balanced and even handed.
The music playback system was a HP2133 netbook running Foobar and ASIO drivers connected by USB2 to a M-Audio Transit sound card which was connected with a Chord Optichord to the Cambridge.