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DACs Galore and Expectation Bias

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  • DACs Galore and Expectation Bias

    Since the addition of the Aurender N10 in my system I have been wanting to do a subjective listening test of the DACs I have in my possession. The reason the N10 is so important is it drives all its outputs simultaneously. Of course I need to use two different output types but I interchanged them through my evaluation. The two primary outputs I used are USB and AES. The DACs evaluated are as follows. Schiit Yggdrasil, Gustard X20, Auralic Vega, Line Magnetic LM 502ca (tube section) I level matched each DAC, the Gustard X20 has higher level outputs, as I only listened to two per session. All listening was done via balanced XLR outputs using Neotech NEI-2002 interconnects with Furutech XLR plugs for each DAC. The rest of the system is as follows, ARC REF5SE, Anodyne Tube/MosFet hybrid mono amps, Von Schweikert VR5 Anniversary MKII. Preamp to amp cable is Luminous Audio silver reference, speakers bi wired with Bren1 Oasis, I used two Pangea AC14 SE MKII power cables on both DACs tested.
    I think I have a reasonably resolving system and trust my ears to hear differences. Guys you could throw a blanket over all four DACs and would challenge the average person to hear the differences. It is amazing they ALL have basically the exact same presentation, very minor differences between them I will list below. Presentation I mean if the recording has ambience you hear it, if the vocals are pushed back this is what you hear.The REF5SE allows me to switch via the remote with absolutely NO lag or change in material, instant switch. I believe in this crazy business when you hype a product and read all the press you build that expectation bias, then factor in the time to remove a component from your system to add another or worse yet rely on your audio memory of days or months past and even worse in a different system. Do we hype ourselves into hearing what we want to hear? I know I am comparing a small slice of the market all competing in the same price range but my results below are what is shocking.

    1. Gustard X20 Retreives the most detail and ambient clues of the bunch. This is where this DAC shines is in the minute audio details and depth resolution.

    2. Line Magnetic LM502ca Tube magic is all I can say, using the tube output section on most recordings this DAC imparts a euphoric character that is very pleasant. Also a slight extended soundstage.

    3. Schiit Yggdrasil Extremely close to the X20 except it rounds off the leading edges of transients slightly giving it a slight smoothed character. This one was the hardest to evaluate against the X20 because it was so close.

    4. Auralic Vega The Vega just omits the micro details, they are just missing. The little nuances of a live recording go missing, the little aural clues that help you hear the sense of space.

    Again these are small details I list above. I could say I would be perfectly happy with all of the top 3 if I weren't so OCD on presentation and the small details. Hopefully I am going to jump a step up with maybe a Berkeley Reference or MSB Analog DAC soon. I hope they can break above these DACs in sound quality and resolution. Right now I have two DACs in my system, the Gustard X20 because I have a large DSD collection and the Line Magnetic because tubes make everything sound better and it only does PCM.

  • #2
    Very well,done
    analog stuff.
    otari mtr 10 2 track 1/4 made new by soren
    otari mtr 10 2 track 1/4 1/2 combo made new by soren
    sota sapphire used eminent tech ver 2 arm
    new sota nova table has magnetic levitation platter and full speed control and latest motor same arm as above
    thorens td124 sme ver 2 arm
    thorens td125 sme ver 2 arm
    kenwood direct drive sme ver 2 arm
    phono preamp Ml no 25 all re capped
    speakers cust infinity IRS V , new caps and LPS , magnets etc.
    mark levivson pre no 26 amps no 33
    digital three cust servers , win ser 2016 , AO
    Dacs lampi various


    • #3
      Very nice! Isn't the Gustard about half the price (or less) of the others? Why or how didmyou decide to include it in your comparison!
      Tascam BR-20
      Technics 1506 with tape path upgrades, FM head , DeHavilland 222 tape head pre
      Modwright Oppo 205 full tube mod w/LPS
      Euphony Summus server, EtherRegen, HDPLEX LPS
      MSB Discrete DAC (dual PS, ISLPro, balanced out)
      Pass Labs XP-12, XA60.8 (pair)
      Daedalus Audio Apollo 11’s
      VMPS Larger Sub
      Daedalus/Wywires, Audioquest, Acoustic Zen, Sablon Audio, Wireworld cables
      Core Power Equi=Power
      Adona rack; Stillpoints and IsoPods, Tube Traps, GIK


      • #4
        The Gustard is $900, the Line Magnetic is $1800, the Auralic is $2600, the Yggydrasil is $2200. All prices paid and own all personally, none borrowed.


        • #5
          I like the price of the Gustard I'll check it out. Since disposing of the Mytek i lost DSD capability.


          • nc42acc
            nc42acc commented
            Editing a comment
            The Gustard does 512 with a Windows PC via USB.

        • #6
          Nice shootout, Marty, thx for sharing. I'm actually looking for a less expensive DAC/spinner right now (Oppo 105 being top of the list), but the Gustard sounds good too.
          Kronos Sparta -> Trinity Phono -> Trinity Pre -> CH Precision A1 -> Magico S7s


          • #7
            I have an Oppo BDP-105D that I use in the HT setup. It has a very good DAC section in it as well. You would not be disappointed with either and the 105 has more functionality.


            • #8
              Ric Schultz at EVS, , has mods for both the Gustard and Oppo 105.


              • nc42acc
                nc42acc commented
                Editing a comment
                I like my equipment plain vanilla with no toppings.