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DAC for CD Player and Media Streamer (and Bluetooth media player).

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#1
I am looking for a reliable DAC to use with 2 (maybe 3 sources). My sources are a media streamer/player, a Marantz Pearl CD player and maybe also a FiiO M6 portable media player. The idea is to connect the devices via USB, CoAx and BT respectively. My amplifier (Yamaha S2000) has both RCA and XLR inputs although I have never used the later.

My first thought was to get the Topping D50s as it is available locally and is affordable. Then I figured since I keep my audio components for a fairly long time (10 years+) why not stretch and consider the SMSL SU-9, SonCoz SGD1, Gustard X16, or Topping D70BT all of which I would have to import. Apos Audio does not carry SonCoz but has the SMSL for $440, Topping for $470 and the Gustard for $500. There is another site called Audiophonics that sells the SMSL for €430, SonCoz for €500, Topping for €550 but they do not have the X16 in stock (they have the A18 for €560).

A friend of mine tells me that these "Chi-Fi" DACs (his terminology, not mine) are not reliable and that I should consider Denafrips Ares II or RME ADI-2 DAC. He has a Matrix Audio Element.

Please advise.

1. Are Topping, SMSL, Gustard and SonCoz reliable? or should I ignore them and get the Ares II or RME?
2. Is there a huge difference between the D50s and the D70BT, SU9, X16, SGD1 etc?
3. Between the SU9, D70BT, SGD1 and X16 which one would be preferred?

Thanks.
 

gvl

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#2
The DACs you mentioned aren't necessarily less reliable but any electronic piece, chifi or not, can fail. Unless you source a unit from a company that has warranty service in your country you're in for international shipping costs and wait time should anything go wrong. It's a gamble with reasonable odds however.
 
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Thread Starter #3
The DACs you mentioned aren't necessarily less reliable but any electronic piece"
So an SMSL or Topping is not any more or less reliable than a Denafrips or RME?

A friend of mine got a D50s. It connected to his computer via USB and even to an old el-cheapo Pioneer CD player via CoAx but refused to connect to his Marantz or Rega CD player. He contacted Topping and they acknowledged this problem but did not offer a solution.
 

gvl

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#4
Are you asking about reliability or compatibility? I think it's reasonable to expect a cheaper product to have some rough edges, there is no free lunch. Denafrips is technically chifi by the way. If you're asking if RME is a safer choice then the answer is yes.
 

SJ777

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#5
A friend of mine tells me that these "Chi-Fi" DACs (his terminology, not mine) are not reliable and that I should consider Denafrips Ares II or RME ADI-2 DAC. He has a Matrix Audio Element..
It's difficult to gather evidence on this matter. What we have is a series of anecdotes, often amplified on internet forums. For example, I have 2 X Topping DACs (D50s and D10s). Both work and do the job for me. That gives me a 100% success rate with Topping.

People make sweeping statements about "chi-fi" and there can be, what we now call, a hint of "unconscious bias" in this.

Some times, but not all the time, the more expensive equipment can come with a better customer service set up than the cheaper equipment. But you would only know this by a bit of "deep research". When things don't work it can be a hardware problem, but it can also be a user problem (i.e. we get things wrong). Good customer service will be able to point you in the right direction. However, with forums like this, a lot of advice is available free of charge.

I have no idea why the D50s didn't recognise the 2 CD players in question. The 1st question I'd ask is whether or not the user tried a different coax cable. Again, this is the problem with anecdotal evidence.
 
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#6
I think you need to ask your friend to define chi-fi. I suspect he means a specific subset of Chinese manufacturers (topping, gustard, smsl) given he has recommended denafrips (Chinese) and owns a matrix (Chinese).
 
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Thread Starter #7
Denafrips is technically chifi by the way. If you're asking if RME is a safer choice then the answer is yes.
I thought Denafrips is from Singapore not China. Maybe the term "Chi-Fi" only refers to products designed and made on the mainland.
 
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Thread Starter #8
It's difficult to gather evidence on this matter. What we have is a series of anecdotes, often amplified on internet forums. For example, I have 2 X Topping DACs (D50s and D10s). Both work and do the job for me. That gives me a 100% success rate with Topping.

I have no idea why the D50s didn't recognise the 2 CD players in question. The 1st question I'd ask is whether or not the user tried a different coax cable. Again, this is the problem with anecdotal evidence.
I would assume he used the same CoAx cable for all 3 CD players. That said which CD players did you try the D50s with. The D50s is of serious interest to me as it is available locally. How much better would the next level up (D70BT, SU9, X16 etc) be?

Yes, this is one case. In fact, I was surprised that this even happened. After all, a CoAx cable just put out a digital stream. There is no ACK-NAK that happens over this cable.

The local supplier of the D50s is not willing to take it back if it does not work so I got a little nervous.
 
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Thread Starter #9
I think you need to ask your friend to define chi-fi. I suspect he means a specific subset of Chinese manufacturers (topping, gustard, smsl) given he has recommended denafrips (Chinese) and owns a matrix (Chinese).
I think the term "Chi-Fi" usually refers to products that are cheaply made. For example, an iPhone is also made in China so is my Lenovo Thinkpad but they are not referred to as ChiFi. There are several products including mobile phones that are made in China that are very well made (One Plus, Xiaomi etc.).
 
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Thread Starter #10
If we are to assume that this compatibility between a Marantz or Rega CD player and Topping/SMSL/Gustard DACs is not an issue which DAC would be recommended?

I can get the D50s locally but I can't return it. The others (SU9, X16, D70BT, SGD1 or Ares II) I would have to import from EU or US or SG.

The SU9, X16, D70BT and SGD1 all have XLR out which I can use (since my amp has that option). Also, they do use better DAC chipsets (and I assume equal if not better filters and power supply). The SGD1, for example, is very well built except for the volume knob that is a bit wobbly (I saw the innards on this forum) with dual power supplies. The SU9 looks the least well built (from the pictures) but looks may be deceiving.

The Ares II is a whole different animal when it comes to build-quality (again just from the pictures). Although 2 out of 3 members voted for the D90 over the Ares II.
https://www.head-fi.org/threads/denafrips-ares-r2r-discrete-ladder-dac-close-up-view.833690/
https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...topping-d90-vs-denafrips-ares-ii.12143/page-6
 
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SJ777

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#11
I would assume he used the same CoAx cable for all 3 CD players. That said which CD players did you try the D50s with. The D50s is of serious interest to me as it is available locally. How much better would the next level up (D70BT, SU9, X16 etc) be?

Yes, this is one case. In fact, I was surprised that this even happened. After all, a CoAx cable just put out a digital stream. There is no ACK-NAK that happens over this cable.

The local supplier of the D50s is not willing to take it back if it does not work so I got a little nervous.
I don't use a CD player (not anymore). My D50s is attached to a Raspberry Pi via USB, so I've never used coax or toslink. Sorry.

The reason I mentioned trying a different cable is that I always like to rule out cable fault. You would have thought that if a cable works for one CD player it should work for all, but I always like to double check.

A pity that you can't return the D50s. I don't know what country you're in but do you have the right to return for online purchases?

If we are to assume that this compatibility between a Marantz or Rega CD player and Topping/SMSL/Gustard DACs is not an issue which DAC would be recommended?
It really depends on what features you want. Particularly whether you're looking for a balanced output. You mention that you amp has balanced and unbalanced inputs but that you don't use balanced. No need to spend more on balanced if you don't need it (unless you think you might use it in the future). It won't improve sound quality.

After that it comes down to appearance, if you're interested in that.
 
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#12
I thought Denafrips is from Singapore not China. Maybe the term "Chi-Fi" only refers to products designed and made on the mainland.
From their site...

"DENAFRIPS was incorporated in 2012, located in a beautiful city Guangzhou, China - where many other high-end audio manufacturing are located."
 
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Thread Starter #13
My D50s is attached to a Raspberry Pi via USB, so I've never used coax or toslink. Sorry.

After that it comes down to appearance if you're interested in that.
How do you play music from a hard dish on a Raspberry Pi? Do you connect the hard disk to the Rasp-Pi via USB too?

I assumed different DACs would sound different. Are you implying that there is very little or no audible difference between the D50, D70 D90 from Topping, SU9, M200, M400 from SMSL?
 

Bear123

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#14
How do you play music from a hard dish on a Raspberry Pi? Do you connect the hard disk to the Rasp-Pi via USB too?

I assumed different DACs would sound different. Are you implying that there is very little or no audible difference between the D50, D70 D90 from Topping, SU9, M200, M400 from SMSL?
No audible difference. Cheap, decent DAC's are audibly transparent, they don't produce sound, nor do they alter it.
 

threni

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#15
How do you play music from a hard dish on a Raspberry Pi? Do you connect the hard disk to the Rasp-Pi via USB too?

I assumed different DACs would sound different. Are you implying that there is very little or no audible difference between the D50, D70 D90 from Topping, SU9, M200, M400 from SMSL?
I connect the drive to the pi via usb. Another usb lead connects the pi to the DAC (in my case the E30). I configure the music player (mpd) to play into the DAC. I control the music being played via the Android app M.A.L.P. Everything's free and just works after a very small amount of fiddling.

I doubt you'll hear a difference between the DACs unless you were really going for it with carefully created single frequency wav files played at full volume and who's got time for that?
 
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#16
I assumed different DACs would sound different. Are you implying that there is very little or no audible difference between the D50, D70 D90 from Topping, SU9, M200, M400 from SMSL?
Ok- that is what he is implying. Why do you assume that they would/should sound different? Not a trick question btw
 

SJ777

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#17
How do you play music from a hard dish on a Raspberry Pi? Do you connect the hard disk to the Rasp-Pi via USB too?
The RPi4 has 4 X USB ports. So yes, you can connect an external hard drive, or a flash drive, directly to the Pi. Alternatively you can stream from your PC hard drive as well.
I assumed different DACs would sound different. Are you implying that there is very little or no audible difference between the D50, D70 D90 from Topping, SU9, M200, M400 from SMSL?
All of the DACs you mention have slightly different measurements (see the reviews on here). However these measurements do not translate into differences in sound quality. Unless a DAC measurers really badly, or it's faulty, you won't hear differences.
 
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Thread Starter #18
Ok- that is what he is implying. Why do you assume that they would/should sound different? Not a trick question btw
Why would a manufacturer have several DACs (using very different chipsets) with almost the same features? In my country, a D90 for example costs more than 2x of a D70 which costs more than 2x of a D50s. Why pay 5x more for a D90 than a D50? Then you have multibit DACs and R2R DACs and FPGA DACs. If they all sounded much the same, why all this hoopla?

I know there are 2 schools of thought in audio. The objective school (also called the Julian Hirsch School) and the subjective school (also called the Peter Aczel/ J. Gorden Holt school). My gut is that both are right from their perspective which implies that (a) while measurements are important, 2 audio products that measure the same might sound different and (b) an audio product that does not measure well (say tube amplifiers) might sound "better" than those that do (most mid-priced solid-state amplifiers measure better than all but the most expensive tube amplifiers).

If the above has any truth in it, then various DACs, like any other (solid-state) audio component would also have their own signature. No, I am not trolling, just offering my perspective. I haven't been active in audio since the mid-90s but I built my first (chip) amp in 1976 (LM387, 1877 if anyone cares to remember) and remember iconic products from Quad, NAD, Threshold, Krell, Dynaco, Phase Linear/Carver, A&R Cambridge/Arcam, etc.
 

SJ777

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#19
I know there are 2 schools of thought in audio. The objective school (also called the Julian Hirsch School) and the subjective school (also called the Peter Aczel/ J. Gorden Holt school). My gut is that both are right from their perspective which implies that (a) while measurements are important, 2 audio products that measure the same might sound different and (b) an audio product that does not measure well (say tube amplifiers) might sound "better" than those that do (most mid-priced solid-state amplifiers measure better than all but the most expensive tube amplifiers).
You're confusing "different" with "better".

A tube amp might indeed sound better to a person who likes some degree of distortion. The statement "sounds better" therefore only holds for the person, or collection of people, experiencing the sound. It cannot be changed from a subjective to an objective statement.

Difference, on the other hand, can have objective implications. The likelihood of differences in sound can be established my measurements. A DAC or amp that measures really badly will produce a difference in sound when compared to a DAC or amp that measurers well.

If you compare 2 products that measure well (thereby indicating that there should be no audible differences), the only way to establish an objectively verifiable difference in sound is through double blind testing. Without this it is impossible to isolate the cause of the perceived difference. In other words, any differences in sound are far more likely to originate in cognitive bias rather than in the audio equipment used.
 
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#20
Why would a manufacturer have several DACs (using very different chipsets) with almost the same features? In my country, a D90 for example costs more than 2x of a D70 which costs more than 2x of a D50s. Why pay 5x more for a D90 than a D50? Then you have multibit DACs and R2R DACs and FPGA DACs. If they all sounded much the same, why all this hoopla?

I know there are 2 schools of thought in audio. The objective school (also called the Julian Hirsch School) and the subjective school (also called the Peter Aczel/ J. Gorden Holt school). My gut is that both are right from their perspective which implies that (a) while measurements are important, 2 audio products that measure the same might sound different and (b) an audio product that does not measure well (say tube amplifiers) might sound "better" than those that do (most mid-priced solid-state amplifiers measure better than all but the most expensive tube amplifiers).

If the above has any truth in it, then various DACs, like any other (solid-state) audio component would also have their own signature. No, I am not trolling, just offering my perspective. I haven't been active in audio since the mid-90s but I built my first (chip) amp in 1976 (LM387, 1877 if anyone cares to remember) and remember iconic products from Quad, NAD, Threshold, Krell, Dynaco, Phase Linear/Carver, A&R Cambridge/Arcam, etc.
I dont disagree with some of that. But dont forget if Topping (or any manufs) were to simply offer an E30 and a D70 (as a single ended and balanced offer- the main real world differentiator) between now and all time, they probably wouldnt be here in 2 years. I dont think anyone will change the mind of people here that there aren't audible differences between DACs that measure similarly below certain thresholds (which may be up for debate) unless someone is bringing verifiable DBT evidence to the table.

Now, as to whether DACs that measure significantly differently (where one is in the 70-80 SINAD range (or the lowest quartile on the old ASR chart) sound different- again it is a test I would love to see performed. My personal experience from a not really well conducted bit of quick switching between 3 DACs (all but one measured here as "good") is that I cant tell. But my real question is, if the outputs from the DACs (as Amir tests ) show incredibly low noise and distortion added to the source signal, where might these perceptible differences exist? What are they? Thats around the point people start throwing in "transients" , "plankton", "time domain"- which I confess start to lose me.

Anyway, we have different views. I dont believe the different chip or different price logic in itself is proof of anything.
 
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