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Hifi Forum TDA-1541A DAC Review

Rate this DAC:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 94 49.7%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 65 34.4%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 23 12.2%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 7 3.7%

  • Total voters
    189

amirm

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the "Finished Philips hifi forum tenth anniversary TDA1541 DAC Coaxial input L17-53." It was purchased on ebay by a member for $388.
TDA1541A Review hifi forum tenth anniversary TDA1541 DAC Stereo.jpg


Owner swapped out the fake TDA-1541A for a real one. This was a DAC design created for the tenth anniversary of hifi.net forum (?) and many vendors sell it online.

There are no markings anywhere on the device and only coax input is provided:
Finished Assembled TDA1541A Review hifi forum tenth anniversary TDA1541 DAC Stereo.jpg


TDA-1541A Measurements
The DAC supports both 16 bit and 24-bit inputs even though the TDA-1541A only accepts 16 bits. Let's start with that input depth:

TDA1541A DAC Measurements Stereo.png


I reduced the input by 2 dB because the nominal output was 2.5 volt which is higher than 2 volt we are used to. It made a corresponding hit to SINAD as it is completely noise dominated. Distortion consists of 2nd harmonic at -102 dB or so which is very good for the era.

Switching to 24 bit input lowers the noise floor but raises distortion due to improper conversion to 16 bits (likely simple truncation):
TDA1541A DAC Measurements 24-bit Stereo.png


Using the 16 bit input, the DAC barely escapes our poor category of DACs, ranking 260 out of 260+ DACs tested to date:
Best vintage DAC review.png


As noted, the problem is noise:

TDA1541A DAC Measurements DNR Stereo.png


IMD test using 16 bit signal shows the same noise penalty but good distortion levels:

TDA1541A DAC Measurements IMD Stereo.png


Jitter test shows many unwanted tones:

TDA1541A DAC Measurements Jitter Stereo.png


I did run the test with 16 bit signal and found similar level of interference.

Filter is rather slow with poor attenuation:

TDA1541A DAC Measurements Filter Stereo.png


I could not my Multitone test even when I tried the 44.1 kHz sample rate one.

Conclusion
I was pleasantly surprised by the low level of the distortion in this TDA-1541A implementation. Everything else, especially noise level, is unremarkable to poor. I see nothing that indicates it would perform better than any modern DAC. Considering how much it costs, I can't think of a reason for such a device to exist other than audiophile myths around older DAC chips "sounding better."
 

acbarn

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I must be out of the loop. Do I understand correctly that the appeal of this device is the “vintage” DAC chip? I ran across this description (source linked below):

The sonic characteristic of TDA1541A DAC players is very easy to distinguish - after hitting PLAY after trying other DACS you can hear a big difference immediately, BUT I can't describe it at all. It is very hard to put in words. The sound is very rich, full, mature, ripe, analogue, liquid, dynamic, and with huge macro dynamics. It has the best midrange, best treble and very very good bass.
The main difference is: that I like it more than any other DAC chip, it is so ear friendly.

:facepalm:


 

YSC

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I would happily give it a fine rating, considering it's age of the dac chip and the fact that a lot of DAPs in the modern day still cannot reach this performance. Also reaching this level of SINAD already at or above most speaker amp capability so should not really be audibly inferior, so if one goes by the legacy and hype, it still sounds good, and it didn't cost an arm and a leg either
 

Blumlein 88

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Did these oversample to 8x the way they are used in this design or can it also work at higher sample rates like 176.4 khz? Not asking for you to retest it, just maybe feed it 88.2 or 176.4 and see if it works on that.
 

McFly

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I bought one of these as an empty board (no DAC or filter chip) a while back because dad had a really old Rotel CD player that died, and instead of binning it I could repurpose the chips as they are kinda "nostalgic" I suppose - for anyone interested, here's my one: - and probably exactly what's inside that box Amir has just reviewed. Surprisingly, not so bad for CD playback! - albeit nowhere near DAC performance these days.

20211229_060909974_iOS.jpg

20211229_060902853_iOS.jpg
 

DHT 845

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Wow, great dac with 1541 chip.
 
OP
amirm

amirm

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Did these oversample to 8x the way they are used in this design or can it also work at higher sample rates like 176.4 khz? Not asking for you to retest it, just maybe feed it 88.2 or 176.4 and see if it works on that.
It wouldn't play anything at 192 kHz I use for Multitone. Likely limitation of Coax input.
 

DHT 845

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What is actual interior of the measured DAC?
 

YSC

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I bought one of these as an empty board (no DAC or filter chip) a while back because dad had a really old Rotel CD player that died, and instead of binning it I could repurpose the chips as they are kinda "nostalgic" I suppose - for anyone interested, here's my one: - and probably exactly what's inside that box Amir has just reviewed. Surprisingly, not so bad for CD playback! - albeit nowhere near DAC performance these days.

View attachment 175254
View attachment 175253
really nice looking ones, (Ok, I am a geek...)
 

bunkbail

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Same DIY design reviewed by @WolfX-700
 

GWolfman

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Looks like a fun DIY for the time (of release). I wasn't aware the forum had enough backing to get a custom product/design.

Thanks!
 
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