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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

restorer-john

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DSJR

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Be VERY careful all you other oldies like me, when lookjing back to the mid 80's. The sound systems and speakers especially that we used back then were almost certainly optimised for a warm, soft toned and in the case of UK peeps with Linn LP12's of the era, a rather 'fruity' sounding vinyl player. These systems could just about take a period FM radio transmission, itself slightly warmer and softer than the studio output, but give them a CD and the results could be terrible as said systems just weren't neutral enough!

I remember spending some time with the earliest Philips, Marantz and Meridian (M-CD) players and getting a headache after an hour or so. recoding to a Nakamichi (682ZX from memory) cassette deck using metal tape made the sound more tolerable to me (was it the added noise or just extra band limiting with level, I've no idea). Time moved quickly back then and I was able to borrow different machines to try. The Sony 101 did have a 'ballsy' kind of sound (I grew to love it later on but many suffered laser failure), A top loading Micromega (with heavy brass disc weight and thick perspex cover) sounded terribly contrived and coloured to me, but audiophiles of the time revered it. many far eastern machines could sound acidic but looking back I honestly wonder if it was the domesticated PA systems we were using at home (UK peeps from the time will understand)...

For me, it was the B&O CDX (lovely thing to use and watch), the Mission DAD7000 (Philips 104 sibling) and my first player, a Meridian MCD-Pro which got me started (and in credit card debt as I bought many discs to play on it). Interesting my comments on the 14 bit Philips chipset giving me headaches, ad the MCD-Pro also used this chipset, albeit with fancy clock and supplies I recall. The flashing lights showing basic inaudible error correction and possibly audible digital interpolations could be an anal issue though and subsequent machines ditched these.

I also remember some machines up to the early 90's seemed more sensitive to 'muck' coming in on the mains and i also still feel they weren't so good at not putting muck back down the line (signal screens for example). Ultrasonic spikes around 70khz were measured by Paul Miller back then as well, but maybe it was the band limiting filters in popular UK amps which were affected here?

Aren't we lucky today? Modern dacs are largely totally immune to the mains and supply powering them and specs are better than ever. I'm fast getting over the vintage kick now as I slide ungraciously into retirement from this industry and am happy to leave these digital relics be (old shit turntables are a different story still, but maybe not for much longer).

Good that the old 1541 chipset can perform sensibly, but so much total ignorance in audiophool land and trouble is, many don't want to learn or know other than what their senses working together tell them :facepalm:
 

DSJR

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Ever seen inside a Marantz CD-12/DA-12LE? Go look at the internal pics...

Engineering to an actual 'high' level. Not DIY kit projects in a Chinese box.

That bloody thing frightens me to death (I thought my lower caste sibling player was bad enough). Just think, better performance now from a tiny circuit now...
 

shevalier

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Nov 21, 2021
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Ukraine
Go look at the internal pics...
opened the pic, looked at the throuhole DEM capacitor, closed the pic.
Nice example of "audiophile" - big box & colored parts
And SAA7220 as a digital filter stub
Not DIY kit projects in a Chinese box.
Xilinx Spartan 3 xc3s200 as custom DF with noise shaping, dithering and spdif receiver.
fpga.png

yep, you're definitely right, its "alibaba diy kit project"

it was better before... golden era audio... Marantz CD-12/DA-12LE
saa7220 datasheet was released in 1985.
before the creation of Cadence_Design_Systems 3 year remained, Synopsys - 1 year.
Altium has existed for a couple of months.
saa7220 was handmaded
 
Last edited:

audio_tony

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I have a Sony CDP-227ESD player (dual TDA1541 DACs) and an Arcam Black Box DAC (one x TDA1541) - I also have a Marantz CD17 with the TDA1547 DAC.
Measurements below.
All measurements captured by playing the Sony YEDS18 CD.
Captured at 96kHz/24bit using an Altor Audio Olivine 2 ADC - levels set to -1dB.

Sony CDP-227ESD
1kHz_-20dB.png


10kHz_0dB.png

20kHz_0dB.png

1kHz_-20dB.png

10kHz_-20dB.png


Marantz CD-17

1kHz_0dB.png


10kHz_0dB.png

20kHz_0dB.png



1kHz_-20dB.png


10kHz_-20dB.png


Arcam Black Box

1kHz_0dB.png



10kHz_0dB.png


20kHz_0dB.png



1kHz_-20dB.png


10kHz_-20dB.png
 

aj625

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Aug 31, 2021
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And what does it indicate ?
I have a Sony CDP-227ESD player (dual TDA1541 DACs) and an Arcam Black Box DAC (one x TDA1541) - I also have a Marantz CD17 with the TDA1547 DAC.
Measurements below.
All measurements captured by playing the Sony YEDS18 CD.
Captured at 96kHz/24bit using an Altor Audio Olivine 2 ADC - levels set to -1dB.

Sony CDP-227ESD
View attachment 176131

View attachment 176132
View attachment 176133
View attachment 176134
View attachment 176135

Marantz CD-17

View attachment 176136


View attachment 176137
View attachment 176138


View attachment 176139

View attachment 176140

Arcam Black Box

View attachment 176141



View attachment 176142

View attachment 176143


View attachment 176144

View attachment 176145
 

shevalier

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And what does it indicate ?
Marantz has a noise shaping (raising the noise floor after 20 kHz), which is progressive for the 90s.
But the bad digital filter. (SM5841 has the stopband is about 50 dB.)

No one has deglitcher (low level wideband distortion on a graph).

it really indicates that the DAC is a simple IC, and they already knew how to make it well.

Also, this does indicate that digital ICs were expensive and low-performance.
Therefore, so they did everything they could.
 

JonP

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This DAC's noise floor is about -94dB wideband and more like -96dB within that resctricted bandwidth.
IMHO the noise penalty can be said to be negligible and may limit performance only when you happen to play standard-dithered digital silence into a noise-wise flawless amp at full bore.
I wonder where the average '80-90's amp's noise floor would map out against this. That might have been the system limit for most gear in that era, with this chip being "better than" for quite a while...

A great DAC for its day, if implemented well, that is! I once stuck a scope in my friend's >$1000 AR DAC (90's vintage, bought in the '00's) to fix it, did get it fixed, but the noise on the clock and data lines!! The long, winding PCB traces! Even separate DAC cards, plugged into a motherboard! Some clock/data lines were a foot or so long thru all that stuff. It kinda blew my mind. This was a respected piece of gear!

Made me wonder how it would be if it was laid out well, faster buffers in the logic (it was all LS, IIRC) etc. He kinda didnt want me tearing it apart and redesigning it. Dont blame him, really.
 

audio_tony

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I wonder where the average '80-90's amp's noise floor would map out against this.
Most Japanese amps from that era are low noise and typically compare reasonably well with modern gear.

They certainly surpassed the redbook digital standards.

A 1990's Sony TAF540E for example has the following noise specs.

Signal to noise ratio: 75dB (MC), 92dB (MM), 100dB (line)
 

capslock

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Jun 19, 2020
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Marantz has a noise shaping (raising the noise floor after 20 kHz), which is progressive for the 90s.
But the bad digital filter. (SM5841 has the stopband is about 50 dB.)

No one has deglitcher (low level wideband distortion on a graph).

it really indicates that the DAC is a simple IC, and they already knew how to make it well.

Also, this does indicate that digital ICs were expensive and low-performance.
Therefore, so they did everything they could.
Actually, the CD 17 uses the TDA1307 8x digital filter and modulator and a single TDA1547 in stereo mode. This is a step up from the usual configuration of SM5841, SAA7350, TDA1547 as used e.g. in the Philips CD930/931 or Grundig CD-3.

I once spent a weekend upgrading the CD931 pcb. Whoever designed that PCB had no idea whatsoever about EMI and ground currents.

What were Arcam using in their black box? A tube for enhanced harmonics?
 

audio_tony

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Actually, the CD 17 uses the TDA1307 8x digital filter and modulator and a single TDA1547 in stereo mode. This is a step up from the usual configuration of SM5841, SAA7350, TDA1547 as used e.g. in the Philips CD930/931 or Grundig CD-3.

I once spent a weekend upgrading the CD931 pcb. Whoever designed that PCB had no idea whatsoever about EMI and ground currents.

What were Arcam using in their black box? A tube for enhanced harmonics?
My CD17 (early MK1 version) uses the SM5841 / SAA7350 / TDA1547 - there is a later version (but still called a CD-17) with the TDA1307 - I've not been able to find a service manual for my player - only the later versions.

As for the Arcam Black Box - I might recap it to see if that improves matters, as there does seem to be quite a bit of PSU noise in the spectrum.

marantz-cd-17-mods2.jpg
 

ousi

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Most Japanese amps from that era are low noise and typically compare reasonably well with modern gear.

They certainly surpassed the redbook digital standards.

A 1990's Sony TAF540E for example has the following noise specs.

Signal to noise ratio: 75dB (MC), 92dB (MM), 100dB (line)
I have a Kenwood L-07C and L-07M (both are Mk.I), plus a Kenwood Model 600 integrated being restored by Peter at QuirkAudio. I'm thinking about if I should get those sent to @amirm to measure or would that be just a waste of time. That will hopefully shed some light on how good those vintage 70-80 Hifi components are compared to what we have today, especially compared to today mass-market and boutique shops offerings.
 

xykreinov

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I remember an engineer at Arcam telling me at the time the main contributer to the 'sound quality' of these dac chips was almost certainly in the digital filter these machines used as standard and NOT the 1541A (I was asking about the 'Crown' version which apparently had better low level linearity). Any 'more muscular' sonics I always put down to the analogue output stage used (there used to be a 'beefy, slightly dirty' quality to this generation I subjectively remember). I also remember sub 100khz noise coming out of such players which reviewer Paul Miller used to measure for I remember.

I'd also add that the noise output may play a subliminal role as well as 'we' really do seem to like this aspect, even if it's as low as this one is.

My Micro Seiki CD player is from this era (Marantz CD94/Philips CD960 chassis) but the output stage recommended to be used is an add-on with transformer coupled balanced outs. No doubt the 'sound quality' benefit this player had over its competition back then (late 80's) is actually distortion... Gawd this machine is complex compared to a modern better performing dac...

View attachment 175261

View attachment 175262

View attachment 175263

Donor chassis CD94 below. TDA 1541 can be seen with the green film caps surrounding it as my machine has under the copper cladding...

1874573-marantz-cd94-cd-player-philips-cdm1-tda1541a-usa-design.jpg
I am a sucker for wood and amber displays
 

Haskil

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Be VERY careful all you other oldies like me, when lookjing back to the mid 80's. The sound systems and speakers especially that we used back then were almost certainly optimised for a warm, soft toned and in the case of UK peeps with Linn LP12's of the era, a rather 'fruity' sounding vinyl player. These systems could just about take a period FM radio transmission, itself slightly warmer and softer than the studio output, but give them a CD and the results could be terrible as said systems just weren't neutral enough!

I remember spending some time with the earliest Philips, Marantz and Meridian (M-CD) players and getting a headache after an hour or so. recoding to a Nakamichi (682ZX from memory) cassette deck using metal tape made the sound more tolerable to me (was it the added noise or just extra band limiting with level, I've no idea). Time moved quickly back then and I was able to borrow different machines to try. The Sony 101 did have a 'ballsy' kind of sound (I grew to love it later on but many suffered laser failure), A top loading Micromega (with heavy brass disc weight and thick perspex cover) sounded terribly contrived and coloured to me, but audiophiles of the time revered it. many far eastern machines could sound acidic but looking back I honestly wonder if it was the domesticated PA systems we were using at home (UK peeps from the time will understand)...

For me, it was the B&O CDX (lovely thing to use and watch), the Mission DAD7000 (Philips 104 sibling) and my first player, a Meridian MCD-Pro which got me started (and in credit card debt as I bought many discs to play on it). Interesting my comments on the 14 bit Philips chipset giving me headaches, ad the MCD-Pro also used this chipset, albeit with fancy clock and supplies I recall. The flashing lights showing basic inaudible error correction and possibly audible digital interpolations could be an anal issue though and subsequent machines ditched these.

I also remember some machines up to the early 90's seemed more sensitive to 'muck' coming in on the mains and i also still feel they weren't so good at not putting muck back down the line (signal screens for example). Ultrasonic spikes around 70khz were measured by Paul Miller back then as well, but maybe it was the band limiting filters in popular UK amps which were affected here?

Aren't we lucky today? Modern dacs are largely totally immune to the mains and supply powering them and specs are better than ever. I'm fast getting over the vintage kick now as I slide ungraciously into retirement from this industry and am happy to leave these digital relics be (old shit turntables are a different story still, but maybe not for much longer).

Good that the old 1541 chipset can perform sensibly, but so much total ignorance in audiophool land and trouble is, many don't want to learn or know other than what their senses working together tell them :facepalm:
I have not the same experience... In 1982, I was music critic in Le Monde de la musique and Le Monde. Classical Music. I had a very good equipment for LP : Thorens 125, SME court, V 15 IV and a great, great, collection of Classical LP...

I bought my first CD : Sony 101... and I have the big chance to receive month after month all the classical CDs published... A miracle of quality... Much better than LP... Sound more precise... less distorsion... stéréo stage much better... Bass, treble : incomparable... Never headaches !!! But a very great sensation of musicality because the musiciens at play was more presents... Just one pb : very capricious with CD... It's like I bought also new acoustic speaker... And also : I am a great lover of piano recordings... With LP and the problem of hole centering of a lot of LP... the sound have a artificiel vibrato due a tiny cry....and also distorsion un high frequencies with organ : Intermodulation...

After, I bought others CD Players... others electronics and HP... For me who is a music lover : the CD from the beginning was much better than LP... and today the quality of PCM is incredible for a little price, no setting for arm and cartridge, no wear...
 

DSJR

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I have not the same experience... In 1982, I was music critic in Le Monde de la musique and Le Monde. Classical Music. I had a very good equipment for LP : Thorens 125, SME court, V 15 IV and a great, great, collection of Classical LP...

I bought my first CD : Sony 101... and I have the big chance to receive month after month all the classical CDs published... A miracle of quality... Much better than LP... Sound more precise... less distorsion... stéréo stage much better... Bass, treble : incomparable... Never headaches !!! But a very great sensation of musicality because the musiciens at play was more presents... Just one pb : very capricious with CD... It's like I bought also new acoustic speaker... And also : I am a great lover of piano recordings... With LP and the problem of hole centering of a lot of LP... the sound have a artificiel vibrato due a tiny cry....and also distorsion un high frequencies with organ : Intermodulation...

After, I bought others CD Players... others electronics and HP... For me who is a music lover : the CD from the beginning was much better than LP... and today the quality of PCM is incredible for a little price, no setting for arm and cartridge, no wear...

You're a 'classical music' lover. THAT's why you embraced CD so quickly I feel (I'm eternally fond of the TD125mk1 though and the V15 IV can be a very (too) 'truthful' cartridge to what's actually in the grooves, not all of it pleasant!

I discovered later that the CD 101 was a very good and pretty neutral sounding machine and I still feel better to me than the first Philips machines. Perhaps a little lacking in full 3-D soundfield as more modern players could do, but never an issue.

Maybe I should expand a bit from a UK then more naive young-dealer perspective. The people with large classical music vinyl collections dropped them in their hoards as it seems you did and embraced the new Cd format. They owned very neutral playback systems (in the UK, often Quad amps and similar into Spendor, Rogers, KEF and Quad Electrostatic style speakers). We 1980's young 'domesticated PA system' lovers - you know, Linn, Naim into Isobariks or Saras let alone the Kans (which should have been euthanised before launch imo), didn't like CD as the sound was different (automatically worse) than our favoured LP12/Ittok/Karma vinyl source and of course, the hard toned band limited amps and peaky, shrieky speakers just sounded, well, awful with a digital source (FM BBC Radio 3 was acceptable as the FM system adds a touch of midrange 'bloom' as a by product of the system I gather - from an old HiFi news article when DAB came along)...

All old memories now, but a few still think that way I reckon. Subjective forum fashions go in cycles and another doing the rounds is the whole 'speaker decoupling from the floor' thing, after years of solidly mounting...
 

Haskil

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You're a 'classical music' lover. THAT's why you embraced CD so quickly I feel (I'm eternally fond of the TD125mk1 though and the V15 IV can be a very (too) 'truthful' cartridge to what's actually in the grooves, not all of it pleasant!

I discovered later that the CD 101 was a very good and pretty neutral sounding machine and I still feel better to me than the first Philips machines. Perhaps a little lacking in full 3-D soundfield as more modern players could do, but never an issue.

Maybe I should expand a bit from a UK then more naive young-dealer perspective. The people with large classical music vinyl collections dropped them in their hoards as it seems you did and embraced the new Cd format. They owned very neutral playback systems (in the UK, often Quad amps and similar into Spendor, Rogers, KEF and Quad Electrostatic style speakers). We 1980's young 'domesticated PA system' lovers - you know, Linn, Naim into Isobariks or Saras let alone the Kans (which should have been euthanised before launch imo), didn't like CD as the sound was different (automatically worse) than our favoured LP12/Ittok/Karma vinyl source and of course, the hard toned band limited amps and peaky, shrieky speakers just sounded, well, awful with a digital source (FM BBC Radio 3 was acceptable as the FM system adds a touch of midrange 'bloom' as a by product of the system I gather - from an old HiFi news article when DAB came along)...

All old memories now, but a few still think that way I reckon. Subjective forum fashions go in cycles and another doing the rounds is the whole 'speaker decoupling from the floor' thing, after years of solidly mounting...
I am one of those hifists before what the French call idiophilia: I am rational. Also the irruption of Lin, Naim, Rega and a few others made me smile with the procession of explanations for naives without technical background and yet enemy of technique. I even hated this British current of high fidelity which succeeded by its propaganda in marginalizing the big Japanese brands whose electronics surpassed the Rega, Lin and Naim devices sold two to four times more expensive! Around the same time, the sudden fashion for cables and accessories appalled me... In short, from the first model of CD player, despite the 14-bit DACs, the filters not really efficient, the CD qualitatively crushed the LP whatever the level quality of the turntable-arm-cell-preamp-transformer used (I had an LP 12 for 3 months: nothing more than a Thorens 124 with SME; and Ortofon, Denon, Audio Technica, Stanton, Elac, Empire , Excel Sound…). And always the CD gave a facelift to the speakers used, whatever the brand: JBL like Quad, Altec Lansing 19 like Kef or BW Matrix...
PS Sorry for my english…
 

thyristor

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Are the design files (schematics and board layout) available for this? I would like to take a peek.
 
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