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I've seen the light!

Eternaloptimist35

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Hello everyone on ASR!
After spending many years down the audiophile rabbit hole... I have come to my senses (!). I feel a bit like someone who has come out of a cult.
Until 3 weeks ago, I had a Chord TT2 DAC/preamp into Cyrus x200 signature mono amps. Very expensive.
Don't get me wrong, I loved the sound and love listening to music more than listening to equipment.
Then one of the mono amps developed a fault that made the orignially $AUD 6K amp not worth repairing....

I then spent a lot of time looking at power amp options, settling on the Benchmark AHB2. A big factor in the decision was Amir's measurement data and his clear analysis.
Although there are cheaper modern well-measuring amps, the fault protection (protecting my speakers) circuits swayed me. Also, I just like the appearance - which i do think is a legitimate consideration like anything in my living room.
The amp in the system sounds amazing... which I translate as... the amp is doing what a modern designed amp should do: be a straight wire with gain.
So for half the price of the old dual mono amps, I have an amp that uses less power, has excellent fault protection circuits, looks great (IMHO) and just does what it says on the box.

Then I started thinking about the "sunk cost" of the Chord TT2 DAC.... $AUD 7.5K 3 years ago. Yes, yes... not smart.
Although Amir's measurements show it measures well, I was struck by how many much, much cheaper DACs measured as well or better.
I have owned many DACs over the years and prior to good USB implementations, I do think there were some crap designs.
However, it really does look like DACs are now a "solved problem" and features, appearance etc. then are what really should matter.
Therefore... I ordered the SMSL 400EX. Again, although there are cheaper DACs, it measures really well and looks great! I don't plan on changing it any time soon.... I am also honest enough to acknowledge that I could have the SMSL 400ES for less money but have an unjustifiable bias against ESS DACs, based on old and poor implementations in the past. Yes, it is stupid, but just like many recent cult escapees... I still have biases that remain...
One fifth of the cost of a Chord TT2 DAC (!), measures better and has more features. Definitely looks better.
Could I have a cheaper DAC and not pick the difference in a blind test? Undoubetdly. But I like the features and just love the appearance.

Sorry about the essay.
I really appreciate Amir and the contributers on this site. Is a breath of fresh air.
Cheers,
Dave
 
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Golf

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The brand S.M.S.L stands out of the rest of all the hi-fi stuff I ever owned – inasmuch as I had to return an S.M.S.L device (SU-1) just after a view months, due to a sudden and total USB output failure. The replacement unit works fine, of course. Let’s see for how long.
 
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Eternaloptimist35

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The brand S.M.S.L stands out of the rest of all the hi-fi stuff I ever owned – inasmuch as I had to return an S.M.S.L device (SU-1) just after a view months, due to a sudden and total USB output failure. The replacement unit works fine, of course. Let’s see for how long.
Interesting. As I don’t know the brand, I did make sure to buy from a local retailer with an excellent returns and support policy, who I have dealt with before.
 

DavidEdwinAston

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Pleased to hear that you are confident with your retailer. I in fact have used a Qutest for some years and am content. Should it fail would likely replace it with an RME product.
Slightly cheaper, and also with a good reputation. I suppose that I am saying I still have doubts about the reliability of some manufacturers.
Good luck with your new system, and welcome to the de-stressing audio site which is ASR
 

312elements

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@Eternaloptimist35

I know the feeling. I spent this morning A/B testing the following:

Wiim Pro built in DAC
Wiim Pro built in DAC with LPS
Geshelli Labs J2S with AK4499
Geshelli Labs J2S with AK4499 plus sparkos
Geshelli Labs J2S with AD4499 plus sparkos plus LPS
RME ADI-2
Denafrips Ares II
Denafrips Pontus II 12th

I level matched with a multimeter via Roon and I used 2 Wiim Pro's as the sources and synced them in Roon so I could switch back and forth with the preamp. Let's just say they were all a lot more alike than they were different. I really expected more. A lot more. I did the A/B test to see if there was a reason to bring someone in to help me ABX them. It was supposed to be the test before the test. I personally now have no reason to ABX and should probably offload a lot of these DACs. Was there a difference once level matched? Yes. Was it night and day? Absolutely not. Did I have to loop parts of songs to find the differences? I did. Do I think I'd pass an ABX between the sub $200 Wiim and the $2000ish Pontus? I think I could. Everything sounded a little bit better than the built in DAC in the Wiim. I don't think I'd be able to ABX any of the others.

I conducted the test twice on two different systems in two different rooms. I first tested in my untreated living room with JBL L82 classics being driven by NAD C298. I became pretty frustrated when everything sounded so similar. I immediately assumed that the JBL's weren't revealing enough or that the room was hiding the differences. Then I went and conducted the test in my treated listening room on my mostly DIY'd system and while I convinced myself that there was more of a difference to be heard there, it certainly wasn't enough to justify the price differences and they were all equally enjoyable.

What I was expecting was a difference in layering ( soundstage depth) and soundstage width. What I actually noticed was fairly minimal and had little to do with width or depth and more to do with midrange presence. Again though... not easy to identify in either setup, was limited to specific spots in specific tracks, and had little to no impact on enjoyability.
 
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Eternaloptimist35

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So... the SMSL D400EX is now in the system and (unsurprisingly!) sounds amazing.
I prefer this DAC to my old Chord Hugo TT2 for one reason only: playback is pretty much instantaneous (unlike the Chord) and no driver crashes. The Chord used an ASIO driver that would crash with changing between playback apps.
I am an ASR convert!
 

Phorize

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Was there a difference once level matched? Yes.
I don't want to come across like I'm being a contrarian, but a sighted test can't establish the above. Expectation bias is the best explanation for what you experienced. To get to the above conclusion you you need to evidence that you were able to distinguish the DACs without any knowledge of them being changed at all. Not saying it's easy to set up a true blind test in domestic conditions of course.
 

312elements

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I don't want to come across like I'm being a contrarian, but a sighted test can't establish the above. Expectation bias is the best explanation for what you experienced. To get to the above conclusion you you need to evidence that you were able to distinguish the DACs without any knowledge of them being changed at all. Not saying it's easy to set up a true blind test in domestic conditions of course.
Great job completely missing the point. Kudos and keep up the good work!
 

kemmler3D

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@Eternaloptimist35

I know the feeling. I spent this morning A/B testing the following:

Wiim Pro built in DAC
Wiim Pro built in DAC with LPS
Geshelli Labs J2S with AK4499
Geshelli Labs J2S with AK4499 plus sparkos
Geshelli Labs J2S with AD4499 plus sparkos plus LPS
RME ADI-2
Denafrips Ares II
Denafrips Pontus II 12th

I level matched with a multimeter via Roon and I used 2 Wiim Pro's as the sources and synced them in Roon so I could switch back and forth with the preamp. Let's just say they were all a lot more alike than they were different. I really expected more. A lot more. I did the A/B test to see if there was a reason to bring someone in to help me ABX them. It was supposed to be the test before the test. I personally now have no reason to ABX and should probably offload a lot of these DACs. Was there a difference once level matched? Yes. Was it night and day? Absolutely not. Did I have to loop parts of songs to find the differences? I did. Do I think I'd pass an ABX between the sub $200 Wiim and the $2000ish Pontus? I think I could. Everything sounded a little bit better than the built in DAC in the Wiim. I don't think I'd be able to ABX any of the others.

I conducted the test twice on two different systems in two different rooms. I first tested in my untreated living room with JBL L82 classics being driven by NAD C298. I became pretty frustrated when everything sounded so similar. I immediately assumed that the JBL's weren't revealing enough or that the room was hiding the differences. Then I went and conducted the test in my treated listening room on my mostly DIY'd system and while I convinced myself that there was more of a difference to be heard there, it certainly wasn't enough to justify the price differences and they were all equally enjoyable.

What I was expecting was a difference in layering ( soundstage depth) and soundstage width. What I actually noticed was fairly minimal and had little to do with width or depth and more to do with midrange presence. Again though... not easy to identify in either setup, was limited to specific spots in specific tracks, and had little to no impact on enjoyability.
Nice job doing a properly level matched test. I think your conclusion is spot on, especially considering we'd expect perceived differences to be smaller (or disappear) on a true blind test vs. sighted. I personally think it's a good sign of being honest with oneself when you can conclude that you heard little-to-no difference in a sighted test. As we know, there are whole businesses and online communities built on failing to accomplish this.
 

Phorize

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bungle

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However, it really does look like DACs are now a "solved problem"
And even ADCs. But unfortunately we still need confirmations whether the implementation is done right. Some Chinese/Hongkong brands seem to get things consistently right on different products. And pro-audio like RME. With others it seems still like a play of dice.
 

kemmler3D

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Enlighten me, what point did I miss?
I think the overall gist was meant to be that he expected to hear a lot more than he did.

I think it's fair to say that the differences he did hear could very well disappear in a blind test, but the point I took away wasn't "I heard differences, this is meaningful" but "Whatever I did hear was not meaningful at all, so a blind test isn't even worth it."

FWIW I do agree that what he described is the kind of slight difference that doesn't necessarily hold up on a blind test, but it does sound like he did a serious and honest sighted test, and learned something as a result.
 
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