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Ladder Schumann R2R DAC Review

Rate this DAC:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 42 19.4%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 111 51.2%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 48 22.1%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 16 7.4%

  • Total voters
    217
It's a toroidal transformer and it converts standard 120 vac to lower level ac voltages that are then rectified into dc voltage to power the circuitry. It plays no direct role in signal conversion.
I’ve never quite understood packing all these amplifier-grade power supplies into a DAC that doesn’t even have a pre-amp stage. Isn’t a DAC basically a computer? Wouldn’t any old decent power supply suffice for crunching numbers?
 
I’ve never quite understood packing all these amplifier-grade power supplies into a DAC that doesn’t even have a pre-amp stage. Isn’t a DAC basically a computer? Wouldn’t any old decent power supply suffice for crunching numbers?
Yes, some of the best measuring ones have tiny SMPS power supplies.
 
Hello,

The measurements are fine with me.
I don't know what you have.
To be honest, I find it presumptuous how you deal with things like this!

As I said, the measurements are OK, but where is Amir's assessment of the sound, which is usually found everywhere else?
There is not a word about it and the thread is torn to shreds about any measurements, assumptions, even lies.
If it was a Holo Audio Dac, you would have heard it for sure, wouldn't you?

On YouTube there are a few positive reports about this R2R Dac, up to a sound sample between 2 other devices that are higher priced and purely sound-wise the Ladder does a good job.
The Ares 2 looks less good in direct comparison and people still buy the Ares 2 just to save a few $/€,which is okay.

Sure, it almost looks like an Ares 2, but it's not.
It also has some technical stuff that is better than the Ares 2.

Another point to note is that it will probably work a lot better under I2S.
Ladder is also not a Shenzenaudio brand, as there are other products from the Ladder company.
You would know that if you had looked into it.

The only thing you can really criticise is that the spec data is missing, as well as the missing manual.
I’m guessing that you’re new to ASR. What should this DAC “sound like”? I’m hoping that it sounds something like the original master—since this doesn’t even have a preamp stage we won’t find out until somebody amplifies that signal…
 
Yes, some of the best measuring ones have tiny SMPS power supplies.
Gustard packed two massive toroidal power supplies into their X26pro. One for each ES9038pro! Not sure what the extra chip is for first and foremost, but given what function a DAC performs, it seems kinda like putting a massive power amp power supply into a PC.
 
Gustard packed two massive toroidal power supplies into their X26pro. One for each ES9038pro! Not sure what the extra chip is for first and foremost, but given what function a DAC performs, it seems kinda like putting a massive power amp power supply into a PC.
The digital circuitry requires a tightly regulated DC power supply because of the demands of square waves that are switching voltage very fast and this loads down a power supply. The tighter the power supply regulation then the better for high end digital circuitry. It's not a gimmick.
 
The digital circuitry requires a tightly regulated DC power supply because of the demands of square waves that are switching voltage very fast and this loads down a power supply. The tighter the power supply regulation then the better for high end digital circuitry. It's not a gimmick.
OK, I thought you were being facetious until your last sentence. Are you alleging this for R2R ladder DACs only?

If so I don’t know enough about their design to argue intelligently on the subject one way or another. But if you’re invoking this for DS DACs like the x26pro, I can’t fathom how that makes sense. There’s some very fine dongle DACs that do a nice enough job that are 1/10th the size of one of these power supplies. If what you’re saying is correct, then why does my Topping d90se measure considerably better than this unit without a butched up toroidal power supply?
 
OK, I thought you were being facetious until your last sentence. Are you alleging this for R2R ladder DACs only?

If so I don’t know enough about their design to argue intelligently on the subject one way or another. But if you’re invoking this for DS DACs like the x26pro, I can’t fathom how that makes sense. There’s some very fine dongle DACs that do a nice enough job that are 1/10th the size of one of these power supplies. If what you’re saying is correct, then why does my Topping d90se measure considerably better than this unit without a butched up toroidal power supply?
The power supply in any digital device has the critical job of dealing with square waves switching into loads. The loads being the next IC downstream. As each load in the circuitry draws power they can affect the power supply loading in ways that are detrimental to the entire unit. Inductors are used on the power supply rails and are placed as close as possible to the loads/ICs power input(s). The inductors reduce the amount of square wave feedback that would usually reach all the way back from the ICs to the power supply where they would affect the other ICs due to the power supply having square waves riding on the output. A R2R design is digital on steroids and whether they are conserving space by using a toroidal transformer or designing for shock and awe I don't know but the power requirements of the R2R are so much more demanding for what is already a demanding task.
 
The digital circuitry requires a tightly regulated DC power supply because of the demands of square waves that are switching voltage very fast and this loads down a power supply. The tighter the power supply regulation then the better for high end digital circuitry. It's not a gimmick.
Right - but you don't need a masssive transformer for good regulation. Just sufficient bulk capacitance, and effective linear (or switched mode) regulation. The transformer only needs to be big enough to supply the required current.

My suspicion is the reason for unnecessarily large transformers is to act as a brick in the device. To make it heavy. And we all know heavy = sounds good.
 
Maybe I'm not talking of 'crossfeed' per se, but my ancient preamp offers a 'Panorama' dial which progressively reduces separation to mono half way round and then inverts the channels increasing the separation the rest of the way. Using headphones, I discovered than in addition to the hf losses my ears now suffer, I lose deep bass in one ear which I'm told isn't otosclerosis, but more adult 'glue ear' which kind of sticks around. Music with extreme L-R effects can sound most odd sometimes and using this panorama control can help hugely when my issue is really bad. No idea at all if this helps others understand it though, but *for me* it's a nice thing to have and set fully one way or the other, it doesn't seem to affect conventional stereo crosstalk either L on R and R on L.
There is way to use Procedural EQ in Roon to achieve the same result. When I was using Audirvana I liked to use a plugin called MidSide Matrix which had a GUI that let you mess around with the sound: from making stereo sound very mono to extremely wide.
https://goodhertz.com/midside-matrix/

I don’t have the luxury of using loudspeakers whenever I want. With headphones, I can enjoy jazz recordings from the sixties by messing with the sound like this. Call me crazy, but in, addition to this, I add room reverb with a convolution filter and and then add crossfeed. Crossfeed on its own is useless to me. I was able to achieve a similar sound with Audirvana using vst or au plugins (EQ, Mid-Side, reverb). Now, using Roon, I try to make the stereo sound narrow and then add room reverb and crossfeed.

This thread helped me get the Mid-Side Matrix effect in Roon.

https://community.roonlabs.com/t/stereo-width-control/162869/6

On its own, I’m pretty sure no NOS/OS R2R multibit DAC is going to help me listen to my jazz on my headphones.

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I’m pretty sure Shenzhen Audio is simply an online e-commerce storefront that specializes in a niche of Chinese brands—SMSL, Gustard, Topping, Sabal, XDUOO et al—not a manufacturer/designer. Am I mistaken?
When I had some exchanges with them on the Pegasus, it looked like they are a pure distributor.

M
 
I’m pretty sure Shenzhen Audio is simply an online e-commerce storefront that specializes in a niche of Chinese brands—SMSL, Gustard, Topping, Sabal, XDUOO et al—not a manufacturer/designer. Am I mistaken?
No, I was mistaken, as I admitted here. Shenzhen Audio's relation to these brands is probably as online retailer rather than distributor. And I remembered Geshelli as a brand specializing in vacuum tubes, which was also a mistake.

But browsing the Shenzhen Audio web site says something interesting. So many curious audio trinkets all seemingly looking for some niche market. Some here might scoff that a ladder DAC, or a tube DAC, etc. as silly. (For my purposes, I'd agree.) I just think there is some kind of equivalence between that and designing a new DAC that has less "IMD hump". All of these things provide reasons, to their respective buyers, to buy the devices. These details make our devices more interesting and attractive to us. That's part of the fun, isn't it?
 
Even though we might not admit it, I believe distortion is important to people who love to listen to music. The question is when and how does it makes most sense to enjoy the distortion for us individually? Unfortunately, the audio marketplace makes that difficult to figure out. We could spend a lifetime and a fortune dabbling with all the choices responding to confusing rhetoric. I think the best kind of distortion comes from loudspeakers in my living space playing a clean undistorted signal from a DAC. I share my living space so headphones are my primary means of listening. I have had to find other means of finding my preferred distortion. I have learned that, for me, a DAC is not where I should find it. Analogously, my wife doesn’t like my cooking because I always spice it up too much to my own preferences.
 
What was Shenzhenaudio thinking? Why did the distributor ask a popular measurement site to measure a DAC that is obviously not designed to please the measurement crowd?

Is this some sort of covert brand assassination?
I bet this DAC is the Denafrips Ares II in a house enclosure and pricepoint.
 
Some genius thought of selling a no name DAC for 1400$. RME sells DACs for 1300$ that are made in Germany, hello! Motu sells the 8A DAC for 800$ (ADC, route, split, DSP), etc...
This is the price for an Okto DAC8 PRO with 8 channels, routing matrix and some high quality finish and sound...
 
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Some genius thought of selling a no name DAC for 1400$. RME sells DACs for 1300$ that are made in Germany, hello! Motu sells the 8A DAC for 800$ (ADC, route, split, DSP), etc...
This is the price for an Okto DAC8 PRO with 8 channels, routing matrix and some high quality finish and sound...
But do ANY of those have the R2R Magic?? Didn't think so o_Oo_O
 
But do ANY of those have the R2R Magic?? Didn't think so o_Oo_O
They don’t need it. They have the option to use onboard DSP. If you really want a “holographic” sound, DSP is the better, definitely cheaper, option.
 
Even though we might not admit it, I believe distortion is important to people who love to listen to music. The question is when and how does it makes most sense to enjoy the distortion for us individually? Unfortunately, the audio marketplace makes that difficult to figure out. We could spend a lifetime and a fortune dabbling with all the choices responding to confusing rhetoric. I think the best kind of distortion comes from loudspeakers in my living space playing a clean undistorted signal from a DAC. I share my living space so headphones are my primary means of listening. I have had to find other means of finding my preferred distortion. I have learned that, for me, a DAC is not where I should find it. Analogously, my wife doesn’t like my cooking because I always spice it up too much to my own preferences.
Distortion can indeed be pleasing when listening to audio, if it’s coming from analog sources such as tubes or vinyl, and adds musical harmonics. However, there is nothing at all pleasing about digital distortion—this has been thoroughly concluded—and I do not want distortion coming from my DAC.

I want my DAC to reproduce the original master with the highest accuracy, least distortion and noise and the widest dynamic range possible—I’ll provide all the warmth I desire from my amp, DSPs and headphones. This is what anyone familiar with how digital audio works should aim for as well, despite what manufacturers of R2R ladder DACs would like us to believe.
 
The power supply in any digital device has the critical job of dealing with square waves switching into loads. The loads being the next IC downstream. As each load in the circuitry draws power they can affect the power supply loading in ways that are detrimental to the entire unit. Inductors are used on the power supply rails and are placed as close as possible to the loads/ICs power input(s). The inductors reduce the amount of square wave feedback that would usually reach all the way back from the ICs to the power supply where they would affect the other ICs due to the power supply having square waves riding on the output. A R2R design is digital on steroids and whether they are conserving space by using a toroidal transformer or designing for shock and awe I don't know but the power requirements of the R2R are so much more demanding for what is already a demanding task.
Thanks for clarifying about R2R DACs, which makes sense but is unfortunately the sole conclusion I could glean from your text—I tried my best to get through it, but it was obviously an example of the sort of insider jargon commonly spoken amongst high level audio scientists. I’ve been around here for quite awhile, and I hope I’ve been sufficiently transparent that I’m not an electrical engineer, just a lifelong enthusiast with an excess of curiosity about what’s going on under the hood. I am for sure always eager to learn.

But through no fault of yours, your explanation soared way over my head—it kinda brought to mind what would happen if I read my progress notes to one of my patients in an effort to educate them about their diagnoses and prognoses. My shop talk would offer them minimal insight, but could easily terrify them.

Perhaps the intimidating tone was due to some perception that I was being snarky to you in my original question, which was absolutely not my intent—and if I came across that way I apologize. I hope you’ll make note that I did start by asking if this power supply requirement was specific to R2R DACs, as it didn’t make sense to me for DS DACs. And thankfully you eventually got around to confirming that in your final sentence, so all is well! :)

I’ll never have the fund of knowledge to comprehend the rest of what you wrote, but that’s ok. The most important lesson I learned from the exchange is that there’s just one more byzantine, technological complication with R2R ladder DACs that renders them all the more tragically inelegant and obsolete, and baffles me even further that some folks still treat you like hopeless rubes for not shelling out ten grand to own one. What could they possibly be thinking, really? Anyways, peace and happy holidays! —Steve
 
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