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Music Hall Dac15.2 Review

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Music Hall Dac15.2 audio DAC. It is on kind loan from a member that sent it to me back in spring of this year! For one reason or the other (mostly because he didn't complain :) ), it has been sitting in a box until now. The Dac15.2 is an older product which I think came out in 2013. I still see it on sale though. The cost is around US $200.

From the outside, the DAC doesn't distinguish itself from myriad of other DACs other than the brown color of the fonts which look kind of nice:

Music Hall Dac15.2 USB DAC Audio Review.jpg
Here is the back panel:


Music Hall Dac15.2 USB DAC Back Panel Connectors Audio Review.jpg

The main unusual thing is S/PDIF out which is not always seen on such DACs.

Power is provided by a heavy 12 volt, 1 amp external brick. This day and age it would have used a switching power supply.

Despite its age, the Dac15.2 was plug and play with Windows. And contrary to what the manual says, it was happy playing 192 kHz sampling rate.

DAC Audio Measurements
As usual we start with our dashboard of 1 kHz full amplitude tone:

Music Hall Dac15.2 USB DAC Audio Measurements.png


The Dac15.2 uses TI PCM1796 spec and achieves its THD+N right on the money. This places it in the competent category of all DACs tested:

USB Audio Dac.png


I am not too happy about that spike at 120 Hz which indicates power supply noise. That hurts the noise performance of the unit as it almost rises to the level of harmonic distortions. Luckily we don't hear too well in low frequencies so it is not an audible concern.

Speaking of noise, here is our dynamic range:

Music Hall Dac15.2 USB DAC Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png


We are not close to matching chip specs which likely used a much cleaner power supply. Still, what is there is ample good enough for everyday use.

Intermodulation distortion+noise shows slightly elevated noise level relative to our reference DAC but otherwise good:

Music Hall Dac15.2 USB DAC Intermodulation Distortion Audio Measurements.png


Jitter test shows a lot of interference sources but levels are way too low to worry about:
Music Hall Dac15.2 USB DAC Jitter Audio Measurements.png


Linearity follows the same class of performance:
Music Hall Dac15.2 USB DAC Linearity Audio Measurements.png


As does our 32-tone test:

Music Hall Dac15.2 USB DAC Multitone Audio Measurements.png


Filter response is not programmable and pretty standard for what comes in DAC chips by default:
Music Hall Dac15.2 USB DAC Filter Audio Measurements.png


THD+N versus frequency shows much higher levels than it should:

Music Hall Dac15.2 USB DAC THD+N versus Frequency Audio Measurements.png


This test uses 90 kHz bandwidth (the dashboard uses 22.4 kHz). So let's look at that broader spectrum and see what is going on:
Music Hall Dac15.2 USB DAC FFT Spectrum Audio Measurements.png


Ah, we see classic rise noise level due to "noise shaping" used in the DAC. In brief, noise from audible band is pushed out to ultrasonic/inaudible band. And that hurts the measurement and the eye, but not the ear.

Conclusions
Despite its age, the Music Hall Dac15.2 turns in competent performance showing that even back then, one could design a good DAC. Today, it is not competitive with much more optimized designs we see at even lower prices. So for new purchases, I suggest looking elsewhere. If you have one though, or can find one used at low price, then it is a good option.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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digicidal

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#2
Not bad at all for the price and age. Still handily bests your average AVR in DAC performance (while losing horribly to them in features/inputs).
Is the S/PDIF output for daisy-chaining or ? I can't figure out why you would ever want to pass out digital from a DAC unless you wanted to use a second one with DSP for subs maybe?
 

Ceburaska

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#3
A tiny nitpick.
I don’t think the green band of DACs should be designated ‘competent’. To me that is an absolute term, whereas the bands are all relative. It’s fair to say that some of the red band DACs seem incompetently designed. But even there we could have competent, but lowly placed DACs simply due to the competition.
Another good “vintage” product if you can get it at secondhand prices.
I also fail to see the point of a digital out on a DAC. Aren’t you just putting this box in between the source and the next DAC? I guess could be useful if the final DAC doesn’t have usb? But then, why use that DAC? Confusing.
 

Tks

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#7
Bring back those outputs to today’s devices. The more the marrier.

Also that optical port with no flap door/cover got my OCD a bit active.

I’m wondering one thing about the PS noise. Can that be rectified by simply changing power supplies?
 

audio_tony

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#8
Also that optical port with no flap door/cover got my OCD a bit active.

I’m wondering one thing about the PS noise. Can that be rectified by simply changing power supplies?
I suspect it would have originally been supplied with a bung for the optical port.

A PSU with better smoothing (or even a decent switched mode PSU) would sort out the PSU noise for sure I would have thought.
 

confucius_zero

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#9
Did u try using it with an "audiophile" power conditioner
 

amirm

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#10
I can't figure out why you would ever want to pass out digital from a DAC unless you wanted to use a second one with DSP for subs maybe?
They get used as a USB to S/PDIF converters in a pinch. Topping D10 has the same and people like it for that purpose. Indeed in that case it is not much more expensive than a dedicated device like that. So you get the DAC portion for "free."
 

amirm

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#11
Did u try using it with an "audiophile" power conditioner
Can't tell if you are serious or not. :) Just in case it is the former, it is cheaper to buy a new DAC without that issue.
 

Jimster480

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#12
Not bad at all for the price and age. Still handily bests your average AVR in DAC performance (while losing horribly to them in features/inputs).
Is the S/PDIF output for daisy-chaining or ? I can't figure out why you would ever want to pass out digital from a DAC unless you wanted to use a second one with DSP for subs maybe?
i've actually used the SPDIF output on my DX7 many times.... I use it for testing other DAC's and at one point in time I used it for another DAC driving self powered speakers.
 

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