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Review and Measurements of miniDSP SHD DAC, DSP And Streamer

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the MiniDSP SHD DAC, audio processor and streaming appliance. It was drop shipped by a kind member to me. It retails for $1195 and it comes with a license for automatic Room Equalization software, Dirac (which I use personally on a PC). It even includes their ever popular measurement microphone:



I only had a few hours to play with it (my fault) so I only measured the DAC portion. Regular readers of the forum may remember my review of miniDSP 2x4 HD. Even though I loved its functionality, its DAC performance left something to be desired.

The miniDSP SHD is quite substantial coming in the 1 RU Rack mountable chassis (indeed it comes with rack "ears"). One of their ever popular measurements mics is thrown it together with a tripod and remote. The unit overall is hugely more substantial than other mini components they sell.

As I suspected and feared though, the unit came with no software and no way of downloading any! My HD unit came with some redemption code to get the necessary software. I could not find any such thing in the box and without it, the folder for SHD downloads on miniDSP website comes out blank. The website says it even comes with a license code for Dirac which I did not find.

Just as well as HD unit, plugging in the USB cable did not result in a working USB sound device. Device manager in Windows showed an exclamation mark indicating a problem. Google search did not result in any solutions.

On a whim I pulled out my laptop where I tested the HD unit and it worked with the SHD!!! So I could at least test the DAC which is what you are about to see.

Back to features of the unit, I like the nice large display and big volume control. A couple of clicks and I had USB selected.

Let's get into measurements and see how well she did.

Measurements
As usual we start with our test of the unit using USB as input and our dashboard view:
MiniDSP SHD Audio Processor Streamer.png


Nice nominal output of 2 volts RMS and total absence of mains noise.

Check out the distortion and SINAD (signal above distortion and noise). These are excellent numbers! Here is how they compare to a few dedicated DACs:

MiniDSP SHD Audio Processor Streamer SINAD Measurements.png


Oh I should say all the measurements are from unbalanced RCA outputs.

Let's look at intermodulation distortion versus level:

MiniDSP SHD Audio Processor Streamer Intermodulation Measurements.png


We see that its performance (in black) lands almost on top of RME ADI-2 Pro which likewise uses an AKM DAC. And as with that unit, we have smooth response without the so called "ESS Hump" we get in lower cost desktop DACs like Topping DX7s. There is some saturation and increased distortion toward the end but it is mild. Of course high performance DACs like the Benchmark DAC3 beat it but we are talking over $2000 for that DAC functionality alone.

Frequency response is boring with just a 0.4 dB droop at 20 kHz and 0.5 dB at 22 kHz:
MiniDSP SDH Audio Processor Streamer Frequency Response Measurement.png


Let's look at harmonic distortion+noise versus frequency:

MiniDSP SHD Audio Processor Streamer THD vs Frequency Measurements.png


Once again DAC3 beats it but this is still good performance.

Dynamic Range ("SNR") is pretty good too:

MiniDSP SHD Audio Processor Streamer SNR Measurements.png


How about linearity?
MiniDSP SHD Audio Processor Streamer Linearity Measurements.png


Wow, this is textbook perfect!

Could this keep going to our final test of jitter and noise?
MiniDSP SHD Audio Processor Streamer Jitter and Noise Measurements.png


Oh, no! Why did you do this to us miniDSP? You were doing so well and then hand us this graph which indicates a ton if interference from rest of the unit (DSP?) causing the myriad of noise and jitter spikes.

Fortunately the highest level is below -120 dB so not an audible concern. But what a way to ruin great response of this DAC. I wonder if they had someone else design the DAC portion and they did not test it when in the same box as the DSP and display subsystem. These issues could have been avoided for the most part with some care.

FYI I tested S/PDIF input and it generated almost identical results so this is not due to USB input noise.

Oh wait, I don't remember if I disconnected the USB cable when I tested S/PDIF. I have seen in the case of Schiit Modi 2 Uber DAC that I need to do that or the USB connection still pollutes the output of the DAC. Will have to retest.

Conclusion
From fit and finish to features and performance, the miniDSP SHD is a huge step up from their older products. Yes, it costs you a lot more but then again license for Dirac alone could set you back 1/3 the cost of the unit.

The DAC performance, putting aside Jitter, is top tier with little to apologize for compared to even $500 desktop DACs.

Consider that no home system produces correct bass response without DSP, the combination of very good DAC and signal processing produces one great product.

I wonder if miniDSP can look into the jitter issues and make some revision to reduce them. Better power supply decoupling and shielding would go a long way toward better performance.

On the software side, I hope miniDSP reconsiders its software licensing process. Having to screw around with redemption codes and such is just wrong. The unit should come with all the software or proper online link to make it work out of the box.

I personally have no use for its analog inputs and ADC so if they get rid of those and bring the price down, it would be great. Is that the "Studio" version? If so, that will be a killer product.

All in all, the miniDSP SHD is recommended!

Edit: The previously posted frequency response was in error (it showed a cut off at 17 kHz). I updated it with the correct measurement.

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#2
I would never buy such a product that does not include software for you. They must do something bloody dumb like include the licencing codes and information to acquire it in the original buyers email.
 

DNM

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#3
Well there's a relief! Thanks for reviewing the SHD Amir and well done MiniDSP for producing a product with the audio performance that does justice to the great DSP functionality of their products.

With regard to the software; in fairness to MiniDSP, when you purchase product(s) on their website, you become a registered user and simply login and go to the user download section to download the plugin(s). If you're already registered, any subsequent product purchase through their website automatically entitles you to retrieve the relevant plugin(s). Unlike previous products, I wasn't charged $10 for the privilege of dowloading the SHD software so MiniDSP are clearly listening to customer gripes!

Shame you didn't have time to measure the ADC. I've been listening to some SACD's today through the analogue balanced inputs and I'm delighted with the performance. Very transparent as far as I could tell and more than happy to use in place of my Mytek 192 ADC.

Be interesting to know if the balanced outputs measure differently than the single ended outputs and ditto for the analogue inputs.

Some measurements of the SRC performance would be interesting too. I detect a slight loss of resolution versus up/down sampling to 96khz in Roon but tiny and maybe imaginary.

Putting the SHD into perspective, it costs approx. £1,135 inc. import taxes and VAT here in the UK, which is competitive for a two channel DAC with this level of performance and connectivity let alone a 4 channel DAC/ADC with DSP, Room correction and streamer. In a system comprising dual sub woofers requiring seamless integration and bass management, the SHD is a steal at the asking price IMHO. An 8 channel version must surely be on the radar.
 
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#5
It shouldn't be signing off at 17khz. With filters disabled you should see response to 48khz.
Probably some further setup is required to verify it's programmed in a straight-through mode for the variety of tests you could throw at it.

Dave.
 
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#6
I was hoping you would be able to review this unit. So I was pleasantly surprised to see it today! I may have to get me one of these for a more straight forward way to do room correction, plus Dirac live seems like one of the better options. I will probably wait and see what the studio version is priced at.
 

RayDunzl

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#8

andreasmaaan

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#10
Thanks for measuring this @amirm. I've been curious for some time as to how the higher-priced miniDSP units perform.

If possible, I'd be interested to see the audio performance under some basic filter conditions, e.g. with a high order high pass filter at 20-something Hz engaged (typical ported woofer protection / rumble filter) and with a couple of other typical crossover filters in the mid and high frequencies. Only if you've got time of course :)

And it would be nice to know you can get that 17KHz low pass cutoff up out of the audible band without too much effort.
 

amirm

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#11
If possible, I'd be interested to see the audio performance under some basic filter conditions, e.g. with a high order high pass filter at 20-something Hz engaged (typical ported woofer protection / rumble filter) and with a couple of other typical crossover filters in the mid and high frequencies. Only if you've got time of course :)
I am waiting for Minidsp to give me a license to get the software. Until then, I can't do anything outside of testing the DAC.
 
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#13
It's good to see that MiniDSP included such a high-end DAC and achieved enough linearity to use it effectively as a preamp. Worth noting is that the AK4490 is also in the RME ADI-2 Pro, JDS Labs EL, and Schiit Fulla 2. The low noise floor is impressive for single ended output.

Amir, one possibility for the jitter in the FFT is the resampler from 44.1kHz to 96kHz, which I suspect still exists on this product like others from MiniDSP. You might try either a lower fundamental frequency test tone, or a native 48/96kHz sampled test tone to see if the behavior changes.
 

amirm

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#14
Amir, one possibility for the jitter in the FFT is the resampler from 44.1kHz to 96kHz, which I suspect still exists on this product like others from MiniDSP. You might try either a lower fundamental frequency test tone, or a native 48/96kHz sampled test tone to see if the behavior changes.
Minidsp is investigating the jitter. Let's see what they find.

As to your suggestion, the amount of jitter is proportional to the source frequency. So we don't want to use low-frequency tones.
 

restorer-john

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#15
Why do we have two completely different (by a factor of 3) numbers for THD+N at 1kHz? The AP sweeps (steps) frequency for the THD vs Freq doesn't it?

THD 1KHz.JPG


THD vs Freq.JPG
 
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amirm

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#16
Why do we have two completely different (by a factor of 3) numbers for THD+N at 1kHz? The AP sweeps (steps) frequency for the THD vs Freq doesn't it?
They are measured at different bandwidths. In the dashboard view I limit it to 22 kHz. In THD graphs I either use 45 or 90 kHz. Yes, I will add notations for these in the future. :)
 

restorer-john

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#17
So basically, the difference will be the out of band noise.

Well, I've edited my post too. :)
 
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amirm

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#18
With the MiniDSP SHD dropping like a stone at 17KHz (starts rolling off at 10KHz)
Actually I think I found a mistake in the frequency response measurement. I will post a correction soon.

But yes, the out of band noise is an issue. On some products like Benchmark DAC3 it makes little difference. On others like my laptop and one I am measuring now, it makes a huge difference. I like to go past 22 Khz so that the harmonics of 20 kHz tone are captured correctly.
 
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#19
Awesome work, thanks Amir!

I had thought of getting the SHD Studio version, and using a couple of good external DACs if the DAC performance wasn't that great. Given your results, and the input by MiniDSP tech support, looks like it might be simpler and easier to get the full SHD instead!! Following this thread with interest.

I think I know one reason you've had problems getting the software / plugins etc, is that when you create an account to purchase any of the MiniDSP products, it automatically links you to all of the software and plugins you're entitled to.

Given that someone else purchased your test model, then they would have had automatic access to the software, but you wouldn't have. Just my 2c worth.
 
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