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Review and Measurements of Orchard Audio Gala DAC

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Orchard Audio Gala DAC. It is a brand new product just released and loaned to me by the company. Retail price is USD $500 but has an introductory price of $400.

The unit has unusual feature set. It has only balanced output outputs and S/PDIF digital input. And a volume control that works in digital domain. No USB input is provided but of course one can be added externally.

The enclosure looks somewhat rudimentary with blindingly bright blue LEDs that light up the ceiling of my listening room:

Orchard Audio Gala DAC Review and Measurements.jpg

Unless Orchard has done market research to know that people like Blue LEDs, my recommendation is to dim them substantially (or off).

I like the feel of the volume control. It has traditional mechanical limits which is nicer than optical encoder since you can set it to your comfortable level and have it stay there through power sequences.

The enclosure is bent/stamped sheet metal which is out of character in this price range. In a world where people's "ears" are more biased by their eyes than sound, spending extra on a machined case would have been wise.

The unit is powered by a small switching supply.

Let's get into measurements and see how she performs.

Measurements
The lack of multiple inputs and outs made testing easy as there is only one configuration of balanced output and unbalanced digital coax S/PDIF input. Here are the dashboard results:
Orchard Audio Gala DAC Dashboard Measurement.png


I like to see greater than 4 volts for balanced output which the Gala accomplishes. Distortion is competent but not class leading. SINDA (signal above sum of distortion and noise) therefore, falls in the middle of range of DACs I have tested. Orchard rates the unit at 108 SINAD. In one channel I am almost there at 106. The other is fair bit lower at 102 though. So that puts the average at 104.

1539060308425.png


I have highlighted SMSL SU-8 which I consider a closer competitor to Gala DAC with volume control and remote. We see that they essentially rate the same.

Let's see the jitter and noise performance:
Orchard Audio Gala DAC Jitter and Noise Measurement.png


The J-test signal has a 250 Hz toggle rate that seems to have created that pair of sidebands around our main tone at 12 KHz. It is benign though due to perceptual masking.

Noise level is a few dBs higher than desktop DACs.

Here is dynamic range:
Orchard Audio Gala DAC dynamic range Measurement.png


Orchard specs this at 130 but that is with a-weighing (filtering) which improves the results. In that regard, we are seeing what it can do without filtering. Either way, it is a very good number which bodes well for its digital attenuation/volume control.

Intermodulation test revealed pretty odd performance:


Orchard Audio Gala DAC Intermodulation Distortion Measurement.png


As we see, at low input levels, we have a lot of noise, resulting in some of the worst IMDs I have measured. As signal level increases, predictably the performance improves, essentially matching state-of-the-art DACs like Exasound E32 and Benchmark DAC3. But then suddenly -- around -16 dBFS -- something starts to saturate and distortion rises quite a bit. A lot of DACs show some saturation but not starting so early and so sharply.

Lastly, here is the linearity results:


Orchard Audio Gala DAC Linearity Measurement.png


I like to see deviation of less than 0.5 dB at -120 dBFS input level (all the way to the left). The GALA DAC misses this by half a dB and is very well behaved at that. So not a whole lot to complain about.

Conclusions
The Orchard Audio Gala DAC is a bit of an odd bird. It has a narrowly focused feature set. In this day and age, I consider USB to be a mandatory input but is absent here. The enclosure and lighting inside leaves a negative impression with me. On the positive front, I like the idea of the digital volume control using an analog pot.

Performance is middle of the road and unfortunately not appropriate for a $500 DAC. Intermodulation distortion issues specifically need to be investigated.

With SMSL SU-8 retailing for just $250 with balanced output, remote control and multiple input, I unfortunately can't think of a reason to recommend the Gala DAC, the kind efforts of the designer sending a unit to me, notwithstanding.

-------------

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

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gvl

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#3
I can't help but notice that the SMSL-U8 clocked at not exactly impressive 86dB SINAD from its balanced outputs.
 

pos

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#9
By the way I think DNR measurements are most interesting and relevant in a time where digital volume control becomes prevalent, even more than SINAD.
I would love to see DNR measurements for all the other DACs too, and maybe see them included in the SINAD graph as superimposed bars. As DNR should normally always be greater than SINAD it should work quite well graphically...
 
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TimW

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#10
I did not understand what application this DAC was designed for. Only balanced outputs, only SPDIF input, no remote for volume control, no indicators other than blue power LEDs, all in an ugly case for $500. I figured it had to measure very well.
 

pos

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#11
The Orchard Audio Gala DAC is a bit of an odd bird. It has a narrowly focused feature set. In this day and age, I consider USB to be a mandatory input but is absent here..
It is also a good thing to have different offerings and not only clones of other designs with always the exact same design and capabilities.
With good jitter rejection an AES/spdif DAC can cope with any USB/spdif converter without drawback (within the 192kHz inherent limit of course), be it asynchronous or synchronous.
 

TimW

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#12
It is also a good thing to have different offerings and not only clones of other designs with always the exact same design and capabilities.
With good jitter rejection an AES/spdif DAC can cope with any USB/spdif converter without drawback (within the 192kHz inherent limit of course), be it asynchronous or synchronous.
I would rather see a device stand out by offering uncommon features in addition to common features. Refraining from including common features will make a device stand out but not for the better in most peoples eyes.
 

pos

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#13
Features come with a cost, and also impact other important parts of the design.

Take a look at the Grace balanced SDAC for example: it has both digital (spdif and toslink) and USB inputs, and on top of that the USB has USB 1 and USB 2 modes.
Lots of switches and complications, including clocking mechanisms, whereas a simple digital input would make for a very simple and less expensive unit, and arguably more reliable and predictable.
Supporting 384kHz (and up) and DSD (and multiples) also comes with a cost, for absolutely no gain.
In the case of the balanced SDAC I'd rather see that money invested in making the unit pop-free and maybe having a better dynamic range (ie use another DAC chip) rather than having such a small unit with all those features the "community requested": toslink+coax input on a single jack input, unbalanced output on a jack, USB1 and 2 support, USB B port used for power-in (???!), etc.

The market is already full of such features-packed devices with very good performances and a low price (D50, M8, DX7s, ADI2 DAC, etc.), but if you only want a specific subset of these features the choice narrows somewhat, and you have to make concessions with unwanted features.
 
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TimW

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#15
If we're taking a look at the Grace SDAC Balanced as an example, we should mention that it costs $150. I would prefer a unit with no pops, better performance, and more sensible connector choices as well. I would be willing to pay $250 for such a device. If I only needed the functionality included with the Gala then yeah it is kind of cool to have only what I need with a focus on performance. But why would I pay more for that if I can get a device with extra functionality and equal performance for less money. Potentially half as much money.
 

rajapruk

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#16
If we're taking a look at the Grace SDAC Balanced as an example, we should mention that it costs $150. I would prefer a unit with no pops, better performance, and more sensible connector choices as well. I would be willing to pay $250 for such a device. If I only needed the functionality included with the Gala then yeah it is kind of cool to have only what I need with a focus on performance. But why would I pay more for that if I can get a device with extra functionality and equal performance for less money. Potentially half as much money.
Let them know that by liking this post on Massdrop:
https://www.massdrop.com/buy/massdrop-x-grace-design-standard-dac-balanced/talk/2224844
 

amirm

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#17

restorer-john

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#18
Orchard rates the unit at 108 SINAD. In one channel I am almost there at 106. The other is fair bit lower at 102 though. So that puts the average at 104.
Orchard made it clear his rated S/N was 130dB. It is on his spec sheet:

fantasy1.JPG


and also his Gala page : https://orchardaudio.com/gala

fantasy04.JPG


I called his 130dB figure absolute fantasy in the Gala thread.

fantasy02.JPG


The designer was indignant:

fantasy03.JPG


Clearly, I feel vindicated.

The designer should amend all his specifications and advise anyone who is signed up for one of these "ultra high performance stereo DACs" that the product in no way approaches its touted specifications. The S/N misses the spec by 26dB! The IMD is a mess. The output level is below spec and the thing lights up your room like a Christmas tree, which was obvious with 3x5mm blue LEDs facing straight up for no good reason, other than someone likes blue LEDs.

It should be called for what it is, Amir. Your 'review' is far too kind and I wonder whether the fact the designer sent you a sample (to keep perhaps?) has influenced the tone of the review.
 

TimW

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#20
Doesn't the SINAD of 104 dB measured by Amir correlate with the THD+N spec given as -108 dB?
Doesn't the Dynamic Range of 124 dB measured by Amir correlate with the SNR spec given as 130 dB?
To me it looks like Amir's measurements are a little lower then the claimed specs but not by a large amount.
 
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