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Review and Measurements of Parasound Zdac v.2 DAC and Amp

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of Parasound Zdac v.2 DAC and headphone amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. Even though Parasound is a "high-end" audio company, this seems to be their attempt at mass market product as the retail price from Amazon is USD $523 including Prime shipping.

The unit is pretty attractive in an understated way. Please excuse the lighting as I shot this at night with my desk lamp illuminating it:

Parasound Zdac v2 DAC and Headphone Amp Dashboard Review.jpg


We have the standard optical, coax and USB inputs. But also balanced output which is nice.

Also nice is independent volume controls for headphone and line out.

Dual headphone jacks accommodating either size is very nice. Hate using adapters with headphone cords.

All in all, the Zdac makes a good impression of simplicity and nice looks.

Let's see if the measurements match the positive impression here.

Measurements
As usual, we start with dashboard measurements. Here, I am showing balanced output but unbalanced was nearly identical as far as distortion:

Parasound Zdac v2 DAC and Headphone Amp Dashboard Measurement.png


I am happy with the output voltage but not the rather low distortion ratings. FFT shows why with pretty high amplitude second and third harmonic. But also a bunch more spikes thrown in there.

In our SINAD rankings, this puts it in the third tier next to pretty cheap portable DACs and such:

Sinad.png


I have shown the Topping DX7s which has similar price and functionality yet produces far better distortion ratings.

The Zdac uses the Analog Devices now obsolete AD1853 DAC. Its distortion rating is such:

1538451907979.png


The minimum SINAD is 94 dB with the typical value of 104 dB. Sad to see Zdac hitting the bottom rating.

The news doesn't get any better from here on. Jitter and noise is pretty bad despite use of asynchronous sample rate conversion:
Parasound Zdac v2 DAC and Headphone Amp jitter Measurement.png


Just not clean.....

Linearity makes the news worse:

Parasound Zdac v2 DAC and Headphone Amp Linearity Measurement.png


One of the channels in unbalanced is far worse than the other. In balanced, the two match but deviate from ideal as low as -80 dB.

Switching to headphone output, we get this performance at 300 ohm:
Parasound Zdac v2 DAC and Headphone Amp Power at 300 ohm Measurement.png


0.1 watts is pretty decent. The unit seems to be gain limited as we don't really hit clipping. The good side of this is that you can turn up the volume to max and know that any distortion is in the headphone, not the amp.

At 33 ohm, the picture changes as it should:

Parasound Zdac v2 DAC and Headphone Amp Power at 33 ohm Measurement.png


Power output is nearly 0.4 watts.

Measuring output impedance, we get 11 ohms:

Parasound Zdac v2 DAC and Headphone Amp Output Impedance Measurement.png


I think we have a pretty good idea of the unit's performance so I will stop here.

Listening Tests
I did some brief listening tests starting with Sennheiser HD-650. Here, there was plenty of power to drive them hard.

I then switched to Hifiman HE-400i. Here, by the time I got to satisfyingly loud sound :), there was fair bit of distortion. The experience was less satisfying than the HD650.

Conclusions
I have a good impression of Parasound as a company, and this DAC in the specific when I unboxed it. Alas, the performance of the unit is sub-par given its cost. Products such as SMSL SU-8 and Topping DX7s run circles around it. The Zdac v.2 seems to be a light attempt at producing a DAC plus headphone amp. Maybe it would do well 5 years ago but the landscape is quite competitive now with much better engineered products. So I am afraid I cannot recommend it.

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alashikata

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#3
i did listen to Parasound Zdac v.1, didn't like it much. Then I had a chance to listen to Parasound P 6 2.1 Channel Preamplifier & DAC (ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC (ES9018K2M)). Be honest, I would pick Benchmark DAC2 over P6 built-in DAC. I sold my Benchmark DAC2 and ready to look for a new ES9038Pro DAC. Don't have anything in mind at this time but waiting to see more review from here :)
 

gvl

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#4
Is Parasound really "high-end"? I always thought they were in the "good value for your money" league, similar to Emotiva, etc.
 
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#6
It's hard to gauge how much the channel imbalance in the linearity test translates to actual channel imbalance.
Could you please run a gain vs channel matching measurement?
 

alashikata

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#7
Parasound Halo is high-end below Mark Levinson level. My friend still has CD1(bult-in DAC) which it cost $4500 just to play CD ...lol...I guess this is the best CD player that I have ever heard so far but it's too expensive for me. The product was discontinued. Never have Emotiva so I really can't tell
http://www.parasound.com/cd1.php
 

garbulky

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#9
Agreed that Parasound is a step above Emotiva, but I consider Bryston a step above Parasound.
Currently, yes I think Parasound is definitely a step above Emotiva in terms of amps. Before with their gen 2 line and the XPA-1 gen 2 and XPA-1 L line Emotiva had the advantage of class A amps. Now they got rid of that, and moved to switching power supplies.
 

amirm

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#13
The tops of those sines are mildly flat-topping at +/-6V peak, that's your harmonic spray, back it off a touch...
I played with that and it makes no difference. The spikes I talked about are aharmonic.
 

amirm

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#15
Does it flat top the sine wave even with a reduced level?
The resolution of that chart is too low to see any clipping at that level. In other words, there is no clipping there. If it had clipped, there would be a lot more harmonic content that just the first two. See my review of ifi nano iOne for an example of that: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...w-and-measurements-of-ifi-nano-ione-dac.4754/



Even here it is hard to see clipping on the waveform. Lowering the level as i showed in that review did make a significant difference. This one does not.
 

Blumlein 88

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#16
The resolution of that chart is too low to see any clipping at that level. In other words, there is no clipping there. If it had clipped, there would be a lot more harmonic content that just the first two. See my review of ifi nano iOne for an example of that: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/...w-and-measurements-of-ifi-nano-ione-dac.4754/



Even here it is hard to see clipping on the waveform. Lowering the level as i showed in that review did make a significant difference. This one does not.
Actually if you zoom in enough on this graph, it too looks very slightly flat topped. Not as much as the Parasound. While zooming in on something like the Oppo does not look flat topped at any zoom level.
 

restorer-john

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#17
The resolution of that chart is too low to see any clipping at that level. In other words, there is no clipping there.
Amir, with respect, it is obvious, and the harmonics are clearly there 2,3,4,5,6,7 with typical characteristics- well subdued after 3, but still there and obvious.

Your AP may be poor resolution on the 'scope' shot, but the grouped horizontal pixels right on +/- 6V are very clear. It's mildy clipping somewhere, maybe the headroom on the D/A chip, maybe the first IV stage, maybe both opamps in the H/P and line are running into low rails (I doubt that).

Yes, I know DSOs and the inbuilt one in the AP are a bit economical with pixels but it's still quite clear on the iFi nano one in both 0dBfs and not at -1dB on your AP shots. The Parasound is more pronounced as it is symmetrical clipping too.

Get out your old CRO if you have one, they are much better for detecting very mild waveform clipping than anything digital. :)
 

SIY

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#18
Your AP may be poor resolution on the 'scope' shot...
Actually, that can be determined easily with the AP. The scope screen, like any of the others, can be undocked from the panel, then enlarged to allow zooming in on any part of the waveform.

Of course, as I think Amir said earlier on (I'm too lazy to scroll back;)), if you back off on the output and the same harmonic and anharmonic tones are seen, it's likely not clipping.
 

Grave

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#19
This DAC has a <96 dB SINAD, so no thanks.

Your new SINAD chart shows the Topping D30 to be within one dB of the Topping DX7s or the Topping D50, so that's interesting. These more expensive DAC's do not seem to be worth buying in that case.
 
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#20
I am a bit shocked at this as the Zdac v.2 is highly regarded in most reviews I've read. I guess it makes sense since it is quite old now and one shouldn't expect it to compete so well with newer devices such as the DX7s.

Your work is invaluable to someone like me just getting into DAC's/headphone amps and I greatly appreciate that someone like you is doing these measurements. It's most certainly helping me filter out the plethora of options out there in order to find the best choice that suites my needs.
 
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