A Good DAC For Mediocre Recordings?


The DirectStream Junior/ Matrix/ Sbooster/ I2S rig has been great. I’m able to listen to high quality DSD and PCM recordings in a way I never thought possible. Prior to the DSJ, I had the Stellar GCD for a year, and before that, a $299 PeachTree DAC, and before that, a little HRT USB DAC.

The DSJ blows away the PeachTree and HRT on top tier recordings, but also renders many beloved CD’s, that sounded great for 30 years prior, unlistenable because their recording quality is not the A+ meat the DSJ excels with. The DSJ sort of boxes me in to only HQ recordings, something that was not true with the PeachTree and HRT.

Octave Records is great, but let’s face it, 99.999999999999999999% of music over the next 20 years will not be recorded at Octave, or Blue Coast. The music world largely could care less about our audiophile universe.

One idea is to get a second DAC. A lower cost, less revealing DAC for listening to great music, yet mediocre mastering. Something like this that I saw on Thomas & Stereo’s YouTube channel.

My solution so far has to climb higher and higher up the narrowing recording purity tree. But I see this as unsustainable.

Curious how others have solved this dilemma? Maybe an entry level turntable? Something fun but not so revealing?

I suggest accepting not all music is recorded to the highest possible audiophile-approved standards and focusing on the music, not the technology.

Good music is good music and a delight to listen to - no matter how dreadful/phenomenal the recording or how good/bad the playback system.


I wonder how much is DAC and how much is DAC + your amps/speakers.

I don’t feel as though rock is good at all with Goldenear after hearing Zu.

Also have you selected cables with the Audiophile recordings as your reference?

The ribbon tweeter in Goldenear speakers can be very aggressive unless you adjust the rake angle to match your seating position height. When I had Triton 5’s I had to raise the rear spikes a good bit to tame them.

It’s not harsh at all but almost completely uninvolved, analytical, and lifeless.

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I’m looking for the best of both worlds. High res music played through high res gear is great. But for me, there’s no question that many long time favorite CD’s that sounded great through non audiophile level gear, now sound terrible. Seems reasonable to find a solution rather than just accept. And that’s my goal!


In the end that was what I thought too and moved them along to someone who was going to use them as fronts in a HT setup where that wasn’t as critical.

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Ahem, you could use a (digital or analogue) eq?

I know, I know, all this talk of equalisers (and 20 year old samplers as DAC, see "now spinning’) is going to get me banned from this forum :wink:

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I’m pretty sure it’s the DAC as the amp and speakers have remained through the transition. I think it’s an achilles heel of high end audio, that lower quality recordings sound even worse when more is revealed. More revealing has to reveal what’s there, and what’s there isn’t always great. Some things are perhaps best left in the dark! A true wondrous feat of high end engineering would be to raise all boats, make all recordings sound great, no matter their pedigree. Get to work Mr. Smith :grinning:

Please do tell, which Zu did you try? They’ve been on my radar lately.

You’ll be please to know that I proudly use the Roon EQ without any qualms. I’m not a purist!

But I’ve found that the revealing nature of the DSJ, even with EQ, can only hide so many things. If I got a turntable, I’d get a Schiit Loki EQ as well. Let heads roll.

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I believe 100% it’s your speakers!

Zu Omen DW are extremely musical and dynamic with Tone for days. I did not demo with audiophile music… NIN, modern rock, electronica, some jazzy hybrid stuff (not audiophile), all sounded the best I’ve heard of of those tracks I tested through an audio system.

Strata + SP3. Ethernet streaming.

The difference between Goldenear and Zu is worlds apart! Think Earth and Venus!

I recapitulated my system at a buddies house, only main variable was the speakers and speaker wire. I was awestruck how expressive modern mainstream music can be through different speakers.

I’m guessing you haven’t heard simplistic speakers without passive crossovers? I’m a huge believer in either Active crossovers or wideband design like Zu. I’m done with passives.

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What speakers do you have?

I have Sonus Faber Chameleon T towers. They’re similar to Revel. They aren’t typical Sonus Faber sound. They are rich, full bodied speakers, with great bass. They aren’t bright or harsh. Large soundstage, it’s like a holographic magic show.

I’ve been thinking about the Dirty Weekends. They go on sale July 1. But have been leaning towards a tube preamp instead. I won a Zu eBay auction for XLR cables on Friday, woohoo.

There’s a reason why audiophiles like audiophile recordings, because they sound better. I have 400 DSD albums, and the jazz from the 1950’s and 60’s sound incredible. Like amazing. And I have many great sounding PCM recordings of CD quality. But lesser quality recordings get picked apart by the DSJ. The Stellar Gain Cell DAC was more forgiving, but not the magic show that is the DSJ.

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I highly recommend you give the Omen DW’s a shot, although make sure you buy as soon as they go on sale so you aren’t stuck waiting for months and months for them!

In my opinion the SGCD is not that forgiving of many things thru the Goldenears but extremely musical with the same content thru Zu.

You might want to step up to the Clarity Caps if you order the DW’s.

Here is my main complaint of passive speakers… explain to me why traditional speakers sound bad at 85db when this is not a loud volume at all? You simply can’t crank them… the crossovers are ruining everything. Amplifier / driver control and damping is trashed.

Zu plays loud and plays loud musically. However from what I heard it was very linear meaning it sounded good from quiet to loud.


What is a mediocre recording? A bad mastering? Too much compression? Low quality master tapes?

The strength of my 2 channel system is that albums are played honestly. Good recording sound good, great recordings sound great, and poor recordings sound poor. My car stereo is less honest. The difference between great recordings and poor recordings is smaller but is certainly still present. Poor recordings still sound poor. Maybe not as poor, but poor nonetheless.

The better the system, the more distinct the difference should be between a poor recording and a great recording.


Huh? My passive speakers sound great at 85 dB and still sound great at 100 dB.

I love passive speakers and then active speakers sound clinical…

They are both susceptible to implementation. The reason the actives you heard were clinical was not that they were active, most likely it was because they weren’t implemented properly. Power supplies are critical among a ton of variables. You can’t just pack random class D amps inside and expect musical results.

There is no practical benefit to passives from an amplification perspective IMO. It is a compromise and will always be a compromise that will be a “do the least damage” approach. This is why all the manufacturers are so excited about the future of active. The distortion will drop an order of magnitude Minimum. Passives have more distortion compared to active designs… this is what makes them compress and sound bad played loud. There is no realistic way around this.

In my view it’s a little silly to rely on audiophile recordings to band aid the fact that passive speaker distortion is high and compromised (Comment not aimed at you but a general opinion). Passives may sound fine played loud until you hear a good wideband design or a good active :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:.

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Class D folks always play the distortion card. Well, even tube amps don’t have too much distortion for most human ears so quality Class and Class A/B amps are just fine in the distortion area and quality passive speakers don’t have a distortion problem.

I can’t stand Class D amps and there are a lot people with me on that. So, if you want to buy into the Class D world, go ahead. Class D amps, all of that I have heard, give me headaches after a while.

Yes I agree with you. The distortion game is ridiculous, speaker distortion is by far the worst offender; focusing on amplifier distortion is goofy and a distraction.

Class A/B on tweeter, Class D mid/woofer designs are on the horizon :slight_smile: Custom amplification with custom impedance curve implementation for each drive unit.

This is what I’m exploring. How to integrate SpeedRacer’s car stereo into my hi fi rig :joy:. Joking aside, I’m actually serious. Exploring the idea of bringing in a less revealing DAC as a way to listen to mediocre recordings that I love, and miss. I realize it’s audiophile counterintuitive to look backwards for something in effect more pleasing for certain situations.