With this longer post I want to provide my experience comparing different listening scenarios between vinyl and digital (DS DAC sr. & Bridge II as mentioned in my footer). I guess there’s only little to be further optimized in a DS DAC setup when using Bridge II.
Maybe it’s inspiring to some, also sharing their experience.
I was always open to digital playback, simply because I love music and a lot of good music is available in digital form only. Since knowing the DS DAC , even as a long time vinyl junkey, I was totally open to the outcome of a comparison. I was prepared to possibly only keep my vinyl for the physical experience of cover beauty and vinyl playback handling as well as for playing some old records only available on vinyl. I also expected that most of the later high quality audiophile vinyl reissues were also available in digital format. What I also thought is, that experiences will be quite similar, no matter if digital sourced or analog sourced recordings were compared, I’m totally open minded to digitally sourced recordings on vinyl if done well.
Althought my vinyl rig is very very good, it’s certainly by far not the most expensive or best available and I read, that the DS DAC, independent of the price, should be one of the best available sources (which it certainly is in the experience I now have). Anyway the outcome of my comparisons were surprising in quite some directions, but first some basic information and history.
My vinyl rig has a value of around 17.000$. Cost allocation in my rig has a strong focus on motor drive/power supply and tonearm, making together ~45% of the total value, the roughly 3000$ cartridge making just another 19%. Timing/pace, accuracy, sharp transients, a controlled bass response and dynamics are very important to me here. This rig is anything else than exceptionally rich or “warm” sounding for vinyl scales. Big price difference to the PS Audio, but we know, the DS DAC is superb for its money and hard to beat. Before the DS DAC, I had a very good one box upsampling CD player with a ~ 13.000$ price tag. Before the DS DAC era, to me vinyl was superior in general, but even those little dated, good upsampling players didn’t have any “digital sound” in terms of brightness, harshness etc. anymore, they had a very solid and full bodied sound, but among others didn’t reach the transparency, dynamics, transient response, extension, ambiance etc. of such a vinyl rig. So vinyl to me never was warmer, richer, more laid back sounding than digital or anything like that (that was long ago with early digital), it always was more accurate, extended, airy, transparent with much better pace and ambiance etc.
Now comes the DS DAC. Connecting it after the previous player was a short story, as it bettered it in any aspect immediately, which I don’t want to detail here. Especially in transparency, transient response, stage depth/width/layering, details, resolution and pace. The same music sounded as if it was played faster on the DS, timing and many other aspects were really vinyl-like in my impression. Little surprising was the really different tonality. The DS sounded much leaner with less body throughout but no lack in deeper bass etc. in comparison. Althought my previous digital player was a little too fat sounding in my opinion and compared to vinyl, I now missed some harmonic weight all around compared to both. But the benefits were much stronger, ambiance being unbelievable. I decided to buy the DS DAC and never regretted, together with the bridge it’s also a great technical concept.
Now I made some serious vinyl comparison and expected the worst for my vinyl habit.
So what I compared with vinyl was only hires digital of DSD or 24/176 or 24/192 quality (no CD quality) to stay fair in the competition:
- Vinyl of very good digital sourced classical recordings (amongst others various Reference recordings of later date in 33 or 45RP) with digital files of mainly 24/176 to DSD quality of the same recording on the DS
- Vinyl of very good analog sourced classical recordings (amongst others various Reference recordings of early date in 33 or 45RPM) with digital files of mainly 24/176 to SACD/DSD quality of the same recording on the DS DAC
- Vinyl of very good analog sourced jazz recordings (amongst others Analogue Productions recordings in 33 or 45RPM reissued as SACD/DSD and vinyl) with digital files of SACD/DSD quality of the same recording & mastering on the DS DAC
Comparing the first analog sourced recordings (various RR recordings of early era, mastered by Keith Johnson for hires and vinyl) I made a different experience. All analog sourced RR had reproducible better ambiance reproduction on vinyl, clearly better harmonic structure, resolution, decay, top extension and body/timbre of instruments from top to bottom. The DS DAC still on an overall level I never heard from digital before in this quality.
Now I compared some of the best analog sourced 33 and 45 RPM Jazz recordings I have, remastered by guys like Kevin Gray, Steve Hoffman, Marino, Grundman etc. for Vinyl and SACD/DSD along with some analog classical recordings. A shock again? (as I feared to loose my interest in LP’s).
This time vinyl, even more than comparing the RR LP’s, was so superior, I couldn’t believe it, as without the vinyl comparison, the DS DAC here also was so much better than previous digital players I experienced and so much closer to vinyl than before, that I thought I could have lived with just that. But here again, and much stronger than on the RR LP’s, vinyl betters the hires files in harmonic structure, resolution, decay, top extension and body/timbre of instruments. Cymbals at the same time sound more extended with more resolution and body. The clear to slight advantage for 3d imaging and stage depth on digital sourced files for the DS DAC now turned around. In a slightly different way, vinyl had audibly better ambiance and hires sounded little blood- and lifeless in comparison with less impact and details less embedded in the sound, but shown too upfront in comparison. To readjust the scale: my old digital source of double the DS DAC’s price would have sounded not anywhere near vinyl in terms of transparency, dynamics, transient response, extension, shape of tonal color, bass extension and control, ambiance and timing, as the DS DAC, but much richer, too rich sounding. Even the DS DAC when not playing over Bridge II but over an (unoptimized) USB Connection from PC, nowhere came as close to vinyl as I described here (in terms of musical flow and pace). Using Bridge II instead brought back vinyl like musical flow and timing.
Those experiences continued like this, comparing various recordings of those categories (same recordings of same (re)masterings vinyl/hires only), so my conclusions were as follows:
- By the main focus of my vinyl rig on motor drive/power supply and tonearm with a solid mass concept of the player, the quality of timing/pace, accuracy, sharp transients, a controlled bass response and dynamics is on a very high level. The DS DAC kind of reaches this quality first time for my digital experience and at half the price. Althought digital has better dynamics in theory, the perception is not like that or there are other aspects that lead to a different overall Impression.
- The DS DAC (dependent on the recordings source) slightly betters my vinyl rig in terms of 3d imaging and stage depth/width as my 3000$ cartridge with its limited channel separation (compared to what’s available on the market) seems to be not fully in the DS’ league (which is fantastic). As I know how much better a more expensive cartridge sounds in these terms, there’s much room for improvement, most probably even above the DS’ level (with a vinyl rig then at least costing over 20.000$). So I’m not the one telling, a vinyl rig of 6.000-10.000$ betters the DS DAC in all aspects or even in an overall judgement, I guess the DS DAC will win in too many terms unless one’s fixed to major vinyl strenghts)
- I’m sure, a vinyl rig of the kind let’s say a reviewer like Michael Fremer is checking out or owning the one or other time, betters any digital source including the DS DAC and above BY FAR in a listeners final perception. But this will be many times more expensive than such a DAC.
- What I didn’t expect is, how much better analog sourced recordings of the same mastering (compared to digitally sourced ones) sound on vinyl than on digital. I found no exception among the high quality issues. You can be totally happy listening to i.e. golden era jazz on such a DAC in that quality for the first time, but as soon as you hear it on a high quality vinyl rig, you’ll be just buying this stuff on vinyl. Analog classical, too, as long as the cuttings or vinyl rigs have no mechanical distortion Problem.
- A huge number of recordings is only available digitally, therefore the DS DAC is probably by far the best source available anywhere near its price range and above. And everyone without a vinyl rig aside will also be overwhelmed of the quality how the above mentioned analog sourced recordings sound now.
- I was surprised how little of the best analog recordings ever are available in the same quality remasterings as on vinyl. I.e. nearly all the Fantasy catalog 45RPM stuff reissued by Gray/Hoffmann, Music Matters Blue Notes LP’s and many other great sounding reissues are only available as more or less inferior, different remasterings on hires if at all (sometimes hardly visible before buying). Without a vinyl rig, you’re loosing really many of the best remasterings available. Only very few of those were done on hires in comparison. Really didn’t expect this. And I now say: analog sourced high quality recordings played on a high class vinyl rig is probably the best overall sound you can get except the original tape (but digital came so very close now)
- Very selected masterings done especially carefully and differently for vinyl, even if digitally sourced (i.e. Järvi Beethoven Box by Acousence or Mahler SFS Symphony Box cut by Kevin Gray) sound far superior on vinyl than on DSD. Nearly the same can be said of masterings that were done by a more skilled and/or equipped engineer for hires than for vinyl (i.e. RR digitally sourced recordings being superior on hires)
- The DS DAC in my opinion could sound on a much closer level to even a many times more expensive vinyl rig, if it had a little richer harmonic characteristic throughout the frequency spectrum. I experience this mids up & down compared to even a quite tight sounding vinyl rig (even compared to some other digital gear, but those mostly are on a lower level otherwise). I’m aware no reviewer ever mentioned this, but I guess if critical user feedback has a tendency, then it is anything else than “too rich sounding”. If this is achievable by SW update and isn't a general digital character, a development or option in this direction would be my only wish for “after Yale” ;-) Otherwise and generally I’m as lucky with the DS DAC as I never was before listening digital.