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#147029 - 2011-08-12 19:30 Sooloos -> NuForce DAC-9 (reviewed below) -> Sennheiser HD800 headphones
Registered: 2000-08-18
Posts: 939
Tassie Devil Offline
Pan-dimensional being
Tassie Devil Offline
Pan-dimensional being

Registered: 2000-08-18
Posts: 939
Loc: Dilston, Tasmania, Australia
I've summarised the 60+ year journey to arrive at this DAC so its appraisal can be put into context. If you want the review itself, then skip the preamble.

The Early Road to High Quality Analog

Love of recorded music started way back in the attic where, as a pre teen youngster I played cylinders on a wind up Edison player. Progression over the years was to 78's and then microgroove vinyl with signals being fed into the back of radiograms.

Higher quality audio started with a Garrard table, Ortofon cartridge, Leak amps and Wharefedale speakers, first mono, then stereo via a Decca FFRR arm and cartridge. Over the next 30 years there were numerous changes, many of them sideways, using all sorts of gear including Linn, Koetsu, Luxman, Crown, Levinson, B&W, Stax, LS3/5a, Celestion, Plinius, Meridian ....

And then came DIGITAL

For years I was a digital Luddite, hating the harsh sound resulting from CDs so I stuck religiously to vinyl. But then a strange twist of fate led me down the digital path. In 1989 my wife and I attended an London Albert Hall concert of the Berlioz "Damnation of Faust" performed by Solti with the Chicago Orchestra & chorus. A couple of years later there is was on laserdisc! Must have. So began the journey though Pioneer and then Theta players & DACs, with a grim determination to tame the nasties in the audio.

Well after many years down the digital road of modifying players with better clocks I ended up with a used Esoteric UX-1 LE player coupled to a G-Os Masterclock and an Empirical Audio modded Benchmark DAC1. The Esoteric was ultimately sent to "The Upgrade Company" where the modification improved things to the extent the Masterclock made no improvement so was sold. Playing CDs, SACDs & DVD-As via Halcro amps and Sound Labs full range electrostatic speaks was producing VERY nice sound - particularly in the context of the pentagonally shaped lounge/entertainment room built as the focus of this house 20 years ago. You can see more about the set up in diagrams and pictures at http://gallery.audioasylum.com/cgi/view.mpl?UserImages=3758

In 2010 the move to Headphones and Sooloos

A Stereophile article by Sam Tellig sponsored an interest in headphones, an item which had never had much appeal despite the excellent results from a pair of Stax some years ago. Net research soon revealed a lot of praise for the Sennheiser HD800s so I bit the bullet and purchased a pair.

The setup used for them was a lengthy balanced digital line from the Esoteric (via a Neutric transformer) to the modded Benchmark DAC1 to the HD800's. Wow, what great sounding audio! For the first time I appreciated just how good were the mods Steve Nugent did on the Benchmark. With fewer electronics in the way, the music was coming through with unsurpassed resolution and musicality.

Another Stereophile article on the Meridian Sooloos system by Cordesman inspired research on this with the result a few weeks later there was a Control:10, an MS600 and two TwinStores, each with twin 2 TB enterprise drives inside, integrated into the system. What followed in the next 6 months was a very tedious burning in of over 8000 CDs & SACDs at the rate of 10 per hour. So yes, over 800 hours were devoted to this, but not exclusively. One could attend to the PC, read, look at TV or even listen to music on Sooloos during the process so it was not quite as horrific as might be imagined. I was also able to persuade my wife to help when other tasks required my attention.

The audio quality from the Sooloos system was equal to that via the Esoteric so FLAC files are indeed lossless and as good as the originals. And that was using the modded Benchmark and Sennheiser headphones, a setup I was preferring to use to listen to the big, mainly classical, collection. Bliss, music could not sound better. Or could it?

Enter the NuForce DAC-9

For some time now I have read very positive comments about the gear being sold by NuForce, a company with only 20 staff and 7 years old, so indeed new to the A/V scene. This year came the announcement of their new whiz bang DAC-9 with yummie specs you can see at http://www.nuforce.com/hi/products/Dac-HPAmp/dac9/index.php

Curiosity got the better of me so I purchased one to see how well it stacked up against my beloved modded Benchmark DAC1. Well it has been here several days now and I am very taken aback. For many years I've been reading reviews on TAS, Stereophile, the net etc and observed the terms "inner detail", "musicality" "PRAT", "inner detail" "veil lifted" etc all with a degree of scepticism. Yes, I understood what the reviewers were getting at but using this sort of hyperbole has always seemed a bit over the top, that is up until now. But these are the terms I will apply to the NuForce DAC-9 as it has genuinely surprised me just how good the music from CDs via Sooloos and FLAC, can sound.

The first jolt of realisation about this came listening to the Reference recording of the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Josť Serebrier playing Rimsky Korsakov's "Russian Easter Festival Overture". Full of contrasts this block buster piece came through with astonishing dynamics etc. The transients are processed by the DAC-9 with astounding clarity and PRAT.

Piano and harpsichord recording have an extra edge to the percussive sound I had previously been unaware of. It was probably always there but was not so obvious and hearing it gives an extra dimension to the artistry of the performer.

The sound of organ recordings can so easily dissolve into a bit of a mess when room acoustics are added to the massive acoustics of the church where they were recorded. This happens to a degree even in this otherwise excellent listening room. Those organ recordings sounded very good via the Benchmark and headphones, but inserting the DAC-9 also added a further dimension to the reproduction. The deep punchy bass reproduced on the Sennheiser headphones is awe inspiring.

Violins have the same sweetness I like so much using the Benchmark DAC1, but again there is more with a greater sense of that resin being scraped across the string to produce the sound. No, not unpleasant as might be imagined, but just a little extra to give a livelier sound. Brass is reproduced with more air and trumpets have a bite to them, illustrating just how well the DAC-9 handles transients. Cymbals sound like the real thing, not broken glass, and tympani have a wack with no hangover that make the hair on the back of the neck stand up.

Overall, great as the modded Benchmark DAC1 sounds (and Steve Nugent worked within some basic limitations in his excellent mods), it is laid back compared to the DAC-9. Note that my experience with the wealth of DACs now available is not vast so it would be foolish to claim it is the best available, so please read the above in the context of my long but nevertheless restricted, experience over the last 60+ years. But in its price range it does offer superb value.

So often I have claimed I've "finished" with upgrades and have achieved the "ultimate" (for me) audio quality. But I can say that the present audio quality Sooloos -> NuForce DAC-9 -> Sennheiser HD800 headphones IS the best I've ever experienced.

And it makes me appreciate the extremely challenging and difficult task reviewers face when investigating high end items. There are traps galore and one of the biggest is that the result can never be better than the weakest link in the chain. That is why I'm quite confident in the above appraisal of the DAC-9 because there are so few links in the chain used thus minimising the chance of mismatching.

Furthermore my experience differs from that of many reviewers of the Sennheiser HD800 headphones because I find none of the deficiencies in the sound of strings (even via the DAC1) and any bass deficiencies some reviewers have described. Maybe the Warren balanced leads to the phone are helping, but I draw the line at trying to determine their affect. The time lag which would occur between interchanging leads would depreciate auditory memory which I consider to be rather unreliable.

But I can clearly hear the improvement brought forward by the NuForce DAC-9, and that improvement, and the extent of it, was totally unexpected.

Have I come to the end of the road? Maybe. To be sure I should cancel subs to TAS & Stereophile and stop researching on the net. But this will not happen so who knows what the future holds. In the meantime I can sit back in my lounge chair with headphones on and lap up the magical world of music. And that folks, is what it is all about.

John


3 HD TV PVRs, DVDR & OPPO -> HD621 -> 861v4
Esoteric UX1 LE, LDs (HLD-X9 & D925)-> iScan VP50 -> HD621 etc
Sooloos: C10/MS600 ->M2Tech Vaughan ->Blockhead ->Senn HD800
* video -> Sony VW200
* audio-> McIntosh C200 & 861v4 -> Halcro DM68 + Plinius amps -> E/S L/R Sound Labs, E/S centre & 4 spkrs + 4 subs
System control: HTM Aeros & 12CH IR switcher
Edited by Tassie Devil; 2011-08-12 19:36.
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#147031 - 2011-08-13 00:53 Re: Sooloos -> NuForce DAC-9 (reviewed below) -> Sennheiser HD800 headphones [Re: Tassie Devil]
Registered: 2004-04-15
Posts: 12,355
VirusKiller Offline
Don't Panic
VirusKiller Offline
Don't Panic

Registered: 2004-04-15
Posts: 12,355
Loc: nr. Milton Keynes, UK
Thanks for sharing this John. Very interesting.

You need to change you signature!


Roon Developer and ex-moderator of this Forum
I am #25 in the HH1 photo of fame.
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#147032 - 2011-08-13 01:27 Re: Sooloos -> NuForce DAC-9 (reviewed below) -> Sennheiser HD800 headphones [Re: Tassie Devil]
Registered: 2009-11-29
Posts: 1,146
Shaun Offline
Pan-dimensional being
Shaun Offline
Pan-dimensional being

Registered: 2009-11-29
Posts: 1,146
Loc: Isle of Man
Question: have you heard the NuForce MSR-1 music server?


M owner since 207 CD player
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#147036 - 2011-08-13 04:35 Re: Sooloos -> NuForce DAC-9 (reviewed below) -> Sennheiser HD800 headphones [Re: Tassie Devil]
Registered: 2009-06-25
Posts: 855
DuncanBudd Offline
Pan-dimensional being
DuncanBudd Offline
Pan-dimensional being

Registered: 2009-06-25
Posts: 855
Loc: West London, UK
Just googled Nuforce in the UK which led me to HiAudio. Wow. Not sure if HiAudio is the UK retailer or distibutor but their Nuforce page carried this:

"As with all HIAudio brands we offer a service facility second to none. We guarantee however complete replacement or repair within two weeks of receiving the faulty equipment. Our most valuable asset is you the customer. We feel this is the only way to carry out our business."

Note to Meridian: 2 weeks

I'm committed to DSP speakers for now. I love mixing & matching amps and cables but there is an elegance to the M route. But this and your report above has made me want to look at Nuforce at the front end.

Thx,
Duncan


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#147038 - 2011-08-13 05:50 Re: Sooloos -> NuForce DAC-9 (reviewed below) -> Sennheiser HD800 headphones [Re: Tassie Devil]
Registered: 2008-11-20
Posts: 39
GMS Offline
Harmless
GMS Offline
Harmless

Registered: 2008-11-20
Posts: 39
Loc: SE London, UK
For people on a lower budget I've had good results with 568.2mm ->NuForce Icon HDP (combined DAC/headphone amp) -> Sennheiser HD650.
Point to watch out for if your use the digital pass-through to feed the HDP, then you get noise from the headphones on multi-channel audio - i.e. the DAC doesn't mute on bitstreams it doesn't support (e.g. AC-3 or DTS). Also, the switched-mode power supply packed up after a month - still waiting for a replacement - bought a higher performance one from Maplins (yes, the original was Chinese generic).

GMS


G68ADV; DSP5K2/DSP5K2C/DSP33; REL StadiumI; NuForceIconHDP/SennHD650; RegaPlanar3/RB250/Carbon/NADPP2; SonyTCK850es; PanaDMR-PWT655EB; CAAzure651T; ChromeCastUltra; ChromeCastAudio; AmazonFireHD; Philips42PF9731D; Roon/Tidal/Rock/Explorer2
2nd: 568.2mm; DSP5K; AirPortExpress; ChromeCast; SonyBDPS3700; CAAzure640T
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#147048 - 2011-08-13 16:10 Re: Sooloos -> NuForce DAC-9 (reviewed below) -> Sennheiser HD800 headphones [Re: Shaun]
Registered: 2000-08-18
Posts: 939
Tassie Devil Offline
Pan-dimensional being
Tassie Devil Offline
Pan-dimensional being

Registered: 2000-08-18
Posts: 939
Loc: Dilston, Tasmania, Australia
Originally Posted By: Shaun
Question: have you heard the NuForce MSR-1 music server?


No, this is the first NuForce item encountered.

BTW, since writing that review someone has pointed out that the DAC-9 was designed by Demian Martin and I dug up the following on the net about him:

Is another well-known audio engineer to join Constellation's development team. Famous for founding both Spectral Audio and Entec, two highly respected brands from the '80s, Demian has a reputation for innovative and enduring products in the audio industry. Also on his resume are Crosby Audio, Rockport, NuForce, Monster Cable, and now Auraliti. Demian has collaborated with fellow Constellation Audio engineer Peter Madnick on many projects over the years, including the revival of the Entech brand under Monster Cable, but now the two are working together on the Constellation Sirius HD music source. Demian's experience with developing the Auraliti digital file player provides us with fabulous insight into this brand-new product category, allowing us to push the limits of the technology.

And on the NuForce site this:

Demian Martin is a widely experienced industry consultant specializing in systems design covering electronic, electrical and acoustical products for consumer electronics manufacturers.

Martin has a long, distinguished history in the audio industry. He was Co-founder and Director of Engineering of Spectral Audio where he designed an impressive number of high quality and durable electronics products. He was responsible for the design and engineering of Spectral's very low noise preamplifiers including the DMC-10. He also designed Spectral's wide band power amplifier the DMA-100 Instrumentation Amplifier. The DMA-100 was six years in development and brought about a new performance benchmark in amplifier design. Many of the products that he designed while at Spectral have had a market life of over ten years.


The CEO of NuForce, Jason Lim tells m,e that Nuforce sales are doubling each year so they must be doing something right. I have read good comments about their mods to the Oppo BD player so they are an innovative firm to watch.

John


3 HD TV PVRs, DVDR & OPPO -> HD621 -> 861v4
Esoteric UX1 LE, LDs (HLD-X9 & D925)-> iScan VP50 -> HD621 etc
Sooloos: C10/MS600 ->M2Tech Vaughan ->Blockhead ->Senn HD800
* video -> Sony VW200
* audio-> McIntosh C200 & 861v4 -> Halcro DM68 + Plinius amps -> E/S L/R Sound Labs, E/S centre & 4 spkrs + 4 subs
System control: HTM Aeros & 12CH IR switcher
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#147049 - 2011-08-13 16:14 Re: Sooloos -> NuForce DAC-9 (reviewed below) -> Sennheiser HD800 headphones [Re: VirusKiller]
Registered: 2000-08-18
Posts: 939
Tassie Devil Offline
Pan-dimensional being
Tassie Devil Offline
Pan-dimensional being

Registered: 2000-08-18
Posts: 939
Loc: Dilston, Tasmania, Australia
Originally Posted By: VirusKiller
Thanks for sharing this John. Very interesting.

You need to change you signature!

Now changed. Sort of getting embarrassing this has to be done so often. This audiphilia must be nearing its climax by now.

John


3 HD TV PVRs, DVDR & OPPO -> HD621 -> 861v4
Esoteric UX1 LE, LDs (HLD-X9 & D925)-> iScan VP50 -> HD621 etc
Sooloos: C10/MS600 ->M2Tech Vaughan ->Blockhead ->Senn HD800
* video -> Sony VW200
* audio-> McIntosh C200 & 861v4 -> Halcro DM68 + Plinius amps -> E/S L/R Sound Labs, E/S centre & 4 spkrs + 4 subs
System control: HTM Aeros & 12CH IR switcher
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#147053 - 2011-08-14 01:23 Re: Sooloos -> NuForce DAC-9 (reviewed below) -> Sennheiser HD800 headphones [Re: Tassie Devil]
Registered: 2010-03-03
Posts: 530
Avii Offline
Paranoid android
Avii Offline
Paranoid android

Registered: 2010-03-03
Posts: 530
Loc: Manchester, UK
Originally Posted By: Tassie Devil
Also on his resume are Crosby Audio, Rockport, NuForce, Monster Cable, and now Auraliti.


I believe Bryston brought in Auraliti and by extension Demian Martin when developing the BD1.

Demian is also active member of computeraudiophile (user name - 1audio).

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/AURALITI-different-ONE

Avii


Life but not as we know it...
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#147064 - 2011-08-14 07:25 Re: Sooloos -> NuForce DAC-9 (reviewed below) -> Sennheiser HD800 headphones [Re: Tassie Devil]
Registered: 2011-02-17
Posts: 1,797
MB Offline
Knows where his towel is
MB Offline
Knows where his towel is

Registered: 2011-02-17
Posts: 1,797
Loc: Winchester, Hampshire, UK
Just out of curiosity, how does the analogue output of the MS600 sound in comparison to the NuForce? The output of the MC200 is "very good" put through a headphone amp (X-Cans) into mid range headphones. This is not top end equipment but I'm curious to know how good the MS600 output is. Hope this isn't a dumb question.

Cheers Tintin


Bits and pieces
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#147232 - 2011-08-16 17:01 Re: Sooloos -> NuForce DAC-9 (reviewed below) -> Sennheiser HD800 headphones [Re: MB]
Registered: 2000-08-18
Posts: 939
Tassie Devil Offline
Pan-dimensional being
Tassie Devil Offline
Pan-dimensional being

Registered: 2000-08-18
Posts: 939
Loc: Dilston, Tasmania, Australia
Hi Tintin, not a dumb question at all.

The analog out of the MS600 is fine and levels with that from my expensively modified Esoteric UX-1 when played through amps & speakers. There is no headphone outlet of the MS600 and the analog balanced out has no volume control so I dare not plug the phones in there. I guess I could rig something up with a potentiometer for that but it could easily alter the sonic signature so I'll not bother.

Your question really boils down to how the internal DAC in the MS600 compares to that of the NuForce DAC-9. I guess I could insert the DAC-9 into the main system for that comparison but it introduces a lot more electronics into the scene and that could make differences much harder to detect. The third interesting candidate in such a comparison would be the Meridian 861v4 but it only has unbalanced analog out to complicate matters further.

I cannot be bothered doing all the above at the moment but might experiment next time fellow audio/music enthusiast visits. I'm getting lazy in my old age and do not mess around with the toys as much as when younger, preferring to relax and listen to the music via Sooloos, the DAC-9 & Sennheiser headphones.

John


3 HD TV PVRs, DVDR & OPPO -> HD621 -> 861v4
Esoteric UX1 LE, LDs (HLD-X9 & D925)-> iScan VP50 -> HD621 etc
Sooloos: C10/MS600 ->M2Tech Vaughan ->Blockhead ->Senn HD800
* video -> Sony VW200
* audio-> McIntosh C200 & 861v4 -> Halcro DM68 + Plinius amps -> E/S L/R Sound Labs, E/S centre & 4 spkrs + 4 subs
System control: HTM Aeros & 12CH IR switcher
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#147236 - 2011-08-16 18:10 Re: Sooloos -> NuForce DAC-9 (reviewed below) -> Sennheiser HD800 headphones [Re: Tassie Devil]
Registered: 2003-06-03
Posts: 493
CoolKish Offline
Paranoid android
CoolKish Offline
Paranoid android

Registered: 2003-06-03
Posts: 493
Loc: San Diego, California, USA
Thank you John for providing a great context and your opinion smile

I preferred ID40 (in my 861v6) connection to digital out from both C10 and C15. Also I found a (subjectively apparent/perceived) difference between 861v4 and v6.

John- you should get ID40 (808 or 861v6) and then compare smile

Cheers,
Kishore

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#147238 - 2011-08-16 18:45 Re: Sooloos -> NuForce DAC-9 (reviewed below) -> Sennheiser HD800 headphones [Re: CoolKish]
Registered: 2000-08-18
Posts: 939
Tassie Devil Offline
Pan-dimensional being
Tassie Devil Offline
Pan-dimensional being

Registered: 2000-08-18
Posts: 939
Loc: Dilston, Tasmania, Australia
Originally Posted By: CoolKish
John - you should get ID40 (808 or 861v6) and then compare smile

Get thee behind me Satan (in CoolKish guise)

As I do not use the 861 as my primary top audio source, I'm not tempted by v6 + I could never justify the asking price anyway. I'm really happy listening to the music via Sooloos and headphones. For the same reason I'll bypass an ID40 but can see how it would be advantageous.

Toys, toys, toys, I've too many to play with in the sandpit already. But yes, it IS fun and thanks for the compliment. This Board has really nice (and very knowlegable) people posting.

John


3 HD TV PVRs, DVDR & OPPO -> HD621 -> 861v4
Esoteric UX1 LE, LDs (HLD-X9 & D925)-> iScan VP50 -> HD621 etc
Sooloos: C10/MS600 ->M2Tech Vaughan ->Blockhead ->Senn HD800
* video -> Sony VW200
* audio-> McIntosh C200 & 861v4 -> Halcro DM68 + Plinius amps -> E/S L/R Sound Labs, E/S centre & 4 spkrs + 4 subs
System control: HTM Aeros & 12CH IR switcher
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