The Great BAAS DAC Comparison – Results are In!

bada-2.jpgWe just completed another great BAAS event. When we succeed, we combine listening pleasure and camaraderie with a “wisdom of the crowds” learning experience. We seem to have hit the right note(s) yesterday in Jason’s superb listening environment.

First, here are the DAC’s that we had on hand:

  • Weiss Medea – $16K MSRP    (thanks Clive)
  • Theta Gen VIII Series II – $11K   (thanks Jason)
  • Berkeley Audio Design Alpha – $5K   (thanks Tim & Michael)
  • Bel Canto DAC-III – $2.5K    (thanks Dan)

We used a variety of music to audition each DAC, including:

So – after a man-week or more of preparation (much of it by the esteemed digital consultant, Tim Marutani), five hours of listening, and much discussion – what did we learn?

I’ll save my specific conclusions for a later post, but here are some general comments:

  • Sonic quality was not generally proportional to price or packaging
  • No DAC was best on all material, for example:
    • The Bel Canto was superb on simple acoustic material, but stumbled on “big,” complex pieces
  • Digital interface type (SPIDF vs AES/BU) and analog out type (RCA vs XLR) can matter
  • The quality of the digital clock and the manner in which it’s implemented matter greatly; and
  • In this event, the Berleley Audio Design Alpha (BADA) DAC was a stunning performer, and – dare I say it – I want one ( even at its $5,000 price point). It sounded that good to me.

So that’s the story of this successful BAAS event. Special thanks to Jason Victor Serinus and Tim Marutani for their many contributions.

OK, attendees, the world wants to know what you heard. Post your comments now!

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008 Bob, Equipment, Events

4 Comments to The Great BAAS DAC Comparison – Results are In!

  1. My notes:
    The Media. I would love to hear this configured differently, based solely on Bob’s raves about it. In your system, configured through the Theta, the first thing I noticed was a huge midbass suck-out! (What was the first piece we listened to?) Great air though, from where I was sitting, 2nd row, far left, I heard some midrange smear too. The Chopin piece, though presented with fine note articulation in general seemed to convey the smear through the lower octaves. My notes state the Symphonic Dances was sublime! The Barber rendition of Alfie sounded like a low rez Mp3. The Strauss was grainy, and the drums faded into a gooey mess.

    The Theta. Less grainy. The sound stage held together longer as the orchestra revved up the volume during the Strauss composition. Alfie had better definition! In every way! Symphonic Dances, again superb. Hmm, no notes for the Media regarding the Blue Coast piece, but under the Theta notes, I have written that there’s a slight harshness to the high notes in Selkye’s voice. I’ve always disliked this song, so I think, from my own experience, this may be a more accurate reproduction of the song. I think the harshness is in the recording.

    The Alpha. I changed positions to front row 2nd from far right. Positioning matters, so my apologies to you Jason, but I wanted to hear your system too. Hence, the position change mid demo. The bass control seemed even better from this position. Was this due to a position change, or to the Alpha dac? Selkye’s vocals seemed a bit in your face (my face anyway) from this position, a little too far forward. There was a slight softening, which I appreciated, of the highs with the Alpha dac though. The Symphonic Dances seemed to have greater “slam.” The sound stage appeared to have the best roundness, or fullness with the Alpha Dac.The highs were smoother, without losing sparkle. Alfie was fully fleshed, cohesive, articulate, but not bright.

    The Bel Canto. I expected less, I got more. The more was not always good. Alfie sounded like it was all there. All that I heard from the Alpha Dac, but like I was hearing it through the proverbial veil. My notes say, as if it were from another room. This softening of the sound, to me, resulted in the best reproduction of the Strauss piece. That’s what my notes say anyway. The second or third best reproduction of the Symphonic Dances, behind the Alpha dac, and tied with the Theta, though the tie with the Theta might be due to my change in room positioning.

  2. David on November 24th, 2008
  3. I think David pretty much summed it up in his notes and much better than I could have ever done.

    I would just like to add some brief notes on my perception.

    The media: Too bright and a little too harsh for my taste. S’s T’s & P’s where over pronounced in the vocals.

    The Theta: Very nice! Smooth, detailed, neutral. I would have a tough time choosing between the Theta and the Alpha if they cost the same.

    The Alpha: Very similar to the Theta but slightly more detailed. I did switch seats between the Theta/Alpha audition so I’m not sure how much effect that had on my perception. I’m not really familiar with Strauss or Classical music for that matter and I had a difficult time digesting this piece for evaluative purposes. I sounded like a bunch jumble building up and then releasing. It wasn’t until I heard it on the Alpha that I got it. It made sense to me. An ah-ha moment.

    The Bel Canto: Not bad. A little bottom heavy but not bad at all. Not quite as detailed as the Alpha or the Theta.

    I would have liked to listen to the Alpha & Theta a little more and from the same position to come up with a definitive winner but I think my wallet has already done the deciding for me.

  4. Joe on November 24th, 2008
  5. First, let me thank Jason, Bob, Tim and the noteable others who put all this together for the membership. It is evident that this event and other BAAS events do require a lot of effort and commitment.

    Most of us probably have been, for the most part , happy with our music systems. We are now considering moving to, or at least adding a music server to our setups. This is great for the industry, as many were concerned that the high end industry was threatened. It may be quite the opposite. Consider the number of audiophiles moving into servers. Also consider the number of young people already using servers in the form of Ipods and the like who have yet to discover the high end. The future should be bright for the industry we appreciate so much!

    With regard to to the DAC comparisons, changing seats complicated the process a bit, but i think the differences in sound were evident to most, although not all member observations and conclusions were the same.

    The $16k Medea actually sounded a bit flat or muffled to me as if there was a veil over the sound. The Medea was play through a seperate pre-amp however and perhaps that configeration wasn’t optimized. The folks at medea would prrobably have something to say about that. At $16k however, it’s price performance equation would put it last.

    The two I liked the best were the Theta ($11k) and the Alpha ($5k). The Theta I thought was more forceful and I thought more enunciated and perhaps “brighter”. The volume was a lot higher though and I had the feeling I would experience an early listener fatigue. The Alpha was smoother around the edges and very pleasant to listen to. It picked up the subtleties, but perhaps it was a bit laid back and lacked the enunciation of the Theta. I would need to listen to both of these in a more personally controlled setting to have a more definitve evaluation. Not withstanding that opportunity, and even if price were not a considertion, I think I would choose the Alpha. It was just more pleasant to listen to. Add price to the equation and the Alpha wins hands down.

    The Bel Canto at $2.5k, is certainly worthy of consideration. It was also pleasant to listen to, but did not have the refinement of the Alpha.

    Thanks again to all who produced, contributed and attended this event.

  6. jifo on November 29th, 2008
  7. [...] I also run the Bay Area Audiophile Society (BAAS) and describe a comparison event that we held here. The Alpha "won" that event convincingly (but a setup problem did not give the Medea a [...]

  8. Berkeley Audio DAC - Head-Fi: Covering Headphones, Earphones and Portable Audio on July 29th, 2009
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