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a short diary of some part of my life.

Posts tagged HeadAmp

When I wrote my Schiit Vidar review, I didn’t expect Schiit to be this stoopeed. As it turns out, they have plenty of issues. I think it is best to avoid buying any Schiit amps at this point. Jason needs to take a very careful look at his designs.

Here is the link to amirm’s thread on how to fix hum/buzz issues with Jotunheim at ASR: https://audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/fixing-hum-buzz-issues-with-schiit-jotunheim-headphone-amplifier.3733/ 

No wonder my class D amp is running circles over class AB Schiit Vidar.

Here is Schiit Jotunheim measurements done by amirm of ASR: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/review-and-measurements-of-schiit-jotunheim-and-ifi-idsd-black-label-dacs-and-headphone-amps.3717/

The measurements above further confirm my preference of HeadAmp Gilmore Lite mk2 over Schiit Ragnarok. What a pity…

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Mini review of two of Burson’s products.

Conductor:

Pros

  • Great punch
  • Easy on the ears, more on that below.

Cons

  • Subpar built-in DAC.
  • Blurry in complex passages.
  • Raspy bass, not deep or clean.
  • Not a neutral / transparent amp, has its own sound signature, perhaps Burson’s house sound. Easy on the ears.
  • Burson’s stepped attenuator is awful, DACT / Goldpoint stepped attenuators offer much better feel.
  • Not as dynamic as some of the best solid state amps.
  • Narrow soundstage. Closed-in, it’s like the music is right in front of my face.
  • Very expensive for the sound quality you get.
  • Very expensive for the build quality you get. Look at one of HeadAmp’s offerings.

Soloist:

Soloist is very similar to Conductor, except it’s even less dynamic than its bigger brother.

I don’t understand why these two amps get raved reviews. The sound is a huge letdown. I was genuinely interested with one of them and I’m still looking into their new speaker amp.

Why?

Like everything else, a journey may end at some point. I just didn’t expect this would end so soon. I was an advocate Head-Fi reader – not a frequent poster. I have gradually but surely, walking away from Head-Fi. It has become a place where I buy and sell my headphone gear. There are only very few respected Head-Fi members whose comments/replies are worth reading. To make it even worse, most if not all of them are Head-Case members (they provides better users’ impressions due to their vast knowledge about audio electronics in general and anti-hype approach). Head-Fi user interface has also become dreadful (did I mention that Head-Case interface is MUCH better than Head-Fi’s?). A prominent Head-Fi member have summed up the problems, he too decided to leave.

Head-Fi’s Major Issues

There are many other major (disturbing) issues that prompted me to say good-bye. Issues like their over-protective approach over their site sponsors, post deleted without any notice (I have seen this myself, several times. I refreshed the page after 5 minutes and some posts were gone), users’ idiocies (of defending their purchases, users’ incompetencies… make the forum very uninformative, unfriendly, and useless. There is another issue (another issue and another issue?) about sponsors trying to make easy money. Head-Fi is going to be a much worse place for those who cheer good sound if the admins decide not to do anything about those issues. Many have left, many have not posted useful posts for some time.

Head-Fi DGAF about Regular Folks

Even after issues after issues are exposed, Head-Fi still do not give a crap about us regular folks who spend countless hours on honest jobs. If I were to run a forum, read by millions of unique visitors per month like Head-Fi, I would make sure that the vendors are always kept in check, especially after vendors are caught lying or making very questionable products at extraorbitant price. They could have made the forum much safer for users with a bit more effort but they don’t.

It’s not fair to leave without saying anything, so here is a few bits of my story:
During my time searching for the right headphone, amps, and sources, I have learnt a lot. This headphone journey led me to speakers system which I think sounds superior to any headphone systems on the planet. I’m grateful for my experiences on Head-Fi. Without it, I would not know how to start looking for the right system. For those who have the funds, the space, and the time to set up a speaker system, but you are still using headphones, I urge you to try a good speaker system. It will blow you away!

I figured, it will be fair to list what headphones and amps that I have owned and tried. So, you’ll know how far I have gone. Here are the lists:

Headphones:

  • JH Audio JH16 Pro
  • Sennheiser HD650
  • Sennheiser HD800
  • Grado RS2i
  • Grado HF2
  • Audeze LCD-2 Rev.1
  • Beyerdynamic T1
  • HiFiMan HE-5
  • HiFiMan HE-6
  • Shure SE535
  • Grado HP2
  • Sennheiser HD600

Amps:

I think I have had a few more amps but I can’t remember the names.

Which headphone and headphone amp are the best and the worst?

From the owned lists above, I consider Audeze’s LCD-2 and AMB B22 as the best headphone and the best amp. The worst are Sennheiser HD800 and Audio-gd Phoenix. Although I did not own them all at the same time, I can definately tell you that HD800 and Phoenix are my least favorite headphone and headphone amp.

I dislike HD800 due to its’ artificial-like sound signature. Anything that comes out from HD800 do not sound right to me. Audio-gd Phoenix sounds too smooth, is not as transparent as other top-tier amps, and has its’ own sound signature. My only requirement for a good amp is complete transparency. Its’ sound signature masks almost everything and changes my source’s sound signature. A reference amp must be transparent to the source, otherwise, you are better off settled with a tube amp like I once did with a Woo Audio 6 SE. AMB B22 and HeadAmp GS-X are much better amps than Audio-gd Phoenix, they are much more dynamic and transparent. I can easily do DBT on what source is used with AMB B22 and HeadAmp GS-X but with Audio-gd Phoenix, the differences between sources are very subtle. Even with ACSS, the Phoenix sounds soft and dull compared to AMB B22. I’m beginning to think, Audio-gd is not good at designing headphone amps. I have also briefly auditioned their Compass and C-2C and found them to be mediocre at best. A small headphone amp like AMB M^3 and HeadAmp Gilmore Lite are also much better alternatives than the big honking space heater Phoenix. Audez’e LCD-2 should pair well with any top tier amps like the GS-X. It is a very transparent headphone, I think it’s a better headphone than HiFiMan HE-6 which is quite piecing on the ears. I sold the LCD-2 because I simply wanted a retro headphone and I was also disappointed with LCD-2 build quality. It’s gone now and I don’t miss it at all.

Portable Amp (w/ DAC)

There are a few things that I want to talk about portable amps. If you really need portability and you are using a notebook computer, look no further, get a CEntrance DACport. It has a superb DAC and a superb Class A amp for its size. Don’t bother buying portable DAC/amp from various unproven manufacturers, they are all inferior. Most general DAC/amp combo use battery and they need to be recharged. This is not the case with DACport, DACport only needs a USB cable to connect it to your laptop or your iPad because it does not have a battery. It draws its power from your computer’s USB port. You don’t even need to install any driver. It’s that easy. Oh yes, you can use a DACport with an iPad. If you are using a portable music player, don’t bother buying a portable amp. It adds bulk and weight. You may also end up spending too much money on LODs, interconnects… Look at this set-up: Cypher Labs AlgoRhythm Solo. Honestly, I think it looks rather stupid. If I have to use a portable music player like an iPod, I greatly prefer to use my old trusty iPod Mini (that’s right, iPod Mini) without an external amp or DAC. Sometimes, audiophiles may turn into audiphools. They are willing to sacrifice everything for one thing called sound quality. I bet CEntrance DACport offers much better SQ than that bulky set. That bulky set is NOT a portable setup. Instead of wasting your hard-earned money for silly things like LODs for an external amp or DAC, get yourself a nice pair of headphone. You will be much more satisfied in the long run.

Do I keep any headphone and headphone amp?

Now, I’m settled with Schiit Asgard (3/16 /11 – oops, got a Lyr now, purely for the tubes) and Grado RS1i. I consider both of them to be the best in their price ranges. Surprisingly, I find Asgard superior to Audio-gd Phoenix (yep, a $250 made in USA amp Vs. $1200 made in China amp). Grado RS1i is a very fun pair of headphone. It excels with rocks. Guitar strings sound superb. It’s just magical with rock genre. The RS1i fits better on my head, LCD-2? not as good and very heavy. You may question why I decided to scale back a bit. Well, the reasons are:

  1. I no longer listen to headphone that much. I listen to headphone ± 1 hour a day.
  2. I don’t feel comfortable wearing headphone for hours.
  3. My fear of hearing impaired.
  4. Speakers are superior in every way. Headphone cannot resolve the same level of resolution and imaging as a good pair of speakers.
  5. I could have splashed a chunk more for a GS-1 which had always been my number one preference for a single ended solid state amp. It’s been well known that GS-1 and GS-X are the most transparent headphone amps in the market. My reason is simple, sometimes, good enough is good enough. Asgard Lyr is good enough. 😀

Now, I’m obviously a headphone lover, but the truth is, as much as I love headphones, they will always be secondary to speakers in my life, because speakers are just that much more dimensional, natural, and convenient to listen to; there’s nothing on your noggin that could fall off, or prevent you from hearing important audio cues like phones, doorbell, neighbor screaming for help, and it’s much easier to share music with others.

Schiit Asgard Lyr and Grado RS1i are my last headphone system. I will likely not going to add a headphone, unless it is broken. That Schiit amp will likely outlast me, so there you go, a long-lasting headphones system. And this is where I stopped: A Happy Ending (Hi-Fi) ~ [I also explained a bit about how you should spend your money, where to spend it on, and various issues about audiophile in general]

Head-Fi users’ impressions and reviews…
I think it will be wise for those of you who are reading reviews to make sure that the reviewer has considerable knowledge about various amps in the market. A review like this is pointless IMHO… The reviewer did not compare his gear with top-tier amps and DACs or even worse, the reviewer has little to no experience with top-tier amps and DACs. I imagine the reviewer will be completely floored with an AMB M^3 or a HeadAmp Gilmore Lite .

From those many reasons above: Head-Fi is no longer a useful place and headphones are inferior to speakers, I decided to leave Head-Fi world. It’s been a fun experience. Thank you Head-Fi!

____________________________________________________________________

Update (3/19/2011): ~ read links on the top of this page: https://ravenda.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/nuforce-udac2/
Looks like Head-Fi has become extremely hostile towards NwAvguy, links to his blog have been deleted. Let’s wait and see what will be deleted next… This is not the first time I have seen this happened on Head-Fi. I just didn’t expect them to be super protective of their sponsors. I have all the print screens and PDFs of the deleted posts if anyone wants to read them. No wonder there are more and more bad guys roaming free on Head-Fi. 😦 I guess, a farewell to Head-Fi is a good thing after all…

About two years after the introduction of the original Pico amp (with or without DAC), Justin introduced his latest creation, the Pico Slim. The new Pico Slim is primarily designed to drive IEMs (in ear monitors) ~ It’s not designed to cater larger portable amp market. It’s small and slim form factor is meant to attract those who want to carry a portable amp that doesn’t consume too much space. There are many portable amps in the market but none of them has the design prowesses or the form factor of the Pico Slim.

HeadAmp has been building their reputation based on their extreme attention to details and superior designs. Justin Wilson, the man who is running HeadAmp all by himself is one of the most respected headphone amp designer in the industry. HeadAmp is a one man shop. So, please bear with him if he has not replied your emails or phone calls.

I’m using the Pico Slim almost everyday. It’s small, err… it’s tiny…! It doesn’t add much foot print to my already large iPod 5.5G. There are portable amps that add their own sound signatures. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, I just prefer a more transparent amp. Unfortunately, most portable amps do have their own sound signature. Pico Slim is no exception. Given how bad the iPod is and channel imbalance issue in most amps, Pico Slim is a revelation. It is silent (silent in HeadAmp term means completely silent at any reasonable listening level; I can’t detect any audible noise at normal listening levels), more transparent than most portable amps and tiny. I ended up not liking my iPod 5.5G, it sounds congested if compared with the highly regarded AMB Gamma 2. This is a bit disappointing because the reason why I bought the Slim is to pair it with my iPod, now it’s also serving its’ duty as a transportable computer rig. In my experience, a separate DAC is always better than an iPod. Apart from being tiny, it’s a cute amp.

Although it has 255 steps attenuation, I find half of the volume range useless. I find myself always go pass 12 o’clock to get reasonable listening volume level. Finding the sweet spot is quite troublesome as well, I wish Justin could have made it to have fine volume adjustment throughout its’ volume pot. BTW, the sweet spot is somewhere around 1 o’clock. Oh and, the volume knob itself isn’t as sturdy as the original Pico. It feels quite fragile. Other than the volume control and the volume knob, I don’t have anything else to complain.

For those who care about the chassis work, it is simply the most gorgeous portable amp that I have seen. Justin has always amazed me with his work. This one is no exception, the chassis was milled from a single piece of aluminum, CNC cut, and laser engraved. Even the tiny volume knob is a solid aluminum.

If you are looking for a portable amp to drive your IEMs, this is it, the near-perfect portable amp.

Here are of Justin’s posts to get some glimpses on how he designed the Pico Slim:

I have not announced a price yet, but I have said it will be in line with my other portable amps – despite the much higher cost of parts of the Pico Slim, and time spent designing it. I would say it sounds a little warmer than the original Pico, but I am focusing on the experience of using this amp with IEMs and other sensitive headphones.

The prototype finished running with a battery life of 72 hours. That’s a significant increase from the original 40-50 hours, while the enclosure is also now 20% smaller. This isn’t due to changes in the circuit, it still uses the same amount of power, just changes to the layout that allowed a larger battery to fit. …

The battery pack will cut off automatically when the voltage gets too low, so I wouldn’t worry about that.
As for battery leakage, after about a year of non-use you can expect the charge to be about 2/3 full. 1 week without use is nothing
I really don’t think there’s much you can do to increase the life of the battery, so don’t worry about how you use it and charge it. They are rated for 500 cycles, which means the battery is expected to be at 70% of its original capacity after that usage. At 8 hours use per day, that would be 12 years. So that rating is only useful for devices like cell phones that might only have 2 hours of talk time, because batteries like this only last about 3 years whether you use them or not. All the MacBooks and iPhones have internal batteries and they are far more taxing on the batteries, and you can’t replace any of them easily. Hasn’t hurt their sales, so they don’t care. At least I’m honest about this and I’ve made it extremely easy for the battery to be changed. Remove 4 phillips screws, unplug battery, plug in new battery, put screws back in. That’s it. I guarantee to offer new batteries for at least 10 years, and beyond that there are hundreds of other battery cells that can fit. By that time the latest technology will probably get several hundred hours of life in a Pico Slim.

Noise level will be higher than the regular Pico. All digital volume controls add noise. But it’s insignificant and well worth the advantages. With ES3X, my most sensitive IEM, I can’t hear anything until it’s past the level I would ever want to listen at.

You are talking about the direction of the polishing. You’d have to polish forever to remove everything. The owner of the company that does this work has said I am the most demanding customer he has ever had, and that’s probably true. Many of the metal finishes on mass market electronics are created with processes that are illegal in the United States and most western countries as they are known to cause cancer or are very bad for the environment but they’re OK in China. This makes things more difficult. Accept that these are hand polished and may have small imperfections that would not be found with an aggressive chemical process.

The coupling caps are Niobium Oxide and PPS film.

It appears that the Pico Slim will be the only USB-charging headphone amp on the market that follows the rules for USB charging. A USB device must request permission from its host before charging. Charging can be done at up to 100mA or 500mA, or be denied any current such as when the computer is asleep. Most USB devices simply try to charge at 500mA at all times by “stealing” power from the USB port without permission. This is the cheap and easy way to do it. There are risks and problems with this. Risk of damaging a low power (100mA) USB port, or charging won’t work at all because the computer will shut down the USB port. While most new computers and full-size laptops only have high power (500mA) ports, low power ports are increasingly common in portable devices like netbooks, UMPCs, and PDAs that will have the ability to charge another device in this case a headphone amp. The Pico Slim will find out if the USB port is a low power (100mA) or high power (500mA), and then charge appropriately. This means it will be compatible with all USB ports and all devices that can act as a USB host. Find out if your USB charging amp does this, if not, you are risking damage to a computer/other host device, or you won’t be able to charge at all.

Clipping ~ Was looking at some specs last night and realized another area where the digital volume control in the Pico Slim does extremely well. It has the ability to accept audio inputs that are far larger voltage than the voltage that powers the digital volume control (in the case of a li-ion/li-poly battery, usually 3 to 4V). With most other digital volume controls, audio inputs at higher voltages than the battery voltage will be clipped. Does your source output more than 3-4 volts / 1-1.4Vrms? If you are using an iPod or other portable DAP, you should be OK — most of the time. If you use a home CD player or DAC, chances are you will be in the clipping range. Many USB DACs will also output above this level. Clipping will become a significant issue especially with recent CD pressings being made with almost no headroom. The Pico Slim can accept an input signal far greater than necessary from any kind of source.

the whole point of the digital volume control was because regular analog pots had poor left/right matching at low volumes, and they were also limited in how quiet they could go.  so with many IEMs, you could be at a listening level even with the volume knob all the way down.  turn it up slightly and it could be very loud, and still have left/right imbalance.  this way you have far more range.  about every 1 degree of rotation is a 0.5dB change.  sure you may find that leaves a 20 degree range with a particular headphone/source setup, but its going to be compatible with all combinations you throw at it, and you’re going to be able to hit every 0.5dB adjustment with slight turns of the knob.  the alternative would have been to have an infinitely rotating knob, which would have required resetting the volume to 0 at power off, and there was no room for any kind of display to indicate volume level.  I wanted to duplicate the experience of the analog pot, just with much more attenuation and way better channel matching.

THIS FEATURE HAS BEEN CANCELLED ~ Here are some ideas. These are all things that could be added later. Right now, the priority is just getting the Pico Slim finished. – Left/right balance adjustment. I have seen several people ask about this recently. It could be adjusted through the USB port. – Change the volume control. You probably don’t want to do this, since the Pico Slim already has 255 steps, 0.5dB between each one, and 110dB attenuation and nothing comes close to that kind of precision adjustment. But if you wanted to, you could change it so it only has 23 steps, and set it up so that it emulates a DACT Stepped Attenuator exactly. Or maybe you find even though the Pico Slim has so much adjustment, you still only ever use the area between 10-12 o’clock. Well you could customize it so that 10-12 o’clock becomes the entire 300 degree rotation of the volume control. – Scare your friends by making the volume go full blast 1 minute after power on. Not recommended. – Count the number of times the battery has been charged.

Here is a link to the “Q&A” about the Pico Slim that Justin posted on the original Pico Slim thread: HeadAmp Pico Slim portable headphone amplifier

Audio-gd isn’t a well known audio company brand in the US yet!. The company is led by Mr. He QingHua (Kingwa), the First Prize winner of the American National Semiconductor Audio Design Contest. Kingwa designs his gear based on his  extensive research on high end audio equipments. He’s been listening to his customers all along, including following discussion threads at many audio forums. There are three products that came to fruitions because of customers’ demands; first the Compass (Amp/DAC combo), the Panther (a power amp), and the Phoenix (a fully balanced headphone amp/pre-amp).

I’ve been using the Audio-gd DAC 19Mk3 for a few months and I‘m very happy to report that this is my favorite DAC, compared with:

  • NuForce uDAC-2 ($129 USB DAC)
  • Mhdt Havana ($749 ~ typical NOS DAC sound signature, sounds warm and pleasant)
  • Pico amp/DAC ($499 ~ small, err… tiny, there is nothing wrong with the SQ considering its’ size :D)
  • AMB Gamma 2 ($230-parts cost only ~ superb DAC for its’ small size, my second best DAC, it sounds neutral, you can also drive a headphone from one of the analog outputs)
  • And, a few other famous DACs…

I tend to buy a few things at the same time for my curiosity sake. If I don’t like it, I can always sell it or return it. I’m pairing the Audio-gd DAC-19Mk3 with Audio-gd P-2, D-Sonic Magnum 500S (2X250W / 8Ω | 2X500W / 4Ω; ICE Power), and Selah Audio RC3R (3 way monitor; Fountek ribbon tweeter, Morel dome midrange and Scan-speak woofer).

The DAC-19Mk3 uses two Burr-Brown PCM1704UK – R-2R/multi-bit chip, one chip per channel. It’s a single ended DAC with two sets of RCA outputs. The PCM1704UK is considered to be the best sounding DAC chip. Manufacturers are now favoring Sigma-Delta chips due to its ease of manufacturing (cheaper to produce) and features that can be implemented in the chip (built-in digital filters, anti-clipping; take a look at Wolfson’s top of the line DAC, WM8741 that can be found in PS Audio PerfectWave DAC). They no longer consider sound quality to be the top priority in making those chips. Those claims above may be argued by some people, but the PCM1704UK is still used by some of the best DAC designers and the chip can be found in some of the most expensive DACs. The D/A chip is irrelevant to judge a DAC unit sound quality, what really matters is its’ implementation.

There are two digital filters can be used in the DAC-19Mk3, the Pacific Microsonics PMD100 (a 24/55 HDCD digital filter) and the Burr-Brown DF1704 (a 24/96 digital filter). All the processing/filtering after the DAC is done in the current mode – ACSS which is a lot less harmful to the sound than voltage mode. Each PCM1704UK has its’ own ACSS module. The Audio-gd ACSS technology is inspired from Krell who is the proprietor of the current gain technology. It has zero feedback analog stage, DC coupled, and discrete output stage – there is no op-amp, no coupling capacitor on the signal path.  to purify dirty power and provide the cleanest power to the digital board and analog stage. There are two beefy R-Core power transformers, each of them serves different purpose, one for the digital board and the other one for the analog stage. They are carefully shielded. Those are not marketing hypes, they are just good designs.

It has 3 selectable inputs: Coax (RCA), Optical (ToSlink) and USB. One can ask Audio-gd if one needs different (Coax RCA – BNC) or more inputs. The USB input uses the commonly used PCM2707 USB receiver to convert the USB signal to S/PDIF. I have read a few decent articles that claim i2s signal is better for USB input. I used it once for my curiosity sake and the sound was decent. I don’t really care about this as I rarely use the USB input. I also found out that the DAC-19Mk3 is able to output ACSS (CAST) signal if needed, you just have to swap one set (there are two sets of RCA outputs) of the RCA outputs to ACSS (CAST – 4 pin) outputs. That if you own an amp or a pre-amp that accepts ACSS (CAST) inputs. For those who will be using the USB input exclusively, you might be interested in shutting down the S/PDIF inputs when using the USB input by installing a jumper to get an improved SQ. Here is a picture to show how to do it:

Let’s see where this DAC excels! The power supply is monstrous, Kingwa designed the DAC to have superb power filtration. It has 8 groups of parallel Class A voltage regulators to purify dirty power and provide the cleanest power to the digital board and analog stage. The noise floor is suppressed to the lowest level possible – no audible noise at all. Sub-par products tend to perform mediocre when fed with dirty power due to their poor power supplies. Switching power supply is also a big no-no, a regulated one is generally preferable for high end audio electronics. Clean power is very essential for any audio or electronic products, insufficient power filtration may produce bad results and also shorten the life of the circuits. Almost half the size of the DAC-19Mk3 is used for the power filtration, one does not need to worry about getting a power filtration/regenerator unit or a fancy power cord (snake oil!).

~ I tried various power cords for my curiosity sake, none of them improves the SQ or sound different. I have also tried various interconnects from Blue Jeans cable, ‘SPC (silver plated copper) head-fi.org sponsor’ cable, Cryo-parts SCSCag wires, all of them sound exactly the same. Unless your cables are mediocrely built, I don’t see the point of buying these fancy cables other than for their looks. All these expensive fancy cables are merely jewelries that do not add anything to the music ~

DAC-19Mk3 without digital filter board and ACSS modules installed

The Sound

About the SQ… it’s a superb DAC. This DAC completely surprised me during my first listening session with a whole new set of audio gear. I have always thought that the Audio-gd Phoenix (headamp/preamp) is no where as dynamic as some of the best headamps out there, I thought similar sound signature could also be found in the DAC-19Mk3. The single ended Audio-gd DAC (19Mk3) is well, different. It is very dynamic and at the same time, not harsh at all. This DAC makes me appreciate good recordings and instruments. There were times when I thought certain instruments sounded weird when played directly from my sound card, a PS3 and an iPod; the 19Mk3 corrects all faults in my system, every single instrument sounds right to my ears. The vocal is silky smooth, it does not have any digital trace at all. The soundstage is huge, grand soundstage. You won’t get the DAC-19Mk3’s soundstage and incredible dynamic with a NOS DAC, its soundstage is a lot smaller than what the DAC-19Mk3 can produce, NOS DAC also sounds recessed, very recessed if one compares them side by side. Now, I understand why some people like NOS DACs’ sound signature, it’s easy on the ears. The DAC-19Mk3 sound placement is superb, it is never in-front-of your face, it’s like hearing a live performance! The background is very black, one can easily notice tiny details in the recordings. There are layers of details, one can easily pin-point instruments that are playing. This is the most analog sounding DAC that I have tried. Everything seems to be natural, dynamic, and very well balanced. I couldn’t find anything wrong with the SQ. The bass gets low and impactful. I am honestly amazed by this DAC, it is a giant killer. The DAC-19Mk3 is quite neutral, this is a plus: good recordings would shine, but bad recordings were still bearable or even enjoyable if one liked the music enough to accept the poor recording. Being a music fanatic first and audiophile second, I tend to listen to a number of poor recordings as well as very good ones. 😎

If I were to point out areas where I want the 19Mk3 to be able to do a little more is the bass impact. I’m not a bass head, perhaps my transports aren’t good enough (Arcam CD36, Squeezebox Classic, and M2Tech hiFace) but I have not been able to find any major sound quality difference between them. I don’t see the need of getting a big and expensive transport unless my current transport is very bad and affecting my system’s sound quality.

I’m very impressed with Kingwa’s attentions to details, every single part of the DAC seems to be well thought out. I’m also amazed by Kingwa’s decision to salvage any (Pacific Microsonics) PMD100 from used audio equipments. PMD100 is no longer made and is getting rare to find. As mentioned above, I can choose to use one of two excellent digital filters, the musical PMD100 and the neutral (hi-fi) DF1704. The PMD100 produces musical sound signature which suits classical, jazz, female voices, basically anything slow. If I want more impact and neutral, I use the DF1704. The bass has noticeably increased, it goes deeper, and produces more details but the soundstage seems to suffer. PMD100 (laidback) is preferable for forward sounding speakers while DF1704 (forward) is better for laidback speakers, it’s all about balance and synergy.

Audio-gd PMD100 board

Build Quality

For those who care about the build quality and chassis work, the innards look quite good but it’s definately not at the same level of finesse of HeadAmp (Justin Wilson) which I consider to be one of the very few manufacturers who craves for perfections. There is a few major concerns about the build quality and there are some minor imperfections, such as: a few not-so-good soldering jobs, bent PCB, many traces of glue on the PCB, and parts are not aligned as neat as HeadAmp. This DAC looks almost like a DIY unit. My AMB y2 looks much better inside out. The chassis is as simple as it can be, it works and it is very sturdy but it’s far from a Grade A chassis. The plates are not aligned perfectly, there are gaps between plates here and there. My DAC-19Mk3 top plate is hard to pull out due to incorrect size of the top plate. These are just some minor shortcomings that have nothing to do with the sound quality. I would rather have a well designed innards than a beautiful chassis that may cost up to half the price of the unit and skimp on the quality of the components inside.

This is one hell of a DAC. I can’t imagine how good higher end Audio-gd DACs are after using this DAC. I bet it’s a huge step up above the DAC-19Mk3. This DAC is priced at $480 + shipping. I don’t think I can find any better DAC at that price point. All brand names DACs that I have auditioned above are not even close to the DAC-19Mk3. I don’t usually buy ‘Chinese’ products if I have the chance to choose. Off course, almost all electronic products are now made in China, not that it matters but I had a sheer experience of buying unknown ‘Chinese’ made products that failed to meet my expectations in the past. This is simply not the case with Audio-gd, superb designs, superb executions and zero marketing BS (unlike many major brand names who sell more marketing that the actual product itself :mad:). Thanks Kingwa, for making this excellent DAC! Oh and, you might want to pick the PMD100 as the digital filter or your super backup, the supply is running low. If you send an email to Audio-gd, don’t be surprised by their difficulties of answering questions in English. They usually reply within hours.