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linden518
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DACs that use AKM chips?

I was wondering if you guys know of any standalone DACs that use AKM (Asahi Kasei Microsystems) DAC chips. I know that PS1 uses it, & I like it a lot, and found out that SlimDevices Transporter uses AKM 4397 DAC. Since I already have a SB3, I wanted to see if getting a AKM-based DAC would get me close to the sound of the Transporter...

CharlyD
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Re: DACs that use AKM chips?

The E-MU 0404 uses the AK4396 DAC, has S/PDIF, EBU and USB input and boasts a 117dB dynamic range. The MSRP is $199.99!

linden518
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Re: DACs that use AKM chips?


Quote:
The E-MU 0404 uses the AK4396 DAC, has S/PDIF, EBU and USB input and boasts a 117dB dynamic range. The MSRP is $199.99!


Whoa. I like that price, a lot! Have you used it, Charly? If so, what's been your experience with it?

CharlyD
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Re: DACs that use AKM chips?

I used that box extensively when in a recent audio testing role. My listening, however, was exclusively through headphones. The audio quality, both perceived and measured, was far better than what was delivered through my Dell laptop.

Elk
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Re: DACs that use AKM chips?

AKM is probably the dominant manufacture of DAC chips. I'm sure that this chip is in everything from cheap sound cards to some scary pricey stuff.

Unfortunately, the chip, while important, does not have as much to do with the sound as one might expect. The circuit design and the care in which it is implemented is more important. Thus there are wonderfully sounding units with 10 year old chip designs and with the latest chips. The chip is just a $2.00 part and only one of many.

Behringer is good at incorporating the latest chips in their products. I bet they have some stuff out with this chip. Yet I have yet to hear a Behringer product that sounds decent. Their equipment generally sounds brittle and harsh. Additionally, their digital based designs often have digital overflow problems, etc. Yuck.

This is similar to class D amps. The modules are cheap. The DIY amps I have heard are pretty awful - but the builders are happy. (There are probably some great DIYs out there also.) Yet these same modules in the hands of Bel Canto, PS Audio, etc. sound wonderful.

struts
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Re: DACs that use AKM chips?


Quote:
Unfortunately, the chip, while important, does not have as much to do with the sound as one might expect. The circuit design and the care in which it is implemented is more important. Thus there are wonderfully sounding units with 10 year old chip designs and with the latest chips. The chip is just a $2.00 part and only one of many.


What he said. This seems to be a very popular trap to fall into for newbies and know-it-alls alike. Saying "I like the sound of this DAC chip" is like driving a Ferrari and saying "I like the way that engine management chip drives". Sure a car designer or test driver may have so much experience that they can mentally eliminate all the other variables in a package as complex as a sports car to make the observation a meaningful one. Similarly, DAC designers or very experienced listeners with a huge experience of listening to lots of systems under controlled conditions (like some of the writers at 'phile') just might be able to do the same.

Of course DAC marketeers are anxious to provide spurious technological arguments to support a notion that, say, a DAC chip can be a 'miracle' component that guarantees instant sonic nirvana. It's their job after all! The interesting thing is the way consumers seem happy to buy in to the conceit, maybe to try to prove that they are part of the cognoscenti that hears and appreciates the difference. Well, as far as I am concerned IT IS ALL BUNKUM!

My advice? Trust your ears and leave the alchemy to the alchemists. If you need religion, a spiritual god may offer more long-term satisfaction than a microelectronic one!

Just for fun I thought I would look up the best-sounding digital systems I have personally heard and see if there was any correlation in the DAC technology used. In no particular order:

  • Nagra CDC - Burr-Brown 24-bit (anyone know which actual part?)
  • Accuphase DC-101 - MDS (I believe the actual chips are Analog Devices 1853s)
  • dCS Elgar - dCS Ring DAC
  • Zanden 5000 Mk IV - Philips TDA-1541A "double crown" (Anno '85)
  • Linn CD12 - Burr-Brown PCM-1702U-K
  • Naim CD555 - Burr-Brown PCM-1704 (Anno '98')

...and of course...

  • Boulder 1012 - 4x Burr-Brown 1704K

Note also that the much talked about Linn Klimax DS uses the Wolfson WM8741, JA's 'reference' Ayre C-5xe a Burr-Brown DSD1792 and the well-reviewed Bel Canto e.One DAC3 a Burr-Brown PCM1792.

As you can see, I am clearly a Burr-Brown man. In fact this proves beyond all statistical doubt that B-B rocks and all the others suck. Q.E.D.

AKM? Gimme a break!

linden518
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Re: DACs that use AKM chips?


Quote:
As you can see, I am clearly a Burr-Brown man. In fact this proves beyond all statistical doubt that B-B rocks and all the others suck. Q.E.D.

AKM? Gimme a break!


Hmm. My Squeezebox 3 has Burr-Brown chip... I don't know what model #, but I think it sounds decent on its own. I'd tried it using Cambridge Audio 840C, which uses AD, and it sounded better, but kind of too digital-sounding for me.

But I don't get why SlimDevices chose not to use Burr-Brown and went with AKM with Transporter then? And JA's measurements for the Transporter came out showing an immaculate performance...

Anyhoo... you guys have any suggestions for me on warmer sounding DACs that still do not sacrifice clarity? If I can help it, I want to spend less than $1K (willing to shop used) as I'm saving up still for TT.

struts
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Re: DACs that use AKM chips?

Hey SD,

I believe the SB3 uses the Burr-Brown PCM 1748. One of the reasons they might have switched to the AKM for the TP is to accommodate higher sampling-rate source material. I dunno.

Anyway, my recommendation for a sub-$1k DAC purchase would be an old unit from a manufacturer with the right 'house sound'. An older Accuphase, Naim, or Wadia unit for instance may turn out to have a sound that is right up your street. I have no idea what these units go for pre-owned but I can tell you I have never got much back for any of my old equipment at trade-in so there must be some bargains out there!

Or how about a Bel Canto DAC1. Cost $1295 in 2000 and had a sound RD described thus:

Quote:
Bel Canto is best known for single-ended-triode tube electronics (including the SETi40, a Sam Tellig fave), and despite the fact that there are no thermionic tubes to be found anywhere in the DAC 1, this heritage was apparent in the sound. "Smooth," "musical," "non-fatiguing," and, yes, "analog-like" were some of the descriptors that came to mind.

Wouldn't mind betting you could pick one of those up for <$500 (Burr-Brown PCM-1704 btw )

I am sure others here can chime in with specific recommendations. Some folks on this board seem to have heard every component ever made. I just wonder where they get the time!

linden518
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Re: DACs that use AKM chips?

Thanks for the recommendations, Struts. I do like Accuphase CDPs, their sound... haven't heard Wadia. I see Bel Canto DAC1 pop up on AG a lot. Choices, choices...

Elk
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Re: DACs that use AKM chips?

While not currently implemented in the TP, the AKM has the ability to accept and convert a DSD stream. The TP may be doing some interesting things with PCM before it gets to the chip.

Smoother sounding, but detailed, DACs: I find the Benchmark to have a little gray haze about it, but it is excellent. I prefer the Lavry D10 - great depth, open, detailed, yet rich and warm. I also like Bel Canto. The PS Audio DAC is delicious also.

I suggest checking out the PS Audio and Lavry in particular. All can be returned if you are not delighted after an in home trial.

linden518
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Re: DACs that use AKM chips?

Thanks, elk.

Elk
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Re: DACs that use AKM chips?

Let us know what you try and what your conclusions are. It will be fun to learn what you think.

(And yes, I know it is heresy to not bow down to the Benchmark - I can live with it).

Jim Tavegia
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Re: DACs that use AKM chips?

An inexpensive outbard dac that uses AKM was the M-Audio Super-DAC which sold for around $225 when new. I owned one which I thought sounded good for what is was and cost.

linden518
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Re: DACs that use AKM chips?

Oh, I'll look out for that one, Jim. Thanks!

KBK
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Re: DACs that use AKM chips?


Quote:
AKM is probably the dominant manufacture of DAC chips. I'm sure that this chip is in everything from cheap sound cards to some scary pricey stuff.

Unfortunately, the chip, while important, does not have as much to do with the sound as one might expect. The circuit design and the care in which it is implemented is more important. Thus there are wonderfully sounding units with 10 year old chip designs and with the latest chips. The chip is just a $2.00 part and only one of many.

Behringer is good at incorporating the latest chips in their products. I bet they have some stuff out with this chip. Yet I have yet to hear a Behringer product that sounds decent. Their equipment generally sounds brittle and harsh. Additionally, their digital based designs often have digital overflow problems, etc. Yuck.

This is similar to class D amps. The modules are cheap. The DIY amps I have heard are pretty awful - but the builders are happy. (There are probably some great DIYs out there also.) Yet these same modules in the hands of Bel Canto, PS Audio, etc. sound wonderful.

The DCX 24/96 digital crossover is all AKM inside, both ADC and DAC.

I believe the DEQX crossover is also AKM on the ADC side, and Burr Brown on the outputs. Yes. I own a unit. I should know that.

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