T+A Elektroakustik DAC 8 DSD D/A processor Page 2

But as we saw earlier, with filters there's always a trade-off—and in this case it's a gradual rolloff in frequency response that starts at 12–15kHz at low sampling rates (44.1 or 48kHz). And so T+A provides another Bézier filter: an interpolator plus an infinite impulse response (IIR) correction stage that combines a very good impulse response (not as good as the pure Bézier, though) with a very accurate and flat frequency response at high frequencies. The filter rolloff is less of a problem at higher sampling rates. Again, pick your poison.

In all cases, T+A says it uses 56-bit data words for the internal processing on a high-speed processing platform, to keep accumulated errors to a minimum. Wiemann explained: "To give a hint what 56-bit accuracy means: 56 bits mean 336dB of dynamic range—or, in other words, [the] computational errors of our processing engine lie 336dB below a 0dBFS signal—equivalent to [192dB] below the noise floor of a 24-bit audio signal."

Briefly, here's what I heard from the four filter settings:

1) Standard FIR: too steely for my taste, everything a bit blunt.

2) Impulse Optimized: more diffuse, a bit of a hollow sound.

3) Bézier Interpolator plus IIR: better focus, less steel, great detail.

4) Pure Bézier Interpolator: best on paper, but maybe a bit too polite—had a slight watered-down effect compared to Filter 3.

In the end, I chose Filter 3 for pretty much all of my listening. My head knew that Filter 4 might be technically more accurate except for that rolled-off top end, but it lacked the immediacy and presence of Filter 3. And sometimes when doing comparisons, I reverted to Filter 1, to help zero in on what a DAC is doing.

And if you listen very hard
When the DAC 8 DSD arrived, I still had the most excellent Ayre Acoustics Codex in my system. As soon as I'd finished reviewing the Ayre, I replaced it with the T+A and let it settle in for a few weeks before doing any critical listening. It was a smooth transition: after I'd fiddled with filters and settled on Filter 3, the T+A quickly made itself at home.

All the usual album suspects made appearances—but, fully aware that T+A's Lothar Wiemann is a prog-rock fanatic, I pulled out four favorites: Happy the Man's Crafty Hands (CD, BMG 37616), Gong's Gazeuse! (CD, Virgin CDV-2074), Camel's Mirage (CD, Deram 8206132), and Führs & Fröhling's Ammerland (CD, Nordsee 22011). Yes, I just heard groans from some of you—but if you haven't heard these albums through a good system, you're missing out.


The best recording of the lot is arguably track 3 of Gazeuse!, "Percolations, Parts 1 & 2"—a no-brainer demo track featuring great analog recording and some inspired and frenetic vibraphone, marimba, and drums. The drums in particular are manipulated throughout as the recording engineers vary their placements on the soundstage, play with room effects, and shift the width of the image. This amazing track quickly reveals where a DAC is at: as the drums rattle around the room, lesser DACs give them a plasticky sound and muddier images.

The DAC 8 DSD laid out everything with finesse, clearly separating all layers with a strongly dynamic and wooden thwack as each drum is hit. Marimba and vibraphone notes hung in the air with natural decays, and I could easily hear the drums spread out, then collapse back in, and then out again as the mix engineer manhandled the imaging. Probably the word that best characterizes the T+A's sound with this track is precision, but let me be clear: For me, more precision translates to being further inside the music, connecting with a recording with fewer distractions. I regard those slight euphonic tendencies in some products as fuzz or vagueness, not some romantic sheen that enhances the music. And we all know that what happens in vagueness stays in vagueness.

On to something musically different: Führs & Fröhling build their tracks around beautifully recorded acoustic guitars, and with the T+A, again there was plenty of detail, and gobs of ambient space around the room. My notes say that the reverb size and tails in particular were handled well. The title track of Ammerland begins with classical-guitar arpeggios, later joined by various synths and a Mellotron or two. Definitely the lighter side of prog, but essential nonetheless.


Camel's second album, Mirage, heads in a more standard prog-rock direction—electric guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, etc.—and features a standout track, "Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider." (I know, prog titles can be a bit much.) Its last two minutes comprise a stunning slide-guitar solo that floats all around the room, and the T+A imaged it as wide and as tall as I've ever heard it.

Finally, I popped on the 2005 Japanese pressing of Happy the Man's Crafty Hands. "Open Book" has an acoustic, renaissance-inspired central section sandwiched between electric-prog movements. Layering and depth were excellent, and in particular, the two tambourines sounded natural and clear, holding distinct and solid spots just off center-left and -right on the soundstage. These are complicated recordings, and the DAC 8 DSD let me hear clearly into their many parts.

If we all call the tune
I still had Ayre's Codex and QB-9DSD on hand, and did some listening back and forth with the T+A. In my review of the Codex last June, I'd praised it (and the QB-9DSD) for how clearly and cleanly it laid out complicated music, and the T+A DAC 8 DSD accomplished the same, with perhaps just a tad more detail and spatial depth with Filter 3. The tonal balances of all three DACs were very similar: blindfolded, I couldn't have told them apart.

It's interesting to note that John Atkinson's measurements, in the June issue, of Ayre's filter for the Codex and QB-9DSD look very similar to T+A's measurements of their Bézier-plus-IIR option: minimal ringing, and a somewhat gentle rolloff in frequency response. So I'm not surprised that I found Filter 3 almost indistinguishable from the Ayre QB-9DSD and Codex. After I've turned in this review, we'll see how the T+A performs in JA's measurements.

I'm agnostic about DSD vs PCM, but because T+A has taken the trouble to provide a separate DSD signal path, it seemed a good idea to pit these DACs against each other on the basis of DSD. I sorted through a few recordings and finally focused on Bill Frisell's Richter 858 (CD, Songlines SGLSA 15512), with its often cacophonous impressions of eight works by the German painter Gerhard Richter. This all-analog recording of Frisell's guitar, accompanied by violin, viola, and cello, works its way through every sound these instruments can make and reveals plenty of detail.


The T+A shone in comparison to the Ayre pair—as, I'm guessing, it would have with many of the DACs I've had in the recent past. (But I'm going by instinct here; in reviewing DACs, which can sound so similar to each other, aural memory just doesn't cut it.) In a word, there was more flow with the DAC 8 DSD, and, at the same time, little transient details seemed to have a tad more snap. Again, not a huge difference, but noticeable when I listened for it.

Your head is humming
I also did some headphone listening while the Codex was still here, and on this count I give a slight edge to the Ayre, but only in balanced mode. (The DAC 8 DSD has only an unbalanced headphone jack.) Soundstage depth was slightly more apparent, but through Audeze's LCD-X headphones with the levels matched and using both DACs unbalanced revealed no clear winner. With headphones, both the Ayre and the T+A bettered the Benchmark DAC2 HGC DAC, which sounded thinner than either.

Also on hand were the MrSpeakers Ether planar headphones, which are less sensitive than the Audezes (which are quite efficient for planar 'phones), requiring me to turn up the DAC 8 DSD a tad. In fact, though the T+A could get plenty loud with most recordings, it topped out in volume sooner than either the Ayre Codex or the Benchmark DAC2 HGC.

And as we wind on down the road
Finally, I invited a fellow audio-club member over for some listening, to compare the T+A DAC 8 DSD with the Benchmark DAC2 HGC in my main system. John Salvini is a pilot for United Airlines, so we put together a list of his favorite flying-related tracks. We began with Gordon Lightfoot's "Early Morning Rain" ("Out on runway number 9, big 707 set to go . . ."), which has been covered by the Grateful Dead, Peter, Paul & Mary, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, and others. We ended up using the song's first official recording, from 1965, on Ian & Sylvia's Early Morning Rain (CD, Vanguard 79715).

With the Benchmark, John noted that the acoustic guitar popped forward just a bit, while the instruments and voices balanced better through the T+A. We agreed that the DAC 8 DSD sounded slightly more colorful tonally, less pastel or bleached, than the Benchmark. John remarked that the differences became noticeable only after we'd listened to the track four times all the way through with both DACs.

We were pulling up the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" when we got sidetracked, and instead focused on an early pre-Byrds track, "The Only Girl I Adore," by Jim McGuinn (who later changed his name to Roger), David Crosby, and Gene Clark, who at that point called themselves the Jet Set. It's a great, raw acoustic recording in mono, with gobs of character, three-part harmonies in fake Beatles accents, and "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah"s. It's available on both the Byrd Parts (CD, Raven RVCD 77) and The PreFlyte Sessions (CD, Sundazed SC 11116).

With the T+A, we could pick out individual voices a bit better, though in both cases the lead vocal sounded very similar. However, John also noted that there was less body to the single acoustic guitar with the Benchmark. We finally did return to "Eight Miles High," from Fifth Dimension (CD, Columbia/Legacy CK 64847), and agreed that the DAC 8 DSD sounded a touch more dynamic, with more impact in the opening bass lines.


John agreed that it took concentration to detect these differences, but he felt it was worth the effort, and by the end of the afternoon had become more confident in telling DAC from DAC. Yes—with delicate differences hidden in subtle sonic shades that are far from obvious on first listen, it's so damn hard to tell DACs apart, as Bruce Rowley notes in the intro.

The piper's calling you to join him
Often, a company's most expensive product is not its greatest product. The flagship might be the best they have to offer, but for me, greatness requires paring down any excess to the absolute minimum, while retaining the essence of the qualities that made the best the best in the first place.

In other words, I love efficient, effective design that maximizes value. I perceive lots of thick metal and large knobs as being little more than extra fat, and overly detailed power supplies, with beautiful graphics and shiny surfaces, as exercises in sensuality (in and of itself, not a bad thing) that lack restraint and focus. Often, those things are there because the designers have allowed themselves to chase every little detail down into a hole.

T+A Elektroakustik's DAC 8 DSD has none of these faults, yet approaches the performance of cost-no-object designs, and so represents good relative value at $3995. This is the distilled version of the tech found in T+A's flagship models: nothing gratuitous, nothing included "just in case," but plenty of careful choices made to maximize bang for buck.

Two caveats: I would have preferred a volume knob instead of buttons, and maybe a bit more oomph in the headphone section. But otherwise, I can't fault the DAC 8 DSD's sound—it sits comfortably with the sounds of more expensive products, such as MSB Technology's Analog DAC ($6995), Chord Electronics' splendid-sounding Hugo TT ($4795), and Antelope Audio's Zodiac Platinum ($5500 as reviewed), all of which I've reviewed in the last two-and-a-half years. And the DAC 8 DSD provided the best sound from DSD that I've heard.

If you've been following the clues, some of you already know where this is going to end: The T+A Elektroakustik DAC 8 DSD could be your stairway to sonic heaven.

T+A Elektroakustik GmbH
US distributor: Rutherford Audio Inc.
12649 E. Caley Avenue #116
Centennial, CO 80111
(303) 872-6285

georgehifi's picture

Can anyone say when this unit does PCM (redbook) is it using DS (1bit) type or Multibit converter, as that looks to be over looked in the review.

Cheers George

hb72's picture

Double-Differential-Quadruple-Converter with 4 D/A-Converters per channel, 32-Bit Sigma Delta, 352,8 kSps/384 kSps. Eight times oversampling.

georgehifi's picture

Gross for PCM replay conversion.
From what the gurus in the industries say only Multibit can do PCM without making a facsimile of it.

Cheers George

tonykaz's picture

Thats probably the most accurate thing anyone could say or has said about good quality Consumer DACs! Maybe you should be awarded the "King's new Suit" Award.

I admire your bravery

Tony in Michigan

ps. I've heard it said that if a DAC is doing it's job properly you can't hear it.

Marc210's picture

I own two old DACs (more than 10 years age) purchased used at less than 80 per cent of their retail price, and really it's hard to tell differences, even subtle ones. First is a one bit, other oversamples at 96, compared to newcomers well you know what's the answer is...

CAminion's picture

reminds me of when in the 80's people would say all turntables are the same. Digital transport solutions will make DAC's sound alike if they aren't up to snuff.

TJ's picture

... for the most thoughtful and well considered DAC review I've ever read. It's an interesting comment that as the technology matures, digital filters will become more significant than other design factors.

Archimago's picture

Disagree with this. Realize that the comment is about the Ayre Codex vs. a DAC a few years old. The difference is primarily the filters. Yet sounds "damn close". If that's the difference filters make (especially something so significantly different like the Codex/PonoPlayer), then it's not unreasonable to say that filters are not all that different sounding, right?

Anton's picture

I see things like, "DSD64 appears on the display as either "2M8 DSD" or "3M1 DSD" (2.8MHz or 3.1MHz), depending on whether the base clock is 44.1 or 48kHz; DSD128 is displayed as "5M6 DSD" or "6M1 DSD"; and so on, all the way up to "22M6 DSD" or "24M6 DSD," for DSD512," or "four S/PDIF (RCA), BNC, optical, AES/EBU, and USB. The USB input accepts PCM up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD up to DSD512; DSD256 and DSD512 are possible only with USB streams from Windows operating systems..." and my brain just goes all dial tone.

I figured out Tidal into my Explorer DAC to the real Hi Fi and that was a major accomplishment!


If it ever gets idiot-level easy, I will hit the button!

Archimago's picture

It just sounds like the DSD naming scheme is unnecessarily pretentious in trying to sound *different* instead of sticking with convention and what most would recognize.

It's rather ridiculous, as if there's something special about those labels. Likewise, all those acronyms that companies tend to use for techniques that are essentially just variants of well-known algorithms/technologies end up falling flat as well...

Marc210's picture

"CAminion :reminds me of when in the 80's people would say all turntables are the same. Digital transport solutions will make DAC's sound alike if they aren't up to snuff."

audiodoctornj's picture

As a T+A dealer, with one of the largest collections of dacs on the East Coast, I am very puzzled by this review! I have been in professional audio retailing for 27 years or since the beginning of the digital revolution, and I can say unequivocally that I am at odds with this review.

To say that two digital front ends sound alike is saying that two sports cars drive the same, sure they are both fast, but the feeling of say a BMW vs a Mercedes is totally different.

If you look at two different dacs unless they are using the same decoding chips and on board filters, then the only difference might be the analog stage, I find there is generally a world of sonic difference between two dacs with carefully level matching.

Take an Auralic Vega vs an NAD M51 these are totally different animals, with completely different technologies, and yes they both sound very good the more expensive dac does sound better, with a wider and more defined sound stage, and greater resolution.

To lump the T+A in with some of these other dacs is doing the T+A dac a disservice. The writer said he did not play with up sampling redbook to Quad Rate DSD, when on all the forums that are talking about this dac are saying that you must hear it at that frequency and decoding type.

I ran J River and took a 16 bit 44k CD and through J River spit out a Dual rate than Quad Rate DSD file on the fly for the T+A DAD 8 DSD to decode, and the difference between the two sampling rates was very audible, Dual DSD was good, Quad rate DSD was amazing!

Many people reading the review might think that the DSD decoding engine can only be used with DSD files when you can easily convert PCS to DSD and vice versa.

The DAC 8 DSD sound great on PCM but feed it a Quad Rate DSD track and you will be absolutely floored, and it moves this little $4k dac into the big leagues, I would say under $10k the Dac 8 is very hard to beat, there is an organic sound and a spooky real sense of presence that once you hear it you will be shocked at just how special the DAC 8 is.

hifial's picture

If you really want to hear something special then feed this DAC any music file up-sampled to DSD512 using HQ Player software and with Roon as the manager.

It is sad when the professional reviewer barely scratches the surface of what a piece of equipment can do.

But then the professional dealer also misses the mark on the best part.

Thank goodness for the audio forums.

PS How would I know. Because I am one of the ones using it as such. And I have a huge smile from the enjoyment.