Massdrop x Grace SDAC Balanced - Official Thread

The Massdrop x Grace SDAC Balanced is an inexpensive, small-form factor, balanced-output, DAC, based on the very well regarded original Grace SDAC.

From the Drop.com Website:

Following the success of the Massdrop x Grace Design Standard DAC, we’re excited to release the much-requested balanced version. It’s the least-expensive small standalone balanced DAC on the market, designed to complement high-end balanced amplifiers like the Massdrop x THX AAA™ 789, the Massdrop x Alex Cavalli Liquid Carbon X, and more. Grace Design is known for its incredibly accurate, transparent gear, and this new DAC doesn’t disappoint. Based on the single-ended SDAC, it has the same objectivist-minded performance, USB bus-powered design, and simple plug-and-play operation. Plus, it boasts a number of advanced features and supports sample rates up to 384 kHz and DSD256 in USB 2.0 mode.

This is the spot to discuss what is, as far as I am aware, the least expensive balanced DAC available.

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You can read a full review, with comparisons, of the SDAC Balanced here, and it is also available via the “Community Preview Program”.

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How does this Grace balanced compare to something like the Cambridge DAC Magic (balanced) and/or the Matrix Mini-I (both standard and pro version)?
Both those DACs used higher tier DAC chips on release, so I think the mid tier AKM chip seems a possible drawback.
I’m surprised Grace/MD didn’t up the game for a few dollars more, as I think they’d have made up the difference in volume on reputation alone if they’d gone with a higher end AKM chip.

But it obviously depends on how well it’s implemented.

It’s much less money than the DAC Magic or the Matrix but those units have been around for awhile.

I’m wondering if Grace managed to work some magic at this low price and if anyone has read a review or heard/compared it to either (or both) of these other DACS?
Lastly…is it a truly balanced DAC or a “split” SE signal? And is there a dedicated chip per channel?
I’ve read conflicting opinions on what constitutes a balanced unit.
With amps it seems a highly debated topic but “dual-mono” configuration with separate power supply per channel seems to cut it.

I’m not knowledgeable enough electronically to know what to look for in a fully balanced DAC but realize there’s more to it than just splitting a SE signal.

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The Grace SDAC Balanced just beats the DACMagic Plus on technicalities. Signature wise, the Cambridge unit is a bit smoother/warmer in its presentation (more laid back) the Grace is more incisive and dynamic. And in terms of sound, switching from one for another would be more of a side-grade than an upgrade (regardless of which direction you went in).

For more than that, you’ll have to wait for my review.

I’d wager they’re going to sell as many as they can make, regardless. But the 4490 is not a drop-in replacement for the 4452 and would have resulted in more changes … and takes a bit more work to get the best out of, so the price difference is likely to be larger than you’d think.

Per my comment above, I’ll have a proper review of it out shortly. Possibly today, depending on how my travel goes. Though I’ve not heard the Matrix Mini-I.

Most DAC chips have true differential output. You don’t need two to get balanced stereo output from the DAC IC or to do a fully balanced/differential DAC. There are rare exceptions, but this isn’t one of them.

The reasons you use more than one DAC chip are because a) in “mono” mode, many DAC chips can realize an improvement in dynamic range, noise and distortion and b) because you want even better stereo separation. It has nothing to do with being balanced.

If the output from the DAC IC all the way to the XLR connections is a +/- signal rather than a +/GND signal, then it’s true/fully-balanced/differential. There’s nothing more to it than that.

Dual-mono implementations do not mean balanced/differential, either for DACs or amplifiers.

Of course, while the DAC IC will generally have differential output capability built-in, you do need more parts than a single-ended implementation, since you will usually need to buffer that output, so you’ll need different/more op-amps or discrete parts in the buffer etc.

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