Quest for Inexpensive Balanced DACs

After testing the Loxjie P20 my interest on balanced DACs skyrocketed.

Let’s post unexpensive balanced DACs here…

  • $100 Behringer UltraMatch Pro (SRC2496). Chip: AKM4393. 90’s Pro equipment, Can be bought new in Europe for 100€. Specially pleasurable sound in Sample Rate Converter mode to 24/96 (upsampling). Look for it on Musician/Pro audio shops… (e.g. 99€ at Thomann)

While your built-in soundcard may have a coax or optical S/PDIF out, I’d get a USB to S/PDIF interface to connect the SRC2496 to a computer, which can be any single ended dac you already have.

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https://geshelli.com/enog2-pro a certain YouTube personality has been pushing this DAC it is balanced and under $200 US. But doesn’t have USB interface.

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Massdrop announced and took orders for their compact balanced DAC at $149 last year. I don’t know if it has shipped yet:

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SMSL SU-8 goes on sale between $200-250

I had the Topping DX7 previously and it’s between $350-500

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Several years ago I nearly went with this DAC in the link to match my LD MKVII+ but went with the Matrix Mini-i instead because it had dual AD1955 DAC chips for L&R channels. This LD DAC_1 had a single Wolfson WD8740 chip at the time (2012?).
I wished I had paired it with the LD MKVII+ (after hearing it at a friends house) as the WD8740 chip sounded just fine pushing both channels and seemed a better pairing with the warmer HD650s.

I think the link is still live and I know the seller was reliable and ships direct from China (which has it’s good and bad points). They might even still sell on/through eBay. Either way, it’s a great, relatively inexpensive DAC.
You might even be able to negotiate a deal, if they still sell them (and you buy direct).

https://m.shenzhenaudio.com/little-dot-dac-i-dac-1-digital-to-analog-converter-dac.html

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I have 3 DACs that are balanced and are all pretty cheap.

The SMSL SU-8, which seems to work well with the P20 and the Atom.

The Focusrite Scarlett which I have only used (it’s balanced outputs) for monitors but is a decent interface for a very reasonable price.

And finally the Behringer UMC204HD, a great interface for very cheap, although the balanced outputs of this one are a little low. I use it at home into JBL LSR305 and also into QSC CX302 via a BSS and there is no issue with that set up, however, I haven’t used it with a balanced headphone amp, I will put that on my “to do” list.

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A nice sounding balanced unit that doesn’t get much press is the “Ross Martin Audio” PCM1794A DAC. It’s a bit agricultural in it’s appearance, but is a nice listen:

There are better-sounding (to me) single-ended DACs for the same or less money (it was <$220 when I reviewed it), but if you need a balanced DAC it’s a relatively inexpensive option.

Another, slightly more expensive ($350), more feature-rich model is the Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus. Again, you can get better sound in a single-ended format for a lot less, but in this case I keep the unit in mind because it is, as far as I’m aware, the only way to buy a current-production DAC that uses the WM8740 converters (easily outperformed today, but something I have a soft spot for).

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For those with home studios, Audient id14 and id22 are good, not overly expensive alternatives, wrote my impression about the id22.

Have it set on the homestudio desktop, as I prefer less revealing, and darker sounding DACs for relaxed listening, otherwise I enter critical listening mode and just start pinpointing the flaws, ruining my experience in the process.

But for the studio, they’re great, typical Brit studio detailed, lively, slightly hot sound.

With overly dark cans so that the hotness is tamed (or with exquisite mastered material) can be a great match for relaxed listening too.

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Don’t insult the agriculture industry! They make rather stylish tractors these days, with A/C and stereos:

https://www.deere.com/sub-saharan/en/agriculture/

And DJI makes some incredible agricultural drones:

I’m sure Ross Martin is a great guy, but this product is a DIY prototype designed by someone with a negative sense of style.

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These babies aren’t prototypes. Used in mapping and agricultural crop monitoring.

https://www.trimble.com/gnss-inertial/unmanned.aspx

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Ouch… I’m sure the sound is great, but the webpage and design, including blurred pictures of the top of the line equipment a little sad for a company named “Lost Art”.

Have heard really good pro equipment using PCM1794. DDDAC evolved from NOS implementation with TDA1543 to PCM1794 NOS too.

Martin’s equipment looks exactly like custom equipment I used to build for studios/radio stations back in the day in late 80’s early 90’s including alu chassis and letter transfers, :smile: so it really hit home tho, don’t get me wrong.

He possibly doesn’t need a flashy website or cool designs though as possibly have lots of custom equipment customers already.

@Torq: I have a soft spot for WM8740 too! was my preferred prior to AKM4393.

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The first data I’ve seen for the balanced Topping D70 is up at ASR:

The charts look good but I’d like to hear some serious listening opinions.

It costs $500 so it’s “inexpensive” but not for the $300 thread.

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Looking at the numbers, I am guessing that Topping have implemented the 4497 exercising the option to provide its 5 different power-supplies discretely and have done so properly. This bodes well, as the other units I’ve heard that have done it this way are, essentially, the best chip-based DACs I’ve heard (which includes things like the $23,500 Linn Klimax DS/3 Katalyst … even if it does then use its own filters and oversampling).

Some of the low-cost (cheapest was about $300) 4497 based DACs I’ve piddled with (the only the name of which might be recognized here is the Loxjie D20, which was awful) have been audibly (and measurably) worse than typical $100 AK4490 “data sheet” models.

This is a shame, since the 4497 IC is 10x the price of a 4490 before - and is a waste if driven in single-supply mode, and without proper attention paid to the implementation of that supply, the 4490 is an easier chip to get close-to-spec performance out of.

While my Topping experiences to date could be classified as “technically competent, but un-involving” (which might have more to do with the CS4398 and ESS 9038 chipsets than anything specific to Topping themselves), the D70 is something I’m looking forward to hearing. That it appears to be a full-fat 4497 implementation, AND is balanced, for $500 … very intriguing.

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I was all set to hear it and buy it, and then Topping announced the DX7 Pro and I want to wait on that…has Topping not learned that early announcements kill sales?

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I was just looking at the Topping D70 and it looks almost identical to the DX7 pro…differences it seems are the chips… interesting… I like the look of the D70 and I’m a fan of the AKM chipsets but I’m no expert.

The ESS 9038 chip seems very capable plus it looks like the DX7pro will have a lot of versatility, but none of which I would personally take advantage of…but very compelling.

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Massdrop / Droop has the D70 for $425 now.

Hmmm… I do have an interest in hearing this but not enough to warrant buying it :laughing:

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I was hoping you’d buy it and then I could get it used from you after you moved on. :money_mouth_face:

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Lol, I’m on a sell off currently of gear, down to just the Audiogd 11.28 for $2XX and the Jotunheim for $2XX lol got rid of a bunch of headphones and amps…need to keep the rotation going and clear some room for my incoming Verite, Airist R-2R DAC, and some other headphones… I think I’ll be selling my Verum1 also as I don’t see myself using them…but I might hold off until I take them to a couple of meets for other people to hear them. @Torq and @antdroid heard them. I found them to be good, but not my preference.

And rambling over…bran has been on a ADHD tear lately…:crazy_face:

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