Guitar Sings as DSD DACs Shoot it Out

Flamenco guitarist Jason McGuire

If ever an audio event were in living color, it was the Bay Area Audiophile Society’s (BAAS) February 23 live / DSD event at Blue Coast Studios in Belmont, CA. Jointly hosted by Blue Coast Records founder Cookie Marenco, a long-time proponent of DSD who has engineered or produced five Grammy nominated records, and the dedicated president of BAAS, Bob Walters, the two-session event prefaced comparisons of four DSD-capable DACs at three different price points with intimate, live-to-DSD recording sessions with Flamenco guitarist Jason McGuire.

I happily sat in the sweet spot, just a few yards in front of McGuire, in the first session. He in turn was seated between the Sony AR1 loudspeakers used for playback. From this delicious vantage point, I could evaluate the four DACs with the sound of the “live reference” in my head.

McGuire is anything but a one-song artist. With over 30 years experience performing and teaching, he is a major exponent of Flamenco, and can easily move between different styles and improvise while remaining within the classical form.

At close range, McGuire’s playing was astounding. I often think of the acoustic guitar as a small-sounding instrument, but on its own, in a room that could not have held far more than 20 people, it was a mighty force. If I was struck by the depth of McGuire’s sound, and the length of its natural decay within the guitar’s resonant body, I was literally stunned by the contrast between the softness of his touch in more ruminative passages and the brutality of his rapid strums on multiple strings and alarming raps on the guitar’s body. I could feel the fire and passion in his playing, and imagine how vividly his renowned Flamenco dancer wife converts that fire into movement.

Jason McGuire and Cookie Marenco

At the same time, I wondered if any recording and sound system combo could together convey the in-your-face realism of this event without resorting to brittleness or squashing dynamics. The next time someone talks to me about system speed and slam, I’ll tell them to listen to a flamenco guitarist up close.

Marenco, who recorded McGuire’s performances in 128x DSD for imminent release on her site, had to adjust her mikes to compensate for the 20 extra bodies in the room. Comprising her recording chain were a Neumann U87 microphone (top) to a Millennia preamp, and two Neumann KM184s in stereo configuration (below) to Bybee Bullets to Neve preamps. These led to Ed Meitner AD/DAs and then to a Sonoma Recording System. Everything was wired with Marenco’s hand-made cabling, sourced from Jean Marie Reynaud silver/copper alloy cable.

DAC Shootout
After McGuire came the DAC shootout. Playing files on a PC Laptop using JRiver Media v18 feeding the Sony speakers via a Pass Labs X-600 amplifier, HiDiamond Reference USB cable supplied by Worldwide Wholesales, Marenco’s custom cabling, generic power cables, and a Meitner speaker switcher, we compared the sound of four units:

Teac UD-501 DSD 5.6MHz / PCM 384 dual mono DAC ($850)
Mytek Stereo192-DSD USB/FW DAC ($1,595)
Benchmark DAC2 HGC ($1,995)
Playback Designs MPD-5 DSD 6.1 / PCM 384 DAC ($13,000)
All cabling and connections were identical, and equipment supports, vibration isolation devices, and other essential components equally non-existent. Room treatment was courtesy of Marenco’s garden. What was not equal were the playback levels. This was an all-volunteer effort, and there simply wasn’t enough time during set-up to calibrate everything. As if calibration were easy, given the dynamic nature of some of the tracks, and the varying abilities of the DACs to convey those dynamics.

from top to bottom then left to right: Teac UD-501, Playback Designs MPD-5, Benchmark DAC2, Mytek Stereo 192-DSD DAC

Note as well that no attempt was made to set filters, upsampling, or other such variables on these units. Many of these DACs might have performed quite differently had time been available to adjust settings and tune them to the playback chain and situation.

Walters came prepared with files of six tracks, in resolutions ranging from redbook CD up to 24/384 and 64x/128x DSD. Our announced goals were to determine if the DSD tracks sounded different, let alone superior, and what equipment was necessary to extract the best from the format. In actuality, the session revealed which DACs were most capable of extracting the most information from any format.

After auditioning virtually all the files on the Teac – this took a long time, given that we were attempting to sink into the music rather than resorting to evaluating short sound-bites disguised as music – we trimmed the playlist. By the time we had finished with the Mytek, we had pared our selections down to Marcia Seebaran singing Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” on a free track from Audio Jazz Prologue III, Jane Selkye singing “Slow Day” from the Blue Coast Records Collection, the first seven minutes of the first movement of Mahler Symphony No. 2 (Budapest/Fischer) on Channel Classics; and brilliant jazz pianist Vijay Iyer’s solo, “Human Nature,” from Solo on ACT, which Marenco recorded.

Cut to the chase. Without regurgitating all my copious notes on each track in each format, it is fair to tell you this. To my ears, the Teac UD-501, which seems to be optimized for DSD, sounded absolutely flat and lifeless on 16/44, and first began to transmit the body, substance, and presence of music on 24/384. DSD was another story, producing tighter bass, a more clearly defined leading edge, and more natural bite on the sound of horns, guitar, and piano. I would not be surprised if this DAC performs far better on all formats when its filters and settings are optimized.

Bob Walters of BAAS standing and peaking in on the left is Patrick O'Connor of Blue Coast Studios

Listening to the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC with DSD files of the Mahler 2, it was immediately apparent that the unit yielded richer bass, greater detail, and more hall sound. I know this track very well – I’ve been carrying the hybrid SACD room-to-room at shows for years as I’ve blogged for Stereophile – and still failed to hear much of the bottom line produced by basses and the lowest pitched percussion. But the DAC was very good. When listening to Vijay Iyer in 24/96 rather than DSD, I still heard for the first time some of the piano’s bell-like tone that was absent from the Teac’s presentation. This was also the first time that I liked jazz vocalist Marcia Seebaran, who had sounded very second rate on the Teac. An outlay of $750 more, IMHO, yields far more musical information, at least when the settings on all four DACs are in default mode.

The Benchmark DAC2 HGC was a mind-blower. Although questions remain as to whether some of its perceived superiority was due to a treble boost that some found worrisome, it produced, on all tracks we auditioned, richer bass, a much bigger soundstage, and greater height.

In DSD, Seebaran sounded more intimate and immediate than ever before. I could hear, for the first time, the reverberation surrounding her voice. I could also appreciate, for the first time, her voice’s warmth, sweetness, and expressive power. She emerged, at last, as an artist whose impact, in part, depends upon subtle variations in volume and nuance that lesser DACs cannot convey.

The Mahler 2, as well, was a revelation on the Benchmark. In DSD, it completely left the speakers behind, with an expansive soundstage that dwarfed them in every respect.

After we rebooted to deal with the Playback Design MPD-5’s proprietary interface, I discovered that the Mahler in DSD was set even farther back behind the speakers. It sounded smoother, with noticeably greater dynamics and a firmer, far more audible, and richer-sounding bottom bass line. The timbre of brass also sounded far more natural than with the other DACs. This superiority also extended to the bass accompanying Seebaran. With all selections, the additional natural warmth and greater body of instruments and voice, increased color saturation, organic (as opposed to hyped) leading edge of sounds, and the better integration of the leading edge with the body and undertones of the sonic envelope produced the most musical presentations of the session short of McGuire’s stunning performance.

At the end, we briefly returned to the Teac. I felt as if a piece of cardboard had been placed between the loudspeakers and me. That’s how much smaller, diminished, and damped everything felt with the TEAC set to default mode.

I should note that, in the second session, Walters began with the Playback Designs DAC and went down the chain. He also unintentionally tested people’s sonic memories by playing longer selections. I wasn’t present, but it seems that opinions varied widely as to which of the three top DACs sounded the best.

The second session also had six women in attendance (plus Marenco). Comprising about 30% of the attendees, this was a new record for BAAS. Their reaction to the extended DAC comparisons was, in the paraphrased words of one attendee who generated nods from her fellow females, “Why don’t you guys just listen to the music? It’s great.” My husband would have nodded along with them, if he hadn’t just plain nodded off out of boredom.

At session’s end, someone called for a blind listening test. Half the people present said it would be a waste of time, but Walters proceeded. Of the 10 who stuck with it, the only person to correctly guess the identity of the four DACs was seated in the worst listening position. Which goes to prove that roses are red and violets are blue, but in a blind world, nothing is true.

Bob Walters's picture

"...roses are red and violets are blue, but in a blind world, nothing is true."

Lovely. Mine:

"...but the OEM cables will surely thwart you."


valenroy's picture

Glad to see that a blind test did happen without bias! Interesting to note that the 850USD TEAC, amongst its group of revered peers, cannot easily be differentiated from the rest! Such blind tests do indeed raise the question of subjectivity and how much we should really read into equipment reviews. I happen to own the TEAC for a couple of months now and the ideal DSD filter (out of four) is a chore to decide on (personal favorite - filter 3)... Can't wait to hear your impressions on that piece.

SteveCortez's picture

Sounds like a fun gig!


> Walters came prepared with files of six tracks, in resolutions ranging

> from redbook CD up to 24/384 and 64x/128x DSD.


Question though; how did you guys playback 24/384 and 128xDSD? PC with JRiver and over USB? Did it require special drivers to playback such rates? And which of the DACs actually supported either or both 24/384 and 128xDSD?



Michael Lavorgna's picture

...I can say that the Mytek, Teac, and Playback Designs can all handle 128x DSD and the Teac and Playback Designs can handle 24/384 playback. This does require drivers for Windows. 

cookiemarenco's picture


Wonderful article, Jason!  It was a very successful event.

We'll be mixing the Jason McGuire guitar recordings today and posting in the next few days.  We expect them to be live by March 1, 2013.  Check this link for availability.

A special treat for readers of this article.  We'll have at least one free download of J McGuire's performances in all formats available at  There will also be a 50% rebate on the purchase of the complete set until March 31. 

Forward your paypal invoice to with the words "Audiostream" and we'll apply the rebate shortly.

Let's do this soon, again!


Cookie Marenco
Blue Coast Records

cookiemarenco's picture

All Jason McGuire performances from Session 1 and Session 2 are available for download at

We're offering a 50% special rebate to Audiostream readers if you forward your purchase receipt and type the words "Audiostream" to  It's a manual process, so give us 24 hours to respond.  

If you'd like to hear the dry mixes, we'll send those along free after purchasing the session if you write "send the dry mixes, too".  Both rebate and dry mixes are not available after April 1, 2013.   Happy to answer questions about the recording and mix differences.

We have the a download version of Bulerias from the Second session at

Thanks and enjoy!

Cookie Marenco

Blue Coast Records

eweitzman's picture

I attended the first session. I couldn't draw any conclusions about the relative sound quality of the DACs, though they were all free of any obvious problems and the recording engineers did a magnificent job capturing Jason "El Rubio" McGuire's performance.

First, the playback level differences between the DACs and source material was not compensated for. Bob announced this, we accepted it, and we started listening. The level was adjusted by Bob when folks thought it sounded too loud or too soft. The playback level slowly increased through the session. Obviously, this led folks to hear more of the sound as the session progressed. But were their perceptions and conclusions due to the increase in $$$ or the increase in SPL?

Second, the mastered levels of the DSD and PCM versions of recordings released by a studio will often differ for two reasons:

1. DSD is reputed to be capable of a much higher rise time than PCM, so the average levels must be kept lower to allow the peaks to remain unclipped. That is, higher crest factors are possible, requiring lower average levels.

2. Within any given component, there may be differences in output level from the DSD DAC and analog electronics and the PCM DAC and its analog electronics. Cookie mentioned to me some measurements they made on the Benchmark and the Mytek when they heard unexpected level differences. (These measurements were unrelated to our listening session.)

Finally, I discovered at the end that the media playback software (J River Media Center) had been (mis)configured to downsample PCM above 24/96 to 24/96. Neither Bob, the engineer assisting him nor I could figure out how or when the settings were changed: they had set the program to pass data straight through at first. The player crashed numerous times, possibly upsetting the settings. (We were using version 18 beta on J River's bleeding edge update channel, so let's not rag on them for this.) Bob remarked several times when he was playing a 24/192 file that the DAC was showing 24/96. After the settings were trashed (ie, set to downsample, perhaps before we even heard the first song) those who heard differences between 24/96, 24/192, and 24/384 tracks were hearing variations from the downsampling algorithms used by the mastering studio to create the 24/96 versions and the downsampling done by Media Center from the higher bitrates.

In summary,

  • hardware playback levels were not matched
  • differences in mastering levels between DSD and PCM were not compensated for
  • J River downsampled the higher rate PCM files some of the time

If you are as convinced as I am that playback level affects our perception of sound quality, then you know that is was not possible to draw any conclusions about the sound quality of these DACs or differences due to digital formats. The very subtle psychoacoustic cues that make the types of sound quality differences we audiophiles listen for lie at the limits of our perception and without level matching, they can get lost.

On a subjective note, during the first audition of the recording of Jason's performance, the bass energy in the room was nothing like when he played live. As soon as we switched to another DAC, the room became alive with the lower mids and bass from his guitar. After switching back to the first DAC -- and turning up the volume !!! -- there was no longer a difference that I could hear. Likewise, the first time that we heard the Mahler movements, the orchestras had no scale or weight. As we progressed to the other DACs, we heard more of the illusion of being in the presence of an orchestra. I'd estimate there was an SPL range of at least 5dB between DACs and files at times.

It was fascinating to hear a live performance, listen to it in the control room while it was being recorded, and then listen to the recording later in the same room. This is a fantastic room for listening. This was not intended to be a level matched blind evaluation and I don't fault anyone for how it was conducted. I had a great time and thank everybody for the fun experience.

- Eric

PS - I hope the blind test at the end of the second session was done with matched levels.

PPS - Here are the output levels of the DACs published by the manufacturers. You can see the variation in output levels possible and some of the features that I could find relating to output level adjustment. You cannot tell from these specs if a particular DAC plays DSD or PCM louder, or whether the DSD and PCM files we listened to were mastered at different levels either.

Teac UD-501: max/XLR 4Vrms/RCA 2Vrms

Mytek 192-DSD: max default/XLR +4dbU 1.228Vrms
trim via menu 0 to -18dBFS, 0 to -6db via internal gain pads

Benchmark DAC2 HGC:
fixed output XLR max (selected by shunts)/+23dBu +13dBu +3dBu/
fixed output unbalanced/+7.5dBu,1.77Vrms

Playback Designs MPD-5: max/XLR 4Vrms/RCA 2Vrms

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I wish a video camera had been pointed at me to capture the steam that was rising from my head as I read this. Yes, this was hardly a perfect or scientifically acceptable test of DAC capabilities.

Other than to say that I'm glad you had a great time (as I did) at this BAAS session, I would note that the recording of Jason McGuire that was played back in the first session was not mixed by Cookie Marenco, and did not reflect her choice of how to balance the upper Neumann with the lower Neumanns. In fact, when Bob Walters began to play the track toward the end of the first session, her immediate reaction was something like, "Who mixed that?" This is why I did not even mention it in the above report. What she is now offering for download is far more representative of her work.

Bob could not really judge volume levels, given his position beside the loudspeakers. Seated as I was in the sweet spot, and familiar as I was with the Mahler track, I attempted to give him cues as to whether the volume needed to be up or down. I'm pretty familiar with the difference that 5 dB makes, and I doubt there was such a discrepancy, at least as regards a base level, before dynamic swells that each DAC treated differently in different formats. And without wishing to debate the veracity of the statement, "The very subtle psychoacoustic cues that make the types of sound quality differences we audiophiles listen for lie at the limits of our perception," the differences I report above were not, to my ears, subtle. But, then again, we all listen with different ears, and put different values on the differences that we perceive. 

Although I was not involved in the planning or execution of this event, I know that everyone did the best they could. Bob and Cookie gave generously of their time, without compensation. Think of the amount of work involved in simply rounding up the DACs. And Jason McGuire's playing was wonderful. 

eweitzman's picture

> I wish a video camera had been pointed at me to capture the steam
> that was rising from my head as I read this.

Given the steam and your defense of Cookie, Jason, it seems you interpreted something I said as derogatory about the recording or mastering. I didn't, so please reread.

Jason McGuire's recording sounded good to me, accounting for the fact that whoever produced it didn't have a chance to listen to the results outside of the control room. Of course there were balance issues, but like you, I felt it wasn't worth mentioning as it was really only a first draft.

Who mixed it? Good question. It was Fletcher and Munson who remastered the recording as it went from DAC to DAC at different SPLs.

> the differences I report above were not, to my ears, subtle.

Of course not, and I don't question what you heard, Jason, but question the cause of what you heard. I think we should leave it at that, unless we want to get into a discussion of how our ears' very limited window of sensitivity adjusts to match the loudest sounds we hear, and how our perception of the lows and highs change with overall level.

Lest I be tarred as unappreciative, or for having expected Bob et al to have done more work beforehand -- and I don't -- here's what I wrote in my first post

> the playback level differences ... [were] not compensated for.
> Bob announced this, we accepted it, and we started listening.


> This was not intended to be a level matched blind evaluation
> and I don't fault anyone for how it was conducted.

- Eric

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Hi Eric,

My fault for being so in the moment that I didn't clarify what the "steam" refers to. It's not over you, your statements, or the fact that you've taken the time to post your long critique. Not at all. It's over the event's missed opportunities.

To be honest, had I known in advance that mismatched levels and lack of feature and filter engaging were awaiting us, I might not have proposed this event for coverage. (I say "might" because I don't know what I would have done.) Be that as it may, I did, I went, I covered, but I'm not sure anyone conquered. And there you have it.

Bob Walters's picture

Great discussion. Here's my take on several of the points:

1. Unfortunately, there were two configuration errors. First, the TEAC was set to NON-OVERSAMPLING, no digital filter, and DSD filter #2. I prefer the over-sampling ON, GENTLE DF, and DSD DF #4. The effect of the DSD setting was probably low-to-moderate, but the PCM filtering was just wrong. At my home, the TEAC sounds quite good with my Goldmund electronics and Quad 2905's.

2. Second, the Jriver config went off-the-tracks during recovery from one of its crashes. This would have affected the second half of the first session (only). We were playing mainly DSD by then, and mainly on the DAC2 and PBD boxes. But some observations were affected. (I later figured out what was making JR crash, and the issue went away.)

3. As ML suggested, the TEAC and the PBD were the only units capable of 24/384.

4. The "level adjustment" laxity was driven solely by time. Studio time is expensive. So is mine. It was just impossible given the huge test matrix. Bummer, b/c this is important.

5. I thought that the blind testing was one of the more interesting parts of the day. I thank those 10 brave souls for remaining for it. The test was far too small in scope to draw any statistical inferences, but one of the four trials was 44K vs DSD. Still no joy with the ID.

6. See posts #6 and #7 on this BAAS forums thread for my random musings on the gig, including a bit more detail on the blind testing.


valenroy's picture

I personally own both the Mytek and TEAC and initially when I listened to the various DSD filter options of the TEAC, I thought that there were significant differences between the four of them until I come to realise that each individual DSD filter has different gain levels! Take a look at the graphs of the 4 filters (BurrBown PCM1795 DAC):-

The difference in volume levels across the 4 different DSD filters is in a range of 6.9dBs! A straight-forward assessment of the various filters on the TEAC may not be as easy as it seems. So in my scenario, my initial preference of the respective filters was greatly influenced by the volume levels and not the frequency cut-off variable! And as for PCM, the option to turn off the digital filter completely is also very interesting as there are not a lot of DACs out there that lets you do that - usually they restrict you to gentle or steep roll-off response filters - I wonder what are the advantages (if any at all!) of turning off the PCM digital filter completely in the first place as I would think that for 16/44.1 material, it will be detrimental to the sound!

There is a healthy (maybe it can be too long) discussion of the Mytek and TEAC at Thank you guys for the interesting article though!




eweitzman's picture

I'm looking at the graphs on pages 15 and 16 of the data sheet for the PCM1795 dac chip. At 20kHz, none of the filters has more than 0.5dB rolloff. But looking at the response at 50kHz where it's easier to pick out the numbers, the filters roll off from about -0.2dB to -1.0dB. More worrying is how they all produce some rolloff over the entire band pass, but different amounts. I am strongly of the belief that, with good speakers, you will hear many audible effects switching from a flat frequency response to a response that gradually drops over the audible band to reach 0.5dB at 20kHz. That's a half db level difference at the upper end.

The chip can be configured to use external filters so TEAC might be doing something else off chip, producing an even greater level difference when you switch filters.

The block diagram on page 6 may be revealing on another point that came up on Saturday. There's an oversampling filter between the audio data input (PCM and DSD) and the actual dac conversion blocks. This leads me to think the chip converts DSD into PCM internally, and then passes the now-PCM ex-DSD through the same oversampling filter and then the same "dacs" that PCM originating outside goes through. I don't see anything else about this in the data sheet. If correct, I wouldn't call this a native DSD dac, even though it accepts DSD signals on its input pins. BTW, this is how universal players have been handling the multiple format problem for a long time.

I have a cheap circa 2002 Sony SACD player that does the opposite. It converts redbook into DSD using a dedicated DSP chip, and then the now-DSD ex-PCM data goes through Sony's DSD dac chips.

- Eric

Michael Lavorgna's picture

From the UD-501 HighRes/DSD Audio Player Manual (page 2):

"A combination of the UD-501 and a Windows PC supports DSD Native playback, processing DSD data into analog audio signal directly, without prior PCM conversion. Both ASIO 2.1 and DoP (DSD over PCM) modes, as well as both 5.6MHz and 2.8MHz DSD files are also supported with this configuration."

labjr's picture

Hi Valenroy,

Speaking of comparisions, There's another article by Jason on the Stereophile site regarding a demo of the new Luxman DAC where both Jason and Philip O'Hanlon state that there's a noticeable difference between DSD master files and ones that are ripped from SACD. I'm wondering if you've done a similar comparison?

valenroy's picture

Hi labjr,

I have read that article as well but unfortunately I do not have that much DSD material that is available as both a direct-download and a SACD-rip. The only title I have now is Cookie's Blue Coast Collection 1 and I have yet to set out on this comparison. You have just piqued my curiousity! 

On another note, DSD128 downloads is beginning to take shape as Opus 3 Records just started to offer their master-tape to DSD transfer on At the moment, they have a sampler that is offered in both DSD64 and DSD128 flavours. Downloaded the DSD128 version at US$12.99 a pop and it sounds fabulous by the way... it's going to give Cookie a run for her money... hahaha!

labjr's picture

Thanks for your reply. Just when you think you've got everything figured out, you read something like that. Logically it makes no sense, but I suppose there's an explanation.

I'm gonna check out the DSD128 stuff. Will be interesting when there's a DAC which supports DSD256.

valenroy's picture

Just when you are talking about DSD256, Merging Technologies with their HORUS/Pyramix DAW that supports multichannel Quad Rate DSD recording/editing in its native resolution and mixing in DXD:-

The future is looking very bright for DSD indeed...

labjr's picture

Thanks for the link. I had read about the Horus a while back. Not sure when inexpensive DACs will have quad rate DSD, but they probably will at some point when they run out of new features to sell.

valenroy's picture

exasound really outdid themselves this time, the e20 mkII with quad rate dsd support - CAD$2,499, but I highly doubt any of such material will be released anytime soon as the 4xDSD mastering/recording platform is not even in its infant stages at the moment, I would see this more of a possible platform for software DSD upsampling instead, as what hqplayer and foobar has been offering at the moment for upsampling PCM to 2xDSD:-

cookiemarenco's picture

Good news!  Another label to help educate music lovers how to play DSD!  ;)  


valenroy's picture

Righto Cookie! And when might you be offering the DSD128 variants of your recordings?! Double-rate DSD sounds amazing!

Opus3 DSD Showcase 2 is just out by the way...

cookiemarenco's picture

Good question.  We've been experimenting with mix down to DSD but are not satisfied with the results just yet.  It's been a big job delivering DSD 64 through the internet.  We may offer a few "on disc" DSD 128, if demand warrants.  

We're looking forward to recording to DSD 128 in multi-track. Thanks for asking.

valenroy's picture

Hi Cookie,

Glad to hear that you are open to the idea of delivering DSD128 to the masses and I wouldn't think that anyone who enjoys great DSD recordings would say otherwise! Very much looking forward to see what your studio have to offer!

cookiemarenco's picture

Admittedly, I was elsewhere for much of the DSD comparison listening.  Bob and I had a chance to do our own listening the day before during setup.  Under controlled conditions, what was trying to be accomplished in the Sessions could have easily been several days of work.  It was an ambitious day to say the least. 

As flawed as the tests were, I don't feel it was a waste of time for the guests.  It was clear to most guests that there were differences in PCM and DSD, as well as the wide variety of how the DACs performed.  Raising questions and peaking curiosity to attempt the tests again was encouraging news to the future of DSD.  I was glad so many people were engaged to that level.

Typically, when we're doing listening tests in the studio (blindfolded) we will relisten to the same music dozens of times flipping back and forth for matching dynamics and characteristic changes.  Generally, only one or two short samples of music listening over multiples of playback systems (control room, other rooms, headphones).  I'm not sure some people would have tolerated my method for clinical listening.  Those that might can contact me directly and perhaps we can do this again.

Most interesting to me was that between DACs there were huge differences, in my opinion, regardless of volume issues.  Especially between the Mytek and Benchmark.  The purchase of any DAC should be dependent on how one likes to hear their music over their home system. 

My challenge is to record and mix so that our music sounds great on any system regardless of the listening chain...  even Dr Dre Beats headphones.  :)

Cookie Marenco
Blue Coas Records


jon iverson's picture

From my own experience reviewing various DACs, it cannot be overstated how important it is to match levels. Each time a new DAC shows up and sounds exciting, we pull out the SPL meters and test equipment to find out how it matches.

Each and every time a DAC makes an unusually good first impression, it has turned out that the levels are hotter by 1-2dB. Sometimes more. Once levels are critically matched, the DACs again become much more difficult to tell apart without further careful listening.

And there is the issue of how you properly level match DACs . . .

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

As Cleopatra said (in the body of Elisabeth Taylor), "Bring me my asp!"

labjr's picture

JA is pretty good at setting up unbiased comparisons. At least it seems that way when I read the articles. That's the reason I subscribe to Stereophile magazine. That and the the test results.   

anomaly7's picture

I attended the first listening session.

I love seeing Cookie and going to her OTR studio.

I love hearing Jason McGuire playing live, or on my stereo. 

I had come with the intention to either decide, by the events conclusion, upon the Mytek or the TEAC for purchase. I came away unable to decide based upon what I heard. I loved that Bob and Cookie hosted this event, but without the matched levels I was unable to hear, in a way that swayed me significantly enough, which DAC had the best performance for the money. My initial impression was that the DAC's improved as their list price went up, and though my budget didn't let me include the Playback, it did let me include the Benchmark, now throwing a third DAC into the mix of those I was trying to choose from. But a brief increase in the volume while listening to the TEAC at the end of the morning session made me reconsider what I'd been hearing. True, I also changed listening locations during the event, and that changed how I perceived the sound quality. But as already stated in a couple of posts above, what really changed the sound most significantly, for me, was the change in SPL's.

Something I haven't read here is the fact that you can get all 3 of the lower priced DAC's on a 30 day trial. I might have to do that.