The Totaldac d1-monobloc DAC with DSD and server

Device Type: Digital to Analog Converter
Digital Inputs: Asynchronous USB Audio Class 2.0: Up to 24bit, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192 kHz, DSD 64. RCA and AES Digital Inputs Up to 24bit, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192 kHz and DSD 64. Optical 24 bit 96K, Server Input: USB Flash Drive, USB Drive, NAS USB Drive through Router
Output: XLR Balanced for each monobloc
Dimensions (H x W x D): for the Right and Left Channel monobloc DACs: 4 inches X 14 inches X 11.75 inches
Weight: 13.86 pounds of each monobloc

D1-Digital reclocker with server (H x W x D): 4 inches X 14 inches X 11.75 inches
Weight: 7.48 pounds

Power Supply Units for each monobloc and reclocker / server (H x W x D): 2.5 inches X 4.875 inches X 7.125 inches
Weight: 2 pounds

Price: 23600 EUR (Approximately $32,325.00) These prices do not include the EU VAT tax.

The Totaldac USB Cable / Filter: 1 Meter is 330 EUR (Approximately $452.00)

Availability: Direct Sales
Site: www.totaldac.com

Michael Lavorgna did an in-depth job reviewing Vincent Brient’s Totaldac d1-dual DAC (see review) and his Totaldac d1-server (see review) for AudioStream last September and December. Michael not only found the Totaldac d1-dual DAC to be one of the finest DACs he has experienced, but was very impressed with the clarity and abundant musical qualities of this DAC.

Vincent recently added native DSD capability to his Totaldac line; something that Michael’s reviews were unable to evaluate. Being a good guy, Michael generously asked if yours truly would like to review a Totaldac d1-dual DAC with DSD. Given Michael’s enthusiastic accolades for this product, I eagerly jumped at the chance to hear this French made DAC.

My real surprise came when Vincent offered me the chance to review his elaborate and expensive flagship product, the Totaldac d1-monobloc with DSD and server. I cleared two large shelves of other products on my rack and eagerly waited for the arrival of the Totaldac d1-monobloc with d1-server from Europe.

Three large packages eventually arrived totaling over 80 pounds. There is a Right and Left monobloc DAC that are controlled by a third unit; the Reclocker / Server. Each DAC and the reclocker / server has their own power supplies. Connecting this equipment together is not very difficult given the excellent instructions provided by Vincent. The power supplies must be powered from the same power strip allowing all three units to be powered on at the same time. Failing to do this will result in only one channel working. This was the error I made when initially connecting the system together. The Totaldac d1-monobloc offers only balanced outputs from each monobloc unit. Totaldac offers a pair of XLR to RCA adapters for single end use. The cost is 600 EUR (approximately $822.00).

My initial listening was done with the USB input using the Totaldac USB cable / filter. This USB cable provides a shielded aluminum box with high performance filters that reduce digital noise from the computer or server. As Michael found with the Totaldac d1-dual DAC, the Totaldac USB cable sounded better to me than the Light Harmonic LightSpeed or the JCAT USB Cable. The LightSpeed sounded a little bright and thin compared to the Totaldac cable. The JCAT was not as detailed or large in terms of soundstage. I would highly recommend that anyone considering purchase of the Totaldac d1-monobloc consider the Totaldac USB cable / filter.

Most of my listening with the Totaldac USB cable / filter was with Windows 8.1 Pro 64 using JRiver Media Center 19 alone and with JPlay 5.2. I also listened to OSX Mavericks with Audirvana Plus and Pure Music; both run in integer mode. The Totaldac d1-monobloc worked very well playing PCM and DSD files with Windows 8.1 and Mavericks.

The Design
The Totaldac d1-monobloc has 4 R2R DAC Modules per channel. The doubled DAC modules are associated in parallel. The Reclocker synchronizes the monoblocs with a common clock. The reclocker driving the pair of DAC monoblocs is a special version equipped with 2 AES-EBU outputs. Totaldac supplies the necessary cables for connection to the monoblocs.

I asked Vincent what lead him to develop this elaborate DAC design with its superior noise, channel intermodulation, output impedance, and jitter improvements compared to the already excellent d1-dual DAC as well as some additional questions:

“I made this design because I did it before for multiway active crossovers (with 4 stereo balanced channels needed), so it was easy to try it for monoblocs. A very demanding customer (thanks to him!) asked me to do that for him more than one year ago. He was surprised like me by the sound quality improvement he got.”
MSB Technology builds their R2R DAC modules. I have been told by others in the industry that the manufacturing costs are extremely high for these modules. Do you build your own R2R DACs or are they built for you in Europe?
“Yes the cost is very high. I build them myself from Vishay foil VAR resistors only (even for my entry level DACs), the very best resistor brand, by far.”
The TotalDAC D1-Monobloc / Server has a volume control that is adjusted by a remote control with an OLED display. What makes your digital volume control different or superior to other manufacturer’s digital volume controls?
“The algorithm for the volume control is very specific, 100% custom made in the Totaldac FPGA with 69 bit resolution and the noise level of the analog output is very low. These are the key points to of this high quality volume control.”
Vincent prefers the sound of a non-oversampling DAC. He uses a short FIR filter for the high frequencies only. The frequency response at 48 kHz is flat to 20 kHz when the FIR filter is used.

Other features of the Totaldac d1-monobloc / server are:

  • Phase Polarity selected by the remote control.
  • An FIR filter is used that can be turned off. When “on” is selected, the non-oversampling treble loss is compensated to get a flat frequency response. When “off”, the DAC is a pure non-oversampling DAC with some treble attenuation.
  • All unused inputs are completely disconnected (including the ground) to keep the optimum noise floor even when several sources are connected.
  • Class A discrete transistor output stages.
  • All voltage regulators for the audio parts are made with discrete circuits to minimize the power supply noise floor.
  • The case is aluminum with the option of a Silver front panel. A PMMA (Polymethyl methacrylate) enclosure with a massive pure copper anti vibration plate.
  • The XMOS Asynchronous USB input has several stages of magnetic isolation and reclockings.
  • A remote control that allows one to control volume, phase, filter on/off, display on/off, inputs, and Ground (Earth) connection.
Other DACs on hand for comparison
I used the MSB Technology Analog DAC with Analog Power Base as well as the Wavelength Audio Crimson Silver Denominator DAC.

The Totaldac Volume Control
I listened to the Totaldac d1-monoblock with a balanced connection to my Ayre MX-R mono amps as well as going through the Ayre KX-R.

Something Special
As I listed to PCM files played with the Totaldac d1-monobloc, I realized that I was hearing something that I haven’t heard in other DACs I have previously experienced. The d1-monobloc’s presentation is that of a full body or weight to the sound that appears to be very similar to what one hears when listening to an exceptional vinyl system. There is no thinness, solid state glare, or digital artifacts to the sound. A natural bloom is observed with a well recorded title that is really quite special and wonderful to experience. Switching back to other fine DACs resulted in a loss of the great body and solidity that I was hearing with the d1-monobloc. I suspect that high-end vinyl aficionados will find this DAC to be a revelation in terms of digital reproduction. Their preconceived notions of the failure of digital playback to live up to the performance of analog reproduction will fall be the wayside.

The d1-monobloc renders musical detail in an unusual manner compared to most other fine DACs. The reproduction of inner detail and resolution of transient detail flows naturally as in live music. There is no highly detailed electronic quality to the sound or emphasis at the high end. But yet, there is an immediacy and palpability to the sound from the d1-monbloc that results in a delicate and highly nuanced presentation. I believe that the low noise characteristics of the d1-monboloc contribute to these qualities. The d1-monobloc is, by far, the quietest DAC I have ever heard. I have spoken of DACs with exceptional black backgrounds, but the d1-monobloc goes beyond that. It allows transient detail to emerge from a black-velvet background with stunning reproduction of micro dynamic detail.

The d1-monobloc is outstanding in its bass reproduction. The bass is well controlled with weight and definition. This DAC can deliver quite a visceral punch or really move the walls in the room when called on to do so. Weight and slam are delivered from the d1-monobloc when called upon to do so with an obvious visceral grip of the bass. This DAC deserves speakers that are fast and dynamic to fully experience the d1-monobloc’s capabilities.

Speaking of special musical qualities, the D1-monobloc is capable of presenting a magnificent soundstage with monstrous width, depth and height. Listening to well recorded classical music titles allows one to hear a tube-like bloom and dimensionality with wonderful air and resolution of the instruments in the recording’s ambient space. There is no exaggeration of imaging or excessive presence or highlighting within this soundstage. The presentation just seems relaxed and natural.

Studio recordings were equally satisfying with the d1-monobloc. Listening to Claire Martin’s Too Darn Hot! 24/96 (Linn Records) was a totally enjoyable experience. Claire’s voice and the instrumental accompaniment emerged from an ultra-quiet background with a harmonically rich performance. The tonal naturalness of the d1-monobloc was musically engaging and very pleasing. This is one DAC one can listen to for hours at a time without listening fatigue.

DSD Reproduction
I asked Vincent to comment on his approach to native DSD playback:

“The DSD uses the R2R ladder. So the same components as for PCM are used. There is no special path and no lossy switch to choose the path. The volume control is also still available in DSD. So the Totaldac plays PCM 192/24 and DSD both with the same quality.”
I have to agree with Vincent that the Totaldac d1-monobloc was equally good with DSD file playback as it was handling PCM files. DSD playback through the d1-monobloc was truly exceptional! The same qualities that I observed with PCM file playback were heard with DSD files.

Blue Coast Records recently released the DSD files for Michael Tilson Thomas / San Francisco Symphony‘s recording of Mahler’s 3rd Symphony. This recording was originally recorded to DSD using the Sonoma Systems recorder. Blue Coast stated that they were able to obtain the original master from that recording with the files prepped in the Blue Coast studio. The exceptional dynamic qualities of this recording were a good test for the d1-monbloc. The d1-monobloc’s outstanding low noise qualities allowed the very quiet orchestral passages to surface with a wonderful delicacy in tone and texture. The soundstage was richly layered with subtle nuances emerging with purity and liquidity. The DSD files of this recording played back through the d1-monobloc were far superior to my 88.2/24 copy of this recording.

The pleasing midrange qualities that DSD recordings often offer were well displayed by the Totaldac. I downloaded and listened to Elvis Presley Stereo ’57 (Essential Elvis Volume 2), DSD files from Acoustic Sounds. This set contains 20 tracks that were simultaneously recorded in 15 ips mono and on an Ampex two-track recorder in stereo. The stereo tracks were backups that were supposed to be erased. Fortunately for us, they were preserved and mastered at Sterling Sound from the original master tapes. Listening to these tracks with the Totaldac in DSD resulted in some of the best Elvis I have yet experienced. The d1-monobloc was able to reproduce the musical event from the January 1957 sessions with a sound that was incredibly real with a strong degree of “you are there” quality.

The Server
Vincent supplied me a version of the d1-monobloc with his Server built into the Reclocker unit. Michael Lavorgna did a great job describing his experiences with the Totaldac d1-server using his Synology NAS storage for his musical files. The Totaldac d1-server allows one to not only use NAS storage, but there is a direct USB connection available for a USB drive or USB flash drive formatted as FAT32, or NFTS, or the Linux files system. I decided to take a different approach from Michael for this evaluation using a USB flash drive loaded with several titles for my listening evaluation. One does not need an internet connection for the server to operate as it can be controlled by an iPad App called MPaD that can be purchased from the App Store for $2.99. I used an older Apple AirPort Extreme router since my main router was 60 feet from the server. A network connection is made to the router from the server. The Totaldac USB cable / filter was used to connect the USB input of the reclocker / server to the other USB embedded computer port. After loading the iPad app, I restarted everything with my power strip. The MPaD app recognized the Totaldac server and I imported my library data from the flash drive to the iPad. The MPaD app worked well allowing me to select different files remotely.

The Totaldac sever utilizes an 800 MHz ARM based Cubox minicomputer. Vincent decided to use this for his server as it is a tiny low consumption computer that generates much less electromagnetic pollution than a normal sized computer. This minicomputer is completely shielded. Its Linux OS and MPD software are located on a microDS card accessed on the back of the unit. Future updates are easy to implement. The only software the user interfaces with is on the remote iPad app.

I asked Vincent why he felt his Server was superior sounding to a traditional computer transport:

“The hardware is very light with low EMI and low consumption, so the power supply can be ultra-optimized. The software is also light and real time. This minimizes all problems found commonly in computer audio (jitter, EMI, high currents, connectors, no shielding, big size having and antenna effect). I found this solution natural as I worked before in smart phones and handled GPS.”
I did find the sound of the Totaldac server to be superior to that of my Early 2011 MacBook Pro. The server was more relaxed sounding with slightly less of an edge to the sound. I was able to tweak my Early MacBook Pro computer setup with a Synergistic Research Tranquility Base using the new Synergistic UEF Active Tuning Circuits to approximate the quality of sound heard with the Totaldac server. The Totaldac server option adds 960 EUR (approximately $1315) to the price of the d1-monobloc. Obviously, the server is a more cost effective option than adding a Tranquility Base to a MacBook Pro.

A Magnificent DAC
The Totaldac d1-monobloc with server is no doubt, the finest DAC I have yet had the good fortune to experience. As a reviewer, I often use the term musical to describe something that sounds “real”. That is, something that is devoid of distracting artifacts that degrades our listening experience. The Totaldac d1-monobloc DAC is exceptionally musical in its presentation with the ability to reveal minute details in a totally relaxed manner. I liked the Totaldac server option and feel that it matches the sonic excellence of the d1-monobloc. While the price of admission is high for this level of excellence, the musical enjoyment that one yields from the Totaldac d-1 monobloc with DSD and server is truly unforgettable.

COMMENTS
tubefan9's picture

Greatest Bits

MrMoons's picture

Nice review Steven. I read that you used your pre as well as the Totaldac direct to amps. Curious to your findings and preference here.

Thanks!

Steven Plaskin's picture
The Totaldac sounded very nice going direct. I did prefer the sound with the Ayre KX-R, but I could live with the Totaldac very easily. I hope to get my KX-R updated in the near future to the new KX-R Twenty. A mere $27,500 !
newby11's picture

I, too, am very interested in hearing about the DAC-direct-to-amp quality, as I'm intrigued with omitting a preamp (+wire) from the budget.

That said, I have a question for the community re DSD. The more I learn of our "rights" with downloads the more I consider them a rip-off! If you buy a disc/vinyl/book, you can re-sell it or give it away. If you do the same with a download, you're criminal ("pirate") and will get sued by the record labels! You're only buying--at inflated prices, no less--a permission to rent the music. No, thanks.

So, I realize that SACDs can't officially be ripped...but then Blu-rays can't either (but, of course, they CAN). My question: Is there some software that can defeat the DRM of SACD so I can rip them to my computer? If so, I'll gladly buy physical SACDs and rip them for convenience. If not, then I'll stick with getting the best from CDs. It really ticks me off how the recording industry thinks they can rip us off with no consequences....

Steven Plaskin's picture
Yes, SACDs can be ripped with a modified Sony PS3. You need to speak to Ted B over at Computer Audiophile for specifics. He has written much on the subject at CA.
MrMoons's picture

Hey Steve.
Strange question, but what model and brand of router did you use with the server?

Steven Plaskin's picture
It was an Apple Airport Extreme 4th generation.
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