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The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE! (Read 35058 times)
Lon
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #45 - 04/30/10 at 19:04:30
 
#004 has arrived in Austin.

Impressive machine. Looks nice side by side with the ZBox.  I have the analog out of the ZDAC into the ZBox.  I'm listening to the DVR digital output and it's improved,  Initial listening to cd playback from the ZDAC and the SCD-XA5400ES is so far surprisingly close sonically.  Whcih is impressive.
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Lon
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #46 - 05/02/10 at 14:19:35
 
Yesterday I'd have to say the SCD-XA5400ES won out over the ZDAC by a few hairs.  When I'd compare, toggling back and forth with the ZBox, the Sony just had more warmth and more refined sound, a very integrated and clear sound.  In comparison the ZDAC had a huge sound that lacked the warmth and coherence of the Sony, to a degree.  A fascinating whirlpool of sound though, that was cohering gradually through the day.  I'm very impressed that the ZDAC has the same degree of clear and extended tonal balance that I found so distinctive in this Sony player. In this sense, in my opinion, the ZDAC has already surprassed my seasoned ZCD.  The ZDAC was shut off over night and is doing very well as it warms up with one of my favorite 'test' discs, the most recent US cd release of John Coltrane's 'Crescent.'

I'm already convinced that the ZDAC is a great machine that will be getting better day by day for a spell. In my opinion the Sony is a powerhouse player that is hard to beat., I'm so glad I took a chance on it.  I found an interesting review of a modded version here:

http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue47/sonyscdxa5400es.htm

Within the review it mentions:

"The 5400 model is a direct coupled voltage design and with no capacitors in the signal path. We all have been told that the sound of a capacitor should be to have no sound. That has been accomplished here by the process of elimination—there are none in the pathway."

That signal path seems to give it a distinctive sound that really works well with my tastes and system. The SACD output from this player was the first that really excited me, and the redbook output is still my personal referrence sound, the best I've ever had. (It's build quality and frame design have led to this being an excellent transport as well).

Already the ZDAC driven by three sources has shown itself to have a wonderful, detailed, dynamic sound. And it's design is very different than the Sony's analog output stage, with all those capacitors (if I understand correctly; I may be wrong).  This illustrates Steve's discoveries that different pathways lead to sonic success.  Adding the ZDAC to my system has been a win-win.

Randy, I predict you're going to be very happy.
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« Last Edit: 05/02/10 at 15:59:33 by Lon »  

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Randy in Caintuck
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #47 - 05/04/10 at 18:03:38
 
Wow ..... the past week has been an audio whirlwind for me .....

My son Geoff and I headed out to the HornFest in South Carolina last Thursday morning and stayed there until Friday night.  We did an "all nighter" of 800 miles and arrived at The Audio Karma Fest in Novi, Michigan on Saturday morning.  From there, back to Caintuck on Sunday night and hit the sack about 2:30 am after unloading.

I love audio road trips, but this was a bit much even for me .....  

To make things worse, I knew that I had a new Decware ZDAC-1 waiting for me at home.  It arrived shortly before the road trip began and I only had a couple of hours to check it out before I had to start packing things up for the trip.

My original plan was to take the ZDAC with me for show and tell at the HornFest, but I decided against it because of the all too familiar situation of a brand new piece of gear with no burn in time.

Steve told me that the unit had about 4 hours of burn in time on it and it sounded like it .....    Can you say "grainy" .....

It was especially rough on the ears sitting next to the MHDT Labs Havana, which is a very mellow NOS design.

After retuning from the road trip and a good night's rest, I scurried to the listening room and fired up the ZDAC and programmed the transport to repeat while I did some yard work.

When I get back to the room, things were much improved over the first listening session.  Truthfully, I was pretty much amazed at how much better it sounded after just a few hours of burn in.  Of course, it wouldn't surprise me if the next 100 hours or so will be a bit of a "sonic roller coaster ride" based on past experience with new gear.

By the time evening had rolled around, I decided to put the Havana back in the system and listen to some of the same music that had been playing through the ZDAC.  Since I have the two pieces sitting side by side, swapping them can be done in a matter of seconds.

The following brief comments should be taken in the context that I fully expect the ZDAC to get better (possibly much better) with some additional burn in time under its belt.

First, I have to say that I am amazed that Steve has been able to get a "NOS sound" out of a very different topology ..... and I mean this as a compliment.  I previously owned a Zanden 5000 DAC, considered by many to be right at the top of the heap in the land of digital converters ..... and, make no mistake, it sounds very, very good.  When done right, a NOS DAC does a very good job of extracting detail from the CD while being easy on the ears ..... closer to analog, IMHO.  The MHDT Labs Havana is a NOS design that sounds killer for the money and I like mine a lot.

Steve's reference DAC is a NOS design and sounds very good as well.  I must admit I blinked a few times when Steve revealed that the ZDAC was not a NOS design.  Despite my respect for his ears and design talents, I thought to myself "great, another upsampling / oversampling DAC that will make my poor ears bleed".

However, even at this point in time, I hear more similarities than differences between the ZDAC and the Havana .... which is good news indeed.  As would be expected, the ZDAC has a bit more detail.  It lacks a bit of the warmth that I enjoy from the Havana, but again, this may well change with some hours of burn in.

Even at this point, the soundstage depth and width are very good as well as the focus and palpability of vocals and instruments .....

I plan to put some hours on the ZDAC over the next couple of weeks and will share my thoughts as we go.

Based on the DACs I have heard (quite a few), I would have no problem recommending this piece.  There are a lot of pricey DACs out there that are not nearly as good as this one ..... and my unit is still "wet behind the ears" .....

More to come .....

Randy
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Lon
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #48 - 05/04/10 at 18:13:32
 
Sounds as if I was right, you're sounding pretty happy Randy. Smiley

I'm pretty happy too, I have been experimenting with cables and cable types and doing comparisons between analog outputs and digital outputs and having fun. The ZDAC-1 has developed a bit more bass, which is welcome.
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Lon
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #49 - 05/06/10 at 15:21:45
 
The ZDAC-1 continues to improve sonically in frequency extremes and focus. One immediate standout is how dynamic this DAC is.

This morning Sonny Rollins' "Freelance Years" box set from Concord is in play and I'm just grabbed by Rollins and pulled into tracing his musical lines in my mind.  The ZDAC-1 is really bringing the music home.

In comparison to the same material analog out from the Sony SCD-XA5400ES the Sony is a bit warmer and has a more laid back presentation.  The image is behind the speakers and further back, the ZDAC-1 so far presents the music more as if you were close to the stage or control booth.  Not in a fatiguing way.  I find both the Sony and the ZDAC-1 to have nearly grain-free treble and midrange.  The ZDAC-1 has a fuller, more bold sound. The Sony sounds more open and deeper, as if you were pulled into the room a bit more realistically by some supernatural agent. Smiley  It's a very appealing sound.  With SACD the Sony rocks and trounces any other digital sound I've heard.

I've been listening to three sources via both glass Toslink optical cable and a few coaxial digital cables. Very interesting to compare the sonics of either cable with a source. This DAC will clearly delineate component and cabling changes.
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« Last Edit: 05/06/10 at 15:24:23 by Lon »  

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will
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #50 - 05/06/10 at 16:01:24
 
I enjoy the ZDAC stories as they unfold. Please do speak to your cable experiences when you feel ready.
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Lon
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #51 - 05/06/10 at 16:37:54
 
So far I've used three digital cables, the best of which (by a head and shoulders) is the Creative Cable's "Black Knight" -- a cable that seems to just get it right, adds a hint of coppery romance. The other cable is a very cheap one with a sort of crisp sound that came with another component and one lableled "Acoustic Research" that is pretty good, more analytical than the Black Knight.

The Toslink cable I've been using is the glass fibered "Amphenol" cable. This is hands down the best Toslink cable I've ever heard and at less than thirty bucks a great buy.  Doesn't have the boxiness and flatness I've heard in plastic Toslink cables. A very open and dynamic cable.

The differences I hear between the Amphenol Toslink and the Black Knight coaxial cable is mainly presentation. The Toslilnk is more focused and perhaps more dynamic by just a shade. Seems very accurate.  The Black Knight has just a tiny glow to it.  It almost makes you feel as if you could hear the metal warming up.  A bit more romance and mystery. A nice difference.  I find that the Black Knight wins when the Sony SCD-XA5400ES is used as a transport.  With the DVR and the Sony BDP-S2000ES Blu-Ray the Toslink seems dead on sonically, as these components seem a tiny bit warmer and fuzzier sounding when connected to the ZDAC. I'm getting very good sound from all three sources.

Perhaps you know how it feels to use Decware interconnects and power cords. . . you can try a lot of brands but you have a referrence point, a "gold standard" where you have the best bang for the buck and all the support your components and the signal needs when you get to know the Decware cables. I would be very happy to have a Decware digital cable, or Steve's heartiest specific recommendation as a foundation cable.
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« Last Edit: 05/06/10 at 16:42:23 by Lon »  

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will
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #52 - 05/06/10 at 17:39:01
 
Thanks Lon, very helpful. And I agree, it would be cool if Decware sometime offered digital cables or recommendations.
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Randy in Caintuck
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #53 - 05/07/10 at 03:49:37
 
I have been running the ZDAC for several hours each night since it arrived ..... powering it off between sessions since it has been my experience that capacitor break-in works better with some off and on time.

As I expected, it is getting better by the day .....

I have an interesting situation with the Genesis Digital Lens that sits between my transport and the DAC ..... it allows me to input five different types of digital cabling ..... coax, BNC, AESEBU (balanced), Toslink (plastic fiber) and a discreet input for glass.  It will then output coax, AESEBU or glass to the DAC.

The really neat thing is that it allows me to toggle these different inputs on the fly from the remote control.

Since my CEC transport has outputs for coax, balanced and optical ..... I can hook all of them up to the Digital Lens at the same time for a quick (instant) comparison.

Before I received the ZDAC, I had been experimenting with a couple of coax cables (a very decent budget cable from Blue Jeans cable and the venerable Illuminati D-60) and a balanced cable.

The D-60 provided the most detail, the Blue Jeans a smooth and "easy" sound and the balanced cable gave me a richer more laid back sound with the perception of slightly more bass response.

I have since returned the D-60 to its owner and have been switching back and forth between the Blue Jeans and balanced cables going from the transport to the Lens and another run of Blue Jeans cable running from the Lens to the ZDAC.

The implications of this setup are pretty amazing ..... five possible cables from the transport to the Lens and another 3 possible cables from the Lens to the DAC .....

Needless to say, there is an almost infinite variety of possible sonic signatures and flavors.

Already, I have found a very useful application for this ..... I listen to "hotter" CDs through the balanced cable and more "laid back" CDs through the coax ..... just one button push away .....

I have yet to try a decent glass cable ..... but plan to in the near future.

Some might make the argument that another component and cable could not possibly improve the sound ..... but anyone who owns a Digital Lens knows that the improvement is audible and for real.

Oh yeah ..... the ZDAC ..... from the relatively short time it has been in the system, it has acquitted itself very well indeed.  I am liking it a lot and expect to be delighted by the time it reaches "maturity".

It should certainly be on the very short list of anyone wanting to have a top notch digital front end.

More to come .....

Randy
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« Last Edit: 05/07/10 at 03:56:59 by Randy in Caintuck »  

CEC TL-2 belt drive CD transport
Camelot Uther / Anagram DAC
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Greenvalve Audio Type 10 amplifier
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will
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #54 - 05/07/10 at 15:14:33
 
Hey Randy,

Thanks for the info. Great idea, using the simple switchable cable settings for signature adjustments. I have not gotten my ZDAC yet, but wanted to be prepared with a few cables when it comes. Your experience and Lon's are a big help. I ordered an "Amphenol" glass cable due to Lon's experience, and already have a blue jean coax and blue jean plastic toslink. I am encouraged enough by your experience with the Blue Jean coax to think this should get things going. I was hoping to avoid more expensive cables as I keep thinking I need a cheap out in case the ZDAC doesn't suit me. Even though my experience indicates this is absurd since I love every piece of Decware stuff I have, old habits......
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Lon
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #55 - 05/07/10 at 15:27:48
 
wil,

Very interested to hear your impressions of the cable.  I'm impressed, I bought another one which I received yesterday. Very quick and personal service from Cables on Demand.
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Lon
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #56 - 05/07/10 at 15:41:23
 
I really surprise myself whenever I switch back and forth between the analog out of my SCD-XA5400ES and the digital out into the ZDAC-1.

Both are delivering excellent, different sound. I have to say that the ZDAC-1 is a bit more dynamic and has a bit more of a full sound. The Sony in comparison sounds more holographic, warmer, deeper soundstage and I would have to agree with my friend Shawn who said the Sony sounded more like vinyl.

I confess that if I were only planning to use the ZDAC-1 for cd playback, I would be hard-pressed to justify the expenditure as the Sony sounds so good, and I enjoy it's more relaxed presentation, I can't deny.

Those who really like a dynamic and present, crisp sound might prefer the ZDAC-1.

But the ZDAC-1 is a clear winner sound wise when used with my DVR and my Blu-Ray player. I really enjoy listening to the sound it produces when connected to these sources.

Today the system is sounding very similar to yesterday, so far. Great clear punchy sound.

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Lon
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #57 - 05/10/10 at 21:22:35
 
The ZDAC-1 is really opening up.  I'm still having fun doing cd comparisons. Quite interesting, reality bending sort of thing with material I know really well.

Cd playback via the ZDAC-1 has improved over the last few days. There's more depth, more of a foundation to the sound and it's moved a tiny bit back from its more forward stance of last week.  It's moving into the sort of sound I wanted from the ZCD and never have found. So far I have two very good, very different, presentations of the recordings. An abundance of riches!  I wish I could fully describe the differences. Very cool to have both views.

For my DVR and my Blu-Ray player the ZDAC-1 is a delight. For now I've settled on using Toslink for both. The ZDAC-1 gets you right down in there, involved.  Music on programming can really suck you in. If I were looking for a DAC for a home theater system I'd look at this one.  Wow.  
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« Last Edit: 05/10/10 at 21:28:42 by Lon »  

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Randy in Caintuck
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #58 - 05/10/10 at 22:07:59
 
Well ..... last night proved to be a wonderful evening, indeed.

I had Miss Gillian Welch visit me in my listening room compliments of the ZDAC-1 .....

She and Dave Rawlings have produced some very fine minimalist recordings in the "Americana" and "Old Timey" genre ..... stuff that is right up my alley.

Her stuff can be found here.

It has been very interesting to this point comparing the ZDAC-1 and the MHDT Labs Havana.  The Havana has an almost cult following status ..... and rightly so.  When you pop the right vacuum tube in it (not the stock one) it is a living breathing music making machine and really draws you into the music if the recording is good and the rest of the system is up to snuff.

As I mentioned before, I honestly believe that the fact that it is a non-oversampling design accounts for a lot of its musicality.  The fact that the ZDAC has that "NOS flavor and feel" is absolutely amazing to me.

As the ZDAC has been accumulating hours of run time, it has been drawing closer and closer to the Havana in the things that the Havana does so well while maintaining the better detail retrieval that is typical of an up / over sampling DAC.

Steve used the term "image density" in referring to the ZDAC and I can appreciate what he is saying.  Miss Welch was sitting in my room with me last night giving a personal concert ..... good stuff.

I made an interesting change to my system recently ..... Dave built a custom pair of Troll bookshelf speakers for me.  They are in the new piano black finish cabinets, but instead of the standard ribbon driver he found and used a pair of smaller Heil Air Motion Transformers that are no longer in production.  Fortunately, the diaphragms are still made if mine ever get damaged.  As good as the ribbons are in the Troll Signatures (and they are really, really good), the Heil drivers put the speakers in a different league as to realism and upper frequency resolution.



These speakers give me a very clear window as to what is going on upstream ..... and what the ZDAC is doing for the sound (and Gillian's voice in particular) is something special.

More to come .....

Randy
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CEC TL-2 belt drive CD transport
Camelot Uther / Anagram DAC
Decware Model SE84C+ amplifier
Greenvalve Audio Type 10 amplifier
Parker Audio Troll Magnus speakers
"Mini Me" OBs - with Hawthorne Augies, Wild Burro Betsy drivers and Heil AMTs
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Lon
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #59 - 05/11/10 at 01:46:16
 
Sounds like you're enjoying yourself Randy!

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