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The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE! (Read 32333 times)
Steve Deckert
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The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
03/29/10 at 02:52:27
 
After 10 long years I finally have something I'm well pleased with.





This is a real source.  The kind of thing I often talk about when discussing the weak-links of a given system.  It's an investment that will instantly raise your enjoyment of music, or in some cases save it.

Give it a look, and I'll set up a support forum for it.

http://www.decware.com/newsite/ZDAC1.html




For those of you have been following my R&D on the DACs, or attended last years DECFEST in October 09, you know I took a top down approach to the design by first establishing the best reference DAC I could permanently get my hands on.  Since I couldn't afford the $17000.00 Zanden I built something similar, possibly better but at least in the same league.  My cost to reproduce it is close to $6000.

Here is a pic of it.


Obviously this doesn't fit into the DECWARE price window that tops out at $2500.00 so manufacturing it is unlikely.  But as a reference, I now had something to work other designs against until I got a far less expensive approach to sound nearly as good in most areas and actually better in others.

The winner turned out to be about as far away from the original reference NOS design as one could imagine, going from a 20 year old 16 bit chipset to a 24 bit 192kHz up-sampled approach where the DAC is run in quad speed to cut the oversampling down by four times.  To compete with the battery supplies of the reference dac, a very real power supply had to be designed and packed with MUSE caps.





I've been listening to this by itself with no preamp directly connected to our amplifiers and my Acoustat Monitors since December and on nights when I A/B with my reference DAC, I find it difficult to choose which one is actually better.  That's how I know this DAC is the real deal and that it has really no competition at this price point.


I also made it match the chassis of the ZBOX so any half way intelligent being could put two and two together if you know what I mean...




Thanks,

Steve
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Lon
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #1 - 03/29/10 at 11:58:06
 
Congratulations Steve!

Would a custom version with an additional coaxial input be possible (in place of the optical)?

I placed an order for one, and if it 's possible to have this customization at not too high a price I'd really like that. THANK YOU.
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« Last Edit: 03/29/10 at 12:30:37 by Lon »  

Decware:ERR,HR-1,ZP3,CSP2+(2),Torii Mk III, PS Audio PWT+PWD MkII,PowerBases,PPP,AC-12 pcs, Denon DBP-A100, Denon DCD-A100, Rega RP3 +TTPSU,white belt+Exact2, VooDoo Cable IC: Evo and UL, Mapleshade:Double Heiix Samsonv2+v3 and 4"platforms,Herbie's IsoCups+Tendft
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Steve Deckert
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #2 - 03/29/10 at 21:34:58
 
Hi Lon!

The extra jacks/switching is just not possible on this unit.  However, you might consider using the fiber optic for one source and the coax for the other.  That way you can easily switch between them on the fly from the front of the DAC.

Steve
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Lon
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #3 - 03/30/10 at 00:54:48
 
Thanks Steve, yeah I can do that, it's just always been MY experience that optical just is not quite the same sound as coaxial, but maybe on this unit, yes.

Anyway, I have one ordered and am excited. I can use the coaxial with my SACD player for Redbook, and the optical for my BD player, and should be something else. This way I can use the analog out of the SACD player for SACD.  Win win. Thanks!
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« Last Edit: 03/30/10 at 00:57:49 by Lon »  

Decware:ERR,HR-1,ZP3,CSP2+(2),Torii Mk III, PS Audio PWT+PWD MkII,PowerBases,PPP,AC-12 pcs, Denon DBP-A100, Denon DCD-A100, Rega RP3 +TTPSU,white belt+Exact2, VooDoo Cable IC: Evo and UL, Mapleshade:Double Heiix Samsonv2+v3 and 4"platforms,Herbie's IsoCups+Tendft
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DPC
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #4 - 03/30/10 at 01:51:54
 
I may be speaking out of turn here but someone told me that true glass fiber optical is superior to the common run of the mill plastic ones commonly sold for interconnects.

Just a thought, Lon.

Dennis
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Lon
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #5 - 03/30/10 at 01:55:17
 
Dennis, thanks for the thought.  I don't believe I've ever used a true glass optical cable. I'm certainly going to keep an open mind. Smiley
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Evo
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #6 - 03/30/10 at 03:35:08
 
Steve,

Glad to here that you've managed to get the DAC finished.

One half-related query. I notice that you recommend using foobar and ASIO4ALL as a media player. I tried ASIO4ALL, but preferred the WASAPI plug-in for foobar (which also allows bit perfect output) and can only be run on Vista or Windows 7. Recently I tried another programme called XXHighEnd, which is also based on the WASAPI engine, which sounds better than Foobar. Have you tried these out? What are your thoughts? My system is the pretty budget at the moment, so I would be interested if the different player translate into  improvements on your reference system.

Cheers,

Matt
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waveydavey
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #7 - 03/30/10 at 12:33:35
 
Looks good, but how come no tube(s) in the design or variable output voltage?
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #8 - 03/30/10 at 15:36:07
 
Steve--

Is a headphone output a viable option on this dac?  I see the reference has the output.
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Randy in Caintuck
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #9 - 03/30/10 at 20:54:48
 
Finally .....

I emailed Steve with some questions and he will be addressing them in the near future.

I am VERY interested in this puppy for two reasons .....

1 - It is in the very same price range as my MHDT Labs Havana.  I have made no bones about how much I like the Havana.  I owned a Zanden DAC a while back which sounded absolutely wonderful.  The reason I sold it was that any service work required shipping it back to Japan and I was not up for that ..... especially considering my health issues that were just starting to crop up.  The Havana reminds me a lot of the Zanden ..... probably because it is based on non-oversampling technology.  I affectionately refer to it as my "poor man's Zanden".  Comparing the Havana to the DAC-1 should be very interesting.

2 - I really LOVED the ZCD player.  However, to my ears there is something very special about a belt drive CEC transport and a Genesis Digital Lens.  I simply can not live without them in my system.  The possibility of putting these in front of a Decware designed DAC has my mouth watering .....

I am anxiously awaiting Steve's response to my questions, which I believe he is going to address in this thread.

Randy
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Hotsauce
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #10 - 03/30/10 at 23:32:48
 
In my 2nd system I currently have a Valab DAC.  

It causes audible interference in my ZP 2.0 when its left on.  Of course, I don't use both at once, but it would be nice to be able to leave the dac on 24/7.

Can you check if your DAC causes hum in the ZP 2.0?

John C.

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Matchstikman
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #11 - 03/31/10 at 02:08:14
 
Are the first 25 already sold?  I want one now if they are still available at the intro price.

Also, what are the cost of any upgrades in the future?

I'm excited!
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Steve Deckert
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #12 - 03/31/10 at 16:34:43
 
Evo,

I haven't tried them  :)  Don't have Visa or Windows 7 on any of my computers that can be  used to serve music.  I will keep an eye out.

John C,

I does not cause hum in the ZP3 or anything else that I've tried.

Toddathan,

No headphone amp or jack on this one.  To do it right pumps the price up too high for this model.

Matchstikman,

Right now as per date/time of this message we're on number 6... woops (phone call), make that number 7.

Steve

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« Last Edit: 03/31/10 at 16:39:17 by Steve Deckert »  
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Steve Deckert
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #13 - 03/31/10 at 17:17:38
 
Hi Randy,

Yes, here is your questions:
Quote:
Hi Steve,

I just saw the thread about the new DAC on the support forum.

Very interesting.  Since I bought the MHDT Labs Havana DAC a while back, I have come to enjoy the "easy listenability" of the non-upsampling format.  The Camelot Uther that I used to own was an up-sampling unit and it definitely had more detail than the Havana but produced some listener fatigue over the course of a long listening session.  With the Havana, I often listen for 3 or 4 hours at a stretch with no fatigue whatsoever.  There is not as much detail, but enough to be true to the music and keep things interesting.  It's "honest" sounding without being aggressive.

I would love to hear your new DAC in my system, but wonder if I would have any problems with listener fatigue after living with the Havana for the past year ..... ?


Well you bring up an excellent point.  Many audiophiles would be shocked to discover that something could have too much detail, but in fact anything, even detail, can be overdone.  Fatigue is often a side effect, but not from the excess detail in the music, but the excess detail in the distortions.  It's hard to have one without the other.  

My reference DAC is NOS and the primary reason is because I hate fatigue.  If you can't listen to it for more than 3 or 4 hours I don't want to sell it.  As we know, you can listen to our amps indefinitely without fatigue.   When I A/B the ZDAC-1 with my NOS dac, the first impression is that the ZDAC-1 is smoother.  Then as you listen you realize it also has more resolution.  Slightly better image density is also noticeable.  My brain being wired more to the nuances of vinyl, I subconsciously try to become fatigued when I listen to CD, wanting that confirmation for why I listen to vinyl...  I've been listening to this DAC since December and it's just not fatiguing over time.  THE main reason I choose this design.

Quote:
Honestly, I still think the ZCD player was one of the very best digital front ends I have ever heard ..... but I don't think the transport mechanism of the Tascam player was up to the same standard as your output stage.  There is something about a belt drive CEC transport and a Genesis Digital Lens that is special to my ears.  The timing is different and the sense of the recorded space is simply better and more believable than with any other transport or CD player that I have used as a transport in my system.   If I could have figured out how to use the CEC and Lens with your output stage from the ZCD, that would probably have been my ultimate digital front end.


Transports are everything.  So is the digital cable you use.  For people who don't have a good transport, USB from a lap top is going to have the best fidelity (lowest jitter).  The new ZCD player is using a surprisingly good transport compared to previous models.  I found using it with the ZDAC-1 actually sounded better than USB if you find the right digital cable.  

Since people will ask, I'm recommending using the BEST transport and cable you can afford, or consider using the USB and computer.
Alternately you can purchase the Tascam CD200 for under $400 stock and use that as a transport if you're on a budget.


Quote:
I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around the concept of solid state and op-amps sounding better than tubes and discreet components .....  ; )



Well, you're certainly not alone on this one.  However it is possible to get great sound from solid state at the line level.  It doesn't become problematic until you try to create power with it.  Remember, unless you listen to vinyl, you are listening to a solid state source 100% of the time, regardless of how many tube stages follow it.

At one point during the DECFEST when I was trying to illustrate this point, we were listening to my NOS DAC with a tube stage, and then I added two more solid state stages on the fly as we listened.  You're exact words were "what happened", and I replied "It just got better didn't it" to which you said, "yes it did."  Then I told you I just added the solid state output stages to the tube stage and you just shook your head Wink

With the ZDAC-1 comes the opportunity to run a ZBOX with it, so anyone wanting a touch more tube warmth or less fatigue with non-audiophile recordings has this option.

My approach is why put the tube stage in the DAC and jack the price up another $500 when I can probably make that DAC sound right without it.  That way it becomes optional and way more people get to enjoy the DAC.




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Randy in Caintuck
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Re: The DECWARE ZEN DAC-1 is HERE!
Reply #14 - 03/31/10 at 18:36:07
 
Hi Steve,

Thanks for taking the time to address my questions.

As I said previously, I trust your ears and have never found myself at odds with your take on amplifiers and front ends.

I have stated many times on this and other forums that I believe in the "total system" concept of audio ..... meaning that everything in the system matters and that component matching has more to do with the final result than almost anything else ..... including the amount of money spent .....

That is why I have said that I thought my digital based system was better sounding overall than some analog based rigs I have heard ..... even costly ones.

I am willing to believe that this also applies to the components and design execution within an individual device, such as a DAC.  There is always more than one way to skin a cat ..... and you have proved yourself to be a "master cat skinner" over the years .....

Well ..... the only way to know for sure is to hear it in my own room, so I will be sending in my order for a DAC-1 this afternoon.

Thanks again for all your hard work on this long awaited component and for taking the time to answer my questions.

I'm sure that a lot of the readers of this thread have enjoyed your input .....

Best wishes,

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
"Darth Baffles" OBs - with Hawthorne Augies, Saba Green Cones and Heil AMTs
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