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CPS3 with DAC (Read 391 times)
JohnWatson
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CPS3 with DAC
02/05/21 at 17:30:53
 
Hi all, I was wondering if anyone had experience using a digital source with the CPS3 as a headphone amp and what type of dac might sound best.  Tubes or not?  Not a cut and dry question I know, just wondering about other peoples experience.    
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will
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Re: CPS3 with DAC
Reply #1 - 02/17/21 at 00:48:25
 
Hey John,

I just noticed this post and no responses, so I will give it a go. I generally use my CSP3 in a speaker system as a gain stage, and for balancing gains between it and the amp to optimize the sound of different recordings. But hopefully this overview based on my experience will help.

To me, something to consider in choosing a DAC to be used with the CSP3 as a headphone amp is: in effect the CSP3 acts like an amplified high quality tube output stage, adding the CSP3's sonic qualities to the DAC output.

And the CSP3 has a signature based on its design, but it is relatively neutral when set up for neutral. Then by adjusting tubes and gain, there are lots of possibilities for tuning tonal qualities one way or the other, and for more or less dynamic power and revelation.

With three tube positions, where each can be tuned how you like, there are many ways to discover synergistic sonic flavors. Then between the tube pots and the master gain pot, there is a wide voltage/gain range, the voltage intensity or lack thereof effecting the tube and output sound.

This could be a very linear, transparent and lucid tube sound, or warm/dark/full sound, and about anything in between, defined a lot by various choices in specific tube combinations. Then, gain-wise, less voltage pushes the tube set less creating a calmer more open sound... and more gain/voltage, we get more intensity from whatever the tube set does. Since the CSP3 gain adjustments effect how hard the input and output tubes work, gain effects the tube's sounds.

If starting with a pretty neutral tube set, by turning the gain/voltage down, we can create a flatter, leaner and more open sound... Then, by adding more gain, we can shift the sound more neutral and linear, with a relatively natural dynamic feel.... And more gain yet, the signal gets denser and more powerful all around, so a bigger, warmer, more dense, dynamic and expressive sound.

With darker tubes, decreasing the voltage/signal density will lean/calm/open the tube set, but relatively speaking, the warmer tubes will still have a warm feel. And increasing the gains will add more of the tube's balance toward bass, as well as increasing dynamics, density, and upper mid lucidity. As the whole signal is punched up with voltage gain, all the qualities the tube set has will be amped up, enhancing the the signal with all its effects.... from bass to dynamics, to tonal power and density, edge articulation and lucidity... The CSP3 having a pretty wide voltage range, I like to tune mine so that you can go too lean on one end, and overly dense and pushy on the other, leaving a pretty wide, but still tunable sweet area beyond volume.

So for my preferences, DAC choices might be more about getting a DAC that is musically neutral, transparent and revealing, whether there are tubes in the DAC output or not. But it depends what you want.

Seems for some folks, tube stages can be about "warming up" and enlivening a dryish/coolish setup. To me, the CSP3 has a great tube-like lucidity potential, but it starts in a relatively neutral range, doing tube things relatively transparently. Then as mentioned, you can tune it many ways from within this. So a question.... using this relatively transparent, but pretty flexible tube setup as a headphone amp, would you get enough tube effect from the CSP3, or would you want more....a preference thing. Depends on objectives, but also on the DAC itself. A transparent tube DAC would be a different thing than one that is more euphonic or even syrupy. And a non-tube DAC designed for revealing neutrality would be different than one designed to make cool systems more "musical" or "forgiving."

This, to me, introduces audio developer variability. My system is carefully tuned to be very resolving and naturally musical, not by masking/darkening "to warm things up" and reduce edginess, but by the qualities of parts, wires and design allowing musical resolution that naturally solves hardness while imparting musical complexity. So the objective is to resolve hardness, not mask it. And by working this way for years, the system gets more and more musical, but being so revealing, also less and less tolerant of less than truly musical things. From this basis, many things I try to introduce can create problems, I think in part, because many things are "tuned" using less resolving setups. But also I think there are cases where habitual use of perhaps antiquated ideas about what makes "warmth," "musicality," and "forgiveness" contribute.

So for me a concern is related to a designer's objectives, discernment, and methods for getting "musicality." Particularly when I hear of a solid state thing giving "tube-like warmth and smoothness," whether a power regenerator, amp, pre, or DAC, "warmth" can end up pretty real seeming, or limiting and contrived sounding. Too often expressions of "warmth" for me mean darker with some levels of masking rather than what I think of as true warmth. To me truer warmth includes more bass in the balance, so darker, but with spaciousness and without sacrifice to fine detail across the spectrum, and doing so in a way that sounds and feels natural...  the kind of warmth really good tubes in a really good tube implementation can give... giving a more natural and real spacial and harmonic structure, so feeling more real.

So it appears that "warm" and "musical" are pretty relative based on what we are used to listening to. Whether trying to mitigate hardness or harshness from lesser parts and design efforts, or trying to mimic natural warmth like that of balanced and complete tubes.... In my experience, "creating" a sense of "warmth" can appear to be right conceptually, but be more or less effective in terms of the bottom line, how real the musical experience feels. If not done with purist parts like naturally warm but also very revealing UPOCC wires, or really good caps that tend warm but remain resolving and lively across the spectrum, contriving warmth can be a slippery slope.

All that said, there seem to be a lot of nice DACs out there, but in part because of the above, how many that can be truly musically complete in very revealing systems is up for debate. And that is just the beginning to me. To get the most from a good DAC requires attention to a noise free and revealing computer/server that does little damage to fragile digital files, and using uncompressed error free files. Also important is the support of clean power, quiet/resolving hardware and software, lively but effective vibration control....all doing the least damage by keeping noise, truncation and timing issues minimal. Capped off with all connections in and out using cables that are neutral and revealing, with careful attention to all the things that can hurt digital playback, then it seems a great DAC can be as good as it can be.

So I agree, this is not "cut and dried." But to me, I think I would just go for the best front end you can afford, "best" being defined by what appeals to you in your research. Logically, if the musical complexity and magic is not in the front end, what comes after won't have it. So a less than great front end can be a powerful and enduring weak link toward the big beauty in musically resolving systems.

Finally, it seems to me the possibility of an enchanting musical experience is much easier with naturally complex and balanced revelation of the recorded tracks as a start!
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Power-PSA P5, Brickwall/Shunyata Defender+>RevolutionMacMini/Audirvana>Kitsune Singxer>Gustard x20pro DAC modified; Cables: Pi Audio PC, DIY: PCs, ICs, USB, Speaker; Decware- CSP3, Torii IV, HR1-all modified; DIY ZBIT; feet- Archie's, alum/ball bearing, and more
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JohnWatson
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Posts: 75
Re: CPS3 with DAC
Reply #2 - 02/17/21 at 18:12:54
 
   Thank you for that extraordinary reply Will!  It's a little above my pay grade, but I think I get most of it.  
    I just received the RME ADI-2 dac which I believe is very transparent and so far, it is a massive upgrade over the dac in my JDS Elements II dac/amp.
   I think I made the right decision. My philosophy is "keep it simple stupid" because I will never be able to micromanage my setup without losing my mind, so for the time being I'm very happy and looking forward to exploring headphones.  Thanks again! John
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will
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Re: CPS3 with DAC
Reply #3 - 02/17/21 at 22:08:09
 
Sounds good John. That RME does seem to be a very nice DAC in that price range. I can imagine it sounding really good!

And once you get used to it, I encourage you to play with the CSP3 gains. I have removed the output tube pots. But before, when I had a pair for the input tube and a pair for the outputs, I think I recall running the input pair around 8-9, and the outputs finally ended up around 7-8?

Your setup might be different depending on your headphones, but adjusting the tube pots sets up variations for a sonic relationship between the input and output tubes, and therefore how they influence the whole sound individually and together. If this interests you, to get there with relative accuracy, you would want you volume about the same with different pot settings, so I would just play with the pots until they seem better, while adjusting the master gain to keep the volume close as you experiment.

Once you find the optimal musical balance with the pots, your baseline master pot settings might end up different, but within reason, I don't think it matters much where the master is set to get your optimal volume, as long as you can get the quieter and louder edges of the range you want from it.

Then there are tubes! But the stock tubes will be a good start, and perhaps a good end if they give you all you want! It would just depend on if you feel a need to tune the sound from stock to more closely reach your musical goals. Have fun!

Will
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Power-PSA P5, Brickwall/Shunyata Defender+>RevolutionMacMini/Audirvana>Kitsune Singxer>Gustard x20pro DAC modified; Cables: Pi Audio PC, DIY: PCs, ICs, USB, Speaker; Decware- CSP3, Torii IV, HR1-all modified; DIY ZBIT; feet- Archie's, alum/ball bearing, and more
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