Super Best Audio Friends

The evolution of the original irreverent and irrelevant and non-authoritative site for headphone measurements, i.e. frequency response graphs, CSD waterfall plots, subjective gear reviews. Too objective for subjectivists; too subjective for objectivists

I've been asked this a few times now so I figured I would share with how I constructed my balanced to single-ended converter using line input transformers. The sonic reasons for doing so are to provide an alternative sound for DACs which have a balanced (XLR) output where you have an amplifier or preamp that only takes unbalanced or single-ended (SE) inputs (RCA). Some DACs such as the Schiit Modius have a balanced output which is a different circuit from the SE outputs, so this method provides another option. I will not guarantee that using the converter will sound better, only possibly different. For example, if it sounds better, then all the power to you. In some instances, such as with pro audio gear DACs, we will have no choice because pro gear usually does not come with SE outputs.

The iFi Phono3 is absolutely insane. I don't even know where to start or how to explain, so I figured I will make this another one of those stream of consciousness reviews with measurements along they way. Like other iFi products, the Phono3 offers a ton of user adjust-ability, except in this case I feel it's warranted. To borrow a phrase from someone I had just spoken to regarding the Phono3, the Phono3 is geared for the tweaker or perfectionist!


I'll start first with how it sounds and keep it short and sweet. The first thing I noticed about the Phono3 is how clear and free of veil it sounded compared to practically all other phonostage unless they were super high-end or special custom jobs designed for a specific use case. iFi says the Phono3 is direct coupled design, and it certainly sounds like it. Most phono stages will have several caps in the signal path, even disregarding the caps...
I'm about to go full Al Gore on you guys because this is a discussion topic i have wanted to flesh out here for a while now
if you love music, and i mean really love it, not just as background noise - why are you still bothering with D/S converters? I feel as though there has been an increase in discussions and interest regarding D/S DACs on this forum in the past two years. I attribute this mainly to two things:

2) ASR

my perspective after 4 years

your perspective

I know all of this has been hashed out to some extent one way or another before, but i feel like an honest and stark refresher is in order. i know there are several community members who had similar experiences to me, and i would like to ask anyone who messed around with D/S converters in the past and settled on R2R as the righteous path to share their experience.
These latest discussions are why I am super hesitant about getting folks into TTs. It's going down the rabbit hole that either leads to wonderful or severely messed-up results. It's Lucy in Sky with Diamonds and Are You Experienced. You have absolutely no idea what kind of trip it's going to be.


Figured it might be time to post about what I've been doing with the TH900. I've tried about a million things with these, and the pictures I'm going to post are pretty much the best I could get them before I decided to use wood glue to permanently screw the cups in place. Not because they're perfect, but because I had already crossed the line into insanity and needed to preserve my own mental health. The tuning I arrived at was as close to perfect as I could get for my tastes and given these headphone's strengths. No, they'll never have the imaging of some open headphones, and they'll never be dead flat. But for tactility and slam with a fun tuning that still reveals mixing choices and recording differences with ease, I haven't found better. Lets just say this is the headphone that is making my 3 pairs of HE6 sit and collect dust.

I couldn't find any dedicated thread for this amp, so I thought I would share my thoughts on this pretty sweet amp! TLDR: I think this is a great all rounder solid state amp that is "reasonably-priced" and can provide an alternative flavor if you find the Black Widow too warm and lush sounding. For me, this is the perfect place holder amp while I patiently wait for Starlett to arrive on my doorstep.

First off, this is one of the few solid state amps out there that synergizes well with HD800. no joke, even the stock HD800 was sort of listenable which really surprised me. What was even more surprising for me was that it wasn't a warmpoo amp trying to mask all the flaws of HD800, rather play to its strengths without messing up the FR too much.
The way I am going to approach the UltraLite mk4 is from a headphile and working-from-home perspective. The Ultralite is a computer interface with multiple inputs, multiple outputs, internal routing, mixer, DA/AD, and more. It's a viable alternative to the RME ADI-2 Pro (remember when it was FOTM). I only wished that someone had brought this piece of gear forth as a much less expensive alternative with a different sound. @Psalmanazar has mentioned this, but the RME's FOTM had already passed by the time he did.


The quick takeaway is that the Motu Ultralite mk4 is the bees-knees best-thing-since-sliced-bread at an affordable price point of $700. It does everything we can possibly imagine and more. It serves as an excellent DAC for the price point.
Notable highlights:
  • Employs es9016s 8 channel DAC
  • Excellent performance, especially considering price and size
  • Dynamic Range > 130 dB This surprised me as Motu specifies 120 dB
  • Gain Linearity tight to -110 dBFS then less than ± 1 dB to -130 dBFS
  • Channel Crosstalk is exceptionally low with separation > 145 dB Bal and > 128 SE
  • Possibly highest performance / price ratio pro audio interface existing at the time of this post
  • Has earned duty in my pro audio setup replacing RME Fireface UC for most lab and studio functions
OK. F me. Seriously F me. I didn't mind the Velvet Sound that much when the AKM Velvet Sound DACs came out. Heck it was mostly cheap DACs, so who cared. The immediately noticed benefits of greater resolution and more expansive soundstage seemed to outweigh the disadvantages. However @Psalmanazar pointed the Velvet Sound stuff out early on; and over time, I actually grew to dislike the AKM Velvet Sound.

I didn't think this possible, but from the Modius' balanced outs, this Velvet Sound stuff is no longer. Or at least none of the disadvantages of the Velvet Sound (murky lows, recessed mids, soft attacks, raised last octave) but with all its advantages (resolution and expansive soundstage). Holy cow, this actually sounds like the older Modi 2 or other AKM4399, 4495 based DACs with the crisp attacks, evident mids, more palatable highs, bass textures, punchy bass even! After what seems like years, it's so nice hearing the E and A notes on a guitar not sound as they've been processed through a blender.

THD+N (db) vs Amplitude (dbFS) at 1kHz. GRN = SE, RED = BAL
Well, @KenBall has knocked one out of the park again, big time. Or either he knows what I like. I've been an unabashed fan of Campfire Audio ever since the Newport SHOW many years ago when I first heard the Jupiter and Lyra.


Take the Sennheiser HD650, but correct all its shortcomings, make it into an IEM and we get the Ara. The Ara retains the HD650's slightly thick lows and mid-bass emphasis, but removes the veil, extends the bass fully to 20Hz, and brings about super articulation that only a BA driver can achieve. Other defining characteristics of the HD650, such as narrow emphasis in the upper mids that gives that a bit of smack and edge, and its sedate and smooth highs, are present. In terms of IEMs, I don't know how many of you guys remember the Orion (which was another one of my favorites and one I recently recommended to a friend with a modest budget) - but another way to look at the Ara is to see it as souped up Orion. Like super-souped up.
I'm jumping ahead of myself, but I am not impressed. It's like turning back the clock back to sigma-delta nasties of 2010 (sssshhh, sssshhh, sssshhh). If you want the ultimate expression of the AKM sound, get the RME ADI2. If you want something very close to that kind of sound for x10 less money and don't need the RME's features, get the Modi 3. Topping couldn't do anything with the AKM4497, two of them, which is AKM's second to TOTL chip.


What's disturbing is that the Modi 3 uses the AKM4490, which is only a -112db part! Schiit is actually getting superior results with a far inferior chip (the 4490 is two levels down from the 4497), and only a single chip! Never mind my subjective impressions where I felt the D70 sounded cooler, more "digital", and less resolving than the Modi 3. Scientifically speaking, if you believe in the idea of SINAD being the major indicator of sound quality, you are much better off with Modi 3 at $99. It's not that the D70 is bad; however, bottom line is that that Schiit saves you from overpriced Chinese designed and Chinese made gear.
Notable highlights:
  • Employs es9038q2m IC contrasted with es9038pro used in Matrix XSP
  • Decent performance, especially considering price and size, but don't expect a giant killer
  • Dynamic Range > 125 dB on USB ASIO input, rather impressive for a microcontroller shield product
  • Gain Linearity tight to -110 dBFS then less than ± 1 dB to -130 dBFS on USB ASIO input
  • While less than ± 0.1 dB there is an odd ripple in the frequency response