Abbas DACs

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by Merrick, Dec 3, 2022.

  1. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    There has been talk of Abbas DACs around here for some time, including IIRC a short personal loaner tour, but it's all scattered as isolated posts in other threads. As @Ksorota has one for sale right now, and other units have circulated within our community, I felt it was worth having a place to discuss them.

    First it's worth diving a bit into the history of Abbas, the designer and builder of all of these devices. He's a Ukrainian trained musician and self taught electronics whiz who began building audio components for fun and eventually began customizing them towards a particular sound because he was so dissatisfied with off the shelf designs and how they sounded. More info on his site here: https://www.abbasaudio.com/en/phylosophy/.

    Reading that link in full, some of it sounds like magic rock audio woo. It might be! But the sound that Abbas is getting out of his DACs tells me there's something to his approach.

    Second, it's worth taking a moment to look at the line of DACs he offers, because he has a lot of models and despite the numbering it's less about total quality and more about the base chip used in the unit from his FAQ (https://www.abbasaudio.com/en/buyinfo/):

    DAC 1.0-…1.1 PCM56

    DAC 2.0…2.4 TDA1541

    DAC 3.0…3.2 TDA1541

    DAC 4.0 …4.2 PCM58

    DAC U…U1 PCM63

    DAC X…TDA1540

    DAC Z…DAC 0.1…0.11 TDA1543

    He expressly says the 3 level is better than the 2 level but those are the only lines he can compare because they use the same chip. He goes into detail on his site on the qualities of each chip, which would help a prospective buyer choose the best model for their preferences.

    Now, let's talk about all the reasons not to even consider one of these DACs:

    1. They all use vintage NOS chips, which can be hard to source and may sound very colored. NOS has a unique style of presentation that many will not enjoy. Abbas has been able to mitigate some of the classic NOS presentation quirks, but not all.
    2. Most of the units have a single SPDIF RCA input, sucks if you have multiple digital inputs
    3. All of these DACs have varying amounts of tubes within the signal chain. Some people just don't want to deal with tubes., and tubes for the higher end models can get very expensive.
    4. These are hand built in Ukraine by a single person. Given the war and the current size of orders, an order placed now may take many months to receive, and if anything is wrong, the unit has to go back to Ukraine.
    5. Because these are hand built, there are rolling changes and because Abbas is a tinkerer he seems to be frequently announcing new models.
    6. Because of the vintage nature of the chips, these DACs have bitrate/sampling depth limits that will require downsampling if you have a lot of hi-res.

    Finally we can actually talk about the sound. I own a .11SE unit (TDA1543) and have heard a 2.3SE (TDA1541) unit. Both share several qualities that seem indicative of the Abbas sound to me:
    • A warm tilt, favoring rich mids and thick (but not gooey) lows
    • Exaggerated trailing edge of notes, creating a euphonic sound
    • BIG macrodynamics
    • Decent instrument separation but you will not confuse this with a D/S DAC
    • Soundstage/layering not as well defined as most OS DACs
    • A fullness to the sound that is combined with a strong forward drive to the presentation
    The .11SE is warmer, thicker, and more colored than the 2.3. The 2.3 is more of a chameleon, with a more accurate representation of the music, but retaining all the qualities in the bullet points.

    Plankton/detail retrieval/microdynamics are not the main focus of these DACs. That's not to say there is none, there certainly is, but in general the presentation favors a more holistic sound that IMO sounds more like live music than the "every note shimmering in space with inky blackness between them" presentation that many modern DACs offer. Going off audio memory, I'd say the .11SE if comparable in detail and texture to my old Gungnir MB A1. The Gungnir had more air, better layering/imaging, while the .11 has more slam/macrodynamics and a richer tone. The Abbas DACs are kind of like watching old movies shot in Technicolor. The colors are more vivid and saturated but not in ways that appear unnatural or forced.

    The 2.3SE is simply the best DAC I've heard to date, but it is worth noting that the richness of the DAC is a particular design choice that can be mitigated to an extent with tube choices but will always be present and isn't a neutral reproduction. For example, listening to my original pressing of Tales From Topographic Oceans by Yes on my turntable, and comparing that to the flat transfer of the same album from the Steven Willson remix Blu-ray, the Abbas presented the album with extended decay on the guitar parts and had added richness/euphony than the vinyl. I tend to find that for albums pre mid-1980s, the original vinyl is the best way to judge the intended sound and the Abbas DACs definitely deviate from that. I find the presentation pleasing, nigh irresistible, but YMMV based on your preferences.

    Additionally, Abbas DACs seem SUPER sensitive to all kinds of small changes in the chain. Different tubes in the DAC will of course change the sound to an extent, but so can the power cable, the interconnects, even the direction your SPDIF cable is plugging in. The good news is that this allows you to fine tune the sound, but can bring on levels of nervosa you never imagined.

    These are niche products for people who want a specific type of presentation to their music. If this is what you want, then you owe it to hear one of these DACs. If this all sounds like a nightmare, then it will be for you and you shouldn't look any further into it.

    Fellow owners/listeners, please chime in with your thoughts here!

    System used: Pi2AES/Marantz CD5004->Abbas .11SE/2.3SE->Saga->Schiit Piety/Vali 1->JAR660, Mini S
    Pi2AES/Marantz CD5004->Abbas .11SE/2.3SE->Saga->Custom fleawatt power amp->Andrew Jones Pioneer Speakers
     
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  2. internethandle

    internethandle Almost "Made"

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    Glad to see this thread. These DAC’s definitely give me the feeling of not being for everyone (and given what I know about my sonic preferences, likely not for me), but I’d still like to hear one. They are unique products. I enjoy the kind of mad scientist tinkerer Frankenstein DAC vibe, personally, and they are on the whole less pretentious (and def. less expensive) than other popular tube DAC brands like Lampizator.
     
  3. Jh4db536

    Jh4db536 Friend

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    [​IMG]
     
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  4. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    More specific thoughts on the 2.3SE:

    Compared to the .11SE specifically, the first thing that I noticed about the 2.3 is the increased sense of clarity. This could be attributed to the difference in the DAC's chosen chips (TDA1543 in the .11 and TDA1541 in the 2.3), but the 2.3 also has tubes in more sections of the DAC, and the power rectifier tube in the 2.3 is of the 5Y3 type versus the EZ90 type in the .11. The 2.3 is also about double the length of the chassis of the .11, clearly a more sophisticated circuit with a more robust power section and analog output.

    When I say increased clarity, I really am talking about a few elements coming together to make the presentation sound more clear. The warm tilt that is ever present on the .11 is significantly diminished on the 2.3. I would never call the 2.3 cold, nor dead neutral, but the sound DOES change based on the recording playing to a much greater extent than on the .11, which tends to impose its character on every recording. So one aspect is I feel I'm hearing less of the DAC's unchanging qualities and hearing more the qualities of the recording itself (for better or worse, the 2.3 is less forgiving than the .11 to bad recordings).

    Across the FR, the instruments sound much tighter, which allows for greater micro detail and instrument separation. The 2.3 simply has much better control, allowing it to produce, for example, thundering bass that still leaves room for more delicate material occurring in the treble. You're not going to confuse this with a high end D/S DAC that can isolate out each instrument or even something like the Bifrost 2 that seems to put every instrument in a fixed point in space, but there's no muddiness, no feeling of smearing or smudging in the presentation.

    The 2.3 also has a low enough noise floor and solid enough blackground that I could hear tape heads starting to roll at the beginning of recordings, and wind players in orchestras taking breaths between passages on well recorded classical pieces. I tried to find material too dense or complex for the DAC to resolve and couldn't personally find anything, but I tend to listen to classic rock/jazz/classical/pop and not necessarily the kind of music that would push this DAC to its limits.

    As I said above, the 2.3 is simply the best DAC I've ever heard. The presentation is sumptuous, detailed, and supremely engaging while still allowing the character of the original recording to shine through.
     
  5. JK47

    JK47 Friend

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    Too bad he no longer ships to Zimbabwe
     
  6. EagleWings

    EagleWings Friend

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    Now that I have rolled some tubes on my Abbas 2.3, I have been meaning to write some thoughts on it. But @Merrick already covered most of what I wanted to share. It is certainly a specialist DAC that will suit certain crowd/chains than others. And when it works, it just works so well. We have seen folks sell their Wavedream, Wavelight and Yggdrasil in favour of Abbas DACs. And I wrote a piece on how the 2.3 DAC has excellent synergy with the HD800. I am willing to bet there are many folks out there, for whom these Abbas DACs will work great.

    What sets the 2.3 apart from most of the typical NOS DACs is the lack of softness. This is a punchy and energetic DAC for the better or worse, and there is nothing soft about it. It can sound a tad rounded in the notes in the lower mids, but the roundness ends there. While the DAC does have a touch of smear and condensed presentation as a result of being NOS, it doesn’t sound like mush. In terms of speed, I do think this is very agile DAC, really up there with some of the fastest DACs. Some DACs fake speed with thin notes and the Abbas doesn’t do that. As Merrik mentioned, 2.3 has a dense and meaty note presentation.

    As for timbre, I do think what I hear on the 2.3 DAC is the most convincing timbre I have heard on a DAC. To me, timbre is a function of tonal balance, transparency, decay and inner details. While the Abbas gets the first 3 aspects right, it does lack a bit of inner details. Depth, layering, separation and imaging precision are also not high points of the DAC. Wavelight spoiled me with its depth and layering, so it is something that leaves me wishing for more on the 2.3. However, was I coming directly from a Bifrost2, I don’t think I would have had a problem. On that note, I think the Abbas has a blacker background than the Bifrost2.

    I have come to realise that, in the long run, I don’t prioritize separation and imaging a whole lot as long as the bare minimum is met, at least on headphones. On speaker systems though, I can see this being less desirable. But, if you are a fan of single driver speakers, you definitely must give Abbas a try. Abbas DAC and single driver speakers share some common strengths and when you throw a good DHT amp in the mix, it can result in a truly beguiling experience. As always it all comes down to system synergy.

    [​IMG]
     
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    Last edited: Dec 6, 2022
  7. caute

    caute Friend

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    What happens when you add external/software OS to one of these DACs? Do all the special qualities vanish to a greater-or-lesser degree or merely morph into something differently flavored, yet still very good?
     
  8. Jh4db536

    Jh4db536 Friend

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    The tda chip digital algorithm interprets 1s and 0s differently than other DACs, for better or worst. The way abbas implements these chips increases this aspect and every recording, source, amp may lead to discovery of happiness. Many times you will find "bad pressings" just like analog but that is not necessarily a reflection of the associated gear. If you been around the woes of vinyl this is not new feeling of disappointment, it is instead validation that the chain was truthful.

    Dac does not sugar coat when a song was created with from sources plugged into a single mixer board or from stacked layers of software samples, it will interpret it literally like that. For this reason one will find a very wide variety of experiences and it may ultimately not be for everyone (I paraphrased the way Abbas describes his own tda product vs other models)

    Generally when you connect these to a PC or a 4x saa7210 OS chip, it loses all the special qualities and starts to sound like a DAC... a 1980s one.

    The tube clock which is the basis of all Abbas DACs (1543 recover clock from spdif and therefore the source clock matters even more) is all about a single tuned frequency generated by a tube instead of an amplified and divided quartz crystal is only going to play a limited frequency even if the cs8414 input chip is capable of more. It is the shortest way.

    I personally only prefer using Abbas DAC with the associated modified CD transport as that was how he originally sold these before 2014.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2022
  9. EagleWings

    EagleWings Friend

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    The digital receiver is limited to 88/96kHz so you can only use 2x upsampling. I've tried upsampling via HQP, J-River and Audirvana Plus (SOX). For the first few days, HQP worked fine and then I started having issues, not sure why.

    Feeding 2x upsampled data gives you better stage, separation, imaging, depth and layering which are welcome improvements. You also get sharper outlines of the instruments, but the inner detail remains the same. But on the downside, there is a slight digitalness that gets added to the timbre. So when I am listening to OSTs and electronic stuff, I sometimes enable upsampling and other times I don't bother with it.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2022
  10. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I would dearly love to hear one of those.
     
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  11. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. The Abbas dacs sound exactly like my cup of poison.

    Just curious, has anyone been able to compare an Abbas to the Sonic Frontiers SFD-1?
     
  12. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    I’m hoping to borrow an SFD-1 mk.2 soon to do that exact comparison.
     
  13. pure5152

    pure5152 ETA Sackrider

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    paging good friend @tommytakis, who I believe has had extensive experience with both the SFD-2 and the abbas 2.3se (and beyond!)-- maybe he can drop us a bone here :)
     
  14. tommytakis

    tommytakis MOT: E.T.A Headphones

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    I was a big Sonic Frontiers fan (owned the SFD-2 for a while) until I found Abbas. I've cycled through plenty of DACs that were well-liked by the community, but nothing fits me better than Abbas dacs (so far at least).

    SFD2 has the upper hand in staging, but Abbas DACs just sound more lively and natural to me. I used to care about staging a lot, but nowadays, I just want something that sounds close to live music and engages me.

    However, Abbas dacs are not for everyone, I would be hesitant to recommend this to everyone. Why?
    - With the current war with Russia, Abbas build times have increased significantly and good vintage parts are becoming more scarce these days.
    - sometimes, parts go bad and you need to know how to troubleshoot basic stuff by yourself or you will have to send your DAC back to Ukraine for repair. He does take care of you whether you are the original owner or not, but be prepared for that.
    - The DAC is very picky with what you feed them and I found that it sounds best when fed with a good CD Transport with EF12 tube clock modded (I use a modded Phillips CD880 with abbas tube clock). If you plan on doing digital fuckery with HQ player or other memes, don't bother with Abbas. You will have much better results with your standard mainstream DACs that are often recommended by the community here.

    For those prone to nervosa, I would steer clear of this DAC and stick to the mainstream DACs. Those that love tinkering and don't mind doing tweaks to finetune "musicality," definitely check out Abbas.
     
  15. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    One additional thought on the 2.3. Most of the time I was using it I had a Marconi tube in the rectifier slot. When I switched it to a National Union tube, the overt richness was much more subdued and the DAC become more of a chameleon, changing presentation to match what it was being fed. This led to the DAC being less immediately euphonic but I felt it became more accurate. In fact, I haven't heard any other DAC be so flexible in presenting music, impressing as little as possible of its own character. Just goes to show how distinctly these DACs can be tuned using tube choices.
     
  16. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth 2000% biased Planar Hater

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    Excuse me, but WTF? Isn't plankton the basis of good sound on SBAF? Do we all even know what plankton means?

    This is not good for a DAC that costs as much as it does and is as hard-to-get as it is. I'd call this "poor value."

    I'm going to be frank. I heard the Abbas 0.1 loaner some time ago. Frankly, I hated it. It was flat, boring, and sloppy. Only marginally better than the Topping E30 that I jokingly reviewed against my peepee.

    Edit: I'll say this about my opinion on Abbas; prove me wrong. I'm not opposed to listening to them again
     
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    Last edited: Dec 14, 2022
  17. YMO

    YMO Big Pooh & Buttcracker

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    Disliking audio opinions is for incels. Too much like Head-Fi.
     
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  18. Merrick

    Merrick A lidless ear

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    Feels like you took my quote out of context, given the next several sentences of my post.


    I’d suggest trying a 2.3 or above if you get the chance.
     
  19. k4rstar

    k4rstar Britney fan club president

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    I'm afraid Dan is right, abbas is lo-fi. This was confirmed in an Austin hotel conference room where it was asked to play Burzum and Tool at 120dB spl and instead it opened a black hole to the third circle of hell. Abbas stock was down 300% in just one week after word spread.

    I think I am kind of sort of mostly responsible for making his gear semi-popular. It was discovered by my friend Jesper who told me about it, I bought some, then I bought some more, then I sold it all.

    I also wrote the English translation for the philosophy page on his website so I'm familiar with his influences. He can be credited for the idea to use tubes in the clock generator circuits of digital equipment. As far as I am aware he was the first to do this. The rest of his ideology is borrowed, but he does credit the authors.

    Unfortunately the execution of his gear in terms of build quality is poor. Before the war he had several people helping him assemble the units but he would supposedly do final QA/burn-in so it's not really an excuse. I think pretty much every piece I got from him had some sort of quirk or issue that I had to resolve on my own. I already explained in another thread the 2.2 DAC I got had a shorted AC input trace which was the worst example and due to an easily avoidable design flaw. I know 6 or 7 other owners who experienced catastrophic failure of some sort or other from early parts failure (like, within weeks of receiving their DAC) or DOA units. In fact I would say 80% of Abbas owners I know ended up unsatisfied with their purchase and selling, though they wouldn't publicly admit it.

    The above is why I never actually wrote anything about the abbas DACs and wrote very little about the headphone amps. I just didn't want to be responsible for endorsing something with so many caveats that could leave people feeling bad. I got a couple dozen PMs about his stuff and my response was always along the lines of 'do your own research' except for people who already made up their mind and just wanted purchase confirmation in which case I said 'do what makes you happy'. Instead I hosted 3 loaners, one for the DAC here and two private ones for the headphone amp and phono stage. The response on the loaners was completely mixed as you might expect.

    I enjoyed the sound for 2 years, it was an eye opener. In the end I sold the stuff because I realized how to do better with less and for less but the experience was invaluable. His gear is really colored but his philosophy is mainly about color and creating the aesthetic you want. There's a lot of opportunity to do that with his equipment if you're into that sort of thing. Ironically the reasons why his stuff sounds the way it does is not what is immediately apparent. I prioritize sound clarity above all else now so I don't use extra boxes or components or connections if I don't have to.
     
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    Last edited: Dec 14, 2022
  20. JK47

    JK47 Friend

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    Kind of like a coloring book?
     

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