Further adventures in downgrading (or Adventures in Downgrading part 2): So (not downgrading) I got the ZMF Pendant amp on loan and liked it enough that I decided to keep it. Definitely a meaningful upgrade over the Rebel. When I started playing with the Pendant, my first concern was a sense of thickness or “wateriness” (ie it could make me feel like I was underwater) I got with certain tubes. So I started chasing more neutral, leaner tubes, discovering ultimately that a Valvo 12au7 cleared the problem right up. (I also tried switching back to the 2/64 card in the Bifrost which helped, but in the end I ended up switching back to the OG card as my preferred sound.) However, and this is a thing that I want to emphasize—sometimes you’re listening and you don’t notice something because you’re listening for something else or your mood is different or whatever. Once I’d solved the thickness problem, I started noticing what I’m going to refer to as ‘prickliness’—a slight harshness or not smoothness in the treble that irritates just a bit, typically with certain kinds of distortion. This was the thing where when I had the JDS Atom stack I couldn’t listen to stuff like the MGMT album Oracular Spectacular because the distorted synthesizers sounded grating to me. The thing is that the smoothness of the Rebel amp seemed to shave all that off (though I did still have treble issues when I got the Geshelli J2 DAC, but that’s another story I’ve written about somewhere). Anyway, the Pendant with the Valvo input tube didn’t have that smoothness and now I started noticing and being bothered by the prickliness. One thing I didn’t mention in the first post in this thread was there’s another DAC that I have that I use all the time—the Qudelix 5k which I use portably. And the 5k, notably, I’ve never noticed the glare issue that I talked about with the K7. The 5K didn’t sound as good as my desktop solutions, sure, but always sounded perfectly adequate (and having parametric EQ on the go is a killer feature). So since I never noticed prickliness on the Q5K either, I decided to see what would happen if I piped the Q5k straight into the Pendant (which helpfully has two RCA input pairs, so I didn’t even need to break out my Sys to A/B them). And lo and behold, the Q5k on the Pendant isn’t prickly. It’s more neutral sounding than the BF2, but even though the BF2 is a “warmer”, “richer” DAC, the Q5k has a smoother top end. Now, to be clear, the BF2 is superior the Q5k in every other way. The Q5k is still perfectly good, but switching back and forth really hammered home how the BF2 brings out dimension and soundstage and imaging and so forth that the poor Q5k can’t really keep up with. It’s just this prickly/watery business where the Q5k’s more neutral, straight-on presentation wins. I brought out the Modi+ to compare and the Modi+ definitely has more soundstage and dimensionality than the Q5k (which both these other DACs make seem flat as paper). It actually made me appreciate how good a DAC the Modi+ is; it’s not as good as the BF2, but it gets pretty darn close compared to something like the Q5k. BUT the Modi+ preserved the quality of prickliness the BF2 has. And since the Modi+ and the Q5k both use ESS chips, this makes me think this quality is an intentional part of the tuning of these devices by Schiit. Now I previously experienced something similar on the Bottlehead Crack I bought some months ago, and I solved that with a tube combination of the Shuguang Treasure paired with a Brimar input tube, which sounded marvelous to me. But switching away the Valvo brought back the heaviness problem, and I didn’t want to keep chasing after more and more tubes—I already had some pretty dark and rich tubes (Amperex power tubes and Mullard rectifier tube). I was about to throw in the towel and say I need to get some other DAC. I even bought a used SMSL SU-8 (which hasn’t arrived yet) in order to try out a different sound since Parker on Discord swears by that DAC and I thought maybe fiddling with the filter settings might give me some clue as to where to head for a DAC. But then thinking about filter settings made me think of something else I hadn’t tried. The BF2 now has the option to turn off the ‘Supercomboburrito’ filter. So I did. And presto, most of the prickliness disappeared. Not all of it—I could still listen to Jazz and find a horn blast come in and sound harsh. But most of it. And then when I switched the tubes around—replaced the Valvo with the Brimar input tube I used to use on my Crack—and presto. Prickliness basically gone. And for some reason, maybe because there’s less sharpness between highs and lows? (this is 100% a guess) the thickness didn’t seem to bother me that much? So now I’m all set? Well, the BF2 with in NOS mode is… pretty mellow. Certainly compared to the Q5k it now sounds suuuuper laid back. This isn’t necessarily bad, but maybe not end game yet? We’ll see how I take to the SU-8. I could, of course, upgrade to something truly next-level, like the Gustard R26, and hope that with whatever filter options it offers is perfect. Or maybe something in the BF2’s price category like the iFi iDSD Neo, which has the warm and smooth Burr Brown chips. But I definitely don’t have the money for a purchase like the Gustard at the moment, (and anyway when I do get more fun money I still want to upgrade my budget speakers and power amp). But… the fact that filters can have such a huge impact made me think. Maybe the solution isn’t a new DAC, but new filters. In other words, I could keep the BF2 in NOS mode and get something like HQPlayer. The upside and downside simultaneously of something like HQPlayer is that it has a bewildering number of options that would be a whole rabbit whole to figure out what I liked the best, but once I did I might be able to shape the BF2 into the perfect DAC for me. And HQPlayer is sure a lot cheaper than a Gustard R26. I’ve seen some people say that the sample rate of the BF2 isn’t ideal for HQPlayer. Other people though say it does change the sound, and maybe that’s all I need? I don’t know. The only thing is that I’m nervous about the starting the trial period with HQPlayer because I’ll have a ticking clock to figure out if it works for me and I won’t be able to trial it again once I get a new DAC if I do it now. So right now I’m still playing with it and thinking about it. Still, I would love to be able to get rid of the things that bother me most at the DAC level, so that I could worry less about everything else down the line—if I get it smooth coming out of the DAC, I don’t need to worry about finding an amp or speakers (or headphones, though I’m pretty much endgamed there) that’s as smooth as the Rebel, I can stick with the Pendant and whatever power amp and it’s one less thing to worry about.