Crane Song Solaris DAC Review - Stream of Consciousness

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by purr1n, Nov 2, 2018.

  1. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    I request the opportunity to measure / listen to the Solaris before it heads to the UK. 230V is not a problem; have step-up transformers in the lab.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2019
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  2. atomicbob

    atomicbob dScope Yoda

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    As a matter of taste, I have a JA approved Auralic Vega DAC in the lab. The funds spent on it would have been far better utilized on another Elux 251 mic. Vega to me is like going to a black tie function with starched shirt and shorts to hear an uninspiring rendition of a Mozart concerto by a quartet that doesn’t really ‘get’ Mozart. Convert-2 is more along the lines of attending a small group event performing in a pub where the musical emotion permeates the crowd and the event gets a little rowdy, in a good way.
     
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  3. Rthomas

    Rthomas Friend

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    Hi Marv,

    Thanks for the detailed reply. It's more of a curiosity to listen to what a TOTL Dac can do than any great dissatisfaction with my current system.

    I look forward to your thoughts on the DAC section of the RME ADI2.

    It's too much of a hassle to ship between the US and UK so I'll just borrow one from one of the Pro shops here.

    Thanks!
     
  4. damaged-goods

    damaged-goods Acquaintance

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    @purr1n

    How close is the "slightly bright" signature of the Solaris to the Bifrost Uber? You described the Bifrost as neutral tilting towards slightly lean and slightly bright I think.

    How has the Solaris settled down compared to the Convert 2 and the Gungnir Multibit, do you like it better now than 2 months before?

    I appreciate your reviews, it's realy usefull stuff!
     
  5. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    It's seems to have settled down, but it does remain more obviously airy and analytical (macro detail) than either Convert 2 or Gungnir MB. It works well with dark or rolled headphones/amps.

    If you are talking about early Bifrost multibit or Bifrost DS Uber? LOL, I don't even remember Bifrost Uber, so long ago.
     
  6. damaged-goods

    damaged-goods Acquaintance

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    Bifrost DS Uber, I have one in use right now and it sometimes is too bright and too lean. The Dangerous Source comes pretty close to my taste of neutral.
     
  7. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    I just got the Solaris and can confirm it is on the airy side.
    Not a bad bright, mind you, and certainly not caused by poor digital implementation (read : not harsh).

    This DAC is very technical, borderline “mechanical” in its presentation. You hear every little thing but they don’t really connect to make a whole.
    It’s digital done right (no nastiness) but the presentation isn’t for every one.
    Look elsewhere if you want warmth or a wet/organic sound.

    I bet this is great for music production / monitoring.
     
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  8. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    The loaner unit in the house.

    Yeah, agreed with all previous impressions. This is the most perfected akm sound -- also the best sounding "AIO" on the planet. As an ex-owner of rme adi, I'd say this is the most straight step-up from it. Huge departure in every sonic criterion.. enough to justify price delta. Also, this is the first akm 449x dac that I can "comfortably" say to be superior to Modi 3.

    Thinking of myself in one of the parallel universes.
    After rme, what if I sold everything but ether 2 and bought this? That must be one shape of possible End-games. No joke.
    I don't think BW is inferior to Solaris built-in amp. Never. But under this configuration (solaris-bw-ether2 vs solaris-ether2) the latter does several critical things better to my ears -- and of course bw does much more things better lol. Also like discussed, the internal amp addresses some of the inherent fuckeries of this dac so that I can ALMOST forget weaknesses.

    More impressions with details to come...
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2019
  9. cskippy

    cskippy Creamy warmpoo

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    Sell me on Solaris please.
     
  10. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    Your bedroom could be (even more) heaven with S. Also you can bring more headphones there. My bet is any zmf+S sound fantastic.

    PS. But really, I recommend you to join the loaner program even from now.
     
  11. skem

    skem Friend

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    Glad to see more Solaris love. It was my second favorite in the last DAC orgy. Very detailed, subtle, mostly neutral sound. Slightly suppressed dynamics were not, in the end, a problem. Needs a good source.
     
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  12. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Right? Fantastic as an AIO.

    Yes, departure from the Convert-2, X-Sabre Pro, etc. Rounder presentation and tipped up slightly.
     
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  13. Baten

    Baten Almost "Made"

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    I really wonder if something like the Solaris is as good as AKM can sound, or if the AKM next-gen will make a difference. Guess we'll find out the coming year(s)!
     
  14. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    Loaner impression

    The sbaf loaner program is giving me a big pleasure for two weeks in a row. Last weekend was spent happily with X-Sabre Pro, and this weekend even more happily with Cranesong Solaris dac. It’s really better than I expected -- once I realized how to rock it with headphones.

    Associated gears
    • MrSpeakers Ether 2 headphones
    • Hifiman Arya headphones
    • Tekton Design Lore speakers
    • EC Black Widow headphone amp
    • (Randomly built) JLH integrated amp
    • Gustard DAC-X26 dac
    • Matrix X-SPDIF2 digital-digital converter
    • Radial ISO twins 1:1 transformer
    You can assume my statements came from E2(+Slrs as aio) unless specified.


    Appearance and usability

    My (honest) first impression on solaris’ appearance was “ugly”. Very utilitarian-looking front panel (with three green knobs) combined with suboptimal beauties from other sides easily discouraged me. I thought my x26 ugly. Solaris is uglier. Lol. However, there was no eye-threatening lamps that convert-2 had. To some extent I regret I should have gone to solaris instead of convert-2 for multiple reasons -- usability is one.

    Display is also kinda rough and crude (particularly compared to rme adi or lynx hilo). But it had all information really needed to listeners. Level meters in lcd screen is useful -- but I like convert-2’s level meter way better. Anyway, solaris is very usable with borderline acceptable beauty. If you look for eye-satisfying dacs, you should probably go elsewhere.

    USB was crappy. I’d categorize usb quality nearly with x26 and older schiits (up to gen 2 usb). Avoid usb if possible. My listening was mostly done with spdif fed by x-spdif2. Eitr could be good, too.


    Sound

    Those who went through convert-2 thread might remember that I repeatedly said cv2 was exaggerating dynamics. I couldn’t find any hint of such thing with solaris. Judging from dac-only, solaris is more believable pro dac that can be used in actual music productions. I strongly believe that music makers’ audio gears should NOT be TOO GOOD, because the produced result presumably tend to reflect “inverted” coloration and distortion. With this belief, I am worrying that any productions from convert-2 might be a bit compressed and less involving. Anyway, solaris (dac-only) sounds very honest in dynamics. Downside is that using it purely for audiophiling purpose, I think solaris is the most uninvolving among recent quality dacs I tested (convert-2, yggdrasil a2, x26, x-sabre pro).

    The problem of a little lacking energy is aggregated with transient character -- in short, under-damped-ish. This seems more like entire akm 449x’s problem (although 4493 -- and presumably 4495/4497 -- addressed this problem to some extent). Modi 3, ADI-2, and Solaris all have weaknesses in reproducing accurate attacks, compared to schiit multibits or well-implemented es9038 pro dacs. I’d emphasize solaris is way better in addressing this problem than other two mentioned products. But sadly it’s just still there.

    Tonality of solaris was a little tipped up at top octaves. Guessing this is an intentional tune. This tonality compensates uninvolvingness quite well. Also I believe this frequency character will probably be useful in checking small errors and potential harshness in music productions. Anyway the sum of these three characters make solaris’ weakness (as a listening dac) very ignorable. Also, it didn’t bother me much when used via speakers.

    Sound stage is fantastic. Even slightly better than (already superb) x-sabre pro. Layering, placements, and virtual distance are all top notch. And this greatness reduced a bit when used via headphones. Still better than any other dacs that I’ve heard. Maybe I need to check yggdrasil a2 again -- probably music will be the determining factor of preference between solaris and ygg2. If you prioritize holographic and immersive experience very highly in the audio reproductions, solaris SHOULD be in your short list imho. By comparison, X26 renders stages less deeper, and I am sitting much closer to virtual instruments, let alone X26’s artificiality.

    Timbre, micro-dynamics, and plankton are all very good. Good enough to safely categorize into top tier. Honestly, I don’t think dacs I recently like do not differ much in these criteria.

    And like I posted before, as aio, I can safely say that solaris is the best sounding aio on the planet. No doubt.

    I’ve always mildly disliked built in amps. They were at best listenable or tolerable. Sometimes they can’t contest even against budget/value amps like magni 3. Note that I am saying the same thing for all chord’s aios including dave, too.

    Solaris is the first exception that makes me to believe 1+1 can exceed 2. Built-in head amp was tuned very seriously -- to the extent that the major problem I described above is faked as non-issue. I had to double check whether I connected headphones to the right place. Lol. Anyway as an aio, solaris sounds “righter” in terms of transience and timing. I have no idea what the fucking magic worked inside the box. But I couldn’t poo poo any more. Also it goes well with both E2 and Arya. For arya’s fr character (peak at 10k), it’s a bit surprising. Note that solaris aio’s sound is far from being dull or dark.

    Compared to solaris+bw, solaris aio has more energetic and edgier in good ways. Also it could resolve microdynamics a bit better (difference is not large though) to my ears. Bass texture was slightly better nuanced. Less shady and veiled, too. BW still wins in cohesive and organic sounding as well as EC magics. But if I am a solaris owner, I will totally lose all motivation to buy expensive amps because using external amp would let me not only lose money but also give up great synergy between dac and builtin amp. This is why I thought this is one possible shape of end game in this hobby -- at least for me.

    Switching between solaris aio and my reference upstream chain (x26+bw) was interesting. The main difference is blacker background and warmth/meat with x26+bw. By comparison, solaris sounds a bit thinner and cooler. Rickie lee jones’s first debut album have been my reference testing tracks these days. And they (particularly the first track “Check E’s in love”) clearly point out how these two combinations may differ. With my reference system, I can be connected to her vocals more deeply. Deep and seductive tones along with lots of plankton were heard with good sense of proximity. It’s like I am standing as a serious fan in the live theater where she actually sings. With solaris, the tracks sound more objective and refined, as if I am sitting as a primary judge in America’s Got Talent. Hope this can give you some idea.

    Thanks for the loaner opportunity!
     
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2019
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  15. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    Just adding product dimension and weight from my measurements -- I have zero idea why companies like Crane song or Dangerous music did not specify such a basic physical info on their web as well as on the manual.

    -----

    Crane Song Solaris Dac

    Product dimension (WxHxD; inches) : 17 x 1.8 x 9 (real body), Front panel width = 19
    Weight (lbs) : 7.6
     
  16. Dzerh

    Dzerh Friend

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    my guess would be that it may be because these DACs are rack-mounted, so "size 1U" says everything typical buyer needs to know.
     
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  17. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    I know a mastering engineer who is selling one of these at a good price (the guy pretty much only sells locally and hates online markets). If anyone's interested, let me know and I'll be the middleman. Condition is like new; he rotates through new gear faster than HFM releases new headphones. Shipping is from Canada, so keep that in mind.
     
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  18. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    Solaris is in the house for a day before moving on to its next owner.

    Late night stress test feeding it from the optical out on my Prism Lyra, using the built-in headphone jack, I am pleasantly surprised that it can actually drive my HE-6 at max without clipping. It's not headbanging loud, but certainly loud enough for regular listening. It doesn't have the resolution of my Lyra + AHB2 (speaker amp), but this is a stupid test with an unfair headphone. The important thing to note is that I should have gone to bed an hour ago but here I am at 1:30am listening to Sam Cooke and Led Zeppelin.

    The Solaris headphone output certainly has much more meat behind it than the Lyra headphone output. I'll have to bust out my HD650 instead of the HE-6 for some more sensible testing.

    I'm not going to bash my brains in trying to compare the dac qualities feeding into a separate amp. Early impressions as an AIO, Solaris and Lyra are in the same ballpark-ish. Lyra still has that light/wisp feeling that makes everything sound good. Solaris feels like it sits somewhere in between the Lyra and the RME ADI-2 Pro which is the stereotypical cool/clinical whatever.

    Ok 2am, I should be sleeping.
     
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  19. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    Listening with my modded Sennheiser HD25-13 (600 ohm drivers) in an Amperior shell, because my HD650 is buried in a box somewhere in the closet, and I found this one first. Also, there's noise around the house at the moment and a closed headphone is more suitable.

    Anyhow, I don't have the time to go putzing around the back fiddling with cables so this is comparing the Solaris as an AIO vs the Lyra on its own and also the Lyra+AHB2. Funny enough, I don't have a "real" headphone amp to compare with at the moment.

    Songs used: (random shuffle, because I'm sick of the usual ones)
    Supertramp - Cannonball
    Michael Jackson - Billie Jean
    Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Chain Gang
    Prince - Cream
    Nina Simone - Lilac Wine

    I can't speak conclusively about the Solaris purely as dac since I never heard it on its own, but I feel like I've played with enough gear that I can generally feel when something is an amp thing vs a dac thing. Or I'm just an ugly bag of mostly water. Your call. Anyhow, all the following words are great exaggerations because it's all so bloody close anyways.

    I stand by my original thought that Solaris falls somewhere in between the Lyra and RME in terms of technical sound. If the Lyra has a whisp that sort of licks at the top of the notes, the Solaris licks at the bottom and almost feels like it drag cuts at the end of quick transients. Not slow, but sorta zzt on the tss. Staging is wide like a hammerhead shark. The amp seems to have some weight at the bottom end, gaining overall heft but trading initial impact. Instrumental plucks are crisper on the AHB2, but more organic on the Solaris. Actually no that's not just instruments, vocals too. Nina's voice sounds like there was a sock filter on the mic with Lyra+AHB2 but a pop filter on the Solaris.

    I'm sleepy. Not sure what else to say.

    Would I replace my Lyra with this? If I were looking for an AIO and didn't need mic inputs, it would be a contender for sure. The amp out is plenty strong and would be enough for literally anyone except nutjobs like me. Dac qualities seem competitive with others in the price point and I found no gripes or niggles. Build quality is adequate; I kinda wish it had a nicer finish (Forssell sets the bar high on that). The unit gets warm on the bottom.

    Bah that's all I care to write. Time to box this up and ship it out tomorrow.
     
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  20. cskippy

    cskippy Creamy warmpoo

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    Crane Song Solaris LTD

    [​IMG]

    Thanks to @purr1n and gear masters for the opportunity to try Solaris!

    My chain:

    MR816X > optical>Solaris>KH120 and Sub / Aficionado>Verite/HD800SDR/HD650/Verum 1

    The first thing I noticed was a light and airy presentation compared to the denser sound of Convert 2. Dynamics seemed lacking, especially in the bass but once I got past the balance of Solaris I noticed the amazing sound stage. Unlike Convert 2's sound stage which can be a little ambiguous, Solaris' sound stage was rendered as realistically as I've heard. Width, depth and layering were all on point. Positioning of the sound stage is perfect for me. Convert 2 can sound far away and expansive depending on the recording vs Yggdrasil which seemed very narrow and in your face.

    As @purr1n mentioned, sounds can actually appear in front of your head. Sitting in front of my speakers with HD800SDR had me scratching my head sometimes, quickly pulling the headphones off just to double check I didn't have the speakers playing!

    Tonal balance of Solaris is on the leaner side with a spotlight on the treble. Mids can be a touch polite sometimes but honestly I had such a hard time analyzing the sound as I would just get sucked into the music or random YouTube video I was viewing. All sounds were placed perfectly without haze or congestion. This is the first DAC I've used that gave me good enough positional audio cues with speakers in Battlefield 4. All other DACs have rendered audio fine within the FOV of my monitor but it was a guessing game past a 90° window.

    The features of Solaris are such a dream for me. I can use the Main variable output controlled by the “Gain” knob on the front. The Secondary outputs are fixed and are run to Aficionado. The headphone output was such a nice surprise.
    Half the time I find myself using the built in headphone amp for convenience and honestly, great sound. Like others have said, the built in amp complements the DAC nicely.

    I thought Verite and HD650 were the standout pairings with Solaris. Both headphones filled out the slightly lacking bass, or to put it another way, Solaris tightened it's grip on the thicker bass of those headphones.

    HD800SDR wasn't bad at all, especially out of the built in headamp. Staging and overall resolution was just fantastic.

    The closest DAC I can think of to Solaris is RME ADI-2 DAC except Solaris is the best version of AKM4490 that I've heard. The AKM velvet sound is there if you know what to listen for but there is no digititus, lifeless sound or flat stage like ADI-2 DAC.

    This really is a pro audio DAC. I've been dicking around in some of my old music projects while having Solaris and was amazed at not only the amount of information that was rendered but how clearly it was articulated. I found myself undoing heavy handed compression or extreme panning as Solaris really made all aspects of my mix easily heard.

    Having used Solaris for the past week I switched back to Soekris 1541 to see if my original thoughts still hold true. Immediately noticeable is the bass of 1541. So my thought that Solaris was bass light was correct. Next, the sound stage of 1541 isn't as deep or as wide as the Solaris, yeah I already miss that sound stage. Tone and timbre still go to 1541. Voices are more palpable and guitars have more bite, crunch and cymbals can be fatiguing unlike Solaris which although bright was never harsh so I would agree that it has that AKM “velvet” or polite nature to the upper mids/lower treble. I think Solaris pulls out more detail than 1541 even if 1541 sounds more natural. Both DACs are amazing at their respective price points and I WILL be buying a Solaris as this was the hardest thing I've had to pack up yet.
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2019

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