Crane Song Solaris DAC Review - Stream of Consciousness

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

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Verite from Solaris as an AIO as bedtime listening rig! Done.
     
  2. cskippy

    cskippy Creamy warmpoo

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    I would settle for that as my main system!
     
  3. fp627

    fp627 Friend

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    Received today via SBAF loaner program. A very big thank you to @purr1n for including me in the tour.

    1st impression TLDR version: Competent product. Probably not for me, slight chance that this may change. Good feature set.

    Background:
    Will have a DNA Stellaris before the end of this year if there are no hiccups. Current DAC is a Soekris 1421 (which I'm happy with) but based on my 2 weeks with 1421 and Stellaris, I don't think the 2 had any special synergy. I would like a new DAC to go with Stellaris (keeping 1421 for other amps). Have tried different Yggdrasils with several different amps before and think the Yggdrasil would be a good pairing with the Stellaris. However, with so many "good" new DACs within the last 2-3 years, I wanted to try a few others.

    Apologies in advance if anything here is repeated from other reviewers, after the 1st page, I stopped reading as I didn't want to bias my expectations/what I was hearing.

    Initial listening setup:

    Allowed 1 hour of warmup and random music before listening. Deliberately running a slightly gimped (but realistic) chain for now to simulate a more "normal" use:
    - Surge protector > included transformer and power cables. Macbook Pro 2015 > Tidal (lossless) > USB cable > headphone jack in front > Focal Clear with 1m factory 6.5mm cable (~2+ hours) // HFM HE-4xx with factory cable (15 min). Clears between -50 and -42 on "phones" output. HFM HE-4xx between -46 and -41.
    - Surge protector doesn't have anything else plugged in. Cables are not near my other equipment, etc.
    - Towards end of listening period tried unplugging charger from macbook, moving cables near my other gear, running electrically noise stuff in the house, and other nervosa/fine measurements level stuff, barely heard a difference if any, may have been placebo if I did.

    - Will use a slightly "better" chain later to simulate a more "audiophile" user (ex balanced out > Liquid Platinum with Telefunken Production 6922 and rHead to test with CIEM, use CDs in addition to Tidal, use more headphones, etc)

    Initial use case:
    Using a variety of music. Include audiophile recordings. Also includes a lot of music (or music similar to) from my post (#27) in the "need for at least 1 bad recording" thread. Reasons behind songs explained in thread:
    https://www.superbestaudiofriends.o...eed-for-at-least-one-bad-recording.165/page-2

    Rough 1st impressions. More thought out impressions will come later:

    - Not enough impact/bite/grunt/slam on bass. Yes, these are all slightly different things, but again rough impressions and <12hr run time, so don't want to get into the fine details of it yet. Not sure if this DAC implementation or just because AKM chips.
    - Very good detail and resolution.
    - Microdynamics also very good.
    - Oddly enough, even with very good resolution and microdynamics a tiny bit of color is missing from string instruments, including acoustic guitar, ukelele, etc. To clarify, I imagine it would be a little harder on this DAC for me to tell string types apart on a cello (metal vs synthetic) or guitar (metal vs nylon), but it's not like it's so bad that I wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
    - Very good soundstage.
    - Not enough ummppphhh in the overall sound. Again, not sure if implementation or just because AKM chips.
    - Overall sound is cohesive and makes sense. Low mids up to highs all blend well with only a slight rough spot around upper soprano vocals. See points below about bass, but overall still cohesive.
    - Not as airy and no as much separation as my 1421 + LP. More noticeable on the high end of vocals.
    - Upper highs seem raised. Slightly lacking (quantity) in upper bass and low bass. Combined with lack of slam, bass drops were somewhat lacking (compared to similar level gear... of course it's still better than most commercial every day gear <$100). As purrin first mentioned though, bass does go low enough.
    - Black background. No background noise when I leave Clears plugged in, pause input, turn volume knob, etc. I don't have equipment for actual measurements, but I plugged in my UE5 (these are sensitive to noise) with input paused and turn headphone output to off, I can hear background white noise. Tiny bit more background noise than my Arcam rHead, which I use specifically for my CIEMs. When actually listening to music on rHead with UE5, I don't notice the noise unless I listen for it and even then it's faint. With Solaris and UE5, each step I take up or down on the phone level knob time I hear a small "pop". While (hopefully) people won't use their IEMs with Solaris output, point is Solaris output is quiet enough for headphones and the UE5s were brought out just to validate results and show that the limit isn't my hearing.
    - If OK musicality is a 5, Solaris is about 4.5 to me with Clears. 5.5 with HFM HE 4xx. With some pop/electronic music (electronic and vocals, think Ellie Goulding or Chvrches, not Skrillex) musicality is about 7.5, no clue why only with this genre and some songs.
    - Focal Clear doesn't have as much of a metallic "tinge" to the sound (due to it's drivers) as it does in some other cases. Not sure if this is because I feel like there is a slight veil on the DAC or possibly the built in output.
    - I don't like drums and cymbals on this DAC. I'm slightly annoyed with the sound on my 1421 due to the ringing seeming truncated, but it's acceptable. Here it's just over the line of "not for me". Cymbals don't ring and splash quite right, some of the color/ringing/overtones seem to be missing to me, perhaps the same as the string instrument issue described above.
    - This DAC somehow sounds slightly "slow". Not slow like lag or the quantum clock inside is bad. Hard to describe. Imagine shuffling across a room with 1-2" water on the ground, it's not enough to make a big difference, but everything will feel slightly slow. For reference, I feel the same "feeling" when listening to my Vanatoo T0s (although those are noticeably slower than Solaris, and even then, overall acceptable).
    - Rolling bass lines don't sound quite right either. Same lines are slightly too quiet. Bass drums in some recordings is a bit too slappy. Bass in some electronic music too. Note that the slappiness gets worse due to listening fatigue I get on this, same song I played 20 min in after 3 hours, same volume levels, slappiness seems worse due to fatigue.
    - I don't like this DAC with busy music.
    - I still want an Auteur or Aeolus. I don't think I would like this with the Autuer as IMO Auteur doesn't handle rolling bass lines quite right either (just to a lesser degree than Solaris). This is not knocking the Auteur (which are IMO still amongst the top 5 or 10 headphones I've ever heard), just that I don't think the synergy will be right for me ears.
    - After about 2+ hours, there was something I can't describe / can't place my finger on the whole time that just seems wrong/off with the sound. Usually when somethings wrong, I know why. Hopefully this changes after more run time.
    - After about 30 minutes this DAC is already slightly fatiguing for me. Took a break for 10 minutes, after 20 minutes listening fatigue again. After about 2+ hours, it's noticeable, but not unbearable. Like the fatigue goes from 0 to 5 in <30 min, but from 30min to 2hrs, it only went from 5 to 6. From 2 - 3 hours, about 6 to 6.8. While I suspect I'm slightly more prone to listening fatigue than some others, I don't have get fatigue with any of my other DACs, amps, or players after 6-8+ hours. This is probably the biggest reason I will not be buying this DAC unless something changes after more run time.

    Edit: plugged Clears into 1421 headphone out after 3+ hours on Solaris, first thing I noticed was that Solaris had noticeably better micro detail and resolution. 2nd impression is wow, the Solaris definitely had amazing soundstage. Note that while I've never been wowed by or complained about 1421 resolution and micro detail or soundstage.

    In summary
    , it hits a lot of the "measureable" and easily characterized check points but misses some of the more subjective/vague. 1st impression is I will probably need to look at 1 or 2 more pro audio DACs. Also I hope the negative points were not all solely due to me using a USB cable for initial evaluation.

    Other things:
    Straightforward and easy UI
    No too bright lights, etc.
    Hardware seems to be of quality
    So-so to somewhat ugly appearance IMO. I personally don't care about this, but I know some do.
    Crane Song is already very clear about this in the specs, but no SE outputs, BAL out only. 2 sets of BAL out. (Slightly annoying IMO when ~$2k+ gear only has 1 set of output)
    No disassembly but shining a flashlight through the vent holes on top the components + board, nothing particularly noteworthy, both in a good or bad way.
    All caps I could see were electrolytic, looked like Nichicons. Not a big deal IMO, but I know some people go out of their way to replace electrolytic caps.
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2019
  4. skem

    skem Friend

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    If fatiguing, I’d wager it’s the source. I also had that nervous energy feel until I switched to DigiOne.

    It’ll never have slam. It has suppressed macrodynamics.

    Edit: electrolytic caps are generally fine as long as they are not used as coupling caps. The power supply inside looks linear to me (again, peeking through the holes). Nice toroidal transformer inside.
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2019
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  5. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    The slow / murky thing is its built-in USB which sucks. The highs and timbre improve somewhat after two days being left on - not totally though. It's can be on the analytical side. The Yggdrasil A2 would be my pick for the Stellaris. Maybe DAVE. I don't see this one as much.
     
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  6. bixby

    bixby Friend

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    @fp627 laptops in my experience are generally poor sources. I've been using them going back to 2004 (mac and win, 4 flavors) and feel they can sound good but not great in comparison to other sources. Some folk blame it on the noisy screen, others on battery management software processes(when runniing on bat alone), cramped quarters, bt and wifi radios in close qtrs, etc.

    It may help to turn off the screen after a minute, but in my experience the difference is small. Things get better with a desktop or in the mac world a mini and best when dedicated with no other stuff going on. Even better some of the new low cost linux embedded sources or endpoints can sound great with the right SW as mentioned by @skem
     
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  7. skem

    skem Friend

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    There seems to be a trend where the more resolving a DAC is, the more the source matters. That’s probably total BS. But it does *seem* this way.
     
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  8. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    Maybe not exactly. For example, previous modi's were more sensitive to input signals. I remember it could respond to any kind of decraptifiers. Modi 3 has no such issue.

    My bet is how digital input signals are treated internally. Every digital signal except i2s should be converted to i2s before entering a da conversion stage. This is usually done via corresponding chips. It seems that spdif-i2s conversion is pretty robust (akm 4118 or something like that typically used). Toslink-i2s varies. USB-i2s more varies.

    With good usb-i2s conversions, resolving dacs go well with usb input, let alone transport quality (another issue). At least my experience said so. Also as usual, single or multiple factors can screw this conversion. lol

    That said, I'd put solaris internal usb conversion way behind other competitors (convert-2, xsabre pro mqa, anything schiit usb5). x26 dac also had some issues in usb inputs. But it was still better than solaris usb to my ears.
     
  9. fp627

    fp627 Friend

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    @skem - Agreed on all 3 points. With that being said, macbook with my other gear isn't fatiguing, but I still agree it isn't the best source. I've always found the sound signature of a lot of Apple products to be slightly edgy and harsh. And yes, I don't think electrolytic caps are a problem here either as they all looked too small / low value to be coupling caps.

    @purr1n @Vtory Read through thread now that initial impressions are done and it seems to be a common theme that the USB is bad on Solaris. Will try other chains that don't involve USB (will probably go to spdif next) in a day or two.
    Not willing to spend that much on a DAVE and yes, Yggrdrasil is still my first choice as of right now for Stellaris.

    @bixby Next chains will include different desktops / computers. Agreed that laptops aren't always the best sources. Also tried turning off the wi-fi, etc. and it didn't seem to make a difference.
     
  10. fp627

    fp627 Friend

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    OK part 2:

    Setup:
    Tidal Lossless + CDs in storage -- Optical (SPDIF) from desktop -- Solaris at -30dB to -25dB gain -- XLR out (Pangea cables) and unknown 1m XLR microphone cables with Neutrik Connectors (to A/B cables) -- LP with Telefunken 6922 (Telefunken mfg) -- Bal out -- HD6xx (stock except Forza Audio cable) / LCD3 (Stock except Forza Audio cable) / Ether 1.1 / Clear

    Also tried replacing only 1 thing in chain at a time to see how much difference USB vs SPDIF made, if Solaris could cover up a bad source (ex used youtube videos), change cables on same headphone, etc.

    Left on for 5 days straight, did (<8 minutes) listening mornings and evenings to see if there was a slight improvement in sound without "burn in/getting used to the sound" occurring. It seemed like there was improvement from warm up until day 2 or 3. Not huge improvement if there was though. Difference was small enough that it could also be placebo.

    Summary:
    Both strong and weak points above improved with warmup and better chain. Biggest improvement was not using USB input.

    Details, roughly in order from best to worst traits:

    +9.75 Amazing resolution and sound stage. Gets the little details in the sound itself too.
    +8 Very good microdynamics, probably enabled by the resolution. The little bit of missing color is mostly fixed with better chain but not fully
    +7.5 Black background
    Better headphone amp than expected
    +5.5 Good cohesive overall "idea" that makes sense. Overall OK with a few rare instances of very good musicality. (Note that I am not saying the bits are all cohesive as a big picture, if that makes sense)
    Clearness and separation a little better
    Still leans towards the analytical side of sound (not good or bad, just preference here)
    0 "Wrongness" in sound seems to be gone with better chain
    Built in headphone input still felt slightly veiled (like 5-10% left), but at the same time, it also made the Clears not have that metallic tinge to the sound because of this slight veil
    -1 Upper highs still raised, but it's not as annoying with "better chain"
    "Slightly slow" is mostly gone with a better chain
    -2 Drums and cymbals better with better chain
    Still missing some overall cohesion in how the music sounds. I actually don't like this DAC with LCD3 much for this reason (ex: IMO many things individually sound great on LCD3 to me, but the overall sound doesn't always come together.)
    -3 Rolling bass lines still don't sound quite right. Upper and lower bass still kind of missing. Bass still slightly slappy.
    Less fatiguing with "better" chain, but still slightly fatiguing. Not as annoying with busy music to me as before.
    -7 Like others before me have said, USB is not good on Solaris. I've never heard *this* much of a difference between inputs before. Not sure if it means the USB is that bad or if it's just the other stuff is just that good.
    -8 Still not enough macrodynamics, impact, etc. However, this is definitely subjective per listener. As skem mentions, this isn't a deal breaker for him, it is for me,

    Other Thoughts:

    - Since LP is popular here and on some other sites, If 10/10 is max synergy with amp, 0 is no good or bad synergy, and -10 is max bad synergy (i.e. takes away from), IMO synergy ranged from 2 to 5, depending on recordings.
    - My favorite headphone with this chain was HD6xx
    - Would buy this DAC pretty easily if most of my listening was classical or similar music w/o that much macrodynamics.
    - Despite other complaints above, I would still strongly consider this DAC at the right price just for the amazing resolution and sound stage.
    - Once again, great feature set and interface *this is not a "consolation prize" type comment, bad UX/UI/etc really irk me.
    - Pretty source dependent, but IMO that makes sense for Pro Audio applications where it's expected that other gear is going to be at least "pretty good".

    Once again, thank you to purrin for including me in loaner tour.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2019
  11. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    You've been promoted to full moosehat hat privileges.
     
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  12. Agouti

    Agouti Rando

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    Hi SBAF, long time lurker brand new poster here. Apologies if the following is a bit long, but I'm on the edge of pulling the trigger on a Solaris and would love some help in either deciding to go ahead or start researching an alternative.

    My setup up has been AudioTechnica AD900s from an Asus Xonar soundcard (crashed, blowing out the AD900s) and more recently BeyerDynamic DT 1770s fed from an AudioLab M-DAC+ via USB out of my PC as I need isolation from a noisy office environment. At some point in the future, I'd like to pick up a high-end pair of open headphones like the LCD3s, but that's a ways off - need a quieter environment first.

    Unfortunately the M-DAC+ was plugged into the PC when it got taken out by a lightning strike a few weeks back, and is also kaput. Fortunately the 1770s survived.

    I listen to mostly fairly laid back electronic music like Dream by Autograf, La moisen vert by Zen Baboon/Samuel Lupi, or Minimanimal by Sideliner. They typically have deep, soft basslines with a few discrete melodic instruments and rhythm sections over the top which need lots of seperation for proper enjoyment.

    I'm a bit of what @purr1n has referred to as "soundstage bitch" - something the AD900s were always good at almost regardless of the source, but the 1770/AudioLab combination never did well.

    So I'm in the market for a DAC and Amp, preferably AIO, to drive my current headphones but capable enough to drive a higher end pair in the future, which may (probably will?) benefit from balanced out.

    Good tight bass is important, without bloat and without muddying the mids and highs - I don't need or really want slam or hard attack, but it should have accuracy and presence, if that makes sense.

    So a good, wide soundstage without being artificial, lots of detail and resolution, and deep bass without being bloated or overly dominant.

    I've researched the Holo Cyan, Benchmark DAC3 HGC, RME ADI-2 DAC 2 and Pro, Soekris DAC1541 and the Solaris. I wasn't particularly happy with the AudioLab, so not keen on going down that path again.

    I wont have the opportunity to listen to any of them anytime soon, so best guess at least on paper is the Solaris or DAC1541 as best fit for me in an AIO, even though I'll need to find an alternative to USB input for the Solaris.

    Here in Australia the Solaris is only slightly more expensive than a ADI-2 Pro or a middle range decent Schiit stack, and the 19" rack profile will fit well in my office. The Soekris models don't seem to be available from anybody reputable onshore, but the DAC1541 would end up a bit more expensive once shipping, insurance, and tax is taken into account.

    So while it's a bit more than I had originally planned on spending, and although it has a face only a mother could love, the Solaris seems like one to get. Thoughts? Criticisms? Wildly unsubstantiated accusations? Oh, and thanks for your time in reading the above.
     
  13. Baten

    Baten Almost "Made"

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    You've definitely done your research. I don't believe either the Cyan/DAC3/Soekris really fit your yuge sound stage preference. The Solaris as an AIO is excellent as budget permits, and according to pretty much everyone here on SBAF it truly excels in stage. So I think you're on the right track :)
     

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