Sonic Frontiers SFD-1mk2 Vintage DAC for $750 That Stomps Most Modern DACs

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by purr1n, Nov 9, 2015.

  1. A Child of the Jago

    A Child of the Jago Facebook Friend

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    Interested in this DAC and am wondering if anyone can chip in with its synergy with either Black Widow or ECP DSHA-3F or how they feel they might pair.

    My chain will be: Eitr -> SFD-1 MK2 -> BW or 3F -> Verite

    Sound-wise I'm particularly interested in warmth, visceral bass, rich tonality and musicality - although the SFD-1 isn't NOS that's the way I lean. On that point, I'm also wondering how this fairs against the newer Metrum DACs - Onyx and Pavane - or the Holo Audio Spring.
     
  2. Davids

    Davids Rando

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    This is an interesting thread. Maybe there’s others like this here at SBAF but so far it’s the only one I’ve read that focuses on a ‘vintage’ DAC, and the claim that it’s the equal or better of the new stuff.

    My first question is, why the Sonic Frontiers SFD-1 mk 2? Is its renown generally acknowledged and so widespread that the only reason I don’t know of it is my 25 year absence from this hobby? Or is it that Marv owned it and really liked it?

    My second question: What about other ancient and honorable DACs?

    I ask because I’ve got a horse in this race. Once I’ve thoroughly evaluated my incoming (backordered) Aegir, I want to spend some time checking out contemporary DACs. I’ve got a Modi at hand, which should give me a good starting point. But I’m really interested in the Bifrost 2 or Gungnir Multibit, DACs that seem to be very highly regarded in these parts.

    And what will their competition be? A twenty-eight year old DAC, the Enlightened Audio Designs DSP-7000. I’ve used this for so long, and without competition, that I won’t insult you by even trying to describe its sound. It’s how I convert digits to waveforms for CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, and streaming (from a Sonos Connect and a Roku.) I’ve been content with it for a long, long time.

    Anyone else familiar with the EAD DSP-7000?

    Me, I’ll only have more to say about it once I can compare it with the newer DACs.
     
  3. Biodegraded

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  4. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    Sorry, I can't help you with cans and pairings. I'm only speakers and my chain is mostly DIY, so there really isn't much to reference with commercially built components.

    I have the Onyx, the Pavane L3, and SFD-1 Mk2. Probably the clearest comparison I had is to Pavane. The SFD-1 is really impressive in that it is so old and is still very close to the Pavane. Overall sonically, it is hard to find differences. The only differences in my system are in staging. The Pavane does a better job of separating and locating instruments on the stage. There is also a small improvement in clarity, especially on soft passages in the music, but this is a very small difference. Overall, I slightly prefer the Pavane over the SFD-1, but the SFD-1 is of a similar character and still very enjoyable. Hmmmn. Maybe I need to spend a bunch of money on new tubes.

    A couple of things to be aware of. Most SFD-1 mk2 have an HDCD mode. If you have music in that format, many say that it is an advantage. However, with regular Redbook music, the output is about 7 dB lower than a typical dac, due to the HDCD module. It's not a problem if you have headroom in your amplification, but someone with a lower gain system and no gain in the pre amp should be aware.

    Also, Luckbad says that you can still find SFD-1 for around that $750 mark. The last two sold recently had $1000+ asking prices. We don't know what was actually paid, but I'm guessing that it was more than $750. So, if you are counting on $750, you may have to wait or get lucky.

    Marv owning and liking it didn't hurt, but as he points out, a vintage dac is fine until it needs repair. Most vintage dacs are not supported. The Sonic Frontiers equipment is supported by Parts Connexion. I can specifically say that they still support the SFD-1 and are fast and friendly. Mine developed an issue recently which they fixed for cheap.

    IMHO, if your old dac sounds good and is working properly, stick with it.
     
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  5. M3NTAL

    M3NTAL Friend

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    Thank you @lehmanhill,

    I own a "DIY" low-level PCX modified SFD-1 (different resistors, but same capacitors in the analog out side of things) and I have also heard the Pavane L1, but never side-by-side in my own setup. The Pavane was the first DAC that gave me the "uh-huh, yep, this is better than" moment. I got lucky and scored a nice SFD-1 and have never really looked back, but the Pavane has always haunted me. I know there is "better" and "analog" out there, but I am simple and value my $$$. Can't afford the Rockna Wave Whatever or other esoteric or hard to chase down things with no support if they break.

    My other "main" DAC is a PS Audio Digital Link III (Cullen Level 4 whatever) and they can probably be found pretty cheap (even modified) - I'd recommend it for anyone looking for a solid sub $450 DAC. I know it runs a weird dac chip, but it is surprisingly enjoyable with my HD800 and HD650. Might be too aggressive for Focal stuff.
     
  6. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    One other advantage of the SFD-1 is that you can "tune" the sonic character quite easily by tube rolling. With lower cost tubes, it still sounds good, but a different tube choice can work better with your system. I had ignored this possibility until recently, but it is worth the effort to see what is possible. I was lucky. The previous owner had included some other tubes that I had assumed were left over originals, but turned out to be interesting NOS 6H23n. They changed things enough that I have ordered some NOS Mazda tubes to fine tune the SFD-1 to my system.

    For you long time SFD-1 owners, how long to tubes last in the SFD-1? In other words, if I find something special, should I be buying spares?

    Jac
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2020
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  7. ogodei

    ogodei Headphone Heaven Gatekeeper

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    Don't leave it on all the time, 2 to 3 years. Leave it on all the time -- ? Year ?

    I always forget to turn the DAC and the SFCD off :(
     
  8. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    So you are putting $200, $300, $X hundred dollars of tubes in every year? Ouch!

    I'm kind of spoiled. My DIY phono pre has 4 - 6922 tubes. As the designer said, they are designed so that they should out last Twinkies.

    Anybody else? Is 2 or 3 years about right if you remember to power down? At the rate good NOS tubes are going up in price, I would definitely be buying at least one pair of spares.

    Jac
     
  9. Davids

    Davids Rando

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    Well, I've now compared the DSP-7000 to one modern DAC...

    The Modi 3 just doesn't hold a candle to the performance of the venerable old DSP-7000. Admittedly there was nothing fair about this "competition" - a modern budget champ versus an old warhorse.

    But, in the midst of evaluating the Aegir amp*, I couldn't resist tossing the Modi into my 2-channel system. In comparison to the DSP-7000 the bass is wooly and warm, and the upper midrange is covered with a soft, diffuse glare. Less dynamic, less resolving, less engaging. So the Modi goes back to my desktop and exercise set-ups, where it makes me quite happy with good cheap IEMs and headphones.


    *Oh my. This thing is remarkably good. More to say later. I'm still a rando and don't want to get too uppity.
     
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  10. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    You see, something old, but quality can be a good thing, says the old man.
     
  11. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    I have been scheming on replacing the Toslink input on my SFD1 mk2 with a balanced input. I even found a matching XLR connector, so it would look right.

    I have collected all available internet photos of the internal connections and it seems like a pretty simple change, but none of the internet photos had great detail on where the XLR connections are made on the board.

    Any chance anyone on this board has an SFD-1 mk 2 with the balanced connection and be willing to share detail photos of board connections? Of course, I will be doing some circuit tracing to confirm where wires should go, but having a good photo or two would give me more confidence before I start soldering.

    Thanks.

    Jac
     
  12. A Child of the Jago

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    I have a few photos of an SFD-1 Mk2 that I'm considering buying - can anyone comment on whether everything looks as it should do or if anything looks a bit odd?

    Also, is it possible to see if it has had the SE upgrade (not even sure that's something you can see but checking in case it is....)?

    Back.jpg
    Front.jpg
    Inside.jpg
     
  13. Mr.Sneis

    Mr.Sneis Friend

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    Grab it! Stock output caps. Sound dampening, and aes input
     
  14. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    Ask what tubes come with it. I am finding that rolling tubes can be very worthwhile.

    I notice that someone peeled off the stickers on the 2 black "chips". On mine there is a gold sticker on each with a serial number and other info. Not important at all, but curious why they got peeled.

    As Mr. Sneis says, grab it, its a really nice dac.

    Mr. Sneis,

    You mentioned the sound dampening. This is the first time I have seen that. What can you tell me about it?
     
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  15. Enigmatic

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    I would grab it. Internally it looks fine - Very much stock. And yea, as Mr Sneis said, the AES input is awesome.

    There's something magical about the mids of the SFD1 MKII which even the SFD2 couldn't match, albeit the SFD2 is overall technically superior.

    As long as you're aware of the caveats of getting a vintage gear. Though I have to say, my SFD1 MKII had been serving me fine for more than 4 years now, touch wood.

    Addendum: Also probably depends on what price you'd be getting it for...
    Addendum2: The gold stickers would peel off after time since the adhesive dries off with the heat, plenty common.
    Addendum3: It's stock - the SE+ upgrade has different output caps, among other things.
     
  16. magnium

    magnium Rando

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    Here are two pics of my SFD-1 MKII with SE+ mod that shows the different output caps. Note that the yellow stickers are more curled now the last time I opened it up.

    IMG_0004.jpeg

    IMG_0006.jpeg
     
  17. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    Stated earlier, but worth repeating. The beauty of Sonic Frontiers is that PartsConnexion will still service it. My SFD-1 mk2 recently took a trip home to PartsConnexion because it stopped playing music. It turned out that a couple of electrolytic caps in the turn-on timing circuit had failed. Without circuit knowledge, it would have been hard to find, but they know the circuit well and were quite reasonable cost to fix it.

    Another related point. These dacs are approaching 30 years old, so the electrolytics through out the dac are likely approaching end of life. Easily fixable, but I'm just saying.

    Thanks for that. Mine has those Mundorf EVO caps, but I didn't know that it was an indication of the SE+ mod.
     
  18. Qstik

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    Hi, Jac,

    You probably already know this, but the owner and founder of PartsConnexion is also the former owner of Sonic Frontiers and is the designer of the SFD-1. His name is Chris Johnson. See details here: https://www.partsconnexion.com/pcx-about.html

    He also currently runs a side business modding hifi equipment with an online seller here: https://www.underwoodhifi.com/modifications You can click on each mod kit for a list of changes. It's interesting to see the details.

    If you contact Chris, he might be willing to create a mod kit including XLR for the SFD-1. Worth a shot? At the very least, he might be willing to confirm XLR connections for you.
     
  19. lehmanhill

    lehmanhill Almost "Made"

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    Hi Mike,

    I knew about Chris Johnson and Sonic Frontiers, but I hadn't run into underwoodhifi. When I contacted PartsConnexion about repairing my SFD-1, Chris was the one who responded and copies another guy while asking him if his opinion of the repair. I wonder if that other guy worked for Chris at underwood?
    Anyway, they did a good job at a fair price and clearly know their stuff.
     

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