Two DACs: I need to choose the one which sounds better!

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by xdccr, May 21, 2024.

  1. xdccr

    xdccr New

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    The DACs are:

    Topping D70 Pro Octo, and D70 Pro Sabre.

    I bought the Octo and Sabre, thinking I'd return the Sabre without even opening it because the Octo would be so good.

    So I listened to the Octo for two weeks and the experience was perfect. Literally heard no flaws. Now, I didn't know if this was because the DAC itself is, in fact, perfect, or if it's just the best DAC I've ever had hooked up to my system! (the same thing happened with my last best DAC when I got it...)

    So, obviously I had to open the Sabre to compare them - if it sounded better, it'd really suck to send it back and keep the lesser of the two. The Octo is about $100 cheaper than the Sabre for some reason, even though the Sabre is just one $120 eight channel chip while the Octo has eight $25 stereo chips. In addition to costing $80 more in chips, clearly their 16 channels need twice the supporting hardware, which I'm assuming is the same...

    I have experience with seven Topping DACs and combo DAC/HP amp devices, and quite literally you could line them up by sound quality and price would line up - their most expensive DAC (below these two) sounds best, the cheapest sounds worst, and 2nd is 2nd, 3rd-3rd, etc. etc., which is why I'm pondering this Octo being cheaper than the Sabre, while its parts probably cost more...

    So yeah, back to it. Opened the Sabre, hooked it up, fed both it and the Octo with the same optical signal and went back and forth, A/B. Straight into my amp, which, when you switch between sources, leaves no gap of silence. For fun, I hooked up the analog output from my RME Babyface Pro to the third (and last) output on my amp so that when I cycled through there would be no noise gap. I did this to not have my brain reset (in a way) during the silence.

    People who've interacted with truly good DACs have probably observed the following:
    Hook DAC up to scope or DMM, send DAC sine wave at -3dBfs, measure voltage output, say it's 1.0000V.
    Hook DAC 2 to scope/DMM, send it same sine wave at same level, measure output, read that it's 1.0000V.
    Hook DAC and DAC 2 to amplifier and send them same signal.
    When switching between DAC and DAC 2, notice that DAC 2 sounds quieter.
    Take more involved measurements of DACs - multitone, frequency response, IMD and more, and both DACs return values that should be indistinguishable from one another by ear.
    Listen to DAC and DAC 2 for a few minutes: DAC 2 is clearly better. Listen more: DAC 2 is superior.

    So I hooked up Sabre to Input 1, Octo to Input 2, and Babyface to Input 3, and set all levels to full (set the Topping DACs to DAC, not "pre" mode), and what did I notice? I noticed how much better the Octo and Sabre are compared to the Babyface Pro's analog output.

    What did I notice next? Well, that I can't seem to tell Octo and Sabre apart...

    I only just did this tonight and haven't been able to really turn things up and walk around and do other in-depth testing which often reveals differences quicker [to me] than I would be able to pick up at just normal levels and sitting in one spot. There are a couple reasons why moving around helps - most important being the listening room is in the concrete floor and outside wall [finished] basement, and the rooms to each side of the listening room are not symmetrical or even about the same size. The room itself is only 10x12 ft - small for frequencies under 90Hz IMO/IME. The extra SPL helps for obvious reasons I won't elaborate lol.

    You might be thinking I'm a massive Topping fanboy. I'm not - I just heard they were decent, I needed a few cheaper but decent DACs at computers, and I missed the return date for 3 of the 7 lol. When I saw the Octo and Sabre, I thought to myself "if Topping improves as much from 500 to 800 as they do from 200 to 300 and 300 to 500, these $800 DACs could sound insanely good!

    So yeah, this is my situation - I've got an Octo and a Sabre, and I'm finding it difficult deciding on which to return. I have about 8 days to make the decision.

    Speakers: ATC SCM20 Pro PSL Mk2 with reinforced cabinets
    Amplifier: Topping LA90 Discrete

    I know - Topping again... well the LA90 Discrete is actually an amazing-sounding amplifier. I know: "Topping's the company that chases measurements". Here's a little story: My neighbour a few years ago had an Arcam A18 amplifier, and although it's only a $1200 amplifier, clarity-wise, it beat out everything under $4k in my local hi-fi shop. One of my receivers broke and I needed a new amp some time after I got my LA90D - I thought: why not get an A18 off ebay? It'll only be a few hundred bucks, and it'll sound like a million! So I watched ebay for a while, and I did. It arrived, and before I could set it up, I brought it down to compare to the LA90 Discrete. Wow, was I blown away! The A18 still sounded great - excellent imaging, very clear highs, and great bass.. but when I switched to the LA90 Discrete, the second the snare came in on Images and Words (Dream Theater), the A18's flaws were laid bare. Comparatively, the midrange was lacking, and there seemed to be some energy missing in the 2-4kHz range - in the style of a crossover suckout. This was very surprising, because the A18's next best quality (of the 3 I listed) was its superb midrange! Basically, the LA90 Discrete made me feel like I had wax in my ears + some hearing damage that got cleaned out and healed! I still listen to the A18 in the other room, and it's still a great amp, but the LA90 puts it to shame. Its bass is also surprisingly good. I don't know how much the linear regulated supply I use to power it effects the bass (because my included 64V/5A thing that was included suffered a stroke or something a couple weeks after it arrived). The included supply was switch mode and regulated, so I dunno... Inside there are two really high end 6,800uf bulk caps, which is absolutely huge for a regulated supply. Anywayyyyy, I've babbled enough - I just want to get the point across that the LA90 Discrete is a very transparent amp that doesn't have the weakness some might assume because of its size.

    The speakers are ATC - the woofer uses their Super Linear technology - basically a thing that makes the magnetic field behave like the metal in the magnetic circuit is saturated, even though it's not (because for a 3" coil with 20mm, the neodymium magnet would probably have to be 20lbs. Instead, they put some material in the path which linearizes the field! It lowers 3rd harmonic distortion by 15dB compared to the same woofer when it's not used! No other manufacturer uses this material for some reason... (probably because the ferrite magnet required for a strong enough field is 20lbs). Anyway, the woofer is an excellent design, and, except for in the bass at higher levels, THD remains around -70dB. The tweeter is also made in house and, like the woofer, is also underhung - but instead of a 20mm gap and 8mm coil, the gap is 2mm and the coil is 0.8 or 1mm (I forget). It's dual suspension so no rocking modes (only dual suspension tweeter in the world). All their drivers use rectangular wire, only two layers thick. Crossover is 3rd order Butterworth, all air core inductors and massive audio grade caps - the crossover board takes up the entire rear of the 20L box. The design is sealed - 12dB/oct rolloff with -6dB point at 55Hz. Because of this slope, even though the rolloff starts sooner, perceived bass level is identical to a ported speaker of the same size because of the additional low-low bass present compared to the nearly non-existent low-low bass of ported enclosure designs. The crossover keeps power flat through the crossover region, meaning the speakers fill the room with sound that sounds balanced over the spectrum. The crossover point is 2.1kHz, and the woofer cone+1/3rd surround is 135mm. ATC use a formula to calculate the maximum frequency a driver can be crossed at before becoming directional. I think it's the wavelength having to be no longer than 1/2 the circumference of the driver... I could go on about the tweeter's heat treated top plate, the dome material and how it's woven, the woofer's dust cap being ATC's signature 3" dome midrange, the CLD woofer cone, the CLD box, the 20lb magnet hanging off the extremely thick cast woofer basket, and and and... but I think you know these speakers are built well. They sound extremely good - cost me a few thousand, and if they were stolen and I had to buy new speakers, it would be these again, every time (...unless I came into a bunch of money - then I'd probably go with the SCM50s or 100s which I'd customize the electronics of. And probably one or two of their 12 or 15" subs.

    So yeah... now that you hopefully know that I've got speakers that can easily render the differences between high end DACs... I'm having trouble picking between those two - anyone have any pointers? Any tracks that are real system (specifically DAC) killers? I don't know... I don't know what to ask for lol. I just want to end up keeping the better DAC of the two!

    BTW, this is my first thread here - sorry it's so long! Lol.
    I found this forum a few months ago, lurked here and there - I really like how passionate people here are, and how this place isn't a "measurement is king" place like.... some... really..... fruusstrating.... places..... hahaha
     
  2. Erroneous

    Erroneous Friend

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    My brother in Christ, I made it further into your diatribe than I thought I would I but I couldn't make it all the way. A few things:

    First, quit measuring DACs to tell you how they sound. Just listen. Forget measurements.

    Second, the rest of the equipment is likely limiting what you hear as far as the difference between DACs. When you upgrade something and can no longer hear a difference, it's evidence of a bottleneck in your chain. It's only as good as its weakest link. Ditch the Topping amp.

    Third, ditch the Topping everything else as well.

    Fourth, use your ears, buy used, sell used, try many different things and never even consider how they measure.
     
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  3. MLegend

    MLegend Friend

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    I mean, just keep listening to them to see if you prefer one over the other, that's it. Simply listen to the music you normally listen to. The dac that sounds best to you is the one you should keep, it doesn't matter what anyone else's opinion is on it or how it measures.

    If you still can't tell a difference between the two by the final day, then keep the one that makes you feel happy/content and send the other one back. It doesn't matter what is "best" or "the better dac of the two", what matters is what sounds best to you or which one works better with the rest of your system.
     
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  4. xdccr

    xdccr New

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    I don't think you got very far at all! In fact, I don't think you read more than a random 150 words. I didn't mention measurements anywhere... except for voltage for level matching... And to say this isn't about measurements. (1)

    2) I went through, in detail, how the rest of the system is extremely transparent including the LA90D

    3) I talked about having a few Topping devices, most of which are under $200. I have an E70 Velvet, which, for $400CAD is a good deal no matter how you slice it. It's better than the last DAC I spent $400 on, by a decent margin, and that DAC competed with stuff in the $1k range. (Well, I bought it used, and new it was $700, so it wasn't punching that far above its weight). The things under $200 serve their purpose and aren't worth the time or return selling on ebay.

    4) These two D70 Pros I have in my possession right now (Octo and Sabre) sound as good to me as good as any DAC I've heard. We all know the point where returns are greatly diminished beyond - the D70 Pro Octo/Sabre are there. I got an idea just now: This week I'm going to bring them to my local hifi shop to connect to a system worth a crappy house 5 years ago!
     
  5. xdccr

    xdccr New

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    Yeah, I'll keep listening. I'm also thinking I'll take them to a local hifi shop that has some really good stuff. The place is huge - has two floors. The first floor is a show room about 30 feet wide and 150 feet deep - second floor is a bunch of listening rooms with different systems, maybe 7 or 8 of 'em. One room's got some speakers worth more than any non-supercar (or it did a few years ago when I took a tour). Although I'm really happy with my speakers right now, at some point in the future I'll probably get one of the larger versions of them, or possibly something else. I'll have to convince them that I need to know this now so that in the future I won't have to upgrade again when I get new speakers from them lol


    Right now I'm leaning toward the Octo. It's the one I opened first, and I've spent more time listening to it - a lot more time. I have a feeling the Sabre might be everrr so slightly better, but the difference is so small it's hard to say. And what I'm hearing that's "better" could actually be worse and I just don't know it yet! Lol.
     
  6. Lyander

    Lyander Official SBAF Equitable Empathizer

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    Just tossing in my 0.02 here but honestly if there's no disparity in terms of featureset that'll make one or the other bothersome to integrate into your system, I'd just say to drop one of the DACs in place, see how that fares after a few days to a week if you're able to hold onto it for that long, then switch to the other and see whether you're dissatisfied or, obversely, happy with the change once you've reacclimated.
     
  7. Erroneous

    Erroneous Friend

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    Oh, we know that? Damn. If only someone had told me that spending more than $599 on a DAC was wasted money!
     
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  8. joch

    joch Friend

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    Go with what you like. The “best” may not be what you like over time.

    If you’re still stuck, I suggest getting neither because you’re always gonna wonder what if? Then there’s always something else around the corner. I kid you, but it’s my truth.
     
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  9. rlow

    rlow A happy woofer

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    OMG, comparing and agonizing over 2 topping D70 DACs: please shoot me now.

    Seriously stop wasting your time on this, pick one now, and move on to enjoying the music or improving some other part of your chain as @Erroneous says. Or at least try something completely different (e.g. a R2R or Multibit Dac NOT from Topping). This is sucking your life away.
     
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  10. Lyander

    Lyander Official SBAF Equitable Empathizer

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    Eh some folks are convinced by Topping's marketing. Their loss.
     
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  11. SoupRKnowva

    SoupRKnowva Official SBAF South Korean Ambassador

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    coming to SBAF to ask for help deciding between two Topping DACs....thats a bold play. You'd be better off with anything from Schiit, even the Topping D90SE sounds like garbage. Maybe if you wanted something super cheap, but even then I'd buy a Modi instead.
     
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  12. joch

    joch Friend

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    Seriously, I would think Modius or iFi first. The next level up would be over $1k (Soekris). So anything between $300 and $1200 is not really a good value.*

    But if you heard the goods and like the goods, then go with what you like because “better” may not be your liking.

    *Edit: there is the Bifrost between but some here like the previous version to the current 64. I would still consider this.
     
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    Last edited: May 22, 2024
  13. Slade01

    Slade01 Almost "Made"

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    It's not your speakers. It's most likely your amp that is homogenizing your sound as others here have already mentioned. If you really plan to stick with your setup for the foreseeable future, and you cannot discern between the two dacs on this setup, go for the cheaper one and save the extra cash, being that they are both in the exact same chassis with the exact same feature set.

    You're on the opposite end of the bias spectrum, you're letting measurements completely influence your choice pool. Please remember that there is horrible measuring gear out there that absolutely sounds sublime.

    That said, between the OCTO and the PRO Sabre, I have heard both from a local friend (who is to my chagrin also a fan of Topping and other Chinese brands) also did a comparison. His amp was a Topping A90D. That said, my takeaway is that Sabre is more thinner (or neutral) in sound, focus on the details and clarity, not a lot of soundstage depth and more two dimensional sounding in space. The Octo is on the more fuller side in the bass region, but shifting away from details in the top end. Has better depth spatially but still intimate in soundstage, though arguably a bit better than the Sabre. In the end, its the classic audiophile fairytale story of Tradeoffs and Preferences. One might work well over another depending on your amp and headphones and speakers down the chain. But only you can figure that out for yourself. Neither is better on the whole, just better in relative to your preference and experience.

    Then again, if you can't tell, consider yourself lucky, pick the cheaper one and call it a day, and save the extra cash towards a good booze or a good dinner.
     
  14. Lyander

    Lyander Official SBAF Equitable Empathizer

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    This might come as somewhat of a surprise but I actually like being a bit of a contrarian when I feel things are getting TOO echo-chambery around here, just that I have yet to encounter any substantiable reasons against iFi or Schiit gear in the entry level. I don't have nearly as much exposure to Topping gear (never owned any, just briefly tried in not-ideal settings) but what I have heard hasn't been very encouraging-- I actually dislike defaulting to recommending the same gear over and over again, but it really is just that good.

    I've got an Arturia Minifuse 2 for mic input (I know what the opinions of folks like @Psalmanazar or @Armaegis will likely be since I know y'all have experience with and own MUCH better ADCs and pres) that I used for my old WFH job and still use to record singing or voice work for fun, and if what I'm hearing from it as an AIO to power the HD600s is any indication of how it performs relative to other gear in the recording space.... yeah it's likely not particularly good in the grand scheme of things.

    BUT it is highly vaunted in the entry level and commonly recommended if you just need something affordable cuz you're not really making money with it, and I imagine that shares the same sort of mindspace as Topping gear does in the playback scene-- it gets stuff done and measurements say that it's all you need! Easy answer, one and done.
     
  15. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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    Don't feed the troll.
     
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  16. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    1. Keep the cheaper one
    2. Either your ears need further development or the LA90 is the weak link not allowing you to discern the difference. (Note the LA90 being "discrete" means nothing, It's the NFCA, which means massive feedback locally and globally. This will kill microdynamics and homogenize the sound from any source toward insipidness.
    3. Try other DACs from different manufacturers that use different approaches from Topping, e.g. Modius for $229, DAC2451 for $1350, etc.
    4. I suspect the Octo would be better sounding to my ears. The Octo uses a Cirrus part based on a Wolfson part (Cirrus bought out Wolfson). I have always liked the Wolfson stuff.
    5. The ATCs you want are the ones with their midranges. But $$$.
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2024
  17. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    Since you appear to have measurement gear, why not measure the output from the amp while switching the dacs? Then swap them around on the amp inputs and measure again. It would be interesting to see if there are any differences that way.

    Random other suggestions: upgrade to the SCM20 Actives.
     
  18. purr1n

    purr1n Desire for betterer is endless.

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    ^ This. The ATC actives (built-in) are actually good sounding, so no need for extraneous NFCA garbage amps.
     
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  19. Bowmoreman

    Bowmoreman Almost "Made"

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    I’m with @Erroneous here: if you aren’t hearing a difference with those two, your downstream is HIDING Schiit… if you love the speaks (and they ARE good, not my cup of tea, mind you, I’m a ribbon/planar guy), so work backwards to eliminate the next obstacle: the LA90…

    Now, if you REALLY can’t tell, and they all sound as “transparent” as you claim. Then guess what, you have WON the game, you don’t need to care anymore, and can just stop; using all the unspent money for music instead.

    Use your ears, calibrate with LIVE, unamplified acoustic music recorded in real places. And, again, if you still can’t hear the differences declare the win and go home wealthier.

    but in my experience, you’ve got some obvious “bottlenecks”…
     
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  20. joch

    joch Friend

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    ^ this.

    There’s a thread asking for advice with some questions going unanswered and then there’s this.
     

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