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Old 9th July 2011, 03:43 PM   #1
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Default Will a modern budget DAC beat a high end 1990's DAC?

Hey fellas,

Having recently been made redundant it may be time to downgrade some of my Hifi gear First to go will be my DAC. It's a Trichord Pulsar DAC that I bought used a few years ago, although it cost 1400 back in 1994.

My thinking is to replace with a modern budget equivalent (CA DacMagic), which sells for around half the price of the Trichord on the used market (150 vs 300) - I'll pocket the difference into savings.

Reading up the on the DacMagic's specs it looks as if DACs have come a long way the 15 or so year between them so I was hoping the audible difference will not be that great. Before selling it, curiosity has got the better of me and I've decided to see what is in the Trichord component wise to compare:

Click the image to open in full size.

Click the image to open in full size.

To my surprise there are two toroidal transformers housed inside the main DAC, as well as an external PSU!

Click the image to open in full size.

Compared to the DacMagic, there are obviously far more quality component with regards to capacitors and power supplies, although the circuitry seems far simpler.To be expected, given their respective age gap of 16 years:

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What do you guys reckon? The DacMagic has had plenty of praise since it's release I am hoping the far more advanced chipset/DAC chips will compensate for it's relatively cheaper output stage and wall-wart power supply...

Since there is a 15 year difference between the designs, this seems feasible to me, or am I dreaming?! Since the 150 saving I will get by "downgrading" is fairly modest, I don't want to do something I regret.

Thanks for any advice
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Old 9th July 2011, 07:47 PM   #2
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I've not seen the Trichord outside of your photos, but the "dac list" identifies the dac chip used as the PCM69AU. If this is true, I find it rather shocking that such an elaborate unit would be built around such a mediocre chip. The PCM67/69 dacs, which I'd say are about the worst dacs Burr-Brown ever made, are a hybrid design, allegedly using multi-bit ladder dac stage for the high level data and bitstream for the low level. I've personally upgraded the heck out of a Theta dac using this chip, but even after giving it what in my view was far better supply & peripheral support than shown in the Trichord, it was not even as good sounding as a not nearly as upgraded AA Dac in the Box. Just didn't have any liveliness or realistic soundstaging. Boring.
I also find it quite strange in the Trichord that they used such large & elaborate main power supply components, but then, where it counts most, near each chip, they used small & cruddy blob tantalum caps, making the elaborate main supply stuff just about futile. If it were my unit, the FIRST thing I would do is replace every single one of those tantalum caps with much larger value Nichicon KZ, KS or FG lytics, although I have to say I'd be a bit reluctant to put any work into it if the dac chip is accurately i.d.'d as a PCM69 or 67.
When I first read your subject line, I said to myself, "hell yeah, and old dac can beat a new one", but this may be one of the rare cases where the fundmentals of a design make that situation reversed.
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Old 9th July 2011, 07:59 PM   #3
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Thanks for the detailed info Steve - not too sure about the DAC chip but it's something I will look into. Your post is very informative and much appreciated.

I think I will take a punt on a DacMagic!
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Old 9th July 2011, 08:24 PM   #4
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Regarding your critique of it's liveliness, I can see where you are coming from... It certainly has an unharsh/analogue signature which IME is ideal for taming harsh/bright systems. It's certainly not unpleasant, but it is less forward than other DACs I have owned. In it's favour, the generous power supply does give it impressive bass control.

I recently had a listen to a AVI S2000MD DAC (earlier still, 1991) which utilises the famed Philips TDA1541A S1 DAC with a discrete output. Needless to say it is a firm favourite of mine and I can see why it still has such a reputation! Too bad it is 16 bit / 44.1kHZ only, otherwise I would of chosen that for my system.
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