Round 1 took place on Friday evening. Round 2 and 3 convened the next morning. Round two consisted of the winners of Round 1 going against each other. Since there were 3 winners, the last DAC, which happened to be the Lampizator, was pushed to Round 3. Links to our reviews of these DACs are at the bottom of the page.
ROUND TWO - SEMIFINAL
B vs D
EASTERN ELECTRIC MINIDAC in Solid State mode vs. ANEDIO DAC1
$750 vs $1,270
Very nice in all respects, Arnold Overture very clean, a little dry, I liked the vocal tracks better than the Arnold
Excellent dynamics, soundstage and transparency.
Soundstage is great - nice size, layers good
Satisfying, soundstage wider than speakers, reasonable layering, clean and crisp, resolving, nice splashes
Excellent orchestral, very dynamic and musical, sweet vocals
My 2nd favorite
DAC D just spoke to me more than B, better echo/decay, less depth but better musicality
Better background, widest soundstage, impressive layers, excellent clarity
Not as transparent as B, cymbals not as clean
Excellent soundstage; dynamics, coloration, transparency, reverb not as good as B
More body than B, but vocal a little harder, Arnold not as coherent
EASTERN ELECTRIC MINIDAC in SOLID STATE MODE
by a vote of 4 to 2
3 of the 6 judges indicated that the differences were "Significant" with 2 saying they were "Subtle", with one "Hardly any difference at all"
Darby's comments: The Eastern Electric advances to the final round versus the Lampizator!
Judges David Pogue and Jim Koska listening intently
B vs F
EASTERN ELECTRIC MINIDAC in Solid State mode VS THE LAMPIZATOR
$750 vs 3,300 Euros (about $4,700)
How intriguing! The final round pits the cheapest DAC in the Shootout
versus the most expensive at nearly 10 times the price!
And...the cheapest DAC in solid state mode vs an all tube DAC!
Judge's Championship Comments:
DAC B - Eastern Electric
Best transparency, natural, clean - low coloration, natural reverb, very satisfying, piano seems properly sized, Marginally the best of the bunch, Arnold nice decay, excellent overall
Bass good, beautiful highs
Track two very good but not as good as F, detail better than F
Fun listen, very realistic
It's hard for me to do a valid comparison with music that I am unfamiliar with, ie. the classical; however I like this piece and could enjoy it long term
DAC F - The Lampizator
Would have been nice to hear more sax on track 1, but I think I preferred this to the first - Jennifer Warnes more realistic
Clear view to music, wide soundstage, fun and satisfying, Natural sibilance, coloration a little plastic, highs have nice sheen, excellent lows but piano a little boxy. Jim, I preferred D to B and D to F. "D" was the Anedio - Darby
Really pretty much a toss up - marginally prefer F on all tracks
Great dynamics, depth & layering OK, grand soundstage
OVERALL SHOOT OUT CHAMPION
by a vote of 5 to 1
NO judges indicated that the differences were "Significant" with 5 saying they were "Subtle" and 1 "hardly any difference at all"
Darby's comments: While the Lampizator won, it is clear from the judge's comments that the margin of victory was very slim, which says a lot about the Eastern Electric at 1/6 the price. I have to say that I thought the Lampizator, even though this is the first time I'd heard it, was far superior to the EE. Why the discrepancy? It could be that I was very familiar with the sound of the EE since I had reviewed it, bought it and had listened to it for hundreds of hours prior to the DAC-Off through many different amps and speakers. I was also very familiar with all the tracks, much more so than the judges. Yes, I knew which DAC was which, but I believe that knowledge did not influence what I heard. In addition, since Mike Peshkin was through with the listening portion of his review, I took the Lampizator home with me and immediately stuck it in my system in place of the EE. After listening to the Lamp for about 40 hours now, I can easily say that it is vastly superior to the EE in tube OR solid state mode. It is simply the best DAC I've had in my system, including others at the same or more bucks.
Next year, if the judges are willing, we'd like to do another shootout at Mike's Ribfest. Possibly more DACs, but it could be anything; amps, speakers, turntables... Next time I think we should agree beforehand on the musical examples so everyone is as familiar with them as possible.
If anything, the Shootout proves that different people like different things in their sound, even when they have somewhat similar tastes and biases. That just makes sense since different people, even "experts" disagree on different musical genres and artists, wines, art, dance, cars, pets, computers, food and everything that makes up life as a whole. I happen to love female vocals, but i talked extensively to one AA'er that thought all female vocals were "screechy". "Karen Carpenter is screechy, you say", I asked? "Karen Carpenter is a female and all female vocals are screechy!", he replied. What's more important, I think, is that he and I had a great time together the whole weekend and our vastly differing opinions did not effect our time together whatsoever, in fact we ended up joking about it at every opportunity. You see, we both love music and the things that reproduce it in our homes. if only everyone could focus on the things they have in common rather than the differences, what a different world we would have. True?
As fortune would have it, the Eastern Electric MiniDac just became obsolete. One of the judges called the distributor Morningstar Audio to buy one and was told that they are sold out and would not be getting more because it was being updated. I immediately contacted Bill Goodwin at Morningstar and he told me this: There is indeed a new model that will be called the MKII. Here's what he said about it:
I really only have these details from Alex so far. I believe I will sell
it at $1050 or $1100. Prices of metal have skyrocketed and the Async USB
cost more plus these added features.
1. Sabre ES9018 DAC chip
2. A Sync USB 32/192
3. Dual power transformers separate digital and analog
4. improved tube output stage
5. improved PSU
6. improved signal input section with high frequency relays/resistors module
7. Tube/SS outputs selectable
8. Socketed output opamps
9. improved S/N level
We have taken out the volume control also, it is now fixed output.
My guess is a month/5
weeks before we get them in.
As soon as I finish this letter I will be writing my webpage guy and have
him put an OUT Of Stock on my website.
I might even have $100 off preorder price but I really have to find out
from Alex when they will be completed. I don't want to keep selling the
original DAC and then have my customers PO'd at me for not telling them
that the MkII version is in the works.
Of course as soon as they come in one will be arriving at your door.
From what Bill says, it appears that one of the EE's biggest limitations - the limited bitrates over USB - is going to be fixed with the new Asynchronous USB 32/192 which will make it one of the very few that does that ultra hi-res over USB at any price. I wonder if the "improved tube output stage" will make the tube section sound more like a, well, tube section, than the current model. I am disappointed that the volume control is being eliminated however. That means you can't use the new model as a preamp as you could the older model, though few people did. I'm thrilled that we will be the first to get the new model for review. Anyone want to buy a slightly used MiniDAC?!
Once again I want to thank Mike and Barb Peshkin (a living Saint) for allowing us to used their home and system for the DAC-OFF. They are both very special people.
I also want to sincerely thank all the Audio Asylum guys for giving of their time to participate as judges. They did a great job. Listening to the comments afterwards, they all learned things by participating, as did I. One of the most interesting comments heard a lot was that pretty much everyone was surprised at how good digital sounds now versus just a couple of years ago. They are right. One guy said, "I can't believe we're lightening to digital at Mike Peshkin's house!" Mike has long been a vinyl enthusiast and has a massive LP library.
I also have to recognize the time consuming job our Dr. John Richardson did with setting up and managing the playback of the tests. We couldn't have done this without you, Doc - many thanks!
IMHO, the EE sounds as good as many turntable/cartridge/phono-pre combos up to around $10,000, perhaps more when playing 24-bit files. From what limited time I've had with the Lampizator, I think it competes with many of the top turntables at any price, whether playing Redbook or 24-bits.
It may be of interest that I did a little blind Shoot Out when I got the Lampizator home. I snuck it in the system before my wife Linda, who has excellent listening skills, knew about it. That night I told her that I had made a change, but didn't tell her what and she couldn't see that Lamp yet. I asked her to tell me if she heard a difference. It tool less than a minute for her to say that it sounds MUCH more analog, smoother yet more detailed than before. She also said she could much easier hear the words on vocals - something that I thought was one of the major improvements, too. "It's just much more realistic and music - natural. I like it!", she added.
If you have any questions or comments about the shootout, don't hesitate to write. We say again that we are well aware that blind or even double blind tests have drawbacks, but so does every other evaluation process. Some people think blind tests are the ONLY way to get to the truth while others think they are completely useless. We say they are just one of several tools that help people make informed buying or trying decisions, which is the whole point of our mission here. The best way is to listen to a component in your system for a period of time, but that opportunity is becoming less and less attainable - and which component should you try when you can? We believe we can help.
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LINKS TO DAC REVIEWS