W A R N I N G !

W A R N I N G !

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

I've joined the dark side...

...the dark side in this case being USB DAC users.

Originally I wanted to post a sneak peek when I first got it mailed to me, but decided not to spend time on a useless post. Time was precious during the past week and it's against my policy to post needlessly.

So here he have the DAC complete. It is based on the Burr-Brown PCM2702 USB DAC (USB audio interface w/built-in DAC, the same thing powering the FubarII/III and GoVibe Petite DAC and various cheaper entry-level DACs. (Some other DACs also use this series of DACs for the USB interface, but uses I2S output to another better DAC, e.g. PCM1796 or CS4398 with higher sampling rates and SNR)

Specification-wise, The PCM2702 isn't much of an upgrade over normal sound cards, with a 105dB SNR and a sampling rate of only 16-bit/48kHz. At least it's still better than it's cheaper brother PCM2704 with 98dB SNR. Speaking of which, the PCM2707 also has 98dB SNR, but most people use it for the I2S/SPDIF to another DAC, so SNR isn't of concern here.

I used to ask this question: considering that sound cards have much more and better components than a USB DAC, why do everybody say that USB DAC sounds better?

Now, I have the answer right in my hand. Towards the left on the table to be exact.

I wasn't expecting such a huge difference for a 5dB increase in SNR. But, the quality of the music really blew me away. The most obvious being WAY, WAY, WAY BETTER highs response. The highest notes (those tlink tlink type instruments) sounded very clear, the piano is also greatly affected. The soundstage is also way bigger with seperation between instruments and much higher clarity as well as more "space". Those sound that I couldn't hear/groups of sound that were garbled could be heard better now (but still not flawless).

Bass also improved, and not just louder and more boomy - it's tighter, and the higher bass where all the bass guitar action lies is louder. I can also hear the hitting of keys/strumming of strings better. Still, it's louder, louder enough that I went to check my subwoofer level. Wierd, it's at the lower level, so why does it sound so close to my higher level?
Plus, combined with the bigger soundstage and "space", some of the more important bass I can hear it boom and reverb more nicely. Nice impact.

But there's one thing that's stopping from calling it a total all-rounded improvement - the sound signature, as opposed to other sound cards/on-board, MP3 players and my PSP. Ignoring the Zen Stone that's bass heavy, the PCM2702 sounds more natural yet more harsh. I'm not talking about the brightness of the sound since this can be altered by changing the capacitor values, though this is a bit on the bright side. Wierd... more natural and harsh at the same time. Is it due to better accuracy or my poor soldering skills?

Talking about soldering, I really sucked at it. Lots of blobs, a few re-solders (because I soldered wrongly). Also I never used any expensive parts, only generic wires and solder. Quite a waste when I'm using WIMA caps and audiophile-quality RCA jacks.

And the most lol part about this project was when I plugged it to my com and yet nothing was detected. I though I have failed and wasted fifty-five bucks and lots of time. Then I realized I never plug in the jumpers for the power. Once that was done, everything was nice, and I was awed by the sound.

Worth every buck, and with this I've joined the dark side, my first step into dangerous territory.

One more pic of it in action

Now all I need to finish this up is cutting the holes on the candy box for the connectors. Then the "Candy Box DAC" will be complete.

And one thing about this DAC, when sound passes through it the red led on it lights up. For what I wonder, but it's kinda cute. :)

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