W A R N I N G !

W A R N I N G !

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Fk the NeoMini, heck the Zero, my new hoot...

Zhaolu D2.5 DAC

Reason for getting it - I've always wanted to get the Zero DAC for a while now for its good performance and excellent price/performance ratio. And it's a nice stoppage point for audio upgrade. But the Zero costs $180 without warranty if brought in from overseas and an overpriced $240 at Jaben, compared to the original $130 it is worth. Not very worth it to buy unless you have the lobang.

Then while I was looking around echoloft buy/sell forum, I saw someone selling a Zhaolu D2.5 for $xxx (can't say out, coz you'll probably kill me).

The Zhaolu DACs is what the Zero is based on. Specifically, the Zero is based on Zhaolu D1.x (D1.3?), with cheaper components at a better price, and has a different circuitary and sound signature compared to the Zhaolus. One of the original makers of the Zhaolu DAC decided to go on his own and create the Zero DAC, which has one of the best price/performance ratio in the market. In comparison, the Zhaolus have an average price/performance ratio due to their high price, some may consider it bad because it just cannot compare to products one level higher yet only costs half a level more (e.g. Citypulse), and subjectively loses out to other DACs in the same price point, possibly due to the low cost AD1852 DAC chip being unable to fight against the clearer CS4398 in other DACs, including the cheaper SuperPro (but how the hell SuperPro could have actually sounded better beats me). It might be unfair since it's SPDIF (Zhaolu/Zero) vs USB (other DACs) and a bad SPDIF source will kill, but fact is it does sound worse in a bad set-up.

So, the Zhaolu D1.x split in its evolution path into the Zero and the Zhaolu D2.0/2.5. Sure Zero may have better design (or so they claim, but it looks just the same), and although the main chips are the same, the Zhaolu has a better transformer, an in-line AC filter (useful for all the shyt that my computer has been dumping into my already shytty power), better components, 2 op-amps instead of one for output (which also means balanced XLR output is attainable via modding),

If money is of no concern, which would you buy? Answer is obvious.

Sadly, the D2.5 I got is the cheaper D2.5A using the lousy AD1852 DAC also used in the Zero DAC, instead of the D2.5C with the CS4398 DAC. Heck, actually, the two DACs perform similarly, and the rest of the board is just as important if not more. And it's human mentality to get the lowest in the series thinking it will sound the same as those higher, that's how Geforce FX5200 and Celeron managed to sell big time.

Not a problem, since it's still all-round better than the Zero, which already pwns all the other DACs in the same price range.

The guy sold it cheap for a few reasons. 1) He's moving to China and might as well sell this since he's not bringing it with him, 1a) reason because he already got a whole lot of better shitz. 2) He got it 2nd-hand from another guy, and 3) The volume control knob is stiff at around the centre volume, although not a problem for me since I don't do headamps.

And... I don't think this thing was actually used for quite long. Accordingly, the original owner only used it for 6 months (this DAC isn't very old anyway), and the seller only used it for a few months and it was under-utilized. Makes sense; a guy who would sell this off in 6 months probably has other more-badass equipment. I don't think this even had 300hrs worth of burn-in - that would require 1 hr per day for a year. If you have other 1k-equipment would you be even playing this for an hour per day on the average?

At least under me, I'll make sure it gets 1000 hours in a year.

Now, lets hook it up.

Unfortunately I do not have any decent SPDIF source installed. The on-board Realtek is known to be a POS and I'm not sure if my Audigy still works. Nonetheless I still hooked it up to my Realtek.

The sound is... muffled. There is noticable loss in the highs and the bass sounds boomy.

No wonder people say the SuperPro is better.

However, despite the handicap posed by the on-board sound, there is also more details, more instruments to be heard. And the mid-bass response is excellent. Thanks to the higher SNR of the DAC, the SPDIF transport, and the 2x OPA2604.

I can imagine what this baby can do when it gets a better transport.

However, problems:

This Zhaolu has the same clicking problem as the Zero, which is from the DAc switching on and off from the presence or absence of input signal. There is a solution for this but I have currently forgotten.

The on-board Realtek SPDIF does not allow for the control of the volume via main volume control/keyboard, and the fixed gain of the OPA2604 is very high. Meaning I have to keep the volume of my sub very low.

This is not a review, as I have nothing that comes close to this to review. Anyway there are many reviews of the Zero and Zhaolu DACs, and it's definitely good for the money. The Zero at least. And my Zhaolu which is even more bang for buck.

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