Saturday, December 21, 2013

what are the results of Hiface Dac and Micromega Mydac on Linux

In the former post I wrote about setting up  a dac for Arch(bang)linux.
But what are the results in terms of audiophile experience. How good is the end result?
My judgment is not an everyday users one but one of an audiophile that hates hard ware hokus pocus but has a very critical pair of ears and  a brain full of acoustical memories.
My ideal of audio reproduction is that you forget about your music set and that you hear your music as natural and acoustic as possible. According to this my preferred musical genres are: acoustical jazz and classical music.
What  I have in my head is the natural sound that you can ear in a concert hall with good acoustics (we have one in our town).  Or in a smaller room or venue.
I have a Magnepan 3.5/R loudspeaker set, a Gryphon Tabu as amp and my fav cd player is a Marantz c 17 Signature. Together with a room with good acoustics this  is a feast to go and sit and listen. I don't care for surround but acknowledge the advantages of well recorded high resolution sound files.

What for me makes the sound sound good:
- a natural division between lower, middle and high register sound;
- the clarity of the individual elements of the music: how do voice and piano mix for example;
-how natural is the sound stage; is it a nice continuous field or do the fall gaps or is the build  of it too thin or too gross; do the diverse elements play good together or are they fighting each other.

Also important in judging hard ware is how do lesser recordings sound.
Because although a good equipment is just no better than the sound recording and you should judge a stereo set with the best possible recordings to find out what it's capable off,  you also have to live with lesser sound recordings and it is important that you can listen to them without too much disappointment or irritation.

Playing digital files from my pc that runs Linux via my stereo set  has been so horrendous  that I avoided  doing it. But I wanted to listen to my digital files of course.
After setting up the Hiface Dac as mentioned in the previous post the sound was getting better, in fact so good that wanted to listen more and more.
But not in the league with what I hear on my Marantz.

The  plus of the Hiface that it presents quite a lot of detail, and is amazingly refined at times; the sound is clean without any rumblings or dominant highs or lows; the whole sound spectrum is well divided.  For more intimate settings, a jazz combo, chamber music this all suffices. What it lacked in the first sessions is body; the sound stage is too fragile, not robust enough.
Especially playing orchestras or more intricate settings like opera -which btw always is quite a challenge- it really falls short. ( I found out that my Nvidia video card had some degrading effect on performance and could correct this; see former post)
Playing an old Gerald Moore recording from 1950 with Irmgard Seefried was  a great and positive surprise.  This seems a big advantage of this dac that sounds seldom become harsh or irritating.

Thanks to Rob of the Hifiwinkel is also was able to test out Micromega Mydac.
This dac doesn't take extreme files like the Hiface dac that goes to 32 bits/384 khz - it goes to  24/bits @192 khz but is has electrical feeding of its own and not only an to 2.0 usb connection but also can be  connected via optical and coaxial connections.
I had problems getting it running because from the factory it is set on usb 1.1 and I didn't get it working before discovering this and setting it to 2.0. You don't get an usb cable with it and I choose a wrong one when  I started with it (with thickenings) and you should use one without.
I wanted to use the usb connection because alsa and jack seem to provide the best sound and via usb I'm totally  ignoring my own pc sound card.

Anyway the differences between Hifac e and Micromega are striking. The sound had in the first sessions more presence using the Micromega; it all sounds much more powerful but it has its disadvantages too. There is a overemphasis on the low region, the basses and there can be traces of muddiness in that region. Still it is amazing how far you can come with this Dac from 300 euro (while the hiface costs  225 euro).
Any way it is not so easy to choose between the hiface having the richness and purity of detail going for it and the Micromega the much stronger presence and power of its sound stage as its biggest asset. I still have a week to decide.

Update 1 : tonight I listened to the hiface dac after some time with the Micromega. The Hiface was very satisfying and especially in its subtlety and detail. Tonight I had no problems with the more powerful  passages as descried earlier; for example the Koechlin "piano concerto":  Ballade for piano and orchestra  with Rigutto and Myrat (EMI) was very satisfying and didn't lack detail or force...btw I had no real complaints about the Micromega either but I wonder if the Hiface maybe gives a bit more detail.. I find it difficult to judge...

Update 2; Tested three recordings that leave something to be desired. Not really bad ones, but could be done better in my not so humble opinion.
I started with the Micromega and dissatisfied changed to the Hiface that in comparison is becoming more and more the winner.
I have to add that this is  very much a subjective verdict and not an objective one. People that prefer heavy basses or more power will probably like the Micromega more than the Hiface.
I started to listen to two tracks from Anais Mitchells  album Boy from America: 'Tailor' and 'Shepherd'. I didn't like the tone balance in 'Tailor'  on the Micromega, in 'Shepherd' the two guitars sound fresh and crisp with wonderful detail, but there seems to be an error in the mix as the voice is so much in the distance that the text is hardly to be heard. No trace of this problem listening to it with the Hiface; the voice sounds intimate but the guitars don't stand out so much and are less intriguing.

I'm really struck by how much difference a dac makes and we are talking on both quite good ones; this isn't comparing apples with pears but just two different tasting apples variants.

 Another recording is the Dvorak piano concerto with Aimard/Harnoncourt and the RCO. The RCO are always much helped by the wonderful acoustics of the Concertgebouw but probably this live recording is made elsewhere. Anyway the acoustics are not helping, I found it so disappointing that this stopped me using the Micromega and change over to the Hiface where it all sounds  a lot better, more detail, nicer tone balance. The third recording is the  wonderful Lambert song " Vous me mepris chaque jour" performed by Suzie Leblanc, Le voix humaines and Stephen Stubbs) Album name: " Amour Cruel". As with lots of old music the acoustics are church like, while I think it should be more intimate, a tavern room or a smaller room in a castle or so. Any way the music on the Micromega drowns in the space, is much too indirect and distant.
In the Hiface this problem isn't solved but it is still sounding much better and more enjoyable

A third and last session  I did again starting with the Micromega; I didn't use the jack server  but played with Alsa. I played different Christmas music:
Carla Bley from her fine and beautiful recorded cd Carla's Chirstmas Carols; the Piano Jazz Christmas from NPR  album with different not all too satisfying sound recordings; Marc Andre Hamelin " In a state of jazz" which reveal a fine piano but disturbing reverb and the wonderful Christmas Cd van the Dutch Bach Society, Jos van Veldhoven directing, a in all fronts magnificent recorded compilation cd.  Closin with some songs from the Hyperion Mendelssohn CD "Songs and Duets, Vol. 1," a fairly good recording regarding the vocals, although the piano could have been better.
The clear winner on all different records was the hiface, which continues to amaze in what it can offer in fine details and nice natural sound stage.
When should you consider using a DAC? If you play lossless digital files and you are disappointed how they sound, you probably have good enough speakers and amp to make it worth it to upgrade using a dedicated dac.
I found the NPR piano  and the Hamelin recording so underperforming on the Micormega that I decided to change to another tune..
Using the jack server in the third round (second round: alsa + hiface) the Hamelin piano sound revealed some much fine detail , overtones, dynamics and one track  recording of the NPR (Cedar Walton -  It came  on One Clear Night) didn't seem so bad at all.

I recommend all Linux users to give the Jack server a try out in stead of using Alsa.
I like to keep things simple but starting up the Jack server really makes a big difference as far as the software side of digital audio concerns. This was quite contrary to my judgement before as I was convinced that Jack would only help or be of use except when making recordings. My preferred audio player is deadbeef with the jack plugin installed.
The real delight came when listening to the best recordings like that of Carla Bley or "Ave Maria"from B. Josepho (Dutch Bach Soc.) Hearing what the Hiface dac could do and what I could get out of Micromega my decision was final: It would be the Hiface Dac.

Any way the only thing I'm bothered about is that I didn't  try all this out some years ago!!
But then again the Hiface wasn't around then: it is only introduced last summer....

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