Author Topic: Soekris DAC1541 Review  (Read 1493 times)

Offline GoodEnoughGear

Soekris DAC1541 Review
« on: December 05, 2017, 02:03:28 PM »
Soekris DAC1541 Review

Review Disclosure:
I bought this, so I'm reviewing it. I have no affiliation to industry at all.

Review validity:
I don't have a lot of gear. I've been playing with lots of digital EQ and that's really helped me learn to listen. I don't have golden ears as far as I can tell. I don't like sibilance.

Review modus operandi:
There are plenty of measurements and expert opinion on this DAC, so these are my impressions based on casual (normal) listening. I didn't built a faraday cage or meditate in a pyramid or triangulate my Feng Shui or any of that sort of thing.

Review gear:
Genelec 8030B with 7050B sub (analog class AB not the new digital class D stuff) Balanced, Sennheiser HD6XX Balanced, CA Andromeda SE.

EQ:
Sonarworks 4.0 custom calibration for the monitors, averaged profile for HD6XX and none for the Andros. I have elected to avoid mucking with DMG Equilibrium so far to keep the evaluation simple. DMG sounds better than Sonarworks IMO, but it takes a bunch of CPU and my machine chokes on Hi-Res with the settings I run.

Relative evaluation:
LH Labs GO2A SE Balanced and SE running the same gear above. I have no Schiit or toobs.

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TL;DR:
This is a clear and significant step up from the GO2A SE. The tone, clarity and detail are superb, the filters are usefully different and as an all-in-one type device I don't believe it has a peer anywhere near its price point. In fact I'm not sure it does at double the price point.

With the Genelecs it is exceptionally clear, with taught, controlled bass, gorgeous mids and clean, clear highs without aggravating sibilance. As importantly it has an analogue sound that brings out the natural timbre of instruments and voices and brings a substance to the music that was missing.

For harder to drive headphones you probably want a separate amp, but even with the HD6XX it's punching well above the Geek and sounds great. With an easier to drive neutral headphone I think it would really shine - maybe a Focal Clear.

With Andromedas the DAC1541 is nothing short of absolutely stellar. And you can add a lot of superlative adjectives to that.

The Review:

On the Genelcs and source material in detail:

The Gennies are the easiest transducers for me to hear differences in sound, with Andros a close second. They are less forgiving than the Andros, though, so bad sounds bad, good stuff sounds good. I don't believe they are sibilant, but they show it up mercilessly where the Andros are a lot kinder, and they have pushed my sibilance button with several recordings and make them unpleasant with the GO2ASE.

Firstly the Gennies are dead silent at full volume with the DAC1541. That is impressive. Even running SE off the GO2A SE they still had a slight hiss where balanced due to ground issues there was a distinct buzz at 6 inches away.

I must give LH Labs a nod for how good the GO2A SE does sound with good recordings. They do an impressive job for the size. That said, my primary interest in comparison was to see how the DAC1541 handled sibilant material vs the GO2A SE, so I loaded up my nemesis, Bruce Hornsby and the Range - The way it is/On the Western Skyline.

Halleluja, Bruce's hayseed has been unpicked from between his front teeth! The sibilance isn't gone (it's baked into the recording) but listening to it now I can get into the music without every "s" leaping out at me like a sheepdog whistle. There's also a crashiness that's gone and a fullness or weight to the music that wasn't there before, and a noticeable clarity and sense of detail that immediately distinguishes itself from what I hear as a kind of cellophane digital edginess on the Geek. I can hear that the Geek's cellophane effect can make it seem more detailed than it is vs the Soekris. Also I'm using the soft Butterworth filter here.

My next test track is David Gray - Mutineers/Cake and Eat It. This is a well recorded (IMO) track with a certain chuffing kind of sound in the midbass in the opening, like the sound of a gust of wind filling a closed room that provides the rhythm in the opening passage. The chuffing nature is something that can easily get lost, and I was super happy to hear it loud and clear. Finally I was hearing on the monitors what I hear on the Andros out of the Geek. Guitar plucks are exquisitely clear and sound more 'real' and there is more separation between instruments, like they stand out in relief.

Next up is my sibilance antidote, Mark Knopfler - Kill to get Crimson/The Scaffolder's wife (and in fact the entire album). This album sounds great on the Gennies with the Geek, so I was thinking it would be too warm on the Soekris. And indeed there is a syrupiness to the mids that comes through now that seems less clear than with the Geek. Not bad at all and the Soekris' clarity is still there, but the Geek seemed to serve that recording better. So I cycled through the filters to get a bit more 'edge' back and voila! the green filter brings out the crispness again. This is the first time I have actually used a filter to tweak the sound on the DAC (in DMG there are a lot of filter tweaks that I do use to be fair) and it was a welcome option.

Lastly some Sara Bareilles live. The piano is deep and sounds organic, I can hear the wood and the reverberation in the bass like I'm in the same room with it. I finally understand what digititus is, and this is beautifully devoid of it vs the GO2A SE.

On Andromeda:

The Soekris seems to be the perfect match on paper, with Zout of 1.5 SE and 3 ohm balanced. I don't have a balanced adapter to go to 4-pin XLR so this one is SE. Holy Moley the Andro's are absolutely hiss-free and sound better than I've ever heard them. They are fantastically clear and articulate, and I immediately just get lost in the music and forget to 'listen' at all. Again I have few references but this clearly takes a big step up from the GO2A SE. I'd love to borrow a ZX2 because I think this may just be the Andro's perfect pairing - they just sound freaking amazing out of this device.

On HD6XX:

I mentioned in another forum post that they sounded very meh out of the DAC1541 but I suspected I had done something silly with the EQ and I was right. I hadn't flipped Sonarworks from the monitor calibration to the HD650 averaged profile, and they are pretty opposite with SonarWorks taking a good chunk of bass out to tame the 7050 sub in a small room and pumping up the 250hz range. Running the right calibration and things get much better - the chuffing in Cake and Eat It is back, where on the wrong profile it's just gone. Interestingly the Geek is louder, so I don't have to drive the volume up as much as on the DAC1541, but there is more than enough headroom even on some quieter recordings I have but I do get to -10 fwiw. I can see how the Jot would complement the HD6XX well, as I found again I was using the Orange (mixed) or Green (butterworth) filters to wake them up a bit as well. That said, there is a clear step up from the GO2A SE in terms of clarity and detail while removing that cellophane/digital air. I imagine an amp with more power would get a crisper response out of the HD6XX but this is no slouch. The clarity and separation are exemplary and they sound great as is.

Sidebar:

I have a 40 ft optical cable running from the TV to the DAC1541 and the monitors flank the TV. So I am using it as a DAC for audio from my PC, a DAC from the TV (I don't care much about TV but it's nice for movies) and a DAC/headamp - pretty much getting full mileage out of it. The remote is a great feature too, though it is pretty short range (the generic Apple ripoff I bought online).

Conclusion:
See TL;DR. It's some good stuff.
Mobile: LG V30, CA Andromeda
Portable: LH Labs GO2A SE, KEF M500
Home: Soekris DAC1541, Genelec 8030+7050, HD6XX

Offline Scubadude

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Re: Soekris DAC1541 Review
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2018, 06:41:26 PM »
Nice write-up, sir!
"We should no more let numbers define audio quality than we should let chemical analysis be the arbiter of fine wines."  Nelson Pass

Offline itscraig

Re: Soekris DAC1541 Review
« Reply #2 on: January 01, 2018, 07:36:54 PM »
I cannot express just how good the soekris is.
So much so that i am going to DIY one into my lampizator. Lampi has a georgous ouput stage but i think the seokris has better detail and clarity.

Offline Nidri

Re: Soekris DAC1541 Review
« Reply #3 on: May 19, 2018, 07:45:48 AM »
FYI There is a new firmware for the DAC1541:

http://www.soekris.dk/download.html

Offline gavinbirss

Re: Soekris DAC1541 Review
« Reply #4 on: May 19, 2018, 07:36:28 PM »
FYI There is a new firmware for the DAC1541:

http://www.soekris.dk/download.html

New firmware also available for DAM1021 /  1.19 with 1.20 4K filters...

Offline Wolla

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Re: Soekris DAC1541 Review
« Reply #5 on: October 26, 2018, 10:50:44 PM »
Nice real-world writeup @GoodEnoughGear

Any further thoughts almost a year in with the Soekris?
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Offline Cuco

Re: Soekris DAC1541 Review
« Reply #6 on: October 27, 2018, 06:35:21 PM »
Nice review. Looks professional  :2thumbs:

Offline GoodEnoughGear

Re: Soekris DAC1541 Review
« Reply #7 on: October 27, 2018, 07:51:33 PM »
Nice real-world writeup @GoodEnoughGear

Any further thoughts almost a year in with the Soekris?

Indeed!

I'm on the new firmware 1.20 and the new filter pack. The new filter pack changes things up a bit. As a general rule I prefer a linear phase filter, but with the Soekris on the older firmware I found the two minimum phase filters were what I used most: the Butterworth and soft Butterworth (green led and no led). With the additional taps the linear phase filter (red led) is now noticeably smoother and is my go-to filter unless there is a lot of sibilance in the recording. Then I will drop back to the soft Butterworth, or apply a little DSP with the linear phase filter. So in short, a nice improvement in the filters.

However, there is a new contender available in this format at a similar pricepoint that is most interesting, the Holo Audio Cyan PCM: https://kitsunehifi.com/product/holo-audio-cyan/. Torq has done a fairly comprehensive review here: https://www.headphone.com/blogs/news/holo-audio-cyan-dac-amp-review and also of the matching Azure HeadAmp/Pre here: https://www.headphone.com/blogs/news/holo-audio-azure-headphone-amplifier-pre-amp-review.

Short story, he prefers the Cyan, especially the built in headamp, though the Soekris gets the nod for resolution and detail. For me it does create an itch, I must say, but I chiefly use the DAC1541 with active monitors and rarely use the headamp, so I'm not so sure it would be more than a sidegrade, if that. I use DSP and have invested in some good software (SonarWorks for correction and DMG Audio Equilibrium and Essence) and I suspect I am better off with the detail retrieval of the Soekris as a base to work from. FWIW I use SonarWorks to get a calibration curve and then model that curve in Equilibrium which is much more powerful as an EQ.

If I were starting out fresh looking for the same thing and were not into DSP, I reckon I'd go for the Holo all in one. As soon as you think about forking out $1600 for the matching Azure, then the Spring becomes an option rather than Cyan - and now you're in completely different territory.

So, I have an itch. But I don't reckon it's worth the scratch. The DAC1541 is a uniquely pristine sound and ideal for my uses. I think to get a real bump up I'd need to be thinking Yggdrasil/Holo Spring KTE edition with a good preamp and say a Jotunheim for occasional HD6XX duty. That's $3500 for a Schiit stack and $4250 for the Holo stack.

Happy to save, keep an eye out on the new stuff coming and enjoy what I have :).



Mobile: LG V30, CA Andromeda
Portable: LH Labs GO2A SE, KEF M500
Home: Soekris DAC1541, Genelec 8030+7050, HD6XX