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Encore mDAC - USB DAC - Hands on Experience...

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elangoas

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Hi All,

Wanted to share my hands-on experience with Encore mDAC (Asynchronous USB DAC)

One of my friend, who loves music and newbie to hi-fi, requested me for help with a budget of no more than 15K.. Since budget was a constraint, had to choose used components.. Took the OLX route and finally picked up Marantz Stereo AV Amplifier PM400AVK + Aiwa bookshelf speakers for 10K.. Thought to suggest an USB DAC to improve stereo listening as most of the playback would be digital files from laptop..

An other friend travelled to US, so thought to pick up the USB DAC from there. I had suggested hifimeDIY DAC for $65 from Amazon.com and kept the Encore mDAC as backup, just in case the first one is not aval...Unfortunately my friend placed order for Encore mDAC (Actually $120 on Amazon, but was aval at a slashed price of $65 which i think is due to increased competition)...

As soon as it arrived here, borrowed it for a couple of weeks time to check how it improves stereo listening experience over AVR's inbuilt DAC..

Some pictures of the product :









Some details of the Encore mDAC . Product link mDAC

- 24-bit, 96 kHz capable, ESS Sabre ES9023 chip in Asynchronous operation.
- It is designed to be used with portable device with lithium battery inside.. It can be used with Android mobile & tabs that support OTG..
- I didn't test the OTG function as my android mobile (Panasonic P55) doesn't support OTG function..
- This DAC has two Micro USB inputs.. One for charging the device and an other one for USB data connection. It has an headphone-out with headphone amplifier too.. Since i don't have a headphone, didn't check them too.
- There are physical buttons (Really small) for switching on the DAC.. You need to press & hold the button for 4 - 5 seconds and Red LED glows.
- Once it is charged, Blue LED glows when no data is sent to the DAC thru USB.
- When connected to PC thru one of the USB ports, both red & blue light glows together giving a violet colour..
- It sends the data from PC & charges the battery in the DAC simultaneously..
- I think the other Micro USB is needed only when playing from mobile as it needs external power supply.
- There are physical volume up& down button.

Onkyo's AVR DAC is Texas Instruments Burr Brown DAC (PCM 1690) 192 khz / 24-bit.(Top of Mid range AVR of 2012 model)

Components used for stereo playback.

AVR : Onkyo TX-NR 818 (Pure Audio mode 2.0)

Book Shelf Speakers : Sonodyne Sonus 1501 v3.

HTPC : Windows 7 64bit, with good collection of digital files (FLAC, WAV & MP3). Mostly bollywood, kollywood, tollywood film songs.

Cables : Ordinary USB to Micro USB smartphone cable & Blurigger 3.5 mm to RCA cables (BlueRigger 3.5mm to RCA Stereo Audio Cable: Amazon.in: Electronics)

Media Player : Foobar2000.

Setting up the Encore mDAC :

Since the DAC was 96/24 capable, there were no drivers required as USB 2.0 natively support 96/24. But I had issues setting up the Encore mDAC in Windows 7 as the volume properties on windows for some strange reason didn't show 24bit. Rather it defaulted to 16 bit 96khz studio quality.. I didn't bother much as 99% of my digital collection is 44.1Khz/16bit.

The volume icon on the windows task-bar, had no effect on the volume output to the AVR. So i had to set the maximum volume on the DAC using the physical buttons.

Encore mDAC Listening Experience :

Encore mDAC was connected to PC USB port. Using the headphone output in the DAC, i connected the 3.5mm to RCA stereo cable to my AVR's Analogue input.

In Foobar2000, though WASAPI was listed twice for the DAC (Event & Push), only Push worked. I wasn't able to get output thru Event mode at all..

- Good vocals and good bass. But the high freq were not crisp. It was a touch soft...No matter how much i pushed the volume on the AVR, it never sounded harsh.
- Stereo separation was distinct.
- On some occasions, the DAC picked finer details than Onkyo AVR's DAC. {Tamil FLAC - Ok Kanmani (A R Rahman) - Parandhu sellava..There is a double echo of male voice in the begining few minutes of the song.. This was more evident with Encore DAC than Onkyo AVR DAC}.
- Sound was not so open.
- When i played it thru laptop (Win 7), experienced interrupted playback few times. At-first mistook the product to be faulty one, but later discovered it was due to malfunction of USB ports on laptop. On PC playback there were no interruptions.
- Since warm sounding, i think can be paired with bright sounding amplifier/speakers.

Onkyo AVR's DAC..

My PC is connected to AVR thru HDMI. I use WASAPI Event mode output to Onkyo's AVR DAC. Don't know if it offers any benefits, but i still use it by default.

- Almost neutral presentation..Clean sounding.. Good lows and mids. High frequency were crisp but not bright.
- Sound was more open, Am not sure if i can use the word Airy presentation.
- Finer details found on the Encore DAC were not distinctly heard.

I think the DAC largely dictates the sound of the component.

To conclude, the Encore mDAC was on-par with Onkyo AVR's DAC, sometimes better in picking the finer details of the song but it wasn't as convincing as Onkyo AVR's overall stereo performance in Pure Audio mode. In other words the Encore mDAC didn't surpass the Onkyo AVR's DAC.

But $65 standalone stereo DAC equals a $1,200 mid range AVR performance. May be higher priced DAC should easily surpass the AVR's stereo performance.

If you are trying to improve your stereo output over PC/laptop using headphone-out, this USB DAC will keep you really happy.
 

shibashis

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I think if paired with a stereo integrated the DAC will shine further. Have not heard the Onkyo AVR but still think it may be holding the DAC back.
 

elangoas

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Then you don't have a stereo image.

Are you running audessey as well to correct ?

ciao
gr

May be i should have used better choice of words...

Nope.. I don't listen to stereo with Audyssey turned on. Use them only when watching movies.

I think if paired with a stereo integrated the DAC will shine further. Have not heard the Onkyo AVR but still think it may be holding the DAC back.

Do you mean Analog connection on Onkyo AVR is not so good as the stereo integrated..
 

sound_cycle

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May be i should have used better choice of words...

Nope.. I don't listen to stereo with Audyssey turned on. Use them only when watching movies.

That's interesting.

Why do you then have imaging issues ? I ask because you said and I quote "I don't have a good understanding of X & Y Axis"

BTW is the listening room the same as in your onkyo/ sonodyne thread of long ago ? IIRC lesser than my room in the long dimension but about the same width ~11 feet, speakers on one of the long walls with a LP opp a TV. I remember it quite distinctly because it was very similar to my room and arrangement (as it was when I was trying to set up my Sonodyne 2605s)

ciao
gr
 

elangoas

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That's interesting.

Why do you then have imaging issues ? I ask because you said and I quote "I don't have a good understanding of X & Y Axis"

BTW is the listening room the same as in your onkyo/ sonodyne thread of long ago ? IIRC lesser than my room in the long dimension but about the same width ~11 feet, speakers on one of the long walls with a LP opp a TV. I remember it quite distinctly because it was very similar to my room and arrangement (as it was when I was trying to set up my Sonodyne 2605s)

ciao
gr

What i meant to say was that on few tracks, i could feel the panning of sounds from left to the right & vice versa was good...

My room is 14 feet wide x 11 feet depth.. Listening position approx 9 ~ 10 feet from the AVR...
 

sound_cycle

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What i meant to say was that on few tracks, i could feel the panning of sounds from left to the right & vice versa was good...

My room is 14 feet wide x 11 feet depth.. Listening position approx 9 ~ 10 feet from the AVR...

Panning of the sounds as you know is not a stereo image, for instance my Panasonic two-in-one could do that :), for instance the drums in Rasputin or the footsteps in the opening of thriller would move from left to right etc. Oh for those days of simple childish delights

How far is the back wall from your listening position ? Do you still have a TV directly across the LP ?

ciao
gr
 

elangoas

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Panning of the sounds as you know is not a stereo image, for instance my Panasonic two-in-one could do that :), for instance the drums in Rasputin or the footsteps in the opening of thriller would move from left to right etc. Oh for those days of simple childish delights

How far is the back wall from your listening position ? Do you still have a TV directly across the LP ?

ciao
gr

Hmmm.. Thatz the reason, i said that i should have used better choice of words earlier.. I just translated what i felt :)

Back wall is very close to the listening position.. Yes TV is opposite to the LP..
 

sound_cycle

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Hmmm.. Thatz the reason, i said that i should have used better choice of words earlier.. I just translated what i felt :)

Back wall is very close to the listening position.. Yes TV is opposite to the LP..

For practical purposes, it is the same room I had a while ago.

For audio it was bad, the room boomed etc. For a long while I convinced myself that thud was good bass, that ideas was needless to be said complete crap.

For stereo listening it was worse. A complete, unmitigated disaster does not describe it.

The reason is the LP was dominated by reflected sound, early reflections and bounces between the back wall and TV as well.

And all of that happening at levels of -15db or higher inside 30ms. Hopelessly smearing the image and leaving me listening to some weird sound soup.

I may have had bigger better speakers and FLAC but in reality it was no better than the National Panasonic RX 5100 two-in-one cassette player I had in Class VII.

The big gains from switching DACs are all subtle ones.

In going from a cheap/ indifferent DAC FiiO D03 or the one on the WDTV live to the on the PM 6005 and then to Bifrost the gains have been in detail and specifically in the imaging.

In an untreated room, they are not not going to be audible.

The tonal balance in my (former) setup was also nothing to talk about.

Do spend some time and thought in getting the basics right you will have a *much more* rewarding stereo listening experience (it is possible, even with my modest setup)

Oh and nicer, more useful reviews too :)

ciao
gr
 
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sound_cycle

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Hi,

Also curious why you did not try the audyssey correction ?

It will not get you better imaging. Audyssey cannot do that. In evaluating DRC I read that is because it applies different filters to the R and L channels, and addresses phase issues only for the room, but it should get you a much better tonal balance and address the room boom issue.

More likely than not you will describe the warm DAC as neutral after that !

There is an excellent guide for setup on hometheatershack, Audyssey MultEQ FAQ and Setup Guide - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com (I guess you have already done a multi point measurement but nonetheless the guide is interesting and illuminating to read)

To be sure I am not saying correction is a replacement for treatment and placement, just that you can hear the difference very quickly and build from there. There is no need to think of components as warm or cold when you can shape a target curve to get what you like to hear in a controlled predictable replicable manner. For no additional spend.

ciao
gr
 
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elangoas

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I had calibrated Audyssey settings when i had the 2605 FS.. For movies, it was huge improvement.... After i changed to BS am yet to re-calibrate my system...

I fairly recollect that when i did the calibration last time using FS, it defaulted the settings to movie.. I think there was an other preset for "Music"... Need to check that...

Thanks again for the link, will read thru...
 
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