Another extensive reader letter that eases into user review territory. Pearse from Dublin explains how/why he moved from an already impressive M2Tech Young DAC to the more humble-looking but (apparently) superior-sounding JKDAC32:
“I come relatively new to FLAC and WAV based playback and already (within a year) I have been amazed at the progress of PC-based playback. My playback chain which has remained constant throughout my foray in to digital audio: I have invested heavily in Nordost cables – thanks eBay! – as well as a recent mains distribution block with earth spike. Amplification comes through Conrad Johnson 17LS Preamp and MV60 Amp; all tubes. Lousspeakers are Quad ESL63s.
My first stand-alone DAC was a Beresford Caiman Gatorized TC-7520SE which I found was a very good DAC at the time since it presented a level of detail I was missing from the analogue out on the Squeezebox Touch, especially when playing high resolution files.
It got me hooked into the stand-alone DAC route for digital playback and within months I had moved from spinning CDs to ripping CDs to FLAC and then playing these from my laptop. Foobar was my then player of choice and I put in the hours getting it set up with artist info, lyrics, LastFM integration.
I then decided to get a larger budget together for a DAC upgrade as it was clear from all the activity on various forums that there were a lot of new DACs coming to market. After reading a smattering of favourable reviews of the M2tech Young DAC I took the plunge, adding a a Teddy Pardo linear power supply soon after. It was a real step forward from the Caiman (which was mothballed). I was very happy with the Young DAC. I was convinced that I would have to spend serious money to make any further substantive improvements.
Next, I focused on playback software. After running round forums for several weeks I came across Pureplayer and this became a serious challenger to Foobar for some time. The real gains arrived when I tried JPlay. This was one of those major steps forward which creates a totally jaw-dropping experience. No A/B comparisons were necessary. It was clearly way ahead of both Pureplayer and Foobar.
It was some time after this I really wanted to know at what level my digital audio sound was when compared to vinyl playback. Since I had sold off all my vinyl many years ago I had to step back in to that world again. I picked up a second hand Dual CS 455-1 turntable with an Ortofon OMB 10 cartridge and a second hand Puresound P10 phonostage. Finally came some new heavyweight vinyl pressings – which were nice to hold and look at again – to complete the analogue system. I put aside an evening to compare my PC based playback system with the Young against my newly acquired vinyl based system and I was a little disappointed that I could hear more body in the sound from the vinyl setup. However, the difference was not so big that I could consider switching back to vinyl full-time.
Two weeks ago, I went to the HiFi show in Dublin’s Burlington Hotel. This is where I met John Kenny. I liked the IDEA of this new JKDAC32 and so – thinking there’d be scant chance of such a little DIY-ish box besting my setup – I took my M2Tech Young DAC with the Teddy Pardo power supply to his place for a comparison. John wanted to hear the Young to benchmark his DAC against it and as far as I was concerned I was there to help him out, not expecting what would happen next…
Since listening to the JKDAC32 for a good week or so in my own system, I’ve put the M2Tech Young (w/ Teddy Pardo power supply) out to pasture. I have been amazed how much the JKDAC32 DAC has opened up. I am not one for all the hi-fi jargon but the best way I can describe the sound is something like this: it now has a weight, body, depth and detail that had hitherto eluded my PC-based setup. It may be one of those lucky mistakes when I installed the JKDAC32 using the existing Young driver but the sound is so good I have no desire to revert back to the HiFace driver.
This evening for the second time I ran an experiment using my analogue set up against the JKDAC32 using Jplay. For the first time the PC based system left the analogue system behind. I used a fresh vinyl copy of Van Morrison’s “His Band and the Street Choir” against a FLAC rip from the CD for comparison. After repeated switching back and forth with both playing simultaneously all I could hear were the weaknesses in the analogue setup. Now I understand why people spend such crazy money on cartridges, turntables and phono stages. The analogue system sounded soft and lacking real separation. Don’t get me wrong here: if you had not heard the PC based system, the turntable setup is a sound you could easily live with and enjoy daily.
What’s even more amazing to me is how John Kenny developed such a wonderful piece of kit without any real serious investment in playback equipment at his disposal. He is either a genius, very lucky or I have a lot more to learn about what can be done at reasonable prices in this often bemusing, dazzling and flash world of hi-fi.”