DAC upgrade for CDA2

ATC & other makes of Hi-Fi equipment
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DAC upgrade for CDA2

Postby ballhill » Sat Dec 02, 2017 9:44 am

Hello
I haven’t been on the forum for a few years - just enjoying the music.
Three and a half years ago I got a set of ATC SCM40s for my 50th. They were a massive upgrade on anything I had ever heard. Soon, one thing lead to another and I bought a second hand CDA2 and P1 and got a project turntable and EDWARDS phono stage. The SCM40a were released after I had got set up and frankly I didn’t know anything about active speakers then. In future I would go active.
The whole time I fed the digital side via a pc going to a Squeezebox Touch - still an amazing bit of kit for the money. The SBT has a third party add on (called Enhanced Audio Output) that bypasses the onboard DAC and supports higher resolution music files. This is fed into the DAC on the CDA2. All cables and interconnects are Van Dam (I think that is the correct spelling). And it sounds pretty darn good, but vinyl just sounds quite a bit better. Looking at my set up leads me to conclude that the weakest link is the DAC on the CDA2.
I literally have no budget for an upgrade (I will have to wait for my 60th for any serious new money) so I am looking at secondhand and cheaper DACs. The danger is cheaper DACs could be a waste of money. I have read a lot about Chord DACs being some of the best out there and great value for money.

So after my long preamble my questions are:
Is the onboard CDA2 DAC the weakest link in the system?
What other DACs have people used in a similar situation?
Has anyone used a Chord 2Qute with the CDA2? I can get one 6 months old for £700.
Are there better value for money propositions out there as that is the absolute max I can spend?
Am I better to start saving and wait until I have a bigger budget? That is such a dangerous questions!!
Any help or advice greatfully received.
Squeezebox server running on dedicated PC music server - Logitech Squeezebox Touch - ATC CDA2 - ATC P1 - New ATC SMC40. Interconnects & speaker wire Van Damme. Project turntable and Edwards Audio phono amp.

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Re: DAC upgrade for CDA2

Postby darrenyeats » Sat Dec 02, 2017 12:01 pm

We should always first discuss acoustics and speaker/listening area positioning. See here for some basic tips: viewtopic.php?f=3&t=6982&p=38069#p38069.

Most modern DACs these days have very effective jitter handling. But I wouldn't assume galvanic isolation is provided for coax and USB inputs. I don't know about the CDA2 but a quick read of the manual didn't reveal anything about galvanic isolation. So ...

1. You could try TOSLINK, which always provides galvanic isolation, if you haven't already. Any difference in jitter should be handled by the CDA2.

2. If you're still concerned about jitter, you could (in addition to EDO) try the SBT on battery power (<£20 all-in these days) and using the Display Off app (which reduces power usage and noise from the screen backlight). This might reduce jitter at the SBT's digital output somewhat. In any case, getting rid of the SBT's wall wart might help in other ways. http://forums.slimdevices.com/showthrea ... ouch-%A324.

BTW I do (1) and (2) with my SBT. (1) is more toward hard science and (2) is more toward foo.

Some other inexpensive ideas can be found at http://pinkfishmedia.net/forum/threads/ ... st-2456579.
Last edited by darrenyeats on Sat Dec 02, 2017 2:48 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: DAC upgrade for CDA2

Postby AndyU » Sat Dec 02, 2017 12:08 pm

Don't know about the 2Qute, but have used an original Chord Hugo with some ATC SCM25As with excellent results so I am sure the 2Qute would be fine. I also used a Squeezebox Touch with the EDO plug in with it, as well as my laptop - again great results. I think the Chord DACs are something special, so try one out. Fanthorpes have a Hugo for £699, I'm sure they'd be happy to let you have it on trial.

https://www.fanthorpes.co.uk/second-han ... amplifier/

Not sure why vinyl sounds better for you - are your rips lossless? Have you made sure the LMS isn't transcoding down to mp3?

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Re: DAC upgrade for CDA2

Postby Alexk » Sat Dec 02, 2017 4:17 pm

The elephant in the room is mastering.
Direct comparisons between digital playback and a vinyl pressing are just simply not possible as the source audio itself is usually significantly better on the vinyl pressing.

If you're sure your DAC is holding back the performance of your digital system then sure, go ahead and upgrade, but I wouldn't go and change your DAC just because the same album sounds better on vinyl.

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Re: DAC upgrade for CDA2

Postby ballhill » Sun Dec 03, 2017 12:52 pm

Thanks for advice and replies.
I have an IFI SPDIF iPurifier that provides galvanic isolation from the SBT to the CDA2. I can’t say I noticed any difference when I installed it.

The room setup actually works quite well and my speakers are positioned well off the back and side walls - as I said it sounds great, it’s just that there is more ‘life’ in the vinyl against the digital side. I do have some vinyl / digital music duplication, but not much. And I am not sitting there comparing them back to back; this is just a general impression / observation from a couple of years of listening.

I did get a IFI replacement wall wart, but it didn’t have enough amps despite them saying it would work, it doesn’t. I will have to return it as it could be a duff one. I played around with a Raspberry Pi / Digi board in place of the SBT some time ago and it sounded harsh and less natural. So this front end is sensitive to being messed about with and getting that wall wort sorted is probably a priority.

On the DAC side I looked at the Hugo and wasn’t sure about the connections. I know people have made them work in their main systems, but the 2Qute seemed more ‘fit for purpose’ in a static application. Having said that, the Hugo’s have lost a lot more of their value since new; £1400 down to circa £700 and the 2Qute go from new £999 to £700 used. But the same budget for me. And I wouldn’t be using the preamp part of the Hugo. It sounds like Chord do play nice with ATCs, so that is good news.

Don’t get me wrong, the CDA2 is a great unit and it doing an awful lot of things (cd player, DAC and pre amp), but the CD transport is bought in as is the DAC. My assumption is that these would be the weakest links in the system. The design is quite old (at least since 2009) and my unit is 6 years old. DACs have come a long way in that time.

I guess I will audition a Hugo / 2Qute and see how I get on. I’ll report back
Many thanks guys
Squeezebox server running on dedicated PC music server - Logitech Squeezebox Touch - ATC CDA2 - ATC P1 - New ATC SMC40. Interconnects & speaker wire Van Damme. Project turntable and Edwards Audio phono amp.

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Re: DAC upgrade for CDA2

Postby darrenyeats » Sun Dec 03, 2017 1:09 pm

ballhill wrote:I played around with a Raspberry Pi / Digi board in place of the SBT some time ago and it sounded harsh and less natural. So this front end is sensitive to being messed about with and getting that wall wort sorted is probably a priority.

I've updated the link for point (2) in my first post - please check out latest details you need there.

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Re: DAC upgrade for CDA2

Postby Allan » Sun Dec 03, 2017 1:18 pm

Having owned 2Qute and Hugo 1, both used as primary sources in my HiFi system, I found the Hugo 1 quite a step up in terms of naturalness and flow. The 2Qute, although great in isolation, sounded a bit cold and mechanical compared to Hugo. I know they are identical in terms of their digital to analogue conversion components, but there are differences elsewhere that makes a difference to the final result. One advantage the Hugo has is that the output can be dialed down a bit from the 3v full-scale output, and that in itself has a benefit you don't get with the 2Qute, The digital volume control built into the Hugo appears to be pretty much transparent.

The Hugo 1 was further improved again by the addition of an Uptone Audio Regen between it and a Mac mini (running Audirvarna). And just to get super tweaky, further improvements were had replacing the Regen stock wall-wart with a Teddy Pardo linear power supply. I would re-iterate though I found Hugo 1 "bare" to still be preferable to 2Qute, it doesn't need these tweaks to show it's superiority (IMHO).

I eventually replaced the entire chain of Hugo/Regen/TeddyPardo + analogue pre-amp (Linn Klimax Kontrol) with a single box, a Linn Akurate DSM/1, and that was better again. I've just order a pair of SCM 19A's, so that'll be my hifi system going forward ... one box (Akurate DSM), balanced outputs, one thin interconnect to each speaker, that's it!

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Re: DAC upgrade for CDA2

Postby ballhill » Sun Dec 03, 2017 10:43 pm

Thanks for even more info - really helpful
@Darrenyeats - I already have a 2amp battery pack, so I have bought the dirt cheap power adapter £1.20) to use with my battery pack. And I have contacted IFI to arrange a replacement power supply -I will compare the two with the stock power supply. I have already tuned and positioned my speakers -pretty much no change as I had already done these activities, but I have turned off the display and after further playing around I have removed the IFI signal cleaner after doing lots of A/B testing I prefer the straight coaxial. The optical isn’t as musical in my set up, but that is only on average - strangely it is track dependant.

I am curious about the Hugo V 2Qute differences. Partially I have been driven by the fact that a Hugo is less than half price of new (new is £1400), but getting a 2Qute for less than £700 (new £999) is quite hard, the Hugo is doing things I don’t need and the connection options are really designed for portable, but hearing is hearing. I will let you all know.

I am also totally jelious - my money is gone and I can’t go to active until I simply have more cash. The worst part is that if I had waited 6 months, knew a lot more I would have gone active (SCM40a) from day one. My P1/CDA2 /SCM40 set up makes my eyes go moist every time I listen to my best recordings (they do rather mince anything that isn’t recorded well, but I am super OK with that, but just so surprised that poor recordings are released). I have never heard the actives, and, frankly most of my playback is at quite low volume levels, so I would need convincing as most reviewers say actives need to ‘work’ to produce their best, but all the reviews point to this being the way forward.

So if perfection is achieved by listening whilst being suspended on special titanium wires, with my own private power station, a rebuilt house, etc. Then I need a lot more money, so much in fact that I could afford to pay the musicians to play live in my living room!

DAC wise I am curious that there hasn’t been any other suggestions - could be a small forum, could be a boring question, could be that there aren’t many used DACs under £700 that improve on the CDA2. Anyway, I will deal with the short fillings and do the auditions.

Thank you all for the input. And I will report back - it will just take a week or two.
Cheers
Squeezebox server running on dedicated PC music server - Logitech Squeezebox Touch - ATC CDA2 - ATC P1 - New ATC SMC40. Interconnects & speaker wire Van Damme. Project turntable and Edwards Audio phono amp.

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Re: DAC upgrade for CDA2

Postby ballhill » Thu Dec 07, 2017 8:37 pm

I will be getting a trial 2Qute tomorrow to give it a bash.

In the mean time, I followed Derrenyeats advice and used a battery pack with an adapter as a power supply and this did make an improvement, and is a lot cheaper than the crazy prices of dedicated power supplies - thank you Darren. More space and a more open sound; it works!! Since I already had the battery pack, this upgrade cost precisely £1.20 an adapter from Amazon. That has to be the ultimate value for money Hi-Fi upgrade.

Can the same principle be applied to the 2Qute? IE Use a 12v battery pack (as long as it allows charging at the same time as providing power) as a replacement power supply? That seems preferable to shelling out £250 - £300 on a power supply -any opinions / thoughts?
Squeezebox server running on dedicated PC music server - Logitech Squeezebox Touch - ATC CDA2 - ATC P1 - New ATC SMC40. Interconnects & speaker wire Van Damme. Project turntable and Edwards Audio phono amp.

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Re: DAC upgrade for CDA2

Postby darrenyeats » Thu Dec 07, 2017 10:49 pm

ballhill,
You mention you turned off the display of the SBT - is this with the Display Off app as described in my earlier link? Usually the display appears off but the backlight is actually still on. The Display Off app ensures the backlight switches off and display processing stops (once the app is installed it's accessed via the normal screen saver menu, and I set the time-out to the minimum of 10s). There are some quirks when using the Display Off app with a phone or tablet controller app - detailed information can be found via the earlier link.

AIUI one of the main reasons SBTs fail is the screen - no wonder if the backlight never switches off, out of the box!

Good to hear you liked the battery!
Darren

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Re: DAC upgrade for CDA2

Postby studioman » Fri Dec 08, 2017 9:25 pm

ballhill wrote:I will be getting a trial 2Qute tomorrow to give it a bash.

In the mean time, I followed Derrenyeats advice and used a battery pack with an adapter as a power supply and this did make an improvement, and is a lot cheaper than the crazy prices of dedicated power supplies - thank you Darren. More space and a more open sound; it works!! Since I already had the battery pack, this upgrade cost precisely £1.20 an adapter from Amazon. That has to be the ultimate value for money Hi-Fi upgrade.

Can the same principle be applied to the 2Qute? IE Use a 12v battery pack (as long as it allows charging at the same time as providing power) as a replacement power supply? That seems preferable to shelling out £250 - £300 on a power supply -any opinions / thoughts?


Very interesting...I have used battery power and alternative power supplies before, and often found them to have a beneficial effect. I am interested in your mention of a 12v unit and the charger, and would like to know more about this....for example....'automatic or manually switched between charge and supply mode?'
They say if you can remember the 60's, you weren't really there. Now somehow I have reached 62...oh shit, it's 63 now....How and when did THAT happen?....there's a lesson there somewhere if only I could figure it out...

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Re: DAC upgrade for CDA2

Postby MevDinc » Fri Dec 08, 2017 11:32 pm

Re: Battery Power

I can confirm that there's a massive benefit using battery power with DACs. I used it with my previous DAC Zodiac Gold and I always used my Battery for serious listening. I think the biggest benefit is in the bass, so much cleaner and deeper sounding, always ended up turning the volume up a bit more than usual.

I will definitely make sure I can use batteries with my next DAC. :)

Best.
Mev
Audirvana+3.0 - Mac Mini, Lindermann Musicbook 20 DSD, ATC EL 150ASL (with the ATC tweeter!)

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Re: DAC upgrade for CDA2

Postby ballhill » Wed Dec 13, 2017 8:52 pm

I had a 2Qute arrive on Saturday.
My initial response was to be a bit nonplused. Part of that was that the coax didn’t seem to work and the optical stopped a bit later! Given that I couldn’t send it back same day, I gave the USB a go (never tried it before. it isn’t for me; it isn’t a convenient option).
So Saturday evening with a laptop via USB. I wasn’t stunned. I didn’t listen for long as setting up USB was a bit of a faff.
Sunday morning tried the coax and optical again - they worked perfectly (cancel return). I didn’t have a lot of listening time, but quickly noticed I could heard bigger differences with high definition files.
After further playing with leads and having more listening time I started to really appreciate how voices sounded and how the whole top end had more information, but in a good way.
Time passes on and I am more and more keen. I am planning a switch back at the weekend just to confirm where I am at, but I am not looking forward to it, and that is telling.
I guess why I was initially a bit nonplussed with the 2Qute might be related to how honest my ATCs are. Some standard resolution recordings are definitely improved by the 2Qute, some not at all; this is the recording quality coming through. The more I listen, the more I appreciate. But some material just isn’t improved. It is still listenable to, but it isn’t like being in the studio or live. Good quality recordings shine.
This is a second hand unit, so it shouldn’t need ‘running in’ (if that even is a thing), but tonight I found myself staring at the speakers in disbelieve at the base response. In some ways I would have been surprised by a night and day response as I can’t image the ATC ‘house DAC’ being a slouch, but it certainly wasn’t love at first listen. Now (after checking a lot of cables, etc.) I think it is a keeper.
I have ordered a battery pack for the 2Qute, but it arrived with a EURO plug, not UK, so I am getting that replaced. In the meantime I have started to plumb the depths of my music collection, and that is always a sign that I am simple enjoying the sound, and I certainly am. Not flashy, but subtly lovely.
Squeezebox server running on dedicated PC music server - Logitech Squeezebox Touch - ATC CDA2 - ATC P1 - New ATC SMC40. Interconnects & speaker wire Van Damme. Project turntable and Edwards Audio phono amp.

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Re: DAC upgrade for CDA2

Postby ballhill » Wed Dec 20, 2017 8:24 pm

I have heard people saying that sometimes side to side comparisons can be distracting, rather than insightful.
Well for me they were very useful. I have the squeezebox touch going digitally to my CDA2 (either coax and optical - tried both ways) or going via 2Qute (again, trying both lead types).
This was actually a little strange and made me wonder a bit about my ears. After a week of listening to the 2Qute and switching back to the CDA2 DAC made me ask myself ‘why bother’, it also sounded great.

So I picked a hi res tack and played 60 seconds on one DAC and the same 60 seconds of the same tract on the other DAC. Humm.., something sounds very different (for ref the album was William Orbit, My Orical Lives UpTown- studio master from Linn) after listening another five times. The difference now seems massive. There are definitely several reproduction aspects that are different. But the most pronounced was the sound stage / dispersion / space. On the CDA2 DAC the sound stage is small, generic and relatively muddled. Strangely it wasn’t unpleasant, as up until now, this was the best I have ever heard. And it only sounded that way after I had heard the Chord 2Qute. The 2Qute gave me a stage, put people and instruments in their place, and presented it whole, rounded, unassuming and wonderful sound. I have now repeated the same test on more material, and the difference exists with all format; the higher the res, the more you can hear the difference.
Base is deeper, but not in box boom or thud, I mean when a note goes low, it’s not ‘capped’. I don’t feel the sound is constrained. But it didn’t feel that before, but now I can’t go back to the CDA2 DAC.

Conclusions:
The 2Qute in my set up is a worthwhile upgrade. Understament!
Once you reach a certain point (on the journey to Hi-Fi heaven) you have to educate your brain / ears at each change. What you hear, makes you listen differently and opens new doors.
The absolute best sound isn’t flashy, brash or different for the sake of it. It is subtle, but still significant and substantial (once your ears tune in). It is only when you back and do side to side (after a period) that the difference truly appears.
Cables make a difference, and when you change one component, start from scratch testing you cables.
Do NOT decide anything from one listen. Be patient, listen, swop back, listen with others.
I haven’t yet confessed to my wife I have spent more money, but she has starting saying ‘you know, this is the best the system has ever sounded’ and simply ‘they are just great speakers’ .
I have reached the point where I have to listen for a while for my brain to catch up with more info coming to it, and only then can I make comparisons.
And finally, what can seem very subtle at first becomes night and day once you are tuned in.

I am keeping the 2Qute. I should try try the Hugo, but connections look a nightmare and should get the same result with a battery pack power supply.

Sadly now the CDA2 looks an expensive pre amp now - anyone want to buy one? Oh don’t just yet, I would love to go active one day and I can’t face the agony of trying to get the perfect stand alone amp. Maybe next decade!
Thanks for you contributions.
Squeezebox server running on dedicated PC music server - Logitech Squeezebox Touch - ATC CDA2 - ATC P1 - New ATC SMC40. Interconnects & speaker wire Van Damme. Project turntable and Edwards Audio phono amp.

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Re: DAC upgrade for CDA2

Postby MattSPL » Sat Dec 30, 2017 5:08 pm

Thanks for sharing your experiences and it’s great that you have found a good upgrade. At least you have a pre amp and CD player with the CDA2, even if your not using the Dac section.
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