John Kenny Saber DAC

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bhobba

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John Kenny Saber DAC
« on: 21 Jul 2011, 09:32 am »
Hi Guys

I got the DAC and have now popped it into my system - playing Celine Dion live through it right now. But when I picked it up from my acquaintance I had it shipped to he wasn't there, however some others I know were, and we had a chance to compare it to the Tranquility, Tranquility SE, and my Level 2 PDX with the JK Hiface input. This is the best Saber implementation I have heard - it blows away my WFS to my ears. The others there have heard the WFS and also agree - in fact none of them like the WFS but didn't mind this DAC. No upper mid-range/lower treble glare or sibilance issues. The SABER detail is there - in fact no other DAC is better at that - and also seems to have the Saber trademark propulsive bass. However the sound is rather dry - not necessarily cold - dry is the word I would use. Some people describe the WFS's treble as being squeaky clean - too clean - like out of a freezer - I don't agree with that but that's what they say. This DAC to my ears is not like that - it is clean all right - but still it's not what I would call sweet - dry is the best word I can think of. If your tastes are for a more musical sweeter sounding DAC then other DAC's may suit you better. However there is no free lunch and in this price bracket you suffer in other areas such as bass control and detail retrieval. This dry quality is similar to the sound I heard in ME amps many years ago. The Tranquility was sweeter sounding (not as dry) but the bass was not as good and detail retrieval just a smidgen less. In fact this is the Tranquility's signature and why its such a tough nut to crack - its a NOS DAC with a NOS DAC's sweetness but detail retrieval of a non nos DAC - in fact close to Saber DAC's. Overall I would give it a tie - which is a very good showing since the Tranquility at about $1k and in my experience is the leader in DAC's up to $1K (its on special at the moment for that price). The is the first DAC that I would judge its equal in that price bracket (just different) and the fact it is cheaper is a very fine achievement. I will also lay on the table my musical preferences - I prefer the sweeter presentation of the Tranquility since the music I mostly listen to such as Diana Krall doesn't have much bass for that aspect to shine. The Tranquility SE and PDX were clearly better - much more fluid, liquid, sweeter and well more musical. The SE is nearly 3 times the price and the PDX 7 times the price so that is what you would expect. I and some others thought this would be a game changer in its price bracket - I am willing to say that.

My new ordering of the upper echelon DAC's I have heard are JK Saber DAC, Tranquility, Tranquility SE, PDX, Killer. The fact it makes that elite company for that price is a fine achievement. I also want to add while these are the top echelon DAC's I have heard please be clear - they are not scary close - the JK Saber compared to the PDX or Killer is a joke - no comparison really. When we switched on the PDX after hearing the JK you simply would not want to go back. The reason I mention it is some reviews like the 6 Moons review of the Burson make claims like it was scary close to the best out there at any price - bollocks. However I have my own personal line above which I call DAC's upper ecelon - hardly any DAC's I know cross it and these are the DAC's I have heard that do. For example the Rega DAC is a nice sounding DAC but it does not make the grade to my ears and many other DAC's do not as well.

Bottom line here is if you can afford the cost of a Tranquility SE (about 1.8k on special), the PDX (about 2.4K-4K) or Killer (about 2.5-6K) then get those - you will reap the benefits. But if that is a bit too much dosh then avail yourself of John Kenny's money back guarantee and the offer of a free trial of the Tranquility and decide which suits your tastes better. Also take them down to your local Hi Fi store and see if they have anything that comes close for the price - my bet is they won't - but to be sure check it out for yourself.

Thanks
Bill

firedog

Re: John Kenny Saber DAC
« Reply #1 on: 21 Jul 2011, 11:44 am »
Did some Web searches and tried to find out about actually ordering a Killer DAC.

Only found some references to it, not any place where you could actually buy it or talk to someone about it.

Any idea?

BTW, I understand from your post you think the JKDAC is superior to the Burson?

bhobba

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Re: John Kenny Saber DAC
« Reply #2 on: 21 Jul 2011, 11:11 pm »
Did some Web searches and tried to find out about actually ordering a Killer DAC. Only found some references to it, not any place where you could actually buy it or talk to someone about it. Any idea? BTW, I understand from your post you think the JKDAC is superior to the Burson?

Yes I think it is superior to the Burson 160D - I even thought the WFS was superior to that DAC and the John Kenny is superior to the WFS.  I have the DA160 on order and can give further comments when I get it - which I am told will be next week - but my experience with Burson is they will promise you anything to actually get your money - then come the excuses.  But we will see.  A caveat here - not everyone agreed with that assessment - some preferred the Burson to the WFS and may prefer it to the John Kenny.  Personal preference is a big issue with any piece of audio gear.

The Killer DAC has its own forum where how to get one is discussed as well as a lot of other stuff:
http://killerdac.com/forum/

I am looking to get one myself once what USB input it will be using has been sorted out and I have rationalised my current DAC's - ie sold a few of therm.

However getting a Killer is not to be taken lightly.  One of the reasons for its stellar performance and why it is currently the best DAC I know is it is basically tuned to each persons system - no two Killers are really exactly the same.  Each owner needs to put the time and effort into getting the best out of this very special DAC.  The other thing is the comparison to the PDX was with an early prototype and it has improved in leaps and bounds since then.  From memory I think the Killer may still have the edge with the music I listen to - that's because the double crown chips used in the Killer show their best with simple acoustic type music and can get a bit muddled with simple stuff - I listen to mostly vocalists.  The PDX uses a PCM1704 and does not have that problem.  However a direct comparison needs to be done to be sure.  The other thing is with the modified USB M2Tech input the PDX now has it is IMHO better than the killer - it makes that much difference.  I however expect the Killer to have a similar leap in performance once its USB input is sorted out - which is why it still remains at the top of the best DAC's I have heard.

Thanks
Bill

MttBsh

Re: John Kenny Saber DAC
« Reply #3 on: 22 Jul 2011, 04:54 am »
Thanks bhobba for the review of the John Kenny DAC and your comments about the "less than" stellar DACs out there, you got me thinking and helped me make a decision. I'm in the market for a new DAC and have been waiting for the new Burson and EE models to come out and be reviewed, thinking about the new Dutch Metrum Octave, etc.  But now I'm leaning towards the PDX, for just over twice the $$s. Why? because what we're all after is that ultimate refinement in cound, so why bother spending a grand getting half way there? I know that people (including me) are on tight budgets these days, but I have a feeling that investing in the PDX will bring years of enjoyment and it's worth it. I don't want to go for something less and wonder what I'm missing. The Killer would be ideal, but that's beyond what most any of us can justify spending - and it sounds like the PDX gets you most of the way there. Again, thanks for sharing your perspective!

bhobba

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Re: John Kenny Saber DAC
« Reply #4 on: 22 Jul 2011, 07:21 am »
Hi Mttbsh

I am biased because I own a PDX and with the modified battery powered M2Tech any PDX beats any other DAC I have heard.  Its real advantage however is the upgrade path you get so instead of getting a new DAC you simply get it upgraded.  I believe over time you will likely save money rather than getting a cheaper DAC and throwing it away every few years.

I must say that the Metrum Octave looks very interesting and I am sorely tempted to get one - my fingers are a itching.

Thanks
Bill

firedog

Re: John Kenny Saber DAC
« Reply #5 on: 22 Jul 2011, 10:24 am »
The PDX looks very interesting, but is limited to 24/96, is it not? If I'm going to spend that kind of money (north of $3000 with upgrades), I'd want something that goes up to 24/192.

bhobba

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Re: John Kenny Saber DAC
« Reply #6 on: 22 Jul 2011, 01:52 pm »
The PDX looks very interesting, but is limited to 24/96, is it not? If I'm going to spend that kind of money (north of $3000 with upgrades), I'd want something that goes up to 24/192.

We may be getting a bit off track here but what the heck.  Yes it is limited to 24/96 but there is a reason for that.  The guys that make it believe the PCM1704 is the best sounding chip.  Its operates at a max of 768khz which means you would need to have a 4 times oversampling filter to handle 192khz.  They are available - trouble is listening tests show the 8 times oversampling filter sounds better.  Because of that quite a few manufacturers such as Lite and AudioGD as well as the makers of the PDX have chosen the 8 times over-sampler but in doing so limit it to 24/96.  I have heard 192khz DAC's and compared 96 to 192 and to be honest can't tell any difference.  Although I have read the reason for that has to do with the quality of converters currently available - evidently 192 is harder to get right.

Thanks
Bill

bhobba

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Re: John Kenny Saber DAC
« Reply #7 on: 23 Jul 2011, 10:34 am »
Just for the heck of it it tried connecting it directly to my Patek amp and used the volume control in Pure Music or Itunes. Holey crap - everything improved - detail, sound-stage, life - everything. Once you hear this no going back - direct connection is the way to go. Anyway decided the comparison with the other DAC's needed to be done again so contacted my acquaintance who had arrived back and headed on over for another comparison.

Another experienced audiophile was also there who had not heard any of these DAC's except the PDX before and we sat down to listen. First up we all agreed this was a very good SABER implementation - IMHO it is the best SABER I have heard but the others did not have recent experience with the Saber so were not willing to make that call. I had been listening to the WFS for a number of days previously so I knew what it sounded like very well. The JK Saber sounded very good indeed. The only thing we noticed was a slight graininess and the dryness to the sound. No glare or sibilance that the WFS has a bit of trouble with - this was easily above the WFS DAC2 that I know quite well. I know the base level Tranquility very well and thought this had beaten it but to be sure we put that on. No doubt about it - it bested the Tranquility when directly connected to the amps - more detail and realism - previously when going through a pre-amp I thought it a tie - but now it was better. The Tranquility can not be directly connected to amp because it is only 16 bit so we had to use a pre-amp. All agreed the JK was better. This is really a fine showing for the JK Saber - its the first DAC cheaper than the Tranquility I know that bested it - and it is significantly cheaper as well. Next up the Tranquility SE. Yep the SE was better - more fluid and life like with a beautiful beguiling mercury like mid-range - simply more of a joy to listen to. The JK is not a total giant killer - but it took a DAC three times the price to do it - and you also need a pre-amp. This SE was also the DAC that along with the Overdrive wowed them at the last RMAF - so that it took a DAC like that to best the JK Saber is again a fine showing. Next was a base level PDX - and yes it was better again - more life like and a real joy to listen to - but it was $2.7k - again much more expensive.

My new DAC ordering is Tranquility, JK Saber, Tranquility SE, PDX, Killer.

At $650-700 depending on the exchange rate this DAC is simply stupid good value for what you get. And direct connecting it to your amp will save money as well.

Thanks
Bill

brj

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Re: John Kenny Saber DAC
« Reply #8 on: 28 Jul 2011, 05:03 am »
Guys, I moved the last 2 posts in this thread into the Quarantine Circle for the moment.  They did not focus on the review of the JK DAC, even to compare and contrast against the JK DAC, and thus were inappropriate to the thread at hand.

Again, manufacturers of gear mentioned in a review thread are most welcome to respond to direct questions about their products, but should focus on specific answers and objective facts.  Product announcements or advertisements are welcome on AC, but only in the appropriate circles.

If I can't come up with an appropriate circle into which to relocate the two posts, I'll eventually have to move them from Quarantine to the IGWB.  If the authors of those 2 posts have a suggestion as to where they feel those posts might best be relocated, I'm open to your comments, but please do so via PM so as not to derail this thread further.

Thank you!

bhobba

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Re: John Kenny Saber DAC
« Reply #9 on: 30 Jul 2011, 10:42 am »
Hi Guys

A guy (Gary) has just left with the JK Saber and will do a write up comparing it to his Audio GD Ref 5 on SNA.  But we did a bit of a listening session for a few hours between the JK, WFS DAC 2 and Tranquility SE.  My PDX is having a bit of work done on it right now so could not be included.

Ok we confirmed the order of the DAC's as (worse to best) WFS, JK Saber and Tranquility SE.  But Gary preferred the JK to the Tranquility even though he thought the Tranquility was the better DAC, as I did.  The reason was, as everyone who has heard the Tranquility SE has noted, it has a very beguiling, liquid, fluid and mercury like mid-range that was recognized as better than the other DAC's, but was not to his taste - evidently the musical thing which the Tranquility definitely does is not his preference.

Gary was surprised with the WFS - glare in the upper mid-range lower treble with some sibilance issues and quite cold.  This was because many people on the internet were saying how good it was - but really in this comparison it was not up to the other DAC's - in fact after a while it became un-listenable because you easily locked onto its deficiencies after listening to the DAC's.  One thing in favor of the WFS was it had the most tunefull bass but I thought the JK bass was both lower and better.  This however is the Tranquility's achilles heel - the bass is a little one note and flabby which on bass heavy material was noticeable.

The track that we locked onto that really showed the differences was Duffy Rockferry - the first track Rockferry - which has the reputation of being hard to reproduce properly due to her Welch wavering voice.  Through the Tranquility - sublime.  Its mid-range loves this type of stuff.  We tried it both via Itunes and Audirvana - Audirvana was quite noticeably better and via that the Tranquility really was awesome.  We tried the JK both direct and via the Truth.  Through the Truth it was a bit thin and un-involving - direct to the amp was a lot better - greater detail, imaging - all sorts of stuff was better.   But the mid-range was not as magical as the Tranquility - still very nice though - but a bit dry - but Gary did not mind that.  At $700.00 with no pre amp required incredible value.  Afraid the WFS was not in the hunt - it made Duffy's voice sound glarey, cold and sibilancy - most definitely not what you would want to listen to after the other DAC's.

On the basis of this comparison I must say don't even bother with the WFS - the JK is better and cheaper.  The Tranquility SE is clearly better (and it should be at three times the price) but like Gary it may not be to your taste.

Thanks
Bill

jtwrace

Re: John Kenny Saber DAC
« Reply #10 on: 30 Jul 2011, 12:50 pm »
You're on every forum with this dac.   :o

bhobba

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Re: John Kenny Saber DAC
« Reply #11 on: 30 Jul 2011, 01:24 pm »
You're on every forum with this dac.

Yes I have posted on a number of forums I frequent.  If that is a problem let me know and I will rationalize by posting to only one or two.  But I really do enjoy chatting to people about this stuff.

Thanks
Bill

munosmario

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Re: John Kenny Saber DAC
« Reply #12 on: 30 Jul 2011, 03:49 pm »
Yes I have posted on a number of forums I frequent.  If that is a problem let me know and I will rationalize by posting to only one or two.  But I really do enjoy chatting to people about this stuff.

Thanks
Bill

bhobba, your enthusiasm for JK's DAC is totally understandable...and it is well balanced. Don't see any problem or conflict spreading it through all [relevant] forums. As you do that, in comparing to competing DACs,  perhaps it should be a good idea to stress that the sonic virtues you have found in JK's DAC, as it is now (as I understand), will only benefit USB fed music in digital file format..."no soup" for disc spinners...a real shame! In any event, I am sure that if JK put his will (meaning, no bias against disc spinners) & creative mind to it, that limitation could be easily eliminated at minimum extra cost--enhancing significantly the already extraordinary value proposition.

munosmario

bhobba

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Re: John Kenny Saber DAC
« Reply #13 on: 31 Jul 2011, 01:27 am »
bhobba, your enthusiasm for JK's DAC is totally understandable...and it is well balanced. Don't see any problem or conflict spreading it through all [relevant] forums. As you do that, in comparing to competing DACs,  perhaps it should be a good idea to stress that the sonic virtues you have found in JK's DAC, as it is now (as I understand), will only benefit USB fed music in digital file format..."no soup" for disc spinners...a real shame! In any event, I am sure that if JK put his will (meaning, no bias against disc spinners) & creative mind to it, that limitation could be easily eliminated at minimum extra cost--enhancing significantly the already extraordinary value proposition.

Thanks very much for that.  And indeed the JK Saber is only a USB DAC - that's it - no I2S or SPDIF.  However a DAC manufacturer I know has done some tests that showed first of all USB, when done correctly, simply clobbers any other method.  I was fortunate enough to be at the tests and can confirm its true.  And secondly even having a switch to choose between inputs degrades performance.  Because of that I suspect if things like a switch to choose between USB, SPDIF or I2S were provided its performance may suffer.

Thanks
Bill