I wanted to update this thread with a DAC I purchased that may replace my current PS Audio DAC.
I purchased a Music Hall DAC 25.2 hybrid tube DAC for cheap. It was nearly half price, so I figured why not give in a chance. I know of a person on another forum that picked one up and really liked it after a few changes.
Upon first listen, I was smitten by the DAC's sound stage. It is wide, tall, and very holographic sounding; amazing really. The sound stage was so good at first it was masking the DAC's faults.
Other first impressions were that the bass was sloppy and muddy sounding and the highs were rolled off. The midrange did sound nice, especially with the sound stage effects. However it didn't take long to hear things I didn't like. I played some Peter Gabriel and the bass was so muddy sounding I couldn't listen to it.
Here is where the Music Hall DAC's flexibility kicks in. The DAC has 3 oversampling modes: non-oversampling, 96k, and 192k. I started my listening in the default non-oversampling mode. I then switched to 96k and things tightened up a bit in the bass and the highs were a little more extended sounding with better decay. But this still wasn't really floating my boat, so I switched the DAC to 192k oversampling.
192k oversampling is the mode I left the DAC in since last week Tuesday. The DAC now sounded more similar to my PS Audio DAC still with less bass articulation and about 80% of the brightness that I had. I was now starting to like the DAC again.
This is where I switched back and forth between the two DACs a bit. All I heard was a cleaner presentation from the PS Audio DAC in the bass and midrange, but brighter highs. Again, I was liking the Music Hall, but it wasn't a clear winner over PS Audio. Each DAC seems to do things better than the other. Picking what things are most important to me is not easy as I want it all!!!
Fast forward to Saturday and I notice a change in the Music Hall. I hadn't been listening to the PS Audio really at all for a few days by then, but it was just a button push away from playing. It was about mid-morning when I noticed the Music Hall was sounding very articulate in the bass (not as good as the PS Audio), the midrange sounded good and clear, and the highs sounded cleaner with extension and decay that I found very good. I even looked at my preamp to make certain I was listening to the Music Hall and not the PS Audio. I spent the rest of Saturday enjoying the Music Hall and not putting much more thought into the situation.
Sunday morning basically confirmed what I was thinking about the Music Hall, something was different. It was now very clear to me that the bass was in fact more articulate and the midrange and highs sounded great with good attack and decay. Things were much better for my tastes. I don't really believe in break-in, but I don't know anything about tubes. All I know is I have about 50 hours on the DAC and it's different; clearly different.
So now that the DAC is actually starting to sound good to my ears, I started to compare it to my PS Audio DAC again. I was mostly interested to understand how much was the DAC changing and how much was my ears/brain adjusting to the sound. With the Music Hall in 192k mode, I switched back and for during a few of my favorite tracks. The two DACs sound different, but the sound is not as different as it used to be. The main differences I heard now are that the PS Audio still has the clearer sound presentation; crystal clear actually. The bass and midrange is very articulate and highs are just a little overdone for my tastes. The Music Hall still brings that great sound stage with nice, clean highs that are never overdone or in your face. Very nice actually. The midrange is smoother sounding, but not by much. The bass is still less articulate and I would fault the Music Hall most in this area. Too bad really as the Music Hall would be a clear winner if this was better.
To further convince myself that the Music Hall did in fact change in sound, last Sunday afternoon I put it into 96k oversampling to give a listen. To my surprise, I may like this mode better now. I've learned that the sound stage changes a bit as well as you switch between oversampling modes. The stage is most holographic in non-oversampling mode and the least in 192k mode. So 96k brings a bit of balance between the sound stage presentation and the overall tonality of the DAC. But the biggest surprise is that the DAC went from un-listenable in the is mode to pretty darn good sounding. Bass articulation is livable with sounding muddy and the midrange is nice and clear. The highs still sound clean and extended with nice decay. Very pleasant sounding overall. I certainly would not have made these types of statements about this mode middle of last week.
What's funny is that I'm really liking a DAC with a tube that most don't like. Although I'm thinking if tubes break-in, maybe they didn't listen long enough. I don't know. What I am looking forward to is some tube rolling. Maybe there is a tube that will take this DAC the rest of the way for me. I'm really hoping so, because I think I'm now a tube lover.
Some comments on tubes (for the little I know) now that I have experienced for the most part what tubes can do for sound: I don't hear anything I'd call "coloring of the sound". I hear a magical presentation of sound that has a sound stage to die for. The sound is clean, detailed, and balanced. The funny thing for me is that no matter how many faults I heard from the Music Hall early on, I never hated the DAC. There was always something to like and appreciate. I've heard other DACs that I just hated, the Music Hall never disconnected me from the music. I may now be a tube guy!
I still find the PS Audio DAC very, very good. It will be tough to actually sell it without thinking I'm making a mistake. But the Music Hall may just be a keeper. I have to see what tube rolling may bring. I have two fine gents sending me tubes to try and I may just spring for a big dollar Telefunken tube from the 1960's. It's supposedly exactly what I'm looking for. I may find out tonight...