Empirical Audio Pansonic XR45 and Monarchy DIP Upsampler USB

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dave_c

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Hey guys sorry to keep you in the dark.  Here’s my review of my custom PC Digital system featuring Empirical Audio mods to Monarchy DIP upsampler and Panasonic XR45.  I’ve been using the two as a system and can’t comment on them individually.  I’ve been playing WAV files ripped via EAC exclusively; either off of an external drive or off of the internal drive on my laptop, I’ve noticed no difference between the two.  I haven’t done any comparisons between any lossless codecs and WAV files yet but that will be an important test since it will increase capacity by 100% based on average file sizes after compression.
 
System Overview:
IBM T40 w / Windows XP Pro / Foobar2000 / ASIO4ALL
Seagate 200gb HD in Vantec External HD case
Generic USB Cables
Empirical Audio Monarchy DIP Upsampler w/ BNC, USB, Power Supply and Superclock Mods
Zu Cable Bok PC 6’
Stereovox HDXV BNC – BNC cable
Empirical Audio Panasonic XR45 w / BNC, Jensen Cap and custom hand wound inductors
PS Audio xStream Plus PC 3’
Zu Cable Wax 10’ Banana to Spade
Triangle Titus 202
24” Lovan Ballet Stands
Rutledge Audio Custom 10” powered sub
Wireworld Atlantis II for sub cable
DIY PC

Music:    
Reiner Chicago Symphony Rimsky-Korsakov “Scheherezade”
Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out
Zero 7 – Simple Things
Fila Brazillia – Brazillification
Jon Kennedy – Take My Drum to England

My system started out with the same components, except I had an M-Audio Transit USB / Toslink interface going to the Monarchy via Glass Optical cable.  Things sounded pretty well like that; nice mids, good bass but a pretty flat and narrow soundstage.  Also, the midbass and midrange weren’t the very integrated.  I thought that it was due to the 5” mids on the Tirangles not being able to hit hard or play low.  After the mods, the Transit was mounted in the Monarchy and significant upgrades were made to the Monarchy itself.  The mods cut out a Toslink cable and allowed me to use the Stereovox without the supplied BNC – RCA adapters.  Everything was a true 75 ohm BNC interface now.  The XR45 received PS upgrade, custom hand wound output inductors and some digital circuit mods.  

I have around 130 hours of break on both the EA USB Monarchy and EA XR45.  They sounded great out of the box, but after around 100 hours things really changed for the better.  At this point, I believe that all of the major changes have occurred and only incremental changes will be happening moving forward.  If I’m wrong about this, I’ll post an update after I pick my jaw up from the floor.

Things are extremely coherent from top to bottom with no frequency range being highlighted over any others.  The midrange is probably the most detailed and textured I’ve heard in my room. I’m finally beginning to understand the concepts of texture and body.  Other components I’ve had in my system may have been smooth or warm, but having added detail is different from both of those situations.  You can just hear more instruments.  Music sounds more whole and complete now than it ever did.  The previous lower midrange suckout is gone now.  At the end of the second movement on Scheherezade, the buildup culminates in a sudden attack of strings playing in a lower octave.  It seemed as if the Triangles weren’t capable of playing all full range, but after hearing it now I know they are.  So much more midrange texture is coming through that the piece takes on a different level of intensity.  I’m much more drawn into the music.

Bass is also excellent.  Acoustic and electronic bass are done equally well.  On “Destiny” by Zero 7, the bass works with the mids to create a sense of space.  Yet within this space, there is an electronic bassline that rolls slowly with the music.  This bassline is well defined and doesn’t muddy the vocals or guitar on the track.  On each track on Time Out, you can hear the plucking and detail from the upright bass.  

Soundstage has also improved dramatically.  The image used to be only slightly 3 dimensional and parabolic.  The center was just slightly behind the speakers and the outsides of the image were a little forward which is neither realistic or pleasing.  Although it’s not super deep, the image now begins 2 feet behind the speakers and is coherent all the way across.  Also, the soundstage extends outside beyond the speakers.  Imaging is slightly diffuse, but musical and proportioned in size.  You can tell where everything is, but its not as if they originate from a tiny point in space.  On “Strange Meadowlark” from Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, you can hear the relative location of each instrument, but the sound they produce goes across the whole soundstage as well instead of just staying on their side of the stage.  The piano sounds a lot bigger too.  I used to think it stayed on the right side exclusively, but now it extends across the soundstage with distinct locations for the left and right hand keys.

What probably makes all of this possible is the incredibly quiet nature of both components.  There is absolutely no noise coming from either of them.  During silences there is no hiss, rush or buzz just dead black silence.  I think this really allows all of the details to come through unimpeded.  Silence = transparency in this case.

I’m thoroughly impressed by everything these components do.  I have a modest system at best, but I don’t feel as if I’m missing out on much.  I think system synergy could lead to improvements in image depth and overall sound.  I’m looking to upgrade speakers and cable.  Also, I’m considering a mod that will enable the XR45 to run 4 channels outside of party mode.  This would keep gain characteristics the same and allow bi-amping with a 24/96 input.  

Highly recommended!

sunshinedawg

Empirical Audio Pansonic XR45 and Monarchy DIP Upsampler USB
« Reply #1 on: 25 Aug 2004, 08:16 pm »
Dave,

Great review.  Any more details on the 24/96 mod?  What does this entail and what would be the cost?

dave_c

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Empirical Audio Pansonic XR45 and Monarchy DIP Upsampler USB
« Reply #2 on: 25 Aug 2004, 08:57 pm »
I highly suggest asking Steve about it since it sounds pretty technical.  Its just an idea that we kicked around but haven't tried yet.

Jon L

Empirical Audio Pansonic XR45 and Monarchy DIP Upsampler USB
« Reply #3 on: 27 Aug 2004, 07:10 pm »
I'll ask the obvious question.  Since Steve is now offering USB2.0 input mod for DAC's, wouldn't it be "better" to implement USB2.0 input mod to the Panny and drive it with USB cable straight from the digital source?  

Since USB2.0 is supposed to be free of jitter, wouldn't this be better than going through the Monarchy via BNC to Panny?

dave_c

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Empirical Audio Pansonic XR45 and Monarchy DIP Upsampler USB
« Reply #4 on: 27 Aug 2004, 08:22 pm »
I'll say "probably".  What I got out of it are two components.  The Modded XR45 and the Modded Monarchy.  The Monarchy becomes a really nice USB / SPDIF digital interface that can be used in any digital system (as long as it accepts 24/96 signals) going forward.  This way I don't always have to get my DAC modified to accept USB.

Steve does offer USB mods to any DAC.

sunshinedawg

Empirical Audio Pansonic XR45 and Monarchy DIP Upsampler USB
« Reply #5 on: 27 Aug 2004, 11:40 pm »
Quote from: Jon L
I'll ask the obvious question.  Since Steve is now offering USB2.0 input mod for DAC's, wouldn't it be "better" to implement USB2.0 input mod to the Panny and drive it with USB cable straight from the digital source?  

Since USB2.0 is supposed to be free of jitter, wouldn't this be better than going through the Monarchy via BNC to Panny?


I think that all this would do is eliminate the digital interface between the usb card and the panny.  I have the usb card(mine is a Sonica, which is the predecessor to the Transit) and have hooked it up to my panny and it sounds awful.  The problem with the Sonica and Transit is that they have a dirty power supply(from your pc) and a terrible clock.  No matter how you connect them it to the panny, this is going to be true.  The monarchy is what cleans up the power and outputs a super, accurately clocked signal.  The strengths of Transit/Sonica are that they are simply built and can output a bit-perfect signal.  There are few cards that can do that. This coupled with perfect EAC rips on your hard drive will give you an exact copy of the music every time.

The monarchy has a coax input also.  I wonder if you put any old cd player in front of the monarchy,  what the sound would be like? Just as awesome, I hope!

audioengr

Empirical Audio Pansonic XR45 and Monarchy DIP Upsampler USB
« Reply #6 on: 28 Aug 2004, 02:43 am »
Quote from: Jon L
I'll ask the obvious question.  Since Steve is now offering USB2.0 input mod for DAC's, wouldn't it be "better" to implement USB2.0 input mod to the Panny and drive it with USB cable straight from the digital source?  

Since USB2.0 is supposed to be free of jitter, wouldn't this be better than going through the Monarchy via BNC to Panny?


Yes, this could be better, depending on the PC clock, but the Monarchy with mods and Superclock is darned good now.

I just installed a USB interface in a Meridian 566 DAC which now has a USB input, two coax inputs and an AES/EBU input. You can switch back and forth between the coax and the USB and play the same track on both.  Using the REAL player to play through the USB using my laptop, they sound is almost identical to my reference DAC, but a little more dynamic and a little less smooth.  I believe this is because the DSP in my reference transport (Sony DVP-S7700) just does it right.  There is probably some S/W player out there that does it right as well (Dont use Windows Media Player). The differences between the two were small.  My wife thought it was our reference DAC at first.  The Meridian, after a few mods, is very close to my P-3A upsampler.  The Sony still wins, but not by much.

I think for next Jan. CES, I will take a P-3A DAC with a USB interface and use my laptop as a transport.  I will also take my Sony transport.

audioengr

Empirical Audio Pansonic XR45 and Monarchy DIP Upsampler USB
« Reply #7 on: 28 Aug 2004, 02:47 am »
Quote from: sunshinedawg
Dave,

Great review.  Any more details on the 24/96 mod?  What does this entail and what would be the cost?


It involves doing some cuts and jumpers on the main board.  I estimate $250-$300 to do this, because of the dissassembly, reassembly and testing before and after.