I listened to Marty's DACs today. What fun!! Thanks Marty!
I like the Gustard X20 > Yggydrasil > NEC CD-730.
I'm only commenting on the SQ:
I like Yggy for separating instruments better, for more texture than Gustard, for clearer bass. It is clearly more detailed than Gustard. I don't like Yggy for the combination of slightly thinner midrange tone than Gustard and more aggressive treble, which together make it harder for me to focus on music. My thoughts easily wander while Yggy is playing. Maybe the treble would mellow a little and midrange fill in after warming up for a few days as they suggest, idk.
I like Gustard for the big fat warm luscious tone top to bottom. Very easy to get lost in the music. It's NOT an "audiophile" DAC, imo, and it was not well appreciated by the audiophiles at the G2G who were previously listening to Vega. I changed the Gustard filter from Sharp to Slow which opened it up slightly for my very wide bandwidth tube amps. Listening in 'audiophile' mode it could be said that the bass can be a little too diffuse (with my small ported speakers already not well detailed in bass) and I noticed a slight lack of midrange tonal texture on string quartet recordings. I already have paper cones, silk tweeter, tube preamp and amp, so I got my 'warmth' quota covered elsewhere. But there is enough detail and texture to fully enjoy the music, hear the beauty of the instruments as they relate to the music, and easy to fall deep into music trance without non-musical distractions. Putting on a jazz trio there is plenty of cymbal and snare edginess, piano bite, background ambient noise, but the sound is never the 'star' on stage, it is always the players, the music. My tweeters are already tilted down a couple dB from flat to my preference, so the Gustard's more organic presentation augments that tendency a little too much for my speakers, probably the cause of my desire for a little more midrange texture on string quartet tracks. For the flat-voiced treble of modern commercial speakers, the Gustard voicing would be ideal to make music listening easier. My small speakers lose bass detail to port distortion and to low acoustic impedance of the small 6" driver, so I liked the Yggy clearer bass when listening as audiophile. But when I shut off my inner audiophile and just listen to music the Gustard bass is big, powerful, tuneful and really fun and well balanced with the good body and fullness overall. Vocals on Gustard seem crystal clear and very detailed, very good texture, so I'm not sure why I feel the slight lack of texture on classical string music.
I don't have Vega here now, Jason wanted to leave it, but I refused because I already liked it too much to be tempted with it in the house. But from what I remember of it, Vega brings the audiophile level of detail, texture and good bass control along with the bigness and full body tone. But I do worry if the extreme detail of any 'audiophile' style DAC would be too annoying after a while. I had similar worries in the past but got over them quickly as my brain gets used to the higher resolution. I started off thinking that the Vega was too detailed at the beginning of the g2g, but by the end of the night I was really digging the detail and could easily fall into the music despite the high detail. But I'd want to listen to it in solitude before purchasing a Vega.
The balanced outputs of Yggy and Gustard sounded better than their SE outputs. I did listen to each for a long time, then back and forth within the same song, then back to longer periods for each, with all different music.
Thusly impressed with the visiting big boy DACs, I am motivated to finish up yet another round of mods to my old Buffalo2 DAC and see how that compares at the next G2G. I'm replacing the old failing v1 Placid BP with Belleson regulators and replacing the old v1 Legato output stage with my favorite opamp and run the 9018 in voltage mode, no I/V. I'm also adding a USB input with the new XMOS xCORE-2 USB>I2S chip.