dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps

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mresseguie

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Eric Heider is the man behind the dB Audio Labs Tranquility NOS DAC, and he is very easy to communicate with. He made a point of telling me how to get his Tranquility DAC to sound its best. One very important detail is that it really needs to be paired with a Mac Mini to sound its best. If you use a Windows PC, you probably won't care for his DAC. I guess that limits his DAC's appeal somewhat.

Fortunately, I have a Mac Mini, so I went ahead and ordered an SE model. I decided that as long as I was going to audition it, I may as well ask for a special upgrade that someone I know showed me on his DAC two years ago. I asked Eric to replace his stock output caps with Jupiter Cu caps. He told me it wasn't a problem, but I'd have to pay for the upgrade.  I happily accepted. :thumb: When I ordered the Tranquility DAC, I more than half-expected to return it to Eric because I didn't have especially high expectations. After all, it's not exactly a mainstream, always getting press DAC, is it? There is a 10% restocking fee on returns.

I asked Eric to ship it to AC member Aldcoll's home because I wasn't certain where I would be when it arrived. Sure enough, when Alan hooked it up to his Windows PC, it sounded like crap. Poor Alan tried switching cables and I'm not sure what else, but the sound never changed. I collected the DAC from him a few days later and took it home. I added it into my system (Pi Audio UberBUSS, D Sachs Model 2 preamp, D Sachs Kootenay 120 amp, Daedalus Apollos speakers, and a TWL loom) not knowing what kind of music would come out of my speakers.

Let me back up a little...Just before adding it into my system, I had been using my Nuprime DAC-9 to listen to a few familiar songs. Well, with zero burn in, the Tranquility DAC (with Jupiter Cu Caps) sounded wonderful! There was an immediate improvement in the overall sound. The soundstage grew by a couple feet and (most importantly to me) acoustic instruments and vocals took on extra depth and clarity. I liked this DAC right away. The DAC-9 is no slouch, but there was a big difference.

Of course, we're not supposed to like equipment right away, so I told myself to be patient and to give it a good run for my money. I did just that. I burned it in for 20+ hours each day (using my Folsom's chip amp). I didn't do much serious listening during burn in because my Apollos sound a bit thin when the Folsom amp is driving them. [Jeremy's amp sounds great with my Adelphos two-ways!] Once it got close to 150 hours, I began paying closer attention to how it sounded with my tube gear. During burn in, there were a couple times where the music sounded very much like it was coming out of a locker room (those caps need time to burn in), but that's normal for caps, I believe.

At around that time, I packed up my D Sachs gear and the Tranquility DAC and drove up to Bothel, WA for another of Greg Fisk's awesome audio G2Gs. Greg also uses a Mac Mini. Everyone who attended it brought some gear, so we had a blast. I got to compare the Tranquility DAC to Greg's Lampizator Atlantic DAC. It wasn't as nice sounding as the Lampi, but it's also close to $4000 less expensive! Considering the price difference, I was actually quite satisfied with its performance.

After the G2G, I returned home and set everything up again for another couple weeks, I think. Then, unfortunately, I boxed everything back up and put it into storage because I had a flight to Taiwan to catch. I forgot an important point of this write up - I liked the Tranquility DAC so much that I told Eric there was no way I would ship it back to him. I also bought the DAC's power cord that he included for me to try. It's a very nice thick PC with a separate ground cord. Give me a couple days and I'll post a couple pics.

If you own a Mac Mini and are considering a new DAC, I suggest chatting with Eric about his Tranquility DAC. It's definitely worth a listen in my opinion. Eric is mighty quiet here on AC, but maybe he'll stop by to say howdy.  :thumb: Thank you, Eric, for creating such a nice DAC.

I can think of a couple negative points worth mentioning. The first is you're not going to like this DAC is you use a Windows PC. Don't even order it. I do not understand why this is, but it's a fact. The second point is more a quibble on my part. There is no volume control. You must have a preamp to use this. [Fortunately, I have a really nice preamp in the States.]

If you live near me and want to listen, we can arrange a G2G. Bring some of your gear (love hearing other people's gear); I'll con....er...persuade my wife to go shopping with friends for the day, and invite some local audiophools over for the day.

Regards,

Michael

[Some of the details have blurred because I waited so long to write about this, but this is close enough for me.]

Another interesting point:

As I mentioned above, this NOS DAC sounded great right away. In my experience DACs need to burn in for a couple hundred hours before they sound their best. This one did improve further after burn in. What really caught my attention about its sounding great with no burn in was that I had auditioned a Denafrips Venus DAC last year. When I received that DAC, it had already had about 80 hours of burn in, but it sounded thin and unexciting. It needed a further 250 hours of burn in to sound great. The Tranquility DAC impressed me because it sounded great right away. This is no small feat in my opinion. I have no idea how the standard Tranquility SE DAC sounds because I have only heard it with Jupiter Cu caps.

Disclaimer: I got no special discount nor will I receive kickbacks for any sales after I post this critique. I stand to gain no financial benefits from posting this. I paid extra for the Jupiter cap upgrade.
http://www.dbaudiolabs.com/signature-edition/









« Last Edit: 8 Jun 2018, 07:13 pm by mresseguie »

Wind Chaser

Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #1 on: 8 Jun 2018, 09:01 am »
The DAC-9 is no slouch, but there was a big difference.

I know this sounds absurd, but I replaced the stock fuse in my DAC-10 with a HiFi Tuning Supreme fuse and it made a HUGE positive difference - as in waaaaaaay more clarity with a much more spacious and three dimensional presentation. If swapping out the fuse impacts the DAC-9 as much as it did with the DAC-10, then I guarantee you that you'll be astonished at the difference this little tweak makes. It completely transformed the DAC-10 in a way I could not have imagined.

roscoe65

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Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #2 on: 8 Jun 2018, 02:39 pm »
Nice post Michael,

I own two DB Audio Labs dac's:  an original Tranquility and a Tranquility SE.  They have been out of rotation for a while I am auditioning other equipment (Chord Mojo as DAC and Schiit Bimby).  I tend to let myself become accustomed to new equipment for weeks or months before switching, so rotating through my equipment takes some time.  I also have my Mac Mini in another room right now, so I am using an Allo USB Bridge as streamer right now.

A local friend of mine (who is also an amateur musician [piano]) was feeling dissatisfied with his system.  He has a Rega RP1, Musical Fidelity DAC (decent level, USB input), Mac Mini, Bryston BP60, and B&W 803's.  I lent him my original Tranquility DAC (I paid $300 secondhand) and he reported that on good recordings he has never heard his system sound better, especially with piano.  He said he has never heard anything sound so much like a real piano in his house.

The DB Audio Labs DAC's are sleepers.  The parts count is low, parts quality is high (higher than it needs to be), and it is focused on replaying Redbook, which is 99% of my digital experience.  I believe that Eric uses NOS mutibit ladder dac's (1541?  1543?).

My DAC's are stock at the moment.  I am interested in upgrading the caps in the SE.  I haven't popped the hood, but I'm sure I could put Jupiter or Dueland caps in there.

Another point:  The DB Audio Lab DAC's run a higher than standard output voltage.  Instead of the standard 2V, they run closer to 2.5 or 3V.  This is pretty much on par with the Chord Mojo in fixed output mode (3V).  This is plenty of gain to run straight into may power amps.  I am tempted to crack open my original DAC and see if I can easily add an attenuator.  The parts count is low and the case seems large enough, but I have to check.

2bigears

Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #3 on: 8 Jun 2018, 03:14 pm »
 :D good post.  I was wondering if this dac was relavent as it's getting on in years.  I have this with the little Apple punter.   Glad it still holds water.   :D

roscoe65

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Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #4 on: 8 Jun 2018, 04:26 pm »
"Getting on in years"

This is a hobby in which we chase after 80 year-old-tubes and 60 yer old turntables as the best that have ever been made.  Regardless of the age of the Tranquility DAC's, they started out with NOS DAC chips from the 80's or 90's.  Border Patrol currently sells a NOS dac that is very similar in architecture to this one.  The power supply and output stage (tube) are different, but it is similarly old fashioned.

2bigears

Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #5 on: 8 Jun 2018, 05:12 pm »
 :D yup,  it's old gear. But we all love to take apart and mod.  Reuse and make better/modify.  DAC's are getting better by the day with new tech aren't they ?   :D  most old stuff is just old stuff.   :popcorn:

mresseguie

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Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #6 on: 8 Jun 2018, 05:34 pm »
Good point about Redbook, Roscoe.

I failed to mention this in my original post. This DAC excels at Redbook recordings. It is not a DSD DAC nor is it an up-sampling DAC. Most of my listening is Redbook quality, so it fits my needs very nicely.

At some point, I will open it up to see what's under the hood. I may try one of those super-duper fuses that WindChaser likes.

Michael

gregfisk

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Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #7 on: 8 Jun 2018, 06:01 pm »
When Michael brought this Dac over the only thing I new about them is that Danny Richie used one of the original dacs at the shows several years ago. People had great things to say about his room at the time so I kept that in the back of my mind.

After that I didn't hear much more, so when Michael brought his Tranquility Dac over I really didn't know what to expect. I will say that this dac is the only dac I have heard so far that is really close to my Lampi Atlantic Plus. I think it sounds wonderful and very similar to my Atlantic Plus. That's how good I think this dac is. If I wanted to buy a preamp and have a separate dac I would be hard pressed to spend the extra money on a Lampi. I think you can get the Atlantic for about $4000.00 or $5000.00 now without volume control? I don't know how much Michael payed for the Tranquility SE so not sure how much difference in cost there would be? But, this is a really good dac and If you already own a preamp that you are really happy with I would definitely try one of these.

What was my take on the sound? Well, like the Atlantic it is on the slightly warm side of things with a full rich sound. Unlike some tube gear it's got a ton of detail and clarity. No sacrifices like one expects from something too warm sounding that sacrifices detail for richness. I think Michael summed it up well and I wouldn't hesitate to try one out. In fact now I'm curious what the older Tranquility Dacs sound like?

Nice write up Micheal and thank you for bringing over your gear so I and several others could enjoy the music!

Greg

Jonathon Janusz

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Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #8 on: 9 Jun 2018, 12:02 am »
I'm still using the SE that I upgraded to from Eric after I tried and liked the standard version.  It has been so long I can't remember what all I had Eric do for upgrades to it beyond that; I just remember the conversation went something to the effect of anything more would be a very system specific "different" rather than a definitive "better".  This was an interesting read, as I've wondered every now and again what it would sound like if one went ham and put some crazy caps in there.

What prompted my post was that the Border Patrol NOS DAC was mentioned.  I've thought recently about whether to give one of the BP DACs a go and if I would hear a noticeable improvement over my dB SE.  All I play is redbook, so no worries about DSD.  I heard a prototype or two of Gary's BP DAC at shows over the years, but haven't heard the final production version.  I'm curious if anyone here has heard both in the same system and could comment on any differences.

Thanks!

Tomy2Tone

Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #9 on: 9 Jun 2018, 12:17 am »
I wonder how this dac would perform with a renderer? I have a Mac mini that has my Roon core loaded but I use a Sonore ultraRendu between the mini and my dac, which happens to be an Atlantic Plus.

JLM

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Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #10 on: 9 Jun 2018, 12:11 pm »
To lower noise, most DAC chips run balanced (versus single ended).  Too bad a nice DAC like that doesn't offer balanced outputs, but balanced outputs were fairly rare in DACs of that vintage.  Professional 24 dBu output would be really sweet.

Tomy2Tone

Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #11 on: 9 Jun 2018, 12:36 pm »
It would be cool if Eric chimed in to talk a little bit about his dac. I’m curious what is it exactly about the Mac Mini that mates with the Tranquilty so well? And I’m assuming from comments this is pcm only? Does it go to 192 or higher?

genjamon

Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #12 on: 9 Jun 2018, 02:49 pm »
It uses the TDA1543 DAC chip, so limited to redbook and possibly as much as 24/92?  Certainly no higher.  Same as BorderPatrol DAC uses, as mentioned above I believe.  My first time hearing a 1543 DAC was a modded version of a DDDAC, battery powered, and I fell in love with it until I butchered it trying to convert it to USB input from the original SPDIF.  I should have never tried that and just enjoyed what I had.  But that was back in the mid-2000's, and USB input tech was just starting to come about, and certainly nowhere near where it is today.  If there was a Singxer F-1 back then, that DDDAC probably would have been end-game for me.

I also owned in the past a very fine Tranquility SE that had some additional mods by Eric to take it to the next level, after having first caught the bug with the initial base level Tranquility.  Really nice DAC, especially for the money.  A Lampizator level 5 board in level 4 clothing/PS eventually supplanted it, and I didn't look back.  But it was a very enjoyable and reliable DAC for me for about 3 years. 

roscoe65

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Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #13 on: 9 Jun 2018, 02:57 pm »
It would be cool if Eric chimed in to talk a little bit about his dac. I’m curious what is it exactly about the Mac Mini that mates with the Tranquilty so well? And I’m assuming from comments this is pcm only? Does it go to 192 or higher?

Eric has weighed in regarding the Mac Mini here and in other venues.  In general, Mac > Windows as a default OS.  It has had a history of native support for virtually all devices, and there is much greater control over output format.  Then, given the Apple choices, the Mac mini is the best choice for a couple of reasons (both related to noise):  It has minimal devices (display, etc.) connected to its power supply, it has cleaner power to USB, and it can be set up from  hardware (SSD, using NAS for files) and software (turning off all unnecessary processes, optimizing for sound output, running headless) sides to optimize sound quality.  I would also argue that in this particular use case, Eric has likely optimized the Tranquility for the Mac Mini.

There are increasingly more alternatives to the Mac Mini.  For Roon users, the Rock OS/Server is a custom Linux build optimized for the Room core, intended to be installed on an Intel NUC.  We would then need a renderer connected to Roon, either standalone or embedded into our DAC.  The most obvious candidate would be the microrendu for standalone DAC’s.

I would trust the designer’s opinion regarding the optimum renderer.  While there are more options available than there were when the first Tranquility came out, I think Eric’s choices still have validity.  However, I think we can improve on them a little:

If we are running Roon, I would install the Ron ROCK on an Intel NUC.  This is our core and will do the heavy lifting.  If I am using a different DAC, say a Chord DAC, I might choose an Ultrarendu as my renderer.  If I am using my Tranquility DAC, I would choose a Mac Mini running only Roon Player as my renderer.  I would argue that this wold offer a performance increase since we are no longer running our core on the Mac Mini.  I would also posit that we could choose the cheapest model ($49 list) and add a $50 SSD and be done with it.  If we are only running the player software, our needs are minimal.

OzarkTom

Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #14 on: 9 Jun 2018, 02:59 pm »
I first heard Eric's Tranquility on Danny Ritchie's award winning best buy systems at the audio shows, run by battery. Eric's DAC sounded very nice on Danny's system

Jonathon Janusz

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Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #15 on: 10 Jun 2018, 03:33 am »
To lower noise, most DAC chips run balanced (versus single ended).  Too bad a nice DAC like that doesn't offer balanced outputs, but balanced outputs were fairly rare in DACs of that vintage.  Professional 24 dBu output would be really sweet.

After typing and deleting a few non-constructive replies to this post, I sent an email to Gary at Border Patrol this afternoon to ask about the possibility of a balanced version of his DAC.  His reply was that because the DAC chip he is using is a single-ended chip, there isn't an uncomplicated path to making a balanced version. 

I'm not saying that there is absolutely no way it can be done, because I'm sure there is, but straight from the words of the man who I followed literally taking years to get his DAC to where it is today, I don't think it is "too bad" this "nice" DAC doesn't have a balanced topology or pro gear output level, but rather that this is an example of taking a DAC chip and unapologetically striving to make that chip the best of what it can be, for what it is, and not fussing with trying to make it into something it is not for sake of what sometimes could be argued to be little more than marketing buzzwords.

In the spirit of what seems to be a consensus of the reviews of these kind of DACs, they bluntly are not for everyone, but for those who have goals that align with what they do, they offer an extraordinary value for the dollar.

For what it is worth, I was kind of hoping (or not depending on the disposition of my wallet) that Gary was going to come back with a, "Sure; no problem," answer to the question because I currently am using a balanced passive pre and the thought of giving one of his DACs a go on a balanced connection might have pushed me closer to the edge of having to fight with said wallet for a new DAC.

gregfisk

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Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #16 on: 10 Jun 2018, 05:29 am »
I guess I don't really understand why if something sounds good it is somehow viewed as inferior because it doesn't have this or that. The design is clearly sound and was made to work the way it is. If it sounds good that's really all I care about.

I heard it in my system and it is the real deal. I didn't hear any noise and the music that it produced was really very good. My Atlantic is balanced but I'm not even using it that way. Yet another dac that doesn't seem to care if it's being used balanced or not.


Enough said,

Greg

mresseguie

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Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #17 on: 10 Jun 2018, 05:46 am »
I told Eric about this thread. He said he may drop in to explain some things. [That's a hint, Eric.]

I asked Eric if a volume control can be added. If he doesn't answer here, I'll let you all know what he tells me.

Jonathon, perhaps the Tranquility DAC can be modded to accept XLR(?).  :dunno:

That night at Greg's G2G, I decided that if I didn't already own a very fine preamp (D Sachs Model 2), I would want to own nearly the same model that Greg owns (Lampi Atlantic with volume control). It would work out to pretty much the same investment. [Model 2 + Tranquility SE w/Jupiter caps more or less equals Lampi Atlantic (Plus?) with VC on Redbook music.] However, I do own a very nice preamp, so this Tranquility DAC fits my needs quite nicely.  :thumb:






Cheytak.408

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Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #18 on: 10 Jun 2018, 06:42 am »
I told Eric about this thread. He said he may drop in to explain some things. [That's a hint, Eric.]

I asked Eric if a volume control can be added. If he doesn't answer here, I'll let you all know what he tells me.

Jonathon, perhaps the Tranquility DAC can be modded to accept XLR(?).  :dunno:

That night at Greg's G2G, I decided that if I didn't already own a very fine preamp (D Sachs Model 2), I would want to own nearly the same model that Greg owns (Lampi Atlantic with volume control). It would work out to pretty much the same investment. [Model 2 + Tranquility SE w/Jupiter caps more or less equals Lampi Atlantic (Plus?) with VC on Redbook music.] However, I do own a very nice preamp, so this Tranquility DAC fits my needs quite nicely.  :thumb:
the Tranquility SE is a thing of beauty for music, if not detail lovers.  I have had a dozen DACs through my system and my choice for musical enjoyment is the SE.  It is my wife’s choice, too.  For me, after listening to all of the “super” DACs I choose the Tranquility for my system.   :thumb:

roscoe65

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Re: dB Audio Labs Tranquility SE DAC w/Jupiter Cu Caps
« Reply #19 on: 10 Jun 2018, 01:51 pm »
The Tranquility DAC falls into the category of equipment that values music over ultimate sizzle.  One increasingly popular path toward the ultra high end values musicality over the artificial detail that many mainstream high end designers have sought.  This sound was big in the 80’s and 90’s, with German manufacturers being the worst.  It is an extension of the “East Coast vs. West Coast” sound of the 1970’s.  If you want the West Coast Sound, choose speakers with hyper detail, amplification with flat frequency response, and HiREZ DAC’s.  If you prefer the East Coast Sound, you may choose single driver speakers, Altec Horns, Volti, Audio Note, Devore, or other speakers voiced to be a little laid back.  You may like “forgiving” tube amps, likely single ended.  Your Dac may be NOS like the Tranquility, or another laid back option like Chord.

This also highlights the importance of system matching.  One of my amps is a little dark sounding, and even my most neutral sounding amps (ironically tube amps) are ultimately somewhat forgiving.  I can only be satisfied with this amp while using my “sharpest” DAC.  I otherwise sounds too rolled off.  My other amps are all compatible with all my DAC’s.

One thing that listening to some modestly priced but still fairly high quality equipment from manufacturers like Omega, DB Audio Labs, Dennis Had, Oliver Sayes, and Chord is that I needed to recalibrate my expectations of extension and detail.  I think may of us are very impressed with the “detail” a resolving system presents.  But that detail seems to arrive on the leading edge of transients, almost like a sharpening filter in Photoshop.  In contrast, with DAC’s like the Chord Mojo, Schiit Bimby, or Tranquility the leading edge seems a little softer, the presentation ever so slightly rolled off by comparison, but there is an increase in detail from within the music itself.  Rather than applying a sharpening filter, both the focus and depth of field have been increased.