This is my 4-way DAC Comparison/Review that I hope will help you choose the right DAC for you.
My video review:
Hey everyone, as promised my 4-way DAC comparison is ready and here are my findings.
All of them except for DAC 3 L were reviewed around here and my personal DAC is the X-Sabre Pro, all others are loaner units. Don’t worry, I didn’t include my personal opinion, I was as objective as possible. At the last-minute DAC 3 HGC was swapped with a DAC 3 L so I couldn’t test the headphone output of the former one.
- All of them were tested on the USB input connected to my PC that played music from its internal M.2 SSD drive, using JRiver. I also tested them with Tidal Hi-Fi (no Tidal Masters since two of them are not MQA enabled)
- All of them were tested on their default/factory settings with the volume control bypassed
Test Equipment: I listened to two sources at a time connected to the Benchmark HPA4 and then to Meze Empyrean and to Quad ERA-1. Since HPA4 is having 2 balanced XLR inputs I used only two sources at a time and then swapped with the next ones. Both sources were connected to the KECES BP-600 balanced isolation power conditioner to squeeze the last bit of performance from them. I used two pairs of QED Reference XLR balanced interconnects.
PC (internal SSD or Tidal Hi-Fi) > USB to 4 DACs (two at a time connected to KECES BP-600) > Benchmark HPA4 > Meze Empyrean/Quad ERA-1
My speakers are fine, but I wanted to eliminate the room acoustics and truth to be told both headphones are showing much more micro-detail information than KEF LS50W.
1. Rebeca Pidgeon – Spanish Harlem
Element X: Sounded the widest and almost too distant at times, has very good micro-detail information, it is very focused, has also an incredible depth, so much that I can easily listen and follow a single note at a time, very musical.
X-Sabre Pro: Sounds also quite wide, but not as much, it is more forward a bit in its presentation, it also a bit fuller sounding, depth is not as deep, it is more intimate, not as focused, has lesser grip but very musical nonetheless.
DAC3 L: Very precise, more forward that other two, not as wide, a little bit leaner sounding, not as engaging but really focused with sharp outlines. Super textured and technical sounding.
Brooklyn DAC+: Very precise, higher presence on higher registers, sounds engaging, focused, has a very good grip, very controlled, linear sounding, a bit less technical.
2. Stereoplay – Pink Panther
Element X: Sounds wide, has good pint point imaging, the bells sound extended, has natural sax performance, drums are very clear, explosive dynamics, not as focused mainly because of the larger stage, sounds effortless and smoother.
X-Sabre Pro: Sounds wide, but not as wide, has longer decays, sounds hazier a bit, dynamics are really good, even smoother sounding and a bit loose sometimes.
DAC 3 L: Has excellent pin point imaging, bells are super clear, a bit more forward sounding, leaner sounding, clearer treble, more focused, better grip and control. Super linear without emphasizing anything.
Brooklyn DAC+: Very similar to DAC3 sound, a little bit metallic sounding, especially the cymbals have an emphasis on them, very focused, great dynamics, a bit deeper sounding than DAC3 but not as deep as both Matrixes.
3. Vaya Con Dios – Don’t Cry for Louie
Brooklyn DAC+: Has a super defined bass and clear voices, guitar sounds a bit metallic, has a short decay of guitar and voice, very musical harmonica, very good grip. Voice is better focused but forward a bit, has the right soundstage size.
DAC 3 L: Very focused but with a smaller stage, bass super defined as well, more intimate sounding, the voice is soothing and more upfront in the same time, the most defined guitar of all, voice decays fast but natural, harmonica decays naturally. Most up-front of all.
Element X: Less metallic sounding, more musical, a bit more diffused and wide-spread, has longer decays, voice is really soothing, bass goes a bit deeper, harmonica sounds further away in the mix, voice has a short echo.
X-Sabre Pro: Has the deepest bass but lingers a bit more, voice is even more present, guitar has a weird metallic decay, sounds really wide but not as sharp and defined.
4. Usher- Drums test
X-Sabre Pro: Has an incredible slam, decays naturally, sounds fast with incredible transients. Cymbals are really clear and natural. Big drum has a natural thump, I wish all rock and metal would have so clear cymbals and double drums.
Element X: Has a bit lesser slam, picks the background noise easier, has more micro-detail information. Slams a bit weaker, has clearer cymbals and faster drum sticks, it is more focused, but doesn’t have the same thump, a bit wider sounding. Sound the widest out of all.
Brooklyn DAC+: Has an incredible left to right soundstage but not as deep and both Matrixes. Very good slam, just a tad weaker than X-Sabre, very good natural decay, clearest cymbals so far and most extended in the treble area.
DAC3 L – Has a good slam, sharp sounding and super-fast, has the fastest sound followed closely by Brooklyn DAC+, among the clearest cymbals and double drums, decays a bit faster too.
5. Infected Mushroom – Becoming Insane
DAC3 L: Sounds clear, very fast and layered, deep sounding as well, has a good slam bot not the best, guitar sounds clean buried between all those notes. Not crowded at all.
Element X: Slams a bit harder, not as sharp and outlined, more spread around the listener, guitar is deeper sounding with bigger air bubbles, has longer decays and is a bit wet sounding.
Brooklyn DAC+: Sound fast, layered, has the clearest treble, sounds deep with a very good slam, again quite similar to DAC3, guitar sounds sharper between the notes, natural layered stage, not crowded at all.
X-Sabre Pro: tickles really nicely left to right, great slam and thump, weirdly saying it but it sounds more natural somehow, not as sharp as all of them. Wetter sounding of all.
6. Gothart – O Mais Ko Aprilis
X-Sabre Pro: Sounds full, wide open, with good pin point imaging, has warm-ish voice, sounds musical and involving, foot-tapping with a natural timbre
Element X: Sounds wide open with a better depth, it is wider spread with sharper outlines, guitar has a better presence. A bit more technical sounding but as natural, slams a bit lesser, more micro-detail information, the best experience so far.
Brooklyn DAC+: Sounds very layered, but plays in a smaller room, natural, extended, bass goes deep, decays a bit faster, not as melodious and smooth, more technical than both Matrixes, more upfront, a bit tiresome due to smaller stage, not as relaxing, sounds tighter and more controlled. Super extended on both ends
DAC3 L: Sounds quite sharp, very layered and focused, has good depth, excellent grip and control – probably the best. Sounds like a twin brother to the Mytek Brooklyn, has just a tad harder slam, but not as much as both Matrixes and not as wide as well.
7. Pink Martini – Autrefois
DAC3 L – Sounds super sharp, defined, clear, layered, has a good thump. Voice is in a big air bubble. Sounds technical but natural. Mandolin sounds quite sweet, violin is super defined, weighty, an incredible performance.
Brooklyn DAC+: Sounds super sharp and clear, has a bit more treble energy without being harsh, voice sounds clear and full. Voice is more upfront compared to DAC3, very soothing thought. Mandolin is a bit deeper in the recording and not as defined as it was on DAC3. Bells have more energy and are better defined. As technical as DAC3 but leaner this time. Very good performance.
X-Sabre Pro: Sounds sharp and clear, slightly wider than both DAC3 and Brooklyn, more layered as well. Voice not as upfront but soothing and soul-reaching. Mandolin sounds warmer and more defined, bells have considerably less energy and are not as defined, sounds more natural with a musical performance. As a whole it sounds smooth, tireless, works as a charm with Empyrean.
Element X – Sounds similar to X-Sabre Pro, sharp and defined, not as loose as X-Sabre, has more grip and control. Mandolin sounds deepest so far and it is very soothing. Voice is centered in a big air bubble. Bells are sounding clear but are not tiresome, doesn’t have super sharp treble and it will never sound hot up top. A bit better sounding than X-Sabre Pro, wider and more layered than all other DACs but doesn’t have the grip and control of the DAC3 and Brooklyn DAC+. Too me it had the best balance between technical and musical.
8. R.A.T.M. – Take the Power Back
Element X: Sounds engaging, slams hard, foot-tapping, not crowded at all, very spread and open, bass guitar stands out, clear treble, as a whole a natural presentation.
X-Sabre Pro: Sounds very engaging, slamming as hard, good pin-point imaging, more foot-tapping and head-banging, very pleasant experience, big family resemblance for sure. A bit less focused and looser sounding, just a tad less. An engaging and musical performance with a natural and life-like presentation.
Brooklyn DAC+: More treble energy, has a better outline and sharpness, better leading edges, slams really good, good pin point imaging but sounds closer to me, not as layered and not as wide. Quicker, with faster transients. More focused, has a better grip. Better leading edges than both Matrixes, sometimes sharp and lean. Sounds more technical than musical.
DAC 3 L: Super focused, sharp, has a really good slam. Very good leading edge and outline of the notes. Super-fast, notes decay faster, forward a bit, not as layered, again sounds quite close to the Brooklyn DAC but is not emphasizing the treble as much. Technical and musical in the same time. Quite possibly the most intimate sounding DAC.
Going on into the conclusion I want to mention that this was a much harder test than I anticipated. I listened to about 5 hours straight and my head and ears hurt a bit. Truth to be told, all sounded so good that I am not having a winner or a loser in this test, all 4 DACs are sounding exceptionally well, some sounded better with a particular musical genre and other DACs sounded better with other genres.
General conclusion is that Element X sounded the widest and the deepest, was most layered than all others, it is super extended on both ends but tends to sound natural and smooth as opposed to bright or super tight. If think it has the best balance between technical and musical.
X-Sabre Pro (non-MQA version): is not as wide and has even less treble energy than Element X, however has the deepest bass and most musical midrange, but trades treble detail and energy for that. Sounds natural, has very good slam and impact. Together with Element X it is choosing a natural and life-like presentation in detriment of a linear and lean sound experience.
Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ is more forward and not as wide. Has an up-front but tall soundstage, it is mostly intimate sounding. Kicks hard, has really good speed and impact, has most extended treble and more treble energy than all other DACs. It is more technical than musical. Linear and super honest sounding, reveals all that is hidden but can get tiresome because of that.
Benchmark DAC3 L: Again, a bit forward and not as wide. Has an intimate and tall soundstage as Mytek does. Super extended on both ends but doesn’t overemphasis the treble as much. In terms of frequency response, it is probably the most balanced DAC out of all, super linear as a straight line. Super technical and a bit less musical. Reveals all that is hidden but without being tiresome in the long run.
I will leave my subjective opinions behind and will let you decide which one is for you.