Journeys Around Some DACs

A friend came over the other weekend as he had got hold of a DECO Audio DAC. Deco Audio is a UK HiFi company who have put together a valve DAC based around the 1543 chip, for the princely sum of £540. We did a compare and contrast against a few DACs I have here: Weiss DAC204; Synthesis Roma; and, the Chord Qutest.

The front end was my dCS Network Bridge into the Chord M-Scaler powered by the Ferrum Hypsos set to 14v.

I was using the Cardas Reference into my Icon 4 and then into the Naim 300DR and SBLs.

The Cardas are worth noting, and I will mention them again a bit further on.

I won’t go into the minutia, the overall most enjoyable sound on the day was the Synthesis Roma. The most detailed was the Weiss DAC204, also have more dynamic clout. But, what of the DECO?

The DECO is a stone bonker bargain. Very good with voices and acoustic instruments. The sound staging was excellent in this system. Removing the M-Scaler from the equation caused the aural picture to collapse into the centre, but it showed it WILL respond to upgrades at the front.

The weakest DAC on the day was the Qutest. It didn’t sparkle or shine. This led me to consider the Cardas Reference. When powering the M-Scaler with the supplied SMPS I found that the Chord had a slight degree of glassiness in the top end, I therefore swapped the SMPS out for a Krisdonia battery, which I ran at 12V, as done by Rob Watts. This improved matters, but also reduced the dynamism by a tad.

When listening to the Ferrum Wandla I slotted in the Ferrum Hypsos. Damned good DAC. Ferrum describe the Hypsos as a Hybrid PSU, I have spoken to detractors who describe it as a ‘glorified SMPS’. My experiences with the Hypsos have been entirely positive. I LOVE the fact that it does everything the better LPSUs I have do, and that it is adjustable in 0.1V increments between 5V and 30V. Over and above that it supplies a healthy current, unlike the 19V SBooster that I have.

The adjustability of the Hypsos gives you an additional way to tune your system. I have played with it using the M-Scaler, the Sonore ultraRendu and the Weiss DAC204.

With the Chord M-Scaler the Hypsos removed the top end glassiness, as per the battery, AND gave me all the balls of the Chord SMPS.

Having considered the rather over-relaxed performance of the Qutest, and the reduced performance of the Weiss DAC204, I swapped out the Cardas cables and returned my usual Nimek silver ribbon cables. The performance of the Weiss regained its bass differentiation. I confess I have been enjoying this so much I haven’t yet retried the Qutest.

If you fancy a taste of what valves can do in a DAC then I would heartily recommend the DECO.


Deco Part II

Popped round to my friends house to listen to the Deco, and took along the Synthesis Roma DC69.

First System
Grimm MU1 > Deco DAC > Audio Note Tonmeister > Avalon PM1

[Listen to the playlist DAC - Valve by mrunderhill on Qobuz Open Qobuz](Listen to the playlist DAC - Valve by mrunderhill on Qobuz Open Qobuz)

The opening track is Dave Newman’s Dave and Julie. This was meat and drink to the Deco/Tomeister, really lovely recreation of the two acoustic guitars.

The Deco to my ear really lives and breathes in the midrange. Where it fails it does so gracefully, not calling attention to itself. For the price this thing is remarkable.

Replacing the Deco with the Roma replicated the result we heard in my system. Quite background allowing us to hear further into the recording, more detailed and precise imaging. But, at five times the cost.

System Two
We swapped out the Tomeister for the ARC 6SE & Audio Research Ref 160M monoblocks.

Just listened with the Roma.

Bloody good. Took the clarity up another step, and the dynamics on tap were immense. Listening to Michael Burk’s in this system was the first time it truly came alive. From the signature lead guitar through to the temp driven cymbal work.

Two great DACs, at rather different price points.


I wonder how the Grimm MU1 can sound with an Ndac. It has Spdif. DCS network bridge or MU1 into Naim dac , which one sounds best?
Maybe you will have the opportunity to test. Would be interesting.

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For me that is key to good hifi… and can play whatever you give it without being thrown off balance.

I do find interconnects critical here when in the final 10%. I have found overall parallel feed copper interconnects produce the least artefacts and render the audio must naturally and neutrally… With high end DACs that really are super performers this becomes so important in my experience. I have learned over the years for best performance to try keep away from shielded leads with the return as the shield with their weird impedance behaviours and keep away from silver alloy plated copper- which can can add a bit of sparkle but exaggerates sound stage and can compress subtle HF dynamics and just make audio sound more hifi or V sounding rather than immersively transparent (I will avoid real - as may produced recordings don’t sound that real) … though for shorter sessions until your brain adapts it can sound impressive.

But indeed once shouldn’t discount added the harmonic distortion that certain valve output stages add that can really sweeten a sound and make it sound attractive. Indeed these are traits are sometimes added in production methods to sweeten the sound to make it sound more appealing. I guess if its added in the replay chain you are stuck with it - whether its wanted or not :slight_smile:

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Hi @frenchrooster ,

On reflection I think selling on my nDAC was probably the worst decision I have made in my HiFi journey …so far.

That said it has been interesting to live with Audio Note, Border Patrol & Chord!

The switch to Bel Canto was not worthwhile, just subtly different.

The MU1 is a very different beast to the dCS NB. My feeling is that the dCS NB + Chord M-Scaler is closer to what the MU1 does …and costs!

Certainly the dCS bare into the Deco was not as good as the MU1.

My friend is currently struggling with whether to switch to the Synthesis Roma over his current Mola Mola Tambaqui. BUT, this is about system synergy.



I fully agree. The last thing I want is a system that is breath-taking with a few, probably audiophile, recordings, whilst highlighting issues in music I love.

I agree with the sentiment of the 10%, but find that getting the synergies right is critical - so that 10% can mean aural success or failure in a system. Cables, support, earthing etc. It all induces words like: tad; slight; bit; inflection; etc. But those bits are just SO important.

My friend has been on the verge of buying the Audio Note Tonmeister, and still might as it is a great amp. But, that was driven in part by a level of frustration with the ARC 160Ms.

I suspect that was driven by the wrong supports under the amps and his current main DAC, the Tambaqui. The Mola Mola is superb, a well balanced DAC. But, it is also a bit of a detail hound, and perhaps not as tonally rich as he might prefer. Removing the supports and adding the Synthesis was VERY nice.


After my first Arcam-DAC in the 90:s and until the HDX I used three different 1543 ones and one 1541. One of the had eight stacked 1543:s (in parallel, to lower noise and distortion). All was bought from obscure companies in china, all very cheap.

They didnt use oversampling which made them very resistant to jitter and no interpolation-clipping (since there was no interpolation). The op-amp ic:s sat in sockets so one could try different op-amps. None of them had any filters on the output but the 135s didnt seem to mind.

Eventually I went with nDAC + XPS2 (now XPSDR) which I still prefer to my Philips-chip collection.


I’d love to hear your home made effort!

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interesting - you and your friend are not in Suffolk by any chance - it looks like we could share a lot in common in our views of audio replay :slight_smile:

'Fraid not - Surrey & Berks.

What is a tube configuration of that dac? One ECC83 and one ECC82, are they used simultaneously or you can select an output?

I don’t have it here. From their website:

For us nothing gets close to the sound of a multi bit DAC chip when used correctly, so the heart of our DAC is the classic TDA1543 chip, a simple R2R (ladder resistor) DAC which allows us to run it without oversampling and upsampling. We carefully selected by listening and then bulk purchased this chip as they are not all created equal, enabling us to guarantee consistent supply for many years.

The unfiltered output is then fed through our switchable impedance valve output stage using ECC82 and ECC83 dual triodes, meaning it can drive both low and high impedance amplifiers without compromising performance.


I use a Chord Qutest DAC connected to my Moon 340ix amp with Chord Epic X interconnects. The interconnects play a vital part in the performance.

Although the sound is very neutral, with no part of the frequency spectrum seemingly emphasised or depressed, I’m less concerned about that than actual musical communication.

The Qutest DAC has excellent PRaT. It is extremely fast and immediate sounding. It doesn’t particularly flatter poor recordings but it doesn’t make a meal of them either.

Above all it’s fun. For me, no matter how accurate, natural etc. etc. a piece of kit is, if it isn’t fun to listen to then forget it.


My new ANK DAC4.1x its early days yet and my first experience of valves

Good so far, though there are a few moree changes to come for my system in order to get the best out of it


What power supply are you running with your Qutest?

I use the supplied SMPS. I know some people have a LPS and report worthwhile improvements. If I had the spare cash then I might be tempted to try a Plixir LPS (which I use on my Melco), but at the moment I’m more concerned with reducing network noise so that’s where my money is being diverted to.

Also I’m a little wary of deploying LPS’s indiscriminantly in the belief that they are a universally better option than SMPS’s. I’m far from being convinced here. Certainly on my BT Smart Hub 2 an LPS that I tried was a disaster, and The Chord Co. advise against them for use on their EE8 switch.

I only use the Plixir on my Melco as it’s officially endorsed - and it does sound superior to the supplied SMPS here.

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I used the Plixir Elite BDC for two years on my Qutest. Eclipses the Hugo TT2 with it, IMHO. HUGE uplift. Nearly silly.

I started with Plixir Statement DC, then moved to Ghent JSSG360 Gotham GAC 4/1 UltraPro (individually shielded leads). Brought back some color and punch. Jay at AudioBacon describes the Plixir Elite BDC + Statement DC (on a Qutest, no less) very accurately.

EDIT: Note I used the Plixir with an upgraded fuse and PC after the first two months. My statements about Qutest vs Hugo TT2 are based on the later, more mature iteration with fuse + PC.

I agree on the Jay’s review on linear ps. We would like to see that kind of reviews more often. Great job.
Hificritic no more. No more left, apart Stereophile maybe.
6 moons also, but it’s hard to read for me.
Hifi News, Hifi Plus, Absolute Sound, Ear Audio, give me today no real interest, apart discovering new products.

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Very interesting. I have the Statement DC lead on my Plixir Elite BDC which powers my Melco.

When you say this do you mean there was some lack of colour/punch when using the Statement lead compared to the stock SMPS?

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Oh the Plixir + Statement was wholly better than the stock SMPS, in every way. I suppose the verbiage I used “brought back” was not very clear. “Brought to the fore” may have been better; the JSSG360 DC cable revealed more color and punch (that was already there to be presented by the DAC) than the Statement DC cable. About the same difference between the std DC cable and the Statement, when used on the Qutest.

The Statement DC was bordering ruthlessly neutral and revealing. Still very enjoyable to listen to, but the JSSG360 DC cable lowered the noise floor even more and, perhaps this is what caused my increased perception of color and punch.

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