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Young DSD dac review

Discussion in 'audio' started by sq225917, Mar 28, 2014.

  1. sq225917

    sq225917 situation engineer



    I am as guilty as the next man of getting itchy feet with my minor hifi components every couple of years. While a speaker or amp change might only take place every five years or more, I regularly swap phonostages and DACs around. I like new kit, a new shiny box, an improved feature set, a nice new remote control and maybe improved sound quality, or even just a slightly different flavour to what I've had recently are all likely to get me reaching for my wallet. If you can package that new product with great dealer service and manufacturer support wrapped up in solid value for money then you'll likely reel me in, hook, line and sinker.

    In fact it was just such a convergence of sound quality, feature set and value for money that lead me to say goodbye to the MK1 version of the Young DAC that I previously owned and replaced with an Audiolab Mdac. Like many people at the time I was using amplification with no volume control and was reliant on software volume controls that simply didn't deliver the sound quality I required. The Mdac offered what I wanted, great sound quality and a digital volume control via remote control. A nice black box, competitively priced, I was sold, and so was the Young mk1. Over the past 2-3 years with the Mdac I've been through all the software versions that have been released and most of the hardware upgrades that have been offered and I've loved every minute of it. However I have had a few niggles, there's always been a bit of background hiss due to the earthing arrangement with my amplifier and I've always thought the output level a little hot, requiring me to run it at below -20db for night time listening. Now I'm not sure exactly how much resolution I'm using when I'm playing at -20db at night via the Mdac, but I do know that -20db is certainly well past my own paranoia level for such things. Like a lot of people I've tried various attenuation solutions but none of them have been keepers, so I've put up with this shortcoming. A small price to pay for its other qualities.


    Naturally the itch requires scratching every so often and like many I've been waiting for John to launch the Mdac2, I'm still waiting. In the meantime Marco from M2Tech has been busy, not only has he released a Hiface2, to replace his much lauded Hiface USB/Spdif convertor but he's also got round to re-invigorating the Young DAC with a MK2. If you had a feature that you liked on the original Young DAC then you'll find it here on the MK2.


    Toslink Input, check. Spdif on RCA and BNC, check, XLR inputs for AES/EBU, check. USB 2.0 input for 44.1-384khz PCM, check. Analogue domain volume control , check. Stop right there, that's a new feature, and an important one at that. The Young MK2 uses the Cirus Logic cs3318-cqz 8 channel analogue volume control. It's basically a resistor ladder volume control built on chip and offering a level of channel matching and balance that you'd struggle to achieve with any discrete resistor ladder volume control. On top of the fine level matching there's no loss of resolution, or bit reduction as you wind the volume down because the CS3318 provides attenuation in the analogue domain. There's some digital there, it's controlled by a multi-function rotary encoder visible on the front panel but that's it. This single dial gives you control over volume control and most of the features in the device menu, but as far as attenuating your volume goes it's analogue all the way, and it shows.


    Like the MK1 the new Young DAC has a single USB 2.0 input on the rear panel. The UBS input still uses the XMOS interface and performs flawlessly. Where it improves upon the MK1 is by the addition of DSD compatibility. Plug your Young DSD into a suitable software player, I used Audivana+ and you can now experience the sound quality that native DSD recordings have to offer. There's a steadily increasing back catalogue of DSD recordings becoming available from a number of trusted sources.


    Like the MK1 the Young DSD makes use of the Burr Brown 1795, 32bit DAC chip and an Xlinik FPGA to provide oversampling and digital to analogue conversion duties. Of course all new software has been written and sprinkled into the mix to allow the DSD magic to happen. By interfacing to the BB 1795 DAC chip directly M2Tech are able to process DSD natively at 5.6448MHZ, allowing for playback of up to DSD 128. The quality of their implementation shines through in the sound quality that the Young DSD is able to produce from any of its back panel inputs.


    While my feet are firmly planted in the 'all perfectly executed DACs should sound the same' camp I'm a realist and a pragmatist and my ears tell me that few if any DACs do end up with the same sonic signature. This past week I've been playing with the Young DSD, Mdac and the Benchmark DAC2 HCG which made a brief visit on Wednesday. These DACs all have a lot in common, most notably the Benchmark and the Young DSD share a very similar sonic signature and one that remains the same regardless of the level of attenuation you apply via its front panel mounted multi-function rotary encoder.

    Though it has been a while since the Young MK1 graced my shelves the Young DSD seemed immediately familiar, it has the same razor sharp, insightful top end that is so readily able to present the finest details of even the most complex violin playing in all its glory. While not sharing the same level of fullness in the bass as my much modified Mdac I think it might just steal a lead in terms of resolution and texture in the lower registers. Where it does begin to show clear daylight to the Mdac is when you wind the volume down. If you find yourself often having to listen at levels of greater than -15db attenuation to accommodate the rest of the family and sleeping children then the Young's analogue volume control might be just the answer you've been searching for.

    Of course the banner attraction for the new Young DAC is its native DSD capability and if you have an inkling to explore the outer reaches of hi-resolution audio then the Young DSD is a fine travel companion. I have a selection of DXD/DSD sample audio files provided by the 2l.no label as well as a quite a few ripped SACD's stored on hard drive. If you want to hear exactly how PCM and DSD differ in sound quality then this recording of a Mozart violin concerto in D major -is the best track I've yet found. That a difference between the two formats exist isn't in doubt, the difference was clear to hear. DSD was smoother with a more analogue quality. There was a difference in the width and depth of the soundstage and more obviously there was a palpable difference in the way the violin strings were resolved. On the DXD PCM version when the lead violinist moves to flat bow the strings the violin fills out and almost sounds like multiple instruments the harmonics are so rich. On the DSD version it's much more obviously a single violin that is now playing with greater harmonic depth and broader tonal palette. The difference is more than just a party piece, in this example it went to the very root of the music being played. I'm not sure which is the more faithful presentation, I found myself seamlessly jumping between DSD and PCM the whole time the new Young was plugged in. What it did absolutely do was make me search out new versions of favourite tracks in DSD, I suspect that's exactly what the industry wants and expects us to do, and to be honest as long as the differences between the two are worth hearing them I'm sold on it.


    I don't want to own and enjoy just the best performance of each of my favourite works, I want to own and enjoy them all. The new Young DSD DAC brings me one step closer to being able to do that. The fact that I can finally listen late at night at reduced volume levels without suffering from digital attenuation induced paranoia gives me the same warm glow as my favourite bottle of aged Appleton Estates Rum, and that's a profound contribution to my musical enjoyment. The Young DSD is a shoe-in for me. I love the feature set, I trust the brand, the pricing is as always highly competitive and the sound quality is as good as anything I've heard. If you're getting itchy feet, or maybe wondering how much better your current DAC could sound late at night at lower listening levels then it's probably time for you to arrange a demo.

    Thanks to Keith at Purite for the loan of the unit.


    Sampling Frequencies
    PCM 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz (not on Toslink), 192 kHz (not on Toslink), 352.8 kHz (only USB) and 384 kHz (only USB)
    DSD/64 Native
    DSD/128 Native

    16 up to 24 bit (S/PDIF, AES/EBU, optical), 16 to 32 bit (USB)

    Frequency response
    10-20kHz +0.1/-0.5dB (fs = 44.1kHz)
    10-90kHz +0.1/-0.1dB (fs=384kHz)

    121dB (A weighted, 192kHz, 24 bits, 20kHz bandwidth)

    0.0003% (192kHz, 24 bits)

    2 x S/PDIF (RCA and 75 Ohms BNC)
    1x AES/EBU (XLR)
    1x optical (Toslink)
    1x USB (USB female Type B)

    single ended on RCA female and balanced on XLR
    Output voltage
    Selectable at 2.5 or 5.0Vrms SE, 5 or 10Vrms balanced

    Supply voltage
    Supply current

    200(w) x 50(h) x 200(d) mm
    1Kg approx.

    Mozart violin concerto in D major
  2. Lefty

    Lefty Trade: Amar Sood Photo

    Great write up Simon.

    Maybe it's finally time for me to upgrade form my trusty Young DAC mk1....

  3. sq225917

    sq225917 situation engineer

    Could be, and you might be able to use that PSU.
  4. Wilson

    Wilson _

    Thanks for the write up, Simon.
  5. adamdea

    adamdea pfm Member

    Very interesting review, Simon.
    Teeney bit of a digression but- as matter of interest where do you get the information about the 2L recordings being direct to dsd and DXD by different pipelines? I was under the impression they recorded and mixed in DXD before converting to DSD or whatever. That seems to be what they are saying here
    and here
  6. AndyU

    AndyU pfm Member

    Good, worthwhile review.
  7. Whaleblue

    Whaleblue Southbound

    Simon, thanks for taking the trouble. Despite my scepticism I'm still considering going for a DSD capable DAC that's at the vaguely sensible end budget wise. What's the ticket on this?

    Regarding DSD is 128 going to cut it? I thought 256/512 were in the offing?
  8. adamdea

    adamdea pfm Member

    Sorry I was just wondering. I agree it's an absolutely fabulous recording. Can't remember what res I have it in.
  9. sq225917

    sq225917 situation engineer

    Vital, I think Keith said it was the same price as the old model....Not bad for DSD and an analogue volume control. Yeh I believe higher sample rates are coming down the line. One has to wonder how much use these uber rates will be if no one is actually recording up there. It seems like PCM has topped out at 384khz for real world use, I wonder where DSD will end.
  10. Bluedroog

    Bluedroog pfm Member

    Aside from the technical side I really enjoyed your writing style, felt like I was thinking aloud with authority on a DAC I haven't heard!
  11. Igloo Audio

    Igloo Audio Registered User


    Nice write-up.

  12. mattski

    mattski pfm Member

    Simon, great review. I'd love to hear this compared to the DSD128 capable Auralic Vega and Oppo 105D.

    It looks like the Young's output voltage can be modified in a menu - if this is the case that'd be great as lots of DACs run hot now.

    Vital, if you fancy trying either the Oppo or Vega with some DSD material, we could sort that out...
  13. unsleepable

    unsleepable pfm Member

    Thanks for the review! The DAC looks very interesting.
  14. unsleepable

    unsleepable pfm Member

    Did you also find that the Benchmark DAC2 did not have the same level of fullness in the bass as the M-DAC? With what speakers did you audition?
  15. jirij

    jirij Virtual Member

    Nice review, it's Xilinx by the way, not Xlinik. Having spent many nights doing logic circuits in VHDL, I can't forget the name. Wish I could.
  16. sq225917

    sq225917 situation engineer

    The Benchmark and Young DSD were similarly less full in the bass than the Mdac. Auditions were all done with my Yamaha NS1000m, they are EQ'd pretty flat, +/-2db in room from 50hz+ and run Raal ribbon tweeters instead of the Yamaha units. The tweeters are pretty much flat up to 30k. (I can't hear shit beyond 17k, but they can't hurt.)

    The Young DSD auto senses what is connected to the outputs, if it senses a true balanced connection you can chose 5v or 10v, if it senses single ended outputs (via xlr still) then it selects 2.5v or 5v. My Weiss 202 had similar options and they were a great help in coarse trimming volume down to the required range. The Young really did show itself most obviously when you wound it down. I'm not implying there was anything wrong with it loud, just that it was better than my comparison dacs at playing at lower volume. I tend not to listen too much at night with the Mdac because of the excessive gain, the Young switched that around.
  17. Whaleblue

    Whaleblue Southbound

    Yes, thanks. I guess one bake-off option would include high end DAC with DSD vs. low end using FLAC - as long as we do the conversion to guarantee the same master.

    Anyway, yes, I'd like to see if DSD is A GOOD THING!
  18. mattski

    mattski pfm Member

    Cool - Thriller is awesome
  19. maxflinn

    maxflinn Tulsi Gabbard 2020.

    So it's better than the MDAC! Might make a nice front end for a pair of DM5's.

    How much is it?

  20. Igloo Audio

    Igloo Audio Registered User

    Just over a grand. You know you want it :)


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