Man, what a detail moster this DAC is! I highly recommend it.
I received this Monday. But wanting to get a feel for this DAC first using balanced, I held off hooking it up right away. I recieved the mini to full size xlr cables today. So I went ahead and swapped out the Boss dac I was using on a RoPieee plus screen for this. Swapped in some taller standoffs, did some more trimming of the 7" case to accommodate this dac’s connectors, and I was ready to go.
A few minutes into listening, the snow squall that accompanied the onset of the polar vortex knocked out power to me and 902 of my closest neighbors… lol Was worried the linemen couldn’t go up in their buckets in the cold and wind. Just when I was sure I’d need to go out to buy gasoline to run my generator to power my furnace and circulators to prevent freeze of the pipes at the periphery of my house, I got the power back (note to self: buy gasoline). Feed the dogs. Feed myself. Then let the auditioning [re-]commence.
The signal path is Roon playing my playlist of favorite songs I know extremely well (a mix of ripped Redbook and purchases from HDTracks all in FLAC) > RoPieee + screen with this ApplePi HAT > Balanced out > Mjolnir balanced in > 4-pin XLR out > HiFiMan HE-1000 (gen 1). A fully balanced signal path from source to output. Love it!
As far as balanced headphone amp is concerned, I only have a Mjolnir gen 1 here. My Woo WA-22 and McIntosh MHA-100 (the latter has balanced in, but is a single ended amp) is at another address. And ideally what I’d mate to this very competent DAC.
The Mjolnir is no slouch tho. With this dac’s balanced level out, the volume dial only needs to go to 12 o’clock instead of 4 or 5 o’clock (when I use unbalanced in, so that I can use an analog tone control) for very very loud musical reproduction. But I’ll be totally honest. Its dry analytic, almost ‘bass-lite’ nature isnt the best match for this detail monster of a dac. So after a few hours tweaking the DSP in Roon, I settled on this extremely subtle tonal rebalance you see below. I highly recommend this simple form of single band tonal shaping either cutting highs or lows as necessary for your dac-amp-transducer pairing; play with the center frequency and Q, but keeping Q (well?) under 0.25 is recommended. If gain level goes much over 1 you may find the transients and attack getting cut by an excessive degree.
Edit: I stand by the above. But wanting more presence ‘bite’, and to account for a range where the frequency response of the he1k dips more than I prefer, I’ve since adopted using this, still simple and subtle, parametric curve…
In any case, dont take this as a criticism of the Mjolnir or the ApplePi. This 1db reduction of the highs is a subjective preference. And I doubt I’d want this with the other two premium amps I own that I named. Tbd at a later time when I move all my Roon & Bridge devices to where those amps live.
I will say this… with the Mjolnir’s accuracy, precision, and well damped nature that is free of all embellishments and colorations, fed by the ApplePi doing an exceptional job recreating the analog signal of the original recording free from any auditory masking with it’s super low noise floor and low low distortion dominated by even harmonics many orders out (what little there is of it, balanced out) , jitter immunity, and excellent transient response, this is perhaps the most revealing yet still musical combo I have. The things so often lost/masked, subtle modulations of instruments, the subtle backing tone of a synth in a mix, is as discernible as the primary melodies & percussion of the music. It gives my NAD M51 driving either my MHA-100 or WA-22 a run for its money at a mere fraction of the cost. Nirvana on a budget.
It’s been three hours since I settled on this dsp curve (Edit: I actually powered down at 4am unable to pull myself away, spending about 7 hours evaluating this combo) … I’ve listened to downtempo, pop, pop-dance, various jazz styles, electronica, you name it. And I haven’t had a single complaint of what was coming out of the HE-1000s. Haven’t had the slightest desire to alter the level of the treble, mid, or bass. For me, a habitual tone control tweeker (Perreaux TC2 is my favorite), that’s huge! This happens only when so many things line up perfectly so that something close to (subjective) perfection is coming thru the transducer.
I highly recommend the ApplePi! On sale, it’s a no-brainer!