What DACs actually do post-DSP MQA rendering today?

^^ This – and while the Brooklyn is probably a great DAC, I was not terribly impressed with the headphone section when I auditioned one a few months ago.

I’m going to go out on a limb as a fellow Meridian 8kSE owner and say that, instead of looking for a new DAC, you should be looking at Stax. IMO, my SR-009 earspeakers do not require EQ. They’re not cheap, but neither is a top notch DAC.

Yes, these all in one things…
I have a LHLabs Geek Pulse, and I have a similar concern.
I can run a Bryston headphone amp from the Meridian, and it sounds better, probably due to the amp, maybe the Meridian.

But I have decided against running headphones through the Meridian because of the switching hassle: the 818 has a ridiculous way of switching to headphone mode, a lot of buttonpresses on the Meridian remote, and you have to look at the display to verify what mode you are in, the buttonpress sequence requires that the 818 is in standby. Plus I have to disable room correction in Roon. And the the same sequence switching back. And if I forget to turn RC back on, the room is 10 dB too loud.

No, I want a separate channel.

Hmm. I have avoided auditioning Stax because of the cost. But you are right, cost perspectives shift over time. As do quality perspectives…

Don’t forget the Mytek Liberty; it’s DAC specs fall in between the two Brooklyns, and it has a headphone amp.

In the end I purchased a Prime, along with a USBridge and two SBooster LPSUs. Good DAC, brilliant amp.

Doesn’t tick all your boxes, but it does for me: it makes my Aeons sing like neither the S2 (with or without rHead) or the Brooklyn could. That – and MQA is splendid on it.

But as always – YMMV.

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Lots of considerations here.
A friend swears by the Hugo2 with Utopias.
Doesn’t do MQA.
Good form factor, could travel around the house with my iPad, on batteries.


MQA is still a new technology and paradigm. It’s a tough choice in today’s “now” world, but you could simply wait and see how things pan out, both with your Meridian kit and with others. I’ve been thinking about getting a Merging Hapi (multichannel ADC/DAC) for some time, but now I’m not sure it’s worth doing until there’s an MQA capable DAC card (which is bound to appear at some point now that ESS are going to be making MQA-capable DAC chips). This may take a couple of years. Patience grasshopper…

possibly not helpful, but i’m running a herus resonessence on one system, moon 230 on the other - mqa material runs crisp on both, with or without dsp. sounding good to me… next step, eliminate amps, active spkrs only

I did a test, by hooking the Bryston headphone amp to the Meridian 818v3, and removing all DSP. This allowed me to compare, by twiddling the MQA capability setting in the device setup, between full MQA decoding+rendering in the 818, Roon unfolding only without rendering, and Roon unfolding+upsampling.

Based on this, I concluded I won’t let MQA rendering be a deciding factor in my headphone rig.

(Unfortunately I also concluded the LHLabs Geek Pulse XFi held its own, so maybe I don’t need to get a new rig at all…)

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I have enjoyed the “original” Mytek Brooklyn DAC, which I use mainly for streaming Tidal from a Dell Windows10 Pro machine, via the USB port. I am seriously thinking of installing Dirac room correction on the Dell, when I have time to install and configure it.

I also enjoy a PS Audio DirectStream DAC, which I believe sounds a little better, the Brooklyn sounds just a tad “dry” compared to the DirectStream, but having said that, you would expect a product that costs three times as much to perform better, and the differences are not great between the two.

I am not a big headphone user, but have a pair of Sennheiser HD800’s, which are extremely difficult to drive. I used to own a Bryston BHA-1 headphone amp, which had excellent sound quality, but not the power of the Brooklyn, which drives those phones effortlessly!

If anything the Brooklyn DAC+ would be a better unit than the one I own, which for the price is just outstanding; actually, regardless of the price, it’s truly an outstanding DAC (and preamp), in today’s audio market a true “bargain”!

Patience is hard for someone who likes the latest tech, both in computers and audio. However, learning it is a valuable lesson. I’d looked at the Hapi as well, but, I decided to wait.

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My PS Audio DirectStream DAC does exactly as you describe, Roon does first unfold, the passes to DSP, preserving the MQA data, then outputs to Bridge II card where the DAC finishes the MQA unfold.
Does not seem to work over USB though, you need the Bridge II card and to feed it by from your network.
The sound is quite impressive on some recordings.

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Yes, I knew they were intending to do that.
I had heard it wasn’t available yet.
Glad to hear I was wrong.

EDIT Apparently not.

Try up-sampling to maximum capability of your DAC and use Roon smooth minimum phase filter, you will definitely hear improved SQ after MQA got decoded.

  1. Set your DAC to maximum sampling rate, this ensures the internal digital filter is behaving like a pass through so one can effectively use Roon smooth minimum phase filter.

  2. Set to power of 2 which takes care of 44.1/48k multiples

  3. Set PCM up-sampling to the maximum capability of your DAC.

In my critical listening test on 2L MQA OSF 352.8k, Holo Spring R2R DAC, set Roon to the above, I can find some improvement in SQ; it is less edgy, tonal quality is more ‘thicker’ vs just MQA decoded out at 88.2/96k. You can always experiment this to hear any improvement in SQ.

Yes, those are the two cases I have been comparing:
Case 1. Hardware only, full MQA decoding (unfolding with rendering)
Case 3. Software only: unfolding + factor-of-2 upsampling to max (with minimum phase)

Those are the cases available with DACs that don’t do rendering, which is what I have available today.

And those are the two cases where I find minimal difference.
And that tells me that the middle case,
Case 2. SW+HW: Roon unfolding + hardware rendering (in the few devices that can do that) would fit somewhere in between, and thus minimal difference as well.

Given that I need Roon unfolding because I use DSP, case 1 is not interesting.
So I have concluded that since the difference afforded by hardware rendering is so small, I will not allow it to decide my choice.

In my short list of DACs, I am leaning toward the Hugo 2, because of strong recommendations here and from friends, good press and a convincing technical description. There are other options with similar recommendations. The deciding factor for the Hugo 2 is the portability: combined with an iPad Roon endpoint, I can listen anywhere in the house, and outside during the summer.

There are some difference between Precise Minimum vs Smooth Minimum phase filter. The later one has no more than one post ringing which is close to a typical MQA filter. This process is not about unfolding but to bypass the internal digital filter of DAC and use Roon less ‘aggressive’ Smooth Minimum Phase filter.

Yes, I have done some comparisons.

But as I read about the thinking by the leading DAC designers, I am inclined to rely on their work. Both Chord and PSAudio feel strongly about this.

Anyway, those are final operational decisions, finetuning.
At the moment I am choosing gear.

In my case, both the Meridian and the Geek use/include such filters.
And I have found that it matters.

But my general view is fairly negative to angels-on-a-pin kind of analysis. Like in the comparison of a Chord Dave with the Meridian Ultra that somebody linked here, and the reviewer initially found no difference, but then found one case where there was a difference, even though it wasn’t clear that either was better.
Geez. Life’s too short.

Technical improvements do matter. I am ok with that, have spent a lot of money on that. But the kind of differences where you sit and strain and wonder if you hear it? Nah, don’t care.

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