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nwavguy vs NuForce


atothex
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HF thread here

This guy's review and measurements here

I'm not about to comment on the legitimacy of the measurements, but the uDAC-2 is apparently pretty shitty. NuForce seems to agree but not really care that it's shitty. John Atkinson measured a NuForce CD player, and it was also real shitty.

This doesn't speak of the entire NuForce lineup, but I do find it amusing considering the relative popularity of that brand over thar.

Can I safely conclude that HF has terrible taste in everything?

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Hmmm. I have one and mine sounds fine. Much better after it warms up and certainly not as good as really top gear. But it seems to provide value for money spent.

Interestingly, the guy who points out what certainly look like stupid design and manufacturing flaws says his sounds fine, too. He concedes that the Benchmark sounds better but minimizes the difference. But the NuForce is unsatisfactory and he's returning it. I wonder how it would sound if he had never measured it? A little suggestible, maybe?

I wish I had known about the Beringer. It's way cheaper and very sleazy looking. Chintzy looking was actually something I was looking for. Assuming it doesn't sound like ass, that is.

You can safely conclude that a grain of salt goes a long way over there, IMHO.

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Hmmm. I have one and mine sounds fine. Much better after it warms up and certainly not as good as really top gear. But it seems to provide value for money spent.

Interestingly, the guy who points out what certainly look like stupid design and manufacturing flaws says his sounds fine, too. He concedes that the Benchmark sounds better but minimizes the difference. But the NuForce is unsatisfactory and he's returning it. I wonder how it would sound if he had never measured it? A little suggestible, maybe?

I wish I had known about the Beringer. It's way cheaper and very sleazy looking. Chintzy looking was actually something I was looking for. Assuming it doesn't sound like ass, that is.

You can safely conclude that a grain of salt goes a long way over there, IMHO.

I previously owned the Behringer for a few weeks and only used the headphone out, but that was pretty mediocre sounding and hissed like a rattlesnake when used with my IEM. My iPod 5.5G Video and Macbook had slightly better sound and less hiss, so I sold it and was happy to ship it overseas at a loss.

I think my uDAC-2 sounds fine and for the price it's hard to beat, but I don't listen to brick-walled music that sits at 0 dbfs, which is apparently where the uDAC-2 distortion levels rise to 0.7% on his measurements. The uDAC-2 headphone out is a step up from the original uDAC or Macbook Pro, although still a little behind my iBasso D4 and even farther behind the DACport, Pico Slim and Stepdance. The RCA output to me seems better and matches other $220-350 USB DACs as far as I can tell, and a few others agree with that.

As for the CDP-8 jitter issues that turned up, Nuforce acknowledged that and came up with a fix right away. Apparently the issue was at a frequency range where it's harder to hear. While my CDP-8 sounds better than my Apogee mini-DAC as a source, mine is shipping out tomorrow for the free update anyway. I've known about it for months but it wasn't worth the time to send it out, although I could live without it while I'm gone over spring break.

It seems to me the guy is acting like he's sharing jesus when he posts about his measurements. Almost like he's pushing some kind of agenda.

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I'm impressed, the guy wrote over 8,000 words to criticize a $130 item.

8,000 words and only about a dozen of them were about how the thing sounds. The NuForce guy pegged him when he said something about listening to music with a scope.

And I'm still scratching my head about the zero line nonsense. The zero line is where a digital signal clips, by definition. I don't see how a DAC can make a clipped signal an more clipped. Or if I would be offended if it happened. "Hey, who distorted the distortion in my Lady gaga song!".

Yeah, it's possible to make a sine wave be tangent to the zero line at its peaks, and I would suppose that in some sort of theoretical place a DAC should be able to reproduce such a tone. But it comes up in real music exactly just about never, so who bloody well cares. It's a hundred dollar product for cryin' out loud.

Larry - Doesn't matter since I've already got the uDAC2, but thanks for the warning.

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8,000 words and only about a dozen of them were about how the thing sounds.

Please tell me how that is a bad thing. 8000 words about how something 'sounds' is what is truly pointless.

And I'm still scratching my head about the zero line nonsense. The zero line is where a digital signal clips, by definition. I don't see how a DAC can make a clipped signal an more clipped. Or if I would be offended if it happened. "Hey, who distorted the distortion in my Lady gaga song!".

Yeah, it's possible to make a sine wave be tangent to the zero line at its peaks, and I would suppose that in some sort of theoretical place a DAC should be able to reproduce such a tone. But it comes up in real music exactly just about never, so who bloody well cares. It's a hundred dollar product for cryin' out loud.

So you approve of the apparent NuForce philosophy of "when something is bad, make it worse"?

I am not nwavguy and do not know the fellow, but I appreciate his efforts of trying to apply some sense to this hobby through objective, quantitative and repeatable measurements.

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Yes, 8000 words to describe testing (mostly) on a $129 DAC is silly, but I think the main jist of his rant was the "design by ear" crowd. A previous piece of gear that I owned was done by one of these and it was littered with problems, some audible, some only interfering with lifespan. While I think that listening is an important part of the design process, ignoring things on a technical level shouldn't be tolerated either.

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i am captain of the double blind test, and i think that writing 8000 words to describe a $129 DAC is silly.

Oh, I agree, and sufficed with reading the figures and accompanying captions. But if it was a more sound focused review I wouldn't even have that.

If the objective quantitative and repeatable measurements don't result in a better listening experience, what's the point? Especially with a $129 dac.

If the objective, quantitative and repeatable measurements show that despite glaring technical shortcomings a component sounds completely fine, whats the point in rewieving such components at all?

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I'd say that if the measurements show glaring technical problems for a device that sounds good, then the wrong things are being measured, and the reason for the review is masturbation.

If it sounds good, but has glaring technical problems, would it sound better if they fixed those glaring technical problems? Why put up with fixable / avoidable glaring technical problems?

If Beringer can avoid them for $29 it seems to imply that cost is not the issue in avoiding the problems?

If you have a defined test regime, then you can apply the same tests ( + measurements) to different devices irrespective of the cost of the device, and compare them.

In the absence of measurements, how do you get a (process/product) improvement feedback loop to make better stuff?

As Lord Kelvin said

"If you can not measure it, you can not improve it."

You can argue about measuring the right things, would the same approach be justified if he warned consumers against expensive gear that measured and sounded bad, when there was better sounding gear that measured better for less?

I'm looking forward to Tyll measuring the Bose and Beats headphones :)

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I'd say that if the measurements show glaring technical problems for a device that sounds good, then the wrong things are being measured, and the reason for the review is masturbation.

I'm sure even Tyll's great initiative is powered by self-glorification on some level, but I do not see how that makes his efforts less honorable.

In what way is nwavguy different, except that we know less about him?

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It's funny, because the whole "this shit measures bad but sounds good" thing is exactly what happened in the Stereophile CDP-8 review. I kinda don't know what to think. NuForce fixed the jitter issue immediately afterward, but I get a vibe that they wouldn't have done anything if they never got called out. The implications there really bother me, personally.

Edited by atothex
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Very few people should be writing that much about anything. Editing is a skill people need to learn.

True dat. (Executive summary: TL;DR :) )

However, reduction of nuanced technical arguments to a series of bullet points

  • Sound Bad!
  • Hulk Smash!

Has its own set of dangers.

http://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/discourse

http://www.sociablemedia.com/articles_culture.htm

Eschewing Obfuscation and espousing elucidation is a noble aim.

http://www.lawrence-najjar.com/papers/Eschew_obfuscation.html

calvin-writing.gif

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If it sounds good, but has glaring technical problems, would it sound better if they fixed those glaring technical problems? Why put up with fixable / avoidable glaring technical problems?

If Beringer can avoid them for $29 it seems to imply that cost is not the issue in avoiding the problems?

If you have a defined test regime, then you can apply the same tests ( + measurements) to different devices irrespective of the cost of the device, and compare them.

In the absence of measurements, how do you get a (process/product) improvement feedback loop to make better stuff?

As Lord Kelvin said

"If you can not measure it, you can not improve it."

You can argue about measuring the right things, would the same approach be justified if he warned consumers against expensive gear that measured and sounded bad, when there was better sounding gear that measured better for less?

I'm looking forward to Tyll measuring the Bose and Beats headphones :)

Agreed. Mostly.

First off, I'm uneasy with sloppy mistakes that somebody "gets away with" because at the end of the day, the device does what it's sold to do. Just on general principles, manufacturers should get it right. At this moment, I am repairing our stupid vacuum cleaner for the third time because some nitwit under-specced a bearing. It cleans like a dream when it works, but I really have other things I'd rather do than repair it all the time.

There's no way - or maybe I should say "no non-back-breaking way" - to design something without being able to measure parameters that directly or indirectly give a clue if you're getting closer to the parameters that are your real goal. Human hearing is a tricky thing, as it's one hell of a lousy test tool but when the device is in use in the long haul it's much more discriminating than most of the measurements at a designer's disposal. From my memories of my engineer father designing industrial equipment, to my own career and everything I've seen along the way, I haven't seen an abundance of occasions where direct measurements of the ultimate parameters being sought are available. Dad used to say something about the line between applied science and art being a bit fuzzy.

Joseph D'Appolito has a relatively new book out in which he talks about using measurements in speaker design (and makes a reasoned argument for his own subjective hierarchy of what to aim for). It's pretty obvious there's a lot of art, or judgment if you will, still in the game. And he's talking about speakers, where we are a lot closer to being for-real able "to measure everything."

The Beringer unit, according to Larry, sounds like ass. So it loses the war after winning all the bench tests. That's pretty cold comfort.

For $29, frankly, I wouldn't expect a second or third design cycle, based on subjective evaluation of some kind to bring the device up to optimum performance. For $129, something's still gotta give. We're not talking Jeff Rowland type stuff here. If it doesn't last for thirty years or if it can't play sine waves I don't listen to (even though, If I'm understanding it right, that seems more of a dumb mistake than reasoned trade-off)or isn't compatible with every headphone in the world (as suggested by the output impedance) but it can play music reasonably well, I'd say it's justified its existence.

I like how the newbie puts "sounds" in quotes. That says something.

Edited by CarlSeibert
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Agreed. Mostly.

...snip...

The Beringer unit, according to Larry, sounds like ass. So it loses the war after winning all the bench tests. That's pretty cold comfort.

...

I think I may have said something more like the sound of the Behringer UCA202 was "mediocre at best and it hissed like a snake with my Livewires", and that i sold it and was happy to even ship it over seas. The only thing I've heard that sounded worse than the Behringer was a Fiio E3 and a Radioshack branded boosteroo 3-jack amp. So it might have sounded like ass (whatever that sounds like). Maybe my problem with the Berhinger was because I only used it with my low impedance IEM, and NwAvGuy says it has a 50 ohm output impedance and will sound worse with low impedance phones.

On the other hand, I haven't noticed the 6 ohm output impedance of the uDAC-2 to cause issues changing sound among a variety of headphones and IEM, nor has the 10 ohm output impedance of the DACport and DACmini been a problem. I should note that the 1st prototype Nuforce HDP that I had in my hands "to give feedback before production" did have a very high output impedance (possibly over 100 ohm), which I only found out about after I commented to them about bass and power problems with low impedance IEM like Westone 2. They fixed the issue right away and put it into the production version of the HDP, resulting in a noticeable improvement in performance with low impedance IEM and phones.

So, I agree that a higher output impedance can sometimes make a difference in the sound but not always, and as long as it's low enough I suppose it's not very noticeable. Interestingly, Nuforce got significantly more power output from the changes, but I never saw them update their specs to reflect the improvements.

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I'm starting to think the only reason nwavguy is still argueing is to get the last word in - especially where, outside one or two folk (one of whom claims to have gone through an inconceivable amount of swaps of faulty gear) - very few people actually seem to be able to find the same issues in normal use, something which he attributes to "People tend to defend what they decided to buy and spent their money on". I actually like the little thing - else i'd have sold it on, or relegated it to being used on the shared system.

I'm also tempted to believe he has very solid ideas on how audio gear SHOULD be designed, and will rubbish anything that isn't designed otherwise - and apparently around the use of balanced IEMs (the berenger is exempt tho. cause it measures wonderfully, despite not being suitable for many common headphones without mods)

Interestingly he's trying the fiio e5 next... and finding issues in that too - interestingly, he can't blame the channel imbalance on a analogue volume control this time- since its a digital volume control.

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On the other hand, I haven't noticed the 6 ohm output impedance of the uDAC-2 to cause issues changing sound among a variety of headphones and IEM, nor has the 10 ohm output impedance of the DACport and DACmini been a problem.

So for those more knowledgeable in these matters than I, is an output impedance in this range actually bad or is this guy making a mountain out of molehill?

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