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Majestic DAC; comments and comparison to my DAC 64

Printed From: Graham Slee Hifi System Components
Category: Digital Audio
Forum Name: Computer Audio
Forum Description: Is computer audio here to stay or is it just another flavour of the month?
URL: https://www.hifisystemcomponents.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=2194
Printed Date: 16 Jan 2021 at 11:02pm
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Topic: Majestic DAC; comments and comparison to my DAC 64
Posted By: IvanM
Subject: Majestic DAC; comments and comparison to my DAC 64
Date Posted: 03 Mar 2014 at 3:59pm

I have had loan of the above for a few weeks now and have made a few notes as I've listened. Rather than give rambling updates, I've tried to boil it down to a bit (you may say tried but failed :-)

Initial impression First listen, after 22 hour warm up - great timing/beat/swing, focused but flat. Really emphasises difference in production and level, loves some tracks, turns its nose up at others.

1 week in. I now realise that my DAC 64 gives virtually every track richness, scale and weight, it has its own sound and warmth much like an LP12. I think I probably new this already but its not until its contrasted with a different presentation that the effect it has is clear. On the good side it makes it very easy to listen to a random mix of tracks off the NAS. On the bad side, by adding it's own richness, the DAC 64 is effectively (to some degree) compressing and evening out the dynamics of the music. The Majestic is much more of responsive by comparison and listening to random tracks on it is less easy because it does not reign in the dynamic at all. In fact the dynamics are on occasion gobsmacking.

There's a case to be made for both approaches, the monitor like nature of the Majestic will show the strengths but also weaknesses of a recording, presenting some with stunning effect but others are a bit dull by comparison. Meanwhile the DAC64 makes everything pretty good but good recordings fall short of the Majestic's presentation, which is noticeably more realistic.

The Majestic is to me better Bass wise. The DAC64 has a sort of heavyweight, authority and slightly forward mid-bass. The Majestic is leaner, more nimble, goes deeper and has more stomp/drive/pace (if there's a proper term, I don't know it). As per its neutral nature though, when there isn't much bass, you don't get much.

When I changed from my LP12 to the Orbe, it look me a while to come to terms with how different some of my records sounded: some more powerful and detailed others revealed as being a bit hollow sounding. Moving between my DAC64 and the Majestic is a very similar experience. On a definite positive though, the longer I have it, the more music the Majestic seems to do it's bit of magic on. I would mention here that I doubted if this device would evolve in the same way as other GSP products I've had. Well it definitely is doing.

By the second/third week, I'm now listening to whole albums as this is more enjoyable than just dipping into tracks. Its odd that this device is changing how I listen to music. I'll call it a good thing though as I'm appreciating albums the way I would if I was listening to vinyl. Also, I'm noticing that there's a bit more to love even on the poor recordings, if I give them a chance (and keep them away from the really good ones). Treble is beautiful even on MP3 (320kbps) and I think there's a tiny bit more of it than from the 64. Switching between the two there are just tiny little extra tinkles and sizzles with the Majestic. Vocals, strings and horns have proper texture and grain of the type that I associate with vinyl. It seems to me that this device is as much concerned with the quality of the original recording as with the bit rate its being fed with.

Its a good bit of kit this, it'll be harder to give back than the QDB76 I borrowed a while back, which is saying something (it was very good but too expensive for the difference between it and my DAC64, it also added some richness like my 64 I think).

This device is still developing with time albeit more subtly. I may also be accommodating its characteristics better. Probably both but there is now a little more depth still to the bass, more texture and rhythmic involvement. Image is taller and wider too (I kid you not and no beer during midweek listening :-) That's not true for everything but some things like the Badly Drawn Boy's - Bewilderbeast, now have the record deck on its back foot.

Majestic preamp. I'm using the on-board preamp because both the Majestic and my Dac 64 sound more dynamic with that, than through my ageing Kairn. It does a good job with the vinyl too. It's a minimalist bit of kit, which I see as a good thing (though I would love a remote). There's loads of digital inputs though including USB. Whatever you feed it with, it clearly has bandwidth to spare, judging by the dynamics. It's quiet, doesn't really show itself to have a character (that I can detect) and doesn't get in the way of the music, revealing the tiniest of sounds and vital (to me) spacial information.

Saturday just gone. The least fatiguing digital playback I have had when playing albums. John Cale's fragments of a rainy season can be hard and glossy but tonight the piano is rounded and fluid, expressing Cale's differing levels of physical input well. Beatles stuff really opens up – won't bore you with the details.


As of now (though I may update further)

How the sound has developed! There's much more ambiance and detail now than there was a few weeks back. This continues to surprise me, despite past experience.

I've never listened to so much digital music in one period. Its been very like running in a new cartridge. Its not just the dramatic things that I'm enjoying. I've actually taken most pleasure from the little things e.g: backing singers that I was aware of but couldn't focus on, that I can now locate and almost count. The fact that everything sounds just a bit more realistic.


Conclusion

The Majestic isn't a panacea: for a start it may inconvenience you as it doesn't have a remote (though if you're a vinyl person this may not be much of an issue). Also, it isn't a good fit in a system that already has a preamp, the redundancy of one or other may niggle me. It is though the best DAC I've had in my system. By best I mean it has properly opened up my 16bit/44.1khz digital archive. Which is what, despite the advent of higher def formats, most of us have.  It's breathed new life into the majority of it, making it a real pleasure to listen to and a genuine alternative to my vinyl, rather than just the second choice.

Ivan



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I'd like to agree with you but then we'd both be wrong.



Replies:
Posted By: fixedwheel
Date Posted: 03 Mar 2014 at 6:59pm
Cheers Ivan

Very interesting read.

John


Posted By: Graham Slee
Date Posted: 03 Mar 2014 at 7:42pm
Thank you Ivan


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Not simple enough for Google-Bot to understand...


Posted By: morris_minor
Date Posted: 03 Mar 2014 at 8:53pm
A good read Ivan, and your findings are a perfect match to mine too!

I use mine as a pre-amp so don't have that redundancy that you mention. It's a real natural, neutral sounding piece of kit and would work well in a studio situation as well as at home.

The DACs in other devices I have - which I've always thought pretty good - are being shown up as having an edge to the sound and a tonal balance veering away from neutral. My listening has changed too in that I listen to more complete albums now as I'm drawn into the music so much. Vinyl's taking a back seat at the moment!

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Bob

Majestic DAC/pre-amp
Accession MC/Enigma, Accession MM, Reflex M, Elevator EXP, Era Gold V
Solo ULDE, Novo, Lautus USB and digital, Libran balanced, CuSat50
2 x Proprius + Spatia/Spatia Links


Posted By: Drewan77
Date Posted: 04 Mar 2014 at 6:23am
This is very useful Ivan - the 64 was my main system DAC for many years and agree with your comments about the smoothed dynamics. Nice but a bit too tame for me so I use it in a secondary system now

What I currently use is the other end of the scale (fast, dynamic but erring on the bright side with a definite digital signature, clinical in a 'hi-fi' sense but not as natural as I want)

I auditioned the Majestic briefly in Barnsley, liked what I heard and pre-ordered one. Your comments, especially 'a genuine alternative to vinyl' have upped my anticipation levels considerably...


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Older than I once was, younger than I'll be
.............................
Andrew


Posted By: IvanM
Date Posted: 10 Mar 2014 at 11:41am

More observations:

One thing that's continued to improve is the Majestic's ability to untangle previously flat and impenetrable material, clearly bringing out individual threads of the mix, from what was previously one big puddle of sound.  This shows that the DAC has impressive resolving power (whatever that may be).  This must also be a pat on the back for the preamp.

I'm going to try and properly assess the preamp as a separate item. This is partly out of academic interest and partly because I'm now considering streamlining my system and kicking the faithful old Kairn in to touch, in favour of the Majestic's on board pre.  The other thing I will try to do is see what the USB input sounds like with my old Dell notebook PC. 

The problem with these plans though, is that every time I sit down to do anything like that, I end up getting pulled into an album or two.  Last night it was The Liberty of Norton Folgate, (Madness' geographic history of London, concept album - who'd ever have thought that'd happen?) It's a wonderfully evocative bit of work and carefully recorded too, very involving.  Listening to it as a whole piece made me feel as though I'd been somewhere. That was followed up by The Penguin Café Orchestra - as a consequence of a single sound I heard on one of the Madness tracks, putting it in my mind.  This I enjoyed just for the sounds and interplay between the musicians.  This is good fun.  I had actually listened to the whole of The Madness album before on my personal stereo while on hols but I don't think the PCO CD has ever held me much past Air a Dancer.

Again it is interesting how my listening to digital has changed.  Previously my FLAC archive was just a background music source or was used for plucking out favourite tracks.  CD had virtually fallen into disuse.  Now both are being used to play full albums.   Considering that at a rough count, I have 80 odd CD's and 150 odd albums in the FLAC archive, that I've never played right through, this is like having a new collection of music.  Admittedly, many of the albums may never get played in full again, they're not all good.  Others though, are already vying for a place on the list of albums, that I seem to have had on regular rotation for ever. 

Oddly, after initially finding it an irritant, I'm starting to think that the lack of a remote is proving to be a massive benefit.  Because had there been one, I may have used it to 'tame' the dynamics and changes in level.  Instead, this 'feature', coupled with the beautiful and satisfying way the music is presented: has resulted in me finding a load of great music, that I didn't know I had. 

In a further reversal of habit, I'm also finding that I like the physical action of getting a CD from the rack, putting it in the player and then sitting down and listening to it; more satisfying than selecting a FLAC album via my tablet.  This isn't a sound quality preference, its more to do with the little bit of ceremony involved, which ads to the anticipation of listening to a whole piece of work.  Like putting on an LP.



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I'd like to agree with you but then we'd both be wrong.


Posted By: morris_minor
Date Posted: 10 Mar 2014 at 11:59am
I've been having the same experience, Ivan - playing more complete albums (all mine are ripped), and listening to music that's been languishing in the dustier corners of the HDD for years without being played. I'm always hearing things that have never consciously registered before. It's like getting a new pair of ears . . Wink

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Bob

Majestic DAC/pre-amp
Accession MC/Enigma, Accession MM, Reflex M, Elevator EXP, Era Gold V
Solo ULDE, Novo, Lautus USB and digital, Libran balanced, CuSat50
2 x Proprius + Spatia/Spatia Links


Posted By: fixedwheel
Date Posted: 10 Mar 2014 at 12:00pm
Thanks Ivan

The difficulty in concentrating on the equipment, rather than the music, speaks volumes for how good the Majestic is at "getting out of the way"

I look forward to your comments on the pre-amp, as I am starting to realise I only really use one analogue input

Chers

John


Posted By: morris_minor
Date Posted: 10 Mar 2014 at 12:06pm
John - in my first post on the Majestic Impressions thread I wrote

Quote so my conclusion - and this with zero burn in - is that as a pre-amp the Majestic does what any self-respecting piece of audio electronics should do: have no audible effect on the quality of sound, be totally transparent.

I too only needed one analogue input . . 


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Bob

Majestic DAC/pre-amp
Accession MC/Enigma, Accession MM, Reflex M, Elevator EXP, Era Gold V
Solo ULDE, Novo, Lautus USB and digital, Libran balanced, CuSat50
2 x Proprius + Spatia/Spatia Links


Posted By: fixedwheel
Date Posted: 10 Mar 2014 at 12:11pm
Cheers Bob

Much to ponder, and also time to figure out where I am going with my system

Many thanks for all the various reports.

John


Posted By: ICL1P
Date Posted: 10 Mar 2014 at 2:05pm
Ivan,

Thanks for your report; I really like the way you write it.

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Ifor
=====
Reflex M & ACCESSION M, CuSat50, Majestic DAC, a Proprius pair.


Posted By: IvanM
Date Posted: 10 Apr 2014 at 6:27pm
After what must now be over a two months, I have come to realise that the Majestic is actually better than I gave it credit for, initially.  It could just be that it has continued to improve with further burn-in, but I also think my ears have had a little bit of education, that my previous setup never gave me.

The thing that has happened to make me say this, is that many of the recordings that I originally said sounded: "a bit dull", have now been revealed as being anything but.  When a certain adjustment is made some of them are brilliant.  The adjustment that brings this transformation, is one you will be familiar with, it is known as: getting up of my arse and turning the level up.  Specifically to what might be described as realistic loudness.

It doesn't work for everything and there's a trend towards 1960's analogue recordings, that were put onto CD before people started "improving" things, by turning everything up for us.  Acoustic and semi-acoustic recordings are also favoured, the dynamic range (well what I perceive to be) of which, often puts more modern productions to shame .  

There's sometimes a lot of tape hiss and various clunking around to be heard, but there's real atmosphere.  I can hear/feel the space around the musicians and that really draws me into the music.  To make an analogue analogy (pardon the pun). Its similar to how a good recording on vinyl will sometimes transcend the fact that the disc has seen too many late nights, too many drinks and too many smeary fingers.  The music just comes right out of the mush.

This brings me back to the preamp in the Majestic, which clearly has the ability to reveal all this.  I said I'd try to review it separately and have now had a lot more analogue time with it.  I'm not sure though that I can really add much to what I've said previously.  Which is: its very quiet and very dynamic.  

The one observation I might add, is that the size and shape of the audio "picture" remains constant between analogue and digital inputs (all things being equal - see below).  How that space is "coloured in" and filled out, depends on the nature of the recording.  Interestingly though (well to me at least), to get to this situation, took a complete re-set up of my vinyl kit, alignment, VTA, VTF (very fussy Zyx R100 cart).  This suggests that the preamp let me listen straight through to the source (which in this instance was found wanting).  Outside of that I don't think I can hear it, which sounds like faint praise I know, but is actually a big compliment.  

Oh - one more thing (I'll stop soon I promise). I have tried to convince myself that there's a difference between the optical and coax inputs, mainly because I feel there should be.  With my CD deck I cannot tell any difference.  My Squeezebox (surprisingly to me), is noticeably better on the optical, probably down to the output on Squeezebox.  I haven't tried the USB input as I have no use for it.

The final 'one more thing' that I'll add, is that my Kairn and DAC64, have now taken well earned retirement.



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I'd like to agree with you but then we'd both be wrong.


Posted By: morris_minor
Date Posted: 10 Apr 2014 at 7:53pm
Ivan, your observations mirror my own feelings about the Majestic: very quiet, very dynamic, and very "truthful" . . . I've never felt closer to the (digital) music.

You mention a Zyx R100 -  which happens to be one of the cartridges I use (Jon (FMG), in these parts, has one too). Which phono amp do you use? The R100 makes a good, no, great partner with the Reflex M-Elevator combination, which in turn feeds my Majestic's analogue input with a tremendously rich, detailed and dynamic signal. 


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Bob

Majestic DAC/pre-amp
Accession MC/Enigma, Accession MM, Reflex M, Elevator EXP, Era Gold V
Solo ULDE, Novo, Lautus USB and digital, Libran balanced, CuSat50
2 x Proprius + Spatia/Spatia Links


Posted By: IvanM
Date Posted: 10 Apr 2014 at 10:03pm
I use a Reflex C which also works very well. The Zyx is a great cart for the money - when you find the sweet spot - but its also infuriatingly fussy. Getting the vta exactly right, which isn't that easy on a PU7 (brill arm though), takes it to another level. The first time I lucked into the sweet spot I was gobsmacked (I already thought it sounded great) but when I relised that putting a thicker record on, could take the edge off, I became a bit frustrated. Choosing records by thickness isn't healthy. Convetional setup guidlines, e.g. arm parallel to record, are nowhere near precise enough. Loving it tonight though, through the Majestic, after yet another tweak of the VTA and anti skate.


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I'd like to agree with you but then we'd both be wrong.



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