Author Topic: Happy Killer DAC customer  (Read 3807 times)

Offline RMP

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Happy Killer DAC customer
« on: May 15, 2015, 11:39:52 PM »
A few weeks ago my completed Killer was posted out by Rawl, arriving with his new USB->I2S converter and some other bits to get me started.

My Killer journey is a little different to most here. My amplification is Class D and integrated into active speakers, which necessitates a number of things (inline attenuation, much design patience, dry sound, etc); they will not change soon. My source is a Linux PC, very much customised and completely fanless, with storage in another room. Whilst my CD collection is large, I've taken the attitude of dealing with issues with using a PC as a transport as they arise rather than putting together something different. It was fed, for a time, from a Musical Fidelity V-DAC running a linear PSU.

A boutique system it was not. The most I knew of boutique anything (valves, attention to cable routing and special transformers) were that they all lived in my guitar amp.

I was getting rid of a few speakers - I'd collected and traded a lot of vintage gear from a particular Danish make. A friend came over and had a listen. "Accurate but it's a bit dry, no? Come over and listen to mine". He'd just finished rebuilding an early Citation. It sounded grand, natural, something quite different. A journey started. I added a Dodd tube buffer - a nice unit, battery-powered, a bit lacking on bottom end - and I started to understand that tubes had a palpable effect I liked. The soundstage grew a third dimension. Getting a hold of the particular Russian 'super tube' it was suggested to really like was problematic but seemed worth the money; when it arrived I came to understand a significant industry in replica NOS gear. Bugger that.

I let it go for a bit, moving homes, and eventually unpacked the lot thinking that I'd simply find a tube vendor in Australia that'd help. A few calls led me to stevenvalve - a highly enigmatic guy that had all the adjectives I was looking for in music. He suggested an Amperex Bugle Boy for not a lot. I said "and if I've got budget?" We ended up with a Philips Herleen E88CC that was predicted to do all I asked for three and a bit weeks and would then, owing to the manner in which my buffer was suspected to be configured, would degrade.

It did all he predicted, including putting lead vocalists squarely in my living room for three weeks. I promised to come visit this "Valve Whisperer" to hear his ultimate product, the Killer DAC.

An opportunity came a few weeks later with a good friend out from the US with close to a six-figure sum invested in his system. We went to hear. Could it really be as good as suggested? We were concerned about Redbook, about other perceived limitations, We came away a little shocked. The first track played once the system was warm and good to go very nearly made us both cry. Stevenvalve was the "real deal".  The Killer DAC was real. Redbook was just fine. Stereo was all one needed for a three-dimensional soundstage. Valves were bloody awesome. We flew out of Sydney that night and couldn't stop talking about it. If you haven't heard stevenvalve's system, do it. Steve is an excellent and passionate host and teacher. I could say more though many others have here. If you're reading this and planning a major system upgrade, skip the HiFi shop and conference tours, locate Steve and see about hearing him and his wonderful system out. Even if you have to fly there. It seems crude to suggest you'll save time and money, (though it's true); better still you'll depart with the best baseline as to what's possible that I've yet found, and better still an insight into a rich and warm community.

I went and tried other stuff in the meantime, sources of all sorts of price and provenance. Quickly put I found much that was impressive in a few given dimensions - resolution, accuracy, whatever - nothing that I wanted to actually listen to as much.

When I came back from travels I rang Steve and asked squarely about purchasing a Killer DAC. I'd need to meet Rawl. He happened to be in town within the month, and eventually he came over. I should point out at this point that I'm an engineer enough to understand that the parts making up the Killer aren't inexpensive, and adding the labour involved puts it squarely into "labour of love" territory. So I was comfortable with the notion that as much as I was meeting Rawl, I was similarly being assessed. We left with an understanding that I'd be a fair custodian for the product, that it'd be ready when ready within reason (fine with that) and that this'd be the start of a longer journey.

Time passed and much was amiably discussed (Rawl is a deep and insightful guy, great to deal with) - interconnects, USB cables, Offramp or otherwise, "bloody hell your speakers are sensitive, I'll need to build inline attenuators", warmth, subwoofers. I ended up acquiring two subs through Rawl's advice (Sunfire HRS-8's - adjustable six ways to Sunday). He also built a decent asynchronous USB-I2S converter: it works rather well, is tightly packaged and unobtrusive.

So it's arrived. Mine has minor differences, subwoofer outputs and a mute circuit. Not to put too fine a point on it however there's a lot of work that goes into one at this level. It's an incredibly well-made product. The sound is... just as all have said it is. Both subtle and shocking in its fluidity. Warm. Easy to listen to for a long, long time. Resets your perceptions for what you thought was an awesome recording pretty damn quickly. If you like your audio playback to shout at you, this isn't it. If you want it to talk to you, brilliant. This, and there's been a lot of "I didn't think tubes could do that" regarding range and accuracy. There's been much tweaking since it arrived and it continues to respond positively, making audible performance gains each time. There's also been occasional demo'ing of other - very expensive - setups, and I'm continually impressed by what's at home.

Getting it running on a Linux PC in a bit-perfect manner isn't completely trivial (particularly if it's also used to handle non-Redbook media from time to time) but it is possible. There's much that's possible from here; the cable, attenuator and interconnect upgrades are "in the works". There's an eventual plan for some seismic isolation. I've presently an issue with interference from a b(@#$d television (it had a noisy PSU before the Killer) that's currently best served by turning it off, and needs to be solved with a replacement TV to preserve the marital peace.

My journey diverges back away from the analogue domain for the moment; I'm going to have a crack at digital room correction (there's little point committing effective heresy with the transport if you're not seeing how far you can go...)

Thank you stevenvalve, thank you Rawl, thank you small and wonderful community.

If you're on the fence about taking the dive, jump. My 2c.

Offline hedalfa

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Re: Happy Killer DAC customer
« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2015, 05:30:38 AM »
Welcome RMP

Thanks for sharing your journey, it was an interesting read... 8)

Offline RMP

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Re: Happy Killer DAC customer
« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2015, 04:13:21 PM »
Anytime, hedalfa.

I'd add that Rawl has been exceptionally patient with me. I'm not local to himself or stevenvalve; some significant phone time was contributed between purchase, build and commissioning.

As an experience/product/performance (pick your perspective) It's gone sufficiently well for the Other Half to have developed a taste for further investment. We'll see what happens next - we may yet see off the Class D amplification once (or if) I manage to wrap my head around parts availability for Steve's amp...

Offline kajak12

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Re: Happy Killer DAC customer
« Reply #3 on: May 16, 2015, 08:06:32 PM »
A few weeks ago my completed Killer was posted out by Rawl, arriving with his new USB->I2S converter and some other bits to get me started.

My Killer journey is a little different to most here. My amplification is Class D and integrated into active speakers, which necessitates a number of things (inline attenuation, much design patience, dry sound, etc); they will not change soon. My source is a Linux PC, very much customised and completely fanless, with storage in another room. Whilst my CD collection is large, I've taken the attitude of dealing with issues with using a PC as a transport as they arise rather than putting together something different. It was fed, for a time, from a Musical Fidelity V-DAC running a linear PSU.

A boutique system it was not. The most I knew of boutique anything (valves, attention to cable routing and special transformers) were that they all lived in my guitar amp.

I was getting rid of a few speakers - I'd collected and traded a lot of vintage gear from a particular Danish make. A friend came over and had a listen. "Accurate but it's a bit dry, no? Come over and listen to mine". He'd just finished rebuilding an early Citation. It sounded grand, natural, something quite different. A journey started. I added a Dodd tube buffer - a nice unit, battery-powered, a bit lacking on bottom end - and I started to understand that tubes had a palpable effect I liked. The soundstage grew a third dimension. Getting a hold of the particular Russian 'super tube' it was suggested to really like was problematic but seemed worth the money; when it arrived I came to understand a significant industry in replica NOS gear. Bugger that.

I let it go for a bit, moving homes, and eventually unpacked the lot thinking that I'd simply find a tube vendor in Australia that'd help. A few calls led me to stevenvalve - a highly enigmatic guy that had all the adjectives I was looking for in music. He suggested an Amperex Bugle Boy for not a lot. I said "and if I've got budget?" We ended up with a Philips Herleen E88CC that was predicted to do all I asked for three and a bit weeks and would then, owing to the manner in which my buffer was suspected to be configured, would degrade.

It did all he predicted, including putting lead vocalists squarely in my living room for three weeks. I promised to come visit this "Valve Whisperer" to hear his ultimate product, the Killer DAC.

An opportunity came a few weeks later with a good friend out from the US with close to a six-figure sum invested in his system. We went to hear. Could it really be as good as suggested? We were concerned about Redbook, about other perceived limitations, We came away a little shocked. The first track played once the system was warm and good to go very nearly made us both cry. Stevenvalve was the "real deal".  The Killer DAC was real. Redbook was just fine. Stereo was all one needed for a three-dimensional soundstage. Valves were bloody awesome. We flew out of Sydney that night and couldn't stop talking about it. If you haven't heard stevenvalve's system, do it. Steve is an excellent and passionate host and teacher. I could say more though many others have here. If you're reading this and planning a major system upgrade, skip the HiFi shop and conference tours, locate Steve and see about hearing him and his wonderful system out. Even if you have to fly there. It seems crude to suggest you'll save time and money, (though it's true); better still you'll depart with the best baseline as to what's possible that I've yet found, and better still an insight into a rich and warm community.

I went and tried other stuff in the meantime, sources of all sorts of price and provenance. Quickly put I found much that was impressive in a few given dimensions - resolution, accuracy, whatever - nothing that I wanted to actually listen to as much.

When I came back from travels I rang Steve and asked squarely about purchasing a Killer DAC. I'd need to meet Rawl. He happened to be in town within the month, and eventually he came over. I should point out at this point that I'm an engineer enough to understand that the parts making up the Killer aren't inexpensive, and adding the labour involved puts it squarely into "labour of love" territory. So I was comfortable with the notion that as much as I was meeting Rawl, I was similarly being assessed. We left with an understanding that I'd be a fair custodian for the product, that it'd be ready when ready within reason (fine with that) and that this'd be the start of a longer journey.

Time passed and much was amiably discussed (Rawl is a deep and insightful guy, great to deal with) - interconnects, USB cables, Offramp or otherwise, "bloody hell your speakers are sensitive, I'll need to build inline attenuators", warmth, subwoofers. I ended up acquiring two subs through Rawl's advice (Sunfire HRS-8's - adjustable six ways to Sunday). He also built a decent asynchronous USB-I2S converter: it works rather well, is tightly packaged and unobtrusive.

So it's arrived. Mine has minor differences, subwoofer outputs and a mute circuit. Not to put too fine a point on it however there's a lot of work that goes into one at this level. It's an incredibly well-made product. The sound is... just as all have said it is. Both subtle and shocking in its fluidity. Warm. Easy to listen to for a long, long time. Resets your perceptions for what you thought was an awesome recording pretty damn quickly. If you like your audio playback to shout at you, this isn't it. If you want it to talk to you, brilliant. This, and there's been a lot of "I didn't think tubes could do that" regarding range and accuracy. There's been much tweaking since it arrived and it continues to respond positively, making audible performance gains each time. There's also been occasional demo'ing of other - very expensive - setups, and I'm continually impressed by what's at home.

Getting it running on a Linux PC in a bit-perfect manner isn't completely trivial (particularly if it's also used to handle non-Redbook media from time to time) but it is possible. There's much that's possible from here; the cable, attenuator and interconnect upgrades are "in the works". There's an eventual plan for some seismic isolation. I've presently an issue with interference from a b(@#$d television (it had a noisy PSU before the Killer) that's currently best served by turning it off, and needs to be solved with a replacement TV to preserve the marital peace.

My journey diverges back away from the analogue domain for the moment; I'm going to have a crack at digital room correction (there's little point committing effective heresy with the transport if you're not seeing how far you can go...)

Thank you stevenvalve, thank you Rawl, thank you small and wonderful community.

If you're on the fence about taking the dive, jump. My 2c.
Great post thanks for sharing 
still discovering the link between electronics and audio reproduction.so much to learn and so little time

Offline RMP

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Re: Happy Killer DAC customer
« Reply #4 on: May 16, 2015, 10:52:17 PM »
I'll add this much for stevenvalve;

I had a few tête-à-tête's with both Steve and Craig - I was probably a little harder on Steve - about the merits of using a PC as a transport. Steve was adamant it was impossible that this'd match a CD player.

Steve, I was wrong, you were right.

It's possible, with a customised Linux installation, to get very close. Much closer than with Windows or OS X. The customisations aren't crazy, they'll be known to a few people here, they're not trivial either - from getting rid of all mixing and resampling (obviously) through to building a real-time kernel on top of the usual accurate external clock in whatever box reconstructs an I2S signal. But it's never going to beat a dedicated CD transport over I2S. Ever. Not electrically possible.

Offline ozmillsy

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Re: Happy Killer DAC customer
« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2015, 07:37:10 AM »
But it's never going to beat a dedicated CD transport over I2S. Ever. Not electrically possible.
I wonder why that is?     I would have thought that a properly engineered solution with SSD storage, should have the advantage over an old spinner.     

I havent given up hope that someday someone will produce a pc style solution that is better.   So i dont have to waste time burning cd's.

Congrats on the purchase, and welcome to the forum.
It's all about the music,, not the equipment.