TotalDac D1- Dual DAC






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I first met Vincent Brient, founder and designer of popular French audio company TotalDAC at Munich High End 2013 audio show. The Munich High End is among my favorites because it's where I get to see and hear products not easily found anywhere else in the world. Brient showcased his products in nicely decorated room that featured his products alongside European designers Engstrom & Engstrom, Kaiser and Bibacord. Overall, I was greatly impressed by open, dynamic ease of this setup. The name TotalDAC alone was very intriguing.  I had a nice long conversation with Brient shortly thereafter, and I requested a chance to review the TotalDAC D1 tube DAC and he told me I should review the D1-Dual DAC since I have a true balanced system.

TotalDAC is a small French company Brient started four years ago. Brient, like many other talented audio designers, began as an engineering college student (attended Supelec). During his studies most of his research projects were based on a digital active crossovers. He developed a knack for digital audio even before working as an engineer in the design of electronic boards in television, in smart-phones, and GPS/MP3’s for the blind. To date Brient has obtained several patents for his designs. Brient also worked with and was taught by his mentor John Westlake: the guy behind such well-known products like Pink Triangle’s DaCapo D/A converter, Audiolab’s M-DAC and Cambridge Audio’s DACMagic. He became expert in audio measurement and listening tests on different types of loudspeakers and amplifiers (SET, OTL, Class A, Class AB solid-state and Class D). A self-ordained music lover and audiophile, Brient needed a good DAC at a price he could afford. But, unfortunately, (or fortunately in his case), he wasn’t able to find one. Almost immediately, Brient started designing and building his own. He tried most of the DAC technologies and many different DAC chips and, after many hours of rigorous research and development, he came up with a DAC that really satisfied him. When he finished the final version his audiophile friends liked it so much that they asked Brient to build DACs for them. It was on that day that TotalDAC was born.
 

The TotalDac D1- Dual DAC does not use commercial DAC chips (Most DACs on the market use a Delta-Sigma DAC chip). Instead it utilizes a discrete R2R ladder DAC like respected companies MSB, Thrax Audio, and Light Harmonic. The D1-Dual DAC boasts 200 Vishay 0.01% VAR Bulk Metal Foil resistors per stereo channel (100 per DAC). Brient also states his products employs only the best sounding components regardless of cost and employs no integrated circuits. Instead he chose use his own exclusive technologies. The D1-Dual DAC is a (NOS) non-oversampling DAC. However, there is a non-oversampling DAC compensation filter which can only be activated or deactivated by remote control. The D1-Dual DAC utilizes a FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array), like MSB, Chord and Playback Designs. Brient's design differs ever so slightly he claims because he uses a special buffer memory (FIFO) to store about 10ms of incoming data and relocking to reduce jitter. For more technical information please refer to TotalDAC’s website. As its name suggests it’s a true fully balanced design with one a dual DACs per channel.

The D1-Dual DAC is a single chassis design but does come with an external power supply. The D1-Dual DAC comes in an optional black or silver aluminum faceplate (mine came in silver). The front panel of the DAC features a simple layout, a metal chassis with an acrylic center panel, with an LED display. I find it simple, unique and appealing to these eyes. These are no controls on the front panel; all functions must be controlled remotely. The remote control allows you to adjust for volume, source, and activate the non-oversampling compensation filter on/off. I found extra nice feature also: a phase controller! I could actually control the phase via this smartly designed remote from my listening seat. In a system with only digital sources, you can use the D1-Dual DAC as a preamplifier it also sports a digital volume control.


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On the back, the Dual DAC comes with a host of digital inputs including 192kHz asynchronous Xmos USB, two S/PDIF inputs (Coax and Toslink), and an AES/EBU input, all selectable from the remote control. All inputs support up to 24/192 playback, 16 to 24 bit formats, except 96kHz max for optical input. A DSD (DoP) option is also now available. Lastly, the TotalDAC comes equipped with an analogue headphone output jack (32 Ohm-600 Ohm - 3.1 Vrms max via RCA or 6.2Vrms max via XLR). 

The TotalDAC D1-Dual DAC arrived in one double-boxed corrugated carton. Getting out of its double corrugated box was a breeze, as it weighs only 14.3 lbs along with a small robust power supply. Since these products do not come with captive AC cords, I chose to use my reference Jorma Design Unity AC cord and a set of ASI topline feet to assure a stable platform. 

I used my reference Pi Greco Symphonia CD player (right) solely as a transport to drive the D1-Dual DAC. Usually, whenever I put a new product in my equipment rack I never listen too critically for the first couple of weeks. But the first track played from my Sinfonia sounded so good that I turned up the volume and played music throughout the night. The D1-Dual DAC appeared ready for serious business right out of the box. I could immediately hear its highly transparent yet natural character. If the D1-Dual DAC sounded this good immediately, what was it going to sound like after burn-in? 

My Sinfonia CD player is a lovely sounding one-box performer that dethroned my previous long-term reference, the AMR CD77. However, as good as the Sinfonia CD player performs, listening to the TotalDAC D1-Dual DAC offered more than a touch of transparency, speed and inner detail, while sounding ever more freer of digital artifacts. Everything I played through the D1-Dual DAC sounded absolutely fabulous. The D1-Dual DAC’s overall sound was as non-digital, transparent and as high in resolution as I’ve experienced. It was as if I was able to look directly into the recording studio's window. Its ability to turn music reproduction into an appealing and engaging musical experience proved breathtaking.

Listening to Mozart’s Piano Concerto, N0.9 in E flat Major, K (Sony 82876872302), played and conducted by Murray Perahia, the beautiful second movement, the Andantino, proved stunning through the D1-Dual DAC. It rendered the piano and the orchestra masterfully as it fleshed out layers of details and subtle nuances. The D1-Dual DAC was able to illuminate piano better with an ideal balance between the hammer attack and the decay I had not quite experienced from a digital source and the spaciousness of the orchestra added a new measure of depth to this recording. 

The D1-Dual DAC effect on my system’s spatial performanceis as three-dimensional and spacious as I’ve experienced with digital. The D1-Dual DAC allowed the system to throw a huge space between and behind the Conspiracy loudspeakers making them vanish easily. But the real magic was in the details. The low-level ambience cues that locate and describe a hall’s boundaries and space between performers. With the D1-Dual DAC, the performers, the stage, the ambience, were more distinctly more alive and there. The tiniest of musical nuances were, for the first time, in greater expression. Certain aspects of the orchestra came forward just a tad, which gave my room a greater sense of depth. This added to the impression that I was sitting before a live recording rather than a canned reproduction. Its portrayal of individual instruments was extraordinary, again revealing layers of detail and nuance that I’d not previously heard in my system. 

I must say the cello has to be one of my favorite instruments. The D1-Dual DAC's transparency to the source also paid hefty dividends in the reproduction of proper tonal shadings. Instrumental timbres sounded natural and realistic rather than sounding overlaid and one dimensional. Listening to solo performers like cellist Martin Zellar playing J.S. Bach’s Suite 1 in G for Cello (M073A). This superbly recorded MA disc sounds grand with the added dimensionality the D1-Dual DAC revealed.

The D1-Dual DAC’s digital volume control worked beautifully; it was open, detailed and very transparent. In a digital only source system TotalDAC uses as a preamplifier that works flawlessly and simplifies the system with fewer cables and boxes. On its own, D1-Dual DAC can handle high volume levels effortlessly. But, of course, whether or not one needs a preamplifier depends on their source components and personal preference. I could easily live with The D1-Dual DAC as a standalone preamplifier. 

I don’t have firsthand experience of all other super DACs out there but the Totaldac D1-Dual DAC is the best sounding digital playback I’ve had in my home. It produced a transparent, delicate, and musically involving sound filled with life. Yes, at $12,300, its not inexpensive but for what it offers, it's very reasonable and, better yet, TotalDAC does offer a 10-day-in-home trial period so you can test drive their DACs before you commit to purchase. Most highly recommended!





 

Features:

-192KHz asynchronous Xmos USB, optical, RCA and AES-EBU digital inputs, selected from a remote control.
-44.1KHz, 48KHz, 88.2KHz, 96KHz, 176.4KHz and 192KHz, 16 to 24 bit formats supported on all inputs except 96KHz max for optical input.
-as an option, DSD (DoP standard) supported on the USB, AES-EBU and spdif inputs.
-USB input compatible with Jplay in 24 bit "extreme hibernate" mode.
-embedded custom clock with anti-jitter FIFO memory.
-3.1Vrms max RCA, 6.2Vrms max XLR analog output and 32ohm-600ohm 3.1Vrms max headphone amplifier.
-all unused inputs are completely disconnected (including the ground) to keep the optimum noise floor even when several sources are connected.
-Class A discrete transistor output stage for the d1-dual DAC.
-power consumption 21W.
-DAC dimensions: height 110mm, width 360mm, depth 290mm.
-power supply dimensions: height 65mm, width 122mm, depth 180mm.
-weight: 6.5kg.

Price: $12,300 USA

Website: www.totaldac.com

 

 

 

Comments:

  • jason
    04 September 2014 11:47
    Have you compared the TotalDac to the PS DirectStream?
  • Ronald Wanders
    11 January 2015 09:29
    La voix de son maitre, what a DAC can do with dogs...

    After many many hours of searching, studying, reading, questioning, listening, trying and what not, I stumbled upon a weird looking DAC that had the name Totaldac on it.

    You may recognise this, you want something new, something that will please you for at least the next 10 years. You make a long list, sort it by price to generate a short list. The one you already had in mind obviously falls of. The next day you do it again, and again. As long as the one you actually, really, really want stays on the list. Depending on the weight of your wallet that may take a while. But it will happen.

    Well, that happened to me too. It was like "I want it, but I can't afford it, but I realy want it." You gather all the information about it, all the pictures, all the reviews, everything. You know so much about it, your head explodes.
    And than, all of a sudden you pickup your computer and send him an email. "Him" in this particular case would be Vincent Brient, the owner of the Totaldac company and the (most of the) brains behind it.

    I knew this was going to be the one, every fiber in my system told me, no, was screaming at me, that this was the way to go. Wanna know why? Well, because his approach is totally different. In any aspect. And since my own carreer went the way it went because I refused to think within any box I, all the more could appreciate the way he designed his DAC.
    Without going too deep into the details, the things that convinced me where the following: All those resistors, called the R2R ladder. The (almost good old fashioned) way of converting a digital data word into a voltage. Vincent found a way to harness the difficulties that go with it. Like precision and environmental influences, mostly temperature. If there are more than two other DAC manufacturers on the globe that do the same I will eat my shoes.
    Than his attitude towards jitter reduction, or better, elimination. An amazing simple but smart solution by buffering a couple of milliseconds to give the stream "time to settle" before entering the gates of R2R conversion.
    And last but not least: The NOS part of the deal. In the old days of the Compact Disk Philips and Sony developped DAC chips that used R2R ladders to convert the digital music stream into the actual music. No more, no less. And no, it didn't sound like the old vinyl, because it didn't had hum and rumble and clicks. My first CD player, the Philips CD100 was a revelation. I remember that it came with the Trumpet A Gogo CD by James Last, probably because that was on the Polydor label. Than developments towards improvements saw the light of day. Things like 2x, 4x, 8x and even 16x over sampling, the most inventive analog and digital filters. And yes, we audiophiles wanted all that stuff. And while we heard the difference, whether it was better or worse didn't matter. It was new, so it was better. The fact that we got lost in our own inventions and developments didn't matter, it sounded better, damnit...! It realy did, dit it...?

    Now, thirty years later this dude from France develops a DAC that throws this all away. Like he woke up one day and jelled: NO MORE OF THIS CRAP...! And the result is the Totaldac DAC. And now I have one too. The Totaldac d1-monoblock DAC to be exact. And believe me, it wasn't easy. Let me explain why... I started out with the d1-digital reclocker to shape up my old DAC. Vincent told me that he would be traveling the coming few weeks but that he would start building it as soon as he got back home in France. But those weeks were way too long for me, so I started to read more and more and decided to throw it all away and go for the d1-dual DAC. So the second e-mail was send to Vincent but since he was still on the same trip I got the same message. But I knew I was going to end up with possibly the best DAC on the planet. But after a few days I got restless again and to make a long story short I finally ended up with three boxes called the d1-monoblock.

    Shortly after my final decision three boxes arrived with FedEx. Shure enough it took about 6 minutes to hook it all up and the first notes where playing out of my Mac Mini with Audirvana Plus. And let me tell you, what happened than is realy hard to explain, because it would reveal to much of me as a person. What I can tell you though, is that it is beautiful, almost like unrealistic.
    Let's start with my own experience first. Utter happiness would pretty much describe it. But the kind of happiness that is real. You know, real. Not like in the movies, not like in a book, but real. Every track I played sounded like I had never heard it before. Like it was a complete new song that I might have heard before. So much new sounds to explore, so much "ooohhhs" and "aaahhhs". Just plain beautiful. After an hour or two my wife comes home and guess what...? The first thing she says is: "What has changed, this sounds like real". Obviously I did not tell her anything. I mean, this was solely between me and Vincent... Right...? :-) But than again, this is something no man can hide from anybody, not even his wife. So I had to tell her. Enough about that....

    The next day I play a Benabar song, where after a while he whissles a tune. I play that song about twice a week, since it sits in my regular playlist. But this time something unexpected happened. As soon as this guy starts to blow wind thru his lips our three Malthezers jump up and ran for the frontdoor barking their little lungs out. Hi-la-ri-ous...!

    Now, as I am writing this, my 85 year old father-in-law is sitting in my chair. My listening chair that is. I put him there about two hours ago and I just can't get him out of it anymore. He is an old Dutch Swing Collage Band fan and he is having a blast. No communication whatsoever, the only thing he does is pointing his finger to the different instruments he hears while conducting the entire ensemble.

    To wrap it all up: In my humble opinion Vincent made the best DAC ever. The price range lies between a trip for two to New York, including shopping, all the way up to a middle class, real comfertable car. Once you have that out of the way, what lays ahead of you is nothing less than pure listening pleasure with at least one audiorgasm an hour.

    Ronald H.M. Wanders
    The Netherlands
    Jan 10, 2015
  • Michel
    17 December 2015 12:03
    Well Ronald, happy for you. But this sounds like a shortened version of what I hear as I had the Dual, the monodac and now ended up with the Twelve :-).
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