LSA Discovery DPH-1 DAC/Headphone preamp by Greg Voth
The pandemic provided ample time to clean up and add to my digital library since in-person record shopping was necessarily curtailed. I took time to (fully) organize and flesh out ID3 tags and recording data for my ever-expanding digital media and organized hundreds of my vinyl rips made over the years. My “housekeeping” effort will make it easier for me or family members to select tunes… After all, you can’t take it with you, so you might as well make it easy for yourself and others to enjoy. Plus, anything that keeps me inside, avoiding the nastiness that can befall one outside during this challenging time, is a plus.
My wife has wanted me to delve more into my vinyl, expressing dissatisfaction with this ongoing digital effort. I see her point, given that what I appear to do at the computer is just type, type, and type. Some more analog pursuits are more tangible and take the actual physical movement to achieve, which is, understandably, her real point.
I review what stumbles through our door, sometimes initiated in conversation with a rep for a product line, owner of a line at a show, and, most often, with a call from Clement: “Are you gonna be home? I want to drop this thing by. See you in a few.” Those unexpected drop-offs offer the wildest opportunities, “You never know exactly what you’re gonna get,”… as do random calls with a good buddy who has his hands in an ever-expanding range of audio projects.
My friend, Mark Schifter, is quite an audio talent. As long as I’ve known him, he’s had a hand in producing exciting components. His Core Power Technologies effort and association with Walter Liederman, aka Underwood Wally at UnderwoodHiFi.com, has provided Mark the time and ability to widen his creative interests in the audio field. After Mark spoke of the breadth of audio projects with which he’s been engaged in recent months, he offered to ship various new components my way.
The Discovery LSA DPH-1 Digital preamp/DAC/Headphone Amplifier
The digital side of things was first to appear at our door days after our most recent conversation. The Discovery LSA DPH-1 Digital preamp/DAC/Headphone amplifier, part of the Living Sounds Audio’s (LSA) lower-priced lineup, sells direct-to-consumer for $999 ($799 intro-priced at the time of this review) and presents itself as a quite nicely-styled and well-implemented preamplifier/headphone amplifier solution for digital sources.
The LSA DPH-1 is styled in the same flat black and brushed aluminum vein as the Core Power Technologies AV balanced power conditioner line. Immediately familiar to this reviewer, who has experienced several Liederman and Schifter’s products, the DPH-1 was friendly to the touch as I went about setting it up. Initially, I chose to couple it with one of Mark’s past products for Emerald Physics, the EP 100.2 SE Class-D power amplifier, powering my Tekton Double Impact floorstanders.
The Discovery LSA DPH-1 Digital Preamp/DAC/Headphone amp is a remote-controlled preamp and 24 bit/192k DSD DAC with onboard quality headphone amplifier. This preamp provides four digital inputs (one coaxial, one optical, one USB, and BNC input). It implements a tube buffer (General Electric GE5670 NOS tube), offering a choice between solid-state and tube analog stereo outputs and a sampling frequency of 32kHz – 44.1kHz – 48kHz – 88.2kHz – 96kHz – 192kHz with DSD 64/128 resolutions of 16, 20, and 24-Bit input. The unit measures 14″ w x 10″ d x 4″ h and weighs in at 14 lbs, unpacked.
I first set up my MacBook Pro laptop as a USB-tethered source, stuffed with many of my newly-organized digital files. I was pleased to find that, with music play, the DPH-1 driver was recognized by Amarra HiFi once I spun the source dial to the USB position on the component’s front panel. I played the LSA DPH-1 Digital Preamp/DAC/Headphone amp a great deal over the next two weeks to break it in.
During that time, I did a lot of listening as the DPH-1 broke in, and I found it both dependable and fun. With USB play from the laptop, its DAC section proved quite formidable with higher resolution file play, offering quite surprisingly competitive sound compared to the internal DAC of the Stellar Gain Cell DAC, a unit over double the DPH’s intro price of $799.00.
My CD player resides in my (mostly) vintage rig downstairs and returns upstairs on occasion when needed to review equipment that requires its presence. Upstairs and down, things are a mix of analog and digital sources, from turntables, iMacs, and DACs, Class AB and Class D amps, a tube integrated, a tube preamp, and assorted power conditioners, and the like. Bringing the player upstairs for use as a transport, with the LSA DPH-1 acting as a preamp, CD play sounded very nice.
Shhh, My Wife’s Asleep
My wife’s tv production ended its filming. As such, she spent some of her free time napping and healing, so headphone listening with the DPH-1 fit the bill. I plugged in a pair of Sennheiser HD-650 headphones (with Cardas cable) and expected that move to toggle off the amplifier output to the speakers. No dice, so I switched off the power amplifier and turned up the volume – a better option for me since I’ve previously forgotten to turn down a preamp’s volume before switching an amplifier back on before. In the process, the remote increased the volume too loud! Yep, better to turn off the Amp.
The Sennheiser’s responded with a warm and musical result through the DPH-1. The output handled the HD-650’s higher impedance very well, with ample room to raise the volume should it be necessary. The DPH-1’s headphone section outputs 500mW per channel into 32 Ohms (250mW into 300 Ohms and 100mW into 300 Ohms), so the HD-650’s nominal impedance of 300 Ohms, considered higher impedance (25 Ohms and over, approximately) demand more power to deliver high audio levels. My B&W P2’s, which get abused multiple times a day, at 22 Ohms, are considered low impedance, demanding less power (perfect for smartphones and notebooks).
A play of Metamorfoz (Live) from “Canli (Live)” by Oğuz Büyükberber Quintet (Ada Muzik 2002) through the B&W P2’s was revealing– indicating this headphone amplifier is exceptionally well-made and great sounding. The bass was ample and taught, transients lively, delivering a vibrant soundstage for the playful interplay. I was surprised with the transients’ speed and even did a double-take when hearing a wallop with a punch I wasn’t prepared for. The LSA DPH-1 was not bashful as it delivered this quirky, fun live recording; it flat out brought the funk!
Chaos from John Mounder’s 2006 “Trinity” release (Origin Records) was airy, relaxed, and subtle, filled with nuance. The deep and wide stage was awash with delicate percussion and atmospheric fills, as the sax wailed. On Creation, the guitar’s body was solid, grounded, and woody as the other instruments ebbed and flowed around it. The air held weight and life, the bass was solid, and the drums danced playfully and with purpose. The DSP-1 provided a lot of fun through the B&W P2’s.
Anthony Wilson’s Songs and Photographs (2018) is a nice mix of jazz-influenced contemporary instrumental and vocal offerings. I’ve always appreciated Wilson’s guitar work, and his vocals, while not “perfect,” are very grounded and honest and one of the things I love about this project. Through the Sennheiser HD-650’s, the DPH-1, with its solid-state output selected, provided competent power and appeared to hold plenty in reserve for transients and bass slam. The sound was airy, non-fatiguing, and very pleasant. The bass was very well rounded, dimensional, and well-integrated with the other instrumentation.
Carla Bley, Steve Swallow, and Andy Sheppard’s “Life Goes On” (ECM 2019) is a release that I’ve gifted. Through the HD-650’s, it’s an unhurried and thoughtful outing, with excellent musicianship emanating from every note played… and gorgeous through these headphones. Land anywhere in this recording, and you’ll find this presentation to be well-balanced and intimate with each instrument quite full-bodied, as each member of this trio of great performers gives the others ample room to stretch out and contribute meaningful lines, unhurried and unencumbered.
Holly Cole’s Jersey Girl, from “Temptation” (Metro Blue 1995) flowed in with a purpose, excellent stage and imaging, and immersive vocals. Bass was solid, punchy transients and focused imaging through the P2’s. Tracks from someone I often hear at shows but don’t play much on my own, Diana Krall, is a well-known commodity. Her latest release, “This Dream Of You” (Capital Studios 2020), is undeniably seductive, with a gloriously full, closely miked vocal, accompanied by expert musicianship and supported by the wonderfully thoughtful strong accompaniment. It’s robust, it’s lush, and it suits the mood when that mood hits. The piano had excellent tone, depth, dimensionality, and acute attacks with a nice punch.
The Matterapat, from Dr. Lonnie Smith’s “Rise Up” (Palmetto Records 2009), at the right volume, is pretty damn infectious. The sax is raspy, the guitar plucky, and Smith’s organ glides ever so funky through the band’s bouncy rhythmic. Smith’s accompanying vocal groans and gleeful retorts are clear for the ear to hear. This track is infectious. “Come Together” adds to the fun, with a growly-deep vocal that lands with a Zappa-esque intent—a punchy-good track.
Tube Be or Not, Well, You Know – Using the DPH-1 as a Preamp
To listen optically, I unfurled a 50-foot length of Toslink cable, ran it over, down, and up to the DPH-1’s optical input, and connected the other end to my 2015 i7 iMac’s combination analog/optical headphone jack. Ah, the ease of Toslink.
For kicks, I swopped the EP 100.2SE out for my SBS Designs S2 Pro AB amplifier and, faced with the choice of tube or solid-state output, chose the solid-state option. This choice of solid-state or tube is a smart option that will appeal to quite a few folks. I connected optically to the DPH-1 from my iMac and, using the Apple Remote app on my iPad for track selection in iTunes with Amarra Hi-Fi, I chose “Prayer In Passing” from Anushka Shankar’s” Rise” (Angel Records 2005) as a starting point for this effort.
The tube output stage of the DPH-1 sets the stage for a glorious Eastern trip. As talented as her famous father, Ravi, and her half-sister Norah Jones, Anushka’s command of her instrument, the sitar is immediately evident. There’s a noticeable tube-e-ness from this side of the DPH-1’s choice of outputs, as the first track offered a calm intro to the music to come from this project… as track 2 begins, you know you’re on a great ride!
The stage depth appeared enhanced with a slight warmth as the tightly rendered transient attacks of mouth-drumming, know as Konnakol or Konnakol (also spelled Konokol, Konakkol) in South Indian Carnatic music, invaded the space, which brought tremendous excitement to the track.
In Solea,” percussion was deep as it shimmered around and within the speakers and reached pretty far back on the stage. Imaging was taught, and instruments yielded great tone and texture in a field of delicate finger taps, slaps, deep drum thwacks, and rhythmic string plucks.
On “Sinister Grains,” the wandering percussion, driving bass accents, rhythmic vocal accents existed between a lightness of air and the solidity and depth of the sound floor. The DPH- conveyed a depth of the stage and surrounded these ears with interesting, ever-changing sounds. This affordable little preamp/headphone DAC conveyed rhythmic intensity well, with both fun and flair.
The Anne Mette Iversen Quartet’s “Milo Songs” (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records 2011), comprised of tunes of melodic simplicity and rhythmic diversity, often within the same composition a challenging treat for the ears. As melody lines swung and wound up from the sax and piano, the rhythm section drove complex rhythms and etched the air with great swaths of color. Terrific stuff. The DPH-1 did an admirable job of capturing this diverse and ever-changing transient palette of “The Storm” and into the next track, “Drums, Dreams.”
The Stefan Aeby’s Trio’s “are you…?” (Unit Records 2010), through the DPH-1’s tube output, sounded relaxed and contemplative, with excellent piano tone and cymbal play. The upright bass was quite descriptive, and woody and the trio sounded terrific on that dimensional soundstage. Transients, through the HD-650’s, entered with a touch of softness, roundness as they hung, ever so nicely, in the air.
Mark told me that the DPH-1 is “Built to a price – but loaded up with cool stuff…” To further quote my friend, “I welcome the opportunity to offer a few tidbits. Most importantly – we designed this product to be a High-Performance DAC that allows the end-user to have TWO DAC’s. With both Solid State and Tube Outputs, the End user can produce the “sound” or better termed… “sonic signature” in CONJUNCTION with the gear he or she has. I LOVE THAT.
Yasuo Nakanishi (The ORIGINAL OG in the audio industry), i.e., Mark Levinson, Cello, Krell, Krell Digital, on and on – taught me repeatedly in Japan when I visited him that “system synergy” is the key to musical enjoyment of one’s system. This modest but deceptively simple high-performance product allows one to find his or her’s magic in their system.”
Mark continued: “I can promise that the DPH-1 is, in fact, a marvelous Preamp that also has a Headphone Amp that won’t let anyone down. In fact – It’s GREAT! We wanted a DAC that’s also a Control Center at its heart.
The good thing about working for Walter Liederman is he [always asks] me if 20 dollars more can get us five times that in performance. This product is a prime example of that thinking. We could have made it at a lower cost – but the return on the parts investment we made proves that Wally will let it find its happy place – even at the expense of the bottom line. I’m grateful for that. He makes my job easier.”
I asked Mark if there was to be a companion power amplifier to the DPH-1. He responded in the affirmative, confirming that” The new companion product [would be] the 150 watts per channel Warp 1 [power amplifier]. He added that “the new Amp will prove this out once again. Our Lead Engineer on this product – Dr. Viet Nguyen – asked several times for modifications to the “cost basis,” and each time, he was given an enthusiastic “go for it.” I can promise your readers a new under 1K Super Amp will emerge shortly.”
The Discovery LSA DPH-1 Digital preamp/DAC/Headphone amplifier is an elegant unit. It was mad fun to listen to as a headphone amplifier and use it as a digital preamp with my amps and speakers. Its DAC section sounds fantastic for the DPH-1’s price – and this is coming from a guy who owns and uses a PS Audio Stellar Gain Cell DAC daily as his main go-to preamplifier with DAC.
I found the DPH-1’s build dependable, feature set thoughtful, the unit hospitable to my digital sources, and its output quite musically satisfying. If you have a digital-only rig, you’d be silly not to give the DPH-1 an audition. I dug the Discovery LSA DPH-1 in my two-speaker world!
Follow-up: June 4, 2022
Living with the LSA DPH-1 Preamp-DAC-Headphone over the past months has brought me to add a bit to my original review. My brother-in-law asked if it could feed both a power amplifier and subwoofer with its two pairs of audio outputs (one for tube and the other for solid-state). I contacted Underwood HiFi and found that a user can connect each pair of RCA outputs to a power amplifier and a subwoofer. They advised that the tube output pair should go to the amplifier, and the solid state output pair should connect with the subwoofer.
While one of the DPH-1 features is a digital preamplifier, the unit can also be used as a stand-alone DAC. Once inserted, the user needs only select the source on the front panel and adjust the DPH-1’s volume control. Due to the ongoing supply chain crisis, the LSA DPH-1, at this moment, can’t be produced due to the unavailability of its DAC chip. The remainder of the LSA DPH-1 units in stock are all that are currently available. I like the DPH-1’s multi-functionality. I often use the DPH-1 as a preamp-DAC-headphone unit with a power amplifier in a digital-only rig. Should users want to add analog to their system, they can add their preamplifier of choice to the mix and still find excellent use with the DPH-1 serving as a DAC and headphone amplifier. The LSA DPH-1 is an affordable Swiss Army knife for audio.
Discovery LSA DPH-1 Digital Preamp/DAC/headphone amplifier
Tube: GE5670 tube
Digital Audio Inputs: (1) coaxial, (1) optical, (1) USB and (1) BNC input.
Stereo Audio Outputs: 2 analog stereo outs via RCA (Solid State & Tube)
Headphone Amplifier Output Power:
500mW X 2 (32 Ohm)
250mW X 2 (300 Ohm)
100mW X 2 (600 Ohm)
Sampling Frequency: 32kHz – 44.1kHz – 48kHz – 88.2kHz – 96kHz -192kHz
Resolution:16, 20 and 24 bit input
Input Impedance: 75 ohms
Line Output Impedance: 600-Ohm Output
Frequency Response: 20Hz-30KHz
Signal-To-Noise Ratio: Normal Output: 110dB; Tube Output: 90dB
Total Harmonic Distortion: Solid State Output: 0.001%. Tube .1%
Weight: 14 pounds / 18 pounds packed
Size: 14″w x 10″d x 4″h Ship size: is 18″w x 12″d x 7″h
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