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Lavry DA11 vs NuForce DAC9. Which is the better sub $2000 DAC?

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Posted on June 25, 2012 at 17:33:49
John C. - Aussie
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Posts: 4724
Location: Northern Tasmania
Joined: November 9, 1999
Contributor
  Since:
May 5, 2000

I’ve lived with the NuForce for nearly a year now and have not lost any enthusiasm to use it for listening to beautiful music. It handles all different signals with a deftness and delicacy yielding delightful results.

But being the nutter I am I wonder about alternatives – could they be any better?

Well the excuse arose to find out because I wished to set up another system with a DAC. There was a choice – buy another NuForce DAC9, a unit with a proven heritage for me, or try something different? I pored through the offerings in the under $2,000 range and they were many, but it ultimately boiled down to the choice between a used NuForce DAC9 or take a punt on a Lavry DA11. There seemed uniform enthusiasm for the Lavry from owners so it could not all be “new toy placebo”.

Well I ended up buying the Lavry from Pro Audio Toys (great service BTW) and it arrived the other day so I set up a test bed. The source was balanced digital feed from a Meridian MS600 relaying FLAC files as part of the Sooloos server system. This was fed into a passive Canford splitter so two lines were taken to the DACs and fed in via XLR. Each DAC had a Sennheiser HD800 connected using standard cords (yes I have two, remember I am a nutter). The Sooloos system was set to randomly select tracks, output levels were matched and the listening began.

The first music listened to on the Lavry was harpsichord playing. Wow, it WAS impressive. Had I finally found audio Nirvana? But then, listening to the other headphones via the NuForce and it was equally impressive! The A/B comparisons went on listening to piano, choral, orchestral, cello, harp, …. trying to detect a difference. Maybe a little more nuance here, no, same with the other, and so on it went. At times I was unsure which output I was listening to. But it really did not matter as each DAC was processing the signals to yield beautiful analog sound.

So, they are both equally brilliant at audio reproduction, but there are other differences which could influence the choice.

1. Finish. The NuForce has a much nicer appearance and looks like a quality product. The Lavry is plain and its appearance is nothing to get excited about. This is an obvious area where money has been saved

2. Price. Because of the above point the Lavry is many hundreds of dollars less so has the advantage here [unless you manage to locate a used DAC 9 - they come up from time to time around the $1000 mark].

3. Size. Neither are large and similar in width (NuForce 8.5”, Lavry just under 8”) but the NuForce is much deeper at around 15” than the Lavry at 10”. Both are easy to accommodate.

4. Functionality. The pendulum swings back to the NuForce again here. It has a touch screen to change the input, something also possible using a remote. The Lavry, reflecting its more engineering background, has an array of relatively clunky switches to set things up. The NuForce has an irritatingly small knob to control the volume but it is better to use than the Lavry switch although both can be volume controlled by a remote – supplied with the NuForce but separately (but inexpensively) purchased for the Lavry. The NuForce has separate balanced and unbalanced analog out where the Lavry has only balanced which can be converted to unbalanced with supplied connectors.
The Lavry has one feature which some might deem to be a gimmick – it will change the channel separation with what it terms “Playback Image”. Toggle switches for each channels will blend in signals to reduce the L/R affect which is often very prominent with headphone listening. This appears to operate transparently with no artefacts obvious. I would doubt this function would have use in many amp/speaker situations as room acoustics causes enough channel blending in most rooms.

So there you have it. Two DACs equally impressive at digital to analog conversion for headphone listening. And I would guess differences would be equally impossible to detect in an amplifier/speaker setup. The Lavry is less expensive, has a bonus of altering channel separation, but is very plain Jane in appearance, has only volume remotely controlled and is generally less ergonomic to use. The relative importance of each of these factors will differ from one person to another. And note that all the above refers to input via XLR balanced. I do not use USB input and the results here would be strongly influenced by the quality of sound card used in a PC. With DACs like these and headphones like the Sennheiser HD800s, the old “Garbage in – Garbage out” comes into play full force. Each DAC has come through with flying colours.

So the bottom line for me is to decide which of the two I will retain for the main system post listening. The appearance factor is not important to me so my present plan is to use the Lavry DA11 as the “Playback Image” function might be used sometimes, although the more noticeable channel separation in headphone listening does not usually bother me.

John


Enjoying 12,000 mostly classical CDs via Sennheiser HD800 headphones & M2TECH Vaughan DAC -> HeadRoom BlockHead headphone amplifier fed from a Meridian (Sooloos) server system.
The main 7.1 MC electrostatic speaker system is for A/V at night.

 

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The Mytek Stereo192-DSD is excellent. nt, posted on June 26, 2012 at 12:34:02
Tony Lauck
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Location: Vermont
Joined: November 12, 2007
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February 24, 2009

Tony Lauck

"Diversity is the law of nature; no two entities in this universe are uniform." - P.R. Sarkar

 

Since you also have a Benchmark Dac1, it would be interesting to hear your comments on that v. the others, posted on June 28, 2012 at 19:25:43
Ned
Audiophile

Posts: 564
Location: Manhattan (NYC)
Joined: July 23, 2001
I know your Benchmark has been modified, but it's also one of the older models. Still, since you have three quality dacs and have just compared two in your post, is it possible for you now to add the Benchmark into the comparison mix?

 

I'll see what can be done, posted on June 28, 2012 at 20:47:14
John C. - Aussie
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Posts: 4724
Location: Northern Tasmania
Joined: November 9, 1999
Contributor
  Since:
May 5, 2000
I previously determined the NuForce DAC 9 was better than the modded DAC 1 (something I was not prepared to believe) but maybe this should be revisited. I have invited a fellow audiophile to see what he thinks about these DACs so if anything significant results from that I'll post it up.

There is a bewildering array of choices in DACs although some are difficult to follow up by Googling. A couple of Chinese units kindled my interest until I read up a review - one must tread carefully and not get too sucked in by the advertising hype, often sprinkled cleverly with techno jargon that is ultimately useless and misleading.

John
Enjoying 12,000 mostly classical CDs via Sennheiser HD800 headphones & M2TECH Vaughan DAC -> HeadRoom BlockHead headphone amplifier fed from a Meridian (Sooloos) server system.
The main 7.1 MC electrostatic speaker system is for A/V at night.

 

RE: I'll see what can be done, posted on June 29, 2012 at 08:55:23
Ned
Audiophile

Posts: 564
Location: Manhattan (NYC)
Joined: July 23, 2001
Many thanks.

 

RE: I'll see what can be done, posted on July 1, 2012 at 15:37:35
Jack D II
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Posts: 1091
Location: Naples,FL
Joined: June 17, 2009
Contributor
  Since:
March 25, 2012
I've been using a DA10 for about 4 years now sitting right under a Nottingham 294 with Dyna 17D3 and couldnt be happier with it. Set and forget. I'm still surprised how full the cd sound is with this unit and dont plan to change. However, I wish it had provision for SACD.

 

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