This is the first part of my review of the TerraTechnos Terra-Berry DAC2 (to give it its full title). Michelangelo made an offer in the Forum to send one on loan for review, and I took it up.
The DAC arrived in a small box containing the main HAT board and a small board which attaches above it, with RCA sockets and two tiny LEDs, and pins for switchiing. (More on the switches later). There were no standoffs or other hardware provided and absolutely no documentation. For information I have had to use what is found on the Volumio Shop page, and online with the help of Google Translate.
The board looks well made and contains a lot of components on both sides. The RCAs are nickel plated. Since everybody and his dog uses gold-plated phonos these days, I would have thought that the maker might have splashed out on a bit of bling. Plus supporting hardware and documentation - particularly in view of the price.
It’s easy to get the board up and running (once you have found some standoffs to attach it to the RPi). It will take its 5V supply from the RPi, but it’s possible to arrange separate supplies if you have the necessary hardware. I will do that later, but for now I’m using a single IFi iPower supply.
I’m using the latest release of Volumio (2.296) , which has a setting for this DAC. You can use the ‘HifiBerry DAC’ setting in earlier versions. Volume option are either ‘Software’ or ‘None’, so I selected Software. It is apparently possible to access the Hardware Volume control on the chip, plus other functions such as different filters and upsampling mode. However this involves communicating with the DAC in code via a serial bus, and it’s beyond my present capabilities.
As supplied, the board automatically upsamples all PCM files to 768 or 705.6kHz, and DSD to 11.2MHz. By implementing the switches it can also convert DSD to PCM, or - more interestingly - PCM to DSD, by way of its AK4137 Sample Rate Converter chip.
I’ll try PCM to DSD later, but for now the DAC is settling in and playing in its as-supplied, plug-and-play mode. In the next instalment I’ll start to give my impressions of the sound.
So, how does it sound? Well, I spent quite a while listening yesterday evening, and the short answer is “very good”. To get the long answer, you should first know that I listen mostly to Classical and Jazz, so its performance with other genres would need to be assessed by someone else.
The frequency range seems well-extended both at top and bottom. (My ears no longer hear very far into the 10-20kHz octave though). The bass is full, warm and goes deep. I wouldn’t say it’s ‘punchy’ though. The treble is clear and well-detailed, perhaps a little strident in the upper range of violins.
Generally I would say this DAC shows up the differences between recordings: A good recording will sound really good, but the problems of harshness with early digital recordings really show up. The presentation is certainly somewhat more detailed than the Piano 2.1, as Michelangelo has already mentioned in another thread.
Stereo separation and location of instruments is really good and stable. When I first listened to this DAC, before I had left it to play for a couple of days, I thought the sound stage lacked depth and instruments and voices had a kind of two-dimensional quality. But listening now this aspect has improved a lot and there’s definitely more flesh and body to the performance. I still think it’s a bit lacking in three-dimensionality though, and perhars slightly lacking in dynamics. I enjoyed listening to it though, and the music really held my attention, which I think says quite a lot.
Overall I would say the Terra-Berry gets close to my Kali/Piano 2.1 Dual-Mono setup, but at the moment the latter is being powered by three separate supplies whereas the T-B is just getting its supply via the RPi. In a day or two, when the requisite bits have arrived in the post, I’ll set up separate supplies for the RPi/T-B combination.
Before that, however, I’ll be reporting on the T-B DAC2 in PCM to DSD conversion mode. This is where things get very interesting…
OK, I’ll wire in an attenuator and listen some more, but I won’t like having no remote control of volume!
My system doesn’t have a lot of spare gain so I was operating the Software Volume towards the top end of its range. I don’t think its presence is very noticeable when used like that.
One of the clever things that this DAC can do by way of its AK4137 SRC chip is to upsample PCM (WAV, FLAC, MP3 etc.) to DSD. To some this is the Holy Grail of digital audio, and it’s done in the PS Audio Directstream DAC which costs $6000! Of course others will say that upsampling can’t create information that wasn’t there to begin with, so there can be no real improvement.
To engage PCM to DSD resampling in the T-B DAC2 it’s necessary to close the switches SW1 and SW2 by placing two jumpers vertically over the pairs of pins near the RCA sockets. I had no jumpers so I went off to my local Jumper Shop and bought a packet of 50 in all colours of the rainbow. This was rather more than I needed, but the cost was just 0.74GBP.
I took the precaution of powering the player down before fitting the jumpers. Playback in DSD mode was a very pleasant surprise. The musicians seemed to have taken a step back and there was more sense of the surrounding acoustic. It was now possible to be more aware of the players sharing the same acoustic space, and hence the rapport and flow between them seemed to have improved. Of course this effect is most noticeable on recordings of acoustic instruments in a natural acoustic space. It’s not subtle though: I’m pretty sure that, with a good recording, I could identify which mode the DAC was playing in, without having to do an A-B comparison.
How this improvement happens I don’t know. Somehow the resampling process seems to be recovering information that was being lost in the PCM decoding process.
Having been sitting on the fence a bit over this DAC I’m beginning to like it a lot. If further improvements come along when I arrange separate supplies for RPi and DAC I might find myself having to write a letter to Santa.
Thank you for your comments. I already asked for mine a few days ago in Volumio’s shop and is traveling from Japan. I’m sure I’ll prefix you with configuring things.
Very interesting what you talk about tridimensionality, but is that kali and piano 2.1, also boss, are world class in that. From what I have read (also in Japanese it is very important to feed from terraberry, as important as is isolator for boss).
I can configure options from serial port. And I want to connect by xlr.
It has been a small disappointment not to be able to use hardware volume, but I am already looking for solutions.
It will be very interesting to try it with audiophonics saber 9028 (with kali) that right now is my dac i2s champion, although it is not a dac for everybody: much detail, very bass, very sharp, it is not a relaxed or musical listener, but a I like it.
Michelangelo, will it be possible in the future to add teraberry dac 2 to Volumio serial configuration options? Or is it impossible? I speak from complete ignorance about this.
Thanks for your comments. I would like to investigate the Advanced Options - is there any beginners guide to this that you know of? I too would like to be able to use hardware volume.
I tried the Audiophonics ES9028 but the sound was so poor that I thought it must be faulty so I sent it back. They said they could find nothing wrong with it, but they gave me a refund with no argument.
I’m about to set up separate supplies for the T-B DAC2 and will report on that soon.
Separate supplies for DAC2 and RPi, with isolated grounds, can be arranged by way of the white 4-pin connector. This connector looks rather inadequate to me for connecting power, but I suppose space on the HAT is limited.
First I removed the jumper next to the white socket. That’s important. Then I wired a 4-pin female plug to a pair of inline power sockets, took good care to get the polarity right, and connected my two iFi iPower 5V supplies to them.
The resulting sound takes the benefits of PCM to DSD conversion a step or two further, and makes the improvement even more apparent. The space between and around the musicians becomes warmer and more enveloping and involving. The bass sounds fuller, and the treble a little smoother. Detail is very good and natural, not at all artificially exaggerated. The performance just sounds more musical.
In conclusion, I would say that if you are prepared to arrange separate power supplies and set up PCM to DSD conversion you will get really excellent sound from the Terra-Berry DAC2. I think its better than my Kali/Piano 2.1, but I need to go back to that now to know how much better it is.
If, however, you are looking for a good-sounding DAC that’s ‘plug and play’ then I think you can probably get better value for money by choosing one of the many cheaper boards around.
On the volumio page volumio.org/product/terrratechn … errydac-2/ you have the options to play with the serial port. I’m not sure how to connect to the serial port. to see if anyone can help us with that. I have looked for help on the net about this, I have several ideas but no sure thing.
I think there are several things that could still improve the reproduction:
a good linear power of low noise.
play music from a microsd (connected to rapsberry pi with a usb adapter).
it is true that a good linear source is not cheap, but what you get with those two things is a system that can compete with other systems of several thousand euros. That is my experience.
I have no doubt. I want both of you hahahaha. there are people who spend the fortunes of cables, amplifiers and preamplifiers for small changes. for relatively little money you have very different sound profiles with changes of dac i2s.
looks like a very good DAC. I also think that key is to feed multiple PSUs
Yes indeed. I’m now torn between buying this or waiting for your ESS DAC to appear!
Ours is a different beast. ess9038 q2m , analog stage made by 6 discreet opamps(2.5w) , master codec, uses latest NDK xtals. DOP is done internally by ess IC. 4 super capacitors on board…10 film capacitors. Hand trimmed for DC offset.
However I have no doubt that Terra Berry is a very good dac. I like the AKM sound personally, but as we all now by know its about implementation not only dac ic…