Associated Equipment:
Digital Front End
Amplification
Loudspeakers
Cabling
 
 

 

The Lindemann USB-DAC 24/192

The Gestalt of listening

 

 October, 2012




The Gestalt concept
I’ve owned more than twenty five automobiles since first acquiring a driver’s license. All of those autos have been German designed and engineered except for one. The main reason why I have been loyal to German automotive technology is simple. I enjoy driving. I also want  that particular vehicle I’m driving to communicate and provide proper feedback, whether it is handling or road surface imperfections. I don’t think of an automobile as a utility that merely gets me from point A to B. I enjoy the journey much more than the destination. The vast majority of German automobiles seem to be made for drivers like me. While there are some nice responsive automobiles engineered from manufacturers of other countries, most are made for utilitarian use. On the surface, all automobiles have basically the same systems which can be further broken down into individual parts, e.g. engine, suspension, cooling system, etc. So then, why does a BMW 3 series drive differently than say, a Toyota Camry? After all, both models have disc brakes, shock absorbers and a steering mechanism for example. The simple answer is the choice of parts and fine-tuning of those parts which results in a different end product for each model and manufacturer. The BMW 3 series and Toyota Camry each have a different gestalt. If you are not familiar with Psychology terms, this is Merriam-Webster’s definition: gestalt (noun): a structure, arrangement, or pattern of physical, biological, or psychological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by summation of its parts. In other words, the whole of anything is greater than the sum of its parts, and that whole cannot be deduced by analyzing each of the parts in isolation. A BMW provides a higher level of gestalt than a Toyota because a BMW gives me greater driving enjoyment than a Toyota. What does this have to do with Lindemann? Substitute driving with the word listening and that describes the Lindemann USB-DAC 24/192; that is, a higher level of gestalt listening.

Lindemann Audiotechnik
According to the company website, Norbert Lindemann (the force behind Lindemann Audiotechnik) has been producing high quality audio components since 1992, marking this year their 20th anniversary. As far as I know, all Lindemann audio products are designed and manufactured in Germany. I voted the Lindemann/One World/Zesto room at the 2011 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest as my favorite sounding room (here). At the Newport Beach, California audio show this past June; Lindemann Audio was again right up there as being one of my favorite sounding rooms. I was able to hear the company’s USB-DAC 24/192 for the first time at Newport Beach and after learning of its retail cost, I decided it was the value added audio product that I normally like to evaluate. Thanks to Jonathan Josephs, proprietor of One World Audio and the US importer of Lindemann products, I was able to obtain a unit quickly.

When I opened the package, I was underwhelmed by the USB-DAC 24/192 in dimension and heft. I didn’t remember the component being so little and light in weight. Compared to the dimensions of a CD case, the USB-DAC is a little shorter in length, about the same width, and approximately four CDs in height. The unit weighs about a pound without the separate power supply. But I also learned long ago, you can’t judge a book by its cover.


Included in the box with the USB-DAC 24/192 is a power supply, a USB cable (approximately 3 feet), instruction manual and a CD containing the driver required if one is using a PC as a source. Also included in the CD are trial versions of Pure Music, Foobar and JRiver media players. Owners of Apple computers do not need to install the driver; and if you already have Pure Music (or installed the trial copy), just connect the supplied USB cable and your music is off and running.

 

 

There are USB, Tos Link/optical, Digital Coax/spdif inputs, and one set of RCA analog output. All inputs are capable of handling up to 24 bits/192 kHz music files. The USB interface is asynchronous using an XMOS 24/192 processor (class 2 USB), capable of 500 Mips, jitter reduction to 50 ps, and is up-sampling. This high speed processor translates into enormous computing power. A Wolfson WM8742 was chosen as the chip of choice for this model. Much of the technology in the USB-DAC was derived from the company’s more expensive 825 model high-definition CD player. There are plenty more feature details and technical specifications for all you techno geeks to drool over at the Lindemann website.

Plug in the power supply and three blue lights on the front panel will illuminate in standby/mute mode; one for each type of input. Press the button to turn on unit and after several seconds the mute is deactivated. The indicator lights change to a different color, depending on the sampling rate. If you have music files with several different sampling rates you can have your own Aurora Borealis light show. That’s groovy, man! Holding the button for at least two seconds turns the unit off, and the input used last is stored in memory and ready for use again the next time.

After I opened the box, I instinctively connected the USB-DAC in my bedroom system for the initial burn-in process. After cooking the unit for a week, I transferred the DAC to my main system for auditioning.

Setup and Listening
As usual, all auditioning were performed in my 18’ ½” x 14’ ½” x 10’ living/listening room. I listened mostly with my modified Jolida 302 integrated tube amplifier, bi-wired to a pair of AAD 2001 stand-mounted loudspeakers. An OPPO DV-981HD served as a transport, which was connected coaxially to a heavily modified ART DI/O DAC for digital source comparison. I also used a Sony Vaio laptop loaded with WAV files, as well as some hi rez 24/88 and 24/96 music files to audition the USB input of the Lindemann. Audio Sensibility cables were used throughout the system (see review here), with the exception of a Triode Wire Lab 8+ power cord (see review here). I also did some listening with a Music Reference RM-10 tube power amplifier and a Rogue 99 tube preamplifier (full review forthcoming).

A note concerning the unit’s output level, which is set at 1.4 volts compared to the typical 2.0 volts used by most other manufacturers. For direct comparison with my heavily modified ART DI/O, I had to increase gain of the Lindemann by at least 6 dB to establish relative equal volumes. According to the Lindemann website the lower output level is to minimize noise, “As a result of the silicon-germanium technology used for the wafer, the module’s supply voltage is limited to +/- 5 V. The result of this is an optimal output voltage of 1.4 Vrms for 0 dBFS. Consequently, the USB-DAC 24/192 is quieter than competitors using standard operational amplifiers…however; this does not mean that the USB-DAC has less definition to offer! In fact, the output voltage from the DAC module is amplified less – and therefore any potential static noises.”

I began the audition comparing the Lindemann and my heavily modified ART DI/O. My modified DI/O produces a warmer and fuller sound (but still detailed) than most other DACs I’ve auditioned in my system. I believe the replacement Panasonic capacitors contribute mightily to the warmth and fullness. These are the same capacitors chosen in some Nelson Pass amplifiers.

Dave Brubeck’s jazz classic Time Out [Columbia] is now more than fifty years old, and the music is still amazing. The version I have is digitally remastered from the original analog tapes on the Columbia Jazz Series. On the quintessential track “Take Five” the overall musical presentation with both DACs was similar and very good. Both DACs exhibited a smooth, natural and analog sound. On “Take Five” the USB-DAC 24/192 was more dynamic, especially during the drum solo when the snare and bass drums were struck with intensity. The Lindemann also produced slightly better pace, rhythm and timing (PRaT) than the ART. I wasn’t listening for this specifically but I did take notice because it was evident in my consciousness. This is an example of the gestalt theory at work.

I next played the well recorded New Coat of Paint [Manifesto Records], a collection of Tom Waits cover songs. For fans of Mr. Waits who don’t have this album yet, I recommend it for some interesting interpretations. On the tracks “Please Call Me, Baby” sung by Sally Norvell, and “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” sung by Neko Case, both vocalists were eerily present in my room with both DACs. The tones of the piano and organ were equally harmonically rich and real sounding on the respective tracks with both DACs. But the Lindemann revealed slightly more detail than the ART. Sally taking a breath inward before each verse was more pronounced for example. The recording acoustic environment of the two tracks was also easier to determine from the Lindermann, seemingly against a quieter background. Again, dynamics was greater with the Lindemann on this album, as it was on the Brubeck album.

I grew up enjoying Dusty Springfield’s music immensely, and was saddened when she passed. But now the spirit of Dusty Springfield lives on in Jessie Baylin! Jessie’s latest offering, Little Spark [Blonde Rat Records] embodies Dusty’s phrasing, melodic and cord structure, and expressive feeling in many of the tracks. Still in her late twenties, Jessie’s peripatetic nature has taken her from her native New Jersey to Los Angeles, then to Nashville, Tennessee where she has settled with her husband Nathan Followill, drummer of the band Kings of Leon. Jessie is backed on the recording by some legendary session players, like guitarist Waddy Wachtel and drummer Jim Keltner, with background vocals by the sublime Watson twins. With a few exceptions, this is not a good sounding recording, but the music is glorious. This is surprising since the renowned Bob Ludwig did the mastering; perhaps he couldn’t fix what was done poorly prior in the recording chain. One of those exceptions, the track “Yuma” sounded wonderfully open on both DACs. I concentrated on the vocals but I consciously noticed that the delineation and separation of the background instruments were better with the Lindemann USB-DAC, producing a more enjoyable listening experience. A higher level of listening gestalt than the ART DAC it seems.

Which female vocalist do you envision when you want to hear a sexy, throaty and smoky voice? For me, it’s Cassandra Wilson. On the track “If Loving You Is Wrong” on Glamoured [Blue Note] Cassandra pours out an emotional purity that makes me transfixed on every word with the Lindemann USB-DAC. Compared to my modified ART DIO Cassandra’s vocals were a bit smoother and more natural, while I was able to hear the recording environment better.

To audition the Lindemenn’s USB input with my Sony Vaio laptop as source, I downloaded the driver and JRiver trial music player. After switching to the Lindemann driver on my PC, I was ready to listen to some higher resolution files, but no…not yet. My audio system is between seven and eight feet from my listening chair. The supplied USB cable (approximately 3 feet) was too short to connect the Lindemann to the laptop sitting on my (ahem) lap. Luckily I had a 6 feet USB cable on hand which was just long enough after I moved the Lindemann USB-DAC from the audio rack to the floor. Okay, that’s more like it. Most of the music stored on my laptop are 16/44 WAV files but I do have a few dozen 24/88 and 24/96 music files downloaded from Linn Records and Blue Coast Records.

Keith Greeninger & Dayan Kai performs an excellent cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” [Blue Coast Records]. I have both the redbook CD and 24/96 file versions. While the sound quality of the CD is very good, the 24/96 version is more analog sounding with greater vocal presence and instrumental timbres are more lifelike through the Lindemann’s USB input. I heard similar improvements in presence and timbre with the track “Facing Home” on Maeve O’Boyle’s All My Sins [Linn Records] with the higher resolution file.

Just for fun, using JRiver I listened to a couple of songs on YouTube by the Swell Season recorded on NPR. With the Lindemann, the music sounds like a very good quality radio broadcast with the added benefit of visuals. The neat thing about using YouTube through the JRiver media player is being able to see the bite rate changing throughout a song. For example, on “Low Rising” the bit rate fluctuated between low 300 kbps to over 1,000 kbps! This demonstrates the sound is at least high level MP3 quality and at times closed to Redbook CD quality.

The Lindemann USB-DAC is neutral but not analytical. This DAC appeals to the emotional side of me, not the cerebral side. Don’t get me wrong, I think the DAC would make a great recording tool where the engineer would be able to utilize the strengths of the USB-DAC fully. But when the job is done, the engineer can take the DAC home and plug it into his/her audio system and pop a cold beer or pour a nice glass of wine, kick off the shoes and enjoy emotionally whichever music he/she is playing.

What makes the Lindemann USB-DAC 24/192 so natural, smooth, transparent, dynamic and analog sounding? Could it be German fairy dust collected from the Black Forest and sprinkled all over the inner components? Or, it could be just good Teutonic engineering? I don’t know but this DAC reminds me of a good non-over sampling (NOS) DAC, but with much better detail retrieval and transparency.

If anyone is in the market for a new external DAC, which can play both CDs and computer music files equally well, and is willing to spend much more on one, I suggest auditioning the Lindemann USB-DAC 24/192 and comparing it to other brands one might be interested. You may like the Lindemann over one which cost considerably more. You can thank me later for saving you a lot of dough.

At such an attractive price I recommend the Lindeman USB-DAC 24/192 for serious audition. Until next time, I wish you happy Listening.





Specifications
Digital
Digital inputs USB-B/TOSLINK/COAX
Supported sample-rates TOS/COAX 32/44.1/48/88.2/96/176.4/192 kHz
Supported sample-rates USB 44.1/48/88.2/96/176.4/192 kHz
Resolution 16 or 24 bit
Analog
Output voltage 1.4 V @ 0 dBFS
Output impedance 100 Ω
S/N (A-weighted) -108 dB
THD (0 dBFS) <0.02 %
THD (-10 dBFS) <0.001 %
Dynamic range 120 dB
Frequency response 1Hz-22kHz (-3dB)
Dimensions 120 x 45 x 133mm (W x H x D)
Weight 395 grams
Power consumption 5 volts/500 mA maximum

Price: $1,100

Addresses:
Lindemann audiotechnik GmbH
Felix-Wankel-Straße 4
Gewerbegebiet KIM
D-82152 Krailling, Germany
Phone: +49 (0) 89-891 36 79-0
Fax: +49 (0) 89-891 36 79-29
E-Mail: info@lindemann-audio.de

One World Audio/USA Importer
Jonathan Josephs
2302 Dolphin Drive
Richmond, CA 94804
USA
Phone: 1-415-244-8663
E-Mail: info@oneworldaudiousa.com 

Website: www.Oneworldaudio.com