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Old 05-14-2012, 02:42 AM
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Default C50 USB Performance

We've spilled a lot of ink...err...bits complaining about the long awaited C50 USB firmware. But now that it's here, how does it sound? Let's post our impressions in this thread as we come to grips with the C50's true capabilities now that McIntosh has finally brought it up to advertised spec.

I spent some time tonight listening to mine, driven by my MacBook Air running Snow Leopard and Audirvana. The music was Sigurd Islandsmoen's REQUIEM for soloists, choir and orchestra from 2L records at 24bit/96kHz. For starters, I compared these tracks playing on my MacBook through the C50's USB interface to my Squeezebox Touch via both optical and coax interfaces. My initial impression is that the C50's USB implementation is really quite good. Individual voices are easily distinguished amongst massed vocals, where the Squeezebox via coax can seem congested. The differences are subtle, but there's no doubt that the USB interface sounded smoother and cleaner overall.

Over the next few days, I'll compare the C50 to my Ayre QB-9, Wyred DAC2 and Wavelength DACs. Based on my listening session tonight, I have a feeling that the C50 is going to acquit itself very well indeed.

Last edited by unitycoupled; 05-14-2012 at 03:13 AM.
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Old 05-14-2012, 12:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by unitycoupled
We've spilled a lot of ink...err...bits complaining about the long awaited C50 USB firmware. But now that it's here, how does it sound? Let's post our impressions in this thread as we come to grips with the C50's true capabilities now that McIntosh has finally brought it up to advertised spec.

I spent some time tonight listening to mine, driven by my MacBook Air running Snow Leopard and Audirvana. The music was Sigurd Islandsmoen's REQUIEM for soloists, choir and orchestra from 2L records at 24bit/96kHz. For starters, I compared these tracks playing on my MacBook through the C50's USB interface to my Squeezebox Touch via both optical and coax interfaces. My initial impression is that the C50's USB implementation is really quite good. Individual voices are easily distinguished amongst massed vocals, where the Squeezebox via coax can seem congested. The differences are subtle, but there's no doubt that the USB interface sounded smoother and cleaner overall.

Over the next few days, I'll compare the C50 to my Ayre QB-9, Wyred DAC2 and Wavelength DACs. Based on my listening session tonight, I have a feeling that the C50 is going to acquit itself very well indeed.
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Old 05-14-2012, 04:11 PM
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Who did your upgrade? I tried to do mine and "bricked" my unit. It's now at McIntosh for service.
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Old 05-14-2012, 04:23 PM
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I did it myself using the files that Ivan posted some weeks ago. My unit "bricked" as well the first time I tried it. I ran the procedure again and it worked. One thing I observed was that Windows seems to take an awfully long time to push the new driver to the C50. It takes so long that, if you're used to the performance and responsiveness of OSX on the Macintosh, you'd think the process simply failed. There's no progress indicator to show that the process is still ongoing.

I'm an ex-Microsoft guy with a soft spot for my old company, but whenever I have to use Windows these days, the fact that the share price of MSFT has stagnated for over a decade is not at all surprising.

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Who did your upgrade? I tried to do mine and "bricked" my unit. It's now at McIntosh for service.
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Old 05-14-2012, 04:46 PM
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Windows could not mount the USB device. It shows "unrecognized USB device" Code 43. Since I could get Windows to see it, the McIntoh update software could not load. I tried everything including opening the bottom and Reset the button.
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Old 05-14-2012, 08:39 PM
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I feel for you guys, fingers crossed your upgrades work well. I feel your frustration.

Best,

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Old 05-15-2012, 10:28 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by unitycoupled View Post
We've spilled a lot of ink...err...bits complaining about the long awaited C50 USB firmware. But now that it's here, how does it sound? Let's post our impressions in this thread as we come to grips with the C50's true capabilities now that McIntosh has finally brought it up to advertised spec.

I spent some time tonight listening to mine, driven by my MacBook Air running Snow Leopard and Audirvana. The music was Sigurd Islandsmoen's REQUIEM for soloists, choir and orchestra from 2L records at 24bit/96kHz. For starters, I compared these tracks playing on my MacBook through the C50's USB interface to my Squeezebox Touch via both optical and coax interfaces. My initial impression is that the C50's USB implementation is really quite good. Individual voices are easily distinguished amongst massed vocals, where the Squeezebox via coax can seem congested. The differences are subtle, but there's no doubt that the USB interface sounded smoother and cleaner overall.

Over the next few days, I'll compare the C50 to my Ayre QB-9, Wyred DAC2 and Wavelength DACs. Based on my listening session tonight, I have a feeling that the C50 is going to acquit itself very well indeed.
I am very glad you were able to upgrade and that you are pleased with the result. It's an encouragement to me. I know that the upgrade for the MCD1100 will be on the way. I think computer audio is the wave of the future, I really do. I use Carbonite for my backup. Can't damage or lose a CD or SACD and sounds great. All that will be needed is material to download which is still quite limited.
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Old 05-17-2012, 07:05 PM
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Default C50 vs Wavelength Brick v3 + Mortar

For my first comparison, I chose the Wavelength Brick v3 with the Mortar power supply. The Brick is an async USB DAC with a single 12AU7 in a cathode follower output circuit. Source was an Apple Mac Mini running iTunes 10.6.1. I was careful to ensure that the default bit depth and sample rate settings were the same for both DACs, in this case 24/96. Finally, I played some pink noise and used the C50's trim control to match levels. I used a separate MacBook Air set up to screen share with the Mini so that I could switch from one DAC to the other using the OSX Preferences pane. When switching DACs, I would simultaneously use the C50 remote to switch the input source. I have found that switching from one DAC to another this way on OSX works just fine so long as the bit depth and sample rate for both DACs is set the same in the MIDI console.

Amplifier: MC452, Speakers: Martin Logan Summit X, Power: PS Audio P5, Power cables and Interconnects: Zu Audio, USB Cables: Nordost Blue Heaven

Music used for this comparison were all 24/96 files sourced from HD Tracks with the exception of Cristina Branco and Connie Evingson:
-- 2L Audiophile Reference Recordings
-- Blue Bossa - Ana Caram
-- Kisses from the Bottom - Paul McCartney
-- Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy - Elton John
-- Post Scriptum - Cristina Branco
-- Gypsy in my Soul - Connie Evingson

First of all, I want to say that the C50 sounds really great with the new USB firmware. Sure, the obvious pops and clicks are gone, but they seem to have made other improvements as well. The most obvious possible reason for this is the jump from an adaptive to asynchronous USB interface. But in any case, the C50 sounds beautiful over USB and is now, in my opinion, worthy of its namesake.

In comparison with the Wavelength Brick, the C50 had a more airy and detailed presentation with a soundstage that seemed both wider and deeper. I just can't adequately describe the huge leap in sound quality that this new firmware makes. I enjoyed it best with the classical music from 2L, where it portrayed choral music as a detailed collection of individual voices rather than a big amorphous mass of sound. In my system, the C50 has more detail up top and a bit more powerful bass.

But the little Wavelength still has a few tricks up its sleeve. Cristina Branco is a wonderful vocalist that sings in a traditional Portugese style called "Fado". When I played the first track, "Ai Vida", I remembered what attracted me to Wavelength DACs in the first place. It's the midrange. This is the essential part of music that seems so difficult for many DACs to get right and the Brick nails it right on the head. There was a warmth and fullness to Branco's voice that the C50 simply could not match. If the power of the human voice in song is what sends chills up your spine, then consider auditioning a Wavelength DAC. And while the Brick also made Elton John's "Brown Dirt Cowboy", a track that can be a little harsh in the upper mids, a bit more listenable, it also seemed a little, well, slower on the uptake than the C50. It's hard to describe, but it just seemed like the C50 was quicker on the attack and a bit harder hitting. This wasn't apparent at all when listening to Cristina Branco's vocals, but became more evident with more uptempo music.

One thing worth noting is the C50's equalizer. With a little boost or cut in the right frequency ranges, you can make your C50 sound a bit more like a Wavelength DAC, if that's your thing. And it also works wonders on a lot of that thin, hard sounding 70s pop material that seems to have been mastered with an eye toward the car radios and boom boxes of the day, not to mention the truly awful first generation digital recordings from the 80s.

So there you have it. The standard disclaimers apply. Your room is not my room, your ears are not my ears, these are my own highly subjective impressions, etc, etc. But the bottom line here is that, to my ears, the C50 puts in a fine performance in comparison with a very well-regarded async USB DAC that costs $2000 including the DAC and outboard linear power supply.

My compliments to the engineering team in Binghamton. You guys took way too long on this, but the final result may have been worth waiting for after all.

Next up: C50 vs Wyred4Sound DAC2

Last edited by unitycoupled; 05-18-2012 at 06:15 PM.
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Old 05-17-2012, 08:28 PM
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Thanks for doing this... GREAT content for inquiring minds!
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Old 05-17-2012, 09:05 PM
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That is GREAT news. My C50 is still in the shop with no news.
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