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D/A Converter

Price (in Israel): 1399 USD (plus VAT)

Manufacturer: TeddyPardo



Country of origin: Israel

Product supplied for testing by:
Text: Marek Dyba
Photos: TeddyPardo | Marek Dyba

Published: 1. September 2012, No. 100

Since the beginning of this year I got the opportunity to choose one product for a review each month (the other was appointed by the chief editor). All without any imposed key, without any orders / prohibitions from the Chief Editor. And so I have been trying to find various interesting, let’s be honest, in the first place for me but hopefully also for “High Fidelity” readers, pieces of audio “gear”; I have been contacting manufacturers and distributors and trying to fetch them for a review. In many cases, they are unknown or little known on the Polish market, often with an added bonus of delivering very good value for money. For me it’s very important, since I am not on the Polish Rich 100 list and have specific financial constraints in building / upgrading my audio system. I suspect the same is the case with many HF readers, so the more I hope that my choice (of course, not always, but often) of such devices is also interesting from your point of view.
My reviews sometimes have “devastating” financial consequences for me, because I end up buying some of the reviewed products, such as the TransFi Salvation turntable (reviewed HERE) or the Bastanis Matterhorn speakers (see HERE), but on the other hand it is through my reviews that I could get to know them personally (well, isn’t it good to be a reviewer…).

However, The Teddy Pardo converter, which I will review here for you, came to me in a different way. What happened is that a friend of mine who had read some of my reviews, and on their basis formed his opinion on what kind of sound I like, brought the DAC to me for a listen. And when I listened to it, even though it is not new on the market, I decided to describe it for you because it quite well fits the “Best Buy” category (in its own, but not only, price category). Obviously, I contacted the manufacturer, asking if he has nothing against such a review and I learned that the course he didn’t. In addition, Teddy did not even have to send me the converter…
Teddy’s name is probably familiar to many people, although in Poland we know him mainly through his power supplies for various audio devices. Just a few months ago I reviewed the Thorens TD309 turntable Thorens TD309 turntable additionally equipped with the TP power supply (see HERE). Many people use his products with their Naims, Sqeezeboxes, M2Techs or the Arcam rDAC (see HERE). Few, however, know that the Israeli manufacturer also offers power amplifiers and a D/A converter. The reviewed converter (manufactured in two versions, with and without volume control) is simply called TeddyDAC.

TeddyDAC is housed in a relatively small, solidly made, black enclosure. The front panel sports an input selector in the form of a knob, placed on the right side, and three green LEDs. On the back we find a set of digital inputs: 2 coaxial, 1 optical and 1 USB port, a mains socket with an integrated main fuse and a switch, and a pair of RCA analog outputs. I will later cover the converter’s design in more detail; now it is worth mentioning that on the plus side we can include a great power supply (as you might expect from Teddy), and on the minus side the USB input, only accepting signal up to 48 kHz.
As I said, Teddy Pardo’s converter is not new to the market, as it was first offered in 2010, as far as I can remember. Today, with the growing availability of hi-res files, it seems that the USB lacking support for them is not the best solution, if only from a marketing point of view. So I asked the designer why he decided to offer such a design. The answer was simple – back then, Teddy chose the best sonically chip, in his opinion, available on the market (please note that the device was probably designed around 2009/2010). Presently, more advanced, currently available chips are tested out, and when any offers sufficiently high sound quality, there will probably be a new DAC version with a USB input accepting hi-res files.
Although I am getting a little ahead of myself, I need to say that this is one of the very few DACs where I did not use a USB/coax converter with most of my files (after all, mainly rips of my CDs, that is 16 bits/44.1 kHz files). There was no need for that – the sound from the USB was as good as from the coaxial input. Teddy’s choice therefore turned out to be very well-founded. Obviously, if someone has a collection of hi-res files and believes that they sound better, he or she must either choose a different DAC or get a USB/coax converter (which, in my opinion, in most cases gives a better sonic effect than the USB input in most DACs anyway, regardless of the chip employed).
It is important at the same time that the reviewed device is equipped with two coaxial inputs, so one can be used to hook up e.g. a CD transport and the other to connect a computer via a USB converter/coax, if you really need to use hi-res files. Additionally, we have an optical input, which can be useful in an audio-video system.

Our previous reviews of Teddy Pardo products:
∙ REVIEW: TeddyPardo TeddyRDAC/TeddyVDAC DC power supplies for the Arcam rDAC and the Musical Fidelity V-DAC, see HERE ∙ REVIEW: TeddyPardo turntable power supply, see HERE


A selection of recordings used during auditioning:

  • VA, Blue Note Plays Sting, EMI Music Poland, 67542536, CD/FLAC.
  • Hans Zimmer, The Dark Knight rises, Watertower Music, B008645YEE, CD/FLAC.
  • Eva Cassidy, Imagine, HOT, G2-10075, CD/FLAC
  • Arne Domnerus, Antiphone blues, Proprius, PRCD 7744, CD/FLAC.
  • Renaud Garcia-Fons, Oriental bass, Enja, B000005CD8, CD/FLAC.
  • Ray Brown Trio, Live at Starbucks, Telarc, CD-83502, CD/FLAC.
  • Marcus Miller, A night in Monte Carlo, Concord Records, B004DURSBC, CD/FLAC.
  • Blade Runner, soundtrack, muz. Vangelis, Universal, UICY-1401/3, Special Edition 3 x CD (1982/1991/2007), CD/FLAC.
  • Patricia Barber, Companion, Blue Note/Premonition, 7243 5 22963 2 3, CD/FLAC.
  • Carreras Domingo Pavarotti, In concert, Decca, 4304332, CD/FLAC.

It’s high time to talk about sound, because that should be most important. I received the converter that was already fully warmed up, and additionally I also listened to it for a while before I decided to write the review, so there were no more changes in sound during the test. The Israeli DAC belongs to a group of devices that simply have to appeal to the majority of people, right from the “first listen.” For what we get is very open and smooth sound, full of air, which instantly makes a great impression.
It is true that I once wrote that usually the devices that make a big first impression, later turn out to have lots of flaws, because attractiveness, flashiness is not what we should really expect from high-quality sound. It’s just that there are exceptions to every rule, and additionally the above quote applies primarily to high-end devices.
This time, in the course of listening I realized that I just came across one of such exceptions. Because these positive characteristics that made such a good first impression on me are followed by other. Firstly, an exceptionally dark background. I know it’s a somewhat abstract concept, but trying to delve deeper, once I happen to come across it, I usually find one common denominator for all devices with the “black background” – great power supply. By this I mean the power supply that actually eliminates noise, distortion, leaving us with very clear sound. It is only when instead of such, theoretically, little audible background noise there is true silence, that I call it black background. Everything that’s going on against that black background is clearer, even minor details become easier to grasp, everything is stronger, deeper, more resonant, more tangible. And that is what the TeddyDAC does very well, I assume, at least to some extent, due to its manufacturer’s experience in designing excellent power supplies.

Against such black background, with no interference / noise, no matter how small but still affecting our perception, instruments colors become more intense, vocals texture and color more pronounced, deeper. It all makes the presentation more intense, but also more… intimate. The latter mostly concerns tracks with beautiful vocals, but it doesn’t really matter if that’s Cassandra Wilson singing Fragile or Eva Cassidy Imagine, or Luciano Pavarotti Nessun dorma.

If only vocal plays a major role in the recording, “served” by the TeddyDAC it becomes almost hypnotic. If additionally it happens in a good headset system (say, the Burson HA160D as a headphone amp and the Audeze LCD3 cans) it is easy to lose track of time and get lost in the world of your favorite music for the whole night (which happened to me more than once). Good recordings of that kind are filled with emotions; vocals are shown up close, with smallest details, flavours, incredibly palpable. This sense of realism, tangibility comes from the smoothness, consistency of sound, from its openness, that is, from everything that makes up the naturalness, not to say “analogness” of presentation.

I focused a little on vocals, because they perhaps create the strongest impression, but a short listen to Ray Brown Trio recordings was enough to also rediscover that type of music. What can impress here, in turn, is soundstage openness, huge amount of air, holography of presentation, but also all the little niceties – long sustain, gentle knocks (not always intentional) on strings or instrument bodies, clearly shown double bass body and its sound, etc., etc., that is everything that authenticates presentation, raises it to a certain level of realism that lets us, at least sometimes, forget that it is merely a reproduction of a musical event.
I said “a certain level of realism” because the TeddyDAC presents these characteristics in a very convincing way, but it’s not everything you expect from a high-end converter. I’m not going to claim that although the DAC really took my fancy it is, objectively speaking, one of the best DACs on the market. In its own price category, in my opinion, definitely yes. It can even stand up to many more expensive devices. But it lacks the level of precision shown e.g. by the dCS Debussy, which I had the opportunity to review in the past. There is huge space, with lots of air, with good layer gradation, but high-end devices are able to clearly define all distances on soundstage, much more precisely locate and draw each source with its 3-D shape and size, even better render both ends of the sonic range. These are not the strongest points of the reviewed device.
I would say that it focuses more on… the essence of music, trying to convey emotions, performer’s ideas for the given track. Objectively speaking, high precision, high resolution and transparency are characteristics that determine the superiority of such D/A converters as the said dCS or the converter in the Soulution 540 SACD player (reviewed HERE), which I have recently used. But the price difference is huge, so no one will really choose between the TeddyDAC and the Soulution. The former can go head to head with other converters even twice more expensive and beat quite a few of them, be that in objective categories, or by hitting the sweet spot of music lovers who appreciate that essence of music more than super-accurate, super-analytical reconstruction recording.

Compared e.g. to the Auralic MX+, the TeddyDAC has a little stronger midrange. Perhaps I should write that while in the case of the MX+ could be said that it was both ends that at first attracted attention, here everything revolved rather around midrange. Smoothness, saturation, good resolution, minimal deviation from neutrality towards a gentle warming – all add up to create the above described impressions when we listen to of vocal or jazz recordings, or acoustic instruments in general. Just as I wrote about the Auralic that its stronger ends do not necessarily mean poor midrange, so here both sonic ends are not the weakness of the converter. It’s just that they are not what presentation revolves around, they are not in the foreground, but rather complementary to, after all, the most important, carrying most information midrange.
It is difficult to find fault with bass or treble, either. Double bass fared very well – it had good low extension, with proper body sound, good differentiation and sustain. The organ also had appropriate volume, power, scale.
If I had to be picky I would say that while the reviewed DAC was able to show the attack slew rate with appropriate pace, in case of instantly suppressed bass, both electric and electronic, it did not hold up so well. That is why in case of instruments where sustain is critical, where the sound of instrument’s body is important, everything was fine, but in case of transients decaying in a fraction of a second that effect of immediate sound decay was missing. At top end for example, the cymbals were pretty well weighted, vibrant, though perhaps with minimally rounded attack, not really easy to pick up. There is certainly no single ounce of sharpening or treble roughness, characteristic for many digital devices – instead we have smoothness, three-dimensionality and plenty of air.

I think that although the TeddyDAC copes well with pace & rhythm, as it also does with denser recordings due to its pretty good resolution, the fans of rock or metal will probably choose the Auralic MX+ of the two. On the other hand, individuals preferring vocals, jazz, blues, folk, etc. will not be able resist the charm of the Israeli DAC.
When I took the converter to a meeting with my friends, audiophiles, it quickly gained the nickname “charming boy.” It’s just that this “charm” does not come from overly-forward midrange, or its strong warmness, which easily makes a good first impression on many people, but rather from extraordinary naturalness, smoothness and openness of sound, supported by detailness and good pace. Everything is just in the right proportion, creating a cohesive whole where music pulls the listener in and makes him or her want to listen and listen. So who should be interested in the TeddyDAC? People like me who listen to music in order to experience it, who want to be involved in it, who listening want to forget that it is only a reproduction and who want to hear how open, full of air and expressive can music presentation be. Those who prefer super-fine, super-transparent, hyper-detailed presentations should look somewhere else.

Finally, a little update on TeddyPardo’s offer. In the period between obtaining permission from Teddy to review his DAC (which was a few months ago) and the actual publishing of the review there have been changes in the Israeli manufacturer’s offer. DAC’s design has been refined – the only external visible difference is a change in the description of one of the LEDs - instead of “Link” it now reads “HiRes.” As for design changes, from what Teddy wrote to me he further improved the power supply section, which sonically should result in increased detailness of presentation. In other words, if you decide to purchase that converter you should a device with the same sonic character, yet sounding even better. Another lineup addition is the same converter equipped with volume control – a logical complement, considering that for a long time the lineup has included power amplifiers, but no preamp.


Technical specifications (according to manufacturer):

Inputs: 2 x coaxial, 1 x optical, 1 x USB
Input sampling frequency: 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 192 KHz
(32-48 kHz for USB)
Output level: 2V (RCA)
Dimensions: 25x17x6.2 cm
Weight: 1.9 kg

TeddyDAC is a D/A converter equipped with four digital inputs and a pair of analog outputs (RCA). It is housed in a small yet robust, black, metal enclosure. The front panel sports an input selector knob and three green control LEDs. On the rear panel you’ll find two coaxial inputs, an optical input and a USB port. All inputs, except USB, accept a signal with a resolution up to 24-bit/192 kHz. The USB accepts signals up to 48 kHz. The solution adopted by Teddy Pardo does not require installing any additional drivers in Windows.

The converter is based on the Wolfson Micro WM8741 DAC and the WM8804 digital transceiver.
The device consists of four main blocks – a receiver, a converter, an output stage and a power supply. The receiver converts the signal (from S/PDIF or USB inputs) to I2S. Its other job is de-jittering the data stream.
The converter converts the I2S signal to analog. The signal then feeds the output stage – a zero feedback buffer circuit, based on discrete components, of which the most important are JFETs. The following block diagram of the DAC’s power supply shows separate power supplies for the analog and digital part.

The component which, according to the manufacturer, determines the quality of the device’s power supply is, obviously, the proprietary SuperTeddyReg voltage controller. If you are interested in its technical details I encourage you to click HERE for a pdf with White Paper on the reviewed DAC, which contains a lot of interesting information.