Lavry DA11 Review

Perhaps the time is right to get ourselves to the meat of this review that is how the Lavry sounds. I have spent some time listening to the DA11 exclusively to familiarize myself with its sound signature and I can say for sure that this is one hell of a transparent and neutral-sounding gear. The DA11 is truly an “Engineer” in the form of a DAC; it produces a pristine-clear sound that is free from any colorations and sonic defects. Some enthusiasts will associate this level of neutrality to brightness and a “digital” sound but I cannot hear any of these with the Lavry. The DA11 is an honest DAC as it reproduces your recordings with an unnerving accuracy: if they have faults, the Lavry will not be shy to expose those artifacts. It does not gloss over faults and neither in imparting its own coloration. As far as tonality goes, the Lavry DA11 is as neutral and transparent as a clear window which allows us to see the recording as it is.

The Lavry DA11’s main forte lies in its imaging and resolution. I find the unit to be well-balanced in this area as it presents a believable soundscape that is neither too big nor small. The positioning of the instruments is well-differentiated and I can easily pin-point their individual locations with a good accuracy. In this respect, I find that we as the listeners are sitting in the middle row as far as forwardness goes with respect to the DA11 which is probably the most balanced position as it allows us to hear the bigger picture of the sound. In terms of the ability to resolve details, the Lavry DA11 has this in spades. It is able to extract the tinniest amount of details from the music and present them in a way that is neither forced or fatiguing.

The DA11 also has excellent pace and rhythm reproduction with a right amount of snap. Transition of individual notes is seamless from one note to another. However, I feel that the decay can be a little too short on certain occasions, which is more apparent on long notes such as in bass and air instruments.

Now let us examine the Lavry DA11’s sonic presentation further from the bottom to the top. I would start with the midrange since this is an important criterion for me as a substantial portion of my recordings contains some incarnation of vocals. Certainly the DA11 does not disappoint in this respect, the midrange is nicely textured if not slightly lacking in emotion and body. I am however more impressed with the extension of this unit with the bass extending very low and treble as high as it could. The low-end response is extended without losing its definition at the lowest extremes, with a perfect amount of impact and depth. My bass-oriented R&B pieces sounded pretty marvelous with the DA11 as the bass is impactful and nicely detailed. The treble is quite a wonder in itself as it reaches high without crossing over to the screechy or bright regions. In short, the high is effortless and sounds neutral despite its extension. I found female vocals to extend high without the presence of grains in the top-end. This is truly a hallmark of top-tier converters.

Perhaps a very interesting feature that I have yet to cover is the Playback Image Control or PIC in short. It is in essence an implementation of Digital Signal Processing to adjust the width of stereo image positions. In his white paper, Mr. Dan Lavry has illustrated that this feature can be used to “compensate” sound fields which can arise due to the nature of headphones we use or speakers’ positioning. PIC itself comes in 6 different settings which are:

+2 for widest

+1 for wide

0 for normal

-1 for narrow

-2 for narrower

-3 for narrowest

lavry_da11_3

Furthermore, you can adjust individual left and right images separately which I’d imagine will come useful in asymmetrical speaker positions. As far as headphone’s usage go, it is a mixed bag. PIC seems to work pretty well with my Grado HF2, a headphone which has a classic Grado’s soundstage which can be rather 2D and constricted, as using it at +1 setting in conjunction with my orchestral pieces produces a wider and more balanced sound. However, this widening effect produces a slight hole in the middle of the sound which can sound a bit un-natural which gets even more pronounced if you change the setting to +2. I honestly do not mind this “hole” as the benefits at +1 setting seem to overcome the detriments. PIC however is pretty much recording-specific as it does not work well with my more contemporary music. In rock pieces especially, the widening seems to make the soundstage sounds strange with instrument positioning a bit off.

Another point that I would like to make is how well the various input options are implemented as I could barely tell any difference between USB, coaxial and S/PDIF. Common audio doctrine tends to place USB or S/PDIF tos-link as the inferior choices but the Lavry DA11 has successfully dispelled such mis-conception. This is certainly another point in my book as you do not have to worry about which input options because be rest assured that they all sound equally good.

Additionally, PIC does not seem to benefit headphones which already have a decent soundstage of its own for example, the Sennheiser HD650. This headphone has a laid-back sound in which, the +1 or +2 settings produce an overly diffused sound no matter what kind of music you throw at it. However, using -1 with more intimate and vocal-centric pieces seems to work well with the HD650 as I seem to get a more focused sound.  With music that contains a lot of instruments, using PIC at -1 seems to compress their positions in a single field so I do not see how this is going to work well with such pieces. In conclusion, PIC is an interesting feature that perhaps you could find useful provided that you experiment with it. It is certainly not plug-and-play, even sounding detrimental if you do not use it properly.

The Lavry DA11 comes equipped with a headphone amplification section that sounds pretty darned good on its own. Sonics-wise, it is a “wire-with-gain” and thus, it functions like the extension of the DAC itself. It seems to work wonders with my low-impedance Grado HF2 as the neutrality and transparency of the DA11 synergize well with the HF2’s very flavorful sound. In terms of power, there is more than enough juice to drive the HF2 to ear-splitting levels. With the HD650 headphone, the Lavry DA11’s built in amplfier was able to drive it with plenty of authority, and put a very good soundstage image on the HD650 as well. However, the HD650 can sound a bit dry with the Lavry DA11 in this respect.

As good as the Lavry DA11 is, dare I to say that… it sounds a little boring? True, the DA11 is capable of producing a sound that is as clear as the sky in a cloudless day with an unparalleled degree of details and precision but I often get the impression that the Lavry just stops short at that. Like Engineers in real life, the Lavry can sound slightly detached and emotionless with its presentation. However, I have to admit that this part can be attributed to my personal taste and as such, the way the DA11 produces music could turn out to be a positive trait for you. Flat for me could mean neutral for you so please consider this segment as this jaded reviewer trying to nit-pick as much as possible. After all, a DAC should sound as neutral as possible so perhaps this flatness could prove advantageous in system matching.

The previous paragraph brings me to another point. I have an opportunity to compare the Lavry DA11 with my own AMB Gamma2. To put it simply, the Gamma2 is a DIY DAC solution designed by Ti Kan of AMB in which the designer himself claims that it can rival DACs in the $1k+ range. As we know, DIY solutions can often prove to be quite high up there in terms of price per performance so I cannot help but to feel very curious to see how the Gamma2 stacks up against the Lavry DA11. Well, let us just say that the Gamma2 can stand on its own proudly in the face of the Goliath. As far as resolution and transparency goes, the DA11 still edges the Gamma2 slightly however the latter has such a focused and mesmerizing voice while maintaining its neutrality that I cannot help but to fall in love with it. As far as presentation goes, it is clear that the Gamma2 is more forward-sounding than the DA11 which could produce a more intimate soundscape at the cost of a reduced spatial imaging. Still, if I have to pick a winner then the Lavry DA11 is clearly the one ahead with its unrivaled transparency. The Gamma2 however does not disappoint  and I can imagine anyone to be happy with either solutions. Besides, as an owner myself I have to warn you dear readers that personal bias can take precedence here.

Well, in the end what do we have here? The Lavry DA11 is truly the “Engineer” in and out. Engineers as I have explained can appear to be plain and unassuming but they are always reliable and herald precision and efficiency as their core beliefs. The Lavry is just like that. Beneath its plain black exterior lies a deceptively powerful force, in the form of sound that is as neutral, as clear and as detailed as one can expect. Honesty seems to be the core ethos of Dan Lavry’s sound principle and I have to say that it works exceedingly well in the case of DA11. Overall, the Lavry DA11 is a highly enjoyable unit that does not fail to impress me with its honesty every time I listen to it. If you value transparency and neutrality above all then the DA11 is set to impress you as it did to me.

 

 

System for auditioning:

Headphones: Grado HF2, Sennheiser HD650

Amplifier: DIY SOUL MiniMAX with Sigma11 PS

Source: AMB Gamma2 with Sigma25 PS

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19 Comments

  • Reply October 29, 2010

    Tiago

    Mike,

    I own a Lavry DA10 and I've put one sale at head-fi. That's because DA10 runs to loud my JH13 and if I buy an external amp all the cables/switches become a mess due to the limited output option of the DA10 (I use it to run also my monitors Genelec 8020).

    Once I sell my DA10 I plan to buy a new DAC, preferable a combo DAC/amp. One option is the DA11 because I know it runs JH13 at a normal volume, but not convinced.

    Please, could you point my out one or several DAC or DAC/amp in the range $1200-2000 with excellent sound quality (same level or better than DA10) ?.

    Thanks a lot.

    • Reply October 29, 2010

      Mike

      Hi, Tiago, I am quite inexperienced in DAC/Amp combinations on that budget. You can try the Lehmann USB linear perhaps, or the new upcoming Burson HA-160D (Burson HA-160 with built in PCM1793 DAC). If you like the precise sounding Lavry, then the Lehmann should be a good fit. But I personally have never compared the two.
      The Grace m902 has a great amplifier section, but its DAC section is quite old.

  • Reply October 29, 2010

    Tiago

    Thanks Mike,

    I'll take a look at the Lehmann USB and Burson HA-160D.

  • Reply October 29, 2010

    Tiago

    BTW, Mike, do you plan to do a review of the Burson HA-16OD?.

    Thanks.

    • Reply October 29, 2010

      Mike

      Yes, I'm getting the amp sometimes next week or two. I won't have a Lavry to compare it to, though.

  • Reply October 29, 2010

    Tiago

    Do you know whether the amp section of the Burson HA-160D is the same as in the Burson HA-160?. Thx.

    • Reply October 29, 2010

      Mike

      It's the same as HA-160, but Burson says they have improved it somehow. Now I remember that I had used the JH16 with the HA-160 with good results. The HA-160 comes with two output ports, one low gain, the other high gain.

  • Reply November 3, 2010

    USAudio

    "I also tried the amplifier section with the high-impedance HD650 and while it lacks the voltage swing to control the HD650 as well as dedicated amplifiers do, the performance is definitely well above average."

    I've seen comments like this before and specs aren't everything of course but unless I'm reading them incorrectly, the specs seem to indicate the DA11 headphone amp has plenty of oomph.

    Per the DA11 manual and confirmed in a thread on the Lavry forum, the DA11 outputs 17.36 V p-p unbalanced and 34.72 V p-p balanced. Peak headphone level is 18dBu at volume setting 56.
    http://www.lavryengineering.com/white_papers/DA11http://www.lavryengineering.com/lavry_forum/viewt

    Whereas, for comparison:

    The HeadAmp GS-X ($2500) outputs 15 V p-p unbalanced, with a peak gain level also of 18dBu: http://www.headamp.com/home_amps/gsx/index.htm

    • Reply November 3, 2010

      Mike

      Thanks USAudio. I think you're right. I'm gonna edit-out that section of the review.

      • Reply November 4, 2010

        USAudio

        Hi Mike,

        I forgot to mention in your post how much I enjoy reading your site, good stuff! Please keep up the excellent work in support of our hobby!

        Thanks!

        USAudio

        • Reply November 4, 2010

          Mike

          Thanks, USAudio. I was wondering about your nick, is that a company name or something?

          • Reply November 20, 2010

            USAudio

            It’s just a combination of USA + Audio, but it also does reflect that I do make an effort to seek out US-made products where possible. However I do buy non-US-made products where I feel they are clearly superior, such as my HD800’s. That may be short lived though as I currently have my eye/ears on the Audeze LCD-2 … hopefully some day I will get a chance for a listen. 😉

  • Reply January 6, 2012

    Lavry Techsupport

    “As far as I/O option goes, the DA11 offers USB, coaxial, optical S/PDIF
    and XLR inputs though the last option is not balanced.”

    If you are implying that the XLR input is not “balanced;” this is not correct. As per the AES3 standard, this input is transformer coupled and therefore the digital audio equivalent of balanced (differential). This is why you can use the male version of the XLR to RCA adapters we include for the XLR audio outputs to connect a second RCA digital source to the XLR input without concern for the connection being effectively “unbalanced” by the adapter connecting Pin 1 to Pin 3 internally.

    • Reply January 6, 2012

      Mike

      I am sorry, I think Brian who did this review may have had some of the facts inaccurate. 

  • Reply January 6, 2012

    Lavry Techsupport

    “On the grand scheme of things, the Lavry DA11 belongs to the Black
    series which is the entry-level line in Lavry converters with Blue being
    the middle and Gold being the high-end series. The converters in the
    Black series are thus more suited to home (read casual audiophiles) use
    as opposed to its more sophisticated Blue and Gold brothers which are
    more professional-oriented.”

    This is also not entirely accurate. The “quality of conversion” of the LavryBlack and LavryBlue is very similar and if you compare the LavryBlue 4496-12 with two channels of AD and DA conversion; the price is very similar.

    The LavryBlue was designed as a modular system for multichannel applications in recording. Due to the quality of the conversion, many pro users including smaller Mastering studios use “minimum” configurations such as 2 channels of AD and DA for stereo work or recording critical tracks during overdubbing. But the design incorporates limited range multi-turn trimmers for level calibration and the DA converter has one input (more suited to studio applications).

    The LavryBlack series began with the DA10 and has grown to include AD conversion and microphone preamplifiers. The main difference between the ‘Black  and “Blue series is that Black series are stereo units which has more features like a front panel Volume control, headphone output and multiple inputs. They were designed with high end HiFi use in mind.

    Part of the reason why so many of our customers are satisfied with our LavryBlack converters after trying many other brands is that they are not “entry level” in their performance. This is also why LavryBlack DA’s are also used in professional recording and mixing applications worldwide as the reference playback converter.

    • Reply January 6, 2012

      Mike

      Thanks for clearing that up for us, Lavry. 

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