Grace Design m920 High Resolution Monitoring System
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- Stereo analog inputs - balanced (+4dBu) XLR and unbalanced (-10dBv) RCA; Two sets of line level outputs provided via RCA (unbalanced) and ¼ TRS jacks (balanced) for connection to stereo monitors
- Ultra low distortion 32-bit /384khz Sabre DAC accepts stereo digital input source in AES3, S/PDIF, TOSLINK (optical) and USB formats with auto sample rate detection and digital de-emphasis filter
- USB for playback of up to 384kHz / 32 bit PCM as well as DSD64 and DSD128 playback via DoP
- Third generation s-Lock dual stage PLL (phase lock loop) circuitry for the ultimate in low jitter clocking and sonic integrity
- Apple IR remote control is supported with optional pairing; USB firmware upgradability and 5 Year transferable warranty on parts and labor
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With the m920, Grace Design has hit the all bullseyesWhether you are mixing, mastering or simply listening - the resolution, detail and immediacy that occurs with the m920 at the center of your system will help pull you out of the din and in to the music. The m920 stands on the shoulders of its predecessors then jumps to new territory in digital and analog audio performance. Using the latest 32Bit Sabre DAC technology, it delivers up to 384kHz PCM and 64x and 128x DSD playback. The m920 provides state of the art DAC performance; for home or studio, this is truly the ultimate, high resolution monitoring system. Building on 15 years of experience designing reference playback equipment, the technology in the m920 is highly evolved and refined and the goals were always clear: lower the distortion, improve the noise performance, lower the DAC's jitter, make it more reliable. Make it better. The new, world-class M Series 32-bit Sabre DAC provides an astonishing improvement in digital performance. Redesigned s-Lock PLL circuitry improves jitter rejection. DSD64 and DSD128 playback brings great musicality to digital recordings. Every performance and design element was concidered and where improvements could be made, they were!Features:Stereo analog inputs - balanced (+4dBu) XLR and unbalanced (-10dBv) RCAUltra low distortion 32-bit /384khz Sabre DAC accepts stereo digital input source in AES3, S/PDIF, TOSLINK (optical) and USB formats with auto sample rate detection and digital de-emphasis filterUser configurable DAC filter response for PCM and DSD playbackUSB for playback of up to 384kHz / 32 bit PCM as well as DSD64 and DSD128 playback via DoPAES and S/PDIF playback of up to 192kHZ / 24bit PCM as well as DSD64 playback via DoPNew dual-stage wide lock range PLL for improved jitter rejection on non s-locked sourcesThird generation s-Lock dual stage PLL (phase lock loop) circuitry for the ultimate in low jitter clocking and sonic integrityTwo sets of line level outputs
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The m903/m920 product design gives maximum flexibility and usability in a compact package. I've had occasion to use every input/output, which include: analog in (balanced and unbalanced), digital in (USB, TOSLINK, S/PDIF, AES), analog out (balanced and unbalanced). I've also used the excellent-sounding headphone outputs (1/4") though my primary use case is "analog and digital preamp" feeding my power amp directly.
Upgrades incorporated by the m920 include (1) new USB circuit design (the USB 2.0 driver is XMOS vs. Thesycon for the m903); (2) DSD conversion capability; and (3) PCM up to 384k vs. 192k for the m903. On the menus I noticed that the m920 provides several user-selectable digital filters vs. fixed filter on the m903.
To my ears, the sound is perfect - what comes out is a precise and unflappable (but also un-enhanced) representation of the input. As with the m903, my feeling is that the m920 is not likely to be the limiting factor in any except the most tricked-out "high-end audiophile" system.
A few months ago I had the opportunity to take a short tour of the Grace Design facility in Lyons, Colorado. The production-test procedures are focused intensely on delivering quality and reliability: 100% burn-in of assembled units, 100% measurement check of every input/output, a final listening test of every unit. If you appreciate and need this level of performance and quality, then Grace Design pricing is an excellent value and very competitive.
Other than that major flaw, the DAC has a fairly good design. It has a great set of features that let you control how it handles outputs, volume, etc. The cross-feed mixing is helpful in some instances of headphone listening (when there is no channel mixing in the recording), but hurts the sound stage in other instances (when the recording already has some cross mixing). Would probably be better if it cross fed a little less to find a balance. I only used USB interface, so I can't speak to the s-lock jitter control.
This is the fourth Sabre DAC I've tried. Obviously, I haven't liked any of them. In the non-Sabre category, I have also tried the Schitt Yggy, the PS Audio PerfectWave MKII, PS Audio DirectStream, and the NAD M51. Of these, the NAD M51 and the PS Audio DS are my two favorites that I use routinely.
Note: those of you using this for headphone listening may find the levels a bit weak for inefficient headphones. I was routinely at 97 out of 99 for my HD600s. More inefficient cans would need an external amplifier, which sort of defeats the purpose of this DAC/Amp combo.
But, please keep in mind regarding the M920’s Sabre dac implementation is PRIMARILY meant to be used in a pro environment for the mixing and mastering of audio where neutrality is of the upmost importance, in which the M920 is doing exactly what it’s designed to do. The M920’s dac and headphone section pretty much ‘stay out of the way’ of the music and lets you hear the music ‘as it really is’. The M920 doesn’t add or take away anything from the music. Pre-recorded tracks mastered well will sound good; tracks not mastered well will not sound good, etc. For the ‘audiophiles’, THEN you have to decide which peripherals that will sound the best with the M920 for your own ears to decide (that synergy YOUR looking for). Otherwise, for the pro music scene, neutrality (among other traits) is the main goal again (in which the M920 delivers in spades). I don’t work for Grace Design and I do own the unit.