The Yulong D18 DAC is my second experience with the brand. I still own a DAH-1 dac/headamp which I had reviewed a few years ago.
The DAH-1 main strength was its DAC section, which used Analog Devices dac and SRC chip set, while its headphone amp portion was less convincing.
The DAH-1 dac section was especially good at spatial imaging and soundstage layering. Its main weaknesses, compared to other units, were in bass weight and authority, lack of fullness.
After a few years, I am going to analyze how they have improved their design with the D18, which uses ESS ESS9018 Sabre chipset.
This chipset has often been regarded as “high end”, “expensive”, “bright”, “thin”, depending on the implementation. Some have been comparing the chipset to what can be achieved with R2R (resistor-to-resistor) DAC’s. Still, it has acquired a certain hype of sounding too “audiophile” and not very natural.
The sonic results of the D18 are very interesting.
Some technical specifications (others can be found on the manufacturer’s website):
DAC Chip: ESS9018
Input Digital Signal Format: 32-192KHz, 16/24/32 Bit auto detection.
Inputs: Optical, Coaxial, AES/EBU
Opamps (analogue stage): AD8620 (IV conversion), AD797 (low-pass filter)
The main system, used for this test, is composed by Audiophilleo 1 USB converter (my new favourite), feeding the SPDIF (digital) signal to the D18, which is connected to Stax SRM-727A (“spritzer modded”) and Stax Gamma Pro electrostatic headphones. I have used both single ended and balanced connections between the D18 and the SRM-727A.
I have been making several head to head comparisons between the D18 and the Museatex Idat-44 Mobile, taking notes about the behaviour of both.
The D18 has a dual character, since it sounds noticeably different in single ended and balanced mode. The DAC output is naturally balanced, hence single ended signal is obtained by a subsequent conversion.
In my opinion, although some might have described the sound as “just different”, balanced mode sounds much better than single ended.
In single ended mode, the D18 has an impersonal music presentation: music is laid out politely, but it lacks some cohesiveness and misses the ultimate involvement. There is good sense of detail, the midrange has its own life, but the sound is flat compared to balanced.
All things equal, used in balanced mode, there is a strong improvement in the whole lower region, so that the bass manages to rule the rest of the sound spectrum, to push the pace, to make the music coherent and involving. On top of these foundations, the details are etched precisely and lively. The sense of rythm is very good.
“Authoritative” and “powerful” are two terms which come to mind when listening to the D18.
A comparison between the Idat-44 and the Yulong, both using the Audiophilleo 1 and matching Pure Power upgrade, makes the Yulong have an edge on overall balance, while the Museatex DA44 has more tuneful and “magical” midrange, where music pushes continuously towards the listener, in a similar way as the Eximus DP-1 does. Of course, this is connecting the Museatex unit in single ended mode to the SRM-727A (RCA cables), against the balanced operation of the Yulong.
Compared to the Audio-GD NFB.9.2, the D18 has more involving midrange and more refined highs, while the NFB-9.2 has more expansive soundstage and more focus towards trebly details.
I would say the main limitation of the D18 against the mentioned units is its smaller soundstage, although the details are placed very distinctly and precisely.
Gear matching and Conclusion
The main quality of the Yulong D18, in its native (balanced) mode, is to sound good with everything, because of its authoritative sound presentation and good balanced between mids and highs. I can see it to be an equally good source for the Audio Technica AD2000, Grado’s, Sennheiser HD650.
In the specific case of my NOS Stax Gamma Pro, the sound is very coherent and musical: it’s quite a feat, given the Gamma Pro can be strident due some midrange and treble peaks in their frequency response. The sound isn’t equally convincing when connecting the D18 and the Stax amplifier in single ended mode.
I consider the D18 a great purchase in its price range, as long as the listener can feed it a high quality SPDIF signal (the price for a good USB converter must be factored in, for example compared to USB DAC’s), and use it in balanced mode.