PDA

View Full Version : Gatorized Caiman Review



RochaCullen
28-03-2011, 13:47
I bought the Caiman (with Gator addition) with the idea that I would use it part time in the office as a headphone amp and for the rest of the time as the dac running between my Linn Mimik and Majik, maybe as a dedicated preamp running my yet-to-be-completed Gainclone monoblocks (boy I need to get those finished). And if it all worked out well, I'd possibly get two, so I didn't have to ferry it to and from work.

The box of tricks was delivered to my office and I just could not wait to set it up. I grabbed myself a USB cable from the IT department and fired up Winamp. I was unsure as to how my laptop would know to route the music through USB, but I need not have worried, it all happened automatically. Was there a change, well of course!!! I had a root around in my music folder to find some flac files and the album I chose to start with was Radioheads' OK Computer. From the opening sequence of Paranoid Android the differences were obvious, I could hear the metal strings on the acoustic guitar, their timbre, their rattle and fade, nuff said. Glasvegas, Geraldine yet again the opening of this song just sounds different, the drummer is slapping a hi-hat with tabourine attachment and instead of an indisinct metalic ping you can hear each airy, high-end splash. Bat for lashes, Fur and Gold, Trophy starts with bass only, and boy it is only now that I am hearing what my Studio Sony MDR-7506 headphones are capable of in the lower regions. There is just so much more bass.

Enough waffle, time to get this thing home and plugged into something more substantial. More to follow...

RochaCullen
29-03-2011, 09:38
Got in last night and plugged the Gatorized Caiman into my system. The differences in playback between the Caiman and my CD player were less obvious than those presented when bypassing my laptops dodgy DAC. Therefore I am letting the Caiman burn in and we'll see how it gets on after a couple of days of continuous play.

The Caiman arrived at the same time as I installed another expensive audio upgrade, a nice big rug!! Both so far (even with just the little burn-in the Caiman has had) seem to have tamed the unruly and overly bright top-end that has been the blight of my system since moving it into my home-office.

Let the burn-in continue.

Butuz
29-03-2011, 20:39
Looking forwards to more reviewing!!

Butuz

RochaCullen
30-03-2011, 11:07
Looking forwards to more reviewing!!

Butuz

Thanks Butuz,

So I let the Caiman burn-in for a good 30 hours (I've heard all the burn-in talk and will have to assume for the most part that it will make a difference. I am still to be totally convinced, but more knowledgeable people than I say it is so, and to give the caiman every chance of blowing my socks off I'll bow to their experience). A record I know to have a fantastic acoustic sound is Damien Rice's 'O' (If you don't have it, I recommend picking it up, if only to hear what it reveals of your system). Something becomes very apparent to me very quickly: I have the sonic memory of a goldfish. I try the A/B test a few times, but I am not getting the obvious differences I was when changing from Laptop dac to Caiman. So I am not going to be able to fill you in on all the subtlties of the Caiman and what it has over the onboard dac of my 12-year-old cd player.

However, I did play a favourite CD of mine Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk by Jeff Buckley. And I started to hear one main difference between the performance of the Mimik as a stand-alone player and then used as a transport for the Caiman, the Linn's sound was more lean. Through the Linn, cymbal clashes had a little less sustain and the bass was not quite as full bodied. The tracks "Everybody Here Wants You" and "New Year's Prayer" served to illustrate this. Both tracks feature a decent drum score, and the Caiman made for a more dynamic and foot-tap inducing sound, the sound-stage seemed fuller, albiet more condensed; with the Caiman the recording sounded like it could have been made in a cosy studio, whereas with the Linn it had a slightly desolate, less cheery feeling, like the tracks I mention could have been recorded in an old church.

I am a big fan of albums featuring great female vocals, and one of the more relaxed and stripped down albums I have is Among My Swan by Mazy Star. And yet again with this album you could hear the extra sheen that was conveyed by the Caiman; guitar strings sparkled that little bit more.

I happen to like the lean and slightly unforgiving presentation of the Linn, despite it rendering one or two albums a little on the bright side. So I may retain the Caiman in my office as a headphone amp for the minute. However, given Stan and a few others on this forum recommend up to 100 hours burn-in time, I may have some updates to make.

Nathan

StanleyB
30-03-2011, 11:27
I happen to like the lean and slightly unforgiving presentation of the Linn,
Once you have heard a few more high end equipment you'll discover that the 'lean' sound is in fact due to excessive feedback, which strips out a lot of the extra info in an audio track. The bog standard Caiman has such a filter. In one mod that filter is bypassed with a mod to MLC5/6 on the original audio PCB. The sudden release of the otherwise filtered extra detail has to be heard to be appreciated.
So the 'unforgiving' nature you love is in fact not so. It's a false representation created by a Sallen-Key or MFB filter circuit that many CD player audio circuitry have been fitted with. I stopped using those filters once I realized that they are really aimed at the TDA154X range NOS of DAC chips.

WAD62
30-03-2011, 11:29
Are you using the Caiman with the supplied SMPS...?

Use a linear one and you'll hear a big improvement :)

RochaCullen
30-03-2011, 12:04
Once you have heard a few more high end equipment you'll discover that the 'lean' sound is in fact due to excessive feedback, which strips out a lot of the extra info in an audio track. The bog standard Caiman has such a filter. In one mod that filter is bypassed with a mod to MLC5/6 on the original audio PCB. The sudden release of the otherwise filtered extra detail has to be heard to be appreciated.
So the 'unforgiving' nature you love is in fact not so. It's a false representation created by a Sallen-Key or MFB filter circuit that many CD player audio circuitry have been fitted with. I stopped using those filters once I realized that they are really aimed at the TDA154X range NOS of DAC chips.

Yes, I need a lot more experience in order to start hearing these kind of subtleties. Perhaps the word 'unforgiving' was ill-chosen.

It is interesting that manufacturers would use such a filter, and that they would want to strip such detail.

I am going to content myself with the Caiman in its stock form (granted the one I have has the gator installed) for the minute, before I let the inevitable upgrade-itis get a hold of me. I'll leave the thought of any mods till after I've finished the other projects that are long overdue. Perhaps a distillation of the reams of mods that exist on this forum might be of help. Stan you might like to create a thread, "Stans top 5 Caiman Mods".

Anyway, I've been listening to the caiman in the office here all morning and I am loving the extra detail I am now getting from my Flac stockpile. I am new to this hi-fi game and will not vend my little experiences as anything other than they are, "My salad days, When I was green in judgment, cold in blood."
Still, I am now glad to be a fully paid up member of the AOS crew. All I need is one of anthony's valve amps and a couple of Mark's fancy cables!! :lolsign:

StanleyB
30-03-2011, 12:59
Those filters appeared in CD player audio circuitry in the 80's when they had to design a filter to remove quantization noise above 20KHz. But modern day oversampling DAC chips don't need that brckwall filter at 20KHz. Unfortunately many audio design engineers working on CD player audio stages are still working from the hymn book printed in the early 80's. I tore mine up years ago and wrote my own chapters and verses :).

RochaCullen
31-03-2011, 09:17
Are you using the Caiman with the supplied SMPS...?

Use a linear one and you'll hear a big improvement :)

I know there has been plenty of discussion of this elsewhere, but when you mention a linear power supply, do you mean that supply recommended from Maplins?

Gazjam
31-03-2011, 15:40
I added the Maplins PSU to my Dac and found it made a good improvement.
Sound was more relaxed..yet more detailed.

A good addition.
No doubt there may be better (I think the internals arent the best?), but its easy upgraded I supose if you know your way round a soldering iron (or know someone who does!)

CentraL
01-04-2011, 08:17
Is the Gator in production now?

I have just got my Caiman and will consider any upgrades in the near future.

Right now, I write down my first impressions of the Dac using both 16/44.1 & 24/96 material fed via spdif.

Alex_UK
01-04-2011, 09:55
Hi Lefteris - Gator Mk. 2 was released 17th March - see this thread for info (http://theartofsound.net/forum/showthread.php?t=10303)., but you'll need to check directly with Stan if there are any left. Not sure if there is a Greek version of "selling like hot cakes"? ;)

WAD62
01-04-2011, 10:31
I know there has been plenty of discussion of this elsewhere, but when you mention a linear power supply, do you mean that supply recommended from Maplins?

Yes, I can't comment on the more expensive 'designer' ones, but the VN10L works very nicely with my Beresford TC-7510, a big improvement over the supplied one...and at 18 it won't break the bank ;)

CentraL
05-04-2011, 07:52
Hi Lefteris - Gator Mk. 2 was released 17th March - see this thread for info (http://theartofsound.net/forum/showthread.php?t=10303)., but you'll need to check directly with Stan if there are any left. Not sure if there is a Greek version of "selling like hot cakes"? ;)

Thanx Alex!

The expression exists but talks about hot bread instead!:)

StanleyB
05-04-2011, 09:10
I have added the Gator in a new page on my site. the link is HERE (http://www.homehifi.co.uk/PP/Upgrades_1.html).

CentraL
05-04-2011, 09:13
I have added the Gator in a new page on my site. the link is HERE (http://www.homehifi.co.uk/PP/Upgrades_1.html).

Thank you Stan!

And another thank you for that great product I had the chance to get!!!;)

magiccarpetride
05-04-2011, 15:56
I have added the Gator in a new page on my site. the link is HERE (http://www.homehifi.co.uk/PP/Upgrades_1.html).

Stan, do you plan to keep Caiman modularized like that, i.e. continue to offer the 'vanilla' DAC with the ability to order the additional module (i.e. Gator)? I'm surprised you're not thinking of bundling them up, to save people some hassle having to fit the Gator board themselves. Or is your thinking that bundling them up will increase the base price for the product and thus impact your sales margins?

I'm asking because I'm going around advising people to go with the Caiman, but am a bit lost when it comes to advising them on the Gator. What's the longer term plan?

StanleyB
07-04-2011, 07:59
Stan, do you plan to keep Caiman modularized like that, i.e. continue to offer the 'vanilla' DAC with the ability to order the additional module (i.e. Gator)? I'm surprised you're not thinking of bundling them up, to save people some hassle having to fit the Gator board themselves.
Fitting the Gator afterwards is turning out to be a problem for some. I am having a look into some of the issues that have been reported. It could be that the Gator is sold ready fitted in a specially prepared Caiman. Let me look further into that.

aBe
16-04-2011, 01:54
Hi guys,

I wonder why I keep getting better results with Toslink compared to USB?
Not that I find the sound was lacking anywhere with the USB input on the Gator all this while.

Lucky me, I got spare Toslink lying around and hooked it up just for the sake of well...trying my luck. Damn! There goes my (unashamedly transparent) new USB cable. The Toslink simply squeezes out heavenly sound and music from the Gator. I am not turning back..

Toslink and mini adaptor used are from Recoton.

RochaCullen
28-04-2011, 13:03
Finally got ASIO working today. The difference is meant to be that I am bypassing some of windows nasty filtering.

The difference is fairly sizable. So much more sparkle. Loving the DAC at the minute.

Nathan

Yoga
28-04-2011, 14:46
Finally got ASIO working today. The difference is meant to be that I am bypassing some of windows nasty filtering.

The difference is fairly sizable. So much more sparkle. Loving the DAC at the minute.

Nathan

I remember using ASIO on my old PC with a foobar plugin, even on the limited hardware you could hear a difference :)