After owning the PS Audio PWD II for six months, most recently running firmware version 2.4.6 (which is the best I tried), I wanted to move to a dac/preamp solution that would include analog inputs for my phono preamp as well as headphone outputs, and perhaps DSD capability. My search led to the Grace m920, which I purchased through Paul Allen at Sweetwater.
My initial impressions, formed over the last week, follow – I am using the Grace m920 with Dynaudio Gemini speakers, with their superb D260 tweeter, the Bob Latino M-125 140 wpc KT-120 based tube monoblocks, and driven by an Airport Express via toslink streaming Qobuz and my computer-based files at 16/44 and 24/192.. Great care has been taken with my speaker placement for smooth response and optimal soundstage and imaging. My headphones are Sennheiser HD-600s.
The Grace m920 is at once finished like fine jewelry and has a very cool, high tech appearance. The gleaming stainless steel matches my Bob Latino M-125 power amps very well, while the top and bottom plates have an Apple Mac like finish. Very impressive, and clearly conveys its professional heritage. Knobs and controls are all solid and convey quality.
While not a large unit, the input and output flexibility is superb, and the volume knob controlled menuing system is very extensive and well thought out. Separate level control over headphone and line level outputs (there are two) means great flexibility and ease of use. Also, three filter settings are available (linear phase – fast rolloff, linear phase – slow rolloff and minimum phase – fast rolloff). Online firmware updates are available from Grace for Windows computers, and I understand an OS/X version is in development. In addition to Grace’s optional remote, an Apple remote can be used with the m920. I didn’t miss the PWD’s touchscreen, in fact preferred the bright (but dimmable) display on the Grace for use with the remote from 12’ away. The S-lock system was engaged about 50-60% of the time, understandable given the moderate jitter of the Airport Express. The Grace also has a secondary PLL system that further reduces jitter. The Grace m920 uses the new Sabre 9018-2M 32/384 plus DSD chip, and I believe the m920’s volume control is implemented in the analog domain.
These impressions are generally in comparison to the PWD II, which I preferred to the NAD M51, the BMC Puredac and the Oppo BDP-105 which I’ve had in my system over the past year, among others.
I listen primarily to well-recorded acoustic jazz, and since I play jazz guitar I feel that I have a good reference for what real instruments should sound like.
In other DACs, I found the Sabre 9018 to be a bit “tizzy” in the high end, with mids suppressed in comparison. Not so with the Grace m920. Using the Linear Phase – slow filter, which sounded best in my system, cymbals were clear, metallic and smooth (vs dry and sandpapery). Great air around instruments, and completely non-fatiguing. Very little sibilance on female vocalists, with just the right mix of detail and musicality in my system.
The Grace m920 has plenty of drive, with great dynamics, especially in the bass, which is extended and articulate – I could easily focus on the harmonics in Ray Brown or Ron Carter’s string bass, for example.
The soundstage was wide and deep, with great image stability. Many jaw dropping moments as I stared in wonder at a 3-D, visual representation of instruments in space. I believe this reflects the very close channel matching – within .05db at all frequencies, extended frequency response and Grace’s attention to power supply and analog output stage design.
The m920 includes a crossfeed circuit that provides a sophisticated signal mix to enhance the headphone listening experience. This is described further on their site, and I found works very well.
In summary, I’m very happy with all aspects of the Grace m920, and take pride in owning a component of this overall quality.