New Taiko Audio TACDA & TACDD DAC And Interface.

Taiko Audio writes: “For some time, the question on many people’s collective minds was: “When will Taiko bring some form of DAC to market?” As you all know we have been advocating the use of the USB interface to connect to your DAC while most other server vendors advocate the use of SPDIF/AES/I2S and in a few rare cases Ethernet. The reasons for this are pretty straightforward. Initially, the TACDA will be made available only for existing Extreme owners. At a later stage, it will be made available to the wider public.” 

TACDA & TACDD DAC & Interface
TACDA – Taiko Audio CPU Direct to Analog
A new Taiko Audio Analog + SPDIF Output Option Board
TACDD – Taiko Audio CPU Direct to Digital
A new Taiko Audio Proprietary interface format
The first product to appear is a PCIe Card with the following features
• Analog RCA outputs
• S/PDIF RCA and BNC, and TOSlink digital outputs
• Rohm BD34301EKV DAC chip
• PCI-powered
• Can be added to existing Extreme music servers
Expected Availability
March 2023
You aspire to meet or exceed cd transport playback performance for 16/44.1 files at a competitive retail price level. This first issue you will run into is a quite obvious one, you need a very significantly larger amount of PCB real estate, functionality and processing power which require much more filtering to have competitive electronics noise levels. You could argue that a CD transport comes with additional expense for rotational stability and vibration control (jitter) but then you’re disregarding the streamer hardware possibly being equally sensitive to this, but you do have the luxury of the absence of a motor. Then you need an interface to the DAC. Very low noise SPDIF/AES/I2S solutions have been around for decades with not much, if any, mystery surrounding their sound quality performance. And obviously, using the same interface as a CD transport, it becomes easier to approach a CD transport sound signature. However, with a limitation of a 24/192 data rate over a single line, and due to how the interface works, increased noise levels at higher sample rates.
Typically, this interface will not sound better for higher sample rate files than 16/44.1 (note that the source master quality tends to exceed any of these differences at all time), and worse than 16/44.1 with DSD/DXD files due to the need of significant conversion processing. Ideally you have managed to have CD transport quality playback, for all sampling rates… To us this has been an unacceptable approach from day 1, which is why we went all in on USB. USB data packet rate is fixed and does not change with sampling rate, the interface is universal, the interface sound signature does not change with sampling rate, and it’s the same for all receivers, or at least, that was the design goal… Today we know and have proven this is not true. Sure, we have developed an USB card with noise levels at or below those of an AES/SPDIF/I2S interface without the jitter/timing sensitivities of those interfaces. But still there were deviations and discrepancies from expected performance. It took designing our own USB driver, querying all DACs our customers support, and designing our driver to be adjustable to… different implementations of USB receivers in DACs. This was quite an elaborate project, but as you have all witnessed the performance delta can be dramatic. However, as you also all know by now is that the playback software has its signature too, and Roon’s signature has changed over time. Roon currently sounds more expansive than the average CD transport, but also softer and less clear, and some prefer this over CD, some don’t. We now have XDMS (currently in Alpha state) to level the playing field once more. For 16/44.1 (local file playback), XDMS on the Extreme sounds like a mix of CEC TL0 3.0 timing, Kalista color shading, and the bass of a Mark Levinson 31.5. We like to think that what we have today is competitive performance at 16/44.1 to top flight CD transports, and we deliver on the promise of better performance at higher sample rates (again assuming corresponding master quality).

Where to go next?

During our journey, exploring the USB interface, driving it to its absolute limits, coding drivers, coding playback software, the idea came to bear there’s room for improvement, considerably so, as further improvements in code are not possible due to USB interface hardware limitations. We conceptually have an even better USB interface design, but still, this will have the same limitations. This kind of improvement would be similar to the improvement that results from overengineering linear power supplies for a bigger multi box model Extreme without actually solving the “problem”, without real progress or innovation.
So, we took it upon us to embark on a very ambitious project of designing an entire new interface not hindered by the limitations of either the USB or AES/SPDIF/I2S interfaces. This project involves coding a whole new driver stack with corresponding software from scratch and a whole new hardware interface. We have not thought of a name for it yet but internally we refer to it as: TACDA and TACDD for Taiko Audio CPU Direct to Analogue and Taiko Audio CPU Direct to Digital.
The first product we have using this technology is actually close to release already, being a PCIe card with analog RCA outputs, and SPDIF RCA and BNC, and TOSlink digital outputs. We do not expect many people using TOSlink, but it costs virtually nothing extra, and might be useful to hookup an A/V receiver.
We have talked to Lukasz “Lampizator” Fikus who is open to incorporating this new interface into his DACs, to Jonathan Gullman of MSB who is willing to port this to their PRO/ISL interface, and have just approached Vincent Brient of Totaldac, which would lead to a very nice next phase of this project.


Why interface to another DAC if there is already a DAC chip on board?

To improve performance. We’re not DAC designers, the innovation is in the superior interface, we’ve incorporated a Rohm BD34301EKV DAC chip because we thought it sounded best of the available “off the shelf” DAC chips (more “analog” than for instance ESS Sabre) and added a JFET class A output stage, but that’s about all we could fit on a PCIe card sized PCB. It may compete with some 10-20K DACs, but to directly compete with a top-level DAC such as a Lampizator Horizon, MSB Select 2, or Totaldac D1-12 is a bit much too ask for!
How would I connect DAC XXX to the new TACDA?
Coaxially either via S/PDIF RCA or via BNC. In an ideal world all DAC manufacturers would follow suit and incorporate our interface.
What is more ideal, S/PDIF (BNC) S/PDIF (RCA)?
The outputs should have the same specification but it’s too soon to tell.
Will TACDA have multiple BNC outputs for higher sample rates?
1 BNC output means a 192 kHz 24 bit max limit. That is perfect for all the Totaldac users but only until Lampizator, MSB, and TotalDAC add TACDD receivers into their DACs. That will surpass the performance of current formats such as S/PDIF, AES/EBU, and USB.
What type of cable will carry this new interface?
At the moment this is undisclosed.
Will this PCIe card be available for non-Extreme owners?
Yes, at a later stage.
Since we are replacing the Ethernet card, would you like those sent back for customers who are not going the switch route?
If referring to the old SFP network card, no.
Does the TACDA replace the USB card?
The new technology interface card is CPU / PCIe direct to DAC – Analogue out AND CPU / PCIe direct to SPDIF (with RCA, BNC, and TOSlink connectors). It does not replace the USB card.
PCI slot availability – If one has the USB card as well as the new ethernet card installed in the Extreme already, there seems to be no spare PCIe socket for the coming Extreme TACDA & TACDD interface card? Does the USB card have to be removed to make room for the new interface card?
You could either replace the USB card for which we could look into doing a trade-in deal or you can move the Optane OS drive, and there’s room to relocate the storage cards.
Will this card work with Apple Mac?
The current implementation is Windows only and it is not likely that we will develop an Apple Mac version.
Why no XLR Balanced Outputs?
Space is limited and we’d have to deal with double heat dissipation from an actual class A Jfet output stage.
Market Adaptation – What’s the likelihood of the collaboration with other D-A converter DAC manufacturers for the new card output?
The three aforementioned manufacturers have expressed their willingness. Naturally, we’re going to need market adaptation. These are not cheap developments, it’s either going to be a long haul investment project taking years to break even, like XDMS for example, or it’s going to take off like a rocket and be widely used inside of 1-2 years. The pace will be largely decided by how well the products we launch that utilize this standard sell.
TACDD interface – please can you shed some light on the TACDD interface between Extreme and external DAC?
This is still to be designed and launched later.
Can we listen to Extreme with this TACDA output at the upcoming HE Munich in May?
We’re fairly sure that it will be used somewhere!