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Review - Silverstone EB01-E and EB03

Discussion in 'Sound City' started by rids57, Nov 9, 2014.

  1. rids57

    Soldato

    Joined: Jul 25, 2012

    Posts: 6,064

    Location: Ankh Morpork

    [​IMG]

    The first thing that strikes you when you open the boxes of the EB01-E and EB03, is that Silverstone put a good deal of effort into the styling and build quality of these units.

    They are vaguely piano shaped, which means they look great as a stacked pair but might be difficult to pair with something else if used singly.

    The brushed Aluminium finish is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, leaving white oxidation marks behind which are visible in the pics. A quick wipe removes them though so no major problem.

    The only thing that really stands out on the units is the large volume control on the top of the amplifier, which is noise free and very smooth in use.

    [​IMG]

    All you will find on the front is the full sized 6.3mm headphone socket and indicator LEDs for power (on both) and play on the DAC which only illuminates when it is receiving a signal.

    The EB03 amplifier is some 50% taller than the EB01-E DAC, which means they look better stacked than side by side.

    [​IMG]

    The rear of the units is where everything happens and Silverstone have done a good job of laying everything out in a logical and tidy manner.

    The EB01-E DAC has RCA sockets for output to an amplifier or powered speakers and inputs for asynchronous USB, Optical and Co-axial SPDIF,

    all of which are clearly labelled and with LEDs to indicate the active input.

    There is also a small push switch to scroll through the three input options, so it would be possible to have more than one source connected at a time.

    The EB03 headphone amplifier has RCA sockets for both input and line level output. The line out acts as a pass through so is unaffected by the volume control,

    so if you also have speakers connected, you will have to turn them off when hot in use.

    Finally there is a socket for the external wall wart power supply and a satisfyingly solid on/off switch.


    The EB01-E comes with a short USB cable and an RCA to 3.5mm (socket) Y-adapter cable, which proved useful for listening to the DAC on it's own.

    The EB03 comes with an RCA to RCA interconnect cable, an RCA to 3.5mm (male) Y-adapter cable, a 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter and the power supply.

    The last thing to mention is that these are quite chunky and absolutely dwarf my Schiit Modi and Vali stack....

    [​IMG]

    So how do they sound? The short answer is very nice indeed and I really didn't want to send them back. :D


    For the review I used Sennheiser HD 650 and modded AKG K702 headphones with a Schiit Modi (DAC) and Vali (hybrid tube amp) plus an Asus Xonar Essence STX for comparison.

    I also used a pair of Sony MDRXB30EX IEMs for listening to the DAC un-amped.


    Set up was very straight forward and was just a matter of plugging in the supplied cables and installing the XMOS driver which I downloaded from the Silverstone website.

    My source was PC running MusicBee and a mixture of lossless FLAC files ranging from 16bit/44.1k to 24bit/192kHz.


    The first thing I tried was to use the RCA to 3.5mm adapter to listen to the DACs in isolation, which proved to be quite a surprise.

    The Schiit Modi sounded absolutely dreadful through the Sony IEMs, just a harsh and tinny mess. The EB01-E on the other hand was full sounding,

    with plenty of bass and very smooth with no hint of harshness at all.

    The only explanation I can think of is that the Silverstone DAC must supply a bit more current than the Modi, enough to bring the IEMs to life at least.

    The upside of this is that the Silverstone EB01-E is quite usable on it's own for driving IEMs and quite possibly low impedance, easy to drive headphones.


    Connecting up the respective amplifiers made any differences much, much smaller and more difficult to pick out.

    With the modded AKG K702s the Silverstones had quite a full sound with a nice growl to the bass and a satisfying thump to the kick drum without ever going overboard.

    Separation was excellent within the K702's huge sound stage making listening to Prog Rock, specifically high resolution Yes albums, a real pleasure.

    The sound through the HD650s was smooth and silky with plenty of detail and toe tappingly musical.


    In fact I found that the the sound through the EB03 sounds just like the DAC, only louder and I mean MUCH LOUDER.

    I never made it past the 50% mark on the volume control because at that point it was hurting my ears but it has to be said that even at such high

    volumes, it was still clear as a bell with no discernible distortion.


    That you reach such high volumes with high impedance or low efficiency headphones at so low a volume setting will likely prove troublesome if you

    want to use IEMs and could even be a problem with some low impedance, efficient headphones because there are no gain switches.

    So with something like the Philips Fidelio X1 or X2, you might well be stuck with using quite a small amount of the volume control's travel and this can

    in turn lead to problems with channel imbalance.

    You can always get around this by adjusting the volume within Windows or inside the music player and as long as you are set to 24 bit you won't lose any quality.


    Compared with the Silverstone DAC & headphone amplifier, the Schiit Vali does slightly colour the sound by extending the bass a little although the highs are still very clean.

    Swapping the amps over did very slightly increase the bass from the EB03-E but the difference was quite subtle, nothing earth shattering.


    If I had to pick between these two stacks, I think I would probably pick the Silverstone pair but only by a whisker and herein lies the problem.

    The Silverstone stack costs almost twice as much as the Schiit duo or the Epiphany O2Di. It has to be said that the Silverstone pair do have more

    inputs and a much more stylish case but is that difference worth £160?


    So, to sum up.

    The Silverstone EB01-E and EB03 are a stylish, well featured DAC and headphone amplifier that are easily capable of driving mid-fi headphones such

    as the 300ohm Sennheiser HD 650 and beyond. I thoroughly enjoyed using them and was quite sad to see them go. To my ears they are certainly on a

    par with the widely respected Schiit Modi and Vali stack and a step up from the Asus Xonar Essence STX sound card, so if sound quality is what you are

    looking for, these are definitely worth a look but as to whether they are good value for money, only you can decide.
     
  2. Ninja Pirate

    Gangster

    Joined: Sep 1, 2014

    Posts: 256

    Location: US and A

    Nice review!

    Any chance for some shots inside the amp/DAC? I'm very curious how they have actually implemented the IC's.

    On a side note, can manufacturers please post more meaningful specs... 16 - 600 Ohms doesn't really say a heck of a lot. I hope they've addressed the rather high (50 ohms) output impedance of the 1646.
     
  3. rids57

    Soldato

    Joined: Jul 25, 2012

    Posts: 6,064

    Location: Ankh Morpork

    Maybe TwST could open it up, I didn't feel comfortable opening something that didn't belong to me.

    I really wouldn't even attempt to use reasonably efficient low impedance headphones with this setup anyway, not without a means of reducing the gain.

    I had no means of measuring the output impedance and as Silverstone don't state it I had to leave it out.
    The AKGs are not sensitive to low damping factor and the HD 650 are high impedance anyway so any effect would be slight.
    I didn't hear any "woolliness" in the bass through either headphone so even if it was 50 ohm, it didn't cause any problems.

    I would still steer clear with any efficient, low impedance headphones, mainly because of the unalterable gain but also with high output impedance being a distinct possibility.
     
  4. dacads

    Capodecina

    Joined: Sep 3, 2012

    Posts: 10,386

    Location: Space

    They don't look too stylish to me, then again could just be your photos :D ;)

    Jokes aside, is this the final review or was there more gear sent out? Either way another good review, for more expensive audio equipment :D
     
  5. rids57

    Soldato

    Joined: Jul 25, 2012

    Posts: 6,064

    Location: Ankh Morpork

    Yeah, photography is not my forte - it helps if you can see what you're doing :D
     
  6. TwsT

    Sgarrista

    Joined: Feb 7, 2011

    Posts: 7,628

    Location: Stoke on Toast

    It's not the final one I have to send the beast to Rids but I have to fix it.

    Would appear I blew one of the Surge fuses when I unplugged it before sending it to ryan.

    So sadly he didn't get a chance to test it.

    IT has a 13amp fuse on the plug and then 2 fast blow 1 amp fuses on the socket.

    one of those was blown which is good i'd rather a 18p fuse blow than a £350 DAC/Amp

    So I have the replacement fuses on their way and I'll send them back out. I'll have to send it out to Ryan again at a later date.


    Great review Rids again thanks I've forwarded it to Silverstone I'm sure they'll be happy.

    I have also expressed my feelings with them on the price to see if we can get a bundle price or something, to bring it down under £300
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2014
  7. TwsT

    Sgarrista

    Joined: Feb 7, 2011

    Posts: 7,628

    Location: Stoke on Toast

    DAC
    [​IMG]

    AMP
    [​IMG]

    Curiously you could build them as 1 unit

    Currently regretting taking the amp top off as it is hard to maneuver back I believe they assembled it upside down.
     
  8. rids57

    Soldato

    Joined: Jul 25, 2012

    Posts: 6,064

    Location: Ankh Morpork

    Quite a lot of space inside, a combi for £250 with added gain switches would be a killer unit
     
  9. TwsT

    Sgarrista

    Joined: Feb 7, 2011

    Posts: 7,628

    Location: Stoke on Toast

    yeah I was wondering about gain I assume you're just expected to not be a noob and turn up low impedance headphones too high. Which if you're spending £350 on a headphone amp and DAC you probably aren't

    Still they are my favourite of the 3.
     
  10. rids57

    Soldato

    Joined: Jul 25, 2012

    Posts: 6,064

    Location: Ankh Morpork

    It's not so much the danger of blowing your eardrums, though that is a concern, it's more that you're left with such a small amount of the volume control's travel to cover the whole spread from quiet to painful.

    With potentiometer type volume controls, it's very common for the channels to be out of balance at low settings and these could correspond to normal listening levels on IEMs or even efficient, low impedance headphones.

    This imbalance can be anything from one channel being a bit louder than the other to one channel dropping out entirely.
     
  11. Ninja Pirate

    Gangster

    Joined: Sep 1, 2014

    Posts: 256

    Location: US and A

    It seems pretty common for a lot of 'premium' audio products to be fairly empty inside. Out of my own products for instance, the Woo Audio WA6SE is a lot of just empty space (think mini ITX in a TJ11...). It's one of the many things audio manufacturers do that make us think a product must be of 'premium quality'.

    Also thanks for the photos TwsT!


    Sensitivity is a much more important factor if you're worried about too much gain.
     
  12. rids57

    Soldato

    Joined: Jul 25, 2012

    Posts: 6,064

    Location: Ankh Morpork

    You also have to think about the noise floor with a single gain setting.

    What can be silent on an insensitive or high impedance headphone can be annoyingly noisy on IEMs or high efficiency, low impedance headphones.
     
  13. TwsT

    Sgarrista

    Joined: Feb 7, 2011

    Posts: 7,628

    Location: Stoke on Toast

    well all i know is they <3 my X1's
     
  14. TwsT

    Sgarrista

    Joined: Feb 7, 2011

    Posts: 7,628

    Location: Stoke on Toast

    Spotted this on silverstones website

    Model No.
    SST-EB01B-E (black)
    SST-EB01S-E (silver)

    SST-EB03B (black)
    SST-EB03S (silver)

    Next year I am told