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the Romanian Princess wants to marry the Transport King.

Well, after two encounters with Audio Note DAC4 Signature sound - I could not get rid of that memory, the sensation of a total, unconditional,  unlimited musical JOY.
Since I don't remember the last time I had 20 000 dollars ready to spend on a DAC, I thought to myself: why not be a smartass and make something like that myself???
Seems like a good idea. After all, Audio Note just uses Analog Devices chip AD1865, a power supply and two tubes. Could not be any simpler than that.

So I browsed the internet searching for AD1865 products or just the chip. Well, except a couple of Wadias - I found almost NOTHING. Well - not exactly nothing because I found ROCKNA.
The AD-LABS company from ROCKNA group  prepared something just for me - a simple, one PCB, fully functional DAC  with the superb chip in the centre.

From what they say on the website - their DAC is just what I need. A simple, basic board with the great chip and everything according to the Rockna guy - is well thought about.
So I bought it blindly without investigating further.
What  irritated me  was the order processing and handling. I had zero feedback,  not only inside the DAC circuit  but also from the Rockna company about my shipment.

4 weeks later I decided to write it off. Purchase was not on Ebay, so I had no protection. What the hell, I thought, health is what matters, 160 Euro is unimportant.
Just 5 weeks later - Rockna DAC arrived. Very quietly, not like a real Princess, she arrived in bubblewrap envelope. Just when I least expected it and forgotten the 160 Eu already.



RD-3 is available in 2 versions:
without AD1865*
139 €

with AD1865N-J
169 €

RD-3 assembled : 259 €

AD Labs presents the new RD-3 D/A converter. Instead of relying only on spdif receiver pll (CS8416) for jitter reduction like concurrent offerings, the RD-3 features a custom reclocking technique (ART) built with Xilinx programable logic, external analog loop and MAX9485 low jitter master clock generator. This stage perfectly locks on the clocks generated by CS8416 and delivers low jitter output, while keeping perfect audio data integrity. The reclocked signals are routed directly into AD1865 which is well known as one of the best R2R dac available. A zero-feedback, fully discrete i/v converter delivers pure analog quality at the output.
 input frequencies : 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 192 Khz
 number of inputs : 2 (optical, coaxial)
 S/N ratio: 102 dB
 THD : 0,06%
 IMD : 0,04%
 Low impedance output (30 ohms)
 Bandwidth : 20 Hz - 20 Khz, +/- 0.5 dB
 Featuring ART - Audiokitlabs Reclocking Technique
 zero-feedback discrete output stage
 board dimensions : 107 x 100 mm
 microcontroller operated

Soooo, this looks very interesting. Not another ME TOO design, unlikely another Chinese  Counterfeit of a famous design, and not another "chip data sheet suggested evaluation board made to look commercial". Just a proper result of someone's best efforts.
I must admit that the price (considering this is EU remember ?)  is fair for this top level of PCB craftsmanship. The PCB looks much better that what I am used to,

I listened briefly in stock form. The PCB played immediately without surprises. But the sound was not impressive at all. I felt disappointed. Such good DAC, zero feedback, zero oversampling, simple circuits, and above all - discrete output stage. No opamps, no overengineering - my expectations were much higher.

So I expected a big change after lampization.


Before Rockna could marry the King Transport, she had to see the doctor first. I took her two legs (4, 21)and lifted them from the sockets. The now floated legs became I outputs potentially offering highest sound quality.
I did not even question the power supply - it looks good and it is all SMD. It also is a DEDICATED design. So it's gotta be good.
Here is the point when I had to decide the voltage conversion - famous I/U.
I know Mr. Qvortrup puts a Sowter transformer between the DAc and the tube grid. Since sowters are costing more that the whole bloody DAC, I decided to use a resistor.
The resistor works great in all other DACs so it should work here too.

We can also refer to one of the greatest DAC designs available for DIY - published in Audio Express June 2006.  made something similar to A-N DAC4 - namely - AD1865 plus Sowters plus SRPP.

or the audionote version:

BACK TO ROCKNA (is it Dracula or is it Nadia Comaneci ?)

About the chip:

The DAC is an old 18 bit stereo design, single ended only.



AD-1865 datasheet excerpts :

Dual Serial Input, Voltage Output DACs
No External Components Required
110 dB SNR, 0.003% THD+N
Operates at 16 3 Oversampling per Channel
Cophased Outputs
116 dB Channel Separation
Pin Compatible with AD1864

Multichannel Audio Applications
Compact Disc Players
Multivoice Keyboard Instruments
DAT Players and Recorders
Digital Mixing Consoles
Multimedia Workstations

The AD1865 is a complete, dual 18-bit DAC offering excellent THD+N and SNR while requiring no external components. Two
complete signal channels are included. This results in cophased voltage or current output signals and eliminates the need for
output demultiplexing circuitry. The monolithic AD1865 chip includes CMOS logic elements, bipolar and MOS linear elements
and laser-trimmed thin-film resistor elements, all fabricated on Analog Devices’ ABCMOS process.
The DACs on the AD1865 chip employ a partially segmented architecture. The first four MSBs of each DAC are segmented
into 15 elements. The 14 LSBs are produced using standard R-2R techniques. Segment and R-2R resistors are laser trimmed to provide
extremely low total harmonic distortion. This architecture minimizes errors at major code transitions resulting in low output
glitch and eliminating the need for an external deglitcher. When used in the current output mode, the AD1865 provides
two ±1 mA output signals. Each channel is equipped with a high performance output amplifier.
These amplifiers achieve fast settling and high slew rate, producing ±3 V signals at load currents up to 8 mA. Each output
amplifier is short-circuit protected and can withstand indefinite short circuits to ground.
The AD1865 was designed to balance two sets of opposing requirements, channel separation and DAC matching. High channel
separation is the result of careful layout. At the same time, both channels of the AD1865 have been designed to ensure
matched gain and linearity as well as tracking over time and temperature. This assures optimum performance when used in
stereo and multi-DAC per channel applications.

Vassili list of all other AD1865 machines


AD1865 – SM5843

KSS-210 / SOH-A1



AD1865 – SM5843





2 x AD1865N – XC3042A

Pioneer Stable Platter


2 x AD1865

It’s a DAC

Well -I ended up (after potentiometer test) using 330 Ohms as conversion resistor. It was soldered directly into the tube socket between pins 7 and 9 (with 6N2P tube that is).

Rockna DAC

The yellow cubes are SMD type of Tantalum resistors. Great stuff for digital - superfast caps on supershort legs.
The DAC as you see is the best selection N-J (or is K better perhaps ?)

Rockna DAC

Rockna DAC - full view from power supply side. This board has all PS elements - AC bridges, ripple filters cLc, regulators, capacitors and everything. So only a transformer is needed with 9 VAC and 12-0-12 AC secondaries. Power can be small - the whole thing draws not more that tens of milliamps.

Rockna DAC

Above: the aforementioned transformers.

Rockna DAC

Above: the discrete transistor output stage. Promising and disappointing.

Rockna DAC

This is the "god knows what for" Xilinx processor. I bet it is very important.

Rockna DAC

The DAC surprised me by having an array of 8 LEDS informing about the proper power supply to the various sections of a DAC. A nice touch. Very comforting.

Rockna DAC

Beauty contest during the Third Battle of Giants. In left bottom corner - TDA1541 Green Dac (unnecessary parts unpopulated) on right bottom - MaxiLampucera DAC with CS4397 dac chip, in top  row - Buffalo Sabre Dac QSS from Twisted Pear.

Rockna DAC


Hey Romanian Princess, I am surrounded by the whole bunch of supermodels, so you better try hard.
Honestly, the lampized DACk ROCKNA plays very well. First: no nasty surprizes, no humming, no noises, no pops or clicks. Clean sound.
It is just about equal with the good players like Lampucera, Zero Dac, or non-NOS (regular) TDA1541A. It is just equal to Burr Brown PCM58 like in Sony 338ESD.
But I expected more. I expected extasy and hallucinations. I knew I cant make audionote DAC4 for 200 Euro but subconciously I was hoping to get very close.
I don't know if it is the digital front circuit (with reclocking and some DSP chip XILINX) or maybe it is the lack of transformer for I/U conversion. I will install my Sowters and report back if the thunderrous, totally enveloping magically analog sound will appear. Maybe AD1865  does not like resistive conversion. Even, if lampized DACK sounds 3 classes better than the stock unit, it requires probably much more attention  than one evening. I will not give up, you can quote me on that.
I will start by lifting the other legs unused: 6, 7, 8, 17, 18, 19. Maybe that will open up the sound.

2 weeks later.

I lifted legs 6,7,8,17, 18, 19 - still no nirvana.
I tried different tubes, but the sound remained a little bit clinical, mechanical, like OKAY sound but not what I paid for.

Rockna DAC

In desperation I thought about the caps. The power supply utilizes first some generic electrolytes, then chokes, then regulators, and after regulators - SMD tantalums (the yellow cubic stuff).
The tantalum is great for some applications, but it tends to sound dry, dimensionally flat and with lifted trebles.
So I soldered the OS-CONs - 220 uF by 6,3 V across every tantalum except the four plus one , whch power the unused output stage.

oscon sanyo

When I run out of oscons, I substituted the Tantalum 33uF/25V in less critical areas (green headed caps)

On the photo below it is shown which caps DO NOT need Oscons across them. All other yelow cubes should get upgraded capacitors soldered on top of them in parallel.
Given the magnitude of improvement  which the cheap os-cons gave me, I can only imagine what the much better but also more costly Blackgates would do to this DAC. 

rockna blackgates
Again - DONt upgrade these caps in red circles. Upgrade all other.


OOOooo much better. From the first note the expanded space stroke me as something new. The sound became MUCH more analog like, spacious, delicate, with stronger bass, much closer to Nirvana.  Much closer to the best DACs out there. The OSCON soldering took literally 10 minutes and it is reversible.
It is already great sound, but I will investigate further.  Maybe I should disable the reclocking circuit, such action improved the SATCH dac a lot. Maybe I will ask the creators of this dac what the varous jumpers are for.
Till next time,

The story of Rockna - Romanian Princess of DACs - ends in happy end marriage  with the Prince of Transports who totally unexpectedly came from USA and captured the hearts of all

After osconization my breadboard Rockna kit sounded good enough to treat it seriously. It sounds DIFFERENT from my beloved TDA1541A, and actually I like it more and more.

I used a very nice (even if too goldish for my taste - case from Hong Kong ($60)
from biglawhk company (Mr. Lawrence)

Rockna DAC

As you see - I used 3 transformers - one for 12-0--12 V, one for 9 V (both for Rockna) and the Lampizator one.

I had two secondaries for anode supply - 120 V each. Instead of using it in stereo dual supply, I opted for series connected secondaries producing 240V AC and after rectification - 320 V DC. I used one supply set of caps and filters and BOTH stereo tubes are supplied from common point. This is simple and in SRPP (constant current) it does not cause stereo crosstalk.
Heating is provided for two tubes by series 12,6VDC - 6,3 V per tube.

I tried 4 different tubes and definitely the 6H6P sounded best. IDEAL ! The resistors are 1K in all four cathodes and the DAC is in current output mode - its output is wired directly to a 330 Ohm resistor (tube leg 7 to ground).
There are no capacitors between DAC and tubes.
Output caps are Paper In Oils - russian MBGO military types - 1 uF by 400 V plus a 5 nF styroflex bypass.

Rockna DAC

Rockna DAC

I used bituminous felt generously because the box has large surfaces.

Rockna DAC

Rockna DAC

Rockna DAC

Lampi- Rockna DAC and Theta Data Transport  - match made in heaven, also visually



It did not happen overnight but the process of improving the Rockna finally paid off. I had to lampize it, build all custom power supplies, add new oc-con caps and marry it to the very capable transport.
But the end result is extremely good. I don't have today the Buffalo Sabre ESS dac for comparison but generally speaking - the Rockna/Theta combo is world class performer. I rank it equally to the best ones: Sabre, Grundig 9009, Sony 555ESD, Lampucera and Naim CDS.
I am not yet sure if the Rockna can be any good with a lesser transport than that bloody monster. 
Anyway - The two products together do something VERY right and the sound without doubt takes another dimension.
Also please read about the Theta itself.

I also am not impressed with ADLABS company job. They use fine dac chip but they dont' provide application that does it justice. Audionote does a much better job.
I heard that They make already an upgraded version, according to Mr. Nicolae Jitariu  from ADLABS the new one is MUCH better. Time will tell. But to pay 170 Euro for the dac chip and the "holder" is not something like a superdeal. If the Rockna board does not significantly add to the stellar performance of the chip - I would rather build one DAC from scratch or try a Chinese cheap alternative or really go for the Audionote kit.

If you already own the DAC from ADLABS - you are welcome to try my approach. The sound is really good.

A year later

A year later I still  could not live with the gap between Audionote DAC4 and the modded Rockna.

I bought the new receiver chip - CS8414 and I wired it to the AD1865 chip directly, without ANYTHING AT ALL  taken from Rockna board. This way it became a puristic totally kosher totally NOS version of Andrea Ciuffoli DAC.

below is the AD datasheet

Below is the comment from Audio Note datasheet of product:

The DAC uses the revolutionary and currently exclusive Audio Note digital
technology dubbed 1x oversampling™ direct from disc™ circuit topology. The
technology in essence dispenses with all the correction measures inherent in all other
D/A converters and presents the digital signal directly to the converter after
reformatting. In other words, all products in the Audio Note DAC range have no
oversampling, no jitter reduction, no noise shaping and no re-clocking. Having
removed all the digital filtering that is part of the oversampling, we have also
dispensed with all filtering in the analogue domain to further retain good wide band
phase-frequency and dynamically coherent behaviour. The end result being a
reproduction more reminiscent of master tape in quality, with greater differentiation
and contrast between different recordings.
Our converters all use a high grade selected Analogue Devices AD1865, 18Bit stereo
converter chip because we found this chip to be the best sounding available (yes, even
better than the 20Bit and 24Bit versions!). This is fully compatible with 16-bit
44.1kHz technology as well as 48kHz and can also be used with the 24-bit 96kHz
DVD-A standard as the DAC chip will only loose resolution at the 20th, 22nd and
24th Bit, a truncation that mildly reduces the resolution. Tests have shown that this
information loss is inaudible when compared to comparable methods used in digital
technology, which involve either oversampling, up sampling or other digitally derived
signal manipulations or “improvements”.

And that's Ciuffoli applicfation in detail:

I tried it with one change - lampizator instead of his tube stage.
The end result is MUCH better than Rockna. Change of receiver chip from CS8416 to 8414 and removal of XILINX resulted n such major jump in transparency, clarity, easy flow, natural  space. Almost Audionote !

Just follow the Ciuffoli schamatics. It will get you as close to nirvana as you can get for 100 Euro, all parts included. The only situation when I was closer to Nirvana for 100 Euro was the other day in Amsterdam, but that's another story.

The DAC  Ciuffoli DAC can be wired on test pcb with holes in about one eevening from scratch. You need 3 chips and a handful of oscons.

Audionote scematics:

3 weeks later:

I am very happy with my DAC which has now ZERO content from ROCKNA - it is just the AD1865 chip with power supply and my own input chip.
Like a new forest that grows on the ashes of the old forest. It is a new experience - showing that simple is better and that NOS rules.

The similar system - much cheaper and better built - can be had from hong kong in form of DIY assembled kit.
I recommend everybody to buy it immediately:  NOS1865 DAC