DAC Shootout Starts This Weekend

Okay...in another thread I promised to do a side-by-side evaluation of the Audiobyte HydraVox/Zap vs the Rockna Wavelight. Due to the astonishing incompetence of DHL this has been delayed. At the moment, I have a plethora of DACs here and am going to do a broader comparison.

I am going to do a compare of the Rockna Wavelight, Rockna Wavedream Signature, Audiobyte HydraVox/Zap, Chord Hugo 2, Chord Hugo TT2, Bricasti M3, Bricasti M1 Special Edition, Weiss 501 and the internal DAC card for an AVM A 5.2 Integrated amp as a baseline.

For sake of consistency, I am going to use that same AVM integrated amp driving Vivid Kaya 45s. I may branch out and do some listening on other speakers (Verdant Nightshade of Blackthorn and/or Wilson Benesch Vertexes) but want to use the Vivids for every compare as they are the fullest range speakers I have here. For sake of consistency I will use a Chord 2Go/2Yu connected via an Audioquest Diamond USB as a renderer. The only exception is the Hugo 2 which has a 2Go directly attached to it. I will use a Roon Nucleus+ as a server in all cases.

My plan is to use the same five songs on every DAC; In a Sentimental Mood from Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, Be Still My Beating Heart from Sting, Liberty from Anette Askvik, Duende from Bozzio Levin Stevens and Part 1 of Mozart String Quartet No 14 in G Major from the Alban Berg Quartet. The intent is to touch on different music types without going crazy.

I will take extensive notes on each listening session and write up a POV on the strengths of each unit. I am going to start this this Friday/Saturday and will be writing things up over the next month or so. If you have thoughts, comments or requests, I will be happy to try and accommodate. The one thing I am not going to do is make the list of songs longer as that has an exponential impact on this and make everything much harder. If and when other DACs come in on trade I may add to the list through time.

interesting and fun seeing reading the stereophile review on the jadis by alex h... i feel the same way about my audio note dac 4.1 -- no doubt that well executed vacuum tube regulation, rectification, output does add some special sauce...

I’ve owned the top Rockna Dac and also the Mola Mola Tambacqui.  They are very good (I would not hesitate to own the Tambacqui again as it’s an extremely pure sounding Dac for solid state).  However they are handily beaten by Aries Cerat.  My buddy has the AC Kassandra which is incredible…

Your impressions of the Jadis confirm what I have believed for a long time, which is not to pre-judge a dac’s sound from the design. People are constantly saying they want a resistor ladder or an fpga and how “off the shelf” chips are inferior. The Jadis, as well as Audio Note and many others prove there is much more to a dac than whether it uses a chip or not. 

@jjss49 No question a well executed tube based output stage can be extraordinary.  When reviews are available I try to avoid reading them till after I form my own opinion and see if I agree.  

The secondary element that I think helps in a BIG way is the outboard power supply.  And I am not sure it has to be outboard but having an enhanced power supply makes a huge difference.  Yesterday I did some testing with a few Chord devices and some external Sean Jacobs power supplies and the differences were noteworthy.

@sutts I am really intrigued by Aries Cerat.  I would love to get one in on demo for a stretch.  

@chayro I could not agree with you more.  Chip vs. FPGA vs. R2R biases are driven by perceptions that have nothing to do with what they are capable of.  If you compare the Playback (FPGA), Jadis (Chip) and Rockna (R2R), most assumptions are literally turned on their heads with these three devices.  

A belief that off the shelf chips are inferior is literal madness to me.  You have a team of engineers working to produce a chip.  R2R is driven by QC and what you spend on the resistor ladder (why MSB and Rockna are so good) vs FPGA where you probably have one guy designing the chip.  Just fine when that person is Andreas Koch, Nicloae Jitaru or Rob Watts, but I would not have faith that any FPGA delta sigma will perform as well as any chip based delta sigma without knowing who the designer is.  

The real issue with off the shelf chips is the perception that "newer is always better" so when a new chip comes out, a DAC is perceived as inferior if it doesn't have that latest, greatest chip.  R2R DACs and FPGA DACs are immune to this due to the lack of simple comparability.