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.

@antigrunge2   My experience is that anything that can be done to improve clocking between server & DAC is worth it.  I can’t speak about MSB simply because I have never had a unit in to spend lots of time with but dCS definitely and Rockna and other also benefit. Remember MSB is R2R.  

i am not going to say an external clock is universally essential but anytime clock synchronization can occur, jitter drops and sound quality approaches completely holographic. A great example of this is with Rockna and the I2S connection between a Wavedream and the Wavedream NET.  The sun of those parts far exceeds what you would expect to get from those two components.  When you look at the pin out, the R and L channels for the clocks are synchronized and grounded.  Although it is not an external reference, the clean synchronization of the two has a huge impact.  

There seem to be exceptions to this.  Upscaling DACs like Chord (PCM) and Playback and EMM Labs (DSD) do not seem to directly benefit.  Rob Watts is quite explicit that an external clock has no impact on Chord devices and both Playback and EMM work best with a fiber connection between streamer and DAC which has obvious benefits in terms of noise and clocking.  

There are a myriad of other exceptions, but I am a firm believer that if external clocking can be added, it is likely a very worthy upgrade.  USB especially benefits from this.  


@verdantaudio Have you had a chance to listen to the Weiss Helios DAC? I've enjoyed the DAC501 (base and 4-channel) and I'm wondering how the Helios compares to them. 

@mistercrash I have the Helios here burning in.  The first batch recently arrived in North America. I have listened to it initially and it sounds great.  Sort of a middle ground between Playback and Aries Cerat.  It is dramatically better than the 501 in the sense that everything was smoother and more analog sounding.  It helps that there are 4 DAC chips per channel as opposed to 2 in the 501/502.  They also have improved the output stage.  I want to listen to it after it has a chance to have some hours on it though for a final opinion. 

I will my write up here and we are going to begin posting to a YouTube channel videos of the DAC.  

EMM Labs DA2 V2 - This is the most expensive unit I have tested to date.  It is well built and has an awesome remote.  

This is a big and dynamic sounding unit that has extraordinary detail.  It is different than any of the other units I have heard and is very much a departure from the MA3.  If I had a customer who wanted to step up from the MA3, I would steer them to Playback.  This, in many ways, would be an elevation above Rockna and the Wavedream Signature.  

Drum rolls in In a Sentimental Mood were clean and crisp.  The overall song is big and dynamic sounding. Great sparkle on the piano.  Outstanding air around cymbals.  

In Be Still My Beating heart the image is deep and wide.  Noise floor is extremely low.  Bells sound natural.  In Liberty, same kind of massive image.  Effects are seemingly coming from a distance away from the speakers.  no sibilance in either song. 

Opening of Duende is precise and clear.  No smearing in the bass solo.  The song is hugely dynamic is incredible air and decay.  

The intimacy of the berg piece is missing just slightly.  This is an incredible, top tier DAC.  It is not dramatically better than the Playback, just different.  If you are looking for incredible dynamics and realism while also having totally next level DSD processing, this is THE DAC for you.  

Very interesting and informative thread. Enjoyed it immensely. Was wondering if the Ayon Audio S-5 can be added to the list. I’ve been using one for 7 years.