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.

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.

@verdantaudio isn’t the Weiss Helios using one chip but with 8 channels? The 501 uses 2 mono chips. What would be interesting is if you could test the new 204 or 205, in general. It has an outboard power supply, presumably not an LPS. Some reviewers are touting these units as equivalent to the 500 series (in sound). The description of the 200 DACs also seems to imply it only uses one chip. Many makers (e.g. Oppo 105) used one chip with its multiple DACs run in parallel. I’m sure though that however Weiss implements its DACs sounds great.

@mikeg   I have never received and Ayon product on trade and I am not an Ayon dealer.  If I get one on trade I will write it up.  

@jimmy2615 my 204 arrived on Saturday and I will be writing up an evaluation of it.  You are right that the Helios is using an 8 channel chip with 4 channels of processing dedicated to left and right channels.  The 501/502 uses 2 channels of processing dedicated per channel and the 204 uses 4.  I can say that the Helios is rather impressive with the deepest soundstage I have heard in my system, hands down.  I also find it less bright vs. the 501 and incredibly smooth and detailed.  It is between Playback and EMM in terms of Dynamics.  It is in impressive unit That is priced well vs. what it is delivering.  

I have the Lampizatior Amber 4, Weiss Helios, Weiss 204 and Innuos Pulse Mini to write up.  We are not Lampizator dealers but have recently become Innuos dealers.  I have heard insanely good things about the Pulse Mini so I am excited to hear it as an all-in-one streamer.  

Lampizator Amber - I am going to preface this by saying I am testing this unit with stock tubes.  I have no interest in rolling and optimizing as I have no plan to keep this unit for myself.  Lots of threads in other forums on tube optimization for Lampi so no need for me to dig into this. 

The Amber 4 is as nice DAC that is engaging and easy to listen too.  The version I have is an XLR model with a built in volume control.  It also has an analog input and can serve as a preamp.  The closest competitor to this unit is the Rockna Wavelight.  

What is immediately obvious is that with the stock tubes, this is easy listening but far from the be all, end all in terms of detail.  In a Sentimental Mood is lovely.  There is sparkle on the top end and very musical.  It feels like there is a touch of smearing in the drum rolls

In Be Still My Beating Heart, soundstage is huge.  Great width.  Nice depth but lacks the stability of more premium DACs.  Nosie floor through XLRs is quite low, espcially for a tube unit.  

Liberty had zero sibilance.  Effects were muted but coming from a distance.  Staging is good but again, not the most focused image. 

in the opening of Duende, there is noticeable smearing in the bass solo.  This sounds smoother than more premium DACs but is not necessarily how it should sound.  Dynamics are great and it is fun and easy to listen too. 

On the Berg piece, strings feel somewhat massed and the intimacy is lost.  Exactly what I would expect at this point in the demo.

Flaty, this is a very enjoyable and easy to listen too DAC.  It reminds me of the PS Audio DSD in some ways.  With stock tubes, it has excellent staging but lacks the detail and stability of the best units in the price class.  Not sure how better tubes will impact this but have to assume it will improve it.