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.

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.  

Weiss Helios - I have had this unit in for several weeks and have spent time with it.  A few things stand out.  The unit is obviously much larger than the 501.  It is 2x the price of the 501 so the question is, is it worth that upcharge.  Obviously that is a matter of your budget and ability to pay the list price of $21,999.  If the price tag is in your range, this thing is fantastic.  

The two things that are most noteworthy about this DAC is the depth of image and detail/instrument separation.  In my system, I have not heard another DAC deliver the depth of image that the Weiss delivers.  It also has extraordinary instrument separation.  To a point where I have not heard another DAC this good. It is also more neutral than the 501/502.  

This DAC carves out its own space in the price range.  It is slightly brighter than the Playback MPD8 and maybe is more truly neutral than the MPD8 which I beleive drifts just a hair warm.  There is a structure and stability to the image that is unlike anything I have heard.  I historically have said no one is better between the speakers than Chord.  This DAC is a step up from Dave and MScaler in my opinion.  It also delivers an image beyond the speakers.  The scale is not the same as Aries Cerat or Rockna but is still great.  

Instrumental separation and the detail within moments like the drum rolls are extraordinary in In a Sentimental Mood.  The absolute scale of the soundstage in Be Still My Beating Heart was not as extraordinary as the Aries Cerat or EMM but it is great.  Noise floor is quite low.  

Liberty is smooth and clean.  Effects come from well away from the speakers.  No sibilance at all.  The opening of Duende is clear.  This is the cleanest and clearest I have heard the bass solo.  There is no smearing at all.  Separation of strings in the berg piece is just extraordinary.  

This unit falls in a middle ground between Playback and Aries Cerat.  It is not as big and dynamic as Aries Cerat.  It is not as soulful and sweet as the Playback.  But it is in this amazing middle ground that is enjoyable and really special.  Best for folks where image structure and stability along with detail are primary concerns.