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.

@verdantaudio, were you using the stock power supply with the 204 or something else?   I have the 205 and just purchased a Keces LPS for it and thought it was a nice improvement in dynamics and maybe it offered a little more fullness/mass to the presentation.   I compared the combo with my Meitner MA3, and was very impressed with it relatively speaking for the difference in $$.

@ddafoe i used the stock PSU.  They make an external from Weiss.  I just didn’t buy one.  I have considered adding it.  Compared to the Meitner, this unit is a step down.  With the external PSU I am sure it is much closer.  

Let me just add one thing that Scott didn't mention.  The Weiss has two small toggle switches on the back that let you adjust down the output of the DAC by -10, -20 or -30dB.  As this is a straight-forward DAC you will be using it with your preamp or integrated, and this feature enables you to operate your volume control over its optimal range.

So I have recently spent time with the Hegel H600 integrated amp and DAC.  This has been an interesting test as it is a replacement for the old H590 I had.  I want to focus on the DAC first.  

After some testing, my feeling is the DAC is very much in-line with DACs that are in the ~$5K range.  In fact, I find that the internal DAC sounds a lot like an Audiobyte HydraVox which I think is pretty high praise.  

The image may not have the raw scale of the Audiobyte but tonally it is very similar and has a little bit better depth.  Instrument separation is strong in "In a Sentimental Mood".  Image is big and deep on "Be Still My Beating Heart."  I heard no sibilance in Sting's voice.  Effects were place correctly in "Liberty" and the background was exceptionally dark.  Good separation with the opening in "Duende" and the Berg piece was lovely and sized well.  

What struck me most is the improvement in the amplifier.  The 590 was a smidge analytic though it never drifted bright.  It sounded analytic and less musical than other amps I have here.  The H600 is noticeably more musical and engaging compared to the 590.  

This H600 is a lifestyle oriented item that doesn't sound like one.  Single box with streamer built in but not really compromising in terms of sound.  This is not an inexpensive device at $12,500 and we should expect exceptional performance at this price.  

No unit works with every speaker.  You would never put this with klipsch or something like Cube Audio which thrives on amps with a low damping factor.  For mainstream speakers: Dynaudio, Wilson Benesch, Spendor, Harbeth, Perlisten, Q Acoustics, etc... this is a brilliant unit.  

Okay...as I wait for my BACCH-SP Adio to arrive, I have a few other units that are worth doing a write up on.  

Cary Audio DMS-600 is one that was traded in.  This is a DAC/Streamer in one box.  I plugged in the unit.  Downloaded the Cary Application and put in my Qobuz credentials and was listening in less than 5 minutes.  Took a few minutes to settle in on mechanics of the device.  Dialed in the volume and let the system warm up. 

In a Sentimental Mood has good sparkle in the piano.  Detail is not elite but is very good.  Drum rolls showing good separation.  What really stands out is the great staging.  

Be Still My Beating Heart sounds big.  Image extending well beyond the speakers to the right and left.  The central image and voice lack a touch focus.  The central image lacks definition and it feels like the voice is coming from a very broad space.  This is one of those things that no DAC at this level does super well.  It is not off putting, just something I am noticing.  Noise floor is good and there is no sibilance in Sting's voice.  

Noise floor is superb on Liberty.  Effects coming from where they belong.  Tonally, her voice is hitting notes that are perfectly forward.  Right in front of me, without me feeling the need to lean back or forward.  No sibilance.  

Opening of Duende is good.  It struggles a bit to keep up with Tony Levin but again, based on price point, this is very normal.  Song sounds full.  Bass response is balanced and is neither pronounced nor is it absent.    The berg quartet sounds wonderful.  Maybe lacks the intimacy of the Chord TT2 but is quite enjoyable to listen to. 

All in all, this is a product that is quite competitive in its price class.  I am pleasantly surprised with how enjoyable it is to listen to.  Smooth without being syrupy.  Neiter forward nor laid back.  This is a pretty nice device.  I don't particularly like the way I control Qobuz from within the App but it is stable and not buggy.  I just don't like the UI.  

In coming days we will write up a POV on the Auralic Vega and Luxman DAC.