EVS modded Gustard X20 DAC

EVS Modified Gustard X20 DAC


I’ll start this review with a quick summary of my 15 years as an EVS customer.   My first purchase was an EVS DAC.  It bested and replaced a Meridian DAC two or three times the price.   A few years later, EVS shifted back to modifying the best sounding, reasonably priced CD players.  The tweaking ideas, parts quality and careful build, combined to greatly improve the performance of the stock player.    Since each upward step was reasonably priced and delivered on the promised better sound,  I stopped visiting audio stores to listen to the latest and higher cost new players and DACs.

 Over the years, I developed great trust in Ric’s ‘ears’ and his years of tweaking experience. As he created new and better packages year after year, I purchased them and always found they improved my system.  Each new unit bettered the previous one and increased my enjoyment of both new and old favorite music.   Proof positive that EVS was really delivering the goods with each new release, was a hifi experience which has kept me striving to find ways to make my music sound more and more real.   It’s when I add a new piece of gear, turn the system on to start listening and give in as musical lust compels me to play all my favorite CDs  and hear details and lyrics I never noticed before.  Nothing beats experiencing again,theexcitement felt when I first played a piece of music years or decades ago.

 I’m not a musician. Sometimes I suspect a small ‘improvement’ I think I hear may just be ‘wishful listening’.   I know it’s real when:

I want to play old and beloved CDs late into the night.  That never happens when an improvement is only in my head.

 I understand lyrics in cuts that have always been too distorted or buried in the mix to make out.   What a pleasant shock when you hear more of what the artist intended.  Even on CDs I’ve played a hundred times over twenty years.

 When Ric told me the sound of the modified Gustard blew away his heavily modded Oppo 105, I had one shipped to him the next day.   He also includes a custom digital coaxial cable he builds with each modded Gustard.   This custom EVS cable let me use my Oppo 105 as a high quality transport for the Gustard.

 So what did I hear with the modded Gustard now in my system?   Major improvement in transparency, resolution, immediacy and imaging compared to the already excellent Oppo.  Music emerged from a quieter and darker sonic background than the Oppo.    I could understand lyrics better and singers were more present. Beautiful musical pieces now became incredibly beautiful ones.   CDs with great music but subpar sound, now sounded like properly recorded CDs for the first time.  

 One cut I often play soon after getting a new unit is the first track from Gary Burton’s album ‘For Hamp, Red, Bags and Cal’. Burton plays his vibraphone solo on this track. From a silent background, Burton begins playing. The ultra pure shimmering tones move up higher and higher as they reverberate through the recording space. You know what you’re hearing is right, especially if you’ve ever heard vibraphone played live in a modestly sized space. This from a CD (well) recorded and digitally mastered 15 years ago!

 I had only 50 hours on the Gustard when I took it along with me to visit music loving friends in Vermont.   It only took me two minutes to hook the Gustard into my friends system.   We played music with his player and the Gustard for the rest of the weekend.   One night after playing some old James Taylor cuts that sounded just great to me, my friend’s wife comments:  “gee that really sounded great!”.   This kind of feedback from a “normal person” with no investment in whether the Gustard sounded better or not, shows the Gustard was better in all respects to what she was used to hearing!

 I can’t comment on how the EVS modded Gustard X20 compares to DACs in and above it’s very modest cost.   I’ve used EVS players and DACs for over 15 years with great satisfaction.  The sound I’m getting now with the Gustard is really remarkable despite the sub par acoustics in my listening room.   Hopefully others who have owned or used outstanding DACs can write up comparisons with the EVS modded Gustard in the weeks to come and help locate its place among the competition.

 Bob Fitzgerald

 System: EVS modded Oppo 105; EVS level 2 modded Gustard X20; EVS 100w/ch ‘ICE’ amplifier with ‘Ultimate Attenuators’;   Gallo Reference 3.5 speakers, Audience Au 24 interconnect and speaker wires; PS Audio Power Plant.

Thank you Bob, nice writeup! I, too, have been onto what Ric has been doing for several years and I also trust very much in his experience, his "ears" and recommendations...and, as I'm sure you already know, I'll add that he's also a great guy to do business with. I already have his modified Oppo 103 (which is great) and have had my sights on the Gustard for a while now...although I think by the time I'm ready to pull the trigger, it may be close to the time that Gustard may be releasing the X20's successor, so I may wait a little longer to see what that looks like. This should be the last concrete step in completing my system and I'm sooo looking forward to it, and your writeup here only whets my appetite! 
I hope to very soon!   Just sent the redoubtable Ric Shultz 'Dr. Tweak' a stock X20  Pro to mod.

With the new generation ESS DAC,  his X20 mods and several recent tweaks Ric has generously shared gratis, I'm confident there is zero chance his new hot rodded Pro won't leave its predecessor in the sonic dust!

I've had a Gustard X20 DAC with Ric's level 1 and 2 mods for about 6 months.  This DAC with Ric's mods is a true bargain. Very, very good transparency, resolution and sound staging. It plays music, not hi fi. With a quality source component this DAC compares very favorably to DACs costing many times more. For the money I don't think you can do much better.  I'm sure the pro version is even better. For the record, in my main system I use an Antipodes DX server and a Lampizator Golden Gate DAC.
I'm seriously considering a X20 to replace my current nos dac, as I've read nothing but glowing comments about this one. Hopefully I can pick up a used Pro version and send it in to get modded. 
I have a lightly used silver Pro here (no usb board....but maybe could get you one, if you need....however, everyone feels the Singxer sounds best with usb).  $700 and already here.....can do the mods anytime.
Please feel free to contact me through my website: tweakaudio.com for details and you can call anytime.
I'm shopping for a DAC and saw the name Gustard X20 Pro. I listened to my friend's Lampizator Big 7 and thought it's a wonderful DAC. But unfortunately it's out of my budget range. I'm seriously conserving a used Auralic Vega. Anybody has experience with these 2 (Auralic and Gustard)? What's your impression? 

To me, the Gustard X20 with Ric's level 1 and 2 mods was significantly better than the Auralac Vega in my system.  I sold the Vega and kept the X20. I would think the X20 Pro would be even better.

@mrpaul Thanks very much for sharing your experience. Did you use Gustar and Auralic on your secondary system? I noticed that you use the Lampizator Golden Gate on your primary system. Not to derail the discussion. How would you compare it to the Big 7 or Big 7 Lite?  
Looking to contact/speak to Ric Shultz  ( "Dr. Tweak" -lol ).

Ric, you there ?

 peter jasz