Holo Audio May DAC

Just read a very nice review of this in Stereophile this month and after doing some research it looks like this one could be a very nice option for me.  
It's made in China I think (or could be Taiwan?, and yes, I am very well aware that these are two very different countries. ;)), and employs a direct to consumer model to keep the price as low as possible.  This does not worry me after purchasing a Jay's Audio transport from Vinshine Audio and having zero issues.  

Just curious if anyone here has heard one or purchased?  I'm very intrigued.  I know the Denafrips Terminator is another highly regarded DAC with a similar ordering model, but costs a couple grand more than this one.  Considering that one as well.

you can’t really know unless you hear it in your system

denafrips dacs are excellent, but a little bright amongst the r2r crowd, and according to my research, so is the holo springs unit (based on that i have ruled it out for my own use) - note also that there are various versions of the holo springs unit, they may have their sq differences too, dunno  ... gets a lil complicated and hard to sort out as i was researching

the smoother school of r2r is sonnet/metrum, as well as border patrol and mhdt (though you can alter the tilt of their units with tube selection)

audio mirror is another one out there, but i have not had one in hand yet to assess

good luck

denafrips dacs are excellent, but a little bright amongst the r2r crowd, and according to my research, so is the holo springs unit (based on that i have ruled it out for my own use)
Never found that with a borrowed Holo Spring L2 in NOS, when it was switched to DSD or OS it did get slightly less body to the mids, but still not bright.

Cheers George
Your findings seem to jive with the reviews I have read.  The recent review of the May DAC in Stereophile is a good example of this.  Other reviews I've heard seem to concur.  Cheers
I placed my order for the KTE version this morning.  It will be a few weeks before it arrives and I will happily share my impressions of it once I have it and have enough time to break it in and assess its SQ.

In the process of searching for my next DAC (I currently own a Brooklyn DAC+, and before this I had a Manhattan II) I was prepared to spend as much as $15K for one of the super DACs.  

Herb Reichert's review of this DAC really opened my eyes to the value versions of the high end and high priced DACs.  I had also been considering a Denafrips DAC for a while.  The Holo Audio DACs seem to fit a very similar niche, but I like the aesthetic style of the Holo Audio better.  The price is also lower, even if that was not a major motivator. 

I mentioned that I used to have a Manhattan II.  The reason I don't still have it is because one of the channels went out and when I sent it back to the retailer they told me it would be at least a month or two to get it fixed or replaced.  In the meantime they sent me a Brooklyn to use, and after giving it some listening time I found that I liked the Brooklyn better.  I decided to keep the Brooklyn until I could find my next major upgrade.  The Holo Audio May is what I've decided on.  The risk is pretty low all things considered and I have confidence that at the very least it will be a lot of fun to hear this new DAC.  If I don't like it I can always sell it and return to my original plan of buying one of the bigger names.   

Let the fun begin!
I have the original Holo Audio Spring Kitsune Edition Level III DAC and I don't find it bright at all. I chose this DAC for it's musicality and it hasn't let me down. I'll have to check out the new "May".
I'm considering buying the May KTE DAC as well. It would help if they at least offered a 30 day trial. It's a lot of money to spend on a DAC without listening to it first. If it's not better than my Matrix XSabre Pro MQA DAC than I'd like the option to return it because spending the $3k price difference would make little sense otherwise.

I'm following this thread. I await your review! 
They do offer a 10 day trial.  That's not a lot, but it's also not nothing.  
Mine is out for delivery.  Should get it today.  
let us know snackey

10 days isn’t much time, wonder about break in

but like u say, better than nothing

there are just sooo many very good sounding dacs at reasonable prices nowadays - i have been thru a bunch last 6 months, they are really 'your choice of flavor', so many are really outstanding

good news for us
I placed an order for the Holo May KTE this morning after a few days of mulling it over. It  measures superbly. Some R2R designs don't measure well at all. I want the simplicity and naturalness of the R2R topology, but not the jitter or added distortion.

The May KTE DAC fit my requirements perfectly.
Just got my May Level 2 yesterday.  Plugged it into my Torus TOT Max conditioner.  Currently streaming ROON from my remote laptop through wifi to mesh endpoint then via ethernet to my HifiBerry Digi + outputting via coax to the May in NOS mode.  Mfr recommends 500 hours of burn-in.  It sounded great right away, though, and I'll be running it constantly for the next week or two.  Initial impression compared to my Chord Qutest is smoother sound, extremely large soundstage with huge center images, no loss of detail but maybe some loss of crispness at the edges.  Bill Evans' piano on Classic Trio 1959-1961 sounded a little harsher at loud volume but also bigger/fuller than Chord.  Almost everything else I played great through and through.
I got mine today and have had it running for a few hours now.  
I am always leery of posting impressions of something I've had so little time with as I'm certain to have some bias in my excitement to try something new.  That said, it sounds wonderful.  
The Mytek Brooklyn DAC+ that it replaced was no slouch in my opinion, but the May is so many steps above the Brooklyn it's really hard to believe.  Huge soundstage, detail and liquidity of sound.  I've only played CDs through it so far but it is very impressive.  I'm going to play some stuff through my Innuous Zenith Mk3 after this.  
This is fun!
Glad you both are enjoying the May! Can't wait to get mine in. Guess I have a month to wait. 
Bill Evans’ piano on Classic Trio 1959-1961 sounded a little harsher at loud volume
Probably just showing up the recording equipment of that era, as the they changed from Germanium transistors (yuk) to early Silicon not much better.

"Silicon transistor was made commercially available by Fairchild Semiconductor in 1958".
Cheers George

2nd day impressions: 
Not sure if it was a little more burn-in, some better recordings, or some premium ganja that was on hand, but the May DAC sounded TREMENDOUS last night.  Listened to some Miles Davis "In a Silent Way", some Radiohead "Paranoid Android", some Sacred Spirit tribal music -- it all sounded incredible.  Massive wraparound soundstage, rich thick tone, capturing all the air in the recordings.  Totally engaging.
@redwoodaudio That's very good to hear. I'm glad you're enjoying the May. Can't wait to get mine!
Alright, please stop. You're making me want to upgrade my Kitsune  Holo Audio Spring for the new May. This is not a good time! ;-)
@falconquest  Sorry to torture you.  I can't help myself!  ;)
2nd day impressions:
All tracks played from Tidal on ROON.  
Bill Evans Sunday at the Village Vanguard is sounding like I've never heard before.  Those familiar with this recording will know how truly live this is.  Lots of ambient sound of folks in the club and very realistic sound.  With the May DAC and its huge soundstage the music surrounds me.  I can hear Bill's feet on the piano pedals and the thump of the bassist's hand when he hits the wood of his stand up bass as though it's in the room with me.  I keep turning around to see if someone came in the room as a result of things I had not heard before, at least not with such realism.  
Radiohead's OK Computer (OKNOTOK Version), opening track Airbag, is a difficult track to play without sibilance in the high frequency sounds (cymbals) in particular.  The Mytek Brooklyn did a great job of settling this down, but the May DAC does it with much more authority and clarity.  This track is much better resolved with the May, with a liquid sound that does not fatigue or irritate.  I'm hearing things I hadn't heard after several thousand listenings.  
Bob Dylan Rough and Rowdy Ways - False Prophet is one of my favorites from this record, and the vinyl pressing I have sounds the best that I've heard.  The Tidal version through the May is as close to the vinyl sound as I've heard.  Sounds a little better in OS mode to my ears.  NOS sounds less lively to me.  
Anything to complain about?  Not yet, but even as natural as this DAC sounds I can tell it hasn't yet fully relaxed and opened up.  It needs to be broken in and I only have about 12 hours on it so far.  I can tell it's getting a little better each listen so that's pretty fun to hear.  

@redwoodaudio I have yet to break out the ganja on this one, but it's in the cards, probably over the weekend.  Cheers

@falconquest I forgot to mention that Holo Audio has a pretty generous trade-up program for owners of the Spring DAC.  Check it out on the Kitsune website.
I can’t decide between the Holo Audio May Dac and the Denafrips also. How did you decide on the Holo Audio over the Denafrips Terminator?   The review I read 
compares the two directly and the reviewer seemed to prefer the Denafrips in OS mode to the Holo and the Brooklyn Bridge.  In NOS mode he was more split. 
Also the Holo is sold through a retailer in Europe (Magna) and US (Kitsune)  whereas the Denafrips comes direct from Singapore which implies better value as no retailer margins to eat in to the price. 
How did you decide to go with the Holo Audio May?


there is really no way to know but to buy/borrow and try in your own system, and compare a vs b and with extended listening, with listening levels carefully equilibrated

i have been through just over 20 dacs in the past 8 months since the pandemic has had me at home more than ever

there is just no way to know by reading reviews and hearsay on boards like this ... few reviewers compare dacs head to head and even then it is not in your system, it is their taste, their ears, their cables, their streamer, their room ... the utility of the reviews and forum second hand hearsay/touts is to identify what may be worth trying if there seems to a groundswell of positivity ... no more no less

when you get into dacs it is about the presentation, the timbre, the imaging/space, the clarity with transients etc etc... system matching is key

the holo may is the hot new dac... six months ago it was the dena term... six months before that it was audio mirror tubador... before that it was the mhdt orchid... before that it was the ps audio ds... before that it was the schiit yggy .... you follow? ... the merry go round continues and never stops... be patient, wait and they will show up used (and broken in), then buy a well cared for piece and experience it yourself
I read the same Stereophile review. Also, there is a good review by the Hans Beekhuyzen YouTube channel.

I was in the market for a reference DAC, so I bought the V2 Holo May. I have had it about a month, and I couldn’t be more pleased. It shows zero evidence that I can hear of any digital artifact. It sounds very natural and musical and has only continued to improve since I first started using it. It has a huge power supply and I noticed I got a larger, more realistic soundstage and punchier bass with it. I am feeding it FLAC files from a laptop via USB going through an Intona Isolator & Impedance Controlled USB cable. I got the Intona before the May arrived, and I noticed that it alone improved the sound from my previous DAC.

In the latest edition of Stereophile, the Recommended Components has been updated to include the Holo Audio May and the Denafrips Terminator. They rank the May at A+ and the Terminator at A. The May replaced the Denafrips Ares in my system, and I can confirm that the Denafrips provides a very nice sound, though the Ares is no match for the May.
Ah, but now there's a Terminator Plus model, which ups the ante, and should boost the T+ to A+ status.
I decided to try a reference-level R2R DAC instead of my Qutest, which is the only DAC I’ve ever owned. I also didn’t want to spend more than I needed to. I chose the May based on the stereophile and stereotimes reviews. Both experienced reviewers were blown away. Terminator was similarly esteemed, though. Between the Terminator and the May, I like the design of the May better. One of the distinctions between the Terminator and May seemed to be the anti-jitter tech in the May. That was part of my decision as well. I can’t imagine you could go wrong with either. Unless you have bad OCD, I can’t imagine either choice would lead to serious regrets.

i bought that new piece that stereophile classified as a+ now... and my goodness it sounds so much better

" Ah, but now there's a Terminator Plus model, which ups the ante, and should boost the T+ to A+ status."

I don't know. Steve Guttenberg ended up preferring the standard Terminator.
I decided to try a reference-level R2R DAC instead of my Qutest, which is the only DAC I’ve ever owned. I also didn’t want to spend more than I needed to. I chose the May based on the stereophile and stereotimes reviews. Both experienced reviewers were blown away. Terminator was similarly esteemed, though. Between the Terminator and the May, I like the design of the May better. One of the distinctions between the Terminator and May seemed to be the anti-jitter tech in the May. That was part of my decision as well. I can’t imagine you could go wrong with either. Unless you have bad OCD, I can’t imagine either choice would lead to serious regrets.

@redwoodaudio - how did the halo compare to the chord in your system? Can you describe the difference as that exact model (qutest) is also on my list.
Also the Holo is sold through a retailer in Europe (Magna) and US (Kitsune)  whereas the Denafrips comes direct from Singapore which implies better value as no retailer margins to eat in to the price.
Have you tried 8th Dimension to see if they have the May available?

Day three impressions:
Last night I tried something interesting.  I had just received a copy of the newly issued Bob Dylan Love and Theft, MoFi 2LP 45 RPM release.  I played it through on my analog system, and while I listened I contemplated the age-old argument of analog vs. digital.  I decided then that I would play the digital version of this album for comparison.  This MoFi release is done perfectly, BTW.  Awesome sounding reissue, and limited to only 3,000 copies.  

My analog system is as follows:
SME 20/2 turntable w/Tri-Planar tonearm and Lyra Kleos cartridge.
Phono preamp is a Parasound JC-3+.
Niagara 7000 Power Conditioner (Amplifier run straight into the wall)

As I began listening to the digital version (Tidal 44.1k) I was shocked at how I really couldn't hear any significant difference from the LP.  This had never been the case with any other DAC I owned in the past.  I could enjoy the analog and I could enjoy the digital but I never considered the digital to be as good as the analog, UNLESS it came down to comparing an inferior analog source to superior digital source.  With the Mytek DACs I owned (Manhattan II and Brooklyn+) I could always hear a clear difference between digital and analog.  It wasn't even close.  Now with the May DAC3 I finally understand what the fuss is about when using a very high quality DAC.  I'm not arguing one format over the other.  I have no intention of selling off my analog gear and going full digital, at least not after only one comparison, but my mind was really blown how great the May DAC performed in this test.  

After that I listened to several other Tidal streams and completely lost myself in the music.  Stevie Wonder Talking Book, Elvis Costello All This Useless Beauty, Flaming Lips American Head, etc.  Everything sounded so right through the May.  The whole point of this hobby for me is to find the best version of the music possible, and this DAC has greatly increased my joy of music.  

One last thing I noticed yesterday was just how QUIET this DAC is.  Until you've heard a really quiet component it's really hard to explain it, but it makes a huge difference when a component like this lowers the noise floor so significantly.  

Up and onward...


excellent feedback, glad u are enjoying

tell us what is rest of your system? preamp amp speakers wire

and u are changing from base case of mytek digital front end yes?

help us calibrate a little

btw don't let millerc see your post it will shatter his world hehehe
My system is as follows:

LFD NCSE integrated amplifier
Harbeth 40.2 Anniversary speakers, Tontraeger stands
LFD Hybrid Speaker wire
LFD Spiroflex interconnects
LFD Power Cables
Niagara 7000 Power Conditioner (Amp plugged directly into wall outlet)

Innuous Zenith Mk3 server
Innuous Phoenix reclocker
Holo Audio May DAC Level 3
Jay's Audio CDT-2 Transport

SME 20/2 w/Tri-Planar tonearm, Lyra Kleos Cart
Parasound JC-3+ phono preamp

My room is a basement man cave, 12' x 14'.  No room treatments other than carpet floors and suspended ceiling tiles, some tapestries on the walls to prevent reflections.  Nothing fancy, but I've dialed it in to my liking.  My ears are 8 feet from the speakers with my ears height between the tweeter and midrange driver heights.  Speakers are toed in about one foot outside of each of my ears.  Stereo image is very focused, and soundstage is large and appropriate to my tastes.  

Harbeths are famous for their midrange sound and very accurate and neutral, which makes it easy to hear the nuances with different components, recordings, etc., but not at the expense of musicality, if that makes sense.

nice rig! i have similar - had 40.1’s, now have super hl5’s among others - had a LFD into amp also while back driving... absolutely lovely combo... something about the LFD slight upward tilt gives the Harbeths just a lil more ’life’... brilliant synergy tremendous listenability

i would think the 40's would overload your room (it did mine and my room is bigger), but you seem to have a pretty nice tight listening triangle

have fun!
@jjss49 I've heard that about the 40's but I have never felt they have overloaded the room.  I do not listen at extremely high levels but I like it moderately loud (my wife thinks it's really loud, LOL).  My speakers have some shelving between them and the back wall, so this might defeat some of the low frequencies.  If those shelves were not there the bass might overwhelm the room.  I think as is they are absorbing the bass to some degree.  If those shelves were not there I would likely need bass traps.  I had 40.1's previously, BTW.  Loving the Harbeth sound for sure!
I got my May KTE DAC in way early. OMG! I’ll never buy a chip based DAC again. This thing makes music transcendental. It’s so damned detailed and yet so natural sounding. I hear everything, every little microdynamic nuance. This has surpassed my greatest expectation for taking my system to the next level.

I’m completely smitten.
@jcarcopo Congrats on getting a new May DAC.  I am also loving mine.  It's not even broken in yet but sounds amazing.  What is your main source feeding it?  
@snackeyp Thanks, It's been a nonstop marathon of music playing since I've received the May!

I am (and have been for 20 years) running source direct to my amplifiers because I have no analog sources to speak of, and have always preferred the more direct and detailed presentation that running from my fanless/silent running media server directly via USB to DAC and from DAC to amplifier.  I co-designed several of Niveus Media's earliest fanless/silent running media server designed to operate seamlessly in an audio rack in the living room.  This was a couple of decades ago believe it or not!


The May DAC connects via USB to a brand new custom silent-running and completely fanless Sigao Model B dedicated Roon server that has a 10th Gen 10-Core i9 10900T Intel Cpu, 4TB Samsung SSD for music library, 512gb Samsung 970 Pro NVME O/S/Roon/HqPlayer drive, 32gb DDR4 2666mhz, a separate JCAT FEMTO clocked USB PCIE add-in card (not in use atm because it doesn't support 1.536mhz or DSD512/1024 upsampling currently, but fortunately the Intel based USB ports do support the higher rates). 

I use Roon to feed HqPlayer software a 1.412mhz or 1.536mhz or DSD512 upsampled signal using their proprietary filters to the Holo May in NOS mode. I control the volume through Roon which attenuates it in HQplayer since the May Dac does not provide volume control.  

I power both the Sigao Roon server and JCAT USB Card separately with with a multi-rail dedicated 300w HDPLEX Linear Power Supply and that is plugged into a dedicated Equitech Son Of Q Balanced Isolation Transformer.

Certain DSD512/1024 filter settings in HQPlayer can be very taxing on even the best CPUs hence the need for a 10/Core processor.

(Note:  I DON'T own this JCAT model USB add-in card, but Tim Connor at Kitsune Audio (distributor for Holo Audio USA) is getting one in a week and testing it to see if the newer NEC USB chip will handle the faster upsampling speeds that the May dac supports.
@jcarcopo Congrats on the great outcome. Could you mention some of the other dacs you've had in the system? Thanks.
@cal3713 I've own the Benchmark Media DAC 1, DAC 1 USB,  DAC 2 HGC, and the Matrix XSabre Pro MQA DAC, Ayon Stealth DAC/Pre tube dac. I've heard others at shows, but those are the one I've owned over 20 years. 
Great, thanks so much for the information JC. Always super informative to know the within-system pecking order...
@cal3713 No worries, glad to help. I'm convinced you would have to spend well over $12k-$15k to get near a comparable dac stateside. 
JC, I started my listening using RCA interconnects, but a couple of weeks ago I got a new amp that has balanced inputs so I switched to XLR cables.  I think the sound got even better.  Just thought I'd share in case you hadn't heard the difference with this DAC.  Cheers
Brief follow up:  I'm about six weeks into ownership of this DAC and can say with confidence I have zero regrets.  
I've been doing a lot of streaming from Tidal recently since my CD transport is in the shop.  I like streaming while I'm multi-tasking, and one of the funny things is I continuously get fooled by this DAC.  The music will be playing and when it reaches the end of a certain track I'll subconsciously get up to change the LP side, only to remember that I'm not playing records!  This DAC, combined with my Innuous Zenith Mk3 and Phoenix Reclocker, is as close to analog of any digital product I have ever heard.  
In honesty, my analog setup beats the digital setup by a small margin, so doing an A/B between them, the analog system wins.  That said, the May DAC does not sound like any DAC I've ever heard.  There is no trace of square edges around the musical notes at all.  No harshness, no glare.  No analytical detail, yet plenty of detail!  I can listen for hours without any fatigue.  Excellent stereo separation, imaging and soundstage.  $5K is a real bargain for this wonderful DAC.  I'm extremely happy with it.  
I ordered one last week and I have a similar digital setup at the OP. I also have the Innuos zenith mk3 and the Phoenix reclocker. I’m currently using a gryphon Diablo 300 and it’s built in dac. The gryphon dac gets high praise even though it uses a Sabre 9018 chip. I’m looking forward to doing a/b testing between the 2 Dacs. Ron from NRD is also in the process of reviewing the May...he recently reviewed the Terminator and Amber dacs. 
@jcarcopo can you talk about the differences between the Benchmark dac's sound (said to be extremely neutral and resolving) versus the May (said to be natural, sweeter, and resolving)?
@phastm3  I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how the May DAC compares to the Gryphon.  
Anyone has compared this with the Rockna Wavelight? I believe they are at similar price points and hence curious.
@cal3713 They offer a 10 day satisfaction guarantee.  Not very long but for me it was immediately evident how great this DAC sounds.  
Keep in mind that you will pay return shipping to HK if you return it.  Probably best to sell it if you're not happy.  There is a lot of great press about this DAC right now so interest is high.