|Posted by kboe on December 27, 2011 at 12:20 AM|
NOTE: This is a review pinned by one of our own talented members who's screen name is "Rdr. Seraphim". He has worked on this for quite some time and when he asked me to read it we both agreed that it should be posted to the main page of the website. This is a very talented writer and communicator, and like Amine our site owner, his reviews are clear, precise in wording and leave one with no doubt as to what the product will sound like. Please enjoy this wonderful review as I have.
The Wyred 4 Sound DAC-1 under review--obtained early during its original release--was a special order unit, the original buyer requested a modified DAC-1 with the 24-bit 192KHz USB option, but due to finances had to back out, a lucky break for me. After a brief audition, I returned the unit to the factory for upgrades bringing the unit to parity with the DAC-2, sharing the DAC-2’s power supply, low ESR “super-caps,” an ultra fast Schottky type bridge rectifier, and 24-bit 192KHz USB input, while retaining the primary inputs (USB, Toslink/COAX) of the DAC-1. Like the DAC-2, the modified DAC-1 "requires" software drivers.
DIGITAL to ANALOGUE
Both the DAC-1 and DAC-2 use the same DAC chip, the Reference ESS9018 in quad-differential mode. Suffice to say that among a handful of DACs on the market, it is considered by some to be the most technologically advanced digital to analogue converter available.
There is considerable discussion about the audibility of jitter on some of the audio blogs. In the ESS9018 “...a patented technique is used to re-create the audio data in a crystal-controlled low phase-noise clock domain completely isolated from the clock domain of the transport medium and so not at all related to the clock domain in which the data was sampled1.
Almost everyone would agree that lower distortion (THD, IM) is a good thing. Our auditory system is sensitive to different types of distortion. We are particularly sensitive to 3rd order harmonic distortion, but 2nd order harmonic distortion is sometimes additive, or euphoric. For example, during soft clipping many single-ended tube amplifiers are perceived to simply get louder, versus its solid state sibling, the typical distortion generated during any clipping grates on our hearing.
From the ESS9018 abstract: “The noise that jitter induces is not easily described: it is not a harmonic distortion but is a noise near the tone of the music that varies with the music: it is a noise that surrounds each frequency present in the audio signal and is proportional to it. Jitter noise is therefore subtle and will not be heard in the silence between audio programs. Experienced listeners will perceive it as a lack of clarity in the sound field or as a faint noise that accompanies the otherwise well defined quieter elements of the audio program.2”
It is not the purpose of this article to argue the audibility of jitter related to digital audio, but to simply state that in the opinion of this writer, eliminating jitter is as important as minimizing as many known forms of distortion as possible; and I have taken additional measures to ensure that the W4S DAC is fed with a pristine digital audio data stream3.
So, whether or not the elimination of jitter provided the benefits I hear with the W4S DAC, it is "my opinion" that the DAC-1 is nonetheless a remarkably neutral, transparent, high resolution audio component. Musical instruments have improved truth of timber missing from other designs, a soundstage full of information about the recorded venue, and with many more musical details than was previously experienced. It all adds up to a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience.
Digital devices are sensitive to timing errors due to temperature fluctuations, and like some of the more upscale DAC’s, the power switch on the back of the DAC-1 & 2 is intended to be left on, which leaves the system in a kind of "warm," standby mode. The centered “On” button on the front display is really more of a mute button.
THE REVIEW SYSTEM
My music system is entirely computer based. I gladly admit my addiction to the nearly instantaneous random access nature of hard disk based music systems, along with the ability to download high resolution media if and when I choose. Computer based music is the future, and dedicated music streaming players like Pure Music are state of the art, equivalent to any dedicated hardware based players:
"When playing 16/44 sources, Pure Music sounds as good to me as the best CD transport anyone can dig up - as long as I'm using a high-quality jitter-immune D/A converter. But I can play my 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz and 192 kHz/24 bit masters and then Pure Music beats any CD source. I love being able to play a collection of my masters using the friendly iTunes interface, but with Pure Music bypassing any sound processing that iTunes performs. Throw in a calibrated, dithered volume control marked in decibels, and I'm in heaven. Mechanically, the Mac Mini is quieter than some CD players!" 4
The physical restrictions and limited availability of high resolution media is—thankfully—becoming a thing of the past. HDTracks, Bravura Records, High Definition Tape Transfers, L2, Reference Recordings, and many others are helping move our hobby to the next phase in audiophile evolution. I don’t foresee myself returning to physical media, especially of the shiny silvery variety. If I ever revert back to disc based playback, it will be of the black, oil-based vinyl variety, primarily for the nostalgic experience.
• AC Outlet: Oyaide SWO Gold-Gold-Bronze Cryo 15A
• Balanced Power: BPT BP 3.5 Signature Plus Balanced Power Ultra-Isolator
• Conditioning: Richard Gray RGPC 400 Pro (X2) with Harmonic Technology AC-9 power cords (serially plugged into the BP 3.5 Signature Plus)
NOTE: All audio and computer components in the music chain are plugged into the BP 3.5 Signature Plus
SOFTWARE MUSIC PLAYER
• Software: Pure Music v1.83
• Computer: BTO (build to order) MacBook PRO 15" 2011 with Mercury Extreme SSD and 8GB memory
• Amplifier: Modified DNA (Donald North Audio) Sonett Headphone Amplifier with 1959 Phillips Miniwatt GZ34 and 1980 DR6H30; the tubes are fitted with Herbies Audio Labs UltraSonic Rx Damping Instruments
• BPT L-9C power cord dedicated to the BPT 3.5 Signature Plus Ultra-Isolator
• Downsize VLR - Veil Lifter Reference AC power cord for the amplifier and DAC
• Harmonic Technology AC-9 (one for each RGPC serially plugged into the BP 3.5 Signature Plus)
• USB Cable: Wireworld Platinum Starlight
• RCA Interconnects: Downsize UR1 - Ultimate Reference One
ISOLATION AND VIBRATION
• Isolation: Marigo Mystery Feet under the DAC-1 and DNA Sonett, each resting on 2" maple cutting boards; the MacBook Pro rests on an air bellows Seismic Sink Platform from Townsend Audio
• Vibration: Mapleshade Micropoint Heavyhats judicially applied to the DAC and amplifier; and some "kewl" (cool) framer's weights to add mass
• Vibration: GZ34 and 6H30 are fitted with Herbies Audio Labs UltraSonic Rx Damping Instruments
• Westone ES3X IEM with the TWag replacement cable
MUSIC LISTENING PREFERENCES
The primary characteristics I listen for in a music system are resolution, balance, and musicality. In fact, music is the only thing I use to listen and assess all of the components of my music reproduction system including power conditioning, cables, source, amplifier, and transducers. Numbers are great when they make sense and correlate with what I’m hearing. Sometimes,I even fall into an objectivist role, i.e., is the power is on? Are the lights on? Is music playing? ;-)
1.) resolution, the ability for a music system to reproduce and reveal every nuance in the recording. I believe this is foundational to establishing the music venue. Closely associated with resolution is texture, or the ability to unravel the inner workings of a sound, regardless of its origin. More on texture later;
2.) balance, or the ability to recreate the spectral presentation of the recording, with special importance--for me--on the midrange, and;
3.) musicality, for the ability to recreate the dynamism of the performance, and which conveys the intent of the composer through their music, its message, and the emotions elicited during the listening session. The ability to reproduce these musical queues are what enable us to say, “What a performance!”
If there is one area I admittedly place more emphasis on than others, it’s the midrange. I love classical music, massed or small choral works, and natural acoustic instrumentation.
Dick Olsher describes my personal preference on the midrange best: “You might wonder why I'm obsessed with the midrange as the cornerstone of musicality. It's really a function of the physics of musical instruments. The average spectrum of the orchestra peaks around 400Hz to 500Hz, and then decreases with increasing frequency. The mean spectral level at 2.5kHz to 3kHz is already about 20dB below the peak. And, of course, the lower midrange is rich in fundamentals and their first overtones. In particular, the range of 262Hz to 330Hz (C4 to E4) is common to all voices. In my book, if a component can't get it right in the midrange, frequency extension, imaging, etc., matter very little. The midrange, to my mind, is literally the heart of the matter.”
Ultimately, if the midrange is missing in action, the rest matters very little.
resolution |ˌrezəˈloō sh ən|
4 the smallest interval measurable by a scientific (esp. optical) instrument; the resolving power.
• the degree of detail visible in a photographic or television image.
The analogy of resolution in music reproduction might translate to something like this:
resolution |ˌrezəˈloō sh ən|
4 the smallest interval perceivable (esp. audible) by the human ear; the resolving power.
• the degree of audible detail from a transducer or amplification device.
The DAC-1, with the modifications outlined in the Introduction, is the most revealing, transparent, and musical digital source I have personally experienced or owned. Focusing on any area revealed new and undiscovered musical cues, not just glaring, in your face differences, but shades of timbrel nuances, and macro and micro details seemingly obscure or at best opaque.
This was the first DAC that provided me with a truly adequate (in the strictest sense of the word), reproduction of the musical event or recording. There was never a sense that something in the recording was vague, missing, or leaving me wondering what I was hearing. My listening experience with the DAC-1 was/is experientially full and satisfying.
Resolution for many listeners sometimes means a lean, clinical, razor sharp presentation lacking body and depth, or lacking the emotive musical qualities that connect one to the music. In sometimes stark contrast, the resolution presented by the W4S DAC was always musical, fluid, naturally revealing, visceral. It was never clinical or cold, unless the recording itself was analytical, clinical or cold. Instrumental images were naturally three-dimensional, as was the reproduction of the recorded venue whether it was a multitrack studio recording or the live concert hall.
Vocal definition was nuanced, communicating the ebb and flow of the performer’s intonation, dynamic contrasts (loud to soft, and soft to loud) were more apparent, as was diction and enunciation, revealing the actual formation of the vocal delivery. Choral and solo performances were wonderfully intimate and personal.
Musically, the DAC-1 renders vocal resolution naturally, evenly. Vocal textures are clearly discernible, sometimes smooth, silk-like, pure tonality (e.g., Kathleen Battle) or coarse like burlap or canvas (e.g., Johnny Cash, Marc Cohn), and everything in between, including breathy, wispy, bright or dark.
Some of my favorite classical music is performed on the pipe organ. I believe it is one of humanity’s crowning achievements in musical instrument creation. Yet, I stopped listening to classical organ music when I went digital, so many years ago. Compared with some of the better analogue (vinyl) rigs I had at the time, digitally rendered organ recordings sounded flat and lacking substance and body. To attain an acceptable sonic "entry point," equivalent to my wonderful Thorens TD-125 MKII, SME tone arm and cartridge (now why did I get rid of that lil' treasure!), was five to ten times the cost!
Thankfully, a lot has changed since then, including the entry cost for near reference level sound quality components like the W4S DAC. Listening to classical organ music is a thrill on the modified DAC-1, unleashing the power and majesty of the pipe organ, its dynamics, detail and luster! Here’s an older recording that sounds wonderful on the DAC-1.
• Johanne Pachelbel, Music For Organ - Werner Jacob
texture |ˈteks ch ər |
the feel, appearance, or consistency of a surface or a substance : skin texture and tone | the cheese is firm in texture | the different colors and textures of bark.
• the character or appearance of a textile fabric as determined by the arrangement and thickness of its threads: a dark shirt of rough texture.
• Art the tactile quality of the surface of a work of art.
• the quality created by the combination of the different elements in a work of music or literature : a closely knit symphonic texture.
verb [ trans.] [usu. as adj.] (textured) give (a surface, esp. of a fabric or wall covering) a rough or raised texture: wall coverings which create a textured finish.
The sonic character rendered by the DAC-1 is distinguished from some early DACs and CDP’s I’ve owned and auditioned by its ability to unravel fine musical textures. Vocals, musical instruments, massed strings, orchestra’s and choral performances revealed all the timbrel character, nuances and shadings missing in lesser designs, making it easier to discern differences between similar instruments. While it has always been part of the recording, the newly discovered information was a revelation that made listening to music fun, enjoyable and fulfilling. With the modified DAC-1, it was just easier to relax and listen to music hour after hour. My longest session with the DAC-1 was nearly five and a half hours, well into the wee morning hours!
By the way, I enjoy binaural recordings way more with the DAC-1. I’m convinced more than ever that binaural recordings require a high resolution source with very low jitter in order to reproduce key timing queues, the result of capturing music the way we hear. Binaural recordings are more naturally rendered due to capturing the imaging present during the recording. Soundfield recordings attempt to reproduce imaging through manual studio manipulation of microphone placement, panning, and/or added spacial effects. Below are two recordings that show off the effects of the binaural recording technique:
• Rachmaninov Plays Rachmaninov: Zenph Re-performance
• Explorations in Space and Time: Chesky
Vocal reproduction, male or female, solo or choral are reproduced sans sizzle. Sibilance, on the other hand, occurs naturally during singing or conversation, but reproducing/recreating it naturally is apparently not so easy. There are lots of examples of bad recordings, where sibilance is unbearable. Assuming a decent recording, with the DAC-1 when sibilance is reproduced, you can clearly hear the texture and inner working of its creation, development, formation and resolve. This is, for me, where the proper recreation of texture of the musical event translates into musical enjoyment. It’s the natural recreation of what we hear at a live performance, but take for granted due to existentially “being in the moment.” The ability to clearly reproduce the inner texture of the voice, dynamics, phrasing and intonation, the rising and falling of the singing voice in performance makes clear the emotional intentions of the composer, conductor. It just sounds real.
Bass resolution is not something we spend a lot of time trying to describe. As the foundation of music, it elicits more of an emotional response; it’s what "moves us.” With the modified DAC-1, listening to the whack of the bass drum (or kick drum) actually reveals in your mind's eye the movement of the membranophone (the skin stretched across the cylinder) as it is struck by the beater, hearing (sensing?) the back wave of the drum as the membrane moves back and forth. You can feel the attack, hear the timber and tone of its tuning. This level of bass resolution and texture is equally inspiring with Jazz, Rock, or Classical.
The splash of a cymbal reveals the same inner texture and color evident in vocals. It’s not all flash and sizzle, but rather the unraveling of the inner workings of what characterizes the sound of the cymbal, whether it is struck or brushed. The timbre of the different types of cymbals (Hi Hat, crash, splash, Ride, etc.) are clearly distinguished.
Violins were rendered with body and weight as well as the full harmonic expansion into the “air.” I’m always cautious when I hear thin, wispy sounding violins, as my experience during a live performance is anything but. Massed strings were reproduced with all the rosiny textures of multiple bows on stringed instruments playing together, in concert.
Hopefully, I have conveyed my impressions and observations of the resolution and texture possible with the modified DAC-1 or the stock DAC-2. If you wanted to, you could deconstruct the instrumental characteristics necessary for a CSI episode on audio criminology. What is so unique, seemingly, about my experience with the DAC-1 is that this level of resolution/texture results in increased musical involvement! Rather than focusing on the technical merits of the DAC, you are drawn into the emotional flexing that the musicians were trying to elicit, and thus the message.
2 a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions : overseas investments can add balance to an investment portfolio | [in sing. ] try to keep a balance between work and relaxation.
• Art harmony of design and proportion.
• [in sing. ] the relative volume of various sources of sound : the balance of the voices is good.
The DAC-1 has excellent distribution of energy throughout its frequency response. Everything feels properly distributed, only the performance itself providing emphasis as dictated by the composition, conductor or musicians. The output from the DAC-1 provided solid performance in its bass reproduction. It’s not overemphasized, bloated, too lean or loose. Rather its solid and taught with the proper sense of support; no loss of steam with the DAC-1! The DAC-2 version can substitute as a preamp too!
tastefulness and accomplishment in music : she sings with unfailing musicality.
• the quality of being melodious and tuneful : his speaking voice hinted at musicality.
• awareness of music and rhythm, esp. in dance : the audition panel was looking for coordination, musicality, and flexibility.
How can we ascribe a human attribute to an inanimate object composed of sheet metal, various earth elements, and flowing electrons?
In the context that the modified DAC-1 is simply a transport, I find myself more easily immersed in the music. When I listen to music through the modified DAC-1, I feel like I “get the message” more clearly.
When I listen to a piece of music through a transducer whether it be an amp, preamp, loudspeaker, or in this case, a DAC, I try to imagine being in the moment with the performers. How well I am “transported” to the recording venue is what makes something like a DAC part of the musical chain, at least for me. In the case of the DAC-1, it's a very clear window into the musical event.
At no time did I find myself focusing on any particular spectrum of the music with the Wyred4Sound DAC. If I was drawn to the cymbals it was because of the added information about its formation and resolve; or the sibilance on hearing the development of a consonant, the sound of the breath partly obstructed when combined with a vowel to form a syllable; or of a bass note particularly resonant as defined by the construction of the musical instrument, its characteristic sound.
When we get a new audio component, there's a tendency to try out all our sizzle and dazzle music tracks, our "reference material." The DAC-1 provided me a very different experience from my earlier days with my Enlightened Audio DSP-1000, later the 7000, the wonderful sounding Ah! Njoe Tjoeb CDP, or more recently the Meridian CDP considered by many to be excellent, if not near state of the art. With the DAC-1 I found myself engrossed in entire albums.
3 See the section on "Enter the Audiophilleo 2"
4 http://channld.com/puremusic/ Bob Katz, Mastering Engineer, Digital Domain, Orlando, FL; Formerly Recording Engineer and Technical Director of audiophile label Chesky Records
ENTER THE AUDIOPHILLEO 2
Amine Slimani's review of the Audiophilleo 2 (AP2) piqued my interest. I wondered, "What would the lil' grey box do for my modified Wyred 4 Sound DAC-1?" From a jitter perspective alone, the AP2 boasts the lowest published jitter specs of any S/PDIF transport that I could find.
Everything I heard related to the W4S DAC remains true. I believe the W4S DAC is comparable to DACs multiple times the asking price of either model (DAC-1 or DAC2). However, adding the AP2 clearly reveals limitations in its USB implementation. Adding the AP2 transforms the W4S DAC allowing it to play in a different league!
NOTE: Nothing is perfect in audio reproduction, but I believe Amine's review is very conservative in its optimism and praise. Listening to the AP2 and W4S DAC combo is stunning! Please read on!
I believe that the implementation of the USB interface, at least in the Wyred 4 Sound DAC-1 or DAC-2 should be substituted for the Audiophilleo 1 or 2 S/PDIF transport. The difference is so startling that going back to the USB interface is like swapping out the Leica M9 for an iPhone for photography. If you require corrective lenses, the difference is like first waking in the morning, seeing out of focus, and then putting on your spectacles (especially if you're near-sighted)--everything snaps into focus. Sadly, all the reviews on the W4S DAC that I have read were auditioned only using the USB interface. The W4S DAC is capable of far greater resolution than is being currently experienced. (EJ! Take notice!)
As anxious as I was to try it out, my buddy beat me to the punch. My first experience with the Audiophilleo 2 was in a near six-figure reference level audio system, including the Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 (yes, we believe it's that good). And before I could tear myself away from work long enough to audition it, I e-mailed him to ask what he felt the value proposition was. He quickly shot back:
Question: what quantum leap does an Audiophilleo 2 make to your system?
Answer: more than a $10K improvement to your system. Probably more than $20K. Collect pop bottles if necessary to purchase one.
That got my attention! Exaggeration? My buddy is not easily impressed.
After just an hour in his custom Rives Audio designed media room, I headed home, and without asking permission from my dearly beloved, I sent Phillip my Paypal order. I couldn't wait and had it shipped 2nd day. Upon its discovery in my audio kit my wife (still smiling) said, "Merry Christmas!"
I don't believe Amine mentioned it in his review, but let this one cook for the specified 200 plus hours. Even out of the box it's a revelation, but letting it simmer bears more fruit. Like pruning a tree to produce more fruit.
The Audiophilleo 2 is about truth of timbre, detail, delineation, nuance, resolution and refinement. Imaging is solid, holographic. The AP2 illuminates the recesses of the recorded venue be it a studio or concert hall. Be prepared to hear the most subtle (intimate) vocals, and purity of tone. As Amine mentioned in his review, instruments (including cymbals, yes, cymbals) and vocals have a warmth of timbre (saturation?) that surprises and excite the auditory senses.
If you've listened to a musical score before, listen to it again with the AP2. There's so much more! Yes, it's the exact same recording. Yes, you've heard it a hundred times, but you may never have heard it like this before! What's even more remarkable is that listening to it again, and again doesn't bore! It's as fresh as when you heard it the first time with the AP2!
I continue to be amazed, awe struck, mesmerized by how the AP2 compliments the Wyred 4 Sound DAC. I concur with the title for Amine's review, "…The Missing Link." I recall first hearing the (second) Sheffield Labs direct to disc recording of Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Guests, "The Missing Linc." In the day, it was the standard bearer for what was to come. The Audiophilleo makes a similar impression!
NOTE: I still own many of the Sheffield Labs Direct to Disc LPs. However, I no longer own a turntable or phono preamp. The tape transfers are similar, and offer a window into the history making sessions, but nowhere near the discs.
The last impression I want to leave is probably more psychological, but it appears to be specifically related to what happens when something is just "right." With the AP2, music through the W4S DAC sounds real, and therefore is easier to listen to. It's not clear why, but the W4S DAC 2 coupled with the AD2 is a killer combination. Even though I was wondering about the AP2 benefits on the W4S DAC--after all, the ESS9018 is supposed to be immune to jitter--the difference was more than I expected. Music has never sounded so natural.
NEWS FLASH! There was a rumor that Phillip was designing a battery power supply. In an e-mail he confirmed it was true, and he hopes to make it available early next year, January 2012. I tried to get an early version, but it's still in the testing phase. He's confident about it enough that he's reworking his Web site.
Told you it was good...