Congratulation on finding the DAC you can live with for a long long time - not easy to decide. And Thank You for your honest assessment about the "DAC comparisons", especially the Oppo. Have fun with your music!
DAC Merry Go 'Round- why I stopped at Weiss
This is not a review but will be somewhat long, so I’ll provide the summary up front – I tried a lot of DACs over the last 3-4 years including Schiit, DENAFRIPS, Mojo, Lumin, Luxman, Marantz and a few others, and finally settled on the Weiss DAC 501. Features and ergonomics do come in to play as well in my decision, so the point is I am not stating blankly that the Weiss is better in all regards for all people. For me it was the best in terms of sound quality though, which is the most important to me. I’m writing this for two reasons: one, to try to get the word out on this great DAC which doesn’t have the cult following some of the other ones do, and two to write down some sonic comparisons with some of these other DACs that some audiophiles may find useful. As always, I’ll repeat the caveat that this is in my system, room, with my ears….etc., etc.
Other DACs in the system: Schiit Yggdrassil (Unison, A2), Mojo Mystique V2x and B4B, Luxman D08-U, Marantz SA-10, DENAFRIPS Terminator I and II, Lumin T2. I owned all of these DACs and had lots of time with them in my system, though only 2-3 of them at any one time. Best for the money? Probably the Lumin (especially since it does not require a streamer), and Terminator, with an honorable mention goes to the Marantz if you can pick one up at a discount.
Streamers used: Aurender N200, N20, Lumin U1. (This is not a streamer review but if you have a DAC that uses SPDIF, the N20 is really great especially with its upsampling features). System: Luxman C/M900, Magico A3, Harbeth M40, M30. I downsized my system (M40s were too big for my room so I now have the M30) throughout the process; in doing so I also diversified my electronics to Line Magnetic, Benchmark, and Primaluna - with the Harbeth the Luxman were a bit too smooth and I wanted to downsize my system as well. I was not in a frantic search for the ‘best’ DAC but through these trials was just having fun and trying out different things. Ultimately I did want to find something I could live with permanently.
My methodology was to leave the DACs on all the time, listen to them for long periods of time, then switch, as well as quick A-B’ing from time to time, always level matching. Whilst downsizing my system I found I wanted something with a built in streamer (Weiss is Roon ready, like Lumin, the others require a separate streamer), so this is partially where features played a role in my decision.
Here’s some basic notes about each:
Luxman D-08u - smooth, somewhat dry compared to the Mojo, excellent transport (the Mojo sounded better with the D08 as a transport than it did running with a streamer), excellent mid-range layering, good bass. I also borrowed a D-03x at one point from my dealer, which was good but was way too smooth for my tastes.
Marantz SA-10 – a little more alive than the Luxman, great overall, very good CD/SACD player but I couldn’t get past the fact that it upsamples everything to DSD. Every piece of gear that upsamples to DSD (like the Lumin, which is optional, but the Marantz is not) I do not like PCM upsampled to DSD, it just cuts off some of the high frequency information in my experience. Very smooth high frequencies is the upside of the other side of that coin.
Schiit Yggy – best bass I’ve heard from any DAC; fast attacl, clean and excellent clarity. There was just something about it though that didn’t work for me. It was somewhat sterile. Not as musical overall as the other DACs.
DENAFRIPS Terminators – the TII is as advertised from the TI – a little more detailed and clear while retaining all the musicality/spaciality of the TI. These are great DACs. When I got the Terminator for the first time I was in a stage where I was looking for something to replace my Mojo, which had replaced the Luxman. Nothing could touch the Mojo (I was trying $3-4k DACs just to see) until I found the Terminator, though it does things a bit differently. These DACs throw a great soundstage, are excellent all around. This was the DAC I found best reacted to the N20 capabilities with SPDIF and upsampling (read the Computer Audiophile review of these DACs, I agree completely with him on this. The Terminator using upsampling itself, and fed an upsampled input from the N20 was spectacular). I could have kept the TII and been very happy but still wanted to get rid of the extra box. Though having tried the Weiss I still prefer the sound quality of the Weiss overall.
Mojo Mystique B4B – excellent DAC. I won’t mention the little brother V2x other than to say it is a great value for the money – I tried it to see what the fuss was all about in R2R DACs (this was first DAC I tried after the Luxman), and based on what it did I got the B4B. I believe these handbuilt DACs will go down as classics – 20 years from now they will be like a 60’s McIntosh tube amp and sell for big bucks, they are so exquisitely built. As for sound, it remains the most ‘organic’ sounding DAC of the bunch, great texture and tonality, which is important to me. The highs were a bit truncated for my tastes, not quite as detailed as something like the Schiit or the Weiss. I did prefer the Terminator over the Mojo. The Terminators had more of those audiophile attributes like soundstaging and I thought they were slightly more musical overall.
Lumin T2. This was the first DAC I had of any of these. It is a little rough around the edges perhaps (not as smooth as some of the other DACs) but overall just does everything right. Its features to upsample/downsample, and do other things is an awesome and useful feature set. When I was looking at the Weiss I considered picking up an older Lumin S-1 or even the X-1 which have similar feature sets. Some day hopefully I can compare the Weiss to the Lumins. I would say if you like what the T2 does you’ll love the Weiss, they’re similar in features and sound.
Weiss DAC 501 – I’ll skip the feature set other than to mention its ability to use an equalizer can be really handy and in my experience doesn’t degrade the sound quality. But otherwise just talking about sound quality, this DAC was exactly what I have been searching for. It has the clean-ness and clarity/detail of the Schiit, the musicality and soundstaging (though perhaps just slightly a bit less) of the Denafrips, and is just rock solid in its presentation all around; it doesn’t do anything wrong. The review by the Alpha Audio puts it that every track just seems to ‘sound right’ or the way it was supposed to be heard through the Weiss (though they weren’t sure why), which I agree with. Also. the Sterophile review of this DAC does a better job of describing it than I can and I agree with their assessment. It is detailed while being smooth, musical, clear, and plays with authority. Of all the DACs I’ve owned this was also the first one that was clearly discernable in a much greater way than the others (some DACs can sound somewhat similar, have to listen hard for differences). That is its positive attributes in comparison to other DACs were more obvious.
Honorable mention: I did not own it but my dealer let me try out the Line Magnetic DAC (I forget the model, I think there’s only one), but for $2k this is a ‘wow’ DAC – especially if you replace the tubes (I tried a pair of new Genelex gold lion). When I tried this DAC I was searching for a replacement to the Mojo, and this one came the closest from DACs like the Luxman D-03, Oppo-105, and a couple others I can’t recall.
A bit more about methodology if you made it this far. Testing DACs is not easy. Some say they can hear a clear or ‘huge’ difference between DACs, or one “blows the other away” or is not in the same ballpark, etc. These hyperboles are not the experience I’ve had for the most part. Living with the DAC for a long time, getting over the initial “new toy syndrome”, is paramount, and DACs tested against each other over time reveal true differences in my opinion. One test I do I call the ‘Oppo’ test. Some audiophiles like to denigrate the Oppos but they are great DACs, especially for the money. I will always keep an Oppo in the house (if not just to play DVDs and SACDs!). After living with a given DAC for a while and being duly impressed with it, I would then fire up the Oppo and compare the two, only to find that the Oppo sounded pretty good in comparison, which helps to present a value consideration for the other DACs. For example, believe it or not the Oppo was somewhat similar and close to the Mojo in terms of tonality and some other traits; but obviously you get what you pay for, the pricier DACs are smoother and do other things better.. The Oppo is a bit rougher (as opposed to smooth) and has some compromises that always appear in these comparisons. But with this test I found to use the preamp to switch between the two DACs under consideration and forget about which one is attached to which input, you can really start to hear differences without a lot of the bias coming in. With some of these DACs I could guess about 50% of the time which was the Oppo, some less, some more. The musical selection used often played a big role – some selections sound the same on DACs for some reason, some different.
@phastm3 I got rid of my streamer so unfortunately I couldn't say, I've only used the Weiss through its Roon ready input. I can say that using the Oppo as a transport via SPDIF to the Weiss sounds lousy compared to the Weiss Roon Ready input.
Seems like the reason you liked the Weiss is because it sounded different. You said yourself you couldn't hear much of a difference between the other DACs you tested.
Well the reason for this is because the Weiss is "coloured", it has a house sound. That's not necessarily bad as long as you understand that it's the colour that you're liking.
Weiss, Dcs et al haven't changed much over the last 20 years. Where's their new tech?
I compared my Musetec 005 to the Weiss 301 and 501 which it slaughtered in SQ, which as you said is the most important thing. It also more than held it's own against the Weiss Medea which is much more expensive. I preferred it.
Now that you're stuck with the Weiss get a 10Mhz master clock and $3k 75 Ohm clock cable for the N20 and it'll all sound twice as good.
Playing with new gear can be a lot of fun, but eventually it can turn into more work than it’s worth and you just want to sit back and listen. I don’t think upgrading ever gets out of the audiophiles’ system, but you start balancing against the effort involved in choosing the new component, selling the old, setup, break in, optimizing cables, etc. Just reading your post got me tired. Relax and enjoy. At least for now.
Weiss is a fantastic company, as their use in mastering rooms (by those who can afford them) will attest. The best equalizer I’ve ever heard was the Weiss EQ1 Mk 2, and the earlier Weiss DAC I heard for an hour was really lovely. Nothing out of place.
Congratulations on picking the one you love. If I didn’t require even more features, I’d be considering a DAC 501 myself.
Thanks for the info, you’ve invested quite a bit of time and money. As a Schiit Yiggy owner, I’ve never done the comparisons and have no idea what I’m missing. I would like to ask about the Oppo 105, as you referred to it quite often and I have one in the closet. Have you modified the Oppo or is it original. Also feeding Tidal to my Yiggy with a laptop, would streaming from the Oppo be an improvement? Thanks for sharing your knowledge and doing so in a polite and positive way. Members like you make this site worthwhile. Regards, Mike B.
@buellrider97 thank you for the kind words. My Oppo is stock. I use it as a baseline that has remained consistent throughout all of the testing. It’s good but most of these other DACs I’ve had stand out in many ways as smoother or more organic sounding. I don’t think you can stream Tidal from the Oppo, I was just using it as a CD transport. IME the Oppo is not the greatest in this regard. When comparing it to a DAC I would play a CD in it whilst streaming the same file to the other DAC, or playing the CD in the Oppo and connecting its SPDIF out to the other DAC. The Schiit is a great DAC, you’re probably not missing much, but of course unless you try you never know! Since you have an Oppo you could easily try it out against the Schiit and see what comes out of it.
Congratulations! The Weiss 501 is a Tour de Force DAC! It simply takes hold, organizes and controls the entire affair. I moved from the Mojo Mystique 3 which is quite good to the 501 and never looked back. Of course, there is a price discrepancy so not quite a fair comparison, but I feel the return is commensurate with the investment. Enjoy the ride.
thanks for sharing
i too really adore the weiss, the sound is excellent and the engineering, ergonomics and features are equally outstanding
i am also trying an msb, have my chord scaler/hugo tt2 stack, and also an audio note 4.1 tube dac, all are excellent albeit with very different form factors and features, each sounds just lovely, more different than better/worse - at a lower price level i am playing with an older musical fidelity trivista, soekris 1421 and an audio gd master 7, all impressive in their own right -- i have been through most of the denafrips dacs high and low, they are very good but those i have kept are better imo at the respective price levels
it is also hard to judge dacs as different ones sound better with different connections, but ethernet in certainly makes things cleaner and simpler (pun intended 😁)
ignore the haters, they are lame and pathetic
Thanks for the illuminating DAC comparison. I recently settled for a MSB Platinum Signature and am as happy as a clam. I also visited the factory in Watsonville CA, which is about an hour drive from my home: this was truly the experience of a lifetime: two brothers who had quite literally started their company out of their parents garage; almost a Silicon Valley soap. Their enthusiasm, pride in their work and openness were something to behold. They upgraded my system with a new femto clock and a volume module (which I don't use) free of charge, in spite of the fact that I am the second owner and the warranty had long expired. I had used the OPPO DAC all these years, and I agree: for the price it is great value. But the ladder architecture of the MSB brings out a velvety elegance and smoothness that is missing in the chip-based Oppo. The other DAC I had briefly in my system was the PS Audio Wavestream, but it sounded just too "HiFi" for my taste; its versatility, though was outstanding. I wish I could somehow send you my MSB and have you compare it to your Weiss, and to all your acoustic memories of the other brands, and give me your feedback. For now, however, I think MSB should be on everyone's list (if money is not an issue - ouch!): it's just impeccable!
Merry go round indeed. You have spent a lot of effort and money there. It will be interesting to see how long you stick with the Weiss.
I need a DAC with HDMI inputs. I have a large SACD collection and I love to output the DSD layer of SACD with my Oppo 105 over HDMI into my Bryston DAC 3. Yesterday after a bad work day it was such a balm to hear 2 Linn SACDs, both Mozart, So much low level detail, hall ambience, and properly sorted layering, particularly in the Requiem. My only anxiety is the lack of AKM replacement chips, but hopefully it won’t be required
Thank you for the post. Here in the EU the Weiss DACs have a very good reputation. Also Twittering Machines (who I have some respect for) like them.
I too have come to rest. Just found something that was simple and just works. I agree that having the streamer built in seems to feel right.
I started of as very much an analog only guy, and my short DAC journey was:
Musical Fidelity V90 (sounded digital but did work)
Audiolab M-DAC. (Lively, fun, sometimes sounded really nice)
Chord 2QUTE (a bit classier than the M-DAC, a bit more boring but more natural)
Denafrips Terminator (sounded analog to me, lifelike, calm, real, not super exciting)
Mola Mola Tambaqui (... and relax - it just sounds right, so lovely)
So now i have lost interest in DACs. Time will tell if that lasts.
I am getting ready to order a Weiss 501. I have already sold my Lumin T2, which I thought was very good and Owned for about three years. I went to audition some speakers and the Weiss was the front end piece. I was just blown away by the presentation. It sounded like I was in the recording studio with the musicians. I had never heard anything like that. Shout out to Tom, owner of Big Ear in Tempe Arizona
Would appreciate clarification on whether Weiss 501 has a built-in streamer or not. I don't sett that feature mentioned on Weiss webpage or in reviews. OP above notes he just connected Weiss via its Roon-ready input. But server to which it was connected might have had a streamer and been carrying out that function.
Thank you to OP for highly informative review of DACs he has listened to.
Thanks for the great post, and for taking the time to share your thoughts on each step of the DAC journey - very illuminating. I’ve never had a chance to hear a Weiss personally, but the reputation is formidable
I’ve just gone from a modest 2017 DAC (Meridian Explorer2) to a Benchmark DAC3, and the upgrade has been a delight
Have a great day!
Really interesting review, and I appreciate the descriptions of how you tested the Dacs, compare them, etc.
I've heard great things about the Audio GD dacs, as @jjss49 mentioned, and also about the Holo Audio May DAC too. Time, money, and patience are limited, so your research really helps a lot of us!
No one has yet mentioned that the Weiss 501 uses a pair of Sabre ESS 9018K2M chips, a ten year old design. Each of the chips uses two channels in a monaural configuration for a single output channel. Sabre chips probably have more R & D behind them than any other in the industry and are used in some of the highest performing DACs. But they are so well known that they have been used in all sorts of modestly performing DACs as well. That’s so that "ESS" can lead in their advertising. ESS association with modestly performing DACs has not been good for its reputation among some, particularly those who think it’s all in the chip..
I make this point simply to demonstrate again that implementation is everything. While some marketing departments focus almost entirely on the D to A conversion, whether a sigma-delta chip, an R2R (discrete or chip) or an FPGA sigma-delta chip, none of these matters as much IMO as overall implementation which is power supply and analog (I-V, LPF, gain & buffer) stage.
Evidently, in its implementation Weiss is doing something right.
Well @steakster this is expected from that poster who is pushing for a different DAC. I am expecting some more folks to come and derail the thread. These folks will have no experience with the DAC being discusses and simply try to say bad stuff about other companies and how their DACs are not good. Kind of like "fanboy" club from a speaker company a couple of years ago.
Appreciate everyone’s responses, glad someone may find this information helpful. I did not mention synergy in my post but as always this plays a huge factor - with warmer speakers like Harbeth the clarity of the Weiss is a good match. I had the Schiit when I had Magico, I think the Schiit would fit better in my current system as well. Somehow I left the Schiit out as a great value for the money, but then everyone knows that already.
jjss49 and reimarc, I’d love to hear an MSB but never have even at a retailer. Some day perhaps. The MSBs definitely seem to be one of the benchmark manufacturers for DACs along with DCS. Those are all getting beyond what I’d like to spend on a DAC however. Reimarc said "I wish I could somehow send you my MSB and have you compare it to your Weiss.. well, it turns out it’s really easy, I’ll send you the postage ! :-) jjss you put me to shame with your collection of DACs - I’d love to hear the audionote.
Tuberist, be sure to follow up - since I had a long period between owning the T2 and the Weiss I’d be curious your thoughts if they are similar or not as I recall as far as sonic attributes. They both do use the ESS chips.
Bosssound, the Weiss is Roon ready, I should have used the phrase "Roon ready option" because it is not an input. You need to run a Roon Core also (I just use a laptop running wirelessly, not connected to the DAC). I use a wireless endpoint connected via ethernet cable to the back of the Weiss. As long as the DAC and the Core are on the same wireless network you can use the Roon Ready option.
There is no fool like an Audiofool which reminds me of the Mexican bandit in "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" who says "We don't need no stinkin' badges!"
Well here we go screw the Grammys they mean Jack.
Weiss is extremely reticent about publishing true specs of his products for example the 501 uses dual mono ESS 9018K2M dac-chips. I'm not sure if they are being manufactured anymore.
Top shelf DAC producers are and have been using the sublime ES9038PRO for about 18 months now. Which is currently the best available chip for DACs Worldwide.
All Weiss products have the Made in Switzerland stamp on them. Assembled in Swiss, yes but made? No way. ICBs made in Swiss? Okay tell me sweet little lies Daniel.
Here's a review with Danny Boy struggling to baffle with BS why his digital volume control doesn't strip bits...........Audiofools!
@lordmelton, I'm not sure why somebody is an Audiofool for trying a bunch of DACs, picking the one they like best, and then being very happy to make the purchase and enjoying listening to their favorite music.
I'm very pleased with my Mojo Audio DAC and it most certainly isn't using the mighty ES9038PRO; guess I'm just an Audiofool too for enjoying my outdated DAC so much...
We can't all own the Musetec (LKS) MH-DA005 DAC.
Come on @ddafoe someone is melting down on your happiness. How can you have such a nice system and enjoy your music! You have absolutely no right to do that unless you own a specific DAC!! 😂
OP, congrats on the Weiss. It sounds like you really made a careful, considered choice and have landed in a place that is ideal for you. And that is what truly matters.
@phastm3 I have the Weiss 501 as well. I have tested the player vs. others. The internal renderer/player is as good or better than my Chord 2Go/2Yu or a Bricasti M5. The only thing I have attached that I think is a step up is the player/clock in an Antipodes K50. The K50 takes the Weiss up a level, but then again, it should for the price. Also, for perspective Weiss sells just the player and the DSP functionality for like $6-$7K in a 501/502 DSP unit.
I have the Marantz SA-10 purchased to build a compact reference system after lots of research on SACD/DSD players. Got a great price new and it's a lot less expensive than other high end SACD players like Esoteric or new Luxman. I'll never understand all the tech but I thought the ability to stream through the SA-10 was a bonus so I was glad to hear your thoughts on its sound quality when used to stream since there's not much written about that.
I have shared this before... I originally used a musician's tracking pro-sumer Audiobox USB DAC with a Cirrus chip for my stereo- this plugged directly into the wall. 80 bucks B-stock internet buy. It sounded very good but I had some rhythm and timing issues in the bottom end. I largely solved these with Audnirvana. I then placed a $250 dolla SMSL SU-8 non blutooth DAC in the system with Furman power conditioner. I really could hear no difference. I stream from my Powerbook Mac Pro via USB to AudioPulse S200 powered monitors all balanced XLR cable runs.
I have replaced my up to date Bricasti M1 SE with Ethernet card with the Weiss 501. One song in and my $$$ was going from PP to Audio Limits.
Scott @ Verdantaudio gave me the OK to pursue the 501 for a listen.
Did it crush the M1? Not at all. Was it a close race? Very much so. Why sell and buy the Weiss 501? It sounds “more” 😳 right in the tone department. 🥳🥇
Unfortunately I did not have the Terminator and the Weiss at the he same time to compare. If I did, I would have run both as DACs off the Aurender to compare apples to apples. The only way I have heard the Weiss is as a Roon endpoint. But going off memory I would say the Weiss has a bit more clarity and control over the music, it just sounds right. The Terminator seems a little fatter in reproduction in a good way, bigger images in the SS, perhaps more holographic. Both are great but I feel the Weiss presents the music in a more realistic manner.
Sold my Musetec 005 and Aurender N200 to buy a Weiss 502. Happy with it, but I was able to try the Aurender with the Weiss for a couple of days before the Aurender sold. The Aurender sounded a hair better than the built it Roon streamer of the Weiss, but not enough to justify the added $6k. Maybe if the economy was a little less gloomy, I would have kept the Aurender. The Aurender Conductor app is good, but for me, Roon feels way better.
I was looking to get a DAC for a headphone system and tried out a Weiss DAC502. I tested it against two other DACs I have and love: an MBL 1611F that I've had since 2010 and a Meitner MA1 (not a V2) that I've had since 2011. I put a CD in my MBL 1621A transport and used the ST optical, AES, and coax outputs to the 3 DACs, then routed them to 3 separate inputs on my MBL 6010D pre-amp, then to my headphone amp. I could switch between all three at will.
The Weiss performed impressively. It sounded remarkably similar to the MBL, though the MBL had a touch more bloom to it. I preferred the sound of both the MBL and Weiss over the Meitner, which sounded a little more muddled than the others. I also compared the sound through USB for the Weiss and Meitner and again preferred the Weiss.
You might say it's not fair to compare the DAC502 to the MA1 given that the latter came out more than 10 years ago. But the MBL DAC is even older than that and still sounds remarkable.
I also brought my headphone system to a dealer and tried out a Chord Hugo TT2 with M-Scaler and a dCS Bartok. Neither one sounded as good to me as the Weiss did. The Chord sounded decent, but I was unimpressed with the Bartok.
I ended up sending the DAC502 back... so I could save a few bucks and get the DAC501 instead. Now that I know there's an upgrade possible, I'm probably going to take advantage of that.
To answer another question: I've compared the Weiss as a Roon endpoint + DAC vs. a Sonore Signature Rendu SE as an endpoint with the Weiss as the DAC. The differences were very slight, but I barely preferred the Sonore.
To touch on another comment on this thread: I agree that the digital volume control is not perfect. I normally listen at low volumes, so my first inclination was to set the output preset to -30 dB before I passed it to my external headphone amp. But I couldn't get that to sound as good as a 0 dB preset and a much lower volume on the headphone amp.
FYI…the “upgrade” is available for existing devices or can be ordered new. The unit 501 or 502 v2 is the four channel version. What is noteworthy is it has the very latest chips from ESS in it. My first order with one just arrived. Not sure if Bluebird is stocking it yet but the unit is great.
I will find out details and pricing on converting existing 501s and 502s to v2 and post it here.
@glory tonally speaking in general would you say Weiss is a tad more warm than Bricasti or vice versa? Thanks!
i will chime in on this one as i recently had both side by side for an extensive a-b comparison
to my ear, in my system the two dacs were indistinguishable in how they sounded, regarding tonal balance, imaging, prat, blackness of background and so on... i could not reliably pick between them in a-b test (this was not true for other dacs on hand -- chord m scaler-hugo tt2 stack, msb analog dac/pb, musetec 005 (sold), ank dac4.1 (sold))
both dacs using their network streaming inputs, using roon, lan input filtered by dual uptone etherregens - bricasti m1 was an se with mdx card using the min 2 filter (my favorite), weiss ran straight, zero dsp applied, both playing from their xlr analog outputs
i ended up selling the bricasti and keeping the weiss because of the smaller form factor of the weiss and the many useful, added features it provides
Congratulations @jimmy2615 on finally finding the DAC and we appreciate the detailed write up. I agree with you and @phastm3, the network based DAC’s with Roon rendering capabilities has narrowed the performance gap vs. separate DAC and Streamer/Server. Of course there is always going be those who still prefers the separates but for the money and convenience, the offerings from Weiss, Grimm, Bricasti and Merging Technologies are redefining the digital streaming landscape. I say this because these brands prime focus is on getting the DAC performance ‘right’ with added convenience of Roon rendering with little to no compromises.