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.

I use a K50 from antipodes, I was considering the plink streamer but also felt in a way I am boxing myself to this combination where as the K50 can be a little more versatile. I should mention that already having the K50 prior to mpd6 played a big role in the decision as well.

It is a wonderful dac.

I may be able to listen to a Playback Designs Merlot DAC.  Has anyone compared the older Merlot DAC to the latest designs from Playback Designs, the Edelweiss or Dream?

Yes.  Not in the same league.  It drifts a hair brighter.  The image is smaller and the level of detail is not quite in the same league.  Very simply, the output stage can’t deliver the way the MPD-6 or MPD-8 can.  That being said, you know it is from the same company.  

So...I have been in the process of re-basing our DAC knowledge base as the system has finally been forced to change.  Very simply, the Vivid Kaya 45s are sold and with that departure, I figured I ought to move to my new reference system for purposes of testing.  

Basically, I am relistening to DACs in the new system.  I did some of this before the departure of the Vivids and moved the DAC to the new system.  I am no longer an official Vivid dealer.  Vivid moved to a new distributor and they have rules within their distribution agreement I am 100% sure I am going to want to break.  Rather than violate the dealer agreement, I figured we would part ways and be friends.  If they change their rules, I would be happy to pick the line up again

So....the new system consists of Wilson Benesch Discovery 3Zeros, a Canor Hyperion P1 Preamp, Virtus M1 Mono-Blocks and the source is the Antipodes Oladra server.  This is a bit more esoteric but tonally it is VERY similar to AVM and Vivid which was set up side-by-side as a comparison. It is just radically superior in terms of staging, detail and holography.  ICs and SCs are Inakustic 2404 and all power cables are Puritan Ultimate XX and it is routed through a Puritan 1512. The room is treated with Vicoustic diffusers, wall panels and bass traps.  

This is a system and room that have been optimized together so I should be able to extract every drop of performance from each DAC. The re-basing process is done and I look forward to writing up new Units.  Two will follow shortly for the Soulnote D-2 and the Lumin X1.

So the Lumin X1 came in to me from a friendly dealer who has one and allowed me to spend some time with it.  

The X1 is a hefty unit with an outboard power supply, has a built-in volume control and is a full-fledged streamer with Lumin producing its own software.  It retails at $14K. Given this unit is a full streamer with volume control, my feeling is that it is more appropriate to compare to the ~$10K DACs rather than the price point above.  

I swapped the unit in place of my everyday DAC (the Playback Designs MPD-6) and let it run.  The DAC has been used and is burnt in so just a matter of warm-up and letting things get settled.  

Opening track of In a Sentimental Mood - piano has good sparkle.  Drum rolls lack absolute definition of Weiss or Rockna Edition but detail is very good. 

On Be Still My Beating Heart, it is obvious that the X1 is a bit brighter/more forward than the Playback meaning it is probably a touch forward overall.  That said (based on notes) it is MUCH less bright than the Lumin T2.  The forwardness is present in staging but does not come through in terms of sibilance.  The sound stage is big and deep.  It extended well beyond the outside of the speakers.  Noise floor is very low.  When there should not be noise, there is no noise.  

Liberty is the same.  Forward but not sibilant. effects come from where they should, well beyond the boundaries of the speakers.  

Duende is superb.  Opening bass notes are clear and undistorted.  Dynamics are big.  String separation is fabulous on the berg piece.  There is nothing not to like.

This unit is extremely competitive in the $10K price range.  Compared to the MPD-6, the image is just smaller, has less depth and a hair less detailed.  Given the Playback, comparably equipped with on-board streamer is $18K, this should be the case.  

What surprised me most is how similar this unit sounds to another DAC I have on hand - the Soulnote.  But more on that in the write up of the Soulnote