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.

Weiss Helios - I have had this unit in for several weeks and have spent time with it.  A few things stand out.  The unit is obviously much larger than the 501.  It is 2x the price of the 501 so the question is, is it worth that upcharge.  Obviously that is a matter of your budget and ability to pay the list price of $21,999.  If the price tag is in your range, this thing is fantastic.  

The two things that are most noteworthy about this DAC is the depth of image and detail/instrument separation.  In my system, I have not heard another DAC deliver the depth of image that the Weiss delivers.  It also has extraordinary instrument separation.  To a point where I have not heard another DAC this good. It is also more neutral than the 501/502.  

This DAC carves out its own space in the price range.  It is slightly brighter than the Playback MPD8 and maybe is more truly neutral than the MPD8 which I beleive drifts just a hair warm.  There is a structure and stability to the image that is unlike anything I have heard.  I historically have said no one is better between the speakers than Chord.  This DAC is a step up from Dave and MScaler in my opinion.  It also delivers an image beyond the speakers.  The scale is not the same as Aries Cerat or Rockna but is still great.  

Instrumental separation and the detail within moments like the drum rolls are extraordinary in In a Sentimental Mood.  The absolute scale of the soundstage in Be Still My Beating Heart was not as extraordinary as the Aries Cerat or EMM but it is great.  Noise floor is quite low.  

Liberty is smooth and clean.  Effects come from well away from the speakers.  No sibilance at all.  The opening of Duende is clear.  This is the cleanest and clearest I have heard the bass solo.  There is no smearing at all.  Separation of strings in the berg piece is just extraordinary.  

This unit falls in a middle ground between Playback and Aries Cerat.  It is not as big and dynamic as Aries Cerat.  It is not as soulful and sweet as the Playback.  But it is in this amazing middle ground that is enjoyable and really special.  Best for folks where image structure and stability along with detail are primary concerns.  

Thanks for the Weiss flagship impressions. What is the digital source again (the internal renderer, or an outboard piece)?

Not sure if you have the Playback MPS-X, but it's pretty awesome outputting thru Plink into a Playback dac.

@metaldetektor Sorry for the delay in responding.  It has been a hectic week here.  


I am using the "Direct Connect" via ethernet from my Antipodes Oladra server.  This should be virtually identical to feeding it from an Antipodes K41.  I tested the internal renderer and the AES input from the Oladra clock and found them to be pretty similar so I defaulted to the onboard player.

I am waiting on the MPS-X to arrive.  I ordered one in April and they are so backordered it still isn't here yet.  

Here is a new review of the Topping D90LE. I am sure this is going to annoy a segment of the community here and they are not going to want to hear this. I found this demo supremely disappointing because of the hype associated with this product. If you ignore the hype and looks at this as an ~$1000 DAC with a good feature set, it is a good DAC at that price. 

I plugged this in and connected it to my Antipodes Oladra via I2S and via AES. I tested both and I2S was superior. AES had significant smearing in low frequencies and I2S had less so I stuck with I2S.

In a Sentimental Mood sounded good. Drum rolls were crisp. Music was enjoyable. Stage seems smallish but this is not a large sounding song.

Be Still My Beating Heart sounded small. Image was concentrated between the speakers and was centered maybe a foot behind the speakers. This is a song that sounds huge and can be quite immersive with some effects coming from behind you in certain moments.

Liberty again, sounds small. The effects were not coming from the distance, but between the speakers. Her voice had an edge to it, not sibilant but close. This is quite impressive as many units drift into painful territories on that song.

In the opening of Duende there was still significant smearing in the bass notes that we hear in Levin’s solo. Drum rolls are good and dynamics are okay but the image is very centered.

Good separation and intimacy on the Berg piece.

This is a fine $1K DAC. It seems particularly good for acoustic music. It would be interesting to hear this compared to the modestly priced Cambridge, Peachtree and Musical Fidelity DACs. It is not interesting and not fair to compare it to units that are more expensive. You get a lot more in terms of staging and clarity at higher price points.  If you are in the market for $1000 DAC, this should be on your list as it does a lot of stuff well.  Don't think you are going to trade down and it will deliver the same listening experience as a more premium unit.  


Interesting that you would throw this into the mix given the obviously better units that typically cross your doorstep. I agree with you regarding the hype when it comes to Topping, and I think your comments and evaluation are fair.

I think it would be interesting to compare against a Musician’s Pegasus as they are in the same price range.