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.

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Showing 21 responses by snackeyp

@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.
@redwoodaudio I agree with this assessment.  I made a similar comparison to the Mytek Brooklyn.  The Mytek is a wonderful DAC but the May DAC just sounds more "real" than the Mytek.  Difficult to describe but once you hear it you know.  Herb Reichert's review described a similar experience.  
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
@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 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!
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.  
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!
@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.
@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

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...

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.
@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?  
That's an impressive music server you've built.  Thanks for sharing
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.  
@phastm3  I look forward to hearing your thoughts on how the May DAC compares to the Gryphon.  
@nonoise Thanks for posting this review.  
The Holo Audio May DAC 3 won the Product Of The Year in Stereophile this month.  
I couldn't find a web link to the article.  It will probably be up in a week or two.  I read this in the print edition.
@jjss49 Yeah, probably!  LOL

In seriousness, I don't know if these awards mean anything other than when a component I love gets the recognition it deserves it's exciting to hear.  
@cal3713 Actually, the first I heard of this DAC was in Stereophile.  Herb Reichert mentioned it in his column, and Jim Austin reviewed it separately.  
@debjit  I haven't tried mine with DSD512, but I'm sure it sounds great.  I feed it with a Innuous Zenith Mk3 server.  I also use a Jay's Audio CDT-2 transport with it and they both sound great.  The best I've heard so far in digital.