Mola Mola Makua pre/dac comparisons with Chord Dave dac



Specifications:

https://www.mola-mola.nl/Maku.html

 

https://www.mola-mola.nl/DAC.html

 

Some tech from the designer Bruno Putzeys explaining to me some of the aspects of the dac design:

 

The upsampler and modulator are written in software. The upsampler is an asynchronous sample rate converter. You can also buy chips that do that but they only come with "just good enough" filter responses and neither do they have a particularly narrow PLL bandwidth so there was no alternative left but build one from the ground up. The choice for asynchronous vs using multiple clock crystals was made because you can't make a tuneable oscillator with the extremely stable SC cut crystal that MM use.

 

Far from being hard coded, the entire thing is completely software defined. OTOH the user has no say in what type of filter it uses, it being felt that allowing users to toy with it was a gimmick, since for every input rate there can only be one filter setting that is least audible (the filters change with input rate and format). It follows that any one might add just for the sake of "giving users a choice" would be more audible.

 

The modulator is PWM and is based on a scheme invented in 2004 to generate noise shaped PWM. It should be noted that it's not an n-bit noise shaper followed by a conversion to PWM but the PWM is noise shaped directly. Of course, from an information perspective we're still looking at the equivalent of 5 bits at 3.125 MHz however you want to look at it. The gory details are in https://www.hypex.nl/img/upload/doc/an_wp/WP_AES120BP_Simple_ultralow_distortion_digital_PWM.pdf

What sets this type of PWM aside from ordinary 1-bit sigmadelta is that it is inherently free from intersymbol interference. If you reproduce a 1-bit signal using a switching circuit whose rising and falling edges aren't exactly symmetrical you get a distortion component equal to the number of 1/0 transitions per second, which varies with the signal and which has tone like components. With the single-edged PWM conversion the number of transitions per second is constant and only one of the two edges encodes a signal so the same rising/falling asymmetry would cause nothing worse than a tiny amount of DC offset. This observation was first made by Peter Craven in 1993, who was then trying to design a DAC for B&W and published a way of generating such a signal. So if you are looking for a historical precedent for using PWM in a DAC, that is the closest you'll get. If you compare Craven's paper (http://www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=7001 ) with the one linked above you can see the new method is significantly more straightforward and has lower distortion.

 

The FIR trick is this: if you generate a clocked PWM signal with a period of N clock cycles, and you run that through a FIR filter with N equal valued coefficients, the output of that FIR filter is simply the total number of ones over the past full cycle. This removes the PWM switching frequency and some shaped noise from the output signal, making life easier on the analogue filter that follows. The resistors need not be matched since each tap sees the complete signal. A mismatch only slightly affects the attenuation of the 3.125MHz component. This is why FIR DACs are used. They have been around in some form or other since the mid 90's. I'm not sure about other commercially available PWM based FIR DACs though.

 

Quotes from two recent reviews (not available as links at this time)

 

Hi-Fi Choice:

 

Makua Pre/DAC: " Like: Spacious, open sound, build, excellent app control. Dislike: Nothing. We say: Super versatile and capable modern preamp.

 

Hi-Fi News:

 

"....its aforementioned unflappability at high volumes and smoothness from bottom to top- it''s another facet that's part of its big, confident yet calm character."

 

"Bass was lithe and tuneful, the mid band delicate and satisfyingly three-dimensional, while treble has a wonderful satiny texture to it."

 

Test set up:

AQVOX switch with King Rex dc ps in port 1 out port 8 and grounding wire , AQVOX and Vovox Ethernet cables, fidata network work server, Vovox USB to dac, Lumin S1 using digital out, Mola Mola Makua preamp with dac module, Mola Mola Kaluga mono block amplifiers, Hi Diamond XLR 3 interconnects, Boenicke W11 with external Bybee speaker bullets, Hi Diamond 7 speakers cables, separate mains spurs to each component terminated in IEC plugs and dedicated consumer unit, Bybee signal enhancers under each individual component including the hub and switch, SteinMusic Harmonizers with blue suns and diamonds, Bybee signal enhancers in the room at various points, room 3.5m. x. 7m x 2.5m.

 

Comparisons: Chord DAVE, Lumin S1 built in dac, Benchmark DAC2, SST with dac module.

 

TBC


toetapaudio

Review continued.

 

Ease of use.

 

There are three options to use the Mola Mola remotely plus manual operation. The remotes are the supplied Apple controller, the cnc machined Mola Mola handset (optional extra) and the Mola Mola app using an iPad. There are six presets that can be selected remotely, each one can be set up for whatever application you need. If a phono stage is included (at an extra cost) you could for example set up one for MM cartridges and another for MC cartridges, each with their own R, C, Gain and Equalisation. The volume can be controlled from the remotes or the knob on the front and is a relay analogue device.

 

The rear has IEC for power, and six pairs of balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (phono) inputs with a switch to select. The selection can also be made remotely. Also there are digital inputs (if the dac module is included), one USB type B, and one AES/EBU plus LAN for future use.

 

Comparisons.

 

Price points: Benchmark DAC 3 (£2350), SST pre/dac (£4200), Lumin S1 streamer/dac (£8,500), Chord DAVE dac (£8,500), Mola Mola pre/dac (£11,000).

 

I have been using the Mola Mola Makua pre/dac for around 6 months and have had the opportunity of comparing it with the above. My reference before taking on Mola Mola was the built in dac in the Lumin S1. The transport only version, the U1, is £4,500, so the dac in the S1 is worth around £4,000. The sound of the S1 was far more open and natural sounding and musically engaging compared to the Benchmark and SST. The Benchmark was detailed but over bright, the SST a bit constricted but better balanced and smoother, more natural than the DAC3. The S1 was clearly superior to both. At this time I had tried the S1 with both the SST as preamp and also direct using the Lumin's app to control volume. I preferred the sound when used direct.

 

The Mola Mola pre/dac took the sound to new levels of sonic delights. The sound stage expanded, there was more texture, notes lasted longer, smoother, more open and natural, musical enjoyment increased and I was tapping my toes more often.  And they weren't even run in yet. The sound just got better and better as time went on. The sound became more dynamic and even more musically involving and maybe there is even more to come.

 

Comparison



Mola Mola vs Chord Dave

 

I was very pleased with the sound quality of the Mola Mola but I was curious to know how the Mola Mola compared to the Chord Dave, obviously a very good DAC that had so many positive user reviews in the forums. I also read a report of a Chinese Hi-Fi Club that had compared the Dave with some other top performing DAC’s including some costing much more. The blind test results were:

 

1. Chord DAVE
2. Lavry Quintessence DA-N5
3. Merging NADAC
4. dCS Vivaldi DAC
5. TOTALDAC D1-DUAL
6. Lavry DA2002
7. SCHIIT YGGDRASIL
8. AQUA La Scala

 

I had been aware of a private test of a Mola Mola DAC vs Nagra DAC with the former coming out on top. Also I was told of another comparison with the Dave DAC, in which the five people present were split 2/3 in favour of Mola Mola.

I started the comparison with the Dave connected directly to the two mono Kaluga power amps. The interconnect was a HiDiamond XLR3, a revealing and musical interconnect in my opinion. Inputs were fidata network audio server through usb and Lumin S1 digital out through AES. All listening tests were through Boenicke W11 speakers.

 

As high-lighted by many posters in the forums, the Dave was a smooth, open, refined and naturally balanced performer. Many types of music were used in our comparison: acoustic jazz, rock, opera, acoustic blues, classical and percussion. We listened to a number of tracks and then repeated the same series of tracks with the Mola Mola in place. Both DAC’s were really good of course, PRAT was very close, coherence, transparency and information equally as good. But, there were differences in terms of musicality, the Mola Mola being more musically involving. On all forms of music the Mola Mola was just a bit more engaging and toetapping. It was the same “painting”, the Dave was in muted colours and the Mola Mola in more lit up tones.

 

Obviously the next thing to try was the Dave into the Mola Mola as a preamp with Dave’s digital volume control muted. I have read that a number of users prefer the sound with Dave connected via a preamp. Some, like @romaz, would disagree that Dave with a preamp is necessary and would prefer to use the Dave direct, even without a power amp. The dac direct to speakers set-up I didn’t try because, one, it didn’t occur to me at the time and secondly I wouldn’t have had the cables prepared to make that test. In our system and to us, the Dave benefited by using it with the Mola Mola as preamp. @romaz would argue that that is just putting another unnecessary layer behind the dac. To my ears, when connected to the Mola Mola as a preamp, the Dave gained in more inner musical energy, texture and colour and got much closer to what I preferred about the Mola Mola.

 

There are other considerations of course. Cost for one thing. The Mola being the more pricey set up being around £11,000 as a pre/dac vs £8,500 for the dac only Dave. The Dave also enables the user to use headphones directly connected to the dac, a big plus for head-fi fans. The upcoming stand alone DAC from Mola Mola I hope has the same facility, but this is not confirmed yet. Price point should be comparable with the Dave and the Mola Mola will have Roon end points built in. If you need a top flight preamp (because you are also using a turntable for example) then the Mola Mola makes a lot of sense as a one box solution that can later be updated with other facilities (such as Roon) when available.

I hope this helps.


toe, their is a new contender also in that price range which is the new Lumin X1 we heard our clients unit and it was amazing.

The X1 is a huge improvment over the older S1.

The X1 had a huge sound stage was liquid in the midrange and had a solidity to the sound that was off the charts. 

We were playing Spotify and my jaw was on the floor you never heard such a sound out of crappy Spotify.

So before you crown the Mola Mola the champ listen to an X1 so far everyone who has heard the X1 has been blown away by it.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ

I own the Mola Mola Makua Preamp/DAC and like it very much.  My Aurender N10 Music Server connects to the Makua and the sound quality is superb. The Makua includes an App that I run on my IPad so I can control the volume and also switch between the source inputs as needed.  It is very easy to use.  My Aurender connects to the Makua using both the Audience Au24 SE USB Cable and the Snake River Audio Boomslang AES/EBU XLR digital cable (length is 1.5 meters).  I can easily switch between the 2 cables, as needed using the Makua App.  Most of the time, I usually prefer the AES/EBU for the best sound quality.  

My Mola Mola Makua Preamp/DAC connects to my Mola Mola Kaluga Mono Block Power Amplifiers.  Interconnect cables are the Snake River Audio Signature Series Mamushi Interconnect XLR cables.   This combination is outstanding and I highly recommend it.  

The musical quality is really excellent on all types of music.  Both my CD’s and Tidal Streaming sound very natural, clear and wonderful.   I am hearing great bass, clarity of sound, detail and it sounds terrific. 

The Mola Mola Makua Preamp/DAC and the Mola Mola Kaluga Mono Block Power Amplifiers are highly recommended.   


@hgeifman 

That is one killer system!
What speakers do you have hooked up,to that gear?
@uberwaltz,  Thanks.    PMC Twenty 5.26 Speakers.
Sweet!
Would love to hear that rig in action!

But enough, sorry do not mean to derail this thread.

Thank you