Review: Keces DA-151 USB DAC DA converter
Please allow me to introduce myself. I am a committed computer PC playback guy. I run a G5 Mac with a 500Gb drive (and a backup) dedicated to iTunes that holds some 2,000 CDs ripped in Apple Lossless. I value the incredible fidelity that a hard drive transport offers, along with the ease of access. A not inconsiderable added benefit is the removal of all those linear feet of jewel cases from my living space.
I listen to a lot of Verve and BlueNote, a healthy dose of country, the modern divas and a bunch of other stuff which is generally acoustic in nature (symphonies, quartets, Ali Farka Toure, Buena Vista Social Club etc) No headbanger music or heavy metal - though the Stones are still on the playlist. I am in the midst of downsizing my system - from about $10K to $2K. I took it as a challenge to see if I could end up with something better then I started with.
I am a strong believer that the source is king. The last couple of times around I spent more on the source then I now had for the entire system. I had already sold my Wavelength Cosecant Silver USB DAC (MSRP $10K), so I was in the market for a DAC.
When I was first getting started I had gone USB to SPDIF through a Waveterminal U24 and also Toslink direct from the Mac. Because I believe that fewer connections are the best connections, I had already decided that the new unit had to be a USB DAC. (I electrically isolate the DAC from the computer using a Opticis fiber optic cable with a battery power supply. No ground loops.) I had also determined that I did not want an oversampling unit. I have no SACD or DVD-A content, and no plans to acquire any - if I do there is always the Oppo.
Truth is I stumbled across Keces on ebay. Having owned seven (7) DACs already - it was hard not to be a little skeptical of the seemingly brash claims of a one year old company. Still the obvious attention to detail, and the integration of a rugged power supply instead of a silly wall wart intrigued me. So I fired off a post into the cybersphere and got a prompt response from David Wei in Taiwan. (I don't know how David does it but his replies are quicker then anything I get in the US)
I decided to take a (not very big) chance and buy the KECES DA-151. In fact I went all out and bought an IeGO L70530 + 8055 cable to go with it (a really nicely built Furukawa OCC copper cable with solid copper blades that has been cryoed).
Then I waited - a whopping five days for the unit to arrive from Taiwan. You need to know that this doesn't look or feel like a $250 audio anything that I have ever bought. It is cleanly built and substantial. No sheet metal rattle, no flex in the case, no sag when you plug in a cable. Just a rigid, carefully finished minimalist box purpose built for the job.
The plexiglass top offers a look inside at a neatly laid out array of Elna caps, and Bennic XPP coupling caps. Also visible through the plexi is a blue light indicating that power is on, and lights indicating the status of the USB connection (red no connection, green USB connection is active.) After consulting with David, I left the unit turned on 24/7 and pretty much forgot about it.
As noted I am in the process of downsizing - the Merlins soon followed the Cosecant out the door and a vintage pair of Meadowlarks took their place. And recently I replaced my Graaf tube amp with a NuVista IA-7 which I am also comparing with a pair of Flying Moles through my Sonic Euphoria passive.
As the system cycled through these changes, I began to notice that no matter what was in the system, the music had a sense of life that I had never noticed before. There were layers and layers of detail - but there was also an ease of rhythm that created a tremendous cohesion - the pieces fit together into whole that just drew me in. Nothing was exaggerated or minimized. Bass was authoritative and punchy when appropriate; mids rich and detailed and the high end sweet. The soundstage had a real sense of the physical venue or lack thereof. Dynamics were there - whether the pop of a snare or the lingering decay of a cymbal. The opening of Beethoven's Sixth went from full orchestra roaring to a single flute easily. Bad recordings remained poor but not horribly unlistenable. Great recordings soared to new heights.
Suddenly I was listening to music hours a day, discovering something new in almost everything I played. With the Keces upstream and the Meadowlarks downstream, changes in pres, amps and ICs were very apparent in terms of how they handled the detail that the Keces served up. The Keces can be a bit hard at the high end, and I am not sure I would like it in a lean system. Obviously its great with the Graaf, a 50w push pull. But its also very good with the NuVista and the Moles. I have been using it with a passive because that's what I have, I would guess matching the Keces output with a passive is potentially a synergy issue. I have noticed that attention to ICs is rewarded. And if your amp doesn't have a good grip on your speakers, the low end is liable to get a little loose.
If you have or aspire to the highest resolution system, if you truly do critical listening (as opposed to reverie and toe tapping), if retrieval of large orchestral detail is important, or if you want a balanced source there are other products you should audition. What is startling is that like my Cosecant, they will cost 20 to 40 times as much as the Keces. Some like the TriVista and Cosecant will offer more refinement especially in massed strings and the like, but nothing that I have heard offers more music.
With the Keces at the core of my system, I have been able to achieve my goal of assembling a truly enjoyable system for the $2K I set out to spend. I recommend this unit highly - the sound, the value and the customer service are all there.
And if the USB thing doesn't fit your bill, David also builds the KECES DA-131.1 which takes SPDIF and Toslink in and is 24/192 capable. And for their legion of fans on headfi.com, they have just introduced the KECES DA-152 which integrates updated 151 circuitry with a headphone amp for a tidy all in one package.
NuVista IA-7 integrated amplifier
Sonic Euphoria PLC
Graaf 5050 tube amp
Flying Mole 100 digital amps
BPT CPC power conditioner
Meadowlark Hot Rod Kestrels
- CIA DAC w/Modwright mods
- Art DI/O DAC w/ Bolder Cable mods
- Musical Fidelity TriVista DAC with Parts Express mods
- Wavelength Audio USB Brick DAC
- Wavelength Audio Cosecant Silver USB DAC
- Squeezebox with Redwine Audio mods
- Squeezebox with Bolder Cable mods