Review on the Rockna Audio Wavelight Pre/DAC just went up on Stereo Times


My review on the Rockna Audio Wavelight Pre/DAC has just been posted on the Stereo Times website. I have received many Emails from Gon members asking questions about it's performance in the last couple of months. There is an on-going thread about Rockna Audio DACs and I shared on that thread that I had the Wavelight in for review. This Pre/DAC has much to offer across the board and is highly competitive at it's price point of $5000. For all the details take a look at the review. Enjoy today's holiday!
teajay
Great review Terry , we have similar listening priorities and from having owned a Rockna WaveDream dac myself it replaced a very popular R2R dac that’s talked about a lot all over the net including YouTube...Your mention of the Puritan 156 with ground box I’m just in the process right now of digging a hole in my back yard to install a grounding plate for my Puritan 156 , lots of rocks and boulders in my area so a rod is impossible.
Anyway another great review Terry ! 

Hi Terry, how does this DAC compare with the Bricasti M3? Both of these are at very similar price points.While your review does indicate that it is a nice DAC to consider at it's price point, I must be very honest and say that the review feels a bit short, compared to your other reviews. Did the distributor request it back too soon?
Hey milpai,

Hum, if it is a bit shorter and succinct that's just the way I wrote it. It had nothing to do with the length of time I spent getting my take on it. 

As far as the overall performance of the Wavelight and the M3 both are superlative at making music. The Wavelight for my taste is very slightly  warmer sounding with a touch more "meat on the bones" imaging. However, some listener's would say the M3 is slightly more accurate at how it presents the music. Which do you like better, great solid state or tubes? Neither is right or wrong it depends on personal taste and system synergy. Both have killer analog volume controls that allow you to drive your amp directly and save a bundle not needing a preamplifier.

Rockna Audio does not believe in having a streaming device in the same chassis as its DACs. The M3's new streaming board is world class, yes it costs you an upgrade if you order the M3 with the built-in streamer, but still is less costly then Rockna Audio's Wavelight plus their separate streamer. If you only stream the M3 might be a better choice for you.
I guess we just have to read between the lines here. If the reviewer had thought this was an especially good DAC, relative to others, he would have written that. If there were any apparent shortcomings with this DAC, I guess we'll have to figure this out ourselves. Saying it's worth auditioning this DAC at its current price point is about the faintest praise that could be given for such a product in a non-derogatory review. Oh well.

Now that power conditioner and ancillary ground, that's an endorsement! 
Hey redwoodaudio,

If you read the review you would see that based on build quality, innovative technology, and most importantly the Wavelight DAC’s performance I thought it was superlative and gave it a big thumbs-up. No short comings heard or reported by me in the review.

I have now in a year and a half have reviewed five different DACs ranging in price from $1000 to $6500, all of them are superlative performers at their different price points. There is no "BEST" of anything in high-end audio. Today, for very reasonable amounts of money there are many excellent DACs that offer higher levels of performance with slight differences between them in actuality.
Today, for very reasonable amounts of money there are many excellent DACs that offer higher levels of performance with slight differences between them in actuality.
This is definitely good news. Where do you think this one falls in? Better to your ears than any more expensive DACs?  Any input on its USB input? 

Thanks also for your excellent music recommendations. I just wish more of them were streamable, but the artists you choose to feature are all brilliant. 
Hey redwoodaudio,

If you are shopping for a pure DAC, not a streamer with a DAC, and your budget is around 5K, the Wavelight is sonicly right there with all the other top rated DACs. Can't comment on its level of performance through the USB input, did not drive it that way in my auditioning process.

I had just shared with a reader that I have had in-house some of the most highly regarded and expensive DACs on the market, such as DCS, MSB, Chord, EMM Labs and found them to be good, but not really better for the up cost of another 10K to 20K more. These days you can get a great sounding DAC and not have to spend more then 6K and sleep well knowing you have a level of performance that as good as far more expensive pieces without breaking the bank.
Terry Im guessing you don’t like any sort of praise for your work ,...
Terry,
That was VERY helpful feedback on the sound comparing the 2 DACs. This helps a potential customer make a decision on which route he/she has to go. Good to know that these < $6k DACs are achieving performance of mega $$$$$ DACs. As a reviewer you have access to these. But most folks like us do not. Hence some sort of X Vs Y helps. And like you said - one may not be better than the other - just different.
Thanks much!
@in_shore
I recently purchased the Puritan PSM 156 myself, I'd like to know the difference if any the grounding (are you using the box?) does for the outcome of your system?

@teajay  Sorry about my query on the PSM 156.
I will be in the market for a newer DAC in the near future, thanks for posting.
These days you can get a great sounding DAC and not have to spend more then 6K and sleep well knowing you have a level of performance that as good as far more expensive pieces without breaking the bank.
It does seem like the newer reference-level DACs coming from China and Eastern Europe (especially R2R-style) are killing it these days for $4k to $6k.  The level of engineering value that you appear to get is astonishing.  It would be fun to be able to compare them in-house, like you do, but I feel good knowing that I probably won't go wrong with any of the well-reviewed ones.  The playing field is certainly leveling out.
Might also want to checkout Mojo Audio R2R Evo DAC - US made

Hi,

As the North American importer and distributor for Rockna Audio we would like to add a little bit more information as we continue to market Rockna Audio in Canada and the US.

An interesting fact about my company is that we look at the pedigree of the designer when we are thinking about distributing or importing any audio products. The owner and designer for Rockna was the previous designer for Goldmund, PS Audio and MSB and after A/B testing 88 different digital front ends, including dacs costing $50000 USD, the Rockna digital dacs and server are among the best digital we have auditioned. There are many years of digital experience when you purchase Rockna products.  

I also believe just like Terry that there are several very good digital products available on the market today. My personal favorite three digital manufacturers are Rockna Audio, Aries Cerat and Total Dac. From our continued direct A/B testing we believe that the server is as important as the DAC. This is an area where Rockna starts to separate itself from other digital manufacturers. The fact that Rockna has designed and built their servers from the ground up to match their DACs and used the same clocking system in their DACs and servers to match each other perfectly has allowed Rockna to differentiate itself from many other digital manufacturers. In our experience, combining the Rockna DAC with the matching Rockna server via i2S connection resulted in the highest level and most analog sounding digital we have experienced.

Cheers,


Hey Rixthetrick,

Yes, I'm using the Ground Master device with the PSM 156 conditioner and to quote myself from my review it produced "Audio Alchemy" in my system. The change was not subtle, but a qualitative shift in spatial dimensions, utter transparency, and a sense that my room had disappeared from the equation. The Ground Master, including the cost of the seven foot grounding rod and copper wire cost me around $350 and was one of the best investments I have ever made based on cost vs. improvement.  
I've had a new Wavelight for a few days, though I'm also waiting for new speakers to arrive, so can't speak to sonics much yet. Just a couple functional points to add.

While it can be used as a preamp with its analog volume control, there is no physical remote planned and, at this time, just an Android app available to control it via Bluetooth (IOS is "coming"). My experience with the app on a FireHD is it refreshes whenever the control device sleeps or goes into screen save, sometimes it just hangs and loses connection, needing an app or device restart, very annoying. Using it as primary volume/mute in your system, as you would with any preamp, is rather dodge imho. For these guys, who are clearly quite sophisticated, a $30 Apple remote integration would be trivial to do since BT functionality is already there.

The other issue is there is no Roon integration at all, meaning Roon cannot control any of the DAC's features, but especially that nice analog volume control. The DAC appears as a generic ALSA device to my Innuos streamer via USB when using Roon. If Roon's app could control at least volume/mute then the Android app would be a non-issue for those users. I assume this would apply to any Linux based streamer.

Also, DSD seems to be limited to DSD128, though they told me they're working on a solution to enhance DSD for Linux. The spec sheet does in fact say DSD64-512, but does not mention it doesn't do it on Linux (yet).
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Ditto to what Jimmy said. I've got the Wavedream Edition SE - it's the one piece I never worry about playing with in my set up.

I don't use mine as a preamp so no comment on the user friendliness. I think the sound qualities of Rockna have been well documented in this thread. Pin point imaging, dense, great layering, detailed yet fluid and organic. It bested both the Yggy and Spring 2 KTE in my set up (as it should for the price delta). 

Have not heard the Wavelight but would imagine many of the characteristics are quite similar. Great company. 
Hi There,

I have owned the Wavelight for a little over a month, and I think Terry’s review is spot on. Only item I would differ on opinion is that in my system, this DAC sounds dead neutral, not sure I would call it warm sounding. I also would not call it cold (it is goldylocks - just right!). Worldwidewholesales has been great to deal with, and I wanted to provide my input after using this DAC for roughly a month.

In my system it has bettered a PS Audio Direct Stream DAC and Denafrips Pontis, all being fed from an SOTM 200Ultra --> Matrix Audio X-SPDIF2 --> I2S. There is a compatibility issue with the Wavelight and Matrix Audio that Rockna is aware of and are working on a firmware update that will resolve. With the Rockna connected to the Matrix XSDIF2 I can only send DSD data. No biggy, since I am using Roon, so I set everything to up-sample to 4X DSD. Then set the Rockna filter to NOS. I have tried, USB direct from the SOTM, and SPDIF out of the Matrix, all of the Wavelights inputs sound great, but even with up- sampling everything to DSD I feel I2S has the edge.

Unfortunately, I was not able to directly compare to my PS Direct Stream because I sold it prior to taking ownership of the Wavelight. What I can say is that the Wavelight presents music in a most natural way, Music has separated itself from the speakers. The two most noticeable improvements in my system were the following:
1) Soundstage width and depth.
2) Top end extension without any sense of nervousness or anxiety

The streamer is important, I work in the tech industry and my Roon server is a custom built beast, that sits in another part of my home, and is connected via a Ubiquity commercial switch. The network into my audio room is via both single-mode fiber and multi-mode fiber (yes they both sound a little different). The Fiber connects into an Ether-Regen (on a linear power supply) which then sends copper Ethernet to the SOTM 200 Ultra. The SOTM is on a linear power supply, and so is the Matrix.

I also have everything connected into the Inakoustic power conditioner, on a dedicated 20 amp 10 ga, cryo-treated AC.

With the Wavelight, I can listen to music for hours, and recently, have been brought to tears with certain music, female vocals have a realism to them that I have not heard with either PS or Denafrips DACs. This DAC is also refined, in my system. As mentioned above, this DAC is neutral in my room as it balances out the Von Schweikert VR5 Anniversary MK2 very well.

I did several tests using various inputs on the DAC, as I mention, I think they are all very good, but I keep going back to the I2S input, which in my system provides just a bit more space and separation between notes / instruments. Not a night & day difference, but it is noticeable.

I am anxiously waiting for the firmware upgrade to see what the Wavelight sounds like without using Roon’s up-sampling engine (probably even better), then, will look to possibly adding a wavelight streamer (once they are available), so that I can remove all the little boxes and outboard power supplies).

I also play LPs in my system and have a very capable analog front end. I am not going to proclaim that I will be dumping my analog front-end any time soon, but I will say that in the past month that I have had the Wavelight in my system, I have listened to an LP only once or twice... This DAC portrays music with a sense of tangibility and presence not unlike a good MC cart on a well optimized analog front end.

Put a good after-market power cord on the DAC, and performance notches up even more. This DAC with a Lessloss CMARC and Firewall 64, gets even better. Instruments play far out past each speaker, with some recordings it can sound spooky. I do think this dac is more correct, in that if you play a less than stellar recording, you will know so, but it still presents the content in a very enjoyable way, so not analytical by any means.

I am happy to answer any additional questions for potential buyers. For me, this DAC is a keeper! With its FPGA software defined platform, it will get even better over time.

Lou


Hi

I have been reading this thread and thought I would chyme in as I took possession of the Rockna Wavelight dac this week. Keep in mind this dac is not fully broken in and these are just my initial thoughts on its performance. Out of the box its sonic signature is great bass , midrange density and a non-fatiguing top end (lots of meat on the bones).Other words that keep popping up are great imaging , openness and balance. It's one of those pieces, that is just doing everything in a way that I'm not analyzing the gear but rather enjoying the terrific over all sound . At this point I have not used any reference power cords or upgraded digital connections and I'm looking forward to see if I can squeeze a bit more out of it.. I think it is amazing what you can buy in a dac at this price point these days! What really impresses me is I currently own a Japanese dac north of 40 grand that is 8-10 years old and the Rockna is a very respectable competitor. I also had a chance to compare it to my Rockna flagship Signature dac and I must say the Wavelight gets you pretty far into that territory but at a much more reasonable price point. The Rockna Signature has been my reference for the past 2 years and I have not had anything better it in my system but if you only have 5 grand and are on the fence of which dac to go for, the Wavelight will put a smile on your face. I can't wait to get my hands on the matching server but that will be another story. Is the Rockna Signature still my reference, yes and it should be at 3 times the money.

 


@911renoguy

What would you say are the main differences between the Signature and the Wavelight ? 

Detail, dynamics, tone ? 


Terry - were you able to the compare the Audio Mirror DAC to the Rockna Audio Wavelight?  I know you thought very highly of the AM, so I'm curious about the benefits of Wavelight at 2x the price of Toubaor SE. Thanks.
Teajay, I’ve been going through some DACs recently. Currently own an M3 but earlier this year I owned a Sonnet Morpheus. At half the price I think the Morpheus comes very close to the Bricasti and should be on your reviewers radar.
Sure would be interested in your take on the Morpheus.
Hey tonnesen & rja,

1) If your system is single ended and you don’t have any desire to eliminate your preamplifier, then the Audio Mirror DAC saves you a lot of money and still competes regarding it’s overall sonic performance.

2) I have heard the Sonnet DAC in another system and agree, it’s an excellent piece of gear. Enjoy your M3, it’s another great sounding DAC along with providing a reference level volume control. It’s also the first Sigma Delta single chip DAC that I would want to own because of its musicality. Hope you feel the upswing in price was worth it regarding your purchase of the M3 in your system’s performance. I have two more DACs to write reviews on, the Mhdt lab’s Balanced Pagoda and the Audio Note (England) Balanced 3.1, so I’m still continuing the process of reviewing DACs at different price points.
I've had a Wavelight in my system for a little over a week now, after trying a Mytek and a Phison, .... and I liked it, but didn't love it when using a laptop.  I purchased a Roon Nucleus along with a Teddy Pardo power supply and the difference was startling. It's now just about perfect... the sound is finally almost on par with my turntable and phono pre-amp... and to my ears that's saying alot! 
My dear friend and fellow staff reviewer, Micheal Wright, just had his follow-up review on the Wavelight posted on the website Stereo Times tonight. Very well written, and another listener with a very different system, who comes to very positive conclusions regarding it's  performance.
Terry - thanks for the comment on the Audio Mirro DAC, and I'm looking forward to your upcoming DAC reviews.   I'll be using an Accustic Arts CDP as the transport (both S/P-DIF and AES/EBU digital outputs), but I will be using a single ended preamp. 

The AA CDP has the Burr Brown PCM 1728 chip, 24/96Khz, 8x oversampling, so I'm eager to to hear if newer DACs or R2R would be a significant improvement.

I have been considering trying another DAC in the $5-$7K range and both the Wavelight and Bricasti M3 are on my list, along with Denafrips and Holo May KTE.  Not being able to hear these different DACs makes the decision a bit of a crapshoot and has resulted in my reading the reviews closely and somewhat critically.
I currently have the Metrum Adagio, which I feed from an Antipodes DX L3 into a Metrum Ambre (Roon endpoint) then I2S into the DAC.  I use the internal volume control in the Adagio and then output that through an SMc buffer (very similar to the VRE-1 preamp but without a VC) but I can reengage the VC in the preamp/buffer if needed so I having a VC in my DAC is not a necessity. 
I was very close to pulling the trigger on the Bricasti but am a little worried about getting a delta-sigma converter since, like Terry, I have come to be very fond of R2R DACs running in NOS mode.  The Bricasti seems to be a little better reviewed than the Wavelight, which some say is great in the bass and pretty good overall but maybe a little less special through the midrange and up.  The May is also well reviewed and measures very well but the reviewers seem to stop a little short of an all our rave.  Hearing the comments about the Sonnet Morpheus on this thread and that it may be on par or close to the Bricasti makes me wonder whether the DACs I am looking at are mostly a sideways move, since I suspect the Adagio is every bit as good as the Morpheus (based on several conversations I have had with people who have owned both).   Terry, you are lucky to be a reviewer - I wish I could spend a week with all four of these DACs!
@mitch2,It looks like people want to hear the comparison between the Wavelight and the Holo May. At least I am very much interested. I am not sure even professional reviewers have been able to hear these together for a comparison. I find that not a single Holo Audio May has been resold, while many people have already sold their Wavelights. This does not necessarily make me jump into any conclusion, since the designer can tweak the Wavelight through a firmware update. I am in no rush though - just curious and if opportunity arrives, I would look at these 2 DACs.
Hi all,

I’m in that "fantasy phase" dreaming about my future DAC upgrade... and given all the characterizations of the sound, synergy with the forthcoming music server, and built-in analog pre-amp, my current fantasy-favorite is the wavelight. I want to go balanced in my system (I have no preamp, and already have a $$ set of balanced cables that I’d like to keep if possible) and so moving up the Rockna line to the wavedream would add a steep increase in cost. And not inconsequential... working with Bob at worldwidewholesale was a pleasure when I purchased my Inakustik 3500 power conditioner (a component I now consider essential that I recommend every audiophile purchase as soon as they possibly can... it improved my system in almost every way and I have yet to hear differently from anyone else who’s introduced it into their system).

My two concerns at this time are:

1) Remorse about "what could have been" had I decided not to build a deck, risk marital conflict, and purchased the balanced wavedream or wd signature instead. Can someone please describe, in candid detail, the differences and what is lost/gained in opting for Rockna’s "entry level" wavelight in contrast with their mid and top-tier balanced dac options?

2) Volume Remote control. As I will indeed be taking full advantage of the wavelight’s analog pre-amp (one of the key reasons this dac rises above the many other options out there on the market in this price-point) and direct-driving my Hegel H30 amp, can someone with first-hand experience speak to the inconvenience or normalcy of using the android app to change volume? Naturally there is always some sort of fly in the ointment... perhaps a way of keeping the universe in balance so nothing can be heralded as "all good", and it seems that remote-volume-control of the wavelight seems to be the sacrifice Rockna made to appease the vengeful audio gods. I have an Aurender N100H (which I plan to one day replace when the new complimentary wavelight server is available) which means I’m using an iPad to select music (no apple compatible volume app is available for the wavelight so I’ve heard) and even if I used the android app for the Aurender I’d have to close that app and open a different app to change volume using the phone. Just how good/bad is the experience of having to use an app to change volume? And why-oh-why couldn’t such an app simply be designed to respond to the physical volume control buttons on the phone? That would have solved everything... a hard-key I could feel in the dark on my phone without having to look at the screen.

Thoughts?

Thanks!

-Dave
@dvdboulet Let me make your question more complicated by suggesting the AudioByte VOX | ZAP | HUB. I was trying to decide between the Wavelight and the VOX. The amazing tech on the VOX made me decide on that one. The VOX and the Wavelight are made by the same designer.

The HUB is being released in the end of January and I will order the 3 components after that. Only 1 power cord is required for all 3 smallish units.
@yyzsantabarbara 

What you need to understand about the Audiobyte is the implementation of the DAC is completely different than the Wavelight. They DO NOT sound the same. Same designer, not same sound. The Wavelight sonically is an FPGA R2R (ladder) dac, the AV is not. Cooler screen, separate power supply is cool, but different sound in the Audiobyte. What is better is left to the ear of the beholder. 
Yes, I was researching this on Head-fi and someone posted the same as you. I going to get the Hyda stack after the HUB is released next month.
Good reviews and press on this DAC.  I'm not a complete numbers stickler, but has it been measured anywhere?  I am looking for a new DAC that can serve as a pre-amp for a HT loop.  Only use 2 sources now.  

Simply wondering if anyone has measured this bad boy?
I've had a Wavelight for a couple of weeks now letting it burn in. It is sounding very good. I'm interested in I2S and considering the Matrix SPDIF 2. Earlier in this tread, a compatibility problem was mentioned. Just wondering if this has been resolved. I'm also considering switching from my integrated amp to going straight to an amp. Any more thoughts on going direct to amp?