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.
Yes very interesting, how many of these dacs are R2R and how many Delta Sigma?

Also will this be using RedBook CD’s as the source or streamed DSD??

As with all my own A/B’s R2R has always been the preference over Delta Sigma on CD.

Cheers George
So…Rockna is R2R, Bricasti, AVM and Weiss are Delta Sigma while Chord and Audiobyte are FPGA.  A good representation of all three technologies.  
I am only streaming via Tidal through a Roon Nucleus+ to a Chord 2Go/2Yu combo.  
I haven’t listened to a Redbook CD since AXPONA 2019 other than a few moments to test CD players that have come in on trade.  I have one here for that reason so no redbook.  

R2R dac sadly will be at a disadvantage then as they specifically do PCM (redbook) "bit perfect" and should be better in the shootout, that's why one of the very high-end dacs now I've seen have a discrete R2R stage for PCM and a ESS Delta Sigma for the dsd streaming
It would be good if you could get some CD's and a transport also for this shootout
Cheers George
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one note - I am using FPGA in the marketing sense.  That is, DACs that are not using a traditional DAC Chip (ESS, Burr Brown, Etc…) or an R2R but are exclusively using FPGA chips and therefore are firmware based.  This is generally how Chord, Audiobyte, Playback Designs, etc… refer to their products.  
I have a few transports here.  I can order a CD or two with decent tracks on it. Good suggestion since lots of folks are CD users. 
I would love to have more people involved.  I will try and have my wife listen.  She is a good counterpoint to my taste.  For example, I like the MScaler, she hates it intensely.  I will try and get a few other folks involved for specific ABs.  

verdantaudio OP
I have a few transports here. I can order a CD or two with decent tracks on it. Good suggestion since lots of folks are CD users.

Hate to put another fly in the ointment but!

If you do A/B using CD and streaming, be aware early CD’s are usually not compressed (sound much better), where later of the same cd (re-issues/re-masters) are compressed, and are what you usually get when streaming.

Just look at this one and only album they came together to make, and you’ll see, and why I campaign for all streaming/download companies/sites to give the provenance of what they sell you.
And why I stay with CD until they do. (green is good uncompressed)


Remember, dynamic range gives the music breathing space. (without quite, you have no loud, = compression)

Cheers George

I don’t really understand why there is this perception that FPGA = Good, while dac chips such as ESS, AKM, Burr Brown etc = Bad.

Most FPGA designs are from one man operations with one idea and a limited budget, while the chips are generally designed by expert teams with larger budgets. Of course, either can be good or bad, depending on the implementation. Some of the most highly regarded high end DACs available use the current ESS or AKM chips, for example. Personally, I prefer the Lumin X1 and Mytek Manhattan II with their ESS chips to the Chord Dave I owned, despite its FGPA. In other words, don’t pre-judge the DAC merely because it uses a particular architecture. It is the implementation that is more important.

And you should definitely involve your wife. If she hates the M Scaler, it sounds like she has good taste and better hearing than most reviewers out there.

first, cool thread and respectful back and forth, how wonderful…

yes, implementations matters greatly; power supply (s), Faraday cage ( not as needed for R ladder ), filter implementation ( often in the FPGA ), chips, and the all mighty analog section.

Jim White of Aesthetix gets it but i would love to hear the results of this..


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How can we be assured that your listening skills are up to snuff? ;-)

Honestly I look very much to hearing your impressions....sounds like a fun undertaking and appreciate the future share and the time it takes to assemble your thoughts.
Read again "If you do A/B using CD and streaming"!!!!!!!!🙏🙏🙏
If you do A/B using CD and streaming, be aware early CD’s are usually not compressed (sound much better), where later of the same cd (re-issues/re-masters) are compressed, and are what you usually get when streaming
Yet again the fuser that believes there is nothing wrong with compression in todays releases or re-releases from the streaming/download companies.
(you need to hear the quiet so you can hear the loud) it’s obvious you don’t.🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️
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Looking forward to the results of the shootout. Thanks for doing it.

Me too, so long as all is kept on an equal footing.

Cheers George

Think you did.

The OP did ask "If you have thoughts, comments" on this shootout, some just can't handle thoughts and comments for it to be an equal shootout.

Cheers George
Wish I would have know I would have sent you a DAC to also compare.  Even a 6SN7 with the SABRE 32 bit chip!

Happy Listening.
Even after all this is completed , everyone still will have a favorite part of the audio spectrum they prefer, and the related audio system will favor or suit one dac possibly more then others . I have heard everything but the latest Weiss dac 
running via direct through Ethernet especially in he Bricasti m3,,or big brother -1SE would have several advantages  with the built in streamer option  is much cleaner then a stand alone computer being direct,linear power supply, not processed , and DSD big advantage it s dedicated dsd 1bit doesnot have to convert to pcm ,
that’s why I don’t use Usb it’s inferior to good Ethernet  signal less processing 
less noise ,in the majority of cases , and uptime Ether regen cleans up crap on the digital line , and Wireworld  platinum 8 Ethernet ,or new USB 8 both excellent 
in their respective categories. That being said it should be a interesting matchup.
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exciting to hear of your shoot-out and sorry it is being delayed due to logistical challenges

two things

- hope you will use the chord tt2 with the m scaler so that setup can be at their best as a reference

- you know, unless you are listening through tekton speakers driven by raven amps, your results will be null and void - right? NO other set up will tell the sonic truth... 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

only the first point was a serious one... :)

looking forward to seeing your report

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 I appreciate you taking the time and effort to do this.  I hope you can persuade your wife to participate.  I get the strong  feeling that she has very good ears and taste. Her input would be quite insightful.
That's a really big undertaking!
I look forward to read about your impressions. 

One thing I thought of is that Tidal normally uses MQA. Not sure if all dacs can handle that. Maybe it's better to use Qubuz?

Where in the US are you doing this DAC Event?

This is the most exciting post I have read in months! Congrats!!

We did one back in 2019 and it was fun. The Chord people came
and provided a lot of support. We did learn a couple things:

What is the High-Low price range of your products?
If they vary too widely the comparisons may not be as useful.

We used an audience of about 20 people with scorecards.
Yes they were more audiophile types than off the street types.

Obviously you can not compare 10 pieces to each other
unless you have a memory that is pretty amazing.

Will you do two at a time, choose a winner which then moves to another

Or do you intend to write up a review-like article with various comparisons such as-’DAC A plays acoustics or piano better than DAC B’ ?

I applaud the effort it takes to get these makers to send you their
burned in? products at the same time.

I would recommend plugging in all the DACS 7 days prior to the comparison and not turning them off until the event ends.

Controlling or rather equalizing the volume at which they are heard
is perhaps the biggest challenge. Some monitoring maybe required
as some models have volume controls and others may not.

To do all these using five songs you mention sounds like it might take a
while just to get through it all but that is your choice naturally.

Since each DAC may play different levels of resolution, will you choose
the lowest common denominator of sound-Red Book perhaps- to make an even comparison or is that really your goal? If so I suggest you consider a JVC recorded XRCD.

To manage all this on your own is a big task. Perhaps you may want
to get some assistance?

I look forward to the results!!!
I think a tube dac like a lampizator should be represented too, for extra spice.  Have access to one of those?
Finally, an interesting comparison of DACs in the same system. Thanks for doing this.
You should try the Wyred for sound 10th anniversary DAC, it will beat all the Ducks you have now hands down. 
Putting together a list of newer great DACs is like herding cats.
Every time you think you've got them all, three more interesting ones
pop up. And if you include Euro models... Mola Mola, Audionote,??

Go ducks!
It would be nice if you had a Sonnet Morpheus (proprietary R2R) to try against that Hydra Vox.

I already know how that A/B went.
I have a LOT of money tied up in DACs at the moment.  Adding more would be…unappealing if I have to buy them.  That being said, if someone want to send a DAC for inclusion, I will be happy too.  PM Me.  I would love to add in a Holo May, Denafrips Terminator+, something from Topping and a Lampizator product.  
The real meat of this is the four DACs in the $4500 to $5500 range, Wavelight, HydraVox, M3 and TT2.  The Hugo 2 and the AVM are less.  The Weiss and Wavedream signature are quite a bit more.  
I am going. Into this with the hypothesis that there are still trade offs in this price range and to highlight what they are.  The Hugo 2 and AVM will highlight what you get for a lot less.  
This is not memory driven. I am picking 5 songs I listen to a lot and taking careful notes about what stands out and will compare.  This is the only way this can be done.  Music is too complex to strictly use your memory.    
My wife will do the same but across a smaller sample as she is busier than I am.  I will try and add in both the Audiobyte Hub and MScaler realizing that the MScaler puts the TT2 up in the price range of Weiss and Wavedream Signature which are much better DACs.  
One other note, I have heard all of these products and none of them are bad.  If you expect me to dump on one, that will not happen.  

verdanaudio,  This is exciting.  With fewer and fewer hifi  stores left, I will be eager to hear your results.

Thanks for doing this.

In a pathetic suggestion that probably is off-target - I have heard a great deal of praise for, but have I not heard, the Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC -its solution is not FPGA or chip-based - see https://www.mola-mola.nl/tambaqui.php

Thanks- Gerry
Listened to all 5 songs you have chosen for the test last night, interesting selection. Good luck with the test.
I for one have not the slightest idea what I should be expecting to hear from you after the test is over. I must applaud the endeavor.

DACs are where the biggest improvements are happening fastest. Magazines have adv. biases and long lead times which serve no one. I want yours review to be informative and successful. 

Now that I see your price range of $4k-$6k I am more excited as that
level of expenditure should produce some great sound.
Not Mola Mola stuff but that is double your test range.

I own an obscure brand of DAC that I love. 

One question- Have you listened to AudioNote DACs? They make one
in this range. albeit a kit.

Hi OP, I would be extremely interested if you could somehow get your hands on an Mojo Mystique V3 or one of the newer models. They are in a similar price range. I am looking for a modern replacement for my ancient Wadia 15 (redbook only) DAC, which despite its age is a hard act to follow. Lots of love for the Mystiques with which guys have replaced their Bricasti and Bekeley units.

A friend of mine owns a Bricasti (M1 I think) and tells me it's great but does not play well with all front-ends. This is a big undertaking you are getting into here, good luck.
So…the M3 is currently burning in.  The M1 SE arrived.  The Weiss will be back from a customers home next week.  My plan is to get started with one review by Sunday night.  I have a house guest until then.

few notes:

if you want a DAC included, I will receive and return if you can get someone to loan it to me.  I am a obviously a dealer.  These are all my demo units.  I am not trying to buy more equipment.  In fact, after this I will want to sell a few of these.  I normally don’t have this many demo units.  It just happens I have them all at once just as I signed up for Bricasti so it is an ideal time to do this.  
The one thing I am missing in this first run is a tube unit and I will eventually add a Canor and Jadis DAC to this.  

Audiobyte, MoJo, Wyred and the others mentioned I am sure are great.  Get one to me and we will get it written up.  I will try and turn it around within a week.  
In all cases, I am going to focus on the positives and contrasts rather than trying to say anything negative.  I promise to do the same with any products you guys send me.  I may offer you a private opinion.  
Regarding FPGA - it was pointed out that FPGAs are delta-sigma DACs without a DAC chip.  The question earlier around why FPGA to me stems from the flexibility offered with Firmware.  This means they tend to have longer lifespans.  Think about how long the Chord Dave or PS Audio DSD have been in-line.  This is vs DACs that are based around chips where when the chip is replaced or upgrade, are “obsolete.”  I don’t personally think this makes a DAC obsolete but it will certainly impact its value.  
One other note.  All of the units in this initial run have preamps built in.  I will drop them in my reference system (Art Audio Opus 4 Monos) to evaluate the preamp and see if there is anything to note.  I can think of one unit I had historically that was extremely underwhelming.  
As a Bricasti M3 owner, my DAC search is largely over...except perhaps for a Bricasti M1 SE...or possibly an Audio Note UK DAC. I will be interested in the listening comments from the Bricasti DACs.

BTW...Audio Note Kits components are not Audio Note UK components in kit form. Audio Note Kits circuits/designs are different from Audio Note UK. Audio Note parts used by Audio Note Kits are sourced from HiFi Collective. Please ask an Audio Note UK dealer for clarification.
OP so you are a dealer carrying every DAC that you are shoot-out-ing? (or if that's not right please correct).  

I wondered in initial post how many of the DACs you carried as dealer and how many were lines you did not carry.


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scott is a good no nonsense guy, bought from him before... stand up retailer (and of course fellow deep end audiophile 👌👌👌 ...)
It will not be blind.

yes, these are products I carry.  If something comes in on trade that makes sense to add, I will.  At the moment I don’t have any used DACs/CD players or I would include.  
What I am not prepared to do is buy, new competitive gear.  If someone wants to send me something for inclusion, PM me.  I am happy to incorporate.  
This is a good shootout for those interested in DAC's at that price range although I wish the Op would include Lumin.  In my opinion, in that price range it will be hard to hear a discernible difference.  I had multiple Dac's in that range and until I got to the Lumin X-1, that is when I thought wow this is a great DAC. Now I have upped the ante with a Lampizator Pacific.  

I look forward to the shoot out!

Sounds good - should be fun.  Interested to see what you find, and thanks for sharing
For the Bricasti units if either of them have the network add on player in them do yourself a favor and push music to them via the network.  It is noticeably better than any other input.  Not saying in the shootout you deviate from normal connections you are doing.  But make sure to give it a try.  Once you do, you probably won't go back to any other input on them.

The original network player is good but I'm taking the ones with the MDx upgrade boards. 

Enjoy your demo testing!  I'm jealous,  I'd love to be there to listen to them all! 
Playback Designs is FPGA and made in America.  It is a line I am planning to take on at some point.
My experience withh delta Sigma dacs is that they benefit substantially from better clocking. The preference for R2R evaporates if you get a 10m reference clock controlling the upsampling DAC. Just a thought….