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.

How does the Weiss Helios compare to the Playback Designs MPD-8? On the forum with "best" in the name, I saw that one dealer of both brands preferred the Playback (even just the MPD-6 with USB-X4) for being more dynamic and "analog", and harmonically developed, and this is before Playback’s upcoming mk2 upgrade...

Best is a terrible thing to think of.  Like any piece of audio equipment, system synergy matters far more than anything else. I personally like the Playback in my Canor System with Wilson Benesch speakers.  If I switch to VAC, I think the Helios is better.  Something about VAC Master preamp and the Playback DAC don’t work together.  Almost like the combination is too much of a good thing.  

The Weiss is cleaner and a touch colder than the MPD-8.  Exactly what you would expect from an ESS based DAC.  The crosstalk DSP though adds an immense amount of depth to the image and is awesome.  

The Playback is warmer and sweeter.  When I swapped in Westminster REI amps, it was the only DAC I really loved with those.  It is also insanely good with DSD.  

You have to consider the rest of the system.  There is a best for you and your system and that can and should be very different from person to person.  

I’m using the Weiss with a CH amplifier and Rockport speakers, no preamp as I'm running the Weiss direct.  I had a Levinson preamp in the middle and it was very good but I am very pleased with the sound I'm getting after removing it.

I would not at all characterize the sound as clinical or dry. It is extremely detailed, but not at the expense of musicality. It’s very dynamic and lifelike with the best soundstage I’ve ever heard.  I am astonished by it each time I listen. There is zero fatigue and I can (and do) listen late into the night far too often. :)

Can’t compare to Playback as I have no experience with them other than hearing them at a few shows.

Thank you, and to clarify I agree there is no absolute best, just a personal “best” that varies from person to person and system to system. What you say about the character of Playback and Weiss makes sense.