Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 DSDse
Digital Inputs: Asynchronous USB Audio Class 2.0 : Up to 32 bit, 384kHz; DSD 64 and DSD 128 ; Two Coaxial and 1 AES/EBU inputs that support 32-bits and sample rates up to 200kHz, 2 Optical that support up to 32/176.4 ( possible 192kHz under ideal conditions). I²S connections via HDMI (not standard HDMI) for only certain components that can output a balanced I²S output from the DAC2 DSDse. This includes the Wyred 4 Sound MS-2, PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport, Empirical Audio Off Ramp 5, and the Channel Islands Transient MKII. RCA inputs for Home Theatre Bypass, DC Trigger output and input that is used for HT Bypass or Trigger feature.
Output: 1 Pair RCA (Unbalanced) and 1 Pair XLR Balanced
Dimensions (H x W x D): 4.25 inches X 8.25 inches X 13 inches
Weight: 14 pounds
Availability: On-Line Sales and Authorized Dealers
Wyred 4 Sound is well known to many audiophiles as a company that builds quality high end audio products at reasonable prices. The company was started in in 2007 by E. J. Sarmento who previously worked at Cullen Circuits. The company has grown from its initial offering of the 200s amplifier to a complete line of preamps, power amps, DACs, and music servers. Wyred 4 Sound offers 6 DAC models with 3 versions of the DAC-2: DAC-2, DAC-2 DSD, and the DAC-2 DSDse.
The DAC-2 ($1,499) offers Asynchronous USB that supports 24 bit, 192 kHz resolution. Moving to the DAC-2 DSD at $1,599, the features added are Asynchronous USB that supports DSD 64, DSD 128 and 32 bit, 384 kHz. Galvanic isolation of the DAC from the computer is also featured along with Integer playback capability for OSX versions that support this function.
The DAC-2 DSDse builds on the features of the DAC-2 DSD by adding significant upgrades to the parts and design of the power supply and audio circuits. A DAC-2 owner can upgrade to a DAC-2 DSDse for $1,250. I think that Wyred 4 Sound’s policy to offer upgrades for previous models adds real value to their products.
Wyred 4 Sound states that the DAC-2 DSDse is a special offering of the DAC-2 model series that incorporates modular design to allow these DACs to be easily upgraded in the future. The se version delivers the high-end philosophy to the DAC-2 with a number of upgraded components. A Furutech rhodium plated ceramic fuse is included along with an upgraded power supply. More expensive custom 0.1% Vishay Z-Foil resistors in 20 locations on the analog board are utilized to replace the 1% Dale resistors. Ultra-fast recovery Schottkey diodes and a series of premium grade inductors are also used to stabilize the current as it enters the power supply. The new regulator design offered in the se is 100+ times quieter and faster than the stock regulator found in the DAC-2.
Summary of Design Features
- An Asynchronous USB input that supports up to 32bit / 384 kHz and DSD64 / DSD128 with galvanically isolated I²S to reduce computer noise from interfering with the audio signal
- ESS 32 bit DAC (ES9018) 8 channel in quad-differential mode
- A defeatable 32 bit volume control (Setting the volume control to maximum or “Fixed” results in no loss of bits. The volume control is implemented in the ESS chip.)
- Remote Control including power, dim, HT, volume, input, balance, and phase inversion
- Upgradable Digital, Output, and USB boards
- A power supply with an oversized toroid transformer with 115,000uf of capacitance (custom low ESR capacitors), 3 stages of filtering and 2 newly designed discrete regulators
- Choice of 4 filters and 2 choices of roll-off-slope (These are the stock filters provided with the ESS Sabre)
- The clock technology used is an audio grade Cystek clock with less than 0.5ps of jitter
Components and Software Used in the Review
OSX Mavericks 10.91 using Pure Music, Audirvana Plus, and JRiver Media Center 19 for OSX that all have integer playback capability. Integer capability allows the music software to deliver data in the physical format of the DAC without conversion to 32-bit floating point and reconversion of the data by the operating system. I was pleased to see that the DAC-2 DSDse supported native integer playback using the native OSX USB drivers. I also listened with Windows 8.1 Pro 64 running under Boot Camp. JRiver Media Center 19 worked well with the Windows drivers provided (32 bit OS and 64 bit OS) from Wyred 4 Sound. I found the default filter for the DAC-2 DSDse to be my preference. While the DAC-2 DSDse has a volume control, I preferred the sound when using my Ayre KX-R preamp with the DAC in fixed volume mode.
Computer Used and Accessories Used in Evaluation
An early 2011 MacBook Pro 2.3 GHz Quad Core i7, 16 GB RAM, Samsung 840 Pro SSD, Boot Camp Windows 8.1 Pro 64, Promise Pegasus Thunderbolt Drive 8TB, GRAID 8TB Thunderbolt Drives. For USB cables, my best sonic results were obtained with the Light Harmonic LightSpeed cable. AC cords used with the DAC-2 SDSse were the standard AC cable supplied as well as the JPS Labs AC-X and the Synergistic Research Element C.T.S. Digital AC cords. 2 Synergistic Research Tranquility Bases and Thunderbolt Active SE cables with all active shields driven by a Transporter Ultra SE. Power conditioning was delivered by the Synergistic Research PowerCell 10 SE MK III. Interconnects used with the DAC- 2 DSDse were the Synergistic Research Tesla Apex LE single end and Revelation Audio Labs Paradise balanced interconnect.
Other DACs on hand for this review were the Bricasti Design M1 and the MSB Technology Analog DAC with Analog Power Base.
Initial Listening Impressions
One of the first titles I played was The Reference Recordings HRx 176.4/24 recording Sylvia/Coppelia Extended Suites from the Ballets played by Martin West and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. I was not prepared for the superb soundstage capabilities of this DAC playing PCM files. The DAC-2 DSDse delivered not only a wide soundstage that extended well beyond the outer edges of my speakers, but excellent depth as well. Generally, I have not heard this quality of soundstaging in DACs at this price point. This recording is very dynamic with deep bass. I was very impressed that the DAC-2 DSDse had no problem reproducing these qualities of this recording. The DAC-2 DSDse displayed good air around the instruments with a tube-like bloom and dimensionality.
This brings up the second impressive characteristic of this DAC
The DAC-2 DSDse has a genuine liquidity to the sound with a total lack of digital hardness. The DAC-2 DSDse was never fatiguing and was able to reproduce the weight behind voices and instruments that was characteristic of that heard in live performances. I did not perceive any darkness to the sound or mid bass fullness to color the midrange. The DAC-2 DSDse does not display an over-etched high end or over-emphasized bass. The DAC is quite neutral in its presentation with good rendering of detail from top to bottom.
Listening to the HDtracks release of Miles Davis Kind of Blue 192/24 stereo version allowed me to hear the dynamic qualities of the DAC-2 DSDse. The DAC-2 DSD did a wonderful job with this classic recording by exhibiting good pace and rhythm with very good dynamics to the trumpet’s sound. As with the Sylvia/Coppelia recording, there was good body and solidity to the sound with a relaxed presentation that was never irritating or digital sounding.
I purchased a DXD 352.8 kHz title from 2L records; Hymn to the Virgin sung by Schola Cantorum. The DXD download was a copy of the original digital master. The choir sounded superb on the DAC-2 DSDse with good reproduction of the original acoustics and ambience of the recording venue. The background silence of this DAC is very good allowing the resolution of low-level information. The relaxed presentation heard in the previous recordings was also heard with this DXD recording.
The new David Crosby album Croz 192/24 (HDtracks) is another fine example of the dynamic capability of the DAC-2 DSDse. I measured the dynamic range of the overall album and obtained a DR 13 reading. The bass in this album is deep and impactful. The DAC-2 DSDse was able to handle this title easily with no sense of compression at the low end. The power of the bass heard on more expensive DACs in my possession was also reproduced by this DAC. The overriding bloom and three-dimensionality of the DAC-2 DSDse was quite obvious to me listening to this title.
Playing the ripped CD of the self-titled Kora Jazz Trio resulted in terrific resolution of the individual instruments with no smearing or unraveling of the midrange. The Kora Jazz Trio combines jazz with the African mandinga musical tradition. The interplay of the kora and piano was engaging with the West African percussion providing a solid sense of aliveness to the sound. I enjoyed the way the DAC-2 DSDse reproduced the rhythmic drive of this music.
The DAC-2 DSDse moved from one format to another without issue. Playing DSD 64, DSD 128, and even DXD (Digital eXtreme Definition) 352.8 kHz files never resulted in any lock-ups or extraneous noises.
The DAC-2 DSDse supports both DSD 64 and DSD 128 playback of native DSD files using the native file playback capability of the ESS Sabre chip. The sound reproduced is characteristic of DSD native file playback; relaxed with a rich sounding midrange and slightly less definition at the high end when compared to PCM file playback.
The relaxed presentation of DSD playback heard through the DAC-2 DSDse was easily demonstrated with the Blue Coast Records download of Happy Valley Volume 1. This collection of recordings has various artists playing folk style music. The voice and acoustic instruments had lifelike timbres with good purity and liquidity.
Rickie Lee Jones Traffic from Paradise (Acoustic Sounds DSF download) had solid bass with Rickie’s voice floating above the percussion and piano. Again, the analog quality of DSD playback was well evidenced by listening to this recording through the DAC-2 DSDse.
There was one aspect of native DSD file playback with the DAC-2 DSDse that I observed, especially with titles that had very large soundstages—the DAC-2 DSDse’s native DSD file playback tended to make the soundstage smaller as it rarely spread beyond the outer margins of my Wilson Sasha speakers. I have many classical recordings that I have listened to on other DSD capable DACs that display a stage that spreads well beyond the outer borders of my speakers. The Wyred 4 Sound DAC was very consistent with its soundstage rendition for DSD files; less three-dimensionality and soundstage bloom than that heard when reproducing PCM files.
I converted a number of my dsf files with the Korg AudioGate to PCM to see if the soundstage size remained consistent with what I was hearing with dsf files. The converted PCM files allowed the DAC-2 DSDse to recreate the soundstage size heard on DACs like the MSB Technology Analog DAC and the Bricasti Design M1.
I question just how many of you will be able to discern this soundstage characteristic of the DAC-2 DSDse playing native dsf files. My system is composed of Wilson Sasha speakers run full-range and a Wilson Watch Dog II active subwoofer coming in at around 35 Hz to fill in the bottom octave. The Watch Dog II has a major enhancing effect on the perceived soundstage size in my system. This soundstage characteristic of the DAC-2 DSDse playing DSD files might not be as obvious on less full range systems.
Applying Tweaks to the DAC-2 DSDse
I first listened to the DAC-2 DSDse placed directly on my Mapleshade Samson rack with its 1 inch solid maple shelves using the supplied USB cable. The sound was quite good and potential users of this DAC should be reassured that a “stock” setup will lead to very good results. I did feel that the sound quality could be upgraded with the JPS Digital AC-X AC Cord and the LightSpeed USB cable. And yes, carrying this exercise to the extreme using the $3,000 Synergistic Research C.T.S. Digital AC Cord and the $2,000 Synergistic Research Tranquility Base improved the sound quality yet again. I decided to mention all of this since the DAC-2 DSDse responds to expensive tweaks even though it is priced at $2,499. In my experience, many of the DACs at this price point don’t benefit from such costly tweaks. I feel that this speaks well to the excellent sound quality potential available from this DAC.
Comparisons with Other DACs
Comparing the $1,995 Benchmark Media Systems DAC 2 HGC (see review) with the DAC-2 DSDse, the Wyred 4 Sound has slightly more bloom with more body and solidity to the sound; especially with PCM playback. The DAC-2 DSDse has a larger soundstage playing PCM files than the DAC 2 HGC.
Listening to the Bricasti M1 ($8,995, see review) makes it quite apparent that the DAC-2 DSDse is not as defined or detailed sounding. Transients sound a little rounded when comparing the Wyred 4 Sound to the Bricasti. Resolution is simply superior with the considerably more expensive DAC.
A Very Musical DAC
The Wyred 4 Sound DAC -2 DSDse is an extremely musical sounding DAC that does not superimpose a digital edge or glare to the sound. The DAC-2 DSDse does not sound thin or 2 dimensional. The Wyred 4 Sound had good body and weight that added a degree of realism to music reproduction not often found with DACs at this price. The excellent soundstaging with PCM files was a real plus; especially for those that enjoy live recordings or orchestral music. The DAC’s flawless function and performance was a joy to experience allowing me to concentrate on the music and not struggle with settings or other user rituals. In summary, I was impressed with the DAC-2 DSDse’s overall level of performance given its reasonable price and feature rich offerings.