HoloAudio Spring DAC LEVEL 3 "Kitsune Tuned Edition"

Device Type: Digital to Analog Converter
Input: USB, I2S (over HDMI), AES/EBU, 2x Coax S/PDIF (RCA/BNC), Toslink
Output: single-ended RCA, balanced XLR
Dimensions: 430 mm (W) * 300 mm (L) * 55 mm (H)
Weight: 8.5 kg
Availability: Online
Price: $2499.00
Website: kitsunehifi.com

R2R, NOS/Or Not
The discrete R2R HoloAudio Spring DAC offers two main operating modes; non-oversmapling (NOS) and a chip-based oversampler (AKM AK4137). You can switch between these modes of operation by simply pushing the front panel "OVER SAMPLING" button. This button offers 4 choices; "NOS" mode which bypasses that AKM chip, "OS Mode" where PCM and DSD are each upsampled to higher rates but remain PCM and DSD, "OS PCM" where all data is "oversampled to PCM", and "OS DSD" where all data is "oversampled to DSD". If you are anything like me, you'll leave the Spring DAC in "NOS" mode, avoiding that Asahi Kasei Microdevices chip like the plague.

photo credit: KitsuneHIFI

The Spring DAC's USB and I2S inputs support PCM data up to 32-bit/384kHz and DSD512. The S/PDIF inputs max out at 24/192 and DSD64 (so avoided them like the plague, too). Once data passes the Op-Amp input stage, it either passes through that AKM chip or not, depending on you. The digital to analog conversion is handled by a dual resistor ladder network (direct-coupled bi-polar transistors); one for PCM and one for DSD. Each R2R network also has mirror R2R network which serves as a kind of error correction, my words, making sure that the resistor values don't stray (the company calls it "linear compensation" and this technology is patent pending). This is a clever, to my mind, solution since it allows for the use of less costly/accurate resistors. More costly/accurate resistors are found in my totaldac (0.01% VAR bulk metal-foil Vishay resistors). The output stage is all Class A.

photo credit: KitsuneHIFI

The LEVEL 3 "Kitsune Tuned Edition" adds a "Green Label '99.99% Silver' O-Type [power] transformer'" and Jensen Cap upgrades to the LEVEL 2 version, itself an upgrade from the LEVEL 1 version which Alex Halberstadt is listening to as I type. The Spring DAC ships without a power cord or paper manual which is fine by me; paper manuals make as much sense today as paper umbrellas in the rain and I have power cords I like to use from Shunyata.

Just to get the players straight, HoloAudio is distributed in the USA by KitsuneHIFI. KitsuneHIFI also offers modified versions of the HoloAudio Spring DACs, like the one I'm reviewing. They also offer other products like the Singxer SU-1 USB Digital to Digital Converter ($399) which they sent along for use in this review. The SU-1 takes in USB and outputs your choice of I2S over HDMI, AES/EBU, Coax S/PDIF (RCA/BNC), or BNC Word Clock output. KitsuneHIFI also included a WireWorld Starlight 0.2 HDMI Cable. Jeff Zhu is HoloAudio and the designer of the Spring DAC.

The Spring DACs copper sides, black chassis, copper buttons and feet speak to my sense of understated good looks and its 18+ pounds speak to my sense of healthy heft. The review system was my system, the one I own, which includes the Ayre AX-5 Twenty, DeVore gibbon X speakers, sonicOrbitor (Roon Server), and microRendu/UpTone UltraCap LPS-1 (Roon Endpoint), all wired up with Tellurium Q Black cables. I used my totaldac d1-six as R2R NOS comparator.

Thank You Ted Brady
You probably know Ted Brady from Chris Connaker's Computer Audiophile site where Ted offers tons of helpful posts and the occasional review. Ted is responsible for this review because he emailed me and made the introduction to Tim Connor of KitsuneHIFI. I think Ted thought I'd enjoy the HoloAudio Spring DAC LEVEL 3 "Kitsune Tuned Edition". Ted was right. He was really right.

Think ease. Unprocessed sounding ease. I'm not going to talk about "OS" mode at all except to say I greatly preferred "NOS" mode. So I am, and will continue to be, talking about the Spring DAC in NOS mode which offers an ease of presentation and a natural sense of musical flow that is addictive.

I've spoken in the past about how the totaldac resides in the non-digital sounding arena and how not very many DACs play on that field. Two DACs that spring to mind are the dCS Rossini and the T+A DAC 8 DSD when fed nothing but DSD512 from HQPlayer. I am happy, very happy, to add the HoloAudio Spring DAC LEVEL 3 "Kitsune Tuned Edition" to this short list.

There are any number of sonic traits that turn digital reproduction into music and include dimensionality, tone color, a solid and stable sound image, whip-crack dynamics, nuance, control, resolution (bit not too much), and texture. Many DACs, in my experience, place a sonic divider between the music and the listener. I've described this as a sheet of glass where we can see through to the music but we can't reach out and touch it. The Spring DAC rids me of that separation and brings me directly into my music.

In other words, this DAC checks off all of the items on that 'sonic trait' list. More or less. Who's wondering what I wondered? Anyone? If you are wondering what I wondered let me put your mind at ease and say that the Spring DAC is not the equal of the totaldac D1-six. The totaldac gives me more of everything. In short it breathes more life into my music making the listening experience that much more engaging. That much more real. The big question being—is that extra worth roughly 10 grand? Only you know the answer to that question and you'll only for sure after listening.

I did prefer the Spring DAC when being fed from the Singxer SU-1—the sound image came into clearer focus, the music let go of the speakers to a greater degree, and music simply sounded more natural, more relaxed. This was not the case with the totaldac where I felt the addition of the SU-1, connected via AES, subtracted some of the D1-six's magic. YMMV.

Summing
The HoloAudio Spring DAC LEVEL 3 "Kitsune Tuned Edition" is one of the most enjoyable DACs I've had the pleasure of enjoying in-barn. When run in NOS mode, it brings music to life in such a way as to allow me to forget about everything but the music. At its price, I consider this to be rather remarkable.


Also in-use during the Spring DAC review: totaldac d1-six

Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
rklein's picture

Hi Michael

Thanks for the review.

I am an audio buddy of Ted's and I too have the Holo DAC Level 3 in my system. I am running it into a Bent TAP(thx Ted! - until I get my new pre...). I too am running the Holo in NOS mode while utilizing HQ Player. I love the ability to go back and forth between upsampling PCM to 352 or upsampling everything to DSD512(my favorite).

I tried the Singxer but ultimately preferred the Holo without it. I have also gone back and forth running SE and balanced into the Bent and finally chosen SE as my fav. Balanced was a bit "in your face" while SE allowed me to raise the volume without the fatigue factor raising it's ugly head.

Regards,

Randy

NORGATEoiler's picture

Thanks for the review. So I understand it's not as good as the Total DAC D1-Six, but does it compete with DACs above $5,000 price range?

pocarrie's picture

Hi Michael, thanks for the review.

A couple of questions:
1) Have you tried the combo Singxer/Holo at DSD512 with your system?
2) Can you tell us something about the comparison Holo Spring 3 vs T+A DAC8 DSD?
Thanks in advance...

KINGTED's picture

Michael,

Thank you and Ted Brady for highlighting this DAC, I had not heard of it prior to this review. It is exciting to see an R2R DAC at this price point. Your previous review of the totaldac D1-Dual DAC made me aware of the technological difference of R2R ladder DACs.

I know you have repeatedly praised totaldac’s products, to the extent that you now happily own one. The only other previous AudioStream review of an R2R DAC that I have seen is Steve Plaskin’s review of the Light Harmonic Da Vinci DAC, four years ago. I have never personally heard a Da Vinci or a any of the totaldacs but have only heard/read serious praise, but those also carry serious price tags.

So it seems from the reviews I have read that R2R could be a significantly better sounding technology than the typical chip based DACs. Am I off base?

I eagerly look forward to Alex Halberstadt’s review of the even cheaper LEVEL 1 version. Speaking of R2R DACs that cost less than a car, what happened to the Schiit Yggdrasil that was in the barn way back in August?

Thanks for everything,
TED

Peter Devito's picture

It is a rare pleasure to see a major review address an R2R DAC, much less one that does NOS. Interesting to read of Michael's reaction to this sound, which is quite unlike typical delta-sigma digital.

I own an Audio GD NOS 19, an R2R DAC that only does NOS. It sounds wonderful and has transformed not just my desktop system, but also how I view digital audio in general. Beyond listening to music via powered speakers, I listen frequently via headphones: that's where the edge-less, "wetter" sound of NOS really shines.

Thanks for a nice review!

Nacarp's picture

I understand not wanting to use the AKM upsampler if you are feeding Hi-Res music, but what about 44.1K ? Did you play that natively or did you upsample that using HQPlayer and leaving the DAC in NOS - how did that fair against just Red book?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
In my experience, the DACs I enjoy most, the Spring DAC being one, effectively eliminate any relevant distinction between bitrates.

To answer your question, native all the way, baby.

geoffrey's picture

Anyone please > What powered speakers and what amplifiers have excellent synergy with this R2R DAC? For use in small/medium-small listening room. Not expecting many if any answers but what the heck giving it a shot anyway.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Any amp/speaker combo you like will have excellent synergy with this, or any, DAC. The most critical synergy mating is between the amp/pre & speakers, imo.

I would recommend starting with speakers you like, then the amp, and so on. This DAC will sing with whatever you get ;-)

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