Mola Mola Makua Preamplifier/DAC and On A Higher Note (and a lesson)

The Mola Mola Makua Preamplifier/DAC ($13,450) is one very interesting piece of technology and its designer, Bruno Putzeys, is one very intelligent and affable person. I wish I'd brought my recorder to record everything Bruno told me about the Makua's DAC because my hand could not keep up with his mind. What I can tell you, with some help from the Mola Mola website, is that the discrete D/A conversion process in the Makua DAC is completely homegrown, designed from the ground up by Bruno using no off-the-shelf DAC chips. All incoming data is passed through a three layered board. First, all incoming data is upsampled to 32-bit/3.125MHz "and converted to noise shaped PWM. The two remaining boards are mono DACs, in which a discrete 32-stage FIR DAC and a single-stage 4th order filtering I/V converter convert the PWM into analogue with a breathtaking 140dB SNR."

The Makau's optional DAC actually has a reported S/N ration of 130dB according to Mola Mola while the upcoming stand-alone DAC will reach that 140dB number. The DAC supports up to 32/384 PCM and quad speed DSD via USB. Additional inputs include XLR, Optical, and Bluetooth (A2DP). The Makua also offers five single ended RCA and five balanced XLR inputs and there's an optional phono stage which was in-use in the On A Higher Note room who were displaying the Mola Mola preamp along with their Kaluga mono amplifiers driving a pair of Vivid G3 Giya speakers.

the Makua's underbelly

I mention all of this because not only was the On A Higher Note room one of my favorites of CES 2015, Philip O'Hanlon had an interesting A/B comparison in store for us, as usual. We compared the LP and 24/96 version of Damien Rice's "I Don’t Want To Change You". The LP went first and it sounded "heavenly" according to my notes. Next up was the 24/96 version and, um, I didn't write anything. Philip then began asking everyone in the room which they preferred and everyone picked the LP. He got to me last by which time my face had turned a brighter shade of blush, and I had to admit I preferred the LP, prefacing that comment by saying, "I cover computer audio for a living and live in the digital realm so it would be blasphemous for me to admit I prefer the LP."

Before I could make a further fool of myself, Bruno chimed in and pointed out that the the digital version was dynamically compressed while the LP wasn't. He went on to further explain his point but that's the gist of it and it is an important lesson I think we can all walk away with, if we did not already walk in with it. Which is to say the quality of the mastering obviously makes all the difference in the world between a great-sounding recording and a not-so-great sounding recording. Formats come further down the line in terms of sound quality. Further, due to the physical restraints, vinyl cannot be as highly dynamically compressed as digital. An inconvenient but relevant truth.

sauerball's picture

Love the Kalugas, and I have high hopes for the Makua and the DAC and phono pre boards. Thanks for the coverage.

toetapaudio's picture

My understanding is that the Mola Mola dac will be combined in one unit with a server, in a case the same size as one mono amp. Cost in the UK around £10k and will be available within 6 months. The dac is currently available as a board built into the preamp. The server will also be available as an upgrade to the existing preamp.

I have to say the sound quality of the Mola Mola dac/pre and power amps is exceptional, being very open and natural sounding with very detailed, tight and powerful bass. Musically it is a very engaging trio.