Simple Design Sonore/exD DAC

Device Type: Asynchronous USB Digital to Analog Converter
Input: USB Audio Class 2.0
Output: balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA
Dimensions (H x W x D): 70mm x 320mm x 305mm
Weight: 5kg
Availability: Direct Online
Price: $1,295.00

A Fluent DAC
The Sonore/exD DAC represents a group effort between Simple Design and exD. Exactly who did what, when and how is as relevant as knowing what DAC chip is inside any given DAC which is to say it matters as much or as little as you care to imagine since what really matters is how the finished product sounds. This aspect—how it sounds—will be our primary focus and if you want a teaser I'll admit right here up front that I did all I could to prolong the review period.

The Sonore/exD DAC is USB 2.0 compliant and can handle PCM formats up to 24/192 and it can also handle native DSD playback using the DSD over PCM (DoP) v1.0 standard. Since the Sonore/exD DAC is USB 2.0 complaint, you don't need to load any drivers if you connect it to a Mac (or Linux-based computer) and if you use Audirvana Plus you just have to select "DSD over PCM Standard 1.0" under Preferences and you're good to go for 64x and 128x native DSD playback. If you have a PC, you'll need to load some drivers if you want DSD and PCM 24/192 playback and you also have to use a Media Player that is DoP compliant like JRiver Media Center or JPlay.

The Sonore/exD DAC runs in asynchronous USB mode and uses a 24 bit x8 oversampling "Fluency" DAC for PCM data. In brief, the "Fluency" DAC is based on a theory developed by Dr. Kazuo Toraichi of Tsukuba University, Japan whereby the DAC reconstructs the musical signal beyond redbook CD's brick-walled limit of 22kHz through the use of an interpolation filter. In other words, it guesses at, and they're very well educated guesses from the sound of it, and puts musical data back in providing a much gentler rolloff above 22kHz as compared to a brick wall. You may recall talk of the "Fluency DAC" for its use in the Luxman DP-07 from 1987 and this interpolation theory is built into the Sonore/exD DAC's Niigata Seimitsu FN1242A DAC chip which also handles DSD data bypassing the "Fluency" filter.

Here's how Jesus R. from Simple Design describes this "Fluency" DAC, "...but more important is that it recreates high frequency data previously stopped by the brickwall filters. Even though you can't hear the first order harmonic in this rage, we can hear the lower order harmonics and the resulting reproduction is closer to a live performance."

The Sonore/exD DAC is a breeze to set up—plug in your USB cable, interconnects and power cord and if connected to a MAC running Pure Music, Audiravana Plus or any DoP-compliant media player you're up and running with PCM music up to 24/192 and native DSD playback in no time. I used my MacBook Pro, an AudioQuest Diamond USB cable, Auditorium 23 interconnects and both the Leben CS-300XS and Pass INT-30A integrated amplifiers during the review period.

Musically Affluent
The Sonore/exD DAC is a joy to listen to. Both PCM and DSD sources are portrayed in a musically satisfying manner. There is not a hint of harshness or digital edginess to the Sonore/exD DAC's way with music which I'd characterize overall as rich and fat in the best possible way. It does not sound slow or dark, or bright, fast and lit up. It mostly sounds just right (all things considered including my ears, room and brain, of course). With PCM-based music, there is a lovely wholeness to the sound lending each instrument a colorful and natural presentation. Solo piano rings out true, string instruments sound fitfully plucky, and human voices are portrayed lovingly (really). Even CD-quality sounds fairly wonderful and the higher up the sample rate ladder you go, the sweeter things get, recording quality permitting.

Rachel Podger's Vivaldi - La Stravaganza /12 Violin Concertos sounded positively enchanting through the Sonore/exD DAC

DSD sources sound simply stunning. As with the Mytek DAC, I remain of the opinion that DSD-based music can sound thoroughly engaging and uncannily present with dynamic swing that'll make your heart stop. With the Sonore/exD DAC, and the same held true for the Mytek, PCM sources are also served up in a musically satisfying manner. When sitting and relaxing and listening, I found myself being led from album to album in mood mode as opposed to sound mode which is a very good thing, imo. What I mean by this is the Sonore/exD DAC had me wandering through my music library in search of music to match my mood (sometimes the music takes over which is really ideal) as opposed to a focus on sound or sound quality. Some equipment, typically the more analytical type, can shift ones focus to sounds instead of music and I greatly prefer the music/mood-centered focus and consider a focus on sound and sound quality an unfortunate mistake.

As compared to the Sonore/exD DAC, I'd say the Mytek gives you more resolution and perceived separation and edge without being edgy and a greater sense of dynamic slam. The Sonore/exD DAC gives you a richer, fuller sound. Of course the Mytek also includes a preamp, additional digital inputs and a headphone amp along with a bunch of other features so we're not really comparing apples to apples and ones choice for one over the other in terms of sound quality will come down to personal preference and system synergies. In terms of better, its a win win, imo.

If the Sonore/exD DAC has a weakness, and everything does even Superman, I'd point to its way with bass which is a bit on the shy side. I would not call the Sonore/exD DAC a bass and slam monster yet what it does get really really right is all of the stuff that goes into the time domain (yer basic foot-tapper scale is pegged from the first note to the last). There's also a slight flatness to some PCM-based upper frequencies where something like a cymbal's trailing hiss sounds somewhat 2D instead of fully 3D. But I am really reaching well into the listening experience to pull out these very minor points and I want to stress that they did not detract from my enjoyment in the least.

I'll also mention that there is a slight tick sound when switching between DSD tracks using Audirvana Plus. I asked Jesus from Simple Design about this and here's his response, "I wouldn't call this "Pop" but a small ticks, my first guess is when switching tracks, the player ceased to output the DoP marker, then the hardware downstream will jump between PCM and DSD, hence this small tick." This issue should be cleared up in the next Audirvana Plus release. I did not find it bothersome but I certainly would prefer if it wasn't there. I'll also add, gratuitously since you can see and decide for yourself, the Sonore/exD DAC is a generic-looking piece of gear. There's nothing on its brushed face to hint at its origin or function which may rub your pride-of-ownership funny bone one way or another. It is...a simple design.

Beyond those few niggly nits picked, I think the Sonore/exD DAC is a real winner. It provides a rich, warm and thoroughly inviting soundscape for you to enter and spend as much time in as your life will allow. There's nothing about its sound to distract from music enjoyment and the fact that it throws in native DSD playback, which can be positively stunning, is the cherry on top of an already mightily inviting package.

Associated Equipment

Also on hand and in use during the Dragonfly review: Mytek Stereo 192-DSD DAC, Schiit Bifrost, Wadia 121 Decoding Computer, Audioquest DragonFly DAC, Peachtree Audio Grand Integrated.

labjr's picture

"Luxman DP-07 from 1987"

Interpolation is not really new. Cambridge Audio is doing it with their polynomial curve fitting algorithm licensed from Anagram. There are others doing this sort of thing too.

BTW, I'm guessing those red caps are for DC blocking on the outputs? are they on all outputs or just the balanced outputs?  If so, perhaps the quality of those caps could influence the sound quite a bit. I can't imagine they're anything real special for the asking price. Perhaps changing to some more esoteric caps would be an improvement.

 Has an R-core transformer too. Supposed to be better or more quiet, I think. Overall, appears to be a lot for the money.

Rob McCance's picture

DAC reviews are interesting but there's no subsitute for listening to DACs in your own setup.



Michael Lavorgna's picture

...there's no subsitute for listening to DACs in your own setup.

I agree and feel reviews in general can help whittle-down the field of play, as it were. After all, not everyone has the time to listen to DACs, for example, full-time.

ednaz's picture

"DAC reviews are interesting but there's no subsitute for listening to DACs in your own setup."

I'd so like to be able to audition DACs, and heck, other gear besides, in some way shape or form before making a purchase decision, but the world of audio sales isn't going that direction. Of the dozen or so "retailers" who show up in my state on any one gear manufacturer's site, only three or four at most actually have an open place of business.  The others are focused on system installation first and foremost.  And of the ones with an open place of business, none of them have most of the gear on hand of the manufacturers they represent.

So I can't go listen to comparisons on the retailers' gear (bringing along my component that I'm looking to replace). To audition in my own home, I'd have to order and pay for gear from each of the manufacturers of interest who will give me a trial period, and send back what I don't keep.  That's both a pain in the neck and IMHO a hard demand on smaller innovative manufacturers that may not have the cashflow.  Not to mention the impact on my cashflow.

But I'm whining. The comparative reviews are great tools, because they let me minimize the chaos of in-home auditions to one or two manufacturers, and give me a way to focus on auditions that I will arm-twist my local retailers for.  I think DACs may be the component most fraught with subjectivity, at least in my experience. Shopping for a DAC now, in fact, and in listening to the two that one retailer stocks, and the two that another stocks, my opinions seem to swing wildly with type of music.

tbrads's picture

and concur with your overall sonic impressions, especially versus my Mytek.  It is quite a smooth musical DAC for $1295, especially given that it treats both native DSD and hirez PCM with a presentation that was only available in $$$ DACs a few years ago.  Add to that it's friendliness with such linux servers as the Auraliti PK90USB and you have a plug-n-play system that performs ridiculously well.


Michael Lavorgna's picture

It's a great time to be lover!