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Sound. A selection of recordings used during listening sessions:
Audiofeels, Sounds of Silence, Audiofeels, Uncovered, Penguin Records, 5865033, CD rip, WAV; David Sylvian, World Citizen (I Won't Be Disappointed) + Angels, David Sylvian, Sleepwalkers, P-Vine Records, PVCP-8790, WAV, CD rip; Kankawa, Dear Myself, Kankawa, Organist, T-TOC Records, UMVD-0001-0004, Ultimate Master Vinyl, 24/192 WAV; Keith Jarrett, January 24 1975. Part I, Keith Jarrett, Köln Concert, WAV 24/96, HDTracks; Nosowska, Kto, Nosowska, 8, Supersam Music, SM 01, WAV, CD rip: Pieter Nooten & Michael Brook, Searching, Pieter Nooten & Michael Brook, Sleeps With The Fishes, 4AD, GAD 710 CD, WAV, CD rip; Sonny Rollins Tenor Madness, Sonny Rollins, Tenor Madness, WAV 24/96, HDTracks; Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto, Corcovado (Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars), Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto, WAV 24/96, HDTracks; The Alan Parsons Project, Sirius + Eye In The Sky, The Alan Parsons Project, Eye In The Sky, WAV 24/192, DVD-A rip.

As you can read in the review methodology paragraph, I mainly compared the Italian converter against the—in my opinion very successful—asynchronous 24/192 input of the Wyred4Sound DAC2 [that is based on an OEM hiFace board from the EVO's designer - Ed]. As I stated in its review, the solution adopted by the W4S was so successful that their USB input has served me for a long time as a reference for other USB-S/PDIF converters and USB DACs. What then happened when I plugged the hiFace converter into the DAC2’s coax input? I will come back to this but first need to return to more general background.

My impression is that over many years of reviewing CD players, SACD and audio files, I see changes introduced by successive improvements and new technologies forming a fairly clear pattern. The biggest changes—systemic changes affecting the very base of the sound and its structure—have been effected by jitter-limiting procedures. The tone of a well clocked device is deeper, warmer, fleshier, better differentiated and more natural. It’s amazing how dark such a tone can seem until the first cymbal crash or instrument with high treble energy and a lot of harmonics confirms that nothing is missing. Then we get dense treble, a correct cymbals body with true weight. Devices with higher jitter and inferior clock recovery or clock generation sound brighter, seemingly more detailed until we compare them to something better. Then a few bars of a track are enough to unmask the pretender sound and get on with the new.

A slightly different type of sonic change can be wrought with power supply improvements. One method is to give up on the 230V/50Hz mains and use batteries. The latter is not without its own flaws but in specific applications can do much good. Expect most improvements with micro signals resulting in better space retrieval around acoustic instruments including recorded venue acoustics. The sound is usually a little bit farther away from us due to a better presentation of the proportions between instruments, acoustics and their relationship with our own listening room. So much for the introduction. Properly equipped we will not have to explain certain details and the review can be shorter.

Hardball: On its own the hiFace EVO converter sounded better than the DAC2’s USB input. Its tone was deeper, fuller, had far more energy and also was more tangible and complete. It had certainly not been bad before but in my opinion now the sound from the computer might have been superior to the digital output of a very good CD player (with 16/44.1 rips) or the digital output of file players (24/96-192 files). Perhaps not superior to the very best such devices but beyond the elite and farther down the price list it now was very competitive. I’m talking about something that was once associated only with the very best CD players: coherence and sonic profundity. Nowadays I pay less attention to tonal balance, details and other technical aspects and concentrate more on how the music affects me, how it evokes emotions. Such a shift from technology to content and is human interaction is a good thing.

Without thinking twice I can say that the hiFace EVO is the best USB-S/PDIF converter I’ve had through my system yet (I have not tested its AES/EBU and I²S outputs). I think that it might be one of the best USB receivers I know of. It doesn’t put a foot wrong. It does not reduce dynamics (the most common problem), does not sound anaemic (equally common) or boring and nondescript. It perfectly captures the tone colors and shades of emotional energy. It won my heart especially with its sonic quality of playing CD rips. It began with the deep voice of Nosowska on her song "Kto". The track was clearly recorded close up without any anti-pop mic shield to reduce the effects of plosives, particularly the pronunciation of the letter ‘p’. This is why we can clearly hear the ‘p’ on this track.

This sonic change had a certain aesthetic and artistic value and translated into a very intimate almost guttural vocal. It also meant a deep, round and quick bass attack. Few speakers can do it well (even fewer amps). They usually distort it or don't show it at all. But it is really our audio sources that have the biggest problem with this. I do not know why. The Wyred4Sound DAC handles it very well. It has very powerful and deep bass and can show this effect on its own. However the M2Tech converter in 'full gear,' i.e. with the external power supply and external clock, sounded far better than the matching CD played over my very expensive Ancient Audio CD player with its Philips CD Pro-2LF transport. This was a real eye opener because the true meaning of this song is based precisely on the titular very intimate question. The W4S USB input, although really good, seemed quieter even with proper level matching. It was less involving. Everything was there but it did not evoke in me the kind of emotions the Italian converter did.