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Two months of simply being powered up walked a tremendous distance. The Z-DAC mopped the floor with the Mhdt and presented a tonally different picture than the HRT. The low end through the ZDAC was so tight, taut and deep that it actually bottomed out the 5" woofers of the DeVore speakers, something none of the other DACs achieved. Then again perhaps that’s a design flaw of some sort. I don’t know. But the ZDAC’s low end was excellent, gutsy, tight and had plenty of snap and power. Petty’s "Working Man’s Bible" presented excellent snap on Ferrone’s snare drum and cymbal spread was brilliant. The Sco disc reveled in a similarly large hall ambience.

The Z-DAC presented a very warm, flowing rich presentation of all discs. I dug it the most. Not as super resolving as the Moon, it presented an organic almost analog sound. Its voicing seemed centered on the midrange, a glorious midrange. I loved its tonality, its ability to isolate instruments yet thread them together into a concise coherent whole. Definitely first row. Baritone sax and bass drums on the Scofield disc had real bite, juiciness and succulence. You could lick the sounds coming out of this black box. It didn’t present a very large soundstage but it did exact a meaty vision that was very immediate, palatable and true. Sco’s guitar also had funky body and strings sounded rich. Drums exhibited punch and attack. Tactile touch-i-ness.

Food sounded almost flat in recording studio terms as though a veil had lifted. Even at lower volumes music was warm and exciting. The Z-DAC got the better of me. It made me forget about the review I had to write and simply partake of the music. But back to work, there was one more challenger.

Wyred 4 Sound DAC 1. Gobsmacked.  Something happens in the presence of greatness. Like watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Or meeting Miles Davis (I did once, my first day in NYC, check the pic). Like listening to an old Furtwängler recording, staring at a Monet or Renoir at the MET, remembering an Elvin Jones performance or basking in the glow of a super model (Elle McPherson smiled at me once). Okay, we all have different ideas of nirvana but the Wyred4Sound DAC 1 is right up there. I purposely didn’t read Srajan’s review of their DAC2 though I’m not afraid to disagree with the boss. Heck, it’s happened before, more than once even but Srajan is a man of great heart, loyalty and friendship (I will leave it right there lest I get mushy). I still haven’t read his review but I do know he awarded the W4S DAC2.

Did you ever visit a recording studio in the days of tape? The W4S DAC 1 is the closest thing I’ve heard to master tape. It’s totally present, immediate and free of editorializing. It just is. All the discs—Food, Scofield and Petty’s Mojo—sounded different yet each was exposed for all its worth, color, defects and glory. The splatzy at times boxy sound of Petty’s voice was there as was the large-scale field of drums, bass and guitars. Every fine detail was in high relief but there was no sense of sounds being tipped up or of one frequency being stressed over another. If anything the W4S DAC sounded very digital. Very clean, extremely dynamic and present. No coloration, no mush, no fuss, just immediacy and a sense of true recording reality. Fine micro detail, fine macro detail, great body, constant revelations. I heard minutiae entirely unrevealed by the other DACs on test, always tactile and direct. The idea of voicing seemed irrelevant. Wyred4Sound had moved on.

Mojo was less colored and more consistent top to bottom. The sound was balanced. I felt I was hearing all the music. Every tip of Tom’s tongue was there good and bad. I dialled in Fairport Convention’s "Fotheringay" for fun. The beautiful stereo-panned guitars and Sandy Dennis’ bittersweet vocals were perfection. The Food disc was instantly more engaging, its percussion now reflecting real physical instruments in space and their melodic or rhythmic lines were easier to follow and enjoy. I was sated. I felt complete. But, I can’t afford the DAC 1. I can’t afford any of the DACs on test. Back to the Mhdt then. Back to vinyl. Back to my little Creative Labs computer speakers playing old UK library music on my old computer. And you know what? It all sounds great. It all sounds different. It all makes music. It all sings.

Breakdown or breakup:
  • Mhdt: A good DAC on a budget, a better DAC when it arrives for free.
  • HRT Pro Streamer: A meaty big and bouncy DAC that impresses with its dynamics from a tiny box. The HRT does so many things right that it may be all you need. I could certainly live with the HRT. It betters my Mhdt by a country mile and its cost is more than effective. It’s a steal.
  • Simaudio Moon: This baby is all about the beauty of the upscale upper range. Its about silken sounds and smooth legs, of imagining Jennifer Connelly or Grace Kelly or Mary Louise Parker. The Simaudio polishes your expectations and raises them to deliver a high-relief world of music from less than stellar circumstances.
  • Decware Z-DAC 1. Like the HRT this box is on pharmaceutical-grade vitamins but with heavier workouts and power bars. It’s strong as an ox, deep as the ocean and knows when to get out of the way. Too many audio products waste energy on wrenching out the last iota of detail when they should focus on delivering the music. The Z-DAC 1 is clear-eyed and understands itself. No audio therapy needed. The Z-DAC 1 has no need for rampant editorializing. It’s confident and true.
  • Wyred4Sound DAC 1. This is the final DAC. You need no other. This is the sound of the recordings you love. It too gets out of the way but even more so. Perhaps better internal parts make for its powerful presentation, richness, authority, cleanness and overwhelming detail retrieval. But it’s not 'detail', it’s not 'resolution'. It’s hyper reality of the kind the musician hears before his music is transformed from sweat and blood into product. I don’t understand how Wyred4 Sound managed but they’re holding up the bar mighty high while we enjoy the music.
Decware website | HRT website | Simaudio website | Wyred4Sound website