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Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz, Tidal, Sonnet Pasithea, Soundaware D30Ref SD card transport & USB bridge; Preamp: icOn 4Pro S w. hi/lo-pass filter; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 mono, Enleum AMP-23R; Headamp: Kinki Studio; Phones: HifiMan Susvara; Loudspeakers: Aurai Audio Lieutenant w. sound|kaos DSUB 15 on Carbide Audio footers, Audio Physic Codex, Cube Audio Nenuphar Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 6 x 8m with open door behind listening seat
2nd system: Source: Soundaware D100Pro SD transport clock-slaved to Denafrips Terminator +; DAC: Kinki Studio; Preamp/filter: icOn 4Pro + 4th-order/40Hz hi-low pass; Amplifier: Crayon CFA-1.2; Loudspeakers: sound|kaos Vox 3awf, Dynaudio S18 sub; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~3.5 x 8m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win10/64; USB bridge: Audiobyte Hydra X+; Headamp: COS Engineering H1; Headphones: Final D-8000; Powered speakers: Fram Audio Midi 120
Upstairs headfi/speaker system: Source: smsl SD-9 transport; DAC: iFi Pro iDSD Signature; Integrated amplifier: Schiit Jotunheim R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a
2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; All-in-One: Simon Audio; Loudspeakers: German Physiks HRS-120; Subwoofer: Zu Submission; Power delivery: Furutech eTP-8, Room: ~6x4m
Review component retail: ~€2'395
Ergo: Erco. ferrum audio's firstborn was Hypsos short for hybrid power supply. N°2 son was Oor, 'ear' in Dutch but phonetically identical to ore for the firm's tie-in with the ancient iron deposits and their associated industry nearby Warsaw. It's where they now ply the hifi trade. Erco the 3rd-born again means ore. Now that's in Esperanto whose inventor Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof used to live around the corner from ferrum's offices. So the pronounciation is ertso. Because Oor was an all-out headamp, onlookers might have expected an equivalent all-in DAC next. Surprise. The young team around Marcin Hamerla instead mixed it up for a little of this, a little of that. Erco drizzles down Oor's headfi functionality in lighter IC not discrete form—dual LT1210 op-amps per channel—then adds a 3-input DAC with coax, Toslink and USB-C and BB 41921 digital receiver. This digital section too is in presumably lighter form than a pure DAC flagship which would assign its full interior to just one job.
It's why Erco's brochure declares that desktop high end just became a thing. It's all you need plus active speakers and/or cans. A half-width chassis a rack space tall repeats the message. For punters focused on purist performance there's the upgrade option of replacing the stock 24V switching power adapter to the like-sized Hysos. Hello matched stack or cheek-to-cheek awesome twosome. Rather than regurgitate the specs—we'll leave that to cows with four stomachs—I've reproduced ferrum's sheet below. Hover your mouse over it to activate the loupe enlarger; or right-click to open image in new tab and occupy full screen width. It'll tell you all you want to know. And no there's no remote. On a desktop that'd be silly. Colors other than black aren't a thing either. Sherwin Williams' iron ore paint only comes in light black too. No need to stir up ol' Henry's ghost.
With ±200kHz bandwidth, Erco won't suffer treble phase shift and being fully balanced also cancels common-mode distortion. Having co-designed then built Mytek gear until recently, OEM specialists HEM have obvious experience with high-spec digital to now apply to their own brand ferrum. Cynics, realists and even dreamers will probably expect a form of next-gen Brooklyn DAC sound. With its popularity, that'd be a good thing. Unfamiliar with it myself, I won't be able to weigh in. My former collaborators Marja & Henk knew it well but passed on so couldn't do this gig. With a Hypsos still on hand from its prior showing with Oor, I'll weigh in on its upgrade path for Erco. Ergo I'm doing the honors.
If you've not come across ferrum.audio before, do read my prior Hypsos writeup. It covered company background extensively already.
It means we can go sonic the moment Erco lands in Eire. Not expecting full Susvara shove, I had Final D8000/Sonorous X and Audeze LCD-XC to take the headfi measure. Desktop comparator would be COS Engineering's H1; and ferrum's own Oor. With its Japanese Blue Alps pot, Erco's volume control is analog like Oor's. That bypasses the digital attenuator of the internal ESS9028 Pro DAC chip. As usual, Windows users must download a USB driver. Not as always usual, MQA fans are in luck. But no matter the codec or sample rate, no display means no visual confirmation. There blessedly are no means to fiddle with reconstruction filters either. This is a plug, play and don't-worry-be-happy deck.
If you do insist on fussing, Hypsos' sweet-spot tuning feature stands by. With it one can alter the supply voltage in a prescribed fixed window. If that sounds like too much folderol, leave it as shown above with Meze's Liric headphones, at 24V like the switching brick.
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