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Sound: First listening tests were made with headphones over a headphone amplifier. I had no expectations since I didn't know USB sonics from Adam. I was open for anything. As it turned out, this technology is already at a very high level. A well-configured computer with good player software and a high-class USB DAC can make sound comparable with expensive and very expensive CD players. In the case of the Brick, it is equivalent to 10000-15000zl* players and in terms of midrange and treble resolution, up to 20000zl. This is incredible even for me writing this. The Accuphase DP-500 is better still but the difference is not overwhelming, not even big. Because I tested five players for Audio in the 9000-10000zl range at the same time, I could compare the PC setup against them. Not one had such definition of the brass and midrange as the Brick. None had such good dynamics or resolution either. Already the headphone comparison showed that we had something extraordinary here but only a head-to-head comparison in a 100000zl system showed all the assets of this DAC loud and clear.

For our US readers, on April 1, 2009, the exchange rate bought $0.283 for one Polish zlotych. For our European readers, the equivalent was €0.21. For a very rough approximation thus divide the Polish prices by 5 to arrive at your currency.

As mentioned, I was most impressed with the treble quality. In 100% of the cases, computers made unreadable noise from it which is why I was reluctant to use this technology for audio. From my perspective, the Brick creates something magical from it. This device has an incredibly clean top end. Its timbre is slightly honey-flavored, vivid and clear for a distinctive sound. There is no trace of emphasis, sharpness or brightness. Compared to my Lektor Prime, the upper treble is a little recessed as it is compared to the DP-700 Accuphase. This can be heard as a slight darkening of the sound but only when we separate out this range for analysis. When we listen to the whole thing rather than inspecting its components, perhaps the upper range is darker and a mite subdued but the sound as a whole is open and vivid. This will be the first characteristic to express after powering on the Brick. Partly this is due to the lower midrange not being as saturated or fleshy as for example the PrimaLuna Eight or even the Luxman D-N100 but it is also due to some attenuation of the lower bass.

But now I outrun my own descriptions. I would like to look at the midrange first. This American DAC has a very refined midrange regardless of price (yes, it performs at the level of top high-end machines). The accent is laid on the range around 800Hz, which renders voices -- female like Sara K. from the disc Don't I Know You From Somewhere? and male like Christian Willisohn from Hold On -- a bit chesty as though arising from diaphragms rather than throats. But these voices were strong and full regardless, hardly inferior if at all to the PrimaLuna, the master of the 10000zl
price range in that regard. At the same time the sound was incredibly intense and fluid. This was assisted by splendid definition of virtual sources on the edges of the stage to improve spaciousness. That's why the Oscar Peterson Trio's We Get Request sounded so good. It is mostly based on a three-way split of instruments into stage left, middle and right. All the tasty details were shown without blurring or digital veiling. Granted, stage center wasn't as differentiated as the sides. Sara's voice was not as fully embodied nor completely rendered in 3D nor was Peterson's piano as massively intense as over the reference players. I believe this is intrinsic to HDD as a sound source. I remember that during the High End show in Munich the sound was better from a flash card. But, these differences were not big and I do not believe they would matter with amplifiers in the 10000zl range. It's in a more expensive environment that you will hear it.

But all that is as nothing when we look at the cost of our source. I am writing about comparisons with top CD players in the 10000 and 20000zl range. Those aren't comparisons between good and bad. These comparisons showed how phenomenal the sonic definition was, how open and well drawn the high registers of the Brick. Changing to a NOS Siemens und Halske valve improved saturation of the lower range but I think also diminished the dynamics of the system. The latter is simply masterful at least in the context of digital sources up to 20000zl. We will find certain aspects not quite as good but remember how the Brick is the cheapest DAC Wavelength proposes! It already guarantees a fantastic, incredibly satisfying sound. Also keep in mind that this is not only a playback device but recorder (I am talking about the PC), an archive and interface to Internet radio and music downloads.

Thanks to the kindness of Linn Records' Caroline Dooley, I transferred some of their recordings to laptop. Most interesting of course were two master tape quality files in 24/88 (Dunedin Consort - Händel Acis and Galatea, WMA), but two others were impressive a well. One were the two recordings from Pink Floyd London 1966/1967 EP in CD quality (16/44.1) and the disc Luna from a band completely unknown to me, The Aliens [Petrock002, WMA 24/48]. The Pink Floyd sounded very nice without brightening or sharpening while retaining bite and beat. I downloaded The Aliens before the arrival of the Brick. After listening to three tracks with headphones plugged directly in the laptop, I simply forgot about it. The sound was bright, unpleasant and it was impossible to tell that this was a high resolution file. The Wavelength converter showed it to be really nice music, very good and interesting. The laptop changed the 24-bit word length to 16 bits of course which was audible as a loss of quality (I had the CD quality version for comparison), but this was nothing to fret over. I simply listened.

Just as with this review which I wanted to end a paragraph earlier, new details surfaced relative to the Brick and laptop source that amended the picture but I was still just listening to music from a computer. I am aware that I merely scratched the surface but hope that
it will compel your own investigations. Even exchanging the USB cable for a generic one showed huge possibilities as the supplied Belkin was much better! Those who use a computer as their music source should listen to this DAC. While not outright cheap, it will turn your computer into a hi-end audio machine. I know that I enrage the audiophile purists but really, this is the future of audio. I did not expect even half of what I heard. For such a relatively low investment, this is a bright future with many opportunities indeed. It will not be as easy as with CDs but then, nobody promised that.

Description: Wavelength's Brick is a D/A converter with one USB input optimized for working with a PC source. The enclosure is a solid cast piece made of two parts, a cup and a cover. All sockets are placed on one wall: a USB input, stereo RCA outputs and a power
supply socket. There also is a bright white LED which confirms signal lock with the computer. The device goes into stand-by without signal or when the USB cable unplugs. The outboard power supply sits in a nice enclosure but the umbilical is rather lousy. A good cable will improve the sound as the USB cable did. Wavelength thought about the latter and includes a Belkin which performed much better than a standard USB cable. And we can search for something better still.

Inside we find a small PCB plus two chokes since the output stage is buffered by a 12AU7/ECC82 double triode from JJ. It needs no immediate upgrades because the sound is really of high quality but you can experiment with rolling NOS tubes. Power is provided from the low voltage rail which supplies the rest of the unit via multipliers. This is not the best possible way because it raises the power supply impedance but we'll go with that. The input signal converts via an NOS TDA1543N2 multi-bit 16/44.1 Philips chip and Wavelength claims to hand select the top 5% of their chip samples.

The heart of the unit is a small DSP chip that doubles as USB receiver and decoder. This is key. It turns out that most USB DAC receivers work in synchronous mode called Adaptive Mode USB Audio. This means that the computer controls the signal transfer and the receiver must follow it by optimizing the clock every millisecond. USB works with a 12MHz clock that is utterly unrelated to audio (with 44.1kHz CD, we have a MCLK value of 11.2896MHz). This is why the receiver must recreate the appropriate clock value in a complex process called frequency synthesizer. This adds itself atop the computer multi-tasking already. In effect we end up with a very high jitter clock. So Wavelength created its own transmission protocol. Using the same 1020B chip, they wrote code to operate it in asynchronous mode wherein the transfer is controlled by the receiver clock. This allowed for a claimed hundredfold jitter reduction while maintaining compatibility with Windows and Mac. One item that needs mention is how this DAC's output is much lower than the standard 2V. In most cases however, this will allow the amplifier's potentiometer to be set at 12:00 o'clock where noise is lowest and linearity best.
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