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This informal write up was first published by Turkish online magazine Stereomecmuasi and can be read in its original version here. Due to a mutual syndication agreement with publisher Hakan Cezayirli, we publish it here in an English translation for our global readers. - Ed

Contributing reader:
Reha Diri
Review Component Retail: TL10.500 in Turkey [Turkish lira]

Can a pro audio DAC beat a hi-end consumer DAC?
Yes! I refer you to the Weiss DAC1-MK2-FW, the Firewire version of their DAC1-MK2. Since 1985, Swiss firm Weiss has produced quality A/D and D/A converters. Daniel Weiss is one of a few audio engineers with extensive knowledge and experience in digital audio. He first produced digital audio equipment for mastering studios before addressing the consumer world. Popular examples for the latter are the Weiss Jason transport, Medea and Minerva DACs and recently the DAC202. But what about Weiss pro audio products? Can they be used in a high-end audiophile context?

The Weiss DAC2 is already a well-known such product that has found a place with satisfied audiophiles [yours truly amonst those - Ed.].But when it comes to the Weiss DAC1, most audiophiles draw a blank. Actually the Weiss DAC1 was father to the famous Weiss Medea. The first DAC1 version was a 96kHz upsampling DAC and in production for nearly a decade. The subsequent MK2 version upgraded to 192kHz processing. In those days, upsampling DACs which accepted true 96kHz and 192kHz inputs were still quite rare.

Today’s market has a growing variety of USB and Firewire models and most manufacturer have added sockets for PC interfaces. In this area Weiss has long since been a pioneer to enjoy a certain advantage. Their DAC2 with Firewire interface accepted 24/192 on all its inputs for years to be an outstanding machine for its time. The Weiss Minerva followed suit for the consumer market. Over time, audio societies and audiophile reviews promoted these specific Firewire DACs and the success of the DAC2/Minerva paved the way for a Firewire version of the Medea. Last year the DAC1-Mk2-FW followed quietly.

Why a computer for hi-end audio? Until now I’ve owned several CD players, transports and converters and listened to many upscale sources. Regardless of how expensive, legacy CD players and transports won’t let you listen to 96/192kHz studio master recordings. The physical CD standard is limited to 16-bit/44.1kHz. Higher resolution is available from SACD but those machine don’t output 1-bit DSD digital and most outboard DACs wouldn’t accept such a signal if they did. You’d need a proprietary expensive SACD solution. Meanwhile computer audio has taken big forwards steps in recent years. A minimalist PC or Mac will allow you to listen to high-resolution studio master material.  There are various lossless compressions formats and good music player software is often free. Also, you no longer need to visit a shop to buy discs. You can download them from the comfort of your home including high-definition tracks. It’s easy to predict that we’ll see more computers acting as transports in the near future than traditional disc spinners.

I decide on the Weiss DAC1-MK2-FW.  While on paper everything seems perfect for computer audio, can it sound as good as conventional high-end equipment? My last DAC was a Reimyo DAP777, a fairly well-known exotic Japanese boutique product with “perfect sound”. I  was hesitant to replace it. Would the sound be as good as before?  Positive feedback on the superiority of 24/192 files was high but 16/44.1 Redbook playback via computer still was a question mark at least in my mind. Friends looking for high-definition playback system had gone to various auditions only to give up because they felt PC playback of CD-quality music was poor when compared to their legacy source equipment. This included me.

If you think about a computer playback source, you must also consider the computer itself. It has to be silent, robust and simple to use. Your audio computer will have one task only – to stream 0s and 1s without error. The interface can be USB or Firewire. I don’t think it matters which unless you want multi-channel playback which favors Firewire for its parallel bus streaming. Another concern is bandwidth. Most current USB receiver chips are still limited to 96khz  and even very upscale computer playback systems may be limited to output only up to 96K USB.  Firewire doesn’t suffer the same limitations. Pro audio has extensively worked with this interface and its audio properties are sufficiently evolved by now.

Considering the above information, I began shopping for a Firewire DAC and a computer for its source. I read many reviews and listened to some above average PC audio systems to get convinced about the viability of using a computer as transport. Identifying the right converter is difficult of course when you can’t listen to it from afar.

At this juncture Daniel Weiss helped out a lot. I asked  him many questions about his products and he answered each and every one. He must be a very busy person but gave me each detail I wanted. With this information, I narrowed it down to two options, the Weiss DAC202 and DAC1-MK2-FW. The DAC202 is a very new consumer unit, the DAC1 a pro audio piece. At present there are no formal reviews on either in the hifi world but I needed to make a decision. In the end I opted for the Weiss DAC1-MK2-FW because its technical specifications made it more compatible with my existing hifi system. 

For a computer I had to select between PC or MAC. A PC would likely mean a Windows OS with its endless updates and susceptibility to viruses. With Mac there’d be a simple and fast operation system and not as much concern over infections. So I bought a MacBook with Snow Leopard OSX. 

Weiss DAC1-MK2-FW.
The DAC1 is one of the Weiss flagships, the other being the Medea. As a pro-audio machine, the DAC1 eschews RCA connectors. Instead there are 3 x XLR inputs, 1 x Toslink, 1 x Firewire 400. Analog outputs offer lo/hi selection of +15dbu (4.3V RMS) or +27dbu (17V RMS). That type of output voltage allows amplifier-direct drive should you not want to use a preamp like me. On the back is a 15-pin port from which to access volume control, input indicators and input selection. The remote control handles digital volume. The fascia has two groups of LEDs for input word length and sample rate to show whether the source outputs bit-transparent data. There is no external word-sync clock input but the DAC1 is said to have an excellent internal clock whose VXCO circuit and JET PLL circuitry provide state-of-the-art jitter rejection.

Technically Daniel Weiss spent much time to design an uncompromising DAC and in my opinion has succeeded admirably. For one, the output impedance is 0.2Ω for superb drive and frequency linearity where many DACs suffer issues in the lower frequencies. Not the Weiss. In my case the bass made a dramatic difference to my former Reimyo DAP777. Another aspect were details. Before the DAC1 arrived, I thought of the Reimyo as producing a very detailed sound. I frankly could not imagine a more detailed converter. Once the DAC1 arrived, I saw just how much more detailed the Weiss was over the Reimyo – hard to reconcile but true.

The DAC1 is an upsampling machine. Whatever the input rate, the DAC1 automatically locks to it, then converts it to 24/192 internally. Upsampling and digital filters are vital to analog conversion and Daniel Weiss spent much time on this. The DAC1 upsamples x 8 in two stages. There is 2 x upsampling in the Analog Devices DSP chip and 4 x in the AD1853.  The FIR parameters of the DSP chip are defined by Daniel Weiss himself. He runs one AD1853 conmverter per channel and their outputs couple to AD797 opamps for I/V conversion. Those opamps then drive the discrete class A output stage transistors. I don’t know their idle current but within 30 minutes the DAC1 gets quite hot. In the long run I have measured nearly 50°C on its bottom so it gets really hot.

Listening: As far as I know Mr. Weiss performed a 3-day burn-in before shipping my unit but I added one more week for good measure before any critical listening commenced. Perhaps because of its high-current design, the  Weiss DAC1 might actually get properly burned in within 3 to 4 days, no more. To be honest, I did not  expect a big difference on ripped Redbook files over the Reimyo DAP777. I was wrong. The Weiss outperformed the Reimyo in every way - better bass control, better soundstaging, more detail, more everything. I listened to The Girl In The Other Room by Diana Krall and felt I could touch her, she was so real. The same was true for Stacey Kent’s Breakfast In The Morning Tram. These of course were conventional 16/44.1 records. Even some 320kbps MP3s I usually don’t like sounded surprisingly good with the DAC1.

High-definition tracks were different of course. If the studio master was well prepared, I get something close to analog sound. Such tracks are unbelievable. I tried a 24/96 HD version of “Maria Mulata” from Marta Gomez. That was something else. I have the CD version of this track but the HD file was much superior. If your ears begin to reference the Weiss DAC1 with HD tracks, you soon cannot easily listen to much else. That’s my dilemma now. To solve it I keep downloading HD tracks from the Internet. Unfortunately such complete albums are huge files and download times are long even in lossless FLAC format. Now I don’t know what I should do about my old 16/44.1kHz tracks.

Conclusion: The Weiss DAC1-MK2-FW is excellent, perhaps the best in its price range. It is designed and prepared for professional audio usage but can be used readily enough in a home hifi system. For now I think this machine is still a hidden gem which hardly any audiophiles yet know about – nor how good it is. If you have the proper budget and consider transitioning to high-end computer audio, the Weiss DAC1-MK2-Fw is very highly recommended by this former Reimyo user.

Weiss Engineering website