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Srajan Ebaen
Financial Interests: click here
Source: 2TB iMac 27" quad-core with 16GB of RAM (AIFF) running OSX 10.8.2 and PureMusic 1.94g in hybrid memory play with pre-allocated RAM, Audirvana 1.5.5 in direct/integer mode 1, Metrum Hex, SOtM dX-USB HD with Super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s, AURALiC Vega, Apple iPod Classic 160 AIFF-loaded, RWA-modified Astell & Kern AK-100, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pure i20
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Bent Audio Tap-X, Esoteric C-03, TruLife Audio Athena, Burson Conductor
Power amplifier: FirstWatt S1 monos, SIT2, F5, F6; Job 225, Bakoon AMP-12R, Clones 25i [on loan]
Loudspeakers: Boenicke Audio B10, German Physiks HRS-120, AudioSolutions 200, Zu Audio Submission
Desktop: Wyred4Sound mINT, Gallo Strada 2 + TR-3D
Cables: Complete Zu Event loom, KingRex uArt split USB cable
Powerline conditioning: GigaWatt PF-2 & Vibex Two 1R DC filter on amps, Vibex Three 11R on front-end components
Equipment rack:
Artesania Exoteryc double-wide three tier with optional glass shelf, Rajasthani hardwood rack for amps
Sundry accessories: Extensive use of Acoustic System Resonators, noise filters and phase inverters
Room size: 5m x 11.5m W x D, 2.6m ceiling with exposed wooden cross beams every 60cm, plaster over brick walls, suspended wood floor with Tatami-type throw rugs. The listening space opens into the second storey via a staircase and the kitchen/dining room are behind the main listening chair. The latter is thus positioned in the middle of this open floor plan without the usual nearby back wall.
Review component retail: $2.495

Some product gets introduced with fanfare and a big bang
. There are loud ads accompanied by early reviews timed to coincide with the official launch. You can't miss the waves. Everyone gets wet. Other products arrive quietly. Reviews seem absent. Even the peanut galleries are abnormally still. What chatty banter? It's radio silence. And that would be EJ Sarmento's DAC2 DSDse. The $1.495 original did make waves, here and elsewhere. Not so new'n'improved. Never mind DSD64. Or 128. How many of those files do you own which you really care to listen to not for sonic but musical merit? As I see it, the real attraction hides in those humble lower-case letters. se. Not single-ended. Not my initials. Special Edition. For Sarmento to call anything 'se' requires a lot more than any Apple iTunes upgrade (which really backfired with 11!).

You already connected theSE dots on price. The DSDse is $2.495. In do-it-all DACland that's quite lightweight still. With brand W's focus on value and that $1.000 lead over the original (you can still get a DAC1 for that) it's a lot heavier. Expect tangible hardware upgrades. They impact all streamed files or spinning discs, not merely add DSD functionality and a parallel 'yes' to 384kHz DXD files. Enter a "galvanically isolated I²S USB interface* which guarantees zero opportunity for computer noise to interfere with the audio signal's purity." Add "a Furutech rhodium-plated ceramic fuse as an excellent complement to the upgraded power supply. Further filtering is addressed by low-loss ultra-fast recovery Schottky diodes and a series of premium-grade inductors that assist to stabilize the current as it enters the power supply. Power is then filtered through a series of custom low-ESR capacitors, then regulated by newly designed discrete regulators [right]. Our proprietary regulator is 100+ times quieter and faster than the stock regulator! The start of the analog signal receives strategic treatment with our custom-made naked Vishay Z-foil resistors in 20 locations. Putting numbers on it, the stock Dale resistors offered a 1% tolerance and a ±100ppm/°C temperature coefficient. Our new resistors are down to 0.1% tolerance and ±0.5ppm/°C respectively."

* The original DAC2 didn't rely on USB's 5V power line. The DSD/DSDse do, hence complete galvanic isolation.
When I learnt of the DSDse to inquire about a loaner, the Californians were five weeks back-logged due to a wait on restocking their custom resistors [left]. These aren't off-the-shelf bits then. Special edition really means what it says. Whilst the original circuit above remains—don't fix what ain't broke, it's still a Sabre DAC with chip-based digital attenuation—sonically determinant parts are swapped for more exotic specimens. That's exactly what any of the many mod houses would do with a currently popular stock model. Hack it. Ride its wave of popularity while it lasts. Having the designer do it carries more weight with me. If you're new to the house of Wyred, google it. We've covered the brand quite extensively. All I'll say here is that after having auditioned a goodly number of ICEpower™ amps, EJ's hit me as the best of the lot whilst being far from most expensive. Though we've never yet met, Sarmento strikes me as very sharp, gifted and resourceful. A transistor Sasa Cokic if you will.

When we last exchanged email, EJ was just about to start a grueling week's training course on a very expensive new SMD insertion machine. To finance said machine had meant divesting himself of some rental income property. Most electronics makers farm out the stuffing of their circuit boards particularly for surface-mount parts. Those are either too tiny to do manually or become too time-consuming to remain cost-effective done my hand. With their shiny new Swiss machine Wyred4Sound have begun to move their entire circuit-board stuffing process in-house. EJ's excitement over assuming full control of the design-to-finish process was tangible even by email.

After hearing Bruno Putzeys' latest Hypex Ncore amps in the Acoustic Imagery Atsah monos, I'd asked EJ about a class D statement design from his stable; his take on cost no issue. With his track record such a beast would still remain sane coin. Mola-Mola want about $15K of moolah moolah for theirs. He'd already sampled Ncore, Pascal and Abletec to have very informed opinions on various options. (Incidentally and just like Boenicke's amp, Wadia's new Intuition 01 runs on Italian PowerSoft modules to add another D lister.) Perhaps in due time class D from Wyred will gain its own take on today's 'se' suffix? For now we'll inspect the DAC2 DSDse. Once it lands. There's quite a line. From Aussie contributor John Darko's Newport Beach show blog: "Sarmento tells me that on average five DAC2 arrive each day for SE upgrades. It would seem interest in DSD with existing DAC2 owners is robust."

From Darko's report - EJ Sarmento and Clint Hartman

Existing DAC2 owners can upgrade to DSD for $495. Those itchier about 'se' (which includes the new USB transceiver for DSD) need $1.250. Either way nobody's left behind. This honors the deliberately modular promise of the original to remain current with rapidly changing digital times. Whilst some will cry foul, uncle or both—that an originally $1.495 DAC's upgrade commands $1.250 retrofitted or $1.000 new—all is fair if the new sonics keep up with current $3.000 units like the also-Sabre AURALiC Vega or the more mysteriously stocked Metrum Hex. I owned both to square off in style. I even had the Burson Conductor as a third ESS-powered contender.

For a quick read on what paying owners thought of the DSDse vs original—I wouldn't have the latter—Google became my uncle. Rob: "When the DSDse arrived, my expectations were modest. A little more detail, perhaps a bit more punch in the upper bass; basically a bit more of the same. Was I in for a surprise.... I still own the original DAC2 so I swapped it back into the main system. This confirmed my feelings [which in an earlier paragraph he'd called "quantum shift" - Ed.] If you want to be really cruel to the original, you could call it a little grey, a little veiled and emotionally a tad disconnected. Objectively it's great but the DSDse is just that much better, that much more real." Rob clearly felt he got his money's worth. So did Richard. "With the upgrade to the DAC2se edition, EJ sent me back another dac, not the DAC2 I previously bought. How different? Totally! The result is unequivocally the best decision I could make. For those considering the upgrade, I highly recommend it without reservation. Fresh out of the box I heard and felt a 'wow!' experience. Different can be different good or different bad. Different takes time getting used to. This kind of different is superlative..." Randy reported that his Empirical Audio Offramp 5 into the DSDse via I²S "works perfectly just as it did before the upgrade. I am unable to A/B the sound before and after but my sense is that the improvement is significant."