Reviewers: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 2TB iMac 27" quad-core w. 16GB RAM running OSX 10.8.2, PureMusic 2.04, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, COS Engineering D-1, Metrum Hex, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi La Scala MkII, April Music Eximus DP-1, SOtM dX-USB HD w. super-clock upgrade & mBPS-d2s, Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, Pure i20, S.A. Lab Lilt DAC/preamplifier [on review]
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Esoteric C-03, Bent Audio Tap-X, COS Engineering D-1,S.A. Lab Lilt DAC/preamplifier [on review]
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA-30.8, FirstWatt SIT1 & F6; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; Gato Audio DIA-250; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; AURALiC Merak [on loan]
Loudspeakers: Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology M1; soundkaos Wave 40; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Submission; German Physiks HRS-120, Gallo Strada II w. TR-3D subwoofer, Crystal Cable Minissimo [on review], soundkaos SK16 with companion sub/s [on review]
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, ZU Event and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Arkana Research XLR/RCA and speaker cables [on loan]
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components, 5m long cords to amp/s and subwoofer
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc stereo/Krion and mono/glass amp stands [on loan]
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: Irregularly shaped 9.5 x 10m open floor plan with additional 2nd-floor loft; wood-paneled sloping ceiling; parquet flooring; lots of non-parallel surfaces (pictorial tour here)
Review component retail in Europe: €5'990 (includes 20% VAT); CHF 5'500 in Switzerland (includes 8.5% VAT)

Come to the fore. It had started three months ago. Maggie Chern of COS Engineering asked us to do a review of their maiden D1 DAC/preamp from Taiwan. Last month, Dutch expat Rob Smit of Cyenne Audio followed with his CY-5100dsd DAC also from Taiwan. And now Sang-Woo 'just call me Colbern' Lee, CEO of Fore Audio of South Korea, introduced himself with the DAISy 1 DAC. Something in my mind's cauldron bubbled to the foreground. Three strikes and I was in? Consider the pattern. Three months. Three companies I'd never heard of before. Three D/A converters. All from Asia. All asking us to premiere their story in the English press. Is that's what today's kids call trending? If so, something was trending. Hopefully someone was spending on this trending stuff.

Fore has more. Tubes to be precise. But not just that. "Until now we specialized in the design and supply of circuit boards for other hifi brands. Based on that ODM experience, we've built our new brand Fore Audio." There was more than met the eye. Actual foresight. And for their DSD converter, Colbern promised "roller-coaster dynamics; a stage perspective that doesn't place you in the auditorium but on the conductor's podium; and intense clarity with high resolution." He explained how the Fore Audio brand is a subsidiary of parent company HTA Co. Ltd which is headquartered in GyoungGiDo. Having had excellent experience with April Music/Aura and SOtM, both from South Korea too; plus the undeniable pattern... I signed on to driving Miss DAISy. Some things are simply foretold. Where were my white gloves?

At the forefront. As his cover photo shows, Colbern likes the notion of being on the edge staring down the precipice. To get a notion of what this might mean in technical terms, I checked out his basic published specs. The converter silicon was the popular ES9018 Sabre32 reference chip, one per channel. He adds one 6922/E88CC per channel "for a richer warmer analogue sound to accompany every recorded detail". Data tangoed with up to 32-bit/384kHz PCM; native DSD256; and DoP. The USB interface was asynchronous, sample-rate switching automatic. There apparently were drivers for both Windows and OSX, the latter presumably to enable 4 x DSD. Output impedance was 200Ω, output voltage 2.3/4.6Vrms on RCA/XLR respectively. Dimensions were 43x29x7cm WxDxH.

Prompting Colbern to share more with us about his parent company, his own background and that of his chief engineers, I was uncertain how much he would or could divulge. OEM/ODM work is often guarded by iron-clad NDAs. But I also asked for more DAISyan details. Was the circuit front-to-back balanced? Were the valves pure output buffers—in which case, were they capacitor or transformer coupled—or were they used for voltage gain with transistor followers? Was the I/V conversion stage discrete or op-amp based? Was DSD converted to PCM* or PCM to DSD? Did they use special filters for either format? Was upsampling automatic or user selectable? If the former, what was the target sample rate? Would he send some photos of their facilities?

Given Sabre's on-chip volume, it's clear that when enabled, DSD is converted to PCM. Whether it reverts to DSD post attenuator isn't. One might speculate that if the digital volume were bypassed, the signal would omit this excursion. Or not. What is undeniable? Purist notions in this sector are a bit misplaced. Perhaps Colbern had some insights. His front panel silk screen does call the DAISy 1 a native DSD converter after all; and there are discrete LEDs for USB PCM and USB DSD to properly identify the incoming data format. Did that imply they were treated separately all the way to the actual conversion to analog?