Not crazy but the new normal? To complete a digital LossLess front end, Louis also dispatched the Echo's End DAC. Unlike their now discontinued 2004MkII, this is a discrete R2R affair. With that it joins the ranks of the genre's pater familias MSB and their various OEM clients like Thrax; and decks from TotalDAC, Aqua Hifi, Holo/Kitsuné, LampizatOr, Rockna and the Russian entries of S.A.Lab and Wagner Audio. When Warsaw contributor Dawid Grzyb reviewed various Polish LampizatOr DACs, he praised their DSD performance through the roof but called their PCM realization more earthbound. When Marja & Henk reviewed LampizatOr's later Atlantic DAC whose PCM path now had an OEM Soekris discrete R2R engine, our writers preferred it to T+A's DAC8 in chip-based PCM mode. Though far from the new normal—Sigma-Delta chips remain the vast majority—consumer choices for discrete resistor-ladder converters have grown. There are now even new chip-based designs from Metrum and Schiit which no longer rely on out-of-production vintage chips but current silicon. Like vinyl, R2R never really went away. So it currently enjoys a small renaissance.

Transforming the Laminar Streamer's bullet-proof tankwood and milled steel divider craziness to the calmer reason of stacked Ply, the Echo's End still gives the typical metal enclosure a wide berth. Like the Streamer, it too limits PCM to 24/192 but also supports DSD128 over its USB input. There's coax, BNC and AES/EBU too. The 1.4V RCA and 2V XLR analog outputs represent lower gain than the typical 2/4V values but would still drive most amplifiers to full output direct (not that you'd have volume control). Minimalist purist notions continue with auto input detection to eliminate switches. Naturally there are no fuses or idiot lights either. In fact, all connectors and PCB couple directly to wood. To avoid bad-sounding brass parts regardless of subsequent plating [see right], there's solid copper wiring instead.

Continuing the Streamer's focus on electrical noise avoidance, the DAC's power supply makes heavy use of the LessLoss series/parallel noise-reduction tech called Firewall. That is available also in external modules clad in small swamp oak cases [see above insert] but the converter integrates it uniquely. For the resultant sound of silence, Louis promises "the longest reverb tails and most truthful ambient information you've ever encountered from digital." Occupying a niche of clearly greater needfulness than the Laminar Streamer—very few people will think they need an SD card transport whereas anyone streaming audio most certainly needs a DAC—the Echo's End looks at far more robust sales volume potential. As such it can arrive at a more typical price. In fact the entire project was partly funded by pre-order commitments.

"We could almost have named this the YouTube DAC. One of its superb applications is watching free YouTube concerts, listening to historical recordings, master classes and music seminars. There is so much priceless material uploaded to YouTube these days and all you (almost) need is a superb DAC which faithfully separates the computer noise and jitter from the DAC. One can use the (ahem) YouTube volume control to digitally control the volume.

"I'm not saying this is the world's best method but when you connect headphones directly to the XLR outputs of the Echo's End, use YouTube's volume control and our USB input which connects to any Mac without driver installation, you get sound which surprisingly transports you there; and with no fuss except for some lost desktop space. But then, a USB cable can be up to 5m long. Since our DAC automatically locks to anything you throw at it, you don't ever need to reach over and switch anything*. It's the combo of onboard Firewall modules [see triple stacks at left] and precision discrete R-2R resistor ladder plus the lack of metal enclosure and brass pin parts which, together, work to achieve a nice organic sound."

"Incidentally, regarding the Laminar Streamer innards, shape, weight and how the design is structured so that you don't see screws, let me share this story. If you go here and scroll to the very bottom of the page, then scroll up about 9 pictures, you will see a contact microphone attached to the RCA output of the Laminar Streamer. To set up this acoustic test of the enclosure, we had to disassemble the Laminar Streamer and install the RCA output. This was done from within the device because of the no-screws-visible design. So, starting with the feet and working our way upwards disassembling just the mechanical enclosure—there were no wires or electronics at the time—installing the single RCA connector and reassembling the entire enclosure took four hours. I kid you not."

"If you want to use the DAC with an S/PDIF source, it is recommended to first unplug the USB cable, then to plug in the S/PDIF cable, then to power on your S/PDIF device. Same goes for AES/EBU. It is possible to have more than one digital input connected but you can't have all of them output digital signals at once even if those happen to be timed zeros (digital black). The device will not know which digital stream to lock to and will likely respond with either silence or some strange bouts of distortion. The DAC can't tell the difference between a device you forgot to turn off or don't want to let get cold; and a really deep piece of music such as John Cage 4'33".

By the way, this Laminar Streamer unit came from Rainer Weber of Kaiser Acoustics who had it on loan. When asked to relinquish it, he reportedly sent Louis a single-word email: Traurig. That's German for 'sad'. But Louis said they already had plans. This suggests that the machine's endangered species status—what else to call being the world's only one—would soon be lifted.