Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo boost, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, Fore Audio DAISy1, COS Engineering D1, Aqua Hifi Formula, AURALiC Vega
Preamplifier: Nagra Classic, Wyred4Sound STP-SE Stage II, COS Engineering D1, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVT module)
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1 monos, F5, F6, F7; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund/Job 225; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics NC500 monos; LinnenberG Audio Liszt monos
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V, VI & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence
Headphones: HifiMan HE-1000 & Susvara; Final Sonorous X & D8000; Sennheiser HD800; Audeze LCD-2 & LCD-XC; Meze 99 Neo
Headphone amps: Bakoon AMP-12R, 2 x Questyle CMA-800R, Nagra Classic Preamp, Vinnie Rossi Lio, Eversound Essence
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Black Cat Cable redlevel Lupo; Ocellia OCC Silver
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps/sub
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands [on loan]
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room, hence no wall behind the listening chairs
Review component retail: SGD $4'480 with free worldwide DHL shipping from Vinshine Audio/Singapore [ca. €2'850 at time of publication]

OCD. Obsessive compulsive disorder.
DDC. Digital/digital conversion.
Soundaware's flagship digital transport proposes the simple but tantalizing equation of OCD + DDC = ODDC for an obsessive digital-to-digital converter. Need proof?

Let's start with raw connectivity.
1 = SD card slot based on FAT32, EXFAT or NTFS formatting whose associated card reader processes up to 2TB cards navigatable via intuitive display.
2 = USB 2.0.
3 = 100mbps RJ45/Ethernet for DLNA, Samba and AirPlay network streaming.
4 = WiFi antenna with Bluetooth APTX.
5 = USB 3.0 with custom-coded FPGA. Data acceptance is 32-192kHz PCM or DSD 64/128.
6 = 24/192 Toslink compatible with DSD via DoP.
7 = 0.5V 24/192 coaxial S/PDIF.
8 = 5V 24/192 AES/EBU digital.
9 = native I²S and DSD via HDMI which Soundaware call Saw-Link as an interface also for their MR1 digital audio player. Compatible with Denafrips DACs for example.
10 = 3.3V RJ45/Ethernet as an alternate link for native I²S and DSD.
11 = 3.3V BNC word-clock output.
12 = 3-5V BNC word-clock input at 22.5792MHz.
13 =3V-5V BNC word-clock input at 24.576MHz.
14 = IEC power inlet.

In the plainest possible terms, one can enter and exit the D300Ref any number of digital highways and byways and, whilst at it, sync the internal clock to an external master clock. The SD slot becomes a self-contained server, no PC or network access required. PC users will see this component as a fancy reclocker/USB bridge which can output native I²S and DSD into DACs with the requisite ports and silicon.

Under the 43x8.8x20cm WxHxD hood covering a 7kg case in silver or black without any visible screws (those come through from the bottom in each corner), we get a not knee-capped but super-capped virtual battery supply à la Vinnie Rossi Lio, Nagra HD Preamp and Classic PSU or Gryphon Audio Design Kalliope. We get precision clocks and custom FPGA code. Particularly for use with SD cards or USB sticks, we get a Soundaware-branded remote from Chunchop and a built-in display whence to navigate folders and files with playlist assembly, repeat one/all, shuffle and the usual modes.

For those without external DAC, Soundaware have the matching SGD $3'680 A300 player with very similar digital socketry including the SD card slot. That then adds a converter with variable 2.6/5.2Vrms RCA/XLR outputs. Optionally, it can even be fitted with a balanced headphone amp and matching 4-pin XLR socket.

Used as just a digital transport, the A300 obviously isn't quite as OCD as the D300Ref which was conceptualized as an ultimate statement for its sort. Those who are perfectly content to stream digital files off an ancient laptop's USB socket will obviously fail to see any rhyme, reason or rationale for today's deck. To them it's an unnecessary extra box with fancy socketry they wouldn't know what to do with. Fair enough. Hifi comes in all sizes and levels of specialization. The D300Ref is squarely for those who've already pegged it for what it is/does and where it goes the extra miles.

File format support is for DSD128 (ISO/DSF), 192kHz PCM for .wav/.flac and up to 48kHz PCM for .ape/.alac/.aiff/.acc/.mp3. So no hi-rez support for Apple's formats. The display doesn't support cover art (yet?) and files in excess of 192kHz or DSD128 are scoffed at. Ditto MQA. The D300Ref isn't that compulsive. But its case work is very solid and non ringy and to keep cosmetics old-money conservative rather than nouveau-riche flash, the star cluster controls have relocated to the top. The only control on the face plate is the blue light-ring power button.

As a purely digital device, the maker recommends sufficient warm-up. For this purpose, they have equipped the deck with a remote-controlled standby function. That's signified by another blue LED inside the display. It keeps key circuitry warm like a woolly hood keeps a soft-boiled breakfast egg warm. This shortens thermal recovery times upon play. Unlike the MR1 DAP, the D300Ref has no 'scan music' function. A memory card's or USB stick's TOC is read right after power-on. Memory fill determines the delay before the display goes live. That can be set to various auto-off modes and the remote has its own 'display' button to awaken it from a distance at any time. The wand's 'audio' button in the SW quadrant of the central circle adds a track to the 'favorites' folder whilst pressing it during play. Doing the same inside the 'favorites' folder removes it again. There's no rapid scroll function. Folder trees on memory devices are navigated one click at a time. Big libraries with hundreds of entries* thus make for quite the thumbelina workout. Not that the sms brigade would think anything of it.

* To speed up that process, when you drop music to SD card, group album folders by the same artist into a shared folder. Now your six different titles by Vicente Amigo and 12 titles by Al Gromer Khan render as just two folders. Open one up and presto, six or twelve individual album folders one layer lower in the menu tree. The more titles you collect from favoured artists, the more of a difference this makes to navigation.