The Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 DSDse is a new state of the art digital-to-analog converter from a company that has produced a number of high performance digital products over the years. The standard DAC-2 carries a list price of $1499 and the DAC-2 DSDse is $2549. Some of the features of a standard DAC-2 include ESS 9018 Reference Audio 32-bit Saber DAC chip with built-in jitter reduction and oversampling, USB support for asynchronous 24 bit 384 kHz sampling rate, fully balanced design, defeatable 32-bit volume control, full-function remote control, dimmable display, remote trigger, and a 5 year warranty. In addition to USB, there are two S/PDIF inputs on RCA jacks, two Toslink inputs, and an AES/EBU input. There are even connections for HT bypass.
The upgraded DAC-2 DSDse model includes:
- Support for DSD and sampling rates up to 384 kHz
- Galvanic isolation
- Custom Vishay Z-Foil resistors (0.1% tolerance and a +/-0.5ppm/°C)
- Femto Grade Clock (82 fSec phase jitter)
- Ultra-low noise discrete regulators (100+ times quieter and faster than the stock regulator)
- Ultra-fast recovery Schottkey diodes
- Premium grade inductors
- Rhodium plated Furutech fuse
Other components on hand during the audition period include a Basis 2500 Signature turntable with Vector 4 tonearm, a Miyajima Kansui and very new Miyajima Madake (review in progress) phono cartridges, Lynx Hilo AD/DA converter with custom Windows 7 computer/music server, Levinson No. 52 and Levinson 326S preamplifiers, Audio Research LS17 SE preamplifier, Ayre K-5xe MP preamplifier, YG Acoustics Kipod II Signature Main Modules speakers, Magnepan 1.7 and 3.7 speakers, Dali Mentor 5 speakers (from the home theater system), and two Gallo TR-3D subwoofers. Power amplifiers included Spread Spectrum Technologies Ampzilla 2000 Second Edition and Acoustic Imagery Atsah monoblocks. All front end components receive their AC power from a PS Audio AV-5000, a PS Audio Dectet or my “DIY Hydra” power conditioner, which are connected to the wall power with a Shunyata Anaconda CX power cord. A variety of power cords are used elsewhere in the system, including Wyred 4 Sound P1 and Jerry's DIY power cords. A PS Audio Quintet power conditioner is normally used for the power amplifiers to provide good protection from the power grid and remote turn-on and turn-off of the power amplifiers which sit on floor stands behind the speakers. The entire system power is controlled from the Levinson remote control: one touch on a rubber covered button and there’s music!
In keeping with previous observations with other DACs, music files sound best when upsampled in whole number multiples of the original format. So a CD’s 44.1 kHz files sound best when upsampled to 176.4 kHz (4 times upsampling), but not to 192 kHz (4.3537… upsampling) which adds a unnatural non-musical “phasey” character to the sound. JRiver Media Center lets you save these settings and the DAC-2 simply does as it is told to do by JRiver. I did not try DSD as I have no files in that format. No glitches were noticed in the stable software driver.
There are basically only two requirements for any audio component: resolution and linearity. This is not as simple as it sounds. Ultimate resolution requires the complete elimination of noise and distortion so the actual music information is not covered up or changed in any way by the component. The DAC-2 DSDse has a signal-to-noise spec of less than -115 dB, so it is safe to assume that any noise that is present will be extremely low in level and should be effectively inaudible. Linearity is also outstanding, specified at ± 0.075db. Critical listening consistently reveals the complete absence of any sense of highlighting or forwardness, or inversely, any recesses or “politeness” in any particular range of frequencies.
This latest technology with 32 bit 384 kHz capability offers LP-like resolution and is probably enough for any audio requirement. The state of today’s analog-to-digital converters is outstanding. High resolution – 176.4 kHz and higher sampling rates – digital can get us there! This DAC seems to enable hearing every bit of information in the recording, such as tappings on a cymbal that I have not heard before except when listening to the LP. In “Margaritaville” on Jimmy Buffet’s Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, recorded from the LP at 24/192, the focus on each player’s musicianship is very apparent. This has just a small impact on the overall soundstage, but the people seem more real and present. Now, I won’t tell you that Jimmy and the Coral Reefer Band “appeared in my room” or that I could “reach out and touch” them. But I can reliably relate if the sound of the recording is similar to the sound of the source LP playing the same cut. This can be set to an instantaneous A-B comparison with the Levinson preamps, levels matched. The DAC-2’s digital performance is very close to the sound of the LP.
The very transparent sound leaves little room for poor recordings to shine, and this is the 2-edged sword of high resolution. Good quality sound files can be completely satisfying, but you really can hear the crud in low quality files, whether from the recording process or various post production processing. Upsampling a CD rip (saved as 16/44.1 WAV files) to 24 bit 176.4 kHz will quickly convince you that CDs are capable of true high resolution high fidelity sound quality when heard with the Wyred 4 Sound DAC.
Percussion is a special treat. Microdynamics are very natural and cleanly presented. You always know which drum was hit. One of the defining characteristics of the DAC-2 DSDse is its great ease and confidence with complex or powerful or subtle sounds. There is a noticeable lack of confusion or blurring, always. This seemingly great speed accurately presents all percussion, from a triangle to a big bass drum. Wonderfully long harmonic trails are common.
Listen to “Slat-key Soquel Rag” and “Steamer Lane Breakdown” from the Doobie Brothers. These are two of my standard test tracks that quickly show problems with linearity or resolution in harmonics. Our hearing is very sensitive to overtones which are processed in the same brain centers as ambiance and location. These sonic characteristics had extremely high survival value for primitive man that lived in close proximity to predators. If they could not avoid approaching predators, they probably would not have been able to pass along their genes to the next generation. Our strong desire for a great sound stage from our stereo systems is deeply genetic.
The DAC-2 DSDse has outstanding linearity. This is an extremely neutral and transparent sounding DAC. The upper frequencies have a noteworthy smoothness without sacrificing clarity. There is no hint of a white noise type of undifferentiated sound from cymbals. This is remarkable. The bass is very powerful and richly detailed, and the midrange is convincing. The Audio Research LS17 SE preamp has a small sweetening in the highs that added a nice “tube sound” to the performance. Audioquest Earth interconnects have a similar effect.
The extremely “black” noise-free background sets a new and impressive standard for not adding a sound of its own. The built-in line stage preamplifier is excellent. My 5 meter balanced interconnects presented no problems when I used the DAC-2 to drive my power amplifiers directly using the built-in volume control which is accessible on the small remote control. The numeric volume setting is visible on the front panel display. This feature is very valuable to me as I compare different combinations of components and need to exactly set the volume to compensate for different equipment sensitivities or output levels. The build quality is very high, offering the owner a substantial, good looking component that should easily outlast the 5 year warranty.
The balanced outputs offer a small but noticeably higher level of clarity than the unbalanced RCA outputs, especially in the upper frequencies, offering an added sense of correctness and again, relaxed ease, which lets you focus the attention more directly into this range. The highest compliment we can bestow on an audio component is “unremarkable” because it does when it is supposed to do, nothing more and nothing less. It must be doing everything correctly to avoid criticism, which is the opposite of what audiophiles are trained to provide.
I compared the Wyred 4 Sound USB PCOCC Premium Cable, $199 factory direct, against a very good quality computer grade USB cable that has proved to sound superior to a couple of audiophile-pedigree cables. With the Wyred 4 Sound USB cable on “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” from the McNeely-Leonard-Skinner band’s Sheffield Lab LP After Midnight, recorded at 24/192 WAV, the beginning of every note on the banjo is correct and clear with absolutely no blurring or missing information. I could clearly hear his fingers on the banjo strings launching every rapid-fire note. This tromps the sound quality from a generic – but good – USB cable by a considerable margin. This is an outstanding USB cable, providing exceptionally linear sound with very detailed and clear high frequencies. It’s a keeper!
Near the end of the review, which involved extensive listening to CD files of 44.1 kHz upsampled to 176.4 kHz, and playing my LP rips at their recorded rate of 192 kHz, I enlisted the highest sampling rates of the Wyred 4 Sound DAC. And it rocked my world! Upsampling my 24/192 files to 384k, and CDs to 352.8k - again those whole number multiples - effectively transcended the digital medium and gave consistent LP-level involvement and enjoyment. Amazing! There were no problems with the USB connection at 352.8k, but to eliminate some drop outs at 384k I increased the buffer to 100ms in JRiver. These glitches were present in some files but not in others, so I blame neither the DAC nor the driver.
The superlative 10 Audio 10 LP rating below is consistent with the level of enjoyment and immersion in the music that is available when listening at the 352.8k or 384k sampling rates. With these higher sampling rates, I felt connected to the music as well as with LP. The musicians had a strong presence in my room created in a spacious and airy sound scape. The Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 DSDse can sound excellent, offering some of the best reproduction of CDs and high resolution media.
Overall Rating: 10 LPs
Link to manufacturer: Wyred 4 Sound