Wyred for Sound DAC 2
The question begs to be asked, why would Stereomojo bother to print another review of the Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 when it has been covered extensively by many magazines, on-line reviews, and blogs? We pretty much specialize in bringing our readers products that other publications pass up or have never heard of. The vast majority of our reviews are Word’s Firsts. The answer is, because you asked for it. We have received dozens of emails saying you have read other reviews of the Wyred, but you wanted OUR opinion before you pulled the $1,500 trigger. That’s a heavy load of responsibility and one we take very seriously. We have a reputation of honest, frank, accurate reviews with specific recommendations, not the usual “highly recommended” found at the end of virtually ever other review you read. We are honored by your trust and will continue to strive to earn it with every review.
I don’t want to bore you with the standard litany of specifications, photos, how the buttons work or how many different ways you can hook the DAC up to a computer or transport. The other reviews have done a fine job of detailing the obvious. Instead, I want to concentrate on what makes the DAC a great value and how to get the most out of the DAC in the context of a computer system. I will share the difference between what works to produce sound and what makes it sound extraordinarily good.
While you can read the other reviews for the mundane details, I will touch on what I think is of more interest. But first let me point out, there are a number of mistakes in some of the reviews, i.e. the amount of capacitor filtering which is actually 88,000uF and not 115,000uF. With that being noted, let me say that I think the $1499 Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 is priced very attractively based on what is on the market today. From my perspective, the DAC-2 sits at a very real world price point for the set of features that it offers. It provides the latest features including 24/192 capability, a 32 bit volume control, Saber ESS 9018 32 bit DAC, all discrete output stage, low ESR super caps, Schottky bridge rectifiers, Dale RN55d resistors, remote control , asynchronous USB, and reasonable cosmetics. The W4S DAC includes a very well thought-out analog preamplifier that can replace a separate preamp in an all-digital system. In this context, the DAC-2 replaces what use to be the preamplifier and DAC in an older system. You have the computer to replace the transport but you have eliminated the cost, cabling, heat, and space required for two pieces of equipment.
The DAC-2 requires installation of proprietary drivers for USB audio which holds it back from being considered plug and play. A little extra user effort is required, but it's not a deterrent in the context of computer high-resolution audio. The plethora of connection options makes it fairly simple to mate with whatever transport or computer you can imagine. USB implementation is very good and allows quick and easy connection to a computer. You can output either single-ended or balanced. The IEC input allows you to use whatever after market power cable you prefer. Although I would like to say that the AC cord does not make a difference, it did provide a way to slightly season the sound.
Ironically, I was trying a couple of different power cables (terminations included red copper, gold, and platinum) from Patrick Cullen, owner of Cullen Cables. Patrick worked for his father Rick for 12 years at Cullen Circuits building OEM designs and modifying customers’ equipment. EJ Sarmento and Rick Cullen are Wyred 4 Sound and have a long history of making products for other manufacturers as OEM and under their own name. Patrick produces a great product at real world prices. He currently sells on Audiogon and his cables are between $80 and $150 dollars each for a six-foot power cable. For the sound and build quality, you can’t go wrong. Note that the different ends as specified above have subtle but meaningful effects on the sound. Give Patrick an e-mail (see Audiogon) and see what he offers, have him explain the different sounds associated with the various finishes, and what he can do for your system.
Concerning the USB cable, I tried a couple of different brands and price ranges. I started with the Belden Gold USB ($30.00) and moved to the DB Audio Labs Essential USB cable ($295) and last the Cardas Clear USB cable ($150 for 1.5 meter). I have also heard USB cables from Wire World (less expensive models) and Transparent Cable in other systems that I am familiar with. I realize that “many” people say that the USB cable makes no difference. The cable either moves the digital stream to the other end or it doesn’t. Well, I’m here to tell you that I hear a difference. Changing nothing but the USB cable, I hear the same kind of differences that I hear with analog cables. You should listen for yourself and see what differences you may hear with your equipment and in your listening environment. Just because some “engineer” or outspoken proponent of the “cables don’t make a difference” crowd would brow beat you for being daft to believe all of this cable stupidity, try it for yourself!
We all have different ears and levels of hearing acuity. I have friends (well at least a few friends) who are very sensitive to certain sounds or aspects of sound. I have to concentrate to hear what might be driving my friends’ nuts. You should not care what anybody says about your sound system or the sound you like. They’re your ears and you know what you like in your sound system. Stand up, experiment and listen. You might be surprised and enlightened with what you discover.
The styling of the DAC-2 follows the look established for the entire W4S line. While not audio jewelry, it has a clean and reasonable look that is functional. The general construction of the DAC is heavy and pleasant looking enough to suit most people. The DAC weighs in at 16 pounds which is heavier than I would have guessed based on a visual examination of the product. The two-line VFD display is small and cannot be read from the listening position. My one nit with the display is that most of us are getting older and can’t see as well as we would like. Tiny displays just don’t cut it. I want the volume readout to be big enough that I can read it from my listening chair. I want ½” numbers that don’t require me to have to concentrate and experience eye strain. Is that really asking too much! Sorry, I had to rant to relieve my frustration.
A quick overview of the sound finds that it doesn’t possess an easily identifiable sonic signature. It is detailed, yet not the hyper-analytical detail that is often described as bleached out and lacking in sonic color. Think of a painters’ palette with one side having white and bleached out colors and the other side has very bright and vibrant colors. Many solid state pieces of equipment, if not properly designed and executed, can have that bright white or very bland and bleached out colors to the music. Many old school tube electronic pieces of equipment are so over the top that the colors are too bold and saturated. It is kind of like a camera, you can adjust the color saturation to be bolder than life and what is real to the human eye. In the same way that bad solid state can be bleached out, cold, and sterile a bad piece of tube equipment can be overblown. It may be fun at first but it isn’t reality and eventually wears on your sense of reality.
I think the W4S DAC-2 strikes a good overall balance and doesn’t stray too far from neutral. The W4S DAC-2's sonics are colorful (reasonably saturated for solid state) but uncolored (no gross anomalies from a neutral perspective). In simple terms, it provides a good balance of accuracy that would not be considered cold, distant or indifferent sounding. The W4S DAC-2 shows that ‘accuracy’ doesn’t have to be a dirty (i.e. audiophile) word. It is accurate, but still provides a fleshed out view of reality that helps bring you closer to the music.
The source you feed the DAC-2 is important. The input helps define what the DAC-2 can accomplish. I use a Mac-Mini that has been modified. It has 8 GB of ram and a solid state hard drive. I use a Western Digital 2 Terabyte outboard drive connected to the Mac-Mini using FireWire 800. I’m also using Lion X and Bit Perfect in conjunction with Apple iTunes. I am running at 64 bit which allows the DAC-2 to use the 32 bit volume control. There are numerous ways that you can connect to the DAC-2. I encourage you to use 64 bit processing which will allow the DAC-2 to give the best possible management of your volume and only lose/throw away minimal bits.
I need to put in a word of thanks to a couple of friends who helped me on this computer audio journey. Greg Graff started down this path and pushed to see what was possible and whether a properly designed and conceived computer and DAC could get us closer to good sound. Greg was a committed vinyl fan but had an open mind and wanted to see what could be accomplished. Neither Greg nor I were technically smart enough or computer savvy enough to pull this off. William Ernst graciously jumped in and provided hardware modifications, storage of music options and assistance on computer programs to either replace or supplement iTunes. Greg liked the sound of iTunes and didn’t want to try other programs which led to Dave Slattery helping me set-up the Mac-Mini and experiment with various options to iTunes. We tried Pure Music, Amarra, VLC, Audio Nirvana, Bit Perfect, and others. One big consideration for me was to have the ability to use an iTouch or iPad to display the artwork for my music. Some of the programs either didn’t have a remote or the remote application was very weak. At this point, we have settled on Bit Perfect which allows use of the standard Apple Remote application and iTunes as the interface. This set-up works very well and sounds as good as any and better than most software we tried.
I have a radical concept in that the computer program that plays the music back is analogous to audio cables. They each have a sonic signature that flavors the final outcome. Which one will work best for your system and listening environment can only be determined by listening to the various combinations and picking what sound, set of features, and convenience you prefer. Take that, you “all cables sound the same” groupies. I bet you will have a field day with this concept. I know I have heard it a thousand times that “bits are bits”. Just sit down, experiment and listen. Publisher’s Note – I think it’s been well established by now that the “bits are bits” fallacy has been well dispelled. Not only do all DACs not sound the same, DACs using the same chip sound very different. One need only read our blind DAC Shootout to know this. Anyone who would suggest that digital playback of today is the same as twenty years ago is either deaf or ignorant.
I do need to state that the DAC-2 is not the best DAC I have auditioned and it isn’t even the second or third best sounding DAC I’ve heard. But, it is tantalizingly close and at a price that is considerably lower. I have carefully listed to the following DACs in the past few years either in my system or in other’s systems that I am very familiar with. I’m generally talking about hours of listening with each DAC, utilizing music that I have heard hundreds of times. I believe the best DAC that I have heard so far is the Rowland Aeris DAC priced at $9,800. The second best DAC to my ear was the Berkley DAC at $5,000 and the third was the Antelope Gold DAC with outboard Voltikus power supply at $5,500. After these three, there was another group of excellent DACS from Weiss, Prism, Ayre, and Bryston. This second group was excellent sounding but had various limitations on features or were too close to the “accuracy” crowd versus the fleshed out crowd. Even though they were excellent, they didn’t trip my trigger the way the first three did. That leads me to the W4S DAC-2 which provides me the right balance of sound between analytical and saturated sound. It also has the feature set that makes it a breeze to hook up in almost any situation.
Publisher’s note – Unfortunately, Brian has not had the pleasure of hearing the Lampizator level 4 that won our DAC Shootout and was so enthusiastically reviewed by myself and Mike Peshkin. He also has not experienced the EE MiniDAC which placed second to the $5,000 Lamp 4 in our shootout, even though it was the least expensive DAC in the event. I believe it is at least as good as the Wyred if not slightly more organic, the tube providing just a bit more color saturation that Brian mentioned without getting too sloppy. He also has not heard the new Eastern Electric MiniDAC 2 of which we have the very first review sample in house right now. Hopefully after RMAF, we can resolve that by me sending it to Brian for his additional evaluation, so stayed tuned for a thorough, rigorous and comprehensive review of the new EE DAC in coming weeks.
This DAC defines value for me based on its feature set, sonic achievements, and price point. I was looking for a DAC that was “close enough” for what I wanted but allowed more time for the waters to stop boiling and settle down. Spending large sums of money on a DAC right now is a personal decision. I choose to spend reasonable dollars to get the most bang for the buck as we watch what happens and which features are really important from a sound standpoint. The DAC-2 fits that bill, so I bought it.
One final point. The architecture of the machine is upgradable so that “new ideas” and technologies can be incorporated if warranted. I know that W4S/E. J. Sarmento “decided to select key parts using his full understanding of the DAC to develop a modification program at our facility.” What more could you ask for? You get a great product that the designer is willing to update based on real sound quality. I was sold on the product and the company that makes it. It isn’t the best, but it is the best value that I have found. Congratulations to EJ and Rick for such a reasonably priced product and such a great sound value for your and my dollar.
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