Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wyred for good sound

From the outset, I must say that the latest 24/192 capable async USB DACs sound very good. And the Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 is among the best of this new generation of DACs.

They are both affordable and good and the W4S DAC-2 has been said to be able to match the performance of the previous- generation's top-end DACs.

The W4S DAC-2 comes with a digital volume control that operates in the 32-bit domain and a discrete output stage. Thus it can be connected directly to a power amp and it was in this configuration that I compared it with the resident Benchmark DAC1 Pre.

The W4S DAC-2 is asynchronous, but the technology is its own and it uses the ESS Sabre 9018 DAC chip which can process data up to 32-bit 200kHz. The eight-channel Sabre 9018 chip is used in quad-differential mode to achieve excellent Signal to Noise ratio and output drive capability.

Compared with the Benchmark, the W4S DAC-2 is mellower, richer and fuller. The Benchmark sounds very detailed, a bit lean and clinical with lots of slam while the W4S sounds not as rich and full as the Ayre QB-9 (see http://hi-fi-avenue.blogspot.com/2011/06/go-for-ayre-y-sound.html) but has more bass slam than the Ayre and just a shade less than the Benchmark. In terms of detail, the W4S is just as detailed as the Benchmark, but is less edgy. However, the W4S conjures more depth than the Benchmark. - the soundstage is definitely deeper. In a way, the W4S has the best attributes of the Benchmark and the Ayre - at an affordable price (around RM6,500 rrp).

It has more inputs and features than the Ayre - which has only a USB input - but lacks the headphone jacks and 'analogue in' of the Benchmark DAC1 Pre.

Another advantage that the W4S DAC-2 has is that it has upgradeable digital, output and USB boards. Given the speed at which DAC technology is evolving, future-proofing is quite welcome.

Operating the W4S DAC-2 takes some getting used to. There are three buttons on the front facade - 'power' and 'up' and 'down' - and to enter the Set-up Menu, you have to press all three buttons simultaneously. It took me a while to get it right and reminded me of a Motorola handphone that I had some years ago - if I recall correctly, I had to press two buttons simultaneously to unlock the keypad.

The Set-up Menu has a wide range of functions such as adjusting IIR Bandwidth (I set it to '60kHz') and Roll-off Slope (I set it to 'fast'). These two settings are important as I felt they affected treble extension and transparency.

Through the Set-up Menu, the volume of the various inputs can be set to fixed or variable. 'Fixed' is when you use a preamp and 'variable' is when you connect the DAC-2 directly to the power amp.

I found the volume control a bit confusing as there was no sound till the level was around 20-23. In the Set-up Menu, you can set the minimum and maximum volume level in steps from 0-70. Essentially what happens is that when you set the minimum to, say, 20, it just means that the first 20 steps are skipped when you use the volume control. The maximum can be reduced if there is the danger of overdriving an amp.

Press the three buttons at the same time to enter the Set-up Menu.

Press the 'power' button on and you will enter the selection mode. With the 'cursor' on the top row, pressing the 'up' and 'down' buttons will change the input selection. Press the 'power' button again and the 'cursor' moves to the bottom row and pressing the 'up' and 'down' buttons will change the volume.

The rear panel is crowded as the W4S DAC-2 has lots of inputs - HT Bypass inputs (selectable via DC trigger), two coax, two Toslink, one AES/EBU, one USB and one balanced I2S input via non-standard HDMI. The last input is interesting as it is wired the same way as the the PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport and matching DAC. In fact, the PS Audio Perfect Wave Transport is the only component that can be used with the W4S DAC-2 via HDMI currently. Wyred 4 Sound has just launched its media server which has various outputs including a HDMI. The link between the two companies is that the folks behind W4S used to contractually make PS Audio components.



The rear panel is a bit crowded.

Before you can stream music files to the W4S DAC-2, you need to download the proprietary driver either from the W4S website or the CD-R that came with the unit. The driver is compatible with Windows XP, Vista and 7 and Mac OS 10.4-10.6 in both 32-bit and 64-bit formats.

In my system comprising an old Toshiba laptop with Windows 7 64-bit running J River V16, I had to set output to 'WASAPI - event style' before the songs could be played.

But once the songs started playing, I was in no hurry to click 'stop' - the music sounded really good. Now I am waiting with bated breath for the W4S music server.

For more information, contact Vince at 012-3321812.

Gong Xi Fa Cai to all Chinese audiophiles.

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