Numbers. Ahead of listening, audiophiles keeping tabs on the bleeding edge have little else to work with, to talk about or to postulate. 129db dynamic range and -120db THD+N are the spec sheet headlines for ESS Labs’ ES9028PRO Sabre DAC chip, a (pin-matched) successor to their super-successful ES9018S chip. Further improving on this comes ESS Labs new flagship chip, the ES9038PRO Sabre; it promises 140db dynamic range and -122db THD+N. On paper, they are both exceptional performers.
For the DAC manufacturer dropping the ES9028PRO or ES9038PRO into a new model, an opportunity screams: to grab the attention of those same bleeding-edge residents.
And so it goes with California’s Wyred 4 Sound. Their recently revised, fully-balanced DAC-2 comes in two versions: the DAC-2v2 (US$2299) and the DAC-2v2 SE (US$3799). The v2 runs with the ES9028PRO; the v2 SE specifies the ES9038PRO. Sharp selling points both.
Quoth Wyred 4 Sound’s DAC-2v2 product page: “These new ESS PRO chips offer many significant improvements over their predecessors including higher SNR, more filters and the latest iteration of ESS’ HyperStreamDAC technology.”
Here be monsters. In a D/A converter, the DAC chip is but one ingredient. We might liken it to the flour that goes into bread. Yeast and fat choices also influence flavour and texture. Ditto water, salt and sugar. Likewise, preparation method, oven temperature and baking time.
And if the ES9038PRO’s flavour were so dominant, similarly specified rivals – from Ayre Acoustics, Resonessence Labs and OPPO Digital – would sound almost the same. This commentator’s listening experience with a range of ES9018S DACs tells us this is absolutely not the case.
Wyred 4 Sound know this. Why else offer a (82 fSec phase jitter) Femto clock option (at US$150) and roll it into the SE with the addition of “Vishay Z-Foil resistors, ultra-low noise discrete regulators, ultra-fast recovery Schottkey diodes, premium grade inductors, green OLED display and a premium upgraded fuse”?
Everything counts – as anyone who has ever heard Wyred 4 Sound’s ICEpower-based amplifiers will likely testify. It’s not only the amplifier module that matters but the input and output staging. Mainman EJ Sarmento is one of the youngest guns on the audiophile manufacturing scene and is equally proficient in analogue stage design as he is digital.
Via a post-press release email exchange, Sarmento says, “There are many attributes to how the DAC will sound and most of that comes from the analog stage [my emphasis]. This is the beginning of your analog signal so the importance should not be overlooked. Our DAC platform offers a very nice home for the new series of chips and supports them well. Now with the elevated bar the new PRO series offer, we can get even more out of these analog stages.”
“I would liken this to having a world class front end and then using a surround sound receiver as your power amp. What you hear is limited by what the amp can provide. Once you replace your amp, you can now understand what you were missing because it is not masked anymore. This allows you to really appreciate what happens after the DAC chip. We have rearranged our proprietary discrete output stage to suit the proper loading to the new chips and the result is extremely rewarding.”
The DAC-2’s outputs include balanced and single-ended and its internal digital pre-amplifier is (remote-control) defeatable. Digital inputs run as follows: 2 x coaxial, 2 x TOSLINK, AES/EBU, USB and I²S. The USB input is galvanically isolated and, in addition to the balanced I²S input, supports PCM files up to 32bit/384kHz and 4xDSD.
The DAC-2v2 and DAC-2v2 SE are both available now.
Further information: Wyred 4 Sound