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Wyred 4 Sound rattle Sabres with DAC-2v2, DAC-2v2 SE

  • 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


    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John is the editor of Darko.Audio, from whose ad revenues he derives an income. He is an occasional contributor to 6moons but has previously written pieces for TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile. John used to live in Sydney. Now he lives in Berlin.

    Follow John on YouTube or Twitter


    1. Hi John, having invested in a major upgrade (for me) with a Mytek Brooklyn DAC I can see why companies like Schiit and Chord want to stay off of the bandwagon of tech suppliers. But (and this is a a HUGE but).. many of us have our heads turned by ‘bling’ – this Cap, that diode, these sub atomic particles in our power connectors and a hover board for the units to stop microphonic pixies from upsetting our femto clocks..

      Thats why I read all of your reviews with interest.. Because before we all fell in love with ever component inside a piece of HiFi we had not choice but to try it, but it and live with it (for a long time).

      I look forward to your ‘acid test’ as every new DAC manufacturer rams us an upgrade with ESS’s latest tech and keep them honest, and us informed on whether the ‘difference’ is really worth a rip and replace.

      Best, Simon

      • That’s true – and there’s nothing wrong with flirting with a little bling supply as long as the bigger picture is maintained: that a DAC is more than its decoding chip. And as you know, I’m all for the likes of Schiit, Chord, PS Audio and the like taking their own route with multibit, old-school digital filters or FPGA with monster tap lengths. The point is not to get locked in to a single groove: ESS no more hold the keys to audio heaven than anyone else. Too much falls to the three I’s: implementation, implementation, implementation.

    2. @Simon

      I had my DAC-2 DSD-SE upgraded to v2 (ESS 9038PRO). Obviously, I am unable to do an A/B test, but I find that there is improved clarity across the board. Its great that W4S actually delivers on the promise of upgradability.

    3. The Wyred boxes cost between 4 and 5 TIMES the Oppo Sonica with the same chip. I am sure the wyred boxes have a few Chateau Mouton Rothschild caps or resistors. Please write about the diminishing benefit for each hugely expensive alleged tiny improvement. Why must we be charged proof of concept prices for manufactured items? By now we all know that ESS (and all the other chip makers) provides the support chips and PC board designs to chip buyers. I know wyred builds in USA while Oppo doesn’t. But so does Schiit and their DACs do not cost almost $4K!!

      • The Sonica DAC sells for US$799. The W4S DAC-2v2 sells for US$2300. I’d call that 3x the price, wouldn’t you? It would be remiss of us not to ALSO acknowledge that the INVICTA Mirus Pro and INVICTA Pro from Resonessence Labs sell for US$6000 apiece.

        As per the above post, the ESS/AKM/TI chip of any D/A converter isn’t the meat, served with a few exotic parts as garnish. It’s those component choices, the power supply, the output stage that are the meat. If anything, the DAC chip is the garnish!

      • What’s this? Go away for a few days and come back to find a non-believer in the comments section! Pieter, allow us to reply to your skepticism and assumptions.

        Based on your comments, I’m guessing that you haven’t actually heard our DAC compared to the OPPO. If you had, I think you’d immediately realize that despite using the same chip, they are two very different sounding beasts. Before you knock the parts we use in our top SE model as nothing more than a smoke-and-mirrors money grab, I would implore you to investigate further. Perhaps we actually know what we’re doing and use the top shelf parts in a way that effects a real difference.

        Regarding the PCB comment. Call us crazy, but we prefer to make our own PCB designs. It ties into why we’re in this game in the first place — our passion and expertise for making our own stuff. Our customers seem to feel the same. Reviewers too. So please, don’t knock us for trying. For every person who feels like we charge too much, there’s another who won’t look at us because we charge too little. Thankfully, there are those who like what we do enough to buy something of ours. To each his/her own. Cheers and happy listening!

        Wyred 4 Sound

      • IIRC, some of Schiit’s multibit designs use Western Electric’s digital filter maths from 1917.

        • Yes, I know. But it’s a state-of-the-art (and atypical since it’s closed-form) filter isn’t it? The majority of the theory with digital signals and the processing of them goes decades back so you could make the case that it’s all old-school. It’s the implementation that matters, as you say.

    Take a trip to the Schiitr!

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