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Vinnie Rossi announces LIO DAC 2.0 module

  • An internal DAC now comes as standard in many modern integrated amplifiers. It’s a sign of the times: digital audio is no longer an outlier pursuit but an everyday matter of making our computers, network streamers, games consoles and TVs sound better. Having a DAC built into our amplifier of choice makes such third-party hardware hookups that little bit easier. No need to fret over an interconnect either. Only one power lead required. These are the arguments for integration.

    The case against is that the rapid rate of technological eventually renders these internal DACs obsolete. Five years ago, hi-res capable USB inputs were rare. Nowadays, they are far more commonplace. With each stage in digital audio evolution, a DAC upgrade necessitates upgrading the entire amplifier.

    For the integrated amplifier owner, selling the old unit and buying a new one is the only way forward.

    Or is it?

    Vinnie Rossi’s LIO sidesteps the baby-and-bathwater dispensation with a modular design. Specify only the features required at time of order. Add more as and when required or as budget allows. My long-term loaner unit sports the following modules: 25wpc MOSFET amplifier, headphone amplifier, 3 x line-level input, phono stage, AVC/tube pre-stage and, of course, a DAC.

    This week brings news of a possible upgrade: the DAC 2.0 module maintains its forerunner’s three inputs – USB, BNC and TOSLINK – but runs with a pair of AKM’s flagship AK44497EQ chips to exploit dual-mono circuitry and lift the ceiling on file compatibility: up to 32bit/768kHz PCM and DSD512 are now possible.

    The DAC 2.0’s output stage is fully discrete with ‘Pure Class A JFETs’ and no op-amps. Also new is its Xilinx FPGA buffer and Femto clocking, both implemented here to lower jitter. So too are the isolated input stages.

    For user tweak-ability comes another new feature: a choice of filter-less (NOS) and minimum phase operation, both selectable from via the weighty remote wand.

    Rossi is also keen to highlight the deployment of ultra-low noise linear voltage regulators throughout.

    “There is a lot going on in this new design and it has been in development for well over a year now. LIO DAC 2.0 does not have any design elements in common with the first “LIO DSD/PCM DAC”. This is a “statement level” DAC design for the LIO. I am confident that many will find it holds its own against D/A converters in the US$10K range and beyond, especially those running into the DHT PRE”, he says via email.

    The new module will sell for US$3299 with a discount of US$300 applied to all pre-orders received before the end of July 2017. Shipping commences August/September. (So, no, I don’t have one yet).

    Where Rossi’s LIO kicks things up a notch is that, being modular, it is field upgradeable. Pop the lid, remove two screws, slide out the old DAC module, slide in the new one. No soldering required – easy. Readers can see for themselves just how easy the LIO upgrade process from the two videos contained in this article from 2016.

    Taking the sting out of the upgrade cost, Rossi is offering existing DAC modules owners a US$895 trade-in credit.

    Of all the super-integrated amplifiers auditioned by yours truly, the LIO remains a personal favourite. It might not have the lust-inducing casework of Devialet but it’s the modular future-proofing (and Ultracapacitor power supply) that makes it Future-Fi of a different stripe.

    If only it came in red.

    Further information: Vinnie Rossi

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. I’m sure Vinnie would build you a custom Lio in red to match your LS50s 🙂

      Vinnie provides a good amount of high level detail about how he engineers his designs, and his track record of engineering excellence and supreme customer service inspire massive confidence.

      Vinnies technical details just leave me curious about who else may have engineered a DAC solution along comparable lines.

      • There may be comparably spec’d DACs out there but they won’t benefit from the shorter signal paths of being inside the LIO and won’t be juiced by ultracap power and therefore run ‘off-grid’.

    2. In this day and age, are DAC upgrades even necessary? Past about the $300 mark, the improvements are extremely marginal. I haven’t found anything that legitimately sounded noticeably better than my $200 Dragonfly Red, even comparing $1000 stuff (and yes, I compared them out of the same amplifier)

      • I guess that largely depends on how revealing one’s electronics and loudspeakers. I can easily pick differences between, say, the PS Audio DirectStream, Aqua Hifi and DragonFly Red fed into the LIO and out to Sennheiser HD800S or KEF LS50.

      • You can pry my 500$ Chord Mojo from my dead cold hands … Ah, my precioussssss .

        Ok, to be fair I haven’t compared it Dragonfly Red, ’cause I never had one. But I used a Schiit Bifrost Uber, and a Schiit Modi before the Mojo. The difference was very noticeable to me, and I’m not exactly a golden-eared person.

        Oh, as an aside I tried listening these days to some Lana Del Rey with a Soundblaster ZxR. She sounded like she was singing in phone booth :-p (barn would have been an upgrade).

        I guess another point I’m trying to make is that differences are far more noticeable when you go backwards – from high end to lower end.

        • That’s a very good point, Vlad. I definitely finding moving backwards, from new device to old, an essential part of the product evaluation process.

        • I bought a Mojo because I needed USB connection for an sMS-200. Unfortunately the sMS-200 was not what I expected. I sold it and then sold the Mojo, preferring the sound of my 7 year old Eastern Electric Minimax’s coax in. I’ve never kept a component for 7 years before. The main advantage of the Mojo is its pocket size and nice design.

          • Mike, with the obvious caveat that your experience is just as valid as mine –

            I think that the PC->USB->Mojo connectivity is the weakest (and I’m aware that the sMS is not just a PC …). To me the SPDIF sounds better.

      • And of course, many thanks to John for the Mojo review and DAC ranking. One happier MuFA here.

    3. Holy moly! Regardless of this DAC 2.0 module being well specified and admittedly a niche product, isn’t an R.R.P. of $3299 a bit steep for essentially plug-in silicon chips?!? This is yet another signifier that although audio technology `trickles’ down from the high end, invariably so does the commensurate extravagant pricing.

      • I think you tackled your own question with the term ‘niche product’. Low volume manufacturing means lower economies of scale and therefore higher per-unit loading of R&D costs.

      • Did you check the cost of a high end FPGA, and a grid of low noise supercaps?

        Of course, that doesn’t include the R&D costs.

        • That’s right. Street pricing is far more than total parts costs + build time + profit margin. R&D time and parts unused must also be factored in.

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