The Exogal Comet digital to analog converter is a modern DAC that can process up to 32 bit 384 kHz, and DSD64 and DSD128 digital signals from the USB input. Using the AES-EBU XLR or S/PDIF BNC connections, processing is limited to 24 bit 192 kHz datastreams. TOSlink can do 24 bit 96 kHz. The compact chassis $2995 Comet can be controlled by the Exogal remote control (included) or a Bluetooth smart phone app. Functions, including changing output volume, can be controlled from either. With one analog input, a Comet in your rack might eliminate the need to have a separate preamplifier in your audio menagerie.
The review system includes a VPI Aries 3 turntable with a Kuzma 4-Point tonearm, ZYX UNIverse Premium, Miyajima Madake, and Lyra Atlas moving coil cartridges; Pass Labs XP-25 phono preamplifier; custom Windows 7 music computer running JRiver Media Center 22; Cary DAC-200ts , Bryston DAC-3, Auralic Vega, and Mytek Brooklyn DACs, the latter with external power supply; Lynx Hilo AD/DA converter with external power supply; Mark Levinson No. 52 and Acoustic Imagery Jay-Sho preamplifiers; Rogue Audio Stereo 100, Cary CAD-805AE, Inspire Fire-Bottle SE, Bryston 2.5B3, and Pass Labs XA30.8 power amplifiers; Fritzspeakers Carrera BE with the lowest few Hertz supplied by a pair of JL Audio e110 subwoofers, and Focal Chorus 714 loudspeakers borrowed from the HT system. The cabling is Audioquest WEL Signature and Mogami interconnects and speaker cables. USB cables include Wyred4Sound USB PCOCC Premium and Lavricables “dual head” cable. Power protection and purification are provided by a PS Audio Dectet for the preamplifiers and source components, and a PS Audio Quintet for the power amplifiers. The latter provides remote turn-on and -off of power amplifiers that lack a 12V remote trigger.
I try to not use the term “analog-like” to describe a smooth, not harsh sonic character, but that presentation generally applies to the Comet DAC. Just as with a good analog source, it is easy to forget the equipment and become immersed in the performance. The easy listening, relaxing sound quality of the Comet is immediately apparent. This is just the opposite of what we might be expecting from a digital component.
The upper frequencies have very good resolution which presents details that are missing or unclear from the Mytek Brooklyn DAC. This seemingly high resolution is helped a bit by a very small sense of dryness or lack of ultimate harmonic development which lets the primary note to be clearer and not obscured by very low level detail or noise. The advantage of this character is that there is a remarkable lack of background haze or low level distortion to compromise the primary sound. The Comet’s smooth character also can ignore some small problems in music files that were obviously processed with inferior studio gear, at least by today’s standards. From my experiments with recording my LPs and sampling some early release music files, high resolution 32 bit 384 kHz recordings can equal the original. And 192K ain’t bad, either!
The Comet gives the listener excellent insight into the emotion and drama of a musical performance. The crescendo or climax of any movement can be thrilling, given a good recording. The Comet’s outstanding dynamic presentation certainly contributes to this feeling. This is very apparent in the bass range, which is fast and punchy. The upper bass can seem a bit reticent with makes vocals, especially male singers, seem to be just a bit less powerful and rich, in comparison.
One example of the Comet’s excellent overall resolution is “Gonna” on Blake Shelton’s Bringing Back the Sunshine CD, ripped to the hard drive at 16 bit 44.1 kHz WAV and upsampled 4x by JRiver Media Center to 32 bit 176.4 kHz. On this track, the Comet makes it clear that Shelton is accompanying himself on a dubbed track. From the Brooklyn, this sounds more like added reverb. The Brooklyn has some of that digital, non-continuous quality which is greatly mitigated when it is used with an outboard power supply.
Cymbals ring very much like real brass alloy discs which highlights the octave to octave harmonic linearity in the treble. Cymbals, like the sound of a piano, have extremely complex harmonic structures and reproducing or delivering their sound in a believable fashion eludes lesser DACs. Lower in frequency, the upper midrange can sound a very small bit lean which actually helps the intelligibly of words and, like in the upper bass, removes just a small amount of body to singers, again, in comparison.
The Cary DAC-200ts converter sounds richer, warmer. The treble ranges of both DACs is quite similar. The Bryston DAC-3 is higher resolution across the audible frequency range and is even more analog-like, actually stunning in its ability to get the hell out of the way and let the music through. Where my LP recordings played back via the Comet are less preferred than listening to the vinyl record, with the Bryston DAC the preference for the LP is not as clear cut. The Comet is better sounding overall than the Mytek Brooklyn, although the Brooklyn takes the lead by a nose when used with an external power supply. An external power supply for the Comet is available for $500, although it was not included in this audition. The Bryston BDA-3 is at the same $3500 price point and is in “permanent” residence while the Comet has departed. The Auralic Vega was too thin and dry sounding and the Comet was quickly perceived as being more musical overall.
The Exogal Comet is a very good sounding DAC that has excellent purity and high resolution in the upper frequencies and only minor inconsistencies in a couple of areas lower down the range. These small amomalies could be system dependent. It played well as a preamplifier, easily driving 5 meters of interconnect cables to the various power amplifiers on hand. As with other high end components, a personal audition is necessary to make sure you choose the DAC that is most satisfying to you, rather than choose based on reviews. Many DACs in a particular price bracket sound similar, making an audition particularly important. The differences between them are of less magnitude than the unique characters of similarly priced phono cartridges.
Overall Rating: 9 LPs
Link to Exogal