State of the art precision. State of the art focus. State of the art harmony. The Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2v2SE 10th Anniversary Limited Edition digital-to-analog converter does not sound like a digital component. It much more closely performs as an excellent analog source. When you compare a good CD with this DAC in your system to the sound of your analog rig, you could very well have the same reaction that this listener experienced: a big smile!
The musicality and level of enjoyment that Wyred 4 Sound DACs habitually deliver is definitely top drawer. An earlier version, the DAC-2 DSD SE was reviewed here in 2014. The DAC-2v2SE 10th Anniversary Limited Edition, abbreviated here as “DAC-2 10th LE”, at $4,499, is the result of years of experience in testing, manufacturing, and upgrading DACs. EJ Sarmento, the driving force behind Wyred 4 Sound, has hit an out-of-the-park home run with the DAC-2 10th LE.
Other components on hand during the audition include a VPI Aries 3 turntable with a Kuzma 4-Point tonearm, ZYX UNIverse Premium and Miyajima Madake moving coil cartridges; B.M.C. MCCI ULN and Pass Labs XP-25 phono preamplifiers; custom Windows 10 music computer running JRiver Media Center; Bryston BDA-3 DA converter; RME ADI-2 Pro AD/DA converter with external power supply; Pass Labs XP-22 and Wyred 4 Sound STP-SE Stage 2 preamplifiers; Cary CAD-805AE, First Watt J2, Wyred 4 Sound ST-750 LE, Valvet E2, and Pass Labs XA30.8 power amplifiers; Focal Sopra 1 loudspeakers 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 audio cabling is Audioquest WEL Signature and Mogami interconnects and speaker cables. USB cables are Straight Wire USB-F. Power cords include my DIY power cord and Straight Wire Pro Thunder. 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 Quintet provides remote turn-on and -off of power amplifiers that lack a 12V remote trigger.
Here is a list of some of the differentiating features of this top of the line DAC:
– ESS Sabre 9038PRO DAC chip
– Custom 10th Anniversary red LED display
– Custom 10th Anniversary lathed aluminum footers
– Hand-matched custom Vishay Z-Foil resistors (0.1% tolerance and a 0.5ppm/°C). Standard Vishay metal foil resistors are 1% tolerance, and a temperature coefficient of 100ppm/°C.
– Femto Grade Clock (82 fSec phase jitter) – that’s 82 femtoseconds. A femtosecond is one quadrillionth of a second. Compare that to wow and flutter of an LP turntable. Go ahead. I dare ya! Haha.
– Ultra-low noise discrete regulators
– Ultra-fast recovery Schottkey diodes
– Premium-grade inductors
– Oversized toroidal transformer for solid and noise-free power
– 88,000uF of filtering with W4S low ESR “super-cap” (same as used in the STP-SE)
– Upgraded fuse
– Fully balanced design with balanced and unbalanced outputs
– Coaxial, Toslink, AES/EBU, USB, and I²S inputs
– Galvanically isolated, asynchronous USB input
– Up to 32 bit 384kHz PCM and DSD 256 ﬁle support via USB or I²S
– Automatic oversampling for precise output filtering, defeatable
– Remote control, defeatable
– 32-bit volume control, defeatable
– HT Bypass inputs
– Limited production run
– Available in black/champagne silver (pictured) or all black finishes
– 5 year limited transferrable warranty
The DAC-2 10th LE received about 300 hours of break in before the formal audition began. Many digital components sound coarse and unrefined when new, but this DAC sounds pretty good right out of the box. Listenable, for sure, and it just keeps getting better as the hours accumulate. I used both coax S/PDIF and USB inputs, sourced from the music computer. A direct comparison of these two input types is not very reliable, as different source configurations and interconnect cables were present. The USB input was used for the majority of listening. The default filter remained engaged.
Let’s talk about the sound of big black vinyl LP records for a minute. LPs are treasured by us music-loving folks because they sound very natural, with very high resolution. LPs are capable of delivering a complete, enjoyable, and immersive musical experience with the fewest electronic distractions. LPs get us closer to the music and to the musicians than digitally recorded tracks seem able to do. Records sound great because that is their nature.
The DAC-2 10th LE delivers a very similar experience as listening to LP. There is a wonderful clarity in the midrange with a sunny openness that gives all singers body and heart. The ability of the DAC-2 10th LE to keep the individual voices in a chorus clear and distinct is truly outstanding. On any decent recording, singers can sound human and present, not like an electronic facsimile heard in a control room.
The natural midrange flows perfectly into the lower treble, about 1000-3000 Hz. This range is often a challenge for digital to not sound like a digital recording. This low-treble range can sound simply artificial, with a very small but pervasive discontinuity of notes and their harmonic overtones. Upsampling a source file can sometimes minimize this unwanted effect, but a high-resolution system will deliver it to you, nonetheless. The DAC-2 10th LE seems to completely eliminate this digital character by presenting smooth, continuous micro-resolution that is the established province of the LP and master tape.
The upper treble is no less correct. There is a clarity and ease to presenting vast volumes of air and ambience that puts this DAC on the same playing field as vinyl. The extension to the uppermost limits of hearing appear to be unbounded. Proper treble performance is crucial for everything in the lower frequencies to sound natural because harmonics often extend to the upper treble range. Your music will never sound realistic if these harmonics are blunted or abbreviated. The DAC-2 10th LE never suffers a problem with extremely resolute harmonic content. This is a big differentiator in common digital vs. analog sound. Since the beginning of commercial digital recordings, in the early 1980’s, these recordings have always had good bass performance. The upper midrange and treble has – up to now – been the Achilles heel (failure) of digital. No more.
Jumping back down to the lower frequencies, the bass performance of the DAC-2 10th LE is a lion. “Hear me roar!” Music’s foundation is unyelding, as if your system is sitting on a 2 mile thick foundation of solid granite, allowing all the power and low frequency detail that is due. This extended resolution sound is apparent across the entire audible frequency range. In fact, it is difficult to discern this DAC’s strengths or particular area of special performance. The performance from low bass to upper treble is so continuous, so tonally even, so complete that no particular character draws the listener’s attention. Neutral, an overused term in audio-speak, is actually the best descriptor for the sound of the DAC-2 10th LE. This DAC sounds less digital than anything I have heard. It is as musically accomplished as some $5,000+ phono cartridges.
The character of sound staging can be challenging to describe because there are so many variables, such as the speakers, room, and entire audio system. In the case of the DAC-2 10th LE, the performance stage can be large and very accurately defined, all delivered in an enormous venue, or a much smaller recording studio, as the music requires. The ability to “look” directly at a specific singer, left or right, forward or back on the stage is outstanding.
Listen the “Born Again” on the CD Red, by Taylor Swift. Her lovely vocals transported this listener to a sun-drenched sidewalk café near the blue Mediterranean, enjoying the company of a beautiful woman, falling in love. Sweet!
There are large differences between this and the Bryston BDA-3 DAC. Precision and focus of the DAC-2 10th LE are an order of magnitude better. The definition of the leading edge of every note is much more audible, making both small and large scale dynamics more present and exciting. Singers are better defined on the sound stage, with less overlap or blending with other vocalists. The BDA-3 makes beautiful music, no doubt. But replacing it with a DAC-2 10th LE is an obvious upgrade.
There is a downside to this level of truthfulness. It can be unkind to poor sounding recordings, more so than with the Bryston DAC. The sound of bad CDs, such as those recorded with late 1980s-1990s AD converters, can be unbearable – harsh and annoyingly artificial. The converse is also true: excellent recordings can sound awesome.
The DAC-2 10th LE imbues CDs with very much of the natural flow and harmonic depth of LPs. The sound of CDs, ripped to 16 bit 44.1 kHz WAV files and upsampled in JRiver Media Center to 32 bit 176.4 kHz, is very similar to the characteristic LP sound. Interestingly, my own 24 bit 192 kHz recordings of my LPs, upsampled to 32 bit 384 kHz, don’t seem to benefit quite as much from upsampling as CDs do. This is probably because they are very high-quality recordings to begin with. 24 bit 96 kHz downloads are delivered with delicacy and convincing presence. The DAC-2 10th LE is an outstanding digital-to-analog converter for all types of recordings.
A few words about Wyred 4 Sound, a 11 year old company showcasing a veritable library of positive reviews of their gear. Their latest products, including the STP-SE Stage 2 preamplifier, this DAC, and the ST-750 LE amplifier (with the new IceEdge chipset, review in progress), offer benchmark setting performance levels. Even if you derive some joy from spending more money on audio gear, this company’s products should be included in any search for maximum-quality components.
An ideal test of a DAC is to compare the sound of an LP recording to the sound of the original LP itself. The DAC-2 10th LE passes this test with flying colors and can make listening to LPs an exercise in antiquity. The new benchmark sound quality of the Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2v2SE 10th Anniversary Limited Edition DAC could well make the LP record obsolete. It is THAT good!
Overall Rating: 10 LPs
This review would not have been possible without the kind and generous support, again, of EJ Sarmento of Wyred 4 Sound. Thank you, EJ!
Link to manufacturer: Wyred 4 Sound
Response from manufacturer:
“Thank you very much for your review and glad you are enjoying the new DAC! We are always striving to improve our products and this DAC is an example of what is possible when I have a clean slate to build on. New routing techniques, and better components were used throughout to raise the bar once again and I’m pleased to learn that your findings mirror what we are hearing back from customers who have had the opportunity to also enjoy. For those with prior generations DAC 1 and DAC 2s we offer a very appealing trade in program as well! Thank you once again – EJ Sarmento”