Just as the Tea Party is a reaction to what its constituents see as a runaway tax-and-spend government, so the resurgence of do-it-yourself and “high-value” products reflects a rejection of price-no-object components by audiophiles of modest means. I empathize with this viewpoint. Over the years I’ve become less and less enamored of products above my own completely personal price-points. I won’t dispute that new stratospherically priced components often deliver a technological edge. But chances are good that the new methodology will be licensed to other manufacturers and incorporated into less expensive products in a matter of months. And then there is this: No matter how expensive and beautifully made a five-year-old DAC may be, its performance will be challenged by many far-less-expensive current-production DACs. Sorry, but that’s the way technology works. For me, it makes more sense to spend big money on components that will not be eclipsed in six months or a year, such as a power amplifier or speakers, rather than a DAC.
Then along comes the $1499 Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2. It’s certainly priced attractively. Yes, it’s way more than a HRT Music Streamer II USB DAC ($149) or even a Music Streamer II+ ($350), but way less than a Weiss DAC 202 ($6670). Psychologically, $1500 is a figure that divides “might buy’s” from “hell no’s.” And when you factor in that the Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 includes a very well thought-out analog preamplifier that can replace a separate preamp in an all-digital system, the DAC-2’s obvious value and reasonable price makes it even more enticing. The DAC-2 can serve as the control center for either a high-end near-field desktop, a two-channel room system, or even in a multichannel system, which means that most, if not all TAS readers could easily find a place for a DAC-2 in their systems.
As I enumerate the stuff inside the Wyred 4 Sound DAC, please consider that just because the DAC-2 uses an ESS 9018 Sabre32 32-bit DAC, doesn’t mean it will sound identical to other units that use this same part. DAC parts only have a “sound” within the context of the hardware and software in which they are employed.
Wyred 4 Sound’s designer, EJ Sarmento, began with that Sabre chip and then formulated a fully balanced design around it. The Sabre is an eight-channel device that can be configured as a quad-differential circuit with four differential DACs per phase per channel, which delivers 132dB of dynamic range. Because jitter is inevitable in a S/PDIF digital stream, the DAC- 2’s Sabre ESS 9018 deals with jitter in a clever way—by disregarding the clock signals coming from the source. Instead the Sabre re-clocks by instituting a discrete digital delay that can affect either the positive or negative edge of each duty cycle by up to 50%. The processor accesses the width of each digital pulse, compares it to past pulses, and assigns the pulse a particular quantified width. Then the device processes each pulse in turn with no attempt to re-time the clock, it merely time-stamps the information and passes it downstream. According to Wyred 4 Sound, this methodology makes it possible for the DAC-2 to accept up to 50ns of random and 200ns of sinusoidal jitter with no audible affects. Technically, this is an asynchronous system, since the data flow is controlled by the DAC, not the computer. But this is not the same asynchronous methodology used by Wavelength, which focuses on the interface between the computer and the DAC.
Other technical features of the DAC-2 include automatic 386x oversampling, an oversized toroidal power transformer, 35-amp bridge-rectified power supply with 88,000uF filtering, proprietary low-ESR “super caps,” Schottky bridge rectifiers, fully discrete output stage using a dual-differential input amplifier stages and Dale RN55d resistors, and a 32-bit digital volume control. All the circuit boards—digital, analog output, and USB input—are designed so they can be upgraded to allow for some degree of future proofing.
Physically, the DAC-2 is compact, taking up only a half-rack width of 8 ½ inches. The front panel features a matte-finished face available in either black or silver with three buttons (up, down, and powe), and a vacuum fluorescent (VFD) display. The remote control is an inexpensive plastic job with volume, balance, power on/off, input selector, phase, mute, and HT bypass. This last button lets you route a two-channel analog signal through the DAC-2 so it won’t alter the volume of that input.