Lunar Miasma – “Monophonic Ritual”
Lunar Miasma – “Mirror Squares”
Lunar Miasma – “Circle Ray”
Lunar Miasma – “Blackest Haze”
Lunar Miasma – “Mala Aria”
Lunar Miasma / Ondo – “Lunar Miasma / Ondo”
More from Discogs.com, but another seller:
Various – “Space Of Power: The Legend About Great Existence Of The Universe”
Various – “Voyager: First Plateau”
The Expo ’70 LP is aaaaaamaaaaaaazing! Kraut-psych-jam-freakout-rock mode here, not the usual (but wonderful) drones. This is a seriously awesome record, very very highly recommended.
The Lunar Miasma CD stash was a fantastic find on Discogs, a seller was offloading his entire collection which included these rarities. I still don’t have a complete Lunar Miasma collection and might never have, but brought me a hell of a lot closer. For the curious, I’ve written about Lunar Miasma before.
Some goa trance this month too, snagged two compilations where my buddy Filteria has tracks included. The one on “Voyager: First Plateau” is a very old one that used to be called Aurora. I think it’s one of his most beautiful compositions ever and one that desperately needed to be released, listen on Youtube here. The other compilation has, aside from the Filteria track, 3 bits by E-Mantra which is all you need to know really. His dance stuff still excits me tremendously, while the downtempo releases are frankly just cheesy gibberish to my ears.
I’ve been home sick for a few days which, if I’m going to be a glass-half-full kind of guy for once, has meant more time in front of the speakers than usual. And good lord do I love them! It’s quite amazing how I can be reminded of this again and again.
I realize I haven’t even mentioned in here that some 8-9 months ago we traded in the Focal Diablo Utopia’s for their bigger sibling Scala Utopia. This is what the room looks like currently:
There will be some more changes later this year, if all goes well.
From Suntrip Records, for which I’m a label DJ:
Antares – “Exodus”
Artifact 303 – “Back to Space”
Crossing Mind – “The Inner Shift”
Dimension 5 – “TransStellar”
Dimension 5 – ”TransAddendum”
Electrypnose – “Sweet Sadness”
InnerSpace – “InnerSpace”
Mindsphere – ”Patience for Heaven”
Various – “Energy Waves”
Various – “Shaltu”
Reeko – “Passage #17″
Function – ”Incubation”
Function – “Gradient”
A Mochi – “Squeal 3″
Cyl – “Crypt”
Diamond Version – “EP3″
Dj Lock / David Meiser – “Lost Channel EP”
Error Etica – “The Axiom Of Coherent States”
Korova – “Hashima EP”
Fabrizio Lapiana – “Dark Visions EP”
Various – “Sinister”
I’m calling it early: Autechre wins record of the year 2013. I just don’t see how anyone can possibly top this. Holy. Fucking. Shit.
Overall, a very dance oriented month with lots of trance and techno, but on the other hand some quite bewildering variety within these genres.
Out of the Suntrip batch I’m most excited about the two Dimension 5 records, it’s so great to have all that stuff compiled on CD at last. I think the matering is slightly aggressive but I’ll take it. Despite my affiliation with the label, I normally prefer a darker and weirder sound than these records represent. That said, there are some nice bits in here! In my sunny set at Lost Theory Festival 2011 I played the Filteria remix track off of the Shaltu compilation for example. I need to records some more mix sets…
For techno, there’s still lots of fantastic moody, introvert stuff being released. The Function album and accompanying EP are really fantastic and the EP from A Mochi is the fattest thing I’ve heard in ages.
Super few this month as I’m anticipating a shitty February salary and a bunch of stuff didn’t arrive here until after the 28th. Dodecahedron unfortunately has just as much brickwall limiter clipping on vinyl as on CD but I applaud them for releasing it as a double at 45 rpm.
There’s a bit of one-trick-pony signs about them but Schoiroideairis might be my new favorite contemporary “psytrance” act.
Music purchases that came into my possession in January 2013:
Deepbass – “Interstellar EP”
Diamond Version – “EP2″
Etnica – “Live In Athens 1996″
Giorgio Gigli/Cassegrain/Baryta/Staffan Linzatti – “Nonnative 03″
Jolka – “Five (Surgeon/Silent Servant remixes)”
Mathew Jonson – “Learning To Fly”
Luca Morris – “Party Tradition EP”
Julien H Mulder – “Den Femte Färden”
George Paar – “Angulos Ligeramente Ocultos”
Quenum & Lad – “Ithaca”
Rrose – “Merchant Of Salt (reissue)”
Silent Servant – “Negative Fascination: Extended 12″ Mixes”
Svreca – “Hagagatan Remixed”
Walker/Kennedy – “3 Stacked Layers From Macro To Meta”
Christian Wünch – “Magnetic Changes”
Quite many this month, more good techno still being released and some older ones still available. I need to record more mixes with this stuff. Hetroertzen get an A for effort but it’s all a bit too juvenile, from art to lyrics. Unfortunate. The Luca Morris 12″ must have been added to my cart by accident, it’s atrociously bad and I’ll give it away to whoever wants it (no I won’t mail it to anyone).
I generally don’t write these kinds of lists because a) there’s bound to be a bazillion great releases from this year that I haven’t heard yet, and b) of all the stuff I have heard I’m sure I have yet to fully appreciate some of it and I’ll probably very soon grow tired of some of the ones that sounded excellent the two times I listened to them. So in reality it would be much better to let everything settle and make this a 2011 list, but I’m not going to be that clever this year.
So here’s my top music purchases of 2012 that were also released in 2012, in some sort of order that I’m sure I’ll soon regret and want to change:
Blut Aus Nord – Lots of stuff
French avant-garde, semi-industrial black metal visionaries Blut Aus Nord gets a special treatment on this list for his/their output which has been absolutely amazing over the past two years. First there’s the 777 trilogy, completed this year with the releases of “Cosmophony” while parts 1 and 2, “Sect(s)” and “The Desanctification”, came out in 2011. Then there was the re-release of 2010′s “What Once Was… Liber I” as well as a follow-up in the previously unreleased “What Once Was… Liber II”. All of these albums—5 in total!—have astonishing packaging and represent a completely unique musical vision in today’s extreme metal landscape.
OK so this is a 2010 release but the updated cover artwork alone makes the reissue worth mentioning: Embossed gold print on faux leather and a sleeve so thick normal polythene protective sleeves won’t fit. Sonically this is some of the most dissonant and inhumanly cold black metal available, but as with everything out of Blut Aus Nord there’s an amazing structural beauty and spellbinding progression hidden behind the mayhem and sulphur-gargling vocals. Two side-long tracks, 16 and 15 minutes respectively, of the black metal equivalent of an all-engulfing, avalanche-like pyroclastic flow, interspersed with sparse glimpses of what was to become the calmer tracks from the 777 trilogy. Unless you’re a seasoned extreme metal listener, you’re almost guaranteed to be in way over your head here.
Debemur Morti Productions DMP0079
This year’s follow-up “Liber II” has a bit meatier production, much more in line with the 777 trilogy, and takes the dissonance even further to near panic-attack inducing levels. Other than that, the description for part I fits well here too. These two records (as all other from Blut Aus Nord) are not made up of standard rock tracks clad in more distortion and double kickdrums like so much mediocre black metal is. Instead, this is truly, through-and-through, some next level shit going on. Music with this level of complexity and harshness takes a lot of time to fully penetrate and understand, and I’m still getting new impressions every time I listen to this. Utterly mesmerising, in a most terrifically terrifying way.
Debemur Morti Productions DMP0082
Easily the most acessible album in the trilogy and clearly not black metal any more, Cosmophony had me quite disappointed as I was expecting more of the infernal wall of dissonance that “777 – Sect(s)” consisted of and that “777 – The Desanctification” still retained traces of. Instead we’re greeted here by almost post-rock arrangements, clean singing as well as spoken word parts, and a near glacial pace in many tracks. But oh did this record ever grow! This album is narcotically addictive and posseses a depth and richness of nuances that keep unravelling with repeated listening. As the dust settles, it’s evident that this is still clearly Blut Aus Nord, because no other band possesses this combination of harmonics, arrangements and riffcraft. In the history of not just black metal but all metal, Blut Aus Nord has established themselves (himself?) as one of the great innovators, and with this trilogy this is cemented further. Blut Aus Nord has risen to become one of my favourite bands of all time, regardless of genre.
Recommended track: Epitome XVI (Spotify).
DAT Records, Etnicanet DATCD004
2 × CD, Album
The music you listen to the most in your teens will always remain important to you. That is the truth for almost everyone, and from age 15 I was deep into goa trance. For that reason it’s very difficult for me to imagine what this sounds and feels like to someone who stumbles across this coming from a different background, so I will start by quoting user “Canyon-Kalle” from his review of this release on Discogs.com:
This release is hands down one of the crown achievements in goa trance’s history.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is absolute, undisputable truth no matter what you think of the genre’s aesthetic merits. I am lucky enough to have had most of the music on here as DAT rips for many years now, and I am very, very happy that it finally gets a much deserved proper release.
If you’re new to the genre, Etnica of old were for goa trance what Autechre are for IDM: Simply on a level of their own, that noone else can touch. The musicianship on display here is absolutely, utterly mindboggling, especially considering when this was made. A simple sequencer—perhaps an Atari 1040 that I know they used for some time—and hardware synthesizers tweaked to the stars and back, all playing the most gloriously spiralling melodies swirling up and down through the minor key scales, and as if that wasn’t enough the tracks are arranged with a greater sense for progression and buildup than anyone else in the genre has ever mustered before or since. Etnica/Pleiadians/Crop Circles in the 4 member era (6 for Crop Circles) defined, perfected and brought goa trance to its ultimate potential. This release strengthens their already amazing legacy even further, and I could only have wished that they dropped the band name after Carlo Paternò and Andrea Rizzo left. The magic we get to hear on this album left the band with those two men.
Single track to sample: Nu-uh, you listen to the whole goddamn thing, son.
Norma Evangelium Diaboli NED031
7xLP Picture disc compilation box set
Despite my immense appreciation for Blut Aus Nord above, Deathspell Omega remain my #1 favourite black metal band. While they had a new release this year, the mini album “Drought“, an appendix to the already completed trilogy, they get to be represented on this list with the magnificent 7xLP picture disc box set that compiles their trilogy of albums and all additional output since 2004′s “Si Monvmentvm Reqvires, Circvmspice“. In my opinion, the music herein has raised the bar for conviction, ambition, composition, lyrics and the overall art of black metal more than pretty much all other bands in the genre. As with anything that pushes the boundaries for a genre, their music has been divisive (as in, some people get butthurt because it doesn’t sound like their favorite shit band) and for most people, me included, requires quite a lot of time to fully devour and digest. But that is also the type of music that is the most rewarding, and few other bands or artists have given me more listening pleasure than Deathspell Omega.
From the cold, overwhelmingly oppressive religious ecstasy of “Si Monvmentvm…” to the staggering near-chaos hyperspeed complexity of “FAS” to the jagged, mathy mangling of “Paracletus” they have reached some sort of ultra-metalized post-rock/free jazz insanity on Drought, and I have no clue where they will go from here, or even if they will continue to exist as a band. No matter what though, they have left a colossal legacy in these 5 hours of music.
Sadly the sound quality on these picture discs is quite poor, so regard this as a collectors item more than media for listening. You can get ahold of most of the vinyls (and of course the CD’s) separately.
Music Man Records MMLP037
3×12″ + CD, Album
Petar Dundov is a genius and one of the few people who’s output has always, from day one, had that extra level of musical refinement and finesse that sets him apart from his contemporaries. From the early days of cheerful, pacy acid trance as “Unreal” [listen] in the mid 1990′s to the cybernetic techno stylings of “Brother’s Yard” [listen: 1, 2], he’s now releasing under his real name. The style has evolved into some sort of grown-up trance/house hybrid, tailor made for pink sunsets by the mediterranean coast. On this album he takes it further, away from the dancefloor and into pure sequencer-esque harmonic bliss. Decievingly simple but an album I’m quite sure will stand the test of time.
Tranquility Tapes TQ29
Listen: Track B1 available on SoundCloud
This is drippingly ripe with nostalgia and pours over the mind like great washes of childhood summer bliss. The very reason we humans listen to music is for the emotional impact, and this is emotions distilled to the highest possible concentration. Even if he never returns to this type of sound with future projects (which would be a terrible shame), he has taken this style trippy synth bliss to what has to be perfection. The legacy that the Lunar Miasma project leaves is fantastic and I feel as though I will treasure his music for many, many years to come. Amazing.
Captured Tracks CT-158
I was never into The Cure or other gloomy brit pop/rock back in the day, nor the late 1990′s wave of shoegazy indie bands. Apart from buying maybe a CD or two I was a sideline observer, appreciating some of the dreamy, kraut-y bits and glistening, ringing guitars that shone through on occasion. For the seasoned indie head Brookyn youngsters DIIV might not bring anything new to the table, but to me all the elements I’ve appreciated in this type of music has come together to glorious effect on this album. I might grow tired of this in a month or six and I may not buy any more music in this style for years but I don’t care: Right now this feels amazing and that’s all I need.
Dement3d Records DM3D003
In the pleasantly gloomy style of techno that’s been happening over the past couple of years—see my blog post about this style—the Sandwell District people (label and artist – see for example Silent Servant elsewhere in this list) have been on a higher level in terms of sheer quality than most, but I have to say that Polar Inertia is right up there with them. Minimalism is generally very difficult to do right in any artform: Structures get too repetitive and the depth proves rather shallow on repeated listening. But these guys (or guy, or girl—I have no idea who’s behind this mysterious moniker) get it very, very right. The individual sounds, the production, the progression, the atmospheres, the textures—it’s all very masterfully crafted and unlike 99% of techno I don’t get bored. Instead I just want more and more, which is why Polar Inertia’s sparse output is so frustrating.
Blackest Rainbow BRR243
Listen: One track avaiable on the label’s Bandcamp page (as I’m writing this there are 4 copies left of the album.)
I adore Justing Wright’s tripped-out, drone guitar soundscapes enough to have twentytwo (!) releases of his by now. My one wish would probably be that he’d adjust the quantity/quality balance of his output somewhat towards the latter, but enough of his releases are amazing that I really can’t complain. Besides, most of what he records is a single take, so it is what it is. Beguiled Entropy is not the single best thing he’s ever done, but it gets close: Once it gets going it’s absolutely intoxicating. Very smoky, delay-ridden guitar and synth drone jams for inwards journeys in blacklit rooms with incense and puff seats.
Spectrum Spools SP 019
Not entirely unrelated to the sound of Lunar Miasma, Outer Space brings more of that lush sequencer synth trippery, headed by John Elliot from Emeralds. Elliot also records under the name Imaginary Softwoods, where he released one of 2011′s greatest records in “Paths Of Spectrolite“.
The title makes it seem as though this is some set of long lost recordings, but that’s just make-believe; This is new music, and these guys were in kindergarden—at best—back then anyway (OK, except for Drew McDowall). The first track feels a bit out of place, but once we get past that this record is a true feast of kaleidoscopic swirling, bubbling, soaring synth gloriousness. I’m not sure if this will hold up 5 or 10 years from now, but right this minute I’m absolutely loving it.
End All Life Productions EAL066
2 × CD, Compilation, A5 Hardcover, Limited Edition
Listen: CD1 as a single video on Youtube
I’ve never understood why people cared for Abigor, and CD 2 here—a collection of old demos—is so atrociously bad it took me 4 sessions to listen through it just once so I can say I’ve at least heard it. The contrast to CD 1 is, thankfully, amazingly stark. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the original release of Channeling The Quintessence Of Satan, nor do I want to after this. The band re-recorded the album and added a bass to the lineup (evidently omitted originally), to create what is an almost perfect blend of Salvation-era Funeral Mist [Spotify] and later Katharsis output. If those references aren’t familiar, this means face-meltingly fierce black metal of the most infernal, putrid, hellacious and chaos worshiping kind imaginable. While this is a modern re-recording, the sound is appropriately very far from polished; it is truly hell in metal form. This album took a while for me to understand, and the first few tracks seldom do it for me, but if I hang in there the reward is magnificent. This is probably even harder to digest than the other black metal on this list, but give it a go if you want to see how deep the abyss truly is.
Aguirre Records ZORN29
Listen: Vimeo (total track length on LP is 20 mins, this is just an excerpt)
I’l start by saying you can completely ignore sida A here; This record is all about the glorious droney ambient drift of Rambutan. The track has flecks of distortion and noisy structures, and these helps steer it well clear of the artifically sweetened, cheesy drivel that devaluates the ‘ambient’ genre name. With these seemingly unlikely textures he weaves one of the most soothing and serene music releases of all of 2012. The associations go to light through foliage, glittering waves in a seaside sunset, tickling grass against one’s legs in a summer field, shimmering hazy intoxication and unrelenting youthful love. Hauntingly beautiful and a stand-out in a sea of me-too ambient and drone releases.
Final Agony Records FA-07
Listen: Youtube (single track)
Being in a band hints at some level of comradery, which in turn fits poorly with the anti-everything negativity many black metal bands strive to radiate. This is why I have soft spot for one man bands in this genre, and Cornigr is the singular vision of “Vainaja” from Finland. The record was in fact originally released as a cassette in 2011 and on CD and vinyl this year, but I’ll give it a pass. Musically we’re served some astonishingly harsh and cold, reverb drenched true-to-its-roots black metal. Decidedly less avant garde than both Blut Aus Nord and Deathspell Omega elsewhere in this list, but instead a perfection of the 90′s sound. Sonically it’s as though the vocalist is howling in a tin box, backed up by the “band” in a nearby cave, all in the middle of Finnish winter. Any other, less extreme production would rob this of its impact. A nearly perfect album, delivered with astonishing focus and determintation, probably because noone else interefered. A singular vision, masterfully executed.
Listen: Youtube (extract)
Gigli’s output is always good but sometimes a bit too anynomous. Here however, he and Francesco “Obtane” Baudazzi delivers one of my new favorite techno tracks of all time in “Theory Of Radical Structures”. The version on Youtube is just an extract; the full thing is well over 10 minutes of this amazing hypnotism with windswept, wintery tundra atmospheres over the growly bass that simmers like thick porridge underneath.
Some of the stuff that I’m not convinced enough about (or haven’t heard sufficient number of times) to put on the main list.
2012 was a good year for dystopian techno, so here’s some more:
Honestly this should probably be in the main list, it goes well beyond regular techno. There’s some proper depth and new ideas here. This guy normally records as Obtane, listed above in the Giorgio Gigli release.
Industrialized techno darkness that might not feel super relevant in 10 years but captures the techno zeitgeist perfectly. Side B is in my techno mix from last week.
More trancey house bliss for caribbean sunsets. I love both tracks but side B, “The Arch” is the winner here.
Half techno and half skeletal kraut beats, this album is worth it for the closing “Utopian Disaster (End)” alone. If you just want the techno bits, grab the extended remixes 12″ [Spotify]. I bought both.
This contains the finishing track from my techno mix, and is perhaps the darkest techno release I’ve bought in 10 years. Fantastic quality throughout.
The production level here is pure hifi porn, and this is something rare in 2012: intelligent dubstep.
Throw rocks at a piano, record the impacts with all kinds of microphones, then edit and distort the ever living hell out of the result, and you get this. Well, to be correct, Daniel Menche gets this, somehow. His sound editing technique is unlike anyone elses to my ears, and I’ve called his output “audiophile noise” before. Harsh, harsh walls of the most ultra detailed noise cascades.
I have tremendous respect for the mysterious Eleh, but the winner here is Duane Pitre’s fantastic sine-like, resonant plucks. Beautifully minimalistic, even cute, shimmering and summery ambient. There’s a Soundcloud excerpt of this particular mix/piece here.
This is psy-trance as much as Blut Aus Nord are “rock”. While everyone else is busy inbreeding the genre to new record levels of utter shite, Mikael Stegman brings completely new influences: A carnival from outer space, four gypsy weddings, basslines played by actual swamps and the testicles of Mike Patton. Insanity.
A little heavy on the tremolo picking (just like Nightbringer’s “Death And The Black Work” from 2008) but a very well crafted and enjoyable album of quality black metal. I haven’t appreciated the band before, but this is excellent quality throughout. It’s been noted though that some riffs, and even whole songs, are pretty much stolen from Swedish band Kaos Sacramentum. Listen and judge for yourselves.
Dodecahedron – “Dodecahedron” – Season Of Mist Underground Activists, SUA 023 CD, Album
Bought this during the first days of 2013 after I gave up on getting ahold of the vinyl, which I was reluctant to get because this band felt like too much of a Deathspell Omega ripoff. They still give me that feeling and sometimes I can’t stand it, but how can more Deathspell-esque black metal be a bad thing? So I bought the goddamn CD and if they’d been a tiny bit less screamo and more original this would have made the main list.
I realize as I’ve been putting this list together that haven’t listened to nearly enough new music this year. I should probably make another list of 2011 albums, or even a 2002 list to see which records survived 10 years of scrutiny, but the above took enough time to compile that I need a break now.
A last honorary mention also has to go to the still unreleased ambient collaboration between Nicholas Szczepanik and Celer that I blogged about before. The best ambient I heard in 2012: https://soundcloud.com/nszcz
As a follow-up to my last post in September, I’ve FINALLY managed to record a mix with this type of techno. I’m planning a few more, but seeing how long these take maybe you shouldn’t count on it.
Anyway, enjoy these 2 hours of dark, gloomy techno for winter nights. Play/listen above or download here (221MB).
Techno—the proper stuff and not the sugar-coated, insultingly tasteless drivel that every now and then seeps into the mainstream—is a rather faceless type of music, so this post will not have a single hero artist representing the genre. It is utilitarian music, primarily made for DJ’s and to be heard in the context of more techno, carefully selected and mixed to create a coherent aesthetic theme, since tracks seldom come to their full right on their own. It is music to be enjoyed at very loud volume where the impact of the bass becomes a very physical experience. Compared to other electronic music it’s also more abstract with it’s lack of traditional arrangement structures or melodic hooks.
Much like video art where a single moment—beautiful, mysterious, sad, frightening or anywhere in between—is looped over and over, techno likewise is often about that single rhythmic element being given absolute focus and repeated (and perhaps mutated slightly) for the entire length of a track. It’s all about the pattern and texture, not forgetting that repetition, of course, is the mother of hypnosis.
There are many tens of thousands of techno 12″ releases, many with only incredibly subtle nuances to tell them apart but also every imaginable experimental variation on the basic formula. This means that finding the parts of the techno palette that you enjoy can be incredibly tedious as you have to wade through insufferable amounts of drivel and musical ideas that make no sense or, equally common, are downright awful. Adding to that, these days most releases are only pressed in 200-500 copies so the ones that get popular sell at extortion prices after just weeks or even days at worst. The thing to keep in mind is that anything you can imagine probably already exists, and that there are hundreds of records with exactly the sound you’re after: The right drums, the right patterns, the right textures. Knowing this yet getting sick of all the crap each time I tried finding more is what has fed my frustration, but it’s been getting easier lately.
In the last year or two, the techno zeitgeist has thankfully begun to lean towards a sound I really enjoy. This has meant more artists and labels releasing this style, in turn making it easier to find. A lot of this output is from Italy, and this has been highlighted by sites like Resident Advisor (more in this feature on Giorgio Gigli & Obtane). Here’s a bunch of my recent finds as Youtube links, and I also maintain a playlist on Spotify for the stuff available there.
Play these as loud as you’re comfortable with and preferrably all the way through. Make sure you set each video to maximum resolution since the audio improves too. The repetition is part of the point, so if you’re not used to that type of structure just try to sit back and absorb it—hopefully you will “get it” eventually.
Mike Parker – FWD (Donato Dozzy Remix)
Claudio PRC – “Clear Depths” (Obtane Remix)
Shifted – “Out of Tune”
Nax_Acid – Marìlia
Giorgio Gigli | Obtane – “Theory Of Radical Structures” (pictured above, not available on Spotify)
Polar Inertia – Major Axis (
Not Now available on Spotify)
Holy shit that name is hard to spell. Anyway, I’ve listened to his blissed out drone ambience (and noise) for a couple of years now, and his split with Celer totally hit the spot for me today. I’m enjoying this through headphones while I work and the glacial progression creates a zen-like focus bubble around my mind, free of distractions. You can listen to some of the tracks on his SoundCloud page, and here are two of them:
I’ll get back to the “this is my music” series shortly.
I know update this blog with olympic frequency, but now I have this idea for a series of posts that might actually motivate me to generate some worthwhile content. The idea is I’ll pick a genre I listen to and an artist to represent it, and then present a few key recordings and tell you why you need to hear them. We’ll start this exercise with Greek synth shaman Panos Alexiadis, a.k.a. Lunar Miasma.
The first thing you’ll notice if you trawl the Lunar Miasma discography is that the vast majority of his releases are on tape. Yes, cassette tape. Yes, it is indeed 2012. I’m pretty sure his recordings are digital somewhere in the production chain, so it’s not due to some analog puritanism. Rather, it’s part cheap-as-hell production costs for small runs and a rather more romantic format than CDr. While tapes have plenty of well known sonic limitations, everything from Lunar Miasma sounds pretty damn good considering the format. So don’t be deterred—dig out your old tape deck from the attic and get tripping.
And boy do I mean tripping. This is pretty much synth trip music perfected, as far as I’m concerned. The mood, progression, textures and arrangement is totally spot on. He steers clear of of the gag-inducingly cheesy new age slush that permeates so much of ambient music, yet achieves amazing emotional impact. If you like old Berlin school stuff like Schulze (tracks like Crystal Lake, from thew Mirage LP) you’re in for a treat. Since his releases are seldom produced in more than 100 copies they can be pretty tricky to get ahold of, but check Discogs and the labels own sites.
Out of the ones I have I can wholeheartedly recommend Existence (Hooker Vision, 2011), The Gateway (Digitalis, 2011), Gone (Sweat Lodge Guru, 2011), Arrival (Field Studies, 2011), Observing The Universe (Moon Glyph, 2012), Managing The Dream (Tranquility Tapes, 2012) and Impermanent Nature (SicSic, 2012). Here are some clips from his SoundCloud page:
Hypnopompic Speech, from Managing The Dream:
Expanded Dimension, from Observing The Universe:
Arrival from Arrival:
I also have to add Air Pt II from The Gateway, which isn’t on Soundcloud:
There’s another recent DAC202 review by Nicholas Bedworth for Positive Feedback with lots of very good technical information, but whose subjective conclusions I found a bit weird and littered with a bit of unfortunate mumbo jumbo. He claims to get better sound when bypassing the units internal clocking which goes against all my own experience, the Stereophile measurements and Daniel Weiss’ own thoughts on the matter. But as I haven’t heard it with the setup Nicholas was using, I can’t claim he’s wrong with absolute certainty. His experience does not reflect mine, however.
It’s been a while since I updated you on the progress of my hi-fi journey. In short, I bought the Weiss DAC202 this summer, after concluding that adding it to my Pass INT-150 amplifier gave a more satisfying sound than replacing both with a Devialet D-Premier. I’m very very happy with my purchase and whenever I listen through another digital source I’m struck by how flat and unenthusiastic everything sounds. The soul and flesh and breath of life in this little DAC makes all the difference.
In the January 2012 issue of Stereophile, Erick Lichte gives the unit a full review while John Atkinson performs his usual exhaustive test suite. Since I own the thing and has listened to it daily for 6 months, I thought I’d chime in with my perspective.
Other than describing its overall sound as silky, liquid and supple, Lichte does not make any special mention of the midrange that I have raved about previously. Perhaps he was primarily thinking of the mids when he chose those words, or perhaps my combination of Focal Utopia speakers and this DAC brings out something extra in that range that his Revel Performa F30 and Atlantic Technology AT-1 speakers did not convey.
Lichte feels the DAC202 does not possess the same dynamic capabilities, both macro and micro, as dCS Debussy for example. This comment must be seen in the light of his later remark that the Debussy was a bit more fatiguing in the long run and lacked the same silkiness. I have not made the same comparison (although I have heard the Debussy too) so this is mere speculation, but isn’t it rather likely that the perceived increase in dynamics and detail is due to the same factor that causes some listening fatigue and lesser liquidity? In my experience, the same is true for the soundstage. Lichte mentions how the dCS unit manages to project a soundsstage in front of the speaker baffles while Weiss expands out behind them instead. I mentioned this in another post here, and I’ll quote myself:
I have seen remarks that some feel the DAC202 is somewhat laid-back and recessed in its soundstage, but I’m inclined to think this is a misapprehension. It does extend the soundstage further out behind the speakers than most other digital sources I’ve heard, in a very convincing manner at that, but it also extends in all other directions. If you have had a flat soundstage before, one that sat against a proverbial brick wall lined up between the speakers, that rear extension is the thing you will notice first. But listen again and you’re likely to find the sound has taken on a more voluminous character overall, where sounds are unimpededly slung out like dandelion seeds, as opposed to the easily congested single-lane precision beam of sound delivered by many other components.
I would guess that this is what’s shaping Lichtes impression to some extent. I am not at all saying he is wrong, or that the Debussy isn’t sounding better overall; This may well be a matter of taste and I too am easily enchanted by a more forward soundstage. My personal conclusion here is that the Weiss presentation is both a more correct representation of the source material and a more pleasant and rewarding sound in the long term. Erick Lichte might be of a slightly different opinion (in fact he prefers the Bel Canto over both these), and I cannot possibly fault him for that. I too may well change my mind on this topic again, as I have before.
His preference for the more rolled of B filter is curious: I find that DAC202 does feel somewhat more receded with this filter compared to filter A, so why he preferred B is peculiar. I use filter A exclusively as it sounds every so slightly more open and forward.
Note also that he mentions that the shortcomings weren’t nearly as apparent, if at all, when using the DAC202 as a headphone amp. To me, that would indicate that the fault is not with the DAC but with the rest of the signal chain or the room itself. Making changes there might let him get the headphone level immediacy while dodging the fatigue issue from dCS Debussy. Or perhaps system synergy with his components was simply better with the Bel Canto DAC3.5VB, which I haven’t heard but got more curious about after this review.
John Atkinsons measurements reflect the impression I get both from listening and from my interview with Daniel Weiss himself: This is engineered to such perfection that it seems hard to concieve how it can be bettered. Weiss himself feels the Medea+ DAC with its new output stages is a better performer, and as much as I would love to see someone like Michael Fremer review it, I’m even more excited to see Atkinsons reactions to its measurements.
The jitter suppression deserves extra attention. “…The Weiss DAC202 offers the best rejection of datastream jitter I have encountered”, says Atkinson. Remember, then, that he has measured digital source components for 25 years, including the 10 times as expensive dCS Scarlatti stack. This absolutely astonishing jitter performance means that in practice, you can use whatever digital source you want and effectively get the same D/A performance from a Squeezebox as from a $10.000 transport. After the JET PLL has worked it’s magic, the signals are indistinguishable. Good luck finding differences between WAV and FLAC or between different digital cables with this DAC. (I will give the cable experiment a go though.)
Atkinsons measurements show that objectively this is one of the best performing digital to analog converters in existence. Erick Lichtes listening impressions show that this level of engineering can sound more organic and analog than something designed by ear.
Lichte might be right in that there could or should be more dynamic impact and forward soundstage — I can’t say with certaintly whether that would be correct or desirable in the long run. I love the sound of mine though, and I have good reason to believe it will remain my digital source component for a very long time.
Here’s a post not concerning music or hifi equipment. If you only care about those topics, you’re done now. Physical health should concern everyone though, and while this is just me rambling about my own experiences, I hope some of you might find it interesting.
Like a lot of people I have a rich history of shamefully neglected gym memberships and broken new years resolutions. I’ve never been properly fat — the worst shape I’ve ever been in was when I got to 95 kg (209 lbs) in 2005 — but before then I was never properly fit either. Deciding I didn’t want to get to a three digit weight I took up running and enjoyed it enough to get myself down to 77 kg (170 lbs) in a little over a year. I hadn’t been very smart about it though, and got myself runner’s knee in both legs. Motivation slipped and I eventually stopped going to the gym entirely. I’m very thankful I made that effort to lose the weight since it taught me a lot about what I can accomplish if I put my mind to it and that I could learn to love a new form of exercise (I had never done any long distance running before that). The problem was that now I just kept excusing my laziness with the comforting thought that I could get back into shape any time I wanted. That is of course utterly pointless if I never do it though.
I was pretty much entirely untrained when a colleague dragged me to the gym in November of last year. I was probably about 87 kg, which in terms of physical appearance wasn’t horrible at all, but it wasn’t a body to be proud of either. In terms of strength and conditioning it was even worse: I couldn’t do a single pullup (regardless of hand position or grip width) and while hanging from the bar I couldn’t pull my knees up higher than the hip joint even once. Running for 10 minutes on the treadmill at 10 km/h (6.2 mph) was almost exhausting. That I’d ran 20 km in less than 100 minutes a few years before felt surreal. No 31 year old should ever be in that shape, so I bought a 6 month membership and started training.
In my previous episodes of gym traning I’ve done the usual machine exercises, thrown dumbbells around, tried all manners of split schedules where you try to get the whole body covered each week. I’ve mostly trained for vanity, but without any real goal or determination. So I’ve kept trying new things and never really stuck to a program. Sure I got marginally stronger and it was probably way better than not training at all, but nothing really happened. I’ve always trained mainly to get rid of some flab, so I also kept my diet pretty strict. Since everyone says you have to eat to gain muscle, I decided that while a bit flabby, this time I’d eat like mad to see if it helps. After all, I know I can shed weight if I need to. Apart from 10-15 minutes on the treadmill as warmup I just did the standard 3 sets of 10 reps with the usual machines and dumbbells, and ate huge amounts at every meal.
Apart from the dreaded runner’s knee, big reasons I’d stopped training was that work took more of my time, I had moved to a new apartment with my girlfriend and I didn’t want to be away so much. So this time around I decided to train in the morning, before work. I am not in any way a morning person, but after 30 I find myself needing slightly less sleep than 10 years ago, so I figured it was worth a try. The gym was only open early Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, so apart from some occasional lunch session on a Tuesday or Thursday, I trained 3 days a week. I quickly found a problem with this: It’s much easier to get up early if you’re consistent with it. I decided to hang in there, and since I’d just bought a 6 month membership I figured I’d switch to another gym with more generous opening hours later on.
In April, after 6 months of consistent traning and a few bazillion extra calories, I weighed 91 kg (200 lbs). Not exactly lean, but some of the gains were definitely muscle. I decided that this was heavy enough, and switched to a gym that let me train 5 mornings per week. I also got the bicycle out for the summer season and started biking to/from work. So my daily routine was bike 12-15 minutes (and I go hard, I ride like I have a goddamn homing rocket chasing me), then treadmill for 15-20 (up slightly from before) and then about 40 minutes of weight traning. After work, bike home again. This worked really well and in late june I was down to 85 kg, while it felt like I actually kept gaining muscle. I’m saying felt like, because it might just be that I looked more defined thanks to less body fat, and I felt stronger because I was lighter.
As the sun set sooner and sooner, I decided to stopp biking in October. Inner city riding in the dark is a bit risky and chilly mornings could mean lethal ice patches that aren’t very welcome when you’re treating your job commute like the final stretch of Tour de France. Instead I switched to a gym in the same franchise that’s just 100 meters from my home, and increased the cardio to 20-30 minutes of treadmill running. The knees have had zero problems so far, thankfully.
I’ve read up on crossfit a lot which lead me to more barbell training and I can finally squat to proper depth with OK-ish form. I have a lot left to do in terms of flexibility, but I’m getting there. I’ve also incorporated more circuit training to improve my workrate. Watching the crossfit elite athletes on Youtube I’m in utter awe of their stamina and physical versatility, but at the same time very concerned about the risk of injury and not willing to give up my heavy lifts for speed training. That said, I’ve done 100 burpees for time 5 weeks in a row now, and while I’m embarasingly slow it’s at least getting better. Now that I have some sort of basic fitness established, I can actually enjoy stuff like that, but I would never ever recommend it to myself a year ago. I also tried the crossfit workout called Fight Gone Bad, and scored a very shitty 207. It was my first try though and I will have another go very soon. Over 300 would be great but it’s probably up to a year away.
The point of all this is I’ve tried a lot of things, and also learned a lot of things. I’ve done pure cardio (running), I’ve done the machines, I’ve done dumbbells, I’ve done barbells, I’ve done bodyweight exercises, I’ve done circuit training. The one thing that remains is consistency. Changing the routine is fun and helps with motivation since I enjoy trying new things, but over 200 gym visits later I still don’t know what really works. I’ve had results that I’m pretty happy with, still at 85 kg but more muscular than I’ve ever been and with pretty good endurance, but surely this wasn’t the optimal way to train. As I try to figure out what was redundant, it strikes me that I don’t even know what my goal is! It’s not really vanity any more—I care how I look but I’m not at all in the bodybuilder category. A functional and multidiciplinary body is the most attractive in both inside and outside: I want to be able to run 10 km with ease, to sprint 100 meters really fast, to be strong relative to my body weight, to be have flexibility and balance and coordination, and to be strong in absolute terms so that I’m able to lift heavy things. I can probably keep training all these things and slowly get a little bit better at them until eventually age stumps my progression, or I can be a bit more scientific about it.
After reading what feels like every single training program and theory in existence, I feel that there is very solid evidence that basic barbell training combined with some gymnastics and running is the basics for everything unless you want to be very specialised. So starting next year I will try Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program which consists of squat, deadlift, bench press, power clean, overhead press, dips and pullups (the last two are actually optional). This program dictates 3 non-consecutive days of traning per week, so I will be back to mon-wed-fri for a while. Right now it’s tempting to think I’ll do some running tue-thu but seeing as I will be squatting 3 days a week it’s not likely to happen. Since the program emphasises that if you mess with the program you’re not going to get the results it promises, I will really try to be strict and not add a bunch of stuff. I know I will long for running, pure arm exercises, lunges and all that but I will try not to deviate. If you can truly increase your weight every week with this method, as hundreds (if not thousands) of people swear you do, it will be worth it. If that doesn’t work, I get to try new things again! And if it does work, I can try adding gymnastics type stuff and maybe a bit of running to see if that stifles progress or it can be combined. With proper strength to start from, I can try to maintain that and add speed, endurance and all the other cool stuff. Doing it all at once can’t really be optimal, can it?
This time around I don’t think I’ll slip out of training again, I’m in it for the long haul. I’m in the shape of my life but that doesn’t say much — noone would mistake me for an elite athlete, and I’m not about to get offers for modelling underwear any time soon. That’s all OK though, because I don’t keep any type of diet and love beer way too much. But I’m having fun, I keep getting stronger and faster and leaner and meaner and I just feel more relaxed and pleased with my life than I have in a very, very long time. I’m super excited to see if 3 months of this program will give me the something even remotely close to the gains it promises. A 200 kg deadlift would be pretty awesome…
Here’s some records that are on their way here. I’ve linked each cover image to a site where you can listen to some samples and/or buy them. Spanning from the grimmest of noise and metal to serene piano improvisations and soothing drones, it’s quite an eclectic blend yet with a distincty autumnal mood:
I’m playing two sets at the Lost Theory Festival in Croatia August 17-22 (that’s soon!). My ambient set will be Sunday morning 6.30-11, so it’s a looong one. Before I knew I’d be playing in daylight I made a shorter promo mix – I might play slightly sunnier stuff at the festival, but this mix turned out pretty nice so here you go, enjoy!
Aquarius Records of San Fransisco run a web shop that’s looking quite distinctly 1990′s, which is not a high mark in 2011. But what they lack in web savvy, they make up in spades when it comes to dedication. Their newsletters, which are now running double pace and are sent out weekly, have reviews written by the staff themselves, unlike pretty much every other record shop on the planet who just copy the distributor mumbo jumbo verbatim. This is practically a full time job in itself!
Their insatiable lust and love for all forms of weird music is contagious, and when their site tricks me and a record turns out to be sold out even though it’s listed (which honesty happens with probably 50% of what I order) they go on a quest to find that missing record no matter what. Today I received a CD that I initially ordered on May 5th, 2010. That’s right — 14 months later, they found the damn thing for me! That level of service and commitment remedies any shortcomings their site may have, and if I ever go to San Fransisco I will visit the store just to personally shake hands with their mailorder staff.
The record in question is an epic 43+ minutes of brainmelting sitar, synth, tablas, overtone singing and god knows what else. If you like your music esoteric, unrelenting and profoundly hallucinatory, this is mandatory listening.
You can find some samples through Juno or Aquarius (direct link). A quick googling will lead you to a download of the whole thing. The label behind this, aRCHIVE, is now defunct but this disc can be found cheap through Discogs.com.
If you’re reading this blog thanks to my audiophile posts, you’re likely—although not entirely guaranteed—to find the following music overwhelmingly noisy. That warning aside, I do love brutally distorted Roland TB-303 mayhem. Two such records that have spent many, many years in my wantlist finally arrived in the mail today:
It feels surreal that these are now 18 and 17 years old, not only because it makes me feel old but for how well I feel that they hold up even to this day. My collection of mid-90′s underground dance music vinyl weighs over a metric ton for good reasons, and it’s likely to keep expanding.
Both records purchased through Discogs.com.
Seeing as this has turned into a hifi blog, I thought it’d be appropriate to remedy something I find missing in a lot of audio writing, namely new music. And not more Diana Krall albums or reissues of relics from 40 years ago; I mean truly new and adventurous music on the outer brinks of the artform. I might not manage to write about everything I buy, but by setting the bar reasonably low I should hopefully have enough writing stamina to give a bit of insight and inspiration through my purchases.
Anyone familiar with the 1970′s Berlin school of electronic psychedelia from names like Klaus Schulze might object to me calling the recently launched Spectrum Spools label “adventurous music on the outer brinks of the artform”, as there is an obvious heritage here. But the resurgence of tripped-out, neo-kosmische synth psychedelia in recent years has a fresh take on the style that I would argue is expanding into new territory.
A sublabel of avant-garde powerhouse Editions Mego, Spectrum Spools vinyls are cut at Dubplates + Mastering Berlin and everything oozes of quality. Emeralds played a fantastic set to an undeservedly sparse crowd here in Stockholm last night and I bought two LP’s from the band. Do the clicky-clicky on the cover images below to be taken to the label site where you can listen to a preview track off of each. The colored editions are sold out from the label but can be found through some distributors still.
Daniel Weiss is one of the worlds foremost authorities on digital sound and his products have had great success both in pro audio and among audiophiles around the world. In February he visited Stockholm and the high-end fair to present his latest creation MAN202, a combined DAC, network streamer, CD player and ripping station. After closing time on the first day I got a chance to talk to him over a few beers.
This interview is quite technical at times, but key phrases have been linked to explanatory articles for those keen to read more.
I’d like to start with Weiss as a company. How many people are you right now?
Right now, 10 people.
Are you happy with that or are you looking to expand further?
We will probably expand, depending on our success of course. But as it looks right now we’ll probably expand, or have to expand.
Which side is bigger, pro audio or consumer audio?
Right now it’s consumer audio actually, in terms of turnover and also in terms of time we put into new development.
Do you develop for consumer products first and then take that technology to pro audio?
No, usually it works vice versa.
Like how the DAC2 was first and then you made the Minerva?
That example is a bad one because the Minerva was actually first and the DAC2 came later. But for instance we had the DAC1 in pro audio and then made the Medea out of that. For future projects we want to avoid that kind of interchange.
There was a bit of controversy with the DAC2 and the Minerva because of the price difference. But you immediately stated that it’s the same product, you didn’t try to hide it.
Yes, there’s no point in doing that.
Do you manufacture everything in Switzerland?
Yes we do, yes.
That is normally more expensive to do in Switzerland, compared to outsourcing to China for example.
That’s true. We actually outsource it to a local company, located where ours is. I think the PCB manufacturing for instance is done outside of Switzerland, but the assembly of the pieces is all done in Switzerland.
Compared to a lot of other people in the business you post on forums and blogs quite often, and you have some articles out on enjoythemusic.com for example. Do you feel this is rewarding from a business perspective or is it something that drains you of energy and time you had rather put into something else?
I think it’s rewarding in the sense that you get recognized as someone who cares about customers and concerns and so on. It’s not directly rewarding regarding sales. It gives you a good image, of course.
Are you ever frustrated by meeting the same question again and again, and all these misconceptions and maybe even accusations sometimes?
It’s not that bad yet.
Yet? You think it will get worse?
Could be, because with the computer things taking place now in the audio world, it’s becoming more and more difficult for the average consumer to understand what’s going on. So basic questions are coming up, like how to set up a computer. More and more I’ve been thinking about making some whitepaper on how to do such things. I think I should do more of that actually.
What do you see as the most significant misconception about digital audio?
Many people think it makes a difference if they play from a normal hard disk or from a solid state disk. That’s one thing.
You mean they think of it as analogue tweaking although it’s digital?
They think they can tweak the bits, so to speak. But bits are bits and if you get the proper bits off the medium, then it’s fine.
Like the discussion of FLAC vs ALAC vs WAV vs AIFF?
Right, that’s one thing as well. It depends on the right bits of course, and also on the jitter. I think that’s what’s going on there, it’s really a time domain thing.
So a bad implementation of FLAC decoding would trouble the system in such a way that more jitter is introduced?
I don’t think you could pin that down to the FLAC decoding.
But some people claim that they keep hearing differences between FLAC and WAV, and that would be the only theoretical difference I think.
Yes, but I don’t see how a FLAC decoder could influence jitter. So I think people hearing a difference between FLAC and WAV for instance, either have a defective FLAC decoder—which is very unlikely and easily testable—or they have a placebo effect going on. So those people I recommend to do a blind test.
A lot of people have problems understanding how data flows in a server based system, where the data is, where it turns to analogue, the effects of a digital transport and things like that. Is it a business challenge for you to overcome those misunderstandings so that people understand what the product is for?
To some extent maybe. But I think our job is to tell people how it is, and hint them that they can be victims of false misconceptions and false expectations. Some think WAV sounds better than FLAC because the FLAC is data reduced, but it’s not of course in the end.
Not understanding the difference between lossy and non-lossy compression.
They probably think one must be worse because the file is smaller. When they listen they expect the WAV to sound better and then it sounds better.
If you had a room and a system and choice of music that you have full control over, do you think you could tell a €200 CD player from a €15000 transport feeding one of your DAC’s?
I wouldn’t expect to hear a difference actually.
Because of the jitter suppression?
Yes, provided of course that the data is read correctly.
But who would ever need a Jason transport then?
(Laughs) …those who want to have the same design as the Medea, for instance. Or for using the upsampling feature or the volume control.
What about digital cables then—There’s a huge difference between different types of cables. I know for firewire you’ve said you shouldn’t spend much money on expensive cables.
Well there are differences in firewire cables, double or triple shielded and all that stuff.
But does it matter?
Yes the shielding can matter in terms of susceptibility regarding interference.
But that interference isn’t introducing jitter, so is it picking up radio interference and transmitting it to sensitive components?
No it introduces bit errors.
Oh, you can get bit errors from poorly shielded cables?
I think so, in theory. Because it’s still balanced, the whole firewire cable.
And there’s a checksum, right?
Yes but firewire doesn’t retransmit, it’s a continuous data flow.
Then what about electric S/PDIF? There’s research showing that different cables can introduce different amounts of jitter. Is that something we can hear in a normal DAC, or with your jitter suppression?
That’s of course very much depending on the implementation or on the clocking and re-clocking. Our DAC’s are built such that it shouldn’t matter much.
So you wouldn’t recommend a €1000 digital cable?
No. No, I wouldn’t.
So that money would be better spent on something else.
Yes, on acoustic treatment maybe.
For the MAN202, you’ve said you might introduce DSP functionality later on through software upgrades. Would you have some sort of room correction in there?
Yes that’s one thing we may put in, we don’t know yet. It depends on what DSP power we will have, and I don’t know that yet.
Aren’t you settled on what chip to use?
It would use the PC CPU.
Given the Nyquist theorem and the limits of human hearing, is the only reason we sometimes can tell 16 bits 44,1kHz from hi-res, just the reconstruction filters? Because theoretically we shouldn’t hear the higher resolution.
I don’t know, maybe it has to do with non-linearities in the ear, so high frequencies above 20kHz can end up at lower frequencies through intermodulation. Maybe there’s something to that, I don’t know. But then the speakers have to do that, and the microphones etc.
A problem is that very few microphones record that high frequencies. If you analyze a 24-bit, 96kHz recording of classical music, it might not have anything above, say, 25kHz. But still people think it sounds much better. So could it be the bit depth, the extra dynamics?
It’s different in the D-A converter, with the frequencies it can transmit and the anti-aliasing or the reconstruction filter which can be much flatter, so it gives you less artifacts from the filter.
Your equipment supports up to 24 bits, 192kHz. Is that completely overkill?
Yes. Bob Stuart of Meridian once gave a talk at AES and his proposal was to keep it at 60 kHz.
The closest one we have as a standard is 88,2, but more equipment supports 96.
96 is coming from the studio standard, doubled from 48. But 88,2 or 96 will be plenty.
So anyone claiming to hear a difference between 96 and 192 would either be hearing placebo or in how it was converted to that sampling rate?
That is a point of course. I know of professional people having done tests with these conversions and they can hardly hear a difference, even if it’s up to 192 and down to 44,1 again.
Especially if they use Saracon!
Yes, they used Saracon.
That seems to have become a bit of a standard?
There are some competitors, but it’s one of the better ones. There’s a website actually, comparing all kinds of sampling rate converters.
And saracon does very well.
Yes, luckily (laughs).
If you could choose only one format, would it be 24 bits, 44,1kHz or 16 bits, 88,2 kHz?
At least in theory, our ears can manage more than 96dB of dynamics, but we can’t hear much above 20kHz. So according to that, the extra dynamics should be better.
Professional people usually go with larger word lengths than bandwidth.
That’s because they will do processing with the sound, so they want that margin.
As an end format, you can do a very decent encoding in 16 bits. I think the dynamic range is enough, you don’t have such dynamic range in a listening situation usually.
Buy you have a finite number of steps within those 16 bit, so it’s not infinite precision. Would you ever need a finer resolution than that?
The question is whether you need the signal to noise ratio basically. It’s 96dB at 16 bits, which is huge. You have maybe a 30dB dynamic range in the music, and that is already quite a lot actually. So you still have a 60dB lower noise floor. I don’t think you hear the noise of a CD. At normal listening levels, do you hear the noise floor?
See, that’s what I mean.
I know a lot of people look up to you and what you’ve accomplished, but is there an engineer within audio that you admire or look up to?
There are, of course. I’m thinking of pro audio, because that’s at the forefront of developments. But I don’t mention any names =)
It’s interesting that you mention how the latest developments are in pro audio. Should a consumer looking for the latest and greatest search in pro audio?
The pro audio products are usually not built for the consumer, they have different requirements. A D-A converter is maybe something that can live in both world. But when it comes to, say, an equalizer, an EQ for consumers is usually much simpler than a pro audio EQ. But if someone wants to look over the fence…
One pro audio product that has had a lot of attention in consumer audio is from Metric Halo, the ULN-8 and the LIO-8. Have you been in contact with those products at all?
Not much, no. I know that Sonic Studio is using them and selling them in high-end audio.
Do you look at competitors products at all or do you keep to your own research?
I don’t look at them much actually. The reason is that if you conceive a new product and you look at a competitor, you get into the competitors way of thinking. You limit your thinking, kind of. It’s better to start with a clean slate.
But then you have to be very confident in your ability to find the best solution without looking at anyone else.
Of course, yes. It’s a two-sided sword. You have to have some idea at least, of what you’re going to do. It helps sometimes to look at what others are doing.
There are several products coming out that have either wifi or wired ethernet built in, to read directly form a server. You have the MAN202 coming out, the Devialet amplifier will get an upgrade this spring for wifi, there’s the Resolution Audio Cantata which has ethernet as well. So those types of products are coming now. Is that just coincidence or are people being influenced by eachother?
I think they are seeing the general trend in high-end audio, that it’s going to be network based playback. So it’s a logical consequence of that.
Do you think that network connection is going to replace a direct connection to a computer, so we leave USB and firewire for network playback?
Yes, probably. You’d have to have a DAC which accepts ethernet connection.
Or a converter, like the version of MAN202 without the DAC maybe.
Yes, that’s also a solution.
I was expecting you to release something like the INT202, only for ethernet.
Well that’s on the list of course. In the pro audio field there are now some emerging formats for ethernet. Of course there are again some competing formats.
So you’re waiting for one to be the winner?
I don’t know yet, I have to look into those.
Are you worried that firewire will drop more in popularity? It’s not very common outside of Apple.
That’s true, yes. I don’t know what the future brings for firewire, but of course we have to be prepared in case they drop firewire completely. But right now it’s healthy, still.
For USB there’s been a lot of development now. Finally there are now many different implementations of asynchronous USB with up to 24 bit 192kHz without the need for custom drivers in some cases even. Is that something you will consider?
How come you chose firewire over USB in the beginning?
There was that chip which we’re using. It’s made especially for high quality audio over firewire. That was appealing, and at that time there wasn’t any asynchronous USB or 192 over USB.
And it would have been too expensive to develop on your own?
Actually I didn’t look into it. I saw that firewire chip and was blown away, so to speak.
You’ve built some custom units through the years. What is your favorite construction?
We did A/D and D/A converters for Swedish radio. We built them for the Swiss AT&T company and that company wired all of Sweden for lossless audio transmission via satellite links and such. It was in the early days so it was only 48kHz, 20 bits.
That’s not so bad.
Nothing was compressed, it was linear PCM, 2 mbit/s I think it was. So for that project we did A/D and D/A. It was very high quality at that time. I think Sweden was the only customer they had, and they stopped the project eventually.
Do you enjoy working on those custom missions where you have to solve problems that haven’t been solved before?
Yes, that was kind of fun. We did hundreds of those converters so it was kind of rewarding in the end, financially. But then we also had other projects we shouldn’t have done. It eats a lot of time.
Is there any kind of product you’d like to build, but that you don’t think there’s a commercial outlet for?
Yes, there’s one. One project on our list is a special testing device that allows you to test for instance whether mains cables have an influence on the sound. But I don’t know whether it’s a good idea to do something like that.
That’s a bit of a controversial topic, mains cables. What’s your personal opinion on that?
I’ve not done any comparisons. I’m kind of doubtful about mains cables in particular, because those people don’t care about the cable behind the wall.
I think the argument is often that the part exposed in your room is basically an antenna, which needs to be shielded.
But the wires in the wall are also an antenna.
So unless it’s a filter, it doesn’t really matter?
A filter is something different of course. But just a cable… of course it has some filtering effect in any case, but a cable shouldn’t do that much filtering compared to a mains filter which is a different thing.
So you would recommend looking into a mains filter rather than mains cables?
Yeah, if you want to treat the mains part.
You seem to have a very careful development cycle, not rushing components out.
We are late always (laughs). It has to do with the fact that we run several projects in parallel and we are a limited number of people. Eventually we have to concentrate on some project, like the MAN202 right now. There are two people working only on the MAN202. We probably do too many things, for the size of the company.
Is there any product you think was released a little bit too soon?
You could say all the products are released too soon, because we do revisions and enhancements. But there is a point where you have to make a release. It has to work to some extent of course, but you should be allowed to get customer feedback. It’s a kind of evolution. For instance our EQ in the pro audio segment started with kind of a simple thing and now we have linear phase and dynamic EQ etc. So that was an evolution based on consumer feedback and technology advancements.
You said you have too many projects, but do you plan to branch out into other component types? MAN202, DAC202 and Medea have clock input, so will there be a CLOCK202?
Probably not. Or if we do it, only because of market demand. Technically it doesn’t make much sense I think. The clock should ideally be right at the DAC chip or ADC chip. So if you have this atomic clock, which is a bad idea anyway because you don’t need the precision of the clock really—what you need is good jitter performance—those 10MHz standard frequency rubidium clocks, you have to PLL to another frequency which introduces jitter again. It’s a bad idea, the whole rubidium thing. Regarding our firewire products, they are the clock master for the computer. So whenever you change the sample rate on the track, you would have to adjust the sample rate of the clock source, which is kind of difficult if it’s an external clock source. So I’d rather not have an external clock source.
Now there is the NAD M2, Lyngdorf, Devialet… Will you ever do a digital amplifier?
Oh yes, definitely. We did one earlier on but we are going to do a different one now. Smaller and cheaper.
Is it traditional class D or are you building something new?
I don’t know yet.
You’re still experimenting with technologies for that?
Initially I wanted to do some standard class A/B, but I think I’ll go class D again because it’s the future.
There’s been a lot of criticism towards class D for increasing distortion with frequency. Do you have any concern about that?
I don’t think so. It depends on the implementation. With today’s technology you can make it very good.
Are there any specific class D amplifiers you’ve heard that you really like?
Yes, the Hypex modules for instance. They are very good.
You have the Medea+ and the DAC202, and they’re both quite high-end. Do you think there’s a market for something half the price of the DAC202?
Well we have the DAC2 in pro audio which is about half the price of DAC202. We are thinking of doing something even cheaper but it’s still far ahead into the future.
You seem to like having control over all aspects of your constructions. Have you gone as far as considering making your own DAC circuits, like dCS’ Ring DAC?
No, not yet. But maybe that’s something for the future. Maybe not on the chip level, but a combination of chips which makes a core converter.
I read the blog of your Asian distributor, Kent Poon, and he posted a 430 page PDF of op-amp tests that was done with some of your equipment.
Well, that was done by one of our engineers, Samuel Groner.
That surely helped you develop the new output stage for the Medea [making it the Medea+].
He did that, yes.
What about DAC chips—How do you evaluate and compare them? Because so much depends on the implementation.
Well there aren’t that many possible implementations for a given chip. I evaluate them based on the specs usually. I don’t do listening tests, I look at the specs.
Well it seems to work.
So far, yes.
There are other DAC’s, like the Wyred4Sound DAC2 which has received a lot of attention now, which I think uses the same Sabre chip as the DAC202. I saw one review saying that the DAC202 is better but it’s really really close and at a third of the price. I’m not saying he’s copied your design, but are you worried about that?
No, not that much. There’s also a lot in the name of the company. If we did a DAC which is worse than the one we used to do, it would still be considered a good DAC because it’s Weiss. Maybe I shouldn’t say that… (laughs)
But do you do anything to make it difficult to copy your constructions?
No, actually not. Kent was asking me to wipe out the Sabre name from the chip, but I forgot to do it (laughs). But I’m not fuzzy about that.
You’re confident that you know what you’re doing and that that will be beneficial in the end?
Yes. And also I think that the market is too small for someone to steal our design. There isn’t that much money in this market. I’m not that worried.
All reviewers seem to feel that the DAC202 is very pleasant to listen to. But is pleasant the same as accurate?
No, not necessarily. On the other hand I think our products are very revealing, so if you have a bad recording it will be sounding really bad. So that’s not what I would say is pleasant. A pleasant product would maybe conceal some shortcomings in the recording. I don’t think our equipment is doing that actually.
I’ve compared your DAC202 to some other components, and there appears to be something fundamentally different in the construction, to me especially noticeable in the treble. Do you have any idea what that difference might be?
I don’t know. We make our products as good as possible from a technical point of view. That’s our approach basically. If it distorts then we are not happy about it. We try to make the whole design as transparent as possible. That’s why we don’t do any tube stuff.
You mentioned that you don’t look much at other constructions, but do you listen to other equipment at all?
Just to what I have at home.
So if there’s a lot of hype about something that’s said to be better than one of your products maybe, you don’t go out and try to see what that is?
No, not so far. There isn’t much that’s better than us! (laughs)
That should be the new slogan for Weiss. Put it on your business card!
The MAN202 is a full-blown computer. What Linux distribution is the OS based on?
But you make some changes to it. Is that on the driver level or even in the kernel?
No, not the kernel, I don’t think so. I’m not into the details of that.
It comes with an iPad app. How come you’re programming these things in-house rather than letting specialists outside of the company deal with them? Did you consider doing that?
No, I don’t think so. We try to do everything in-house. It sounds stubborn but the main advantage is that we know how it’s done, we can do changes without having to rely on somebody’s good will, etc. But of course with Linux we’re depending on people outside of our company, so that’s already different.
One solution would have been to build a component that relies on some existing software platform rather than hiring an outside company.
Well that’s what we’re doing with Linux. There are some companies offering iPad development but we have somebody who’s doing that very well.
There are other apps for iPad you could build the hardware to work with.
I don’t know if that would be so simple. The user interface is very important for that product, and it has to look different than the others. It has to have our brand image.
Can you reach the MAN202 through a web browser as well?
It would be possible theoretically.
It doesn’t have a display, so how do I set it up from the beginning?
It’s all set up, but of course you have a configuration page.
So if the iPad is on the same network it will automatically find it?
What if I wipe the SSD in the MAN202, or if it breaks, or the motherboard is broken somehow, will the DAC still work?
So then it turns into a DAC202?
Basically, yeah (laughs). It depends on what the routing is doing but we could default to the AES/EBU or something like that.
That’s a concern a lot of people have. Another high-end DAC has had trouble with the drivers—Difficult to find them to download, problems getting bit transparent performance, frequent computer crashes. Software development is new to high-end audio and a new level of support is needed for the consumer, because you might buy a component like this and expect to keep it for 10 or 15 years. In an amplifier, as long as nothing physically breaks it’s going to work, but this is a bit different. You’d need to log in over SSH to the piece of equipment and fix config errors.
That’s possible with the internet connection. It can also upgrade itself. We have a tab in the iPad app which allows the base station to log in to our server and update itself.
It’s a bit of a niche product, but do you think there will be people who try to modify it and hack it?
I don’t know. I think that would happen if the product was cheaper. At this price point, those types of people won’t buy it.
How is support managed for it—what if it stops working?
It depends on the country actually. In some countries we have some support people.
So it’s a distributor deal where in some countries the distributor handles support while in others you do it from Switzerland?
Could I control it with another iPad app, or is the protocol between the iPad and the MAN202 proprietary?
I haven’t thought about that, but it’s probably not controllable by another app.
Will you support other types of “pads”, because there’s a lot of touch computers coming out now.
Eventually, I guess.
There seems to be several different ecosystems for app development. RIM, the BlackBerry company, are releasing one, Android 3.0 Honeycomb is another, and there’s HP WebOS, and then iOS. So we have four different major competitors, all with different programming languages for making the apps.
Of course it’s a problem of porting the application.
So you will primarily stick with the iPad?
I guess so.
In terms of features, why should I buy a MAN202 instead of a Mac mini and a DAC202?
That’s up to you, of course. The advantage of the MAN202, or at least that’s the goal, is that it’s much simpler to set up, to operate and you don’t have to hassle around with the operating system, with drivers and upgrades, ripping formats etc. That’s the idea. You don’t have to have a computer in your living room, no keyboard and no mouse, no monitor. But of course you can get away with a mac mini and a DAC202, it’s perfectly fine, but not for everyone.
So is the target demographic people who are a bit reluctant to go into computer based listening but have the financial resources to buy good equipment?
That’s it, yes.
Did the idea for the product come from encounters with people from that category?
Not necessarily. It was more so that you have a hifi system and not a computer plus hifi. That’s the general idea.
Since it has a computer inside, it has the potential for DSP stuff with room correction or whatever you want to do, which I suppose is more difficult to replicate on a mac mini.
Well not necessarily actually. In terms of computing power that’s fine.
It doesn’t have a volume control, at least not yet. That and the lack of display is what’s missing compared to the DAC202. Is that for cost reasons?
The local display is not necessary because you have the iPad. You can have the iPad in its docking station and you see the display all the time. The volume control we will implement of course.
You also decided to not have the storage inside the unit. What was the rationale behind that?
That you are able to expand the size of the storage and to be able to put it away in another room because of the noise. You can have huge sizes and backups and redundancy.
Why did you skip the headphone output for the MAN202?
Good question, I don’t know! There must be some reason, but I’m thinking “why did we skip that”?
I noticed that when you talk about the DAC in the MAN202, you’re very careful to always say it’s of similar quality to the DAC202. You’re not saying it’s identical.
Yes, they are not identical. The MAN202 is a little bit better than the DAC202.
Because it has more DAC chips?
The Sabre DAC chip has 8 channels. In the DAC202 we use 2 DAC channels per audio channel because we have the headphone output which has separate DAC channels for the volume control. So that’s the only reason. In the MAN202 we don’t have any headphone output, so we use 4 DAC channels per audio channel.
What is it that becomes better?
You can parallel the DAC channels and add the output of those and for every doubling of channels you get 3dB more signal to noise ratio, in theory. Of course you reach some thermal noise level in the end.
Isn’t it a problem that it shares a chassis with a computer? Isn’t there a lot of radio interference inside the box?
No, they are separated by a sheet of metal. I haven’t seen anything problematic.
Are plans for future products all secret?
No no. In the pipeline is a pro audio product which is an 8 channel A/D and D/A converter in one box, and consumer wise there’s a preamplifier in the format of the ATT202, an active preamplifier for people who still need a preamp for analogue sources. Then we had plans to do a large preamp in the size of the Medea converter, we had all the concepts etc and everything but it has all changed with the computer based things. So we have to re-think about this one.
And that class D amp as well.
Yes. They will be the size of the MAN202, as monoblocks. That preamp will have an A/D converter built in.
Will you make a separate A/D converter for people who want to digitize their vinyl for example?
That’s also on the list actually. But that will probably be a preamp in the end, because it’s kind of logical to do a preamp that way. Probably with D/A converter as well.
So a DAC202 with a preamp?
Yes, something like that. A DAC202 with A/D so it has analogue input as well.
Some people on internet forums have critizised the DAC202 for using op-amps instead of discrete components in the analogue output, saying it’s probably a good component but it would be much better with discreet components.
Of course you can always do better. We built our own discreet op-amp now, and it’s better than basically any audio op-amp out there. But it’s more expensive, by a fair amount.
That upgrade alone to the Medea is what, €5000?
It’s about €4000.
Is there any other compromise you feel you’ve done in the DAC202 or the MAN202?
Given that we do firewire, to do that on your own is not easy. You have to rely on a chip, and that’s a limiting thing of course. Maybe you could do something with the clocking.
But you have dual PLL’s already, so how much can clocking really do?
Right now the main clock is coming out of a PLL. If it’s in internal mode which it is when running on firewire, we could do a dedicated clock for that purpose. That would be one thing for enhancing it.
Do you ever have time to listen to music just for enjoyment?
I should take some, yeah (laughs).
So, too little?
Yes, too little actually. I listen to music of course, but more as a background thing. But as soon as I get the MAN202 at home…
So you don’t have it yourself yet?
I’ve ripped all my CD’s to a NAS, so I’m waiting for that.
Do you think spending so much time listening professionally or working with audio impacts your ability to listen purely for the enjoyment of the music?
I’m not as much of a critical listener as you’re suggesting, so I’m very open minded, I don’t analyze everything. At least I think I don’t.
So you don’t put the emotions into words when you listen?
You mean I hear this and that and “I could do that with electronics”—no, no way.
But if you listen very little , isn’t there a risk that you’re left somewhat out of touch with the customers you’re building equipment for?
I don’t know. Actually I prefer to go to concerts.
Ah, so then you know what things should really sound like.
I think you can’t expect your hifi system to sound like a concert hall. I know people try to reach that goal, some people at least, but they are two different things. There’s the recording process in between, which is an art form in itself. So you end up with a product made by recording engineers, by all the gear in between, so there is no point to try to achieve that concert hall feeling at home.
But isn’t there a point in trying to get as close as you can get, or is that just bound to be frustrating?
I think it’s the second thing. Of course you can try to get as close as possible, but you can never reach it. You don’t have the people sitting around you at home, you don’t have the real acoustics, you don’t have the size of the orchestra.
Do you have a turntable at home?
I do have one, yes. But I never use it (laughs).
When was the last time you used it?
It must be a year or so ago.
So you’re really true to digital.
I admit it, yes. But that’s one plugin for the MAN202, a vinyl simulator.
I spoke to Michael Fremer yesterday, and he says that when he digitizes vinyl, it retains some of the qualities that he likes about analogue. But that in turn proves that digital is able to convey those traits. But he also says that when you press a vinyl, something happens to the sound that you can’t achieve any other way. Have you thought about what that could be?
Sure. Some parameters you can extract from vinyl, like channel crosstalk which is bad, or rumble noise.
And frequency response.
Yes. I have to try to see if we can achieve something.
What is your personal system at home like?
I don’t have anything special. I have Chario speakers, an Italian high-end brand.
How do you audition the equipment that you build? Do you do listening tests at all?
No, basically I don’t do that. I have some Strax headphones for some listening, but I don’t judge the electronics based on listening tests.
Does anyone else in the company do that?
So it’s purely an engineering product?
Aren’t you worried then that you’re missing some parameter that you’re not able to measure?
There might be, but we try to measure a lot of different parameters. Of course you’re never sure you’ve covered it all. But so far it’s worked out well.
Do you have people testing the equipment for you?
In pro audio we do have that, we have some trusted ears, so to speak. They tell us right away.
Not in consumer audio?
Not in consumer audio, no. So far. Of course we get reactions from customers, but we don’t change anything based on those reactions. So far they have been very good. There haven’t been any comments saying “this and this is bad”. So it’s not been an issue so far.
My thanks to Mr Weiss for a very generous and open-hearted interview. It was originally published in Swedish at highendforum.se. Above is the original English transcript. The interview was conducted prior to my comparison of Weiss vs Devialet.
These are interesting times if you’re in the market for a server based, high-end stereo system. Separate DAC’s, this once forsaken component category, is in the midst of a magnificent resurgence. It doesn’t end there, either: You can find any combination of streamer, storage, DAC and digital amplifier on the market today. While this abundance of choice and competition in the marketplace is very appealing, it makes consumer decisions difficult.
Should you opt to keep things somewhat conservative and complement a traditional stereo setup with a DAC, there’s still the decision of storage and playback. Run a full-scale computer as source & server with either a good sound card that has AES/EBU out (or at least a good coax S/PDIF implementation) to the DAC, or try to make the choice between Firewire and USB? Or, perhaps, stream from a NAS to another component that in turn feeds the DAC? The sprawling delta of possible upgrade paths with their individual considerations, trade-offs and possibilities is perplexing.
These choices get even more overwhelming if you consider the emerging category of digital amplifiers. The alluring possibility of getting to skip the DAC as a separate component must be weighed against the inherent compromises of such a setup. You can’t upgrade a Lyngdorf TDAI2200, a NAD M2 or a Devialet D-Premier with a new DAC, because they either have no analogue inputs or make an A/D conversion internally, ruling previous D/A pointless. While future upgrade paths are worth at least some basic consideration, such concerns should not get in the way of the more important question of what component(s) bring the most musical enjoyment and solves the signal logistics problems you’re facing right now. If you’re buying high-end audio components with no intention to keep them more than a year or two, you’re either making some very poor decisions or you’re filthy rich. Perhaps both. So while I already have a great amp, what if there’s a better one that’s a DAC too? I owe it to myself not to exclude that category in my quest to finalize the digital side of my system upgrade. What I want is to invest in the best sound my money can buy, not in something that only sets me up for another arduous decision down the road.
Ever since I first saw it mentioned in a report from a hifi show in Paris in late 2009 I have been intrigued by the Devialet D-Premier. By the time it made a sneak appearance at CES 2010 I had already read the patent application for its new amplifier technology and was bugging them over Twitter to find out who’d be getting the distribution deal for Sweden. Their social media marketing prowess showed room for improvement—I received no reply—but after the Munich show in May that year the distribution eventually landed in the capable hands of Audionord and at long last I got to see and hear the unit in person. Already having spent some time with the Weiss DAC202, I decided to pit it against the French newcomer.
Getting to compare component candidates in the same system is the only way to form a truly useful opinion on their differences, as otherwise the unknown parameters make the equation impossible to come to any solid conclusions. Ideally it should be in your own home and over many days or even weeks—even your own system in a different room is likely to throw you off on several parameters. Second best would be your own system, or identical components, in another, yet familiar room. Thanks to the generous hospitality of Robert Grubstad of Audio Concept, my girlfriend and I got to spend an entire Sunday alone in his store comparing the Devialet D-Premier with a combination of my own Pass INT-150 with a Weiss DAC202. Doing it on a Sunday was probably in everyone’s interest as it ensured we were not disturbed, and our rather eclectic taste in music didn’t scare the living daylight out of any other customers.
The setup was done with Focal Scala Utopia speakers, as the store’s second set of Diablo‘s had been sold (I bought the first pair). Not only are the Scala’s the closest sibling to the Diablo’s, but I’ve heard them many times before in various settings. Aside from the Pass amplifier we also brought with us our Squeezebox Duet, whose electric S/PDIF output is likely to end up feeding whatever DAC or digital amp we buy in the end. From a Macbook Pro we streamed lossless versions of our sonically, and sometimes musically, challenging test material to the Squeezebox, connected via Wireworld Platinum Starlight digital interconnect cable. All the music we played was 16 bit, 44.1kHz, and I know from experience that some hi-res zealots will balk at this. The argument goes that since these components are capable of handling up to 24/192, this cannot be said to be a fully thorough evaluation. My counterargument is that we do this evaluation for our own sake and reality is such that our digital music collection is to well over 99% in this resolution. Future-proofing is nice, but it’d be impossible for us to justify purchase of the lesser Redbook performer no matter its hi-res abilities. Theoretical potential is not one of my favorite genres.
Starting off with the Devialet, it was easy to hear why this slab of mirror polished futurism has captured the minds and hearts of so many in such short time. It plays music with an ease, fluidity and confidence that is mercifully devoid of flashy show-off parameters. Track after track went by with the D-Premier effortlessly clearing all obstacles but before it, while never straying from its rich, full sound. Dynamics had a sense of familiar rightness to them, soundstaging—we did bring some music that wasn’t all studio trickery—was wide yet truthful and timbres exquisitely detailed but with no sense of excessive hardness or listening fatigue. The often scorned unmusicality of class D is not even remotely an issue with this amplifier. By the time we finally decided to plug in the Weiss/Pass combo, we’d been listening for two hours already, which speaks highly of the D-Premier’s enthusing charm and passionate delivery.
Switching to the separates required another set of cables, and the Wireworld Starlight Platinum digital interconnected was now accompanied with the equally luxurious top line Platinum Eclipse XLR interconnects, ensuring that inferior cables would not be a factor in the evaluation.
In critical listening, when you’re actively trying to hear faults or differences, it’s very easy to lose track of the music, and with that also lose track of which component you actually prefer. It is, after all, the music and its resulting emotional response that we’re after, not any individual characteristic or parameter. A/B testing is often a game of minute nuances, only discernible under the most benign of conditions and then only in certain passages of certain pieces of music at certain sound levels. One tends to balance on an edge between placebo and imagination on one side, and actual, certain differences on the other. Longer exposure such as proper reviews or home loan can reveal more insight over time, but that is a luxury afforded only a select few, and a difficult business model to sustain.
The differences evident with the switch to Pass & Weiss should be considered against the above background, in that the things I will describe were clearly evident and repeatable with many kinds of music. There are likely a lot of other differences that would emerge over time, some of which we thought we might hear on a few occasions, but that I can’t describe with any great certainty. Longer listening and higher resolution material is likely to reveal more.
In my previous experiences with the DAC202 I remarked that it seems to whiff out a lush cloud of sound, with a depth, breadth and even height that I haven’t quite heard the likes of. This difference was less striking compared to Devialet than when matched against Esoteric D-05, yet still very clearly there. I have seen remarks that some feel the DAC202 is somewhat laid-back and recessed in its soundstage, but I’m inclined to think this is a misapprehension. It does extend the soundstage further out behind the speakers than most other digital sources I’ve heard, in a very convincing manner at that, but it also extends in all other directions. If you have had a flat soundstage before, one that sat against a proverbial brick wall lined up between the speakers, that rear extension is the thing you will notice first. But listen again and you’re likely to find the sound has taken on a more voluminous character overall, where sounds are unimpededly slung out like dandelion seeds, as opposed to the easily congested single-lane precision beam of sound delivered by many other components. This is a rather exaggerated description of course, but it is nonetheless the synaesthetic imagery that is triggered in me.
What is the chicken and what is the egg is unclear to me, and quite possibly irrelevant in the end, but an effect of this lushness—or vice versa—is the Weiss unit’s deeply fascinating ability to convey the very end of each note, reverberation or breath. Yet the effect is nothing like that of a compressor, where weaker sounds are amplified to come forward. Even in extremely dense music there were suddenly little echo effects that even in headphone listening had never been apparent before, bringing a sense of increased dynamics or at least dynamic resolution. The mixing desk was laid bare, the very slight differences in reverb settings between instruments suddenly clearly discernible.
The midrange of DAC202 is something that deserves a lot more attention than it’s had so far. Chris Connaker of Computer Audiophile did praise it in his lengthy piece, but most other reviews seem to focus on its overall sound, which is certainly fair and valid. The bass is as deep as I’ve heard with any other digital source, yet taut and nuanced with no sign of bloat or rumble whatsoever. The treble rides high on that ethereal cloud of sound, with infinite resolution somehow combined with an silkiness and serenity that is intoxicating. Yet that midrange is still above all else. Could it be, perhaps, that it brings out something in Focal Utopia speakers that other DAC’s fail to do? After all, that’s how I’ve mostly listened to it. Those that reviewed with other speakers may not hear that same midrange, but it’s difficult to say. My imagination is not sufficient to envision a similar quality applied to the bass or treble, partly because I can’t fault its performance in those ranges. The midrange performance seems to be something truly intangible—It frustrates me that I can’t articulate what it is about it that touches me so.
In fairness, there were plenty of tracks where differences between the two setups were slight at best. I’m sure I would struggle to identify them in a blind test with at least half of the tracks we played. But on those tracks where things stood out more, there was no question about it. It wasn’t the stuff you’d expect either; Acoustic instruments or voices with little sonic processing applied seldom did the trick, and the same goes for the few well engineered live recordings we brought. In the end, the tracks that revealed the greatest differences were probably those from Deathspell Omega. Who’d have thought black metal could be used to evaluate high-end audiophile equipment? The sound of that band will be the topic of a separate blog post here some day.
Going back to Devialet, it was possible to recognize most of the nuances and note end tails revealed by Weiss, but it took a little more effort. With Weiss we hadn’t even been looking, instead being genuinely surprised when these seemingly new details in the music were laid out in plain sight. Objectively, the difference even on the most telling tracks were far subtler than what you might deduct from my colorful descriptions. I found it excruciatingly difficult to fault the D-Premier on any single parameter, hadn’t it been for the direct comparison to Weiss. While volume matched blind A/B testing with the built-in DAC of the Squeezebox Receiver versus Weiss was very easy—we took turns switching for each other—it bears repeating that I would have likely failed versus the D-Premier on several tracks. On some parameters there was never a winner, to my ears. Bass would be the prime example, where Devialet may have been ever so slightly warmer, but not necessarily more colored. But here the amplifier part plays a greater role so it would be presumptuous to ascribe bass performance of the Weiss/Pass combo to the DAC alone.
Historically when I’ve read reviews I’ve been frustrated by the ambiguity and roundabout descriptions, lusting for clear-cut non-nonsense answers. Good or bad, right or wrong. I suppose this little write-up reflects that in some sense; There shouldn’t be any doubt regarding my judgement. I have however developed a great deal of respect for some hifi writers, now that I’ve had the pleasure of becoming more familiar with the subtle nuances of component design and sound philosophy. While I am not in any way a professional audio journalist, I realize that what I based my choice on will only be relevant for a small minority of people. So, for the record, I do realize and appreciate that there are systems, people and preferences where the Devialet D-Premier would be the better choice. The fantastic design of both box and remote is very important for something you will live with for perhaps 10 or more years. The units connectivity, versatility, efficiency, stunning power and the fact that it’s a single box with amp, DAC and soon network streamer will for many outweigh the sonic characteristics that saw Weiss DAC202 win my heart. The comparison was extremely interesting and I am lucky to get such an opportunity. To anyone in the market for a DAC and/or amplifier in this price range, I would urge you to seize every opportunity to audition both of these components. Or all three, should we count the fantastic Pass INT-150.
Ultimately though, we listen for the emotional impact of the music and not for judging individual parameters in a comparison table. My emotional response to the Pass/Weiss combo was clearly greater, and even if I didn’t already have the Pass amp I’d go for the separates. Perhaps the jitter suppression from Weiss was superior, meaning that a better transport would make the contest more even, or maybe higher resolutions would alter the outcome somewhat. In the end though, we were so enchanted by the Weiss sound that almost all curiosity about the Devialet had ebbed away. The price is roughly the same, here in Europe at least. For me, I have decided to navigate one more step down the delta of choices, following the path towards Weiss DAC202.