Stereophile reviews Weiss DAC202

This post is borderline obnoxiously self-congratulatory, so apologies for that.

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.

Comments
4 Responses to “Stereophile reviews Weiss DAC202”
  1. Rogier says:

    Have you tried using your Pass as poweramp bypassing the pre section and use the Weiss as a pre?

  2. Ola says:

    As I understand it, that’s not possible with the INT-150. It had preamp outputs so that you can use it as a preamp only, but it does not support bypassing the preamp section. I had another look in the manual now and I still can’t find any support for that: http://www.passlabs.com/pdfs/product%20manuals/int150-om.pdf

    While the Weiss digital attenuator is very cleverly designed, I’m still more comfortable adjusting volume in the analog domain. The three step analog attenuator in the DAC is not reachable via the remote. Instead, it’s a setting in the menu that you need to use the front panel to reach. It’s more of a set & forget thing, and at its loudest (8.15 volts) it caused distortion in the Pass amp. I’m running it in the middle setting, 4.15 volts. The lowest is 2.12 volts.

  3. Rogier says:

    I have a Sugden Masterclass integrated, somewhat comparable with The PL INT-30A. Also ‘not’ possible to bypass the pre section and use as a power amp. I bought this amp several years ago and very happy with it. However the one box DAC-pre approach is getting more popular these days and interests me. People report improved results with such setup. At the same time other people report better results with the addition of a pre amp.
    Definitly a subject to test if your gear would allow you to. So I was just being curious.

  4. Ola says:

    It would be interesting, indeed. I still play lots of vinyl through, and the DAC202 does not have any analog inputs. Weiss is planning such a model in the future according to Daniel, but when it arrives is unknown. It will had A/D as well as D/A, for digitizing vinyl for example.