jeudi 26 janvier 2017

Rockna Audio Wavedream DAC

This Dac belongs to the expensive ones, in Europe it costs 50 euro short of 6000 (the basic version), so what can we say from opening the box?
The box in which it is shipped in does not seam really adapted and you have the bad impression the thing has been put inside quickly and with no care. Fortunately the unit is inside a cloth bag to confirm it is a little expensive.
The remote control: from the outside it is packed in a plastic thing that looks has been used for few years even though is unopened, so they used an old plastic to seal the remote in. The remote itself has a sign of shock that cannot received during the transportation, so it has been put inside with no care or who put it saw  put it in the box nevertheless, or nobody checked it...and it has sign of wearing even though it looks at the same time new. It looks like the bottoms are new but the base where the batteries go is somehow not new. Strange and not good to see.
And the best for last. The remote controle has a GoldeNote logo in its central bottom. Rockna just added its name with a small decal at the bottom of it! It is like let's search for a remote that is out there and we put a logo to say that now is ours! At least replace-erase  the central GoldeNote logo or just change it I don't know, but all this look like: we don't care as long as it works.
I wanted to start from this point before even listening to it because I think it is essential that for this kind of money you should have some care for things that are not really dettails...
Even though this unit could sound extremely well, these things are not acceptable. It is not possible to say everything you pay has been put in its performance; it would be like saying you go in a very expensive restaurant where the food is very good but the service is terrible and the tables are dirties. I think it is a question of respect. And then as a valid excuse they tell you: you have paid to eat here not to look around! No way! It gives the impression that these things I am talking about are not even taken in consideration. Very bad point in my opinion.

The building of the unit itself is good considering the not large number of production. It is half way from industrial and artigianal. In the internet I have seen previous Wavedream units (I have received this one new today so I guess it is one of the latest) with a nicer engraved logo. The new one has some aeration holes but the design is not so nice as before; but I don't care much about it. Or it could be that the more expensive models (this is the basic single ended unit) have the better looking engraved logo. This I cannot say.
The bottoms of the front face have a normal feeling, not smooth good but not chuncky bad; between the two.

A good point is the unit weight. It gives you somehow a sense of solidity. At least this. But strangely at the end you have a mixed feeling of solidity and not solidity at the same time. For example a Naim DAC that is much less expensive gives you a much better feeling of solidity, and it is better made and it has a much better packing and it is not made in Japan, so it is possible to do much better for the Rockna Wavedream price.

Powering the unit up the display has a colour that I didn't find that attractive (dark yellow) but this is just personal taste. It does its job extremely well though. It is very well visible even from distance and even at low brightness: good point! The first good point!

Now the unit is playing and I will give it a critical listening in 4 days of continuous playing.

In the meantime the unit is cooking I would like to say what I think about separate dacs. Generally I tend to prefer single drive unit. Even though with a separate dac you surely improve some parameters like transparency, timbres accuracy, image, generally the global musicality looses something essential, the rithmic drive is generally less well expressed. In few words in the last 20 years what I can say about separate dacs is that they propose you a more intellectualized version of the music.

Another thing is that with separate dacs generally, and maybe for the formentioned reasons, the listenability of what you play becomes more critical. Cheap pop things don't sound well. With good separate dacs generally you end up listening to less records.

I love wood instruments, the vibration of their body and resonance; and I love piano. It is sharp, it can be powerful or delicate, it can go for tink for TOONG, and it is extremely difficult to reproduce for an hifi.
So I started with Soundgarden as a cooking music. But Soundgarden don't play piano neither wood instruments! So what, I have a very large music taste. This recording made me realize, without even paying attention to it and even though it was playing at low level the very first thing about this DAC: this music sound strangely ok. More it sound quite good!
You know what I mean with this statment. You can listen to pop music in your small sistem or stereo but as soon as you play it in your hi-end one that's it. It is finished. It doesn't sound like music any more. It is hard, it looses coherence, it is aggressive. Many years of explication of bad recording dindn't convince me at all about it. It is not about the recording! It is about the reproducing system. Often to get more dynamic, more definition more this and more that to justify the price you have paid, the hi end stuff loose the meaning of the music. In search of the perfection it looses the soul, the cpoherence the whole thing. If this sound could be compared with an image it would look like the beautiful lady that to be more beautiful had some esthetic surgery and you know the result... the nose is better in its lines, the mouth is bigger and more pronounced the skin is tighter but at the end the global result is extremely...let's say extremely strange. Surely not good.
So if you have a very expensive hifi and you cannot play all the music that you like, your system has a problem. Something is not even. everything that compose the reproduction of music are not balanced in a good manner. If for example you have much better definition of instruments but the fullnes and richness of the timbres does not follow it, it can easily sound edgy. So you cannot boost one aspect at the expense of another one without paying for this at the end. Be reassured most of hifi hiend system suffer from this disease.
So when the music was playing at low volume level and was  that kind of music that sound generally bad in big system but iin this case was sounding quite good I had a thought: this DAC cannot be bad.

So now I am ready to tell you how it sounds.
First of all it is good to say that this DAC has a volume control and if it is going to be your only source you have to be reassured that this volume control is of extremely high quality.
Extremely high it means that if you connect it directly to a power amplifier to have something better you have to spend a lot. A lot means more then 12.000 euro. On all the other cases the dynamic window is going to be restrained and the transparency compromise and the timing too.
Another thing is that you re going to be able to change some parameters as filters and so on.
The good thing is that if you have a small system this parameters are going to make small changes, if you have an hi end system well assembled (very rare) they make a clear difference. Like changing cables. So if for you changing cables does not make any difference don't even bother with it.
The bad thing is that all this setting is going to change depending if you connect this dac directly to a power amp or to a preamplifier.
So my preferred setting with a direct connection to a power amp was with filters off, stream clock and dither on. Connected to preamplifiers my preferred setting was: filter Linear, Dither On, Clock Local. So very different. 
The filter settings with direct connection to a power amps were working like compressors in a way and I have felt they all were robbing timbre realism and dynamic. So in direct connection filter was off. Remember that I am talking about the direct connections to amps of which the less expensive one was costings 10.000 euros...
Filter setting seamed to change other electrical parameters of interface with the preamp. Maybe the impedence? I have to investigate about it or maybe not. At the end who cares. At least I don't care. Not so if the dac was connected to preamplifers. In this case the filter were more felt in a way of more or less enphasy on the high frequency and expecially how the extreme frequencies were integrating to the lower ones. 
With lesser preampli-amp and speakers combo filters are useful to control aggressivness. And something more. Sometimes for example, depending on the preamp, using a filter you can enhance the separation from direct sounds and reverberations.

So you have to understand that if you have a very hi end system you have to play a little to find your optimal setting with this dac to get the best out of it. For example with a Townshend Allegri a have found that the Hybrid filter with Dither on and Clock Local was working the best, with an Audio Research Reference 6 (thank you to a friend of mine for let me trying this preamplifier) I have found the best setting to be filter Minimun, Dither on, Clock Stream.
So how does it sound when it is set up to your liking and to be matched to your system?
The answer is extremely simple: this is a mother fxxx of dac! And for the first time a separate dac has in itself the virtues of a single player organic timing and the trasparency of a separate unit. This single virtue for me it is the most impmortant one. Who cares about transparency, bass, medium and hi frequencies if somehow this don't give you an organic result? Up to the Rockna no separate unit has been capable to convince me on this last parameter.
The nice thing is that the Rockna keeps the nice things you get with separate DACs so you get more transparency, better separations, and better timbres.
A very welcome and unexpected quality is the presence. With this I mean that the tones are deep. You get the feeling of a certain kind of materialisation. This kind of materialisation is not at the expenses as usually happens of a light touch. You know what I mean: things get thick and you have a feeling of soffocation. No, it manage to keep things light at the same time and free. It is very, very slightly dark in tonality.
It plays all kind of music in a very interesting way, from rock to baroque, giving a beautiful mixture of detail, timing, and expression expecially in the mid-range, so voices are perfectly reproduced with their inflections and body. The low region is well timed and deep, articulated but not dry tight, a good compromise to never give you the feeling of overdoing or paying attention to it. mid high are reproduced in the best possible way, and this is a very critical region. The high frequencies are very, very clear without never sounding aggressive. Maybe I would have liked a little more bite at the expensense of sometimes getting hurt, but then if that would have happened maybe I would have critized it! Expecially no disc sound bad or is too bad recorded to be played! there is always something good about it if not technically at least musically.
By large my favorite separate DAC ever and with no doubt among the best three DACs in the market. I didn't say four but three! It can be connected to many things, go and discover it, I only write about its musical capabilities.

PS: in the meantime I have received, not myself but a Rockna distributor, an email clarifying few points:

for the logo: all dacs/transports will from now on have this same logo.

for the remote control: the units that will be shipped from now will have a much better, full metal remote.

for the packaging: we are in contact with a new supplier for better quality; starting from March we'll have improved packing solution.

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