My thoughts on SW1X DAC II Special with USB

I am not a huge contributor to this Board with maybe a dozen posts, likely less. I used to be a regular on AudioAsylum dating back to '95 or so and then on A-Gon forums. I live in Columbus OH, am a lawyer, and have zero connections to the audio industry.
So with that out of the way, my custom SW1X arrived ten days ago-the model in the subject line ordered through Joe Cohen of Lotus Group. Photos of my system are attached. As you can see, I like to swap out the DeVores with a pair of Spendor D7.2's every six months because I love both, and they play to different strengths. That said, I am not sure I need the strengths of the Spendors any more but I am getting ahead of myself. I grew up as a kid in the 70's with a high-end system in the house and my dad's friends all had hi-fi systems too. It was more prevalent back then for educated middle class households. Within a week of my being born my dad bought a Thorens TD124 and an SME 3009 arm and that TD124, rebuilt and modified, is my system today. I bought my first pretty decent system when I was a senior in high school in 1977.
The SW1X went into my system in place of a perfectly functional Abbingdon Music Research DP777 I bought new about seven years ago. My music is stored to the internal hard drive of an Aurender N100H and my USB cable is a WW Starlight Platinum 7. 95% of my digital files were burned from CD with the rest being so called high definition downloads from HDTracks.
I am here to to tell you that the SW1X made a more significant change to my digital playback than any previous upgrade or change.
After four and half days of constant play, I settled in to listen.
What struck me first-for the first time since getting floorstanders in place of B&W 805 standmounts-was soundstage depth, width, and height all expanded, with instruments and voices clearly localized.
Second, the music sounded more forceful and fluid, with more meat to the bones.
XTC's "Nonsuch" is not well-recorded. It is bright, brittle, and dry. For the very first time in my system, the opening track "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" sounded truly rewarding/satisfying. Ambient cues in the first five seconds of the intro were vivid and startling-I had not heard them clearly before. Andy Partridge's voice sounded real for the first time-I could hear his chestiness for the first time. The previous grating glare was of the recording was completely gone. Kenny Burrell's Midnight Blue and the cut "Mule" displayed new touch and tone to the prominent bass in the intro that I had not heard previously. The same album's "Wavy Gravy" now featured bite to the guitar not heard before and there was newfound depth and space. Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage gave me goosebumps with touch to the piano not heard before, shimmer to the cymbals not previously heard and a minute thirty into the track the sax that comes from the left was startling in it's immediacy-the microdynamics and macrodynamics are unprecedented-at least as far as my system experience goes.
And for bass, I listened to a little known gem, Black Grape's It's Great When You're Straight-Yeah and the opening rowdy track "Reverend Black Grape" which now demonstrated a level of propulsive funk, tone, and 3-D space to the overall presentation not present before the swap of DAC.
Do I have any negatives at all? Well, I find it necessary to adjust the volume much more frequently than in the past. I believe this is due to more dynamic range though I am hard-pressed to explain the phenomenon. And one little nit with the internal USB to SPDIF converter-due to it being tube based, when powering up the DAC II Special I have to disconnect and reconnect the USB cable on one end or the other about sixty seconds after the DAC has warmed up before the Aurender and the DAC II Special can "shake hands" with each other. Other than those two minor things, my only cavil is that the pleasure the DAC II has given me forces me to think about an audition of a customized DAC III. And last, Joe has been absolutely great to work with. I could not ask for more from him. Slawa too has been great to exchange messages with. I don't know that I understand much of what he has to say, but I sure trust that he is onto something many of the rest of us have trouble grasping.
 
Great review, I enjoyed reading it. I have not listened to the DAC II special yet. The DAC III is a fantastic DAC, everything is there and you would be hard pressed to find a better DAC, the main difference between the DAC III and the DAC III special is a certain luminosity on the sound, highs are crispier, the mid range is more alive and every instrument just seems to get more light from the reflector as if you were on a live venue.
 
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Great review! We are able to understand the rightness of Slawa’s approach from your description of the sound vs. your AMR, and a further valuable insight from Saturntube above about the relative differences between the DAC III and the DAC III Special which highlights the importance that Slawa places on choice of parts. First and foremost a DAC must be a musical instrument and no amount of computing power is going to make up for that if it is not present in the design.
 
I am not a huge contributor to this Board with maybe a dozen posts, likely less. I used to be a regular on AudioAsylum dating back to '95 or so and then on A-Gon forums. I live in Columbus OH, am a lawyer, and have zero connections to the audio industry.
So with that out of the way, my custom SW1X arrived ten days ago-the model in the subject line ordered through Joe Cohen of Lotus Group. Photos of my system are attached. As you can see, I like to swap out the DeVores with a pair of Spendor D7.2's every six months because I love both, and they play to different strengths. That said, I am not sure I need the strengths of the Spendors any more but I am getting ahead of myself. I grew up as a kid in the 70's with a high-end system in the house and my dad's friends all had hi-fi systems too. It was more prevalent back then for educated middle class households. Within a week of my being born my dad bought a Thorens TD124 and an SME 3009 arm and that TD124, rebuilt and modified, is my system today. I bought my first pretty decent system when I was a senior in high school in 1977.
The SW1X went into my system in place of a perfectly functional Abbingdon Music Research DP777 I bought new about seven years ago. My music is stored to the internal hard drive of an Aurender N100H and my USB cable is a WW Starlight Platinum 7. 95% of my digital files were burned from CD with the rest being so called high definition downloads from HDTracks.
I am here to to tell you that the SW1X made a more significant change to my digital playback than any previous upgrade or change.
After four and half days of constant play, I settled in to listen.
What struck me first-for the first time since getting floorstanders in place of B&W 805 standmounts-was soundstage depth, width, and height all expanded, with instruments and voices clearly localized.
Second, the music sounded more forceful and fluid, with more meat to the bones.
XTC's "Nonsuch" is not well-recorded. It is bright, brittle, and dry. For the very first time in my system, the opening track "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" sounded truly rewarding/satisfying. Ambient cues in the first five seconds of the intro were vivid and startling-I had not heard them clearly before. Andy Partridge's voice sounded real for the first time-I could hear his chestiness for the first time. The previous grating glare was of the recording was completely gone. Kenny Burrell's Midnight Blue and the cut "Mule" displayed new touch and tone to the prominent bass in the intro that I had not heard previously. The same album's "Wavy Gravy" now featured bite to the guitar not heard before and there was newfound depth and space. Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage gave me goosebumps with touch to the piano not heard before, shimmer to the cymbals not previously heard and a minute thirty into the track the sax that comes from the left was startling in it's immediacy-the microdynamics and macrodynamics are unprecedented-at least as far as my system experience goes.
And for bass, I listened to a little known gem, Black Grape's It's Great When You're Straight-Yeah and the opening rowdy track "Reverend Black Grape" which now demonstrated a level of propulsive funk, tone, and 3-D space to the overall presentation not present before the swap of DAC.
Do I have any negatives at all? Well, I find it necessary to adjust the volume much more frequently than in the past. I believe this is due to more dynamic range though I am hard-pressed to explain the phenomenon. And one little nit with the internal USB to SPDIF converter-due to it being tube based, when powering up the DAC II Special I have to disconnect and reconnect the USB cable on one end or the other about sixty seconds after the DAC has warmed up before the Aurender and the DAC II Special can "shake hands" with each other. Other than those two minor things, my only cavil is that the pleasure the DAC II has given me forces me to think about an audition of a customized DAC III. And last, Joe has been absolutely great to work with. I could not ask for more from him. Slawa too has been great to exchange messages with. I don't know that I understand much of what he has to say, but I sure trust that he is onto something many of the rest of us have trouble grasping.
Hi Fsonicsmith,
Thanks for sharing!
Nice dac & system.

A humble suggestion for your consideration :
Wireworld usb cables are rather hifi-ish. Please consult Joe again for trying another usb cable which is more musical in your system, such as TellQ or Vertere. You will like them.
:)
 
Hi Fsonicsmith,
Thanks for sharing!
Nice dac & system.

A humble suggestion for your consideration :
Wireworld usb cables are rather hifi-ish. Please consult Joe again for trying another usb cable which is more musical in your system, such as TellQ or Vertere. You will like them.
:)
PhotonCoilSm.jpg

The PranaWire Photon is what we recommend. Cryogenically treated pure silver wires with multiple shielding and noise absorbing layers. Very natural and organic sound.
 
Thank you for the nice write up. I can appreciate how you described your reactions to listening to familiar songs with this new DAC. I've had Slawa's DAC III STD for about two years now, and love it. My model is in Slawa's hands right now because I chose to upgrade to DHT, better quality caps, better transformers, and a few other improvements - just because! ;) Hahaha. Actually, I felt my money would be much better spent by upgrading my DAC with Slawa than buying some other NOS DAC. I anticipate receiving my 'new' DAC in about two weeks. I can barely wait.

Michael
 
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Thank you for the nice write up. I can appreciate how you described your reactions to listening to familiar songs with this new DAC. I've had Slawa's DAC III STD for about two years now, and love it. My model is in Slawa's hands right now because I chose to upgrade to DHT, better quality caps, better transformers, and a few other improvements - just because! ;) Hahaha. Actually, I felt my money would be much better spent by upgrading my DAC with Slawa than buying some other NOS DAC. I anticipate receiving my 'new' DAC in about two weeks. I can barely wait.

Michael
I will look forward to your report on the upgraded DAC III STD.
 
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I will be giving the DAC III Balanced a try. Actually more than a "try" since I am buying it. I still love the DAC II Special but Slawa says the DAC III Balanced is at an entirely different level with a midrange that is amazing. I will have no choice but to upgrade my source to something that outputs SPDIF as Slawa says the DAC III Balanced can not be built with a USB/SPDIF converter due to the number of transformers in the III Balanced. Any comparison I end up sharing will, as. a result, be questionable due to a change of source as well as DAC but I will share my impressions anyway in three months or so.
 
I will be giving the DAC III Balanced a try. Actually more than a "try" since I am buying it. I still love the DAC II Special but Slawa says the DAC III Balanced is at an entirely different level with a midrange that is amazing. I will have no choice but to upgrade my source to something that outputs SPDIF as Slawa says the DAC III Balanced can not be built with a USB/SPDIF converter due to the number of transformers in the III Balanced. Any comparison I end up sharing will, as. a result, be questionable due to a change of source as well as DAC but I will share my impressions anyway in three months or so.
Have had a chance to listen to DACC III Balanced ?. Please share your impressions. These dacs seem to be underdog, but people who have listened to them, have been floored with surprise.
 
Romney-funny you asked today. My DAC III Balanced is to ship out today or tomorrow. Slawa warned me that with Black Gate caps, it will take ten days or so for them to settle in and that it will sound bass shy and muddy until they do. So maybe in mid-March I will be able to post my impressions.
 
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Romney-funny you asked today. My DAC III Balanced is to ship out today or tomorrow. Slawa warned me that with Black Gate caps, it will take ten days or so for them to settle in and that it will sound bass shy and muddy until they do. So maybe in mid-March I will be able to post my impressions.
Great. Keep us posted.
 
Romney-funny you asked today. My DAC III Balanced is to ship out today or tomorrow. Slawa warned me that with Black Gate caps, it will take ten days or so for them to settle in and that it will sound bass shy and muddy until they do. So maybe in mid-March I will be able to post my impressions.
Fsonicsmith, likewise very anxious to hear your impression as I will send Slawa a deposit on DAC III Balanced with SHiB DC core mains transformers on Monday when the storm accumulation of snow/ice hopefully allows visit to bank. it may take 6 weeks before mine is shipped - they are built on order to order. There probably will be some run-in time for your unit but please report first hearing and follow-up as things settle out.
 
We will be receiving Fsonicsmith's DAC III Balanced along with our DAC III Balanced with Dual C Core SHiB power transformers any day now.
If you are able to compare the two slightly different DACs (different transformers?) side-by-side, I'd be interested in your impressions. I've had my DAC III+ for about 3 months and love it. Even so, I can only wonder how the DAC III Balanced must sound.
 
Hi M,

I did not get the opportunity to compare the DAC III Balanced with the DAC III Balanced + (with Dual C Core SHiB Power Transformers) as F wanted his shipped right away, and of course, I can’t say I blame him in the least. He’s been incredibly patient. What I can say is that the DAC III Balanced + has left me speechless at the first listen. I will write about it after I have had a chance to listen more and organize my thoughts. I can say that I’ve never heard this kind of performance from any DAC costing anything.
 
Hi M,

I did not get the opportunity to compare the DAC III Balanced with the DAC III Balanced + (with Dual C Core SHiB Power Transformers) as F wanted his shipped right away, and of course, I can’t say I blame him in the least. He’s been incredibly patient. What I can say is that the DAC III Balanced + has left me speechless at the first listen. I will write about it after I have had a chance to listen more and organize my thoughts. I can say that I’ve never heard this kind of performance from any DAC costing anything.
That's a shame. However, I can certainly understand F's wanting to get his hands on his DAC.

You really shouldn't tell me the DAC III Balanced + is that good. The seed that the III Balanced is yet another level better than my DAC III+ had already been planted in my imagination. Your telling me there is a III Balanced+ roaming the earth will likely cause me to dream of possibly owning one someday. It's probably a good thing <for my finances> that I live 12 hours north of you. If I were closer, I'd want to stop by for a listen. ;)
 
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That's a shame. However, I can certainly understand F's wanting to get his hands on his DAC.

You really shouldn't tell me the DAC III Balanced + is that good. The seed that the III Balanced is yet another level better than my DAC III+ had already been planted in my imagination. Your telling me there is a III Balanced+ roaming the earth will likely cause me to dream of possibly owning one someday. It's probably a good thing <for my finances> that I live 12 hours north of you. If I were closer, I'd want to stop by for a listen. ;)
Once we are past the pandemic you will be welcome to come visit.The DAC III Balanced + might not be good for the finances, but it sure is good for the soul.
 
Now I feel bad. As I have told my friend Joe many times, I mostly listen to vinyl. I could have waited three more weeks for mine. As I told Joe on Friday, with ten days of heavy use for the BG caps to burn in and then another ten days or so to form listening impressions, it would be a three week delay. Please understand that I upgraded from an Aurender 100H to a W20 only due to having ordered this DAC. So between the two new pieces, I have quite a bit of dollars invested. And as I told Joe, a couple month from now if it is still a hot issue, I would be happy to send mine back to Joe for comparison. I truly mean that.
Over the last six months I have started to buy music on CD for the first time in many years simply because it is not available on LP or only available at exorbitant prices used-all with this digital rig in mind. I have been burning these CD's to my W20. So....
Sorry for sounding so defensive. I am just 'splainin that nobody has ever called me Gordon Gekko.
 
I’m still digesting the DAC III Balanced Plus. It was significantly improved after being on all night. The resolution on this is just uncanny. There are so many new experiences it’s hard to sort them all out. While I’m working on that, here’s a strong recommendation: A demagnetizer such as the RD-3 or ML-30 Mark III from Acoustic Revive, that we distribute will yield a very significant uptick in performance if you’re playing CDs. The DAC III Balanced Plus will magnify the effect. 14CF6DCE-97CE-47DD-9E20-74E181D1AD89.jpeg FE59C7C2-CB15-4D32-8B5B-757962EFCF69.jpeg
 

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