ConclusionFour stunningly beautiful d/a converters. There is no easy way to choose. We were able to give you a taste in the live stream. And with the samples. They are four different products with different qualities. Denafrips is smooth and generous. Sonnet is neutral and puristic. Bryston offers lots of connections and an impressive balance of qualities. And Rockna puts you straight in the seat with a tour de force. It's up to you to decide what suits your taste and your system. Strength!
Denafrips Venus II
We start the event with the Denafrips Venus II. A 3000 euro dac. Denafrips is Chinese and is growing fast. Partly because of its good quality and reasonable pricing. And that is no different with the Venus II.
We see a discrete ladder, many inputs, including dual-aes allowing 24/384 kHz, I2S via hdmi, et cetera. We are going to write a complete review of the Terminator Plus, so detais about controlling the ladder and the numerous features Denafrips offers, will be covered there. We connected all dacs via AES, so also this Denafrips.
As the first track we set up the recording. What stands out is the flow and glow that the Denafrips shows. It is round, full and generous. You could also label it as warm. The cabinet of Sam’s guitar is clearly audible in this live recording. Something that is showed a bit more neutral with the other dacs. Denafrips chooses the atmosphere of – if we have to choose a metaphor – a romantic dinner: candlelight, wine, fireplace …
If we go to Earth, Wind & Fire we hear a slightly more up-beat character. Logical: it’s a bit of a funky song. Still, the whole thing remains a bit sweet compared to the Sonnet that comes next. And that’s fine: there are loads of people who love this character.
Last up is Jacques Loussier. We get a lovely stage and a generous rendition of the ‘double bass’. But the firm kick is less powerful and pointed than with, say, the Sonnet. Which is surpassed yet again by the Rockna Wavelight which proved to be King Strength in this live stream.
All in all, the Denafrips Venus II is a converter for those looking for a dac that has a lot of features, wants to be able to grow and wants a generous playback. It is a converter that is beautifully built, shows character and offers flexibility. For 3000 euros certainly a solid product!
Sonnet comes from the hand of Cees Ruijtenberg who also founded Metrum Acoustics and is behind the designs of the custom dac chips (NOS dacs). Sonnet approaches things differently than others. The dac modules have 4 ladders under the hood. So the four modules have 16 dacs in total.
Now Sonnet – and Metrum – pulls a trick. Two 16-bit dacs are merged into one 24-bit dac. The lower 4 bits are not used, which improves linearity and reduces the noise floor. In short; the dac plays more neutral and quiet.
Especially the neutral character is immediately noticeable. The Sonnet Morpheus lets us hear more of what is happening live compared to the Denafrips. The coloration of the cabinet is gone, so we still hear the guitar more than with the predecessor. Also small nuances stand out more. Sam & Julia also mention this when we ask them for feedback. The placement seems more precise, although that is difficult to assess in this setting. Dynamics seem a bit quieter.
This trend continues in the songs of Earth, Wind & Fire ánd Jacques Loussier who gets his power back in the bass-kick. The separation is a bit clearer and the warm coloration has disappeared, giving instruments a bit more air.
Who is looking for that, in the class around 3000 – 3500 euros, better look at Sonnet than Denafrips. For 500 euros more, you do get a less well finished casing and fewer inputs – and no dual AES – but a volume control and a remote control. In short: no pre-amp needed.
All in all a top tier player in this class. Definitely include it in the shortlist!
A familiar one at Alpha (just like the Sonnet). Colleague Harro Tillema had already tested the BDA3. And he liked it! What’s special about the Bryston BDA3 are not so much the two AKM AK4490EQ dacs – one per channel – that are under the hood. Those are in more high-end dacs. It’s more what Bryston has done with it. And the hdmi inputs that the Canadians have also implemented. That’s a handy feature we almost never see.
The Bryston BDA3 sounds incredibly calm, controlled and balanced. Everything just adds up. Is it the most dynamic of the bunch? No. Is it the most detail-rich of the bunch? No. Is it the most beautiful to look at? No… But everything is in balance with this converter. The sound is right.
We do begin to see that trend more with products from this Canadian. The 4B SST3 has that too: it is not the most refined, detail-rich or airy amplifier. But things are in balance.
Now the Bryston is a dac with AKM chips. No NOS/R2R dac. And we hear that too. It is different. Perhaps a little more polished and less pointed than the Sonnet. The crucial midrange comes in differently, but certainly not less pleasant or better. It is just different. Also in terms of placement, which may be audible through the samples we have posted.
The Bryston BDA3 is one of the most versatile. However, it does lack a volume control compared to the Sonnet Morpheus and Rockna Wavelight. However, you do get a complete central hub with hdmi inputs (with 4K passthrough) for 4400 euros.
We don’t often have products from Romania. But now we do. Rockna is a special brand on many levels. It reminds us a bit of MSB in terms of design. And Rockna also uses R2R-dacs. Driven by an fpga that can be set in numerous modes. Also the dac filters are adjustable. Think linear phase, slow roll-off, sharp, et cetera. Fine stuff. Ow: the Wavelight likes both DSD and (high-res) PCM. We obviously did not get to try everything in this round; perhaps that will come.
The Rockna Wavelight – 4900 euros – makes an immediate impression when we press play. The power and conviction with which it plays, makes it that music really hits you. The dynamics suck you into the music. The bass kick by Jacques Loussier makes you jump to the ceiling. Wonderful.
However, the Bryston seems to bring a bit more balance to the whole thing. The Rockna – at our settings – linear phase / NOS – seems more focused on spectacle (which is very cool of course!) than on a reproduction of reality. Now we only used one setting, so don’t put too much weight on this yet. Other filters and modes make a lot of difference.
When we have finished the last track we agree that Rockna has put down a solid product. A product that offers a lot. Both in terms of fun and build quality and usability. A brand to keep an eye on! We would like to take a closer look at various modes.
It was another enjoyable morning. An informative two hours. Four dacs, four different interpretations. Four great products. And that should also be the norm in this class of 3000 – 4900 euros. It is and remains a lot of money what you spend on a luxury product.
What was instructive is that the differences are very audible. Both in terms of coloration and dynamics and transients. Now that seems logical, but we can vividly remember a time when people proclaimed that all dacs are equal. Digital is digital; a one is a one and a zero is a zero. In short: there is no difference. Well… listen for yourself!