In Italy, people make excellent hi-fi. From that ‘boot-shaped country’ brands such as Sonus Faber, Gold Note, Diapason and Unison Research are born. Also Aqua Acoustic Quality – Aqua – fits perfectly in this exclusive range. We’ve been eye balling the Italian brand for a while now and when their La Voce model got a full update, we asked for a test sample. We are very curious how the La Voce S3 will perform against the Metrum Acoustics Onyx.
Aqua produces a limited number of digital products and is mainly known for its Optologic dacs. Today we are testing the entry-level product from that range, the Aqua La Voce S3 Discrete dac (a whole mouthful).
Now the term entry-level is relative here because the Aqua La Voce S3 is a serious product that has been given a lot of functionality and design elements from its bigger brothers (La Scala and Formula) in this last version. In any case, it’s cut from the same wood.
Construction and appearance
The La Voce S3 is a pure dac, without volume control or other features. We like that because at this level there is usually a nice preamplifier in between. Still, it’s something to take into account. Italians are masters of design and pay a lot of attention to the details, which is no different with this d/a converter. Just to give you one example: The power cord is just a bit nicer than average and when you insert the cord, this is done in two steps so that the cord is actually stuck. Very nice!
Furthermore, this is a unit with full size and even a relatively high front. This front, available in grey or black, is rather atypical with its wavy lines and elongated window. Two sturdy, old-fashioned rotary knobs on the left side complete the rather sober front. Yet the aircraft radiates solidity and class. Much more than our simple Metrum Onyx.
The Aqua La Voce S3 stands very stately on its three feet, this to reduce vibrations. But in practice, such an arrangement is often a nightmare for your faithful servant because every time we want to change a cable, the device dangerously tilts the other way.
Inside, a lot of effort has also been made to keep vibrations to a minimum.
At the back of the Aqua La Voce S3 we find four different inputs in addition to a few balanced and single-ended outputs. Usb, Aes, Bnc and I2s. The best of the best. It’s up to you but for our test it will be the 110 ohm balanced Aes connection that gives the best results with our Nad M50. An optical connection is optionally possible, we understand.
There is no remote control and that can be a deal-breaker, especially when you have multiple digital sources. But usually it’s not an issue. As far as we are concerned, a d/a converter is a set and forget device. Our Onyx is even in the cabinet due to lack of space (we get a lot of stuff inside). You’re not going to do this so easily with this beautiful aluminum La Voce S3. All in all, we can certainly speak here of “Pride of ownership”.
Inside, a lot of effort has been put into completely separating the analogue and digital parts. But not only that. Each part also has its own power supply and all components are, as the full name indicates, discreetly constructed. We only see top quality parts that have been minutely selected. There is no op-amp and no filtering, upsampling or oversampling, typical of ladder dacs. This is a dac for purists!