As a digital platform, we are always on the lookout for manufacturers who are doing something unique and Switzerland’s Dafraud GMBH, which Merason Audio is part of, is one such manufacturer. They may be a small player but their quirky take on the wonderful world called digital-to-analog conversion fascinates and intrigues. We already tested the Merason Audio Frérot (with POW1 power supply) and purchased it as a reference. To say that we were curious about big brother is therefore an understatement. Today we take a look at the Merason Audio DAC1, a hybrid d/a converter that combines ‘old’ dac chips with contemporary discrete components. Let’s take a closer look!
Never before have there been so many separate dacs on the market and never before has their price/quality ratio been so high. You can now buy a fine d/a converter for 500 Euros, so the question arises: why spend more? What does a 5000 euro dac offer over its budget friendly counterpart? That is the question we will try to answer today.
In this price range, everything is important and making a good first impression is crucial. When we open the box we are pleasantly surprised to see a set of white gloves. They are not there without reason, because the DAC1 has a glass front and it would of course be a shame to immediately taint it with fingerprints.
Once safe and intact on the hifi-rack, we see a device with full dimensions. Not a small box like the Frérot. The front in shiny black looks very stylish but a more discreet white version is also available The sleek logo contrasts beautifully with the black and the small buttons with orange LEDs fit wonderfully with the whole.
Between the power and select buttons are six orange LEDs indicating lock, sense, spdif, aes, toslink and aux respectively. On the white version and on our Frérot, the leds are green. At the back we see both single-ended and balanced outputs and in the middle four digital inputs (usb, coax, optical and aes/ebu). The WBT Nextgen connectors are a nice touch… and everywhere we notice Swiss craftsmanship. The power cord connection on the right completes the uncluttered rear panel. Just to add that Merason Audio is considering an I2s connection on the DAC1.
Hello from the inside
The coolest thing about the DAC1, however, is not its shiny front panel but its perforated, steel top plate that offers us a glimpse of the many sweets inside. And those candies are a joy for us nerds to behold. In this dac, most of the money has clearly gone to the interior, and that’s the way we like it. Unlike the Frérot, the DAC1 contains not one but two (dual mono) Burr-Brown/TI PCM1794A dac chips, one for each channel. This ‘vintage’ chip is chosen by designer Daniel Frauchiger solely for its sound quality. The DAC1 is not a true NOS dac but actually a kind of hybrid form because oversampling (just multiply the sampling rate) is done at some point. From that point, the digital signal passes through the dac unchanged. So there is no upsampling (complex calculations with an increase of bits and ‘non lineair’ increase of sampling rate). But a real NOS dac (Non Oversampling), as it is sometimes presented, it is defintaly not.
The PCM1794A converter chip used in the frerot and DAC1 is, to put it casually, an intermediate between NOS and oversampling; dixit Daniel Frauchiger.
Under the hood is a dual power supply, one for the analog part and one for the digital part. From the input stage to the class A output stage, everything is built completely symmetrically and only discrete components are used. So no opamps are used and everywhere we see ‘point to point wiring’.
An enormous amount of attention has been paid to the filtering, buffering and decoupling and you notice that everything here is dedicated to the reproduction. The DAC1 is purely a dac; without bells and whistles. And is constantly being further developed and refined. No preamp, display, DSD, MQA but completely handmade in Switzerland with high quality materials