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Violectric DAC V800

Posted

Pros: Smooth and sweet, yet not glossy. Detailed, but laidback. Many inputs, manual oversampling control. Build quality.

Cons: Lacks aggressiveness, USB input is noticeably worse, Sweet to a fault.

I was sent the V800, V181, and V200 to demonstrate at the Austin Head-fi meet last weekend so I thought I would put up a short-ish review of these items. I've already finished the comparison of the V181 and V200. Please search for those reviews if you are interested. This review will only be posted on the V800 but it will be a comparison of the V800, the Matrix X-Sabre, and the Matrix M-Stage HPA-2 (USB). Unlike the other reviews I will limit my headphone choice to HD800 as it is my primary headphone. I am also limiting the amp to the M-Stage HPA-2 as it is my favorite amp currently in my possession for the HD800. The V181 and V200 are able to run other headphones equally well as they run HD800s, but the M-Stage does not fare well with all headphones. It has a certain synergy with a few headphones including the HD800 that is unexplainable. I tried the UERM and HD600 with the M-Stage and they both sounded better on either Violectric amp. Another reason to limit my amp choice to the M-Stage is to simplify the use of the M-Stage's DAC as it does not feature regular analog outputs (only outputs in a pre-amp duty) being an integrated DAC/amp.

The V800 shares it's impressive build quality I mentioned in the V181/V200 comparison. Every switch feels smooth and sure in it's operation, every plug smooth but tight fitting, no hangups in operation. This is a completely trouble free unit. I won't bore you with all the details mentioned in previous reviews as this unit has been around for quite some time and Project86's review does this better than I could. Suffice it to say, this unit is flexible and reliable.

My take on the sound began with forgetfulness. I initially got the V800, the new M-Stage and the new pair of Matrix Mini-I units (yet to be reviewed) and plugged them all in to get some initial impressions. What I failed to remember was that the V800 is long in the tooth and it's USB is pretty far behind. The first night I used the V800 I was disappointed to say the least. Treble was rolled off, detail was smeared everywhere, textures.. don't get me started. I was really down on the V800 after having used the V181 and V200 with some of the other DACs I had on hand. Towards the end of the night, I realized my error and checked up on the USB of the V800 and sure enough, I was hearing what I should be with that sort of USB connection. I grabbed my best CD player, the Rotel RDD-980 transport, and hooked up the V800 with coaxial, pressed play and it was as if I had a completely different DAC. It opened up and cleaned up into a DAC that had potential. I now consider the V800 to not have a USB connection as it is not truly representative of the V800's potential sound quality. There is a new Violectric DAC on the horizon, the V820 that will feature XMOS USB connectivity and support at least 24/192 if not also DSD and DXD (not confirmed). Expect the V820 to compete from any input equally, unlike the V800.

Before I go any further I need to mention the setup for this review. With the M-Stage HPA-2 being only USB, I connected it to my computer, and used my Rotel CD transport for both the V800 and the X-Sabre using coaxial. This is not entirely ideal, but with the V800's USB limitation, it was the best solution. I played only retail pressed CDs in the Rotel and those same CDs I ripped to FLAC from my computer via JRiver MC19. I briefly compared the Rotel output to the USB output using the X-Sabre, since I knew both USB and coaxial were excellent, and found no difference. I left the V800 in it's default state regarding oversampling; Best.

So after switching to coaxial I started from scratch again with the V800. The first thing I noticed was that everything was ultra smooth, refined, pristine. Smooth yet it wasn't from masking detail to make it more forgiving. I later decided this treble reminded me of sweetness in sound, a pure clearness that was inviting and inoffensive. This wasn't a slow syrupy sweetness, either. The sound is laidback in it's presentation, which combined with the HD800 was too much for most tracks. It tended to push things too far back, which caused some imaging issues, especially with center vocals. Center vocals have to be at the right plane, or they either sound split from being too close, or if they are too far back, the sound is small and tends to be diffuse making voices sound as if coming from a cloud of origin points. This is how the V800 can be detailed yet sweet at the same time. The detail isn't masked, but it can be hard to nail down. The soundstage is smaller than the X-Sabre, but larger than the M-Stage. Layering is superior on the X-Sabre. Layering between the V800 and M-Stage is sort of a tie, but they do it in different ways. The V800 is nebulous while the M-Stage lacks depth leading to a feeling of squished layers. I'm not sure which I would choose if I had to. Luckily I don't have to make that decision. I feel that dynamic contrast on the V800 is good, but that sweetness also gives it a feeling of being softer on impacts and large fast dynamic shifts. This overarching sweetness affects the V800 so completely that it ends up being a hindrance. I don't really see a situation where the V800 could be recommended. The lack of USB limits it's value. The sound signature limits to those who prefer that softer sweeter sound. With the V820 around the corner I can't call the V800 a good value at all. Wait and see what comes next from Violectric, IMO.

Comparing presentation, the M-Stage is more in your face with some slight roughness and sibilance is somewhat exaggerated. It's direct, less 3D, approach is commendable at times, and a welcome change from the V800, especially on large scale orchestral or choral works where the V800 begins to sound lost. Do understand I'm comparing a $40 addon DAC with a $1300 standalone DAC. There are some obvious differences in resolution, but I find myself more forgiving of the M-Stage's faults and preferring it's presentation. What's interesting is that these two DACs sound so different (within the small variance DACs can sound different) yet share the same DAC chip. One aggressive, rough, and unrefined, one passive, ultra refined and sweet. The M-Stage's DAC is saddled with losses you would expect from an added on DAC. Only one input and no dedicated outputs. Surely it's supporting circuitry is not as good as it could be. However for a $40 option on a $280 amp, it blows my mind with it's performance. The fact that it is even being compared here is a testament to how amazing it actually is. With the lack of connectivity I think the M-Stage HPA-2 DAC does fall behind the V800 in overall usefulness, though most people are using USB based rigs now, so with the V800 lacking that input, the shoe is on the other foot. The 'just the essentials' approach works extremely well for those who need a great K701 or HD800 amp that happens to have an astonishing DAC for practically no extra cost.

The X-Sabre is on a level above the V800 and I believe most will say the V800 is a level above the M-Stage DAC, though my personal preference finds them on equal ground trading pros and cons. The X-Sabre wins in almost every category. Soundstage size, separation, dynamic contrast, texture, detail, timbre, and others are all in its favor. One aspect in particular that it far exceeds the other two is in layering. I happened to come across some tracks that had effects where the initial sound, be it vocals or a sound effect/instrument, would be in the near ground, then it would echo behind, then again and again further back each time. With the X-Sabre each step back was clearly mentally measurable. I could tell that each step back was going further back. With the M-Stage these effects felt like the source was merely standing in place or moving backwards very slightly. The V800 made this sound as if the source was already fairly far back and went backwards, but at hard to pinpoint increments. This layering advantage gave the X-Sabre a richness that the others lacked and was immediately noticeable on almost any track. The X-Sabre wins the battle of features as well with all the common inputs performing at equal level, support for all current formats including DSD and DXD and while the build quality of the V800 is surely excellent, the milled solid aluminum block that makes up the X-Sabre is basically insanity at it's price point of $1100.

In summary I can't recommend the purchase of a V800, especially if pairing with an HD800. The M-Stage HPA-2 with USB is a shocking eye opener with regard to value. The top of the heap remains the X-Sabre. I had previously thought the X-Sabre to be slightly bad on value (compared to Concero @ $600), now I think it is potentially worse on value with the discovery of the M-Stage HPA-2's optional DAC. Then I hear the V800 at $1300 and think, perhaps they cancel each other out...? I then consider the V820 will likely be at a similar price point as the V800, and should be a better value. I then relent that the X-Sabre has indeed lost some value. Diminishing returns is an ever changing metric.

Thanks for reading and thanks to Violectric (German) and Arthur of Violectric USA (English) for the opportunity to try these items I'd long been curious about. I can only hope the next generation of Violectric DAC will be more competitive and less sweet!

Posted

Pros: Stunningly clear, transparent sound, excellent digital volume control, perfect size for headphone setup

Cons: USB does not support 88.2kHz sample rate (but DOES do the much more common 96kHz)

My full review:

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/574418/review-violectric-v800-dac#post_7799058

 

In summary, this is one of the best DACs I've ever experienced, which is surprising since it only costs $1300. That's a lot of money, but actually pretty low for a top class DAC, which is what I consider this to be. In my personal experience I rank it below the Resonessense Invicta ($4k), MBL 1511E ($8k), and very very slightly below the now discontinued Anedio D1 ($1230), but above the Audio GD Reference 7 ($1900), Esoteric D70 ($6500), Wavelength Cosine ($3500), and of course all the usual suspects from Lavry, Benchmark, Grace Design, Musical Fidelity, Cambridge Audio, etc.

 

This DAC at $1300, paired with the matching Violectric V200 ($1k), makes for an ultra high end reference system that compares to almost anything out there.  

Posted

Pros: Incredibly neutral sound that is very linear.

Cons: Non so far!

 

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Hi all, Zombie-X here again with another review for the good boys and girls of Head-Fi.org. I've been playing around with this DAC for about a month now and I figured it's time to give you all a nice, straight to the point review of it. 

 

I would like to take the time before this review to give a shout out to Robert at Aphrodite Cu29 for supplying this DAC for review. He's a good guy in the crazy audio world and knows his stuff. I was swayed to get the DAC, not by his words of praise (well maybe a little), but rather by how it sounds.

 

I would like to say that during this review I will be comparing this DAC to my Music Hall DAC25.2 and Benchmark DAC1. I will be using a variety of headphones and amps n this review and I will make it clear when a certain piece of gear is being used.

 

On another note this DAC costs $1,299 USD brand new. That's much more expensive than the Music Hall DAC 25.2 and Benchmark DAC1 (non USB). Is it worth the price you ask well you're going to have to read the review and find out now aren't you?

 

Also this is my first review of a DAC so I will try my best to describe what it sounds like as best as possible. 

 

 

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Who is Violectric? Violectric is a subdivision of Lake People GmBH from Germany. The parent company, Lake People, manufactures a wide variety of electronics such as other DAC's and headphone amps for studio use or for sound engineers. They aim to produce very accurate equipment and everything is built very sturdy, just like all German engineering. All their gear is incredibly rugged and sturdy.

 

Even though the Violectric line is aimed at consumers, the performance and behavior of the gear is still very studio quality. Clearly their studio roots couldn't be lost but is that good or bad? From what I have heard in this DAC this is still very much a studio unit and is not far off prom their professional offerings. Well you're going to find out soon enough on how it actually sounds and compares. Brace yourself!!

 

The following text is quoted directly from their website:

 

Quote:

Established in 1986, we have since become your partner for professional audio electronics. Following our  motto “tools - not toys”, we  achieved highest  reputation during the past years amongst our customers. These are private studios, broadcasters and TV companies. Also airports, congress and exhibition centres count on the reliability of our products made in Germany. This all began under the roof of Rosgartenstrasse 13 in the city of Konstanz. Here, three young guys started with the development and manufacture of limiters and noise gates  but not too success-fully … The commercial survival on a very low level was made possible by the production of headphone amplifiers. From 1989 on, the production range was extended to level matching and balancing amplifiers such successfully, that it came essential to move to larger premises.

 

Since 1991, the new address read: Haidelmoosweg 52. Due to the developement of the first german 20-bit A/D and D/A converters in the beginning nineties, the name Lake People re-sounded throughout the land. Suddenly, the company was regarded as a high-tech brand, with a highly positive effect on its public reputation. The growing know-how led to many new products in the analog and digital domain during the following years. Although some pro-jects turned out to be flops, most devices met the customers' re-quirements, with the effect of continuous growth of the company.  By the end of the nineties, the number of employees had in-creased to ten, and the 140 m² of Haidelmoosweg 52 went cramping. Again, a move to new premises came necessary. As it was obvious that rental facilities would not meet the demands, we decided to put up our own building. The company site was constructed in 2000 in a new industrial park in Konstanz, Turmstrasse 7a, just a hundred metres from the lake. Also in 2000, Lake People was transformed into a Ltd. company.
 

During 2004, nearly the entire production range underwent re-engineering. This concerned both circuitry as well as mechanical design. At the same time, new digital converters were - now being the 4th generation. Another ambitious unit is our innovative digital peak meter, with its new and sophisticated detail solutions.A very speciality of Lake People is the development and modification of audio processing units according to customer specifications.

 

 

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Upon getting the DAC from Robert at Aphrodite Cu29 I was awe struck by the build quality of this little guy! The chassis is made of thick aluminum and has a special coating on it that prevents any interference from creeping in. The inside of the case has tiny ridges, almost like those of a heat-sink. The unit has some heft to it and is much heavier than you would think from looking at it. Buttons have a nice "click" to them and the XLR's are sturdy and XLR cables lock in perfectly and are snug. The volume dial is nice and smooth with no resistance whatsoever. Ultra smooth is more like it and it does feel oh so nice!

 

When hooking up the DAC to a PC you get a USB Audio TE7022 Interface with S/PDIF in the the audio output device list. From here you could choose the sample rate, bit depth, and channel balance as well as volume. When hooking up the the PC I would suggest leaving the Windows volume setting to max and then using the music playback software to adjust volume as needed. I would also recommend that all the sampling settings are checked off and have the bitrate set to 24 bit in the device options tab. Make sure you give the unit "priority" access via the options as well.

 

Signal lock on with the DAC is instantaneous and you are able to use the front panel to select from Optical, USB, Coax, and XLR. You can also choose to mute the music via the "Mute/Error" button and even select from no resampling all the way up to 192hz. All the buttons have a nice feel to them and click nicely, but wait I said that before, didn't I?

In my opinion, I would leave the sampling off as resampling the sound does nothing at all. From what I understand it would just add more noise and artifacts to the data stream or even further attenuate them. Not good if you want the purest sound. 

 

The insides of the DAC are populated by capacitors, resistors, operational amplifiers, and a over sized transformer. Wait did I say an over sized transformer? Well the description of the DAC from Violectric states this but all I see is this tiny transformer. Well it doesn't mean it'll sound bad so we will wait in see. Now you can also adjust the gain from the inside of the DAC via the internal dip switches, which can been seen in the last image below. The stock unit comes with the settings set to +15db but can be adjusted to lower such as +6db and higher being +18db and +24db. I currently have my unit set to +18db.

 

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Before we get into the performance of this DAC I will take briefly on how it sounds. You'd think from a major manufacturer of studio gear that this DAC would sound clinical, thin, or even bright sounding. Well toss those notions out the window becasue this DAC is none of that. It has a very neutral sound that is not clinical at all nor is it warm sounding. It's a flat sounding DAC, as one should be. Giving no attention to certain frequencies and staying true to the source material is what this DAC does. No more, no less. Just pure uncolored or tweaked sound reproduction. After all the DAC, IMO, should be the most neutral piece of gear in ones set-up, then use amps and other gear to color the sound from there.

 

For this I'll be using my PC via the USB input on the DAC. Since we are going to be using USB you should know that you won't need any special drivers. It installs the needed Windows drivers right away. You could always get ASIO USB drivers but they are not free at all and I find them not to improve over the ASIO output from foobar2000. Free bit perfect is better than not free. So I will be using foobar2000 for this review along with the WASAPI output with the buffer set to 1000ms and have the sound set to 24 bits at 96Hz.

 

I find no need to use a S/PDIF converter with this DAC as the amount of jitter is low enough. I suppose if you were to use a high end converter such as the Audiophilleo or SonicWeild Diverter the sound would most probably improve much more but for this review it will jusut be the plain USB input. On my Music Hall DAC25.2 I had to sue the Pop-Pulse USB -2-S/PDIF II because the DAC itself had too much jitter and gave the sound a slight "edge" to it. So without the converter on the Music Hall the sound was brighter and also thinner sounding.

 

 

TREBLE:

The treble on the DAC is very clean and very extended without added grit to it. Some perceive the added "grit" as more detail but it's just noise and tends to add more garbage to the sound. I know with the Music Hall DAC25.2 there is this added "grit" but not much of it but enough to make the amp sound brighter. I should define grit more so you know what exactly it is. Grit, as I call it, is added distortion to the treble and can sound like added detail but really it It's just distortion. But moving on back to the treble. Like I stated earlier it is very clean and detailed. Much more detailed than what my Music Hall DAC25.2 was and certainly more detailed than the Benchmark DAC1 that I demoed. It's highly transparent and dare I say slightly sweet? Yeah I would say it is ever so slightly sweet. I found that on poorly mastered recordings that the treble could become a problem but I believe that the DAC is converting the music better and as such the treble can seem more distorted. On material that is mastered good (such as the MTV Unplugged series) the treble can be smooth and articulated with no hint of brightness or any sibilant behavior at all.

 

MIDRANGE:

The mid range, in comparison to my Music Hall DAC25.2, is a lot cleaner and transparent with more detail. There is no added midrange body but the midrange can sound a tad withdrawn on some material. Such material is some metal, old recordings, or recordings that are overly compressed. When fed with quality stuff the midrange will be so revealing and transparent it like going from looking through a lead/glass window to no window at all. It really is that much better. You can clearly hear more stuff in there. An example would be from Alice in Chains "MTV Unplugged" album. On my DAC25.2 you could hear them plucking the strings on their acoustic guitars but on the V800 you can hear the the pluck more easily and it's sharper as well. You can now hear the leading edge of the pluck (if that's how it's described) a lot easier. Vocals can soudn eerily surreal and crisp. I tossed in Rick Wakemans "Return to The Center of The Earth" CD as it has a lot of narration. Patrick Stewarts voice is is so defined and clear. You can hear him back away from the mic, take a breath, and came back to speak some more.

 

BASS:

Now the bass. I would say compared to my DAC25.2 the bass can seem to have less body but in fact ti is much tighter and defined. I found the bass to sound very firm and present but not overbearing. I will admit this DAC does have less bass than either the Music Hall DAC25.2 and the Benchmark DAC1, but it makes up for it in how tight the bass is and how deeply it can extend. The bass is much more extended and the texturing is well beyond that of both of the other DAC's. Rage Against The Machines first album, entitled "Rage Against The Machine", has some of the most visceral and hard hitting bass I've heard from rock and metal music that is still produced nicely. The song, entitles "Take The Power Back", has so much slam and the bass is so tight that it's eye popping good. The bass is also fast and has a more realistic decay as the other two DAC;s seemed to either have too little decay or too long of a decay. Bass notes hang in the air for just the right amount of time.

 

SOUNDSTAGE / IMAGING:

Well well well what do we have here? I thought I was sitting at home but from what I hear it sounds more like a convert hall. Yes the sound stage is much better than on the Music Hall as it sounded slightly compressed in comparison. The ADC1 was close but seemed to have less depth to it as well as the imaging was kind of compressed. So this test I fired up some binaural music (the album was "Explorations in Space and Time" from HD-Tracks) and WOW were both of those DAC's lacking! Before the imaging was just off on both of them (though like I said the ADC1 was close) and now I can clearly pin-point were sounds are. on the song "Wind" I can hear where the instruments are and can also judge the depth of the sound better. Really there is more depth now, especially with music recorded this way.

 

 EDIT: 

As an update I did try this DAC's other inputs and they all sounds very similar. They have a slight edge over the USB input, but it's still very good. I was quite surprised at how well the USB stacks up. I also have gotten an Audio-GD Digital Interface USB audio converter and it further improved the sound by quite a bit! I guess the sound from the USB input was good already, but after that signal was converted to Coax/Optical/XLR it really came into it's own. It's liek all my descriptions before hand but more fleshed out and detailed!

 

 

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All in all the DAC is a great performer at this price. I find it to be superior to the Benchmark DAC1 and Music Hall DAC25.2 in every way. It has more extension on both ends of the frequency range, a lot more detail than either of the other DAC's, much better PRaT, and even tighter and defined bass. I find no reason to choose the Benchmark over this. Even the Benchmark DAC1 USB can not compare. Really I didn't find any major faults with this DAC other than it sometimes being slightly thin sounding but other wise it's exceptional. Really it trumps anything under $1,000 quite easily in many regards. It's hard to find such a good performer in the category and the V800 DAC by Violectric company, a subdivision of Lake People GmBH. Great works guys and I am looking forward to the rest of yuor gear in the future. This DAC is a knockout! Feed it good material and you will be very pleased!

 

Now go buy one! Robert is awaiting your order!

 

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Violectric DAC V800
Description:

This is what german " hifi & records " magazin No. 3/2010 found out: " The measurements showed world top class " " Put DAC V800 besides a good but not necessarily expensive CD drive and you will receive a combination as good as all the chromed, brushed and polished luxury players - or even better. " FEATURES: - 4 digital inputs switchable: - transformer balanced via XLR (AES 3/11), 24/192 - coaxial via Cinch (S/P-DIF, AES-3id), 24/192 - optical via TOS Link, 24/192 - USB input, 24 / 96 kHz capable - coaxial digital output - LED displays for Active Input and Lock - Mute switchable - resampling/upsampling with selectable modes: x1, x2, x4 and "BEST" - Delta-sigma DAC with outstanding 120 dB dynamic range and never before achieved -112 dB THD !! - perfect analog output stages to not affect this maximum dynamic and minimum THD-N - Output level adjustable in the digital domain - Additionally the max. level is internally adjustable - Analog outputs electronically balanced via XLRand unbalanced via Cinch - oversized toroidal transformer - extensive internal power conditioning Case and back panel are made of strong aluminium and are Nextel coated. The 8 mm frontpanel is milled, sand-blasted and black anodised. The labeling is laser engraved.

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