I would like to share my recent experience with Resonessance Lab’s Invicta dac.
A couple weeks ago I finally broke down and decided to buy one these very fine dacs. Admittedly I was heavily influenced by project86’s inspired review of this machine, even though I believe he had a pre-production unit that was still under development. I also suspect that I may be one of the early owners of a production version of this dac. My understanding is that in the interim, further improvements have been made on the Invicta, among which have been a significant upgrade in the headphone amp (which I will briefly discuss below).
My comments here are not intended to be a review in the strict sense, and will by no means be comprehensive and cover all aspects of the Invicta’s operation. I only used two digital sources: a regular CD player via through one of the S/PDIF (BNC) inputs and the SD card player. I did not use the USB input. Also I only used the headphone amp with my HD800s and not the balanced or single-ended audio outputs. All of the recordings used were either conventional CDs or AIFF files of CDs converted by iTunes and placed on SD cards. I have not yet gotten around to downloading hi-rez files from HD Tracks, but eventually plan to do so.
General comments: I’ve now had approximately 100 hours + of “break-in” time and I can honestly say that virtually everything that project86 described in his review about the Invicta is absolutely true, and perhaps then some. It is REALLY that good! It’s hard to describe every detail of why I think it sounds so good, but perhaps the best thing I can say is that it makes music sound more real than any other dac I’ve owned or heard. What particularly stood out for me was the portrayal of performers in their correct spatial positions, and this was not accompanied by any exaggerated or artificially enhanced soundstage. This may be in large part due to this dac’s excellent ability to resolve low-level detail but I suspect it may go much beyond this. Going along with this was an amazing sense of “air” surrounding the various performers. Another particularly pleasing characteristic was that all frequencies of the sound spectrum had a “just right” balance, with no under- or overemphasis apparent. In no way did the music seem strident, bassy or unbalanced. Dynamic range was outstanding. The overall presentation was immensely enjoyable and completely non-fatiguing, and this was true even of recordings of somewhat lesser quality, but obviously the dac's best qualities are brought out by the highest quality source material. In some ways this is all the more remarkable since my listening so far has been with only 16/44 recordings.
Comments on the headphone amp: The amp’s power output has apparently been increased in the production units, and I believe a few other modifications (changing the output impedance, etc) were also made. A few early comments suggested that with some hard-to-drive headphones, the amp may have been underpowered to a small degree. However, using my HD800s, which have an impedance of about 300 ohms and are not the easiest headphone to drive, I feel that the Invicta’s amp handles these as well as could be expected. I really don’t listen to music at head-banging levels, but given the Invicta’s ability to reveal the true dynamic range in a good recording, I felt that the amp has plenty of headroom to handle virtually every type of music played at comfortable (and ear-responsible) levels with high level transients and even more sustained high level passages showing no distortion or compression whatsoever. To be honest, I really love the Invicta’s headphone amp, and I now favor it by a wide margin over some fairly expensive separate headphone amps that I have. For me, this validates my original intent to have an all-in-one dac/amp combo of the highest quality that is not a compromise between one or the other. The dac/amp combination that came closest to the Invicta in this regard was the Anedio D1, but I think the Invicta is superior, and not by a small margin either.
Comments on the SD card input: This feature really intrigued me since I always disliked the idea of using external sources like CD players and also I didn’t want to fool with connecting a computer via USB to a dac. Resonessance actually points out in their FAQs page some theoretical advantages of using the SD card reader over the USB (and presumably S/PDIF) inputs – not being an engineer, I can’t comment on the related technical issues although from a practical point, I could see how the SD card system by eliminating problems common to external sources (jitter, clocking, etc) might be an improvement. My experience using SD cards proved to be very enlightening and actually quite addictive, and it is now my preferred way of listening to the Invicta. It is very easy to transfer songs to an SD card via iTunes or from other computer files. The only thing you need to watch is not to create sub-directories since the Invicta’s card reader doesn’t recognize them (and be sure your files are encoded in AIFF or WAV). Actually I wish it did read subdirectories (maybe this is in the works) since it would be nice to jump quickly to album folders and then play just the contents of a particular folder, rather than having to scroll through a large number of individual songs. I’ve sort of dealt with this situation by using smaller SD cards (e.g. 4 or 8 GB) that are easier to scroll through. This actually works just fine for me. So, do SD cards really sound better than other sources? – having used both the S/PDIF input from a CD player and SD cards playing AIFF files of the same CD, I now feel there is a subtle but real difference, with the SD card coming out on top. However I must point out that the S/PDIF feed from my CD player was excellent too!
My “bottom line”: I believe that the Invicta is clearly an outstanding dac in every sense of the word. To reiterate what project86 said in his review, I too would not hesitate to recommend it to someone looking for a state-of-the-art dac. Yes, I agree that it is pricey, and there are excellent dacs that may approach – perhaps very closely - the Invicta in sound quality at less cost. But again, for me, one of the main reasons I bought this dac (aside from its sound quality) were the features – I now have what I consider to be the best single-box digital playback system I’ve ever experienced, and I believe if you are looking for something that can achieve this particular goal, then you should put the Invicta very high on your short list, especially if cost is no object.