Halide DAC HD
I have got interested in this DAC after having owned Halide Design Bridge, which I enjoyed a lot as a very clever, super compact solution, with which I could get rid of many digital cable and jitter-related paranoias.
When I purcahsed the Bridge usb/spdif only, I was a long term user of Moray James digital coax cables. He was the cable manufacturer who succeeded in making me believe in cables and importance of upstream signal before the dac. In my systems (modded Bitstream, Assemblages) they were strongly capable of affecting sound, more so than analogue interconnects.
A digital cable, though, needs a quality SPDIF source, and I still had to get rid of my jitter-related concerns. I liked the Halide for it got rid of the need of a separate, expensive digital cable, its compactness, and its very smooth sound signature. I was also attracted by the fact that Halide Bridge was using Streamlength asynchronous reclocking algorithm, one of the best, licensed from Gordon Rankin.
When Halide completed their DAC HD, I was very pleased by see a similar concept, based on compactness, employing good quality materials, using the same Streamlength algorithm, and making it a complete solution, ruling out also the cost associated to analogue RCA interconnects.
Specs, gear used:
The Halide DAC HD uses a Wolfson WM8716 dac chip, perhaps less common than the more talked WM8741 family. It is capable of reproducing 16 bit / 44.1 kHz music, and up to24 bit / 96 kHz files.
The reclocking algorithm used to convert the USB signal is, as already mentioned, Rankin's patented Streamlength.
The USB cable is a flat looking Wire World Starlight. The analogue cables are silver, using Eichman bullet silver RCA's.
Build wise, the DAC feels very high quality, both in the flat usb cable used, and the terminating RCA interconnects.
I have compared the Halide Dac HD with Audio-gd NFB-9.2 and Eximus DP-1. In all cases, I have been using the Eximus amplifier section. For headphone, I have used Etymotic ER4P, HF5 with PtoS adapter, Audio-Technica AD2000. Soon I'll receive Stax SRS-005A (the desktop babystax) from the USA, and I'll add more impressions about the pairing.
I have also used an old Yulong DAH1 which I had around, especially to add further test on amplification pairings.
The Halide DAC HD sound is very similar to that of a NOS DAC, reminding me that of a stock Museatex Bitstream, or TDA1534 based DAC's. On top of these units, it is capable of reproducing 24/96 hi-res files, and is a complete plug and play solution.
Sonically, the DAC HD approaches a phylosophy that I appreciate. Many digital sources, especially in the same price bracket, tend to make their main selling point details retrieval, especailly by emphatising treble rendition, often ending up with a slightly lifeless, analytical and body-less frequency response.
The DAC HD takes on a different approach, it's a very warm, analogue sounding DAC.
The treble with the DAC HD has a natural roll off, eliminating any sense of 'digititis'. The full sound of the DAC HD poses its foundation on the gentle treble, and the bloomy midbass-lower midrange response, which makes it couple extremely well with flat-tish earphones like ER4 (or by memory I would say JH13 and Yuin OK1), as well as neutral-to-forward headphones, like the AKG K501 or the Audio Technica AD2000.
I have been appreciating it much with all the headphones I mentioned, amped by Eximus DP-1 amplifier. I will try it soon with Babystax, as soon as I receive my Stax SR-003 and SRM-252 amp. I expect the combo to work greatly, since the SR-003, known to be midbassy when worn improperly, are extremely linear if used without the headband.
As far as other pairings go, I would avoid using it with headphones like HD650, and similarly thick transducers (including Westone 3 and UM3X, both of which I don't have anymore).
A test I enjoyed was comparing it and the Eximus DAC, with the latter using its "headphone filter". Such filter is basically a bass boost.
I was using Audio Technica AD2000, that doesn't match perfectly with Eximus DP-1 tonality, given the DP1 midrange richness, and the AD2000's upper midrange raise, which in conjunction becomes too much. I wanted to see how the bass filter of the Eximus would work with the Audio Technica.
I ended up disliking such bass-boost funciton, since it makes the music reproduction very "detached", since the bass boost seems to work against the headphone's tonality. In opposition to this, the Halide DAC HD, using the Eximus amplifier and the AD2000, has a lovely, romantic and exciting tonality, very "cohesive" and "whole-ish".
Such conjunction of qualities would stand still with most Grado headphones... even if I don't have any at hand, having listened to the RS-1 and (briefly) to the 325i, I imagine they'd pair equally well.
Where the DAC HD has to make compromises, is in its detail retrieval, and soundstaging capabilities. While the tone is to die for, it cannot compete with more expensive offers I have tried in these areas. Sources like Audio-gd 9.2, Eximus DP-1, or the modded Melior Bitstream (Blackgates, and ad-hoc digital cable), simply sound extremely more detailed, without sounding fake; they sound larger, three dimentional, portraying a room with headphones. The Halide is much more compressed in its spatail rendition, and its low level details retrieval. It sounds very analogue-like, relaxing, but at times, when used to higher end sound, the listener feels like something is missing. Going back to listening to the Eximus DP-1, as an instance, gives back the answer: "so that's where all those music layers were!!".
So, the Halide is based on these ideas: good sound, great tone, need for compromise.
When comparing headphone listening on Audiogd and Eximus, the former tends to place instruments in a way that's less involving, and less immersive... the latter focuses on the listener: it is capable make you at the perfect spot of a room. To me, the latter's approach is clearly better; but the point here, is that similar evaluations, and comparisons, lose meaning when evaluating the Halide against those.
The Halide DAC HD, as far as details and soundstage go, becomes a limiting factor towards higher end amps: adding a more transparent amplifier doesn't really make the overall sound more detailed, although rubbish amps like Yulong DAH1 amp circuitry, which I have tested, make the overall sound much worse than good amps like that of Eximus DP-1. If I had to choose an amp, based on these findings, I'd likely purchase a Headamp AE-2 (since it had the RCA in), Pico Power (at least if it comes with RCA), Gilmore Lite, Dynalo, CKKIII: all these are neutral amps, with a linear, 'tight' frequency response, with price tags going hand to hand with the DAC HD.
I wouldn't be using it with Burson HA160, since it tends to smear something in the upper register, and a bit too slightly loose bass, in comparison.
Still on the same matter, on a much more positive note, this DAC strikes its best balance with high resolution files: in this case, the overall tone/details balance gets a sweet spot, and gains a couple of solid notches in sound quality.
The whole stream, starting from the Streamlength jitter rejection algorithm, towards the conversion, does its best in this scenario; otherwise, if the DAC HD could only show itself in playing low resolution files, I'd have felt a bit underwhelmed by the outcome of Rankin's Streamlength reclocking algorithm.
The Halide DAC HD is a DAC trying to get a sweet spot in a "compromise" scenario: in a 500$ package, it offers very tiny size, zero need for further cables, zero need for another quality USB to SPDIF converter.
Still, it's not as detailed as the best sources costing over 1000$, and super revealing headphones will be left "wanting" to resolve more. In general, I would work with Etymotic ER4P, ER4S, all kind of neutral headphones, Stax SR-003; While Audio Technica AD2000 sound great with it, tonally, they feel limited in their spatial capabilities. With over the ear grados, given their smaller soundstage, this becomes of much less concern. The same applies with said Stax SR-003, or even JH13.
As already stated, although it makes no sense to project an HD800 + 1k+ amplifier setup (the Halide HD would give the HD800 a tone, at least, since to me they sound skeletal and cold; but their resolving and soundstage capabilities would feel starving), if planning a "best" under 1000$ hifi setup (everything included), computer based, transportable, it gets a warm recommendation.
The funny note: while finishing this review, I am listening the high resolution version of Scenes from a Memory (Dream Theater), I am using Audio Technica AD2000. The problem rises, in that I have never enjoyed Dream Theater so much as with the Halide. In fact, in its way, it sets a personal benchmark for me, since I want to find this kind of tonality, along with the layering capabilities that more expensive offerings have. Something like this was in the modded Bitstream I stupidly let go of, even if it was limited to low resolution music.
The music of this album sounds like the memories it's trying to raise.
Thanks for reading,