i have tested my headphones on other rigs before such as Hugo TT and Cavali Audio Liquid Gold. So i am reviewing DAVE based on the difference i have heard coming from my previous setup.
also keep in mind that few parts like the Hugo TT vs DAVE is totally based on my needs and preference and my point of view, nothing to do with price or hype, just being dead honest which what should reviewing be all about.
so in case you had a different needs or preference and goals toward a setup, keep in mind that we are all different, and might be looking for different needs on the same product.
DAC: Chord DAVE, Headphones: Focal Utopia and V-Moda M100.
Overall sound sig:
DAVE is the definition or Neutral, you get what the recording is suppose to give you. There is no added "fun" or "coloration" and above that there is absolutely no lack in Treble's Extension nor on Bass quantity, the control is superb and world class, and the musicality is second to none.
its everything that a SS amp should be like. its not bright nor warm, its dead neutral with superb musicality that sacrifice nothing in the over all frequencies. that being said its not a boring or flat sound sig, its show you what is your headphone is capable of doing and will push it to the limits.
Coming from LAu which arguably got the biggest sound stage among headphones amplifiers, DAVE is slightly behind it, which alone is shocking enough for me. yet the pretension put you in the middle of the song, and its honest to the recording big time, unless you are using a headphone that tend to be forward or laid back.
The sound stage didn't feel narrow, tall or sphere like, it was 3D and focused, injecting the music into you and nothing is over done, it didn't feel faraway as if you are using HD800, no it was as if the sound stage is wrapping around your head and i liked it more than any DAC i have ever used before.
Musicality & Forgiveness:
The Musicality of DAVE got me stunned, i mean i have spent five years looking for one SS DAC/AMP combo that will do no harm to the musicality and excel on Bass/Treble, and i have found no perfect setup Till i got DAVE. its Musical like Class A amp but not as warm, the female vocals and mids make me feel like i am using this on a different setup but no, i am on DAVE.
While being this Musical it never affect the Treble or Bass like typical SS amps with superb Musicality, there is always the "But" yet not with DAVE, i couldn't be happier knowing that i can enjoy the music to its fullest without worrying about Musicality.
Regarding the forgiveness on poor quality records, it varies from a recording to another. Some of my songs always sounded bad or with problems or "Shhh" in the background which was only not around on a warmer setup that eliminate this issue at the price of some treble or bass, with DAVE i was shocked that this was gone on few tracks and i was able to enjoy these certain tracks, i never thought that i will see this happen or thought its impossible to begin with, DAVE is indeed a different kind of DAC.
that being said you will notice the recording mistakes and errors yet (depend on the track) it will not be as harsh as it will be on other TOTL Neutral DACs. Also i want to mention that the volume range on DAVE is superb! i go from -40 to -20 dB without feeling like its harsh on my ears. in fact i brought my brother and he kept saying its ok increase the volume even that it was his first listen on DAVE, i really liked how DAVE is easy on the ears.
The bass is fully controlled, never bleed into the frequency even a bit, its punchy like Thunder and never harsh on the ears even on a higher volume than usual. that being said there is no boos or added coloration, its dead honest to the recording. the bass had superb details as well and the bass note is as clear as the day.
preference wise i like punchier than this, yet keep in mind i am a person who enjoy added coloration and fun. that being said the Bass on DAVE never let me lusting for more, it was superb and spot on.
The mids of DAVE what truly separates it from any SS DAC on the market, and the hardest part to achieve while having a fully extended treble and thunder like bass abilities. its super musical as if you are on a Class A amp, yet its not overly warm or sound like less of a SS Neutral amp.
while being this musical it was also giving me the feeling that i am still listing to a SS Neutral amp mids which was so weird for me, its actually shows that DAVE is still honest to the recording and shows you how it is 100% yet still manage to show you musicality to its fullest. this is not 10/10 here this is TOTL Reference quality and high end.
again coming from many setups for the last five years, never ever i was able to see such mids quality on a DAC that have such bass and treble in the same time, this is what i been searching for all of these years, and DAVE was the answer.
The Treble is extended to its fullest, never i heard the Treble extends as much. it was smooth, very smooth, yet so sparkly and extended and same as the bass its honest to the recording. as a Treble head i didn't feel like i would want more, it was a spot on even for me. even that DAVE is super musical it didn't lose any Treble detail here or there.
Utopia on DAVE was superb! i know why a lot are going for this combo. its Neutral and balanced to the max!! Utopia tend to do what DAVE do, which is achieving balance and musicality while trying to stay dead Neutral and without sacrificing any frequency. almost every other user who own this combo agrees that together they create what a i would call the world best pair.
The bass wasn't as punchy as it was on LAu, because as i said DAVE doesn't add and stay honest to the recording. which isn't bad ofc unless you are after coloration or added fun element. that being said the bass was always fun and thanks to being honest to the recording i was able to get more balanced sound sig from Utopia.
the mids on the other hand was so lush and musical that i felt like i wont lust after coloration on a tube amp or Class A amps which is usually the case when i have a dead Neutral setup, yet not this time. Treble wise its the same as the Bass case, and it showed me the true treble of Utopia which is extended and smooth without losing a tiny bit of extension ofc.
i never reviewed a portable headphone on a TOTL rig, because they don't scale and feel the same on a DAP or any TOTL amp or slightly different. on DAVE it was not the same case,
i really was shocked that V-Moda's mids sounded musical to a big extent, and the Treble was extended and sparkly to its fullest, even that every previous combo i had for the past 3 years didn't do it this way!!
while the vocals had some issues since this is the weakest point of this headphone, it sounded the best that this headphone can do. i am surprised about the scaling, including the sound stage itself.
Vs Hugo TT:
i had Hugo portable, and Hugo TT, coming from the TT i was worried that i will lose Bass/Treble epincness since i enjoy the brighter side of the Hugo line since its the brightest compare to any Chord product, that being said not bright ofc, i am saying its the brightest among its brothers.
DAVE is far more musical, it didn't leave me wanting more musicality, specially with the female vocals, as was the case with Hugo TT which is why i was pairing it with LAu. the being said Hugo TT sound superb with LCD series because of the synergy yet when paired with a bright can then its another story. with DAVE i can plug any headphone without worrying about it.
DAVE sound different yes, yet its not lacking anything nor make me feel like adding external amp, maybe a cable change or to will help adjusting some warm cans to fin my preference and thats about it.
sound sig wise DAVE got bigger sound stage, and the Treble got higher quality, and the Bass is quantity and quality is on another level, i can say its a whole upgrade yet you get something that is more musical and less brighter than TT. yet again i don't miss the TT a big and all my fears coming from TT were gone.
Price wise you could go for TT and another amp that will suit your preference yet i had WA5 + Hugo TT before and still the Hugo TT's mids as a DAC can't be even as half good as what can DAVE do, you could pair DAVE for fun yes and i think the result will be epic in case you are someone like me who like to enjoy external amp flavor from time to time.
long story short DAVE can beat Hugo TT alone and also can do the DAC Job better thanks to its superb musicality.
Note: a lot of people are fine with Hugo TT alone with even TH900, again its all about what you want in a setup, and not what it can do right or wrong. its all about preference and needs.
DAVE is a True end game DAC, if you are after a dead Neutral setup which reflects the recording as it is, while not changing the musicality in the favor or Treble/Bass, then DAVE is the way to go, keeping in mind that you will also enjoy a super quality and quantity on both Treble and Bass. its a new Reference int he Solid State game.
i was always looking for a SS setup that will make me enjoy the bass and treble to its fullest yet somehow if possible give me all the musicality, it though it was impossible but DAVE proved me wrong.
While being really expensive i could say this is the price of getting everything in one pack, while nothing sound that it need an upgrade or external help, indeed its everything or nothing with DAVE.