SW1X DACs and more
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chrisdrop

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There have been some comments on another thread here on head-fi regarding SW1X DACs. I paid Slawa at SW1X a visit recently and thought I'd consolidate and answer some questions here, as well as post some overall information as it arises.

(Presently, this post is presently more of a placeholder where I intend to add relevant information that presently exists in PMs and other threads.)

I will say straight away, that I liked what I heard quite a lot.

Caveats: I don't own one of these products. I may or may not do so. I have had no inducement of any form for any comments. Shill-free-zone. I am no expert with important experiences, just another head with ears and opinions.

Intro:

I have been considering a new DAC for a few months. As one does, I have been scanning, reading, chatting and musing about DACs for that time. I was interested in the following DACs:
  • Primarily:
    • Schiit Yggdrasil (Analog 2)
    • Holo Spring II L3
  • Someone else posted about the SW1X DACs and I added them to my list. They are not too far from my home in the UK so I thought I could check them out and they sounded interesting.
  • I was also possibly considering the Lampizator Amber 3. Several other keen head-fiers seemed to really like it (and other Lampizator DACs).
I am using an RME ADI II presently for my main setup with a Glenn OTL amplifier and (primarily) ZMF Verite Closed.

Visit:

I reached out to Slawa at SW1X and asked if I could come to check out his DACs. He was very helpful and accommodating, so I planned time to visit. It was fun. To share some direct thoughts after the visit, here are a few lightly moded excerpts from PMs I exchanged with two other head-fiers.

I spent a good ~4h w/ Slawa's. I can't un-hear any of it. I am now clear on a few things (and less clear on others!):
  1. I really should get a new DAC.
  2. He makes very nice DACs.
  3. USB as transport needs thinking on how to handle.
  4. ASR-like SINAD, THD, etc DAC measurements really do not correlate with "sounds good".
Slawa is a nice and interesting guy who likes to experiment and make cool DACs. He certainly has strong views on how DACs should be made. There was another long-time customer there picking up his DAC3 after having some minor mods and a new USB-SPDIF unit. He was interesting to talk to.

We listened for a bit to Slawa's main "killer 2-channel system" as-is for a short while (including one of his DACs). We then put my RME ADI II DAC into this setup, replacing his DAC. The very, very audible power supply wall-wart switching noise was a horror to behold once we even plugged it in, with the DAC itself still in the box. The RME compared to any of his DACs (which we did cover later) sounded completely flat and lifeless. The RME was a small 2d napkin in front of you as opposed to a giant 3d spatial image. No hyperbole; it was so night and day I was floored. We played the same song, ~volume-matched back/ forth and it was stark. Instruments moved "into place", things sounded alive. With the RME it was almost like you just took "the real music" and squoze it from top to bottom, left to right, with overall less amplitude and conceptual acoustic-mass.
...
He showed the changes of replacing, one at a time, black-gate capacitors for other capacitors. Amazingly audible changes even for one change. It was a very interesting demonstration of detail I wouldn't have guessed. That said, he is not a "roller", he wants to find the right thing, put it in place and move on.
...
We then compared his DAC1 and DAC2. DAC1 sounds good, DAC2 sounds even better, DAC5 sounds better. I am sure the intervening models follow the line between 1-5.
...
For myself, what I am not clear on; if the RME compared to any of his DACs is so starkly different, how does it compare to any of the other DACs I am considering? The difference on the speakers was truly massive. It is really hard to say after a few hours of listening and talking if it was the same relative size on the headphones.


His DAC II was much better on the headphones, but perhaps not as jaw-dropping different as on speakers. That is expected I guess when his system is in the very expensive zone all told and the HP setup is far more humble!

His DACs are dead-silent, musical, #certainly-definitively-unquestionably-much-better than my RME DAC.

All of that sounds very enthusiastic. It is/ was. I would like to be sober at the same time. I have heard some very nice hi-fi kit to be clear, but I have not heard every high-end DAC out there. The experience did rebase my expectations for the kinds of changes I could expect to hear.

I am primarily a USB user while considering all this, I am considering how to handle USB as the DACs support SPDIF only without adding options. There are USB options.

More to come...
 
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chrisdrop

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One of the topics that I mentioned in the opening summary was USB. While there are several 3rd party converters, SW1X does offer options.

While visiting, another customer was picking up a full-sized "USB II" USB-SPDIF interface. It was the same size as a DAC, although there were fewer parts in the box.

They also offer a "tubed clock USB input, powered by a separate transformer" inside a DAC unit. This is a pic from their site.

S1660016-1024x576.jpg

The larger "USB II" has a full-sized tube setup compared to the simplified/ smaller tube setup pictured above.
 
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DecentLevi

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Does anyone know if this DAC or the Amber 3 supports DSD (SACD) natively? For me that's kind of a must because it's a format I love when I want a nice treat of higher-than-CD resolution and have been missing out on for a long time.
 
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Ear Worm Rex

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Embarked a few years ago on a fairly typical mid-life crisis.

Elected not to invest in phallic extension in the form of motorised transport; finances always limiting.



Instead, turned to my HiFi setup which was very budget - and started the journey of incremental improvement; as one does.



This involves buying stuff , which I later became tired of. Whilst we all like new cool and fancy gadgets with apparently the essential must- have specifications; I’m left unsatisfied as the system sounds good, then not so good, and then fatigue sets in- and i go off to something else.



OK so this isn’t working- and sending things off by eBay is getting a bit silly at this point.



Solution:



(1) everyone should know an engineer who designs HiFi- I think its as essential as having a good GP.



I have been so fortunate to find 2x such people. One is in my doorstep in South Wales.

The company (Nytech Audio) is essentially just himself - Philip Balham. They were a thing in the 1980’s (before i was into hifi) making odd looking black boxes with sliders as volume controls. But now have a new set of transistor-amps.



Working with Philip- I have a setup consisting of modified Spendor A6r speakers (cross-overs removed), driven by 2x stereo power amps (CPA402) in which the cross over acts at line-level. So this is an active system.



product page here: https://nytechaudio.com/products.html





these are fed by the matching pre-amp. CP202



So as many advise, get your amp and speakers working as a team as this makes the biggest difference in any set up. I think this is party true.



The source however cant be ignored, and whilst i lived with a Naim DAC fed by USB Laptop (mac) for a while, this was just not doing it for me.





(2) The second brilliant engineer.[/QUOTE]



I wrestled at this point wondering whether or not to explore vinyl as a source.

looking at the costs of good turntables, cartridges, phono amps, cabling - supports…….. it wasn’t looking too attractive

also whilst the idea of a physical media in your hand, with glossy covers and info really is a hark back to the past , and attractive, I also was aware of the £20 or so outlay for each record , and given i had none it would escalate into an expensive collection -



i figured the digital platforms and CD (i had loads) was more sensible at this point so i looked at some outboard DACs; that would transform the sound of my Oppo203 4k player, and land me in musical nirvana







so i tried a few .. Rega, Naim, Arcam and finally the Qutest (Chord)

none of these external DACs could out perform the in built DACs on my 4k blu ray player, (oppo203). they all sound more or less the same. I could really not understand what the press hype about these was about. They did nothing for me, and the presentation remained tiresome.


then i stumbled across a review somewhere, of an audio-note like approach to DACs, so forget the fancy DSD and very high sampling rates, and just focus on the information present in 16/44.1 ….



Slawa Roschkow designs his version of this - SW1x-DACs and I thought I may as well try out this version of events, in my system; with the knowledge and agreement that if it didn’t gel i could send it back. Slawa hand-built me a DAC-II (standard version), and I got this late January.





Being hard to please in hifi terms is important yet annoying as there is always an issue that prevents enjoyment of the music. This DAC-II installed has been an amazing transformative improvement.



So the accurate and amazing sounding Oppo DAC is now revealed as thin and unsubstantial, where the decay tail of notes is sharply truncated, and the acoustics of the recording room is woefully under represented.



The DAC-II fills out each note, so that it sounds a real - living entity in time and space. The fatness is not tied to any slowness or ploddingly poor timing. Quite the opposite there is a velvety flow, effortless and tight to the music now. It carries you along.



The notorious habit of streaming, where one listens to the first 20 seconds then jump to another track or album. I found myself stop doing this, and listening to whole pieces, and often entire albums fro star to end. When was the last time i did this ?



John Darko, who reviews digital sources constantly talks of ‘Acoustic density” , and now I know exactly what he mens by this.



So the DAC I have (and am not sending back!) is only the DAC-II standard, and there are higher variants available from Slawa (at greater cost of course). Can’t imagine how good these would sound, I only wish o could afford such delights. I am aware that I can send my DAC back for retrofitting of improvements, whenever funds allow…. so I have a stellar upgrade path ahead.



Slawa provides other products , carefully designed and tuned to this house sound which is so attractive. I can’t recommend these enough.



Conclusion: I will resist temptation to grab well-rated HIFI from mass-production sources. I will always value the direct interaction, communication and have influence when sourcing components direct from the engineer/designer - these true experts really care about quality audio delivery as the success or failure of their business depends on this , and less driven by the usual marketing nonsense.





My thanks to Phiip (Nytech) and Slawa (SW1x).



Have I finished, in terms of my system improvements…….



mmm next is to sort out my mains I think …
 

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Dobrescu George

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Also subbed to this thread, I may be reviewing some of the SW1X DACs in the near future :)
 
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chrisdrop

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Here are a few pictures of a DAC II under construction at the moment.

Slawa is also having an event upcoming for any of you in the UK: "Overview of sound signature of different types foil types from AN, Jensen, Dueleund, Vcap, Myflex, Jupiter, Mundorf, Jantzen, ClarityCap, Audyn, Rike"










 

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chrisdrop

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For any interested viewers, here are more pictures of an SW1X DAC II in-build, approaching completion:





 

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Ear Worm Rex

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hfi on this evening, house nice and quiet....... rare !

listening to Sol Gabetta (chello soloist) playing Vivaldi concerto s ( small chamber orchestra).
1582577280515.png



realised im not listening to the hifi- but just taking in the music, effortlesly washing over me.

the DAC II is amazing. so detailed and just sounds right. never had it so good.

you have to get one at home and listen properly with well recorded material- like this.

the rasp of the string being bowed, and that reverb tail after the note just rings out. so natural, as it should be.

lovin it
 
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