Holo May KTE 3 Impressions and thoughts

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by Xecuter, Oct 23, 2021.

  1. Xecuter

    Xecuter Brush and floss your amp twice a day

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    Holo May kte 3: Measurements

    It's been some time since I've sat down to review anything.

    That was until last week when my friend Hugo from indiehifi called me to tell me he is bringing me Holo May kte3, Raal sr1a, requisite, the meze elite and some streamers for me to listen too. Hugo is cool and just wants to know my thoughts with no pressure to buy.

    So May KTE 3 vs Rockna WD signature balanced. Both are the latest firmware/hardware as of Oct 2021.
    Testing conditions:
    Rockna was tested using a mix of usb/aes. I run usb from musicbee or cd-t via aes to the DAC. Linear filter, Dither off
    Using old faithful EC studio/hd800sdr and SCA-2>ATC SCM150ASLT

    [​IMG]

    May was tested mostly using NOS with HQ player via usb using golden ones recommended settings which push 44.1khz to 1.411mhz and 48khz to 1.5mhz doing the OS upstream of the DAC.

    I tried May for a few days without the HQ settings and it lacked top end air, it was a tad harsh in the upper octaves and becomes fatiguing (with headphones/XLR*), bass is also a bit looser, everything is just not as polished as the HQplayer version which is just a much more pleasant and technically impressive experience.

    *The midrange harshness was most evident with the EC studio with balanced XLR, not sure why because it is within spec of the input transformers of the studio but I get that slight hot upper midrange on some tracks. As soon as I switched to SE the problem vanished, but then the SE of the May is like a diluted May experience.

    [​IMG]

    You have to run HQ player though a computer or through something running ROON, HQ player is a POS on desktop, it's clunky, has a terrible GUI but sounds significantly better than the OS options on the May or the NOS without the filters.
    So you are kinda stuck with it.
    For those of you using cd-t or who just like to stream over tidal/spotify from a non ROON device probably don't consider May.

    The May KTE 3 is very good. For starters, it's the first time I've heard a NOS dac that has normal staging. With both speakers and headphones staging was normal. The USB input is ridiculously good, as solid and stable and one of the best usb implementations i've heard.

    With HQ player it's a contender for my step above everything else DACs, if I had to nitpick I would say it lacks the last bit of air (as does all NOS in my experience), and sometimes I feel the immense blackground is achieved through some level of omission. There is something unnatural about the transient response with the DAC, I don't think there was even once where I got goose bumps or turned my head suddenly at a sound or really even got lost in a song.
    Something the Rockna has an uncanny ability to do.
    I guess the May is fairly quick with transients, but it lacks edge and weight with transient response that leaves you feeling like some of the texture and engagement with instruments like kick drums isn't as present and forward as I prefer.

    I guess coming from the sfd-1, convert-2, rockna I have a love of impressive dynamics and perhaps these dacs enhance that beyond 'neutral' but I feel this is the crux of my experience with May, in that I just didn't get that engaged with the sound. It's technically impressive but doesn't get the foot tapping or drag you from reality.

    May certainly doesn't sound like typical NOS, it can at times be a bit hot in the upper mids (with headphones and XLRw/studio*) even with HQ player, clarity is exceptional and as such macro/micro information feels enhanced however although these 'detail' sounds are enhanced they can seem a bit cold and dry texturally.
    On the flip side some information is just not rendered on the May, in Max Richter's Vivaldi you can hear the room and some background instrument handling noises etc on the Rockna and other dacs I've owned, but this is pushed right down below audible ranges on the May.

    Definitely not the rich NOS sounds I was expecting. May would pair wonderfully with most headphone systems but as soon as you move to speakers that lack of textural microdetail, lack of transient suddenness and engagement factor make it not that nice to listen to.

    Overall it's a solid DAC, but we are here to deconstruct this thing and pick it apart and see if we can still live with it.
    For me the Rockna is hands down a better product, it only loses to May in clarity and that's because I feel May is omitting or pushing down some stuff to enhance that. In NOS without HQ player it drops down to slightly better than mid tier sort of performance in my book. With HQ it is elevated significantly but still unengaging, but performs solidly.

    May was the 5th best DAC I've auditioned, and the best NOS DAC by miles.
     
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    Last edited: Oct 23, 2021
  2. Xecuter

    Xecuter Brush and floss your amp twice a day

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  3. Maven86

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    The most anticipated review of the year for me. It's about damn time.
     
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  4. purr1n

    purr1n Super Friend

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    What about without HQ player? Or even better, how does this DAC perform when appropriate HQ Player OS tweaks are enabled for the "everything else DACs". It's difficult to get a sense of things when it's not apples to apples. Of course a huge variable is that DACs respond to HQ Player OS differently.

    Did you ever get to audition the Spring? This was my problem with the OG Spring Level 3.
     
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  5. Xecuter

    Xecuter Brush and floss your amp twice a day

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    Without HQ player I've sort of covered at the start of the review and it's not as good. To me the DAC performs best in NOS with the OS done upstream. The OS filters on the May are also not as good as it with NOS without HQ player.

    Good question. I much prefer the OS that the Rockna does. If I put the Rockna in NOS and run HQ player it is far more negative than positive.

    Rockna OS > may hq > may NO hq in NOS > rockna with HQ > may with internal OS

    Never heard the Spring unfortunately.
     
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    Last edited: Oct 23, 2021
  6. sharpie101

    sharpie101 Rando

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    Since upgrading to the Spring3 from the Spring 2 both Level 2, I have struggled to enjoy my listening like before.
    Has been times I seem to have a similar slightly harsh upper range. Disabling PLL seems to have helped.
    My ears have been ringing more than ever too. Slight tinnitus I suspect, I have had for years but never bothered me.

    Sometimes I would almost think I might be actually listening to a Delta Sigma dac or oversampling.
    I listen in NOS mode and always had in the past and loved it. Majority 44.1kHz.

    Now I'm,at the point of trying to update my source to something else and make other changes that I think might help.

    Reading this review, I wonder if the designer has changed something in these latest designs?
    Reading other reviews, it looks like it is quite different for everyone (some love it more), could be different rooms, components, speakers etc, not sure.

    My Spring 3 is approaching 2000 hours now too, so had it for a little while.
    Trialing a iFi Zen Stream to see how that might go as my source.
     
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    Last edited: Oct 24, 2021
  7. Woland

    Woland Friend

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    I found this hugely confusing because HQ Player OS is a product... a minimal Operating System that implements HQ Player software and which can be tweaked to different DACs.

    Eventually I figured out that you're probably using OS as shorthand for oversampling.. although the HQ Player term is upsampling, not oversampling.
     
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    Last edited: Oct 24, 2021
  8. Baten

    Baten Friend

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    I found my spring 2 wildism to be one of the best DACs I've ever heard. Mostly used in NOS mode, with great layering and black background. Not that wide or 3D, but just sublime unfatigueing sound. I'd be quite sad if the spring 3 or May are in any way worse than it...
     
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  9. GoldenOne

    GoldenOne Friend

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    Fwiw the jump from s2 to s3 was pretty big Imo.
    Haven't tried s1 though
     
  10. Garns

    Garns Friend

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    Did you try Rockna in OS and running HQ player? The Wavedream accepts at best 8x fs signal (USB/I2S) or 4x over AES, but internally it's 16x, so it's not that surprising if NOS and HQ player sounds worse. I'm finding that upsampling offline in Sox and leaving filter on Linear adds like 5% to the WD - imaging is more precise and more stable, and it's cleaner and better-integrated in the bottom octave (30-60hz).
     
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  11. Xecuter

    Xecuter Brush and floss your amp twice a day

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    I havent tried running rockna with internal filters and HQ no.
    Will give it a run this evening.
    Mind sending me the settings so I can replicate exactly what you're doing?
     
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  12. ArcticSapien

    ArcticSapien Rando

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    Great post. Nice comparison above. Thanks @Xecuter
    I happened to order the Holo May some days ago. Sweated a bito_O after reading OP ranking Holo May as #5... but calmed down after I checked the price of Rockna and the other Top-3. Ok, I think I can live with No.#5 based on price/performance ratio :)

    (Newbie here. Intro = still building my system. NUC OpticalRendu Holo Audio May (Preamp?) Shanling SP-80 tube (EL-34) monoblocks Focal Sopra 2. Yah, it's a mixed bag.)
     
  13. GoldenOne

    GoldenOne Friend

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    Fwiw I personally would rank the may above rockna.
    Its going to be fairly system/preference dependent
     
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  14. sphinxvc

    sphinxvc Gear Master (retired)

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    Could you remind us of the listening chain used for the evaluation? I tried to look on the YT review, but didn't seem to find it in the description. I see headphones in the signature above, but wondering on the speaker/room end.
     
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  15. Chianti

    Chianti Rando

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    On the HQPlayer w/Rockna Wavedream debate: I am finding that HQP mostly makes things worse with specifically my Susvara; on the other hand, there are recordings like the 2014 remaster of the 1953 Callas Tosca (96khz on Qobuz) - e.g. track 5 "Ah, Quegli Occhi ..." - too shrill for me to enjoy with phones like Utopia (and a bit borderline on the D8000Pro). With HQ the issue is perfectly resolved for me with those other headphones!

    Net/net HQP is a valuable tuning tool to optimize synergies and neutralize significant deficiencies in your chain. I would therefore not be able to arrive at a single "x > y" preference rating with/without.

    My Chain: HQP (receiving Roon data) poly-sinc-gauss-xla (for now, ext3 sometimes) ->384k (LNS 15 shaper) -> Wavedream Net (NAA protocol) -> (I2S) Wavedream Signature Balanced (Linear filter) -> WA33 Elite JPS (KR HP power and rectifier tubes, Electro Harmonix 6C45Pi Gold driver)
     
  16. earnmyturns

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    Very, very preliminary impressions.

    May KTE arrived today. It's been on for about 90 minutes.

    Overall configuration is a bit of a mess, to be simplified when my 2nd Pi2AES arrives. Anyway, here it is:

    Roon > Pi2AES+Sbooster LPS > {HDMI I2S (alt 1) > May KTE > XLR | AES > OG Yggdrasil > XLR } > Freya S > XLR > Goldpoint SW2X > {XLR > ecp DHSA-3F | XLR > EC Af} > ZMF Verité closed monkeypod

    Listening so far with the May --> DSHA-3F path, with a few quick compares with the OG Y --> DSHA-3F path.

    May in NOS mode, PLL on.

    I had a weird initial locking issue between Pi2AES and May on a new 96/24 Qobuz album, and later a track skip. Not sure whether that was a Roon/Qobuz/network glitch, so I moved to local 96/24 material. So why not the rather zany recent Henry Threadgill "Poof" album?

    Sounding still raw, but string and percussion transients, separation, and depth make OG Y feel 2D, something I never expected to say after keeping it longer than any other DAC. The Spring 2 KTE that I have in my other location with similar amps and headphones hints at this, but the May goes further in a way that even in this "cold" state surprises me.

    Background is so black that very delicate cymbal touches seem to materialize from total stillness as the first ripples on a still pond when air starts moving over its surface. As a fan of jazz cymbal work, I can't have too much of this.
     
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    Last edited: Nov 29, 2021 at 9:27 PM
  17. earnmyturns

    earnmyturns Smartest friend

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    Small update on my May KTE: listening to Blue as the Turquoise Night, a new 96/24 album with Kayhan Kalhor that just showed on Qobuz (thanks to Roon's "New Releases for You").This is the album for this DAC: many layers from soloists to orchestra. A few days of always-on make a difference in removing the roughness/smear of the first few hours.

    The one issue I'm still having is that the DAC took a while to lock onto the Pi2AES I2S out when I started playing the album. I should try it with AES to see if the locking issue is I2S-specific. Anyone had this issue with I2S or other inputs?
     
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    Last edited: Dec 1, 2021 at 9:39 PM
  18. dasman66

    dasman66 Self proclaimed lazy ass - friend

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    OT... but same thing happened to me. Awesome album
     
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