Holo May KTE 3 Impressions and thoughts

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

  1. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    Thanks! This is just a loaner from a kind local SBAF'er so I can't really handle setting up my Pi2AES again just for this. I just had one of my Pi2AES stop working for no reason and couldn't figure it out and @loadexfa had to work some of his secret magic to make it work again. I have no idea what was wrong. So I just don't even want to mess with may Pi2AES.

    I guess I will just have to listen to it in NOS mode without HQplayer. It still sounds really good to me.

    thank you for the offer though, it's very generous, and for everyone who replied so quickly!
     
  2. GoldenOne

    GoldenOne Friend

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    The internal OS is really the weak point of the May.

    The NOS mode is fantastic, and the best NOS of any dac I've tried. (Though ofc keep in mind if AB'ing against other DACs that NOS inherently sounds very different to OS so the majority of the differences you'll be hearing are the OS vs NOS not the differences between DACs)

    With HQPlayer it sounds amazing, Roon and Audirvana OS is pretty good too tbh if you don't want to set up HQP.

    But yeah definitely don't use internal OS.

    Personally I swap between HQPlayer OS and NOS pretty much evenly. They both sound different, NOS is better for some genres and OS is better for others and I really like having both as an option
     
  3. pavi

    pavi Almost "Made"

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    what genres do you find yourself preferring with NOS and which with OS, may I ask?
     
  4. earnmyturns

    earnmyturns Smartest friend

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    Can you give some details on your HQP server setup? I've been holding back on HQP because a powerful-enough server would seem to be bulky/noisy/need lots of airflow. The two locations I have Holo DACs in are great in many ways, but they lack dedicated soundproof server rooms o_O
     
  5. winders

    winders boomer

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    I am using the original sonicTransporter i9 with HQPlayer Embedded. So my Roon server is running on the system as well and it has an internal 4TB spinner to hold my music library. The sonicTransporter i9 is silent and powerful enough to run the filters and modulators I want to use.
     
  6. winders

    winders boomer

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    Oh, I should mention that SGC has provided an excellent update and support experience. The sonicTransporter i9 really is a simple to maintain appliance that has worked flawlessly for me. I had a sonicTransporter i5 before and the experience was the same.
     
  7. rhythmdevils

    rhythmdevils MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    Thanks to @earnmyturns who lives within walking distance, I got to borrow a May KTE for a couple weeks in my home with my rig. It was unfortunately a really bad time to be evaluating a DAC due to some health issues, but I think I got a good sense of the May and I thought I'ld post some brief impressions.

    GEAR
    Tidal -> AES -> Holo MAY KTE -> Liquid Gold X -> modded Audeze's - LCD-X, LCD-4, LCD-MX4

    Compared to my Yggdrasil A2 in the same chain

    (I ordered an I2S cable but it didn't come in time, Amazon doesn't seem to be doing much 2 day shipping these days)

    Strengths
    As far as clarity and resolution, it’s the best DAC I’ve heard and beats the Wevelight. It balances black background and resolution better than any DAC I've heard too, with more resolution than the Yggdrasil A2 (the Wavelight was less resolving than the Yggdrasil A2 but had a blacker background). It has a nicely black background though maybe not as black as the Wavelight. The clarity and detail really is magical and very noticeable coming from the Yggdrasil A2.

    it also seemed to be very well balanced in tone with nothing sticking out at all anywhere.

    Weaknesses
    I wound up agreeing with Marv that it has a dry tonality. I'm not sure I would have come to that word without hearing Marv use it, but I heard something off regardless and that word fits what I heard pretty well. It sounds almost like notes are cut short, like they need more decay and the May cuts that off and leaves too little of the note there. As if there is too much room treatment and notes are just stunted and unable to breath. I know it’s not actually decay, but that’s the best I can describe it. it's not something I've heard before from an amp or DAC and not easy to describe, but it did ruin the DAC for me.

    It also takes a full 20 seconds to lock onto the bitrate of the incoming signal, which just made it really annoying to use and was kind of a deal breaker in itself. Anytime I switched to watching a movie or show and sometimes just listening to music when I got frustrated, I'd just plug in the Yggdrasil because I couldn't deal with the 20 second wait. Maybe HQplayer fixes this, I don't know but it seems unacceptable to me for a $6000 DAC, or a DAC at any price TBH. It would drive me nuts. And I don't want to fiddle with HQplayer to fix what I feel like the DAC should be doing itself. At this price, it should be able to deal with an incoming signal without some obscure software to do it for it.

    TLDR:
    A great sounding DAC in many ways with great clarity and resolution but some odd timbre issues and serious need for better clocking or bitrate locking or whatever the correct term is.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2022
  8. earnmyturns

    earnmyturns Smartest friend

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    A few comments on this: 1) many people argue that the May KTE's best input is USB, which does not have this issue. 2) one can disable the aggressive PLL, at the potential expense of increased jitter, there's some disagreement whether the PLL is really needed with a good source like the PI2AES; 3) in my setup, which uses Pi2AES and Ropieee, I set Ropieee to not drop the connection when idle, which keeps the phase lock on until next time any of the components is power-cycled.

    TL; DR The May PLL feature is clunky but there are several ways to avoid its clunkyness,

    I agree with this relative to OG Yggdrasil or even earlier Holo DACs, but for me it's a win, as it reminds me of my favorite live jazz venues, and it combats the over-the-top long decay of some studio jazz and classical chamber recordings (ECM, I'm staring at you).
     
  9. winders

    winders boomer

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    It may be due to me using the May KTE in a 2 channel setup with an excellent tube line stage/tube amp pairing, but I don't get any sense of dryness in the tone. I found the May KTE to have all the lushiness in tone my DirectStream had but without the muddiness.

    Did you try upsampling at all or did you just use NOS mode with the tracks played at their native rates?
     
  10. penguins

    penguins Friend, formerly known as fp627

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    Don't own a May but I've heard them a few different times. Didn't get dryness on a Stratus or a Stellaris. Granted, DNA amps are wet sounding amps and more so Stratus and Stellaris than the Starlett. All other amps I've heard with the May were tube amps as well and while I didn't get dryness, I'm not familiar enough with how they normally sound to make any other comments.
     
  11. earnmyturns

    earnmyturns Smartest friend

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    It's relative. I run mine (the one I lent to @rhythmdevils) with either a nickel transformer ecp DSHA-3F or with an unmodified Af with Mullard rectifier/Ericsson driver/Psvane Acme output tubes, ZMF Verité open and closed headphones. When I compare with OG Yggdrasil in these setups, I sometimes feel that notes "overshoot" with OG Y, for example sharp cymbal hits by very precise jazz drummers like Brian Blade who I have heard live many times. I can describe some of Blade's cymbal work as generating swarms of "shooting stars." With the OG Y, the "stars" leave a bit of a smeared "tail" while with the May they are more localized. It's as if the "stars" were seen through coastal night air with OG Y, and through dry night desert air with May. Sorry for the over-the-top metaphor, but it's the best I can do without the technical sound/musical vocabulary that I lack.
     
  12. earnmyturns

    earnmyturns Smartest friend

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    PS: When my May returns from its local listening tour, I'll try to do some more attentive side-by-sides with other recordings/genres. Just started listening to Pacifica Koral Reef that starts with a beautiful guitar solo by Henry Kaiser. I can imagine how the May might dampen the long string decays more than desired by some relative to OG Y.
     
  13. loadexfa

    loadexfa MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    Brief Local Loaner Impressions
    earnmyturns generously allowed me to participate in a local loaner along with RD (thank you!). Overall the May is excellent and I see why Holo is popular.

    Chain
    Macbook (USB for May) / Ambre (AES for May, I2S for Pavane)
    -> LauX -> LCD-4 (RD modded)
    -> A&S XLR to RCA converter -> Stratus -> Clear
    I realize HQPlayer is supposed to be good but the loaner is brief and my work has been demanding this week. Tweaking with HQPlayer is beyond the scope of my available time. All listening done in NOS mode.

    Synergy
    I found the May synergizes better with the Stratus than the LauX. It was good either way but with the LauX I hear some upper mid etch/harshness. This issue was smoothed out with the Stratus. The Pavane on the other hand synergizes well with both and it's more a matter of amp/headphones mood. It was nice hearing more resolution out of my Clears from the May. Also I think the May benefits a lot from the Stratus's tone where the Pavane delivers an enjoyable tone either way.

    Listening Impressions vs Pavane
    I find the May to be more resolving and clear with a better sound stage. I think these differences are often small, especially the clarity and sound stage. The Pavane is richer and smoother with nicer timbre. The Pavane is safer for my hyper sensitivity to fatigue. For classical music I like the Pavane's added heft with instruments. I think vocals are great on both, a bit more elevated on the May, and I generally liked all genres of music on both.

    I didn't hear the May as dry or having notes cut off as RD mentioned above but I felt it lacked richness and "something missing" that I can't quite put my finger on. It's possible we're using different words to describe the same thing. In the case of the Pavane, I know what's missing, resolution. :p I think the May lacks soul in comparison to the Pavane.

    Final Thoughts
    The added resolution of the May is nice and overall the presentation is excellent. I prefer a richer sound, so far I haven't found resolution and amazing tone/timbre in a single DAC. I think the SFD-1 MK II provides a good balance between speed and tone/timbre and is an enjoyable flavor change from the Pavane but also lacks in resolution. If the SFD and the Pavane could have a highly resolving child ... that would probably be my perfect DAC.

    The May didn't quite grab me emotionally, close but never gets "there" though I did enjoy it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2022
  14. earnmyturns

    earnmyturns Smartest friend

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    I've been navigating some of the NOS space for a while (Spring 1, Metrum Onyx, Sonnet Morpheus, Spring 2, May) and I now sense that what you describe is an inevitable tradeoff. In my subjective experience, resolution increased along the above sequence, while "richness" decreased. At the beginning of that journey, I loved the oversaturated, tonally dense, romantic Spring 1, but it got tiring for me. Spring 2 KTE (2x upsampling for 44.1 and 48, none for higher resolution material) with no-feedback Af (Mullard rectifier, WE396A, Linlai E-2A3), and ZMF Auteur blackwood have the best tradeoff of richness and spatiotemporal definition among all the setups I currently own. I'm still exploring how to best deploy the May, which I owned only briefly until I sent it on tour while traveling. I'm taking the plunge with HQPlayer as well, so it will take time to figure out what I like the most. One aspect of the May that I'm really enjoying, though (both with ecp DSHA-3F nickel and my other non-feedback Af) is its similarity to some performance rooms I favor like SFJAZZ, which favor definition over long decays.
     
  15. loadexfa

    loadexfa MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    Yeah I may need to simply accept the flavor vs resolution trade off and either find a happy medium or have one DAC for each. I'm hoping Rockna will offer the happy medium option but that's most likely with a Wavedream which is ... a lot.
     
  16. JeremiahS

    JeremiahS Almost "Made"

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    @loadexfa , excellent review. I am interested in Holo May too but I keep reading from erji forum about how it definitely feels more like delta-sigma DAC without the feeling of richness. Since I have a solid state frontend (GS-X MK2 and HE6se v2) and have a preference for brighter, energetic sound choosing the right DAC is a bit trickier.

    I wonder have you tried the SFD-2 before? This is what I use at the moment and resolution is not up to par with modern R2R DACs but in terms of timbre and overall sound balance it's working really well in my system and I cannot find an appropriate modern alternative yet.
     
  17. ColtMrFire

    ColtMrFire Writes better fan fics than you

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    Not sure if you've auditioned Yggdrasil A2. Unless you're trying to stick with NOS.
     
  18. winders

    winders boomer

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    If you use HQPlayer (I like upsampling everything to DSD256 using the ADSM7ECv2 modulator and poly-sinc-gauss-long filter), you can get the resolution, detail, and clarity without eliminating richness. At least my May KTE is as rich and musical and my old DirectStream DAC (which is known for being rich and musical) without the muddiness. The timbre is excellent as well. Maybe it has great synergy with my tube amp and line stage. I have not tried it with a solid state amp as of yet. My Pioneer M22 has similar qualities to my tube amp...so I don't expect a huge change.

    Oh, the Yggdrasil A1 and A2 don't compete with the May KTE...not even close...and least not in my 2 channel setup.
     
  19. earnmyturns

    earnmyturns Smartest friend

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    I own and like Y A2, it's the only DAC I've owned continuously (with some upgrades) for the last 5 years, but in my current context (genres, recordings, source, amps, headphones) May gets more things right even without going beyond pure NOS with the kind of HQPlayer DSP @winders uses (and I'll be using when I sort out my next set of servers). In particular, I find that sounds are more precisely located in time, space, frequency with May, as I wrote before -- a tighter, crisper presentation that may seem at times more "distant" but that brings out good recordings of small jazz and classical ensembles better than anything I've heard before. One analogy from SF live music: the Y A2 is like sitting on one of the front rows at Davies or SFJAZZ/Miner, you are driven by the musical intensity, but it can be exhausting and spatial cues are mixed up. May is like sitting a bit further back in the best orchestra seats, where you are a bit less driven, but the musical ensemble comes together more coherently and understandably in time and space.
     
  20. loadexfa

    loadexfa MOT: rhythmdevils audio

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    Glad you found my impressions useful, I definitely have a strong R2R preference. I haven't heard the SFD-2, I do really like the SFD-1 which could be my ideal DAC if it had more resolution.

    I like the A2 Yggdrasil though I haven't borrowed one for a full loaner. I find it a bit harsh and have the same issue with all the upper end Schiit DACs. The tonality and wetness of both the A2 Yggdrasil and A1 Gungnir are good for my taste. I find the A2 Gungnir too dry and the A1 Yggdrasil way too harsh.

    I find needing some heavy installing/tweaking of 3rd party software to make it sound good a problem. It could be argued that configuring a streamer (especially the manual work associated with a Pi hat) falls into the category of "heavy installing/tweaking" but this is a one-time effort that supplies "best source" for a bunch of DACs. And since I upgraded to an Ambre and Roon, "heavy installing/tweaking" is no longer needed at all. I'm not saying that to critique folks who are enjoying these tweaks. If I owned a Holo DAC I would totally do the same. My problem is if the May doesn't sound "good enough" without HQPlayer (I tried what should have been good options, USB and AES + NOS even if not the best) then I think Holo did something wrong with this DAC. Or our taste differs and I still wouldn't find it suitable even with HQPlayer. I haven't heard a DirectStream DAC so I can't comment there and the Stratus wasn't enough of an improvement over the LauX to make me want to get a Holo.
     

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