Rockna Wavelight Impressions/Review

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by ChaChaRealSmooth, Oct 15, 2020.

  1. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    *I am well-aware of the existing Wavelight thread. Needless to say, that thread is convoluted and has way too much noise relative to its signal. I ask that this impressions thread be kept clean, with posters only contributing either their own impressions, or asking constructive questions that will lead to further discussion.

    Introduction:



    Let me get this out of the way right now: the Rockna Wavelight is the best DAC I have had the privilege of auditioning at my own house. For my tastes and preferences, with the chains that I have used to evaluate it, it absolutely is the best and forces the Yggdrasil GS into the backseat.

    20201006_145026.jpg

    If that’s all you care to read, there you go; I saved you some good minutes reading what is going to be quite an excessively long post. If you do want to dive more in-depth as to how I think it sounds, the features, and its quirks (and downsides; yes it has those), then read on.

    20201016_111919.jpg

    Sonic Impressions:


    I’m getting this out of the way first, because let’s be real; this is the most important thing. All of the following evaluation, unless explicitly stated otherwise, is from using the linear phase filter, fed from Pi2AES through AES,no attenuation from the built-in preamp (I will get to the preamp and various filters later on), and XLR out.

    In terms of timbre; like its bigger brother, the Wavelight sounds like (and is) a modern R2R DAC. For those not familiar with what that means, think more like Schiit R2R stuff. In direct comparison to the Yggdrasil GS, the Wavelight has just a bit more R2R “tone density” than the Yggdrasil GS. Also, while thr Yggdrasil GS can be described as incisive, the Wavelight is more dreamy and flowing in presentation. It definitely doesn’t sound like a D/S DAC, and it doesn’t sound like vintage R2R stuff.

    Now tonality is….difficult to describe (in a good way!). The Wavelight just doesn’t seem to have a characteristic tonality; it has this weird chameleon-like ability to change depending on recording. There are some songs where I hear more air on the Yggdrasil GS than the Wavelight. However, flip to another recording, and the Wavelight clearly is playing back all of the air; sometimes exhibiting more than the Yggdrasil GS. Through this, it never sounds forced or excessive in any way. If I had to guess, I’d say the tonality is somewhere on the lines of the Yggdrasil GS; maybe just a touch warmer, but that could be the tone density throwing me off. Either way, definitely in the realm of the more neutral stuff (trust me; if a recording is screechy or sibilant in any way, or very forward female vocals like old Taylor Swift stuff, the Wavelight will let you know).

    Speaking of sibilance, sometimes R2R DACs can exhibit a tiny bit of sibilance, even when tilted dark. The Wavelight either does not exhibit this, or I don’t hear it. In comparison, the Yggdrasil GS does have the smallest amount of sibilance, making the Wavelight sound extra-refined in the highs. Again, this is only in direct comparison and not meant to be taken in absolute terms.

    In terms of dynamics and slam, the Wavelight beats every other DAC I heard. This thing slams very hard when it needs to (like in Daft Punk), but unlike something like X-Sabre Pro, it retains nuance while doing so. Here’s what I mean: blast a dance tune, and the Wavelight will light it up and party. However, switch to a ballad, and the Wavelight calms down and is able to play the little inflections across percussion, the bass hits, and ambience. Again, back to the chameleon-like nature. Very much the best I’ve heard in micro and macro dynamics; slamming harder than Yggdrasil GS but being able to retain the texture of the attacks very well.

    Transient speed on the attacks seem to be in-line with the Yggdrasil GS, maybe a touch slower; however as stated it does so with more nuance. The decays are particularly impressive; there is no excess flab in the bass of any sort, nor ringing in any area; just very tight and well-controlled. However, it’s worth noting that the Wavelight does seem to be a bit laid-back, a bit less incisive in character compared to Schiit DACs; perhaps a result of it being very nuanced in the attacks. It’s hard to describe; maybe it’s better thought of as the Schiit stuff having a bit of an overly incisive nature (too much “go go” juice) and the Wavelight doesn’t quite go to that extent.

    In relation to transients, the Wavelight has the best PRaT I’ve heard. It’s a made-up term and not easy to understand (I think it’s a combination of a lot of different factors), but regardless, the Wavelight’s chameleon nature shines here. The pace and rhythm of songs is absolutely spot-on and I enjoyed flipping through very different tracks to test this.

    It’s also fair to say the Wavelight outresolves the Yggdrasil GS. I’m not sure how it would stack up to the A2 version or other uber-expensive DACs, but it’s safe to say that Wavelight is very good in this area. The presentation of details is natural and subtle; it never tries to scream “hear how resolving I am” or anything like that. Neither does it ever seem to get congested; multiple instruments and voices are easily discerned and layered together. In systems that can take advantage of this, it’s very beguiling and impossible to put down; the incredible spatial details in the stage is particularly impressive (headphone users will not experience this).

    Speaking of spatial details, stage is one of the most impressive things about Wavelight. It’s definitely not up front; on my speakers (Klipsch Heresy horns) I seem to be maybe around row 20, whereas with the Yggdrasil GS it was more like row 5 (note: I’m very bad at guessing the rows in terms of seating in a hall or auditorium, so here’s your grain of salt warning). Wavelight’s stage sounds grander in scale, larger than Yggdrasil, but avoids being nebulous or undefined, clearly still having boundaries. Images on the stage are also very good and easy to pinpoint, with the spatial details, those little ambient cues, coming through the stage. Maybe the Yggdrasil GS has better front to back layering, but I’m hesitant to be definite here since the Yggdrasil GS has the advantage of staging so close. The Wavelight has the Yggdrasil GS beat in size and grandeur (note that I kind of like the really upfront stage of Schiit stuff), as well as being able to pull off better spatial plankton. To all headphone users, you are missing out on just what the Wavelight can pull off if you use it with headphones PERIOD.

    **On headphones, the stage might take a backseat to Yggdrasil GS. Wavelight can come across a being a touch nebulous in comparison only because it stages further back than Yggdrasil GS. In headphone use only, the Yggdrasil the definite edge in front-back layering. However, I personally feel bad using the Wavelight with only headphones; almost like sacrilege (I already felt bad using Yggdrasil GS with headphones; it can do so much more on 2 channel)

    In summary of its sonic performance, the Wavelight is legit. The only concern to those coming from Schiit DACs is that it’s just not as incisive, but that might be a good thing considering its edge in nuance and resolve, with stage being the big fat cherry on top. That, and its presentation is just different; more liquid and dreamy versus incisive.


    Amp Synergy (not exhaustive)
    • DNA Starlett: With linear filter, has most things you could want; a bit of tube bloom and wetness, massive slam, superb nuance, grand stage, and very good resolve. Only real drawback; can sound really thick and requires you to use a tranducer that's thinner (think Utopia). Obviously though, you can do better with Stellaris.
    • EC Ultralinear: Although a one-off, worth checking out because of its different take versus Starlett. Much more aggressive and SS-sounding (think clean, straight lines like 3F), so NOS filter can be used to help tame the aggressive attacks (although I just used linear filter). Still has that EC stage. Most synergistic combination I had; absolutely amazing synergy.
    • SR1a + Jot R: Evaluated as a combo for obvious reasons. Honestly, this might be the DAC for SR1a. Jot R with SR1a can be too unrelenting; Wavelight fixes this and damn does this sound good (can use NOS filter if still too much for you). The thicker R2R timbre helps flesh out the sound. It is very noticeable that the stage is set further back in comparisom to Schiit DACs (not as noticeable as on speakers). Again, nuanced and very resolving. The SR1a's ability to convey sonic textures unlike any other headphone plays really well here.

    Notable Features:


    Filters:

    The Wavelight comes with 4 filters: linear phase, NOS, hybrid, and minimum phase.
    • Linear Phase: Personally preferred filter. Will treat as default (and if it wasn’t obvious, the exposition on sound/my impressions was all done with this filter).
    • NOS: A bit softer, maybe a bit more mushy? Could be preferred based on preferences and chain.
    • Hybrid: Sounds a bit disjointed. Highs are a bit more sibilant; more bothersome.
    • Minimum phase: Sounds…..weird. Bass seems almost rolled off, and it loses all nuance in the transients.

    I would say that linear phase and NOS are worth checking out, with the other two filters doing the Wavelight a disservice.

    Remote App:

    The Wavelight doesn‘t come with a standalone remote, but Rockna does have a handy app that they developed. You can either search for it or scan the QR code in the manual (available for both iOS and Android). Functions on the remote app are outlined in the manual.

    Honestly, I thought the remote app was very good. It worked flawlessly for me on my Samsung S10+. On the app, you can control volume, change any of the settings including input, phase, etc. And it’s simple; once you get used to it it’s intuitive and easy. The only gripe I had is that the menu reverts if you don’t touch anything for 5 seconds; I get why this is made this way, but I wish the timer was just a bit longer (and let’s be honest, it’s not a big deal since you shouldn’t be rapidly swapping inputs or filters).

    Preamp:

    This is one area where I wish I could explore more with the analog in from a phono, but alas I still don’t own a good phono. This is because the preamp section in the Wavelight is entirely separate from the digital section and the analog-in is a passthrough; it does not do any AD-DA conversion. The manual even outlines how you can open up the Wavelight to set the gain to exactly where you’d need it. Nevertheless, I tried attenuating the volume with the Wavelight and actually, it really isn’t bad. Up to about 80% on the volume out, I couldn’t hear much of a difference, if at all (not confident in passing any level-matched test). Beyond that, the dynamics and transients did seem to suffer. I did not try on my speakers, but testing on headphone amps, I definitely think that it’s enough attenuation to really dial-in the pot range if you’re uncomfortable with it. That being said, I’m not confident that you can entirely forgo a quality preamp; I think you might give up too much sound quality.

    SE Out:****

    ****I have contacted Rockna. Wavelight is SE in design and there should be zero difference between the two outputs. I'm convinced that there is a problem here somewhere.

    Okay, this is notable for one reason and one reason only: it SUCKS. If anyone reading this thinks the Schiit SE out on Gungnir and Yggdrasil is terrible, well the one on the Wavelight is only going to confirm your notion. The SE out is so bad in my experience that I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Rockna here (pending further evidence) and say maybe the SE out on our loaner unit is busted. It is seriously that bad; I didn’t want to listen to it.

    Otherwise, my advice is to just use the XLR out and buy a quality balanced to SE transformer if you need one.

    Edit: I have talked with @penguins; it seems like this SE issue appears with DNA amps the most. I'm completely at loss why this is. I have personally noticed this as well; the EC Ultralinear didn't seem nearly as affected (although I still felt like I was missing a decent portion of the Wavelight's capabilities). DNA owners might want to take note of this; seems like for some reason the SE out on Wavelight and the DNA amps just don't play well.

    USB:

    From what I can tell during a very brief test after a firmware update (sent to me by Rockna), it's not bad. At least on the level of Schiit Gen V, which really isn't that bad; however, at this level of DAC I really don't think you should be using USB as your primary. Seriously, get a Pi2AES.


    Conclusion:


    Okay, let’s be real. The Wavelight might be priced friendlier than the Wavedream, but it’s still damn expensive, especially considering the fact that SBAF is more about cheap odds and ends that sound good. Last time I checked, $5k is not cheap. However, I can’t deny that the Wavelight actually does sound really good. Like I said, it is the best DAC that I’ve had the privilege of auditioning in my own house and it’s absolutely deserving of praise.

    This will go on a VERY LIMITED loaner.

    ***will slowly but surely update this post with more pictures***
     
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    Last edited: Dec 27, 2020
  2. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    Great review.

    I will mention a couple things.

    The following is a preference thing, hence YMMV:
    • I prefer NOS and Hybrid over Linear and especially minimum phase. I will revisit the linear filter now that I am more familiar with the DAC. From initial listening, Minimum phase sounded wrong and Linear phase uninteresting.
    • The remote app, while nice, is way less convenient than a ready-to-grab physical remote. This is especially annoying when trying to quickly adjust the volume (unlocking the phone and opening the app takes time). Also, the bluetooth technology makes it largely impracticable (impossible?) to use with a universal remote (e.g. Harmony). When I tried it in my 2ch setup - which I use mostly for TV and occasionally for music - it was a PITA to adjust the volume when changing source or when those dumb commercials start playing :mad:
      Another quirk is the volume changes more slowly via the app than via the faceplate, for some reason.

    The rest is not so much preference but rather a different take:

    The SE output is good enough that I feel the T4 (SE) and DSHA-3F (Bal) are a toss-up with the Verite. One would think that if the SE was gimped, the preference would automatically go towards the 3F.

    As far as the USB input: this is the best built-in implementation I've personally heard in a DAC, up there with Unison on the B2 (compared to the B2's other inputs). I am very much content with it hooked up to my (gaming) PC directly, with just a Belkin Gold cable. I don't feel any urge to try USB decrapifiers.
     
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  3. abraxas666

    abraxas666 Friend

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    @ChaChaRealSmooth did you have time to test the "synergy" with the Raal Requisite + Jot R?
     
  4. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    Again, this is why I'm wondering if it might just be a one-off issue with this unit. The SE out on the loaner sounds like a slapped on afterthought. Through either Starlett or Ultralinear it was just bad; very dynamically flat and sounds loosey-goosey.

    I will revisit this while I still have the Wavelight.

    Edit: yeah, the balanced is amazing and the SE on this thing is poopsies in comparison*. I will talk to Rockna about this because now I'm wondering if it's a bum unit. It just doesn't sound good: very unengaging and loses the "magic" that makes Wavelight spectacular.

    *I emailed Rockna and have been told the SE should sound the same as XLR since the Wavelight is SE in design. I'm convinced that there is something wrong here and will try to see if I can figure it out.

    I too felt the USB was quite good (like I said, at least on par with Gen V). Just didn't bother to test thoroughly since the majority of my listening nowadays comes from Pi2AES.

    Unfortunately no. It's currently out on loan to a good friend (who you guys know on here actually), but magic 8 ball says it will be very, very good. Just a fair warning that I do not expect the Wavelight to "fix" any tonal issues if you don't like the stock tonality of Jot R + SR1a.

    Edit 10/22/2020: Yes the SR1a pairing with Wavelight is legit. It might be the one for the SR1a if you're running the Jot R.
     
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    Last edited: Oct 22, 2020
  5. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    Did you try the I2S output on the Pi2AES?

    If you invert the phase and swap the L and R channels (in Roon, for instance)?

    Also, the next firmware - which is apparently right around the corner - will add support for Rockna, PS-Audio and Gustard pinouts. When that's out, the Pi2AES will work natively.
     
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  6. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    I did not try the I2S. Weirdly I don't have a spare cable around; probably misplaced it.

    I may or may not have been sent the next firmware personally. Anyone on the tour later can definitely check this out; I already took care of the update.
     
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  7. famish99

    famish99 Friend

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    Hmm I was interested in the loaner to be able to compare the Wavelight and Wavedream side by side. However, I only have SE inputs on my amps because I didn't find much of a difference in quality on the balanced vs SE outputs on Wavedream, I would be surprised that they'd be significantly different in that regard.
     
  8. earnmyturns

    earnmyturns Smartest friend

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    Thank you for the detailed review, the comparison with Yggdrasil GS pins down the differences really nicely. I won an Yggdrasil A2 and a Sonnet Morpheus, your description suggests that the Wavelight combines the best of both (is that why it costs around the sum of their prices? ;)) Any sense of how long it takes to sound 90%+ from cold start?
     
  9. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    Not too long. I once forgot to turn it on after moving it back to my headphone rig from speakers. Took off to eat dinner, came back after 2 hours and it was fine.

    I've been told roughly 30 minutes is about the time to expect after the unit is burned in the first time. I simply left it on for a 24 hours before really listening the first time, but sounded pretty good cold.
     
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  10. etherealsound

    etherealsound Rando

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    Thanks for the review, it is most informative. I do have a question:when you say that it sounds a bit "nebulous" with headphones, is this to say that it is more nebulous compared to the Yggdrasil or to most other DACs in general due to how it stages? Furthermore, based off this statement, would it be considered a viable DAC if the majority of listening is done via headphones?
     
  11. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    Also note that it is not nebulous like the SFD-2.

    I point you to the very first paragraph:
    And here:
    Good DACs don't suddenly turn into shit just because you're using headphones. What I do mean is that if you use headphones, you're far from squeezing out everything the Wavelight is capable of.
     
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  12. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I've had this for over a week now, enough time to get familiar with its sound to where I can identify it over other DACs. The chain I'm using is the EC Studio 45 Custom, pi2AES (i2s and AES out), a variety of headphones. I used the balanced outputs to drive the headamp's CMLI600 line input transformers. DACs with weaker output stages won't drive these line transformers well - the Wavelight didn't have an issue. Special audiophile XLR cables designed by audiophile cable master Jay Victor were used. Note that this won't be a full flowery review, but rather a supplementary one, with occasional comparisons to Yggdrasil A2 (as a well known reference), the Morpheus Sonnet, and Convert 2, three DACs which have recently been reviewed.

    WARM-UP

    The Rockna Wavelight sounded like shit while cold with typical cold R2R symptoms such as congested bass and itchy highs. This subsided a little bit after four hours, but it still didn't quite sound ready. I decided to wait longer, running music through the Wavelight during the wait. I came back to the DAC about two days later, and it sounded fine. Therefore I really can't attest to the warm-up time other than it being somewhere between six hours and two days. I don't member seeing a power button on the chassis, so I assume the DAC is intended to be left on at all times, similar to what many other R2R DAC manufacturers recommend.

    AS GOOD AS THE WAVEDREAM?

    Before delving into the review, I highly recommend reading my Rockna Wavedream review. The Wavedream I reviewed was not the Signature Edition. It was evaluated with its balanced outputs, like the Wavelight here. My thoughts regarding the Wavedream as the overall best DAC I have yet heard still stand - with the condition that component synergy and overall system vision matter far more than the performance of any single component, no matter how good.

    I had heard rumors of the sort "Don't tell anyone, but the Wavelight is as good as the Wavedream non-signature, at least according to a dealer". My response to this is that this dealer needs to get better gear or better ears. While I can happily report that Rockna didn't gimp the Wavelight, that the Wavelight is still in the vein of the Wavedream (hence the reason why I provided a link to the Wavedream review), the Wavelight remains a notch behind in performance. The Wavedream blew me away. The Wavelight is "merely" very good, slotting right into the gap between the DACs positively received here (the usual suspects) and the the Wavedream. As such, the Wavelight is priced appropriately, but not necessary a bargain,

    Compared to the Wavedream, the Wavelight is less resolving (moderate), has less slam (minor), less clarity (minor) and is almost a too liquid (minor). To clarify on the last point, it's probably too liquid because it doesn't quite to resolve or dynamically attack as well as the Wavedream. All these are nitpicks - in comparison to the bigger brother Wavedream, so keep that in mind.

    I2S vs AES

    I was able to use the I2S output from the PI2AES using a standard HDMI cable. Compared to AES, I2S simply resulted in a more focused sound. I didn't hear much else change. The tonality was the same. The liquidity was the same. The plankton was the same. AES wasn't bad at all. I did half my evaluations using I2S and the other half with AES. Personally, I think it's a toss up and a matter of things sounding different rather than better. Too much "focus" can sound wrong sometimes. Think of it this way: the difference between a belt drive and a direct drive turntable, or the difference between using a rubber belt and a silk belt. I'm not into the deal that speshal digital transmission formats such as I2S are always better.


    GENERAL THOUGHTS AND COMPARISONS TO OTHER DACS

    Tonally, the Wavelight is more or less the same as the Wavedream, which in turn is very similar to the Yggdrasil A2. I had a conversation with @ChaChaRealSmooth about this DAC sounding "thicker" in general, and this would be consistent with his experience in comparison to the Yggdrasil GS (and also with the Gungnir A2) - both these DACs being not as organic or thick sound as the Yggdrasil A2. The Wavelight even has that slight bit of emphasis in the mid-highs like the Yggdrasil A2. However the Wavelight is just a more muted in the top octave than the Yggdrasil A2 and Wavedream.

    The Wavelight maintains a the same transient performance of the Wavedream, something that I've heard only on one other DAC, the Dangerous Music Convert 2. We are talking about "fast" sounding transients, but done in a natural way without zippy overshoot: think a good MC cart on a good turntable. In fact, I'd say the Wavelight's presentation reminds of a rim-drive table, with it's focus, clean lines, pounding rhythmic drive (when called for).

    FILTERS

    The filters were easily discernable - a sign of a good DAC. I used the linear filter for most of my listening. The hybrid is a bit more snappy, not to my taste. Like the Wavedream, the Wavelight can have a base personality that is mellow. Hybrid helps to offset this, but the edge of the transients just doesn't agree with my sensibilities. The minimum phase filter sounded lean (actually garbage), which @ChaChaRealSmooth, @Clemmaster and I all seem to be in agreement with. NOS is NOS. Actually, like the Wavedream, the NOS mode ain't bad. I'm am not an NOS person, so when I punched in NOS, I was like "barf". However, when I put my "NOS hat" on, NOS mode is actually very good. NOS collapses the Wavelight's beautiful headstage up close and personal. As a result, there's more density to the sounds - not in tonal way - but in a spatial way that can flesh out localize dimensionality. To the NOS uninitiated, further reading can be found here with @Hand's NOS List (slightly out-of-date).

    How does this compare to a recent NOS DAC, the Sonnet Morpheus? Well, I can say this fuck this asshole below in the YT video. The Wavelight utterly destroys the Morpheus (which received mixed reviews here) in all technicalities while maintaining a similar presentation. DACs should only be compared against each other, not unto themselves where we go "hmm and ahh" in a masturbatory fashion.


    I'll call out @Clemmaster here because he's an NOS guy, and he's heard both the Morpheus and Wavelight. (He bought the Wavelight)

    HEADSTAGE

    I concentrated on headstage this time around for the audience here. The headstage is an immersive wraparound which I feel most people using headphones will really like. The center of the headstage is deep, the sides are wide and closer in. The effect is like the Convert 2's headstage, but without the exaggeration. The Wavelight's headstage by comparison, had the center more deeply placed with the stereo image not so extremely pushed out toward the sides. Still, the HD650, not a headstaging wonder by any means, exhibited a three-blob effect. The Grado and Elex, given they they lack any headstage, were pretty good though with no gaps and smooth transition from center to sides. The Verite Closed likewise were wonderful with greater overall depth to the entire headstage. The Schiit True Multbit DACs' headstages were more compact, more closely placed, but exhibited marginally better depth localization of instruments within the stage. The Wavelight along with its wider headstage, exhibited better, more precise, lateral separation. In fact, this separation is one of the things that makes the Wavelight distinctive, although the effect can be a bit unnerving at first.

    DYNAMICS, RESOLUTION, CLARITY, TONAL

    Microdynamics and plankton are about on par with the Schiit A2 DACs, not quite up to the Wavedream's level. The Wavedream is less "gray" than the Yggdrasil 2 and more or less on par Gungnir A2's "blackground". Dynamics and low-end heft are on par with Yggdrasil 2, but without ever getting murky. Like the Wavedream, the Wavelight has a base mellow (not to be confused with sleepy or flat and boring) quality. As such Steve Albini produced recordings (Pixies Surfer Rosa) with drums don't quite have that that smack (that it hurts) to our ears as much as the Schiit DACs. This is a matter of preference and component synergy. Personally, I like drum smacks to hurt my ears, (when the volume is cranked) because this the effect that I hear in real life. The difference isn't huge, but it's noteworthy to mention. @ChaChaRealSmooth mentioned that he felt the Wavelight was a better match for the HD600 and EC Ultralinear instead of the DNA Stellaris. I would agree as I found myself wishing I had a pair of HD600s or more neutral headphones instead of the HD650, Verite Closed, or Grado RS2 (TTVJ) pads. Well, the Grado was fine in respect to the edge - but the fact all these headphones tend to be on the dark and somewhat thick sounding side meant I didn't have the best synergy on hand. The Verum worked well tonally, but wasn't able to take advantage of the higher resolving upstream components. The Utopia I presume would have been great in my system with the Wavelight, but I didn't have one on hand.
     
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    Last edited: Nov 2, 2020
  13. AdvanTech

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    FYI, I asked Nicolae how he's attenuating (resistor ladder, shunt, etc) in the Wavelight, and he responded "We are using a current steering R2R DAC for volume control."
     
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  14. penguins

    penguins Friend, formerly known as fp627

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    Many many thanks to @ChaChaRealSmooth for including me in this loaner and to my gratitude to SBAF for being awesome and conducting a loaner like this.

    Preliminary info:
    Computer > Optical > SE and BAL out to EC AF (WE396a, Sylvania 2A3, Mullard 7 notch 5AR4) and DNA Stellaris (only very briefly) > Utopia (on loan from @ChaChaRealSmooth for about 2 weeks now... I am not super familiar with the sound of the Utopia). Using Optical for now to prevent anything like ground loops. DAC and amp are plugged into different outlets, both with separate surge protectors. SE and BAL for comparing outputs. Utopia b/c when I first heard this I suspect my Clears and Auteurs may not be able to out resolve the the DAC. Will use Stellaris, Cavalli LC (I suspect bad synergy though), Clears, Auteurs (Bocote), and HD6xx later.

    Goal of this loaner for me is to hopefully find a synergistic DAC for my Stellaris. Yggdrasil A2 isn't bad, it just doesn't match my preferences with Stellaris to me. Other contenders include the Bricasti M3 and possibly the new Holo May. Have tried other DACs during my time at SBAF as well. DAC will have to be a noticeable improvement over Yggdrasil A2 for me to spend the money these DACs cost.

    Warmup:
    Listened <1min after plugging in to confirm function. Sounded horrible as expected. Listened for 5 min 2 hours after plugged in, still bad. After 7 hours, noticibly better. After 8 hours, a little better than 7. Will listen seriously tomorrow, I suspect it will be ready by then.

    Listened again around 18 hours and again around 24, it sounded good at 18, may have been ever so slightly better at 24, or may have been placebo. At 30ish hours, I can't tell the difference vs 24. I suspect the big, thick, heavy body acts like a nice thermal reservoir in this case + DAC does not run hot at all (it's no warmer than shaking hands with someone who has warm hands) = this DAC does not need several days unlike say a Yggdrasil.

    Initial listening:
    Brief impressions after 8 hours are the same as my post in the other thread regarding the sound (I like it but not SO much that the search is over for sure). Minimum phase is worse than I remember. Withholding other listening impressions for now while the DAC warms up more.

    No major issues, sibilance, etc. so far.

    Questions above:
    Speakers: I don't have a suitable speaker setup to test this DAC with.

    SE vs BAL: I hear a small difference after 8 hours. It may even be the interconnect cables, imperfect volume matching, etc.

    SE vs BAL UPDATE: after 24 hours, I listened SE vs BAL again on my EC AF and DNA Stellaris. Something weird is going on here, haven't put much thought into the investigation / technical side yet. Not a big difference on AF, big difference on Stellaris (mine has SE inputs only).

    EC AF
    : Balanced sounds slightly better, but the difference is small enough it may even be down to the interconnects, etc. SE had slightly less resolution, placement on stage seems more like a 2D object palced in space emitting a sound whereas BAL sounds more like an actual instrument in space emitting sound (I guess a tiny bit less localized depth?), a little less reverb in SE, and no "magic sprinkles" in SE (no I don't have a better word to describe what I'm hearing here - see Purrin's recent 2541 review where he says there is an undescribable improvement over the 1541 for something similar??).

    Stellaris:
    SE is not as enjoyable. It sounds disjointed. Problems above are amplified beyond what I would call "just cables". There was a flatness and lack of texture to the sound too. As a matter of fact, using BAL out -> ISOMAX (Jensen transformers) -> SE into Stellaris sounds better and I would say the ISOMAX changes the sound in a way I don't like for the Stellaris (when I compared ISOMAX using my Yggdrasil and an SDAC - a sanity check I performed before receiving Wavelight). ISOMAX changes the sound at about as much as a power tube (2A3) swap on Stellaris (which is less of an impact than on most amps).

    Given that the ISOMAX introduces it's own sound and as Chacha mentioned the SE outs may be marginally functional in some way or another, I will continue to use both and realize that all notes/listening will be done with some extrapolation as needed.

    Initial listening 2:

    Despite my complaining about the SE vs BAL above, this DAC does make my Stellaris very enjoyable with some songs. I keep slipping out of critical listening mode into "enjoy the song" mode with those. With other songs, it's not any better than Yggdrasil. On EC AF, I still think the Yggdrasil synergizes better, but this is pretty dang close when you listen to everything as a whole and I like how this adds some fluidity and puts a little more "body" into the music vs Yggdrasil. I don't slip into "enjoy the song" mode as easily vs Yggdrasil though.
     
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    Last edited: Mar 2, 2021 at 1:00 PM
  15. penguins

    penguins Friend, formerly known as fp627

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    TLDR summary: This is a very good DAC. Not so good that I'm going out to buy one right this second when I already have a Yggdrasil, but it is slightly better than the Yggdrasil in many ways... albeit at ~2x the cost.
    Pretty middle of the road in terms of most preference type stuff to me, but well executed in most individual aspects and cohesively as a whole. Very liquid and smooth sound. Only a few minor issues.
    ------------------------------
    MAJOR CAVEAT: I too suspect the SE out is defective in some way on this particular DAC. On Stellaris, it is very much noticeably worse than the BAL out. See above for details. All listening on Stellaris was done with the ISOMAX + Utopia as the ISOMAX made Autuer, Clear, and HD6xx too warm. Again, this is not something like the Yggdrasil SE is worse than the BAL out - the difference is drastic enough that even if the transformer gimped the sound a bit, it was still better than SE out. Definitely enough for me to suspect possibly defective.
    Oddly, the difference is still small on the EC Af as mentioned above. I used the same cables to make sure it wasn't a bad cable, etc. I do not use the ISOMAX at all with the AF.
    FWIW, output impedance (Zout) of Yggdrasil is 75ohm, Zout of Wavelight is 50ohm, Zin of Stellaris is 50kohm, I didn't find published number for EC Af - but point is there isn't an extreme Zout value for the Wavelight so I don't think it's some kind of odd electrical mismatch.

    Sadly, this also means that until Rockna can confirm that this individual unit doesn't have a defective SE out, I can't entertain buying one for the Stellaris (see goal above). Only way around this is if I upgrade my Stellaris to include balanced in... which means $$$... money I don't want to spend on an inherently SE amp. I suspect the Cinemag and other similar transformers will still leave me wanting... but I will still have to find a way to borrow or try them sometime.

    ------------------------------
    General Sound and Thoughts:
    - Most songs are very very good, very refined, and nothing stands out in a very good way. You can just listen to the music and enjoy it for what it is. However, there are a few songs where everything is OK, but there is nothing "magical" going on that makes me want to listen to the song for more than 30 seconds. The above is not genre specific.
    - The above is also why I had such a hard time doing critical listening with this amp (whereas normally it's very easy for me to put on a critical listening hat) - I kept getting lost in and slipping into the music most of the time. When any one song had no magic, I just skipped the track. Realize that any criticisms below are going to be nit-picky.
    - Very fluid as Chacha mentioned in about the same ways as mentioned.

    Comparisons:
    - vs recent Morpheus loaner - my favorite part of the Morpheus was the amount of resolution+detail and the dense WALL of details that you get pretty much full body slammed with. Sheer amount of info and detail was awesome. Wavelight doesn't do this BUT it doesn't have the bad PRaT and 2.5D soundstage. Using this as a reference as it's a similar level DAC that is the most fresh on my mind that was impressive to me in many ways but ultimately had a few "fatal flaws".
    - vs Yggdrasil (common SBAF DAC) - A little more resolution than Yggdrasil, more "evenhanded" in most other aspects. For example WL is middle of venue instead of Yggdrasil front rows staging. Yggdrasil is a little more incisive, Morpheus was a little lazy, this is average. Yggdrasil can sound slightly thin at times, Morpheus sounds really thick, this sounds thick but not nearly Morpheus thick. Wavelight has a more effortless sound. Yggdrasil is warmer with a little more bass impact.

    Synergies:
    DAC > ISOMAX > Stellaris > Utopia was the only combo I liked with ISOMAX and Stellaris. Everything else was too dark but as mentioned above, SE out isn't good (at least for the loaner unit). Stellaris and Utopia are already a good match, this DAC adds a little more to it. ISOMAX adds a warm tilt that makes Utopia do-able for my personal preferences but at the cost of some ultimate level of technical performance.
    DAC > EC AF > Clear and Autuer were both good, not bad with 6xx either. Made the Clears sound more natural. Made the Auteurs sound more effortless and like I was just experiencing music, not "audiophile this that or the other". Doesn't cover up common HD6xx problems.
    DAC > Cavalli LC > HE6se and Utopia - skipped ISOMAX given that the LC already has the thick, full, and warm Cavalli house sound. Adding ISOMAX would be way too much. Anyways, IDK if it was solely the SE inputs, but I didn't enjoy this DAC with the LC as much, partially b/c too thick (does not degrade into warmpoo though), a little too smoothed over, and a little more plastic than I expected. Improved when switching to high gain.
    EDIT: Notice I do not use the word great anywhere above describing synergy. IDK if it's this DAC being having ideal synergy with SET amps and LC being too warm and full for this DAC. Still "good" though.

    Subjective "technicalities":
    - Overall presentation is cohesive. Never loses itself with busy music and maintained a very clear separation between parts. Handles rolling bass lines well (something that I think trips up a lot of other good DACs) . Never felt absent with slow, simple music.
    - Both Resolution and Detail retrieval were maybe a quarter point better than Yggdrasil at most times but the difference is not as drastic as when I went from Yggdrasil to Morpheus. However, because this doesn't throw a giant thick wall of sound at you, it does sound "clearer" at times vs Morpheus. It's easier to hear any one particular thing if you don't focus in.
    - Texture - my biggest issue with the DAC is the (relative) lack of texture compared to other stuff in this price range and it's more severe on the SE outputs. This makes listening to cello and a few other instruments very disappointing to me. Yggdrasil and Morpheus did not have this problem for me. Part of this can be attributed to the transformer, but even when I used the BAL out to AF, I still felt that texture was a little lacking.
    - Macrodynamics - strong when it needs to be, easy when it needs to be. It's actually pretty amazing to me how this amp "knows" when to hit hard or take it easy (probably ties into the fluidity).
    - Microdynamics - similar to above, but not quite as good at micro as it is at macro on a few tracks. Keyword *few*. Didn't notice a common theme amongst these tracks. I find it unusual that the general microdynamics are not worse than they were given that I didn't feel texture of instruments was very good.
    - Plankton - Same or a little better than Yggdrasil, not at Morpheus level.
    - Staging and imaging - With headphones only, I would say the stage didn't stand out in any way and was pretty natural. Many other higher end DACs in a similar price range still have stages that feel either slightly constricted or artificially constructed or stretched in some way. SE didn't have as precise placement, was more like very small zones for the instruments. BAL had pretty precise placement. I agree that the stage was a little large than Yggdrasil (both in terms of depth and width) and does so without being nebulous.
    - Tone - Pretty middle of road to me on AF. Not overly warm or cool. Could probably be perceived as slightly warm or cool depending on setup, chain, filters, tracks, etc. Can't say with Stellaris as SE out was bad and BAL was colored by the ISOMAX.
    - Timbre - Was slightly plastic (instead of granular) to me, probably has to do with the lack of texture and slight "blob" in space regarding sound stage (in SE) mentioned above. Note that this is not necessarily a problem as I know some people prefer plasticity over granularity.
    - Transients are in the middle of the road again. Not particularly sharp or rounded, not particularly fast or slow. Long notes didn't get weird toward the end of the note, instruments didn't seem truncated by the DAC (unless the recording does so). Cymbals decayed naturally.
    - No issues with PRaT. No other issues like sibilance, hotness, etc.
    - Had a quiet enough background. No oddities when it comes off or goes to "black"

    Subjective "preferences":
    - Highs - Yes, the very top end does seem slightly rolled off, including when I don't use NOS. No annoyance, no shrill noises, no ear piercing whatevers, no sibilance.
    - Mids - Yes, the mid highs are slightly boosted as mentioned by Chacha (as in maybe 1db or less). That or it's just easier to hear b/c everything is more balanced in this DAC - less stuff getting lost or hiding behind other stuff. Very minor dislike for me.
    - Lows - Has enough slam, could maybe use more heft. Doesn't have boosted overall presence or a warm tilt and "fullness" in bass like Yggdrasil does (but as mentioned above, this DAC does have a general overall thickness)
    - Transitions and overall cohesion between low/mid/high is very smooth.
    - Distance from stage - I felt like I was in the middle of the venue with this DAC which I feel suits the Stellaris much better than the Yggdrasil's row 5ish presentation. Combined with a -1 or -2 incisive (where -10 in pushing something with a cooked floppy wet noodle and 10 is maximum overdrive in your face), this was very nice on Stellaris.
    - If slow is -10 and fast is 10, this ranged between a -1 and 2.
    - Layering - Very good, well blended, without bleeding over into other parts. Some DACs render in say 3 or 5 or 10 sort of distinct sections or steps, this just has a smooth continuous presentation.
    - Leans musical in terms of analytical vs musical, if max Analytical is -10, max musical is +10, this fluctuates between a 0 and +3 depending on the filters, chain, recording, etc.
    - Listening fatigue - only happened once (I didn't try to recreate it though) and it was very mild when it happened - I got this odd pressure in my ears like I did with the MCTH and to some degree the Solaris. No other fatigue due to slappy bass (not the same as slam with lack of heft), sibilance, shrill highs, or other common causes for me.
    - Attack - Once again, neutral-ish. Didn't correct Utopia's slight tendency to overshoot the initial attack (say hitting a cymbal). Didn't make Auteur's attacks more focused (it's always seemed slightly unfocused to me from of my Stellaris and AF... note that this surprisingly doesn't happen on LC but I don't like Auteur with LC as ZMF warm tilt + Cavalli thick house sound is too much for me).

    Languages - I didn't listen to as many songs in other languages this time, but nothing weird in the ones I did listen to (again, note that I am not fluent in all of these languages). As noted in a few other reviews of mine, sometimes DACs don't seem to present languages not native to the designers properly. And once again, this makes absolutely no sense to me on paper, but it's what I've heard before.

    Will update with a later post regarding specific music or genres / types of music I liked / disliked with this DAC. It's kind of weird like Morpheus in the sense that some songs from the same album were good while others were bad. Some songs were ridiculously good with this DAC for seemingly no reason.

    Other features and thoughts:
    - Inputs - Yes, USB does not suck. Optical is fine. AES / EBU are slightly better.
    - Remote - Android version works fine, nothing to report. Intuitive enough. minimalist interface on DAC is easy enough too.
    - Filters - Minimum is still not as strong as the other 3, there was one 1 song when listening on LC where I actually liked it over the other 3. Other 3 I would say are about equal but all sound different. NOS sound on the filter is not as prominent as Morpheus. This matches Purrin's measurements (see measurements thread). I won't go over these more as it really varies per chain/setup/preferences and I don't think any one filter is going to make someone buy or not buy the DAC.
    - Random points - Footprint is about the size of Yggdrasil, about 2/3 as thick, lighter. The case is much seems to be more substantial and probably acts as a heat sink (both ways) to help dissipate and stabilize temp of R2R internals and may have to do with why warmup is ~24 hours instead of 48+ hours. All edges are beveled off which is a nice touch. Not particularly heavy.
    - Didn't try the pre-amp function yet, may not actually get around to it.
     
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    Last edited: Nov 21, 2020
  16. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    To follow up on your and @ChaChaRealSmooth's impressions on SE. Not totally gimped, still good, but "meh" when compared to the outstanding balanced outputs.
     
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  17. penguins

    penguins Friend, formerly known as fp627

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    ^ I don't know the Rockna rep, their product design philosophy, didn't open the DAC, etc etc. but their rep says it's inherently SE and hence I imagined SE should be at the same level. If chacha hadn't mentioned it first, I would have been REALLY surprised when I first heard the SE.
    --------------
    For those who may be wondering - I will put it this way - I think my old 1421 (stock filters), the old Bifrost MB (I haven't heard the new one with Unison), RME ADI2, and similar level DACs I've heard can in many ways compare or even win against this particular Wavelight with its SE outs... far from the case when using the BAL outs on this.

    Anyways, I was going to post some examples of music I liked and disliked on this DAC... but it's too varied and after I started taking note, I realized there is no logical pattern to it and hence I will skip this. It's still not unique to any genre but the same songs do consistently sound bad so I don't think it's a mood or filter used thing. It's really strange though and I have no idea why a few random songs just sound... off. Or kind of dead. Really strange to me that the DAC goes from great to dead back to great so quickly.

    Additionally, my criticisms regarding lack of texture and excessively glossing over stuff at times still stand.

    Otherwise, still a very good DAC overall and it gave a lot of subliminal listening experiences. Enough that I'm still considering one although I will be looking to try a few other DACs first now.

    Lastly: IF anyone in Socal has the Cinemag BAL to SE transformers I can borrow for a few days or a week or so, please PM. I would like to try to listen with the transformers a little and try to extrapolate the sound of the Cinemags for the Wavelight as the ISOMAX was actually fairly easy to extrapolate correctly.
     
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    Last edited: Nov 21, 2020
  18. JK47

    JK47 Guest

    Picked this up from @penguins for an audition a while back. Took it home and powered it up, started to get ready to listen, and then the iOS remote app asked me to upgrade the firmware. OK sure, the progress is shown on the DAC's display and then everything goes black... and it won't respond to the remote app, FUCK!!! I use the contact form on Rockna's website and get a response really fast. I send the unit to their tech in Minnesota and a few weeks later it is returned to me working beautifully. I must say Rockna's customer service is absolutely excellent.

    First thoughts upon listening after a day of warm up is the low end is nice and juicy, but extremely well behaved, Oi loik this... The tone of the mid range was a little thicker than I like, but nowhere near as thiiiiiick as the Warmpooeus, and the top end was nice and crisp without being offensive. Geezus the soundstage is deep and imaging is precise, top notch technically for sure.

    Most of my listening was done with the linear filter, M-22 and CDi1000 amps, DIY Fostex BLH and JBL 4312G speakers, and a pi2AES supplying the tracks. I didn't bother with headphones or using the analog input preamp feature, because I was busy with work and wanted to keep the loaner moving after having it down with the firmware update issue for a few weeks.

    I loved the the technicality of the Wavelight but the dense mid range bothered me (maybe possible to change the sound with a firmware update?). The lack of a dedicated remote also drove me nuts, I like the tactile feedback of buttons and knobs, not touch screens and apps. All in all the Wavelight is an extremely impressive piece of gear that will check off a lot of boxes for people looking to level up their system.
     
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  19. EagleWings

    EagleWings Friend

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    @JK47 , apparently quite a few Wavelights have run into the issue you have mentioned in your first paragraph. It appears to be an issue with the Control Firmware. Did Rockna say if there is already a newer version of the Control FW? If there is not, it may be safe for the Wavelight owners to not use the smartphone app until then.
     
  20. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    After months pondering and procrastinating, I finally purchased a Radial J-ISO to feed my ECP T4.

    I have said in the past that the Wavelight's SE output sounded just fine with the T4 and traded blows with the Bifrost 2.
    A red flag should have been raised right there: the Wavelight is in a different league from the B2 and the fact that they would just "trade blows" showed that something was suboptimal with the SE output.

    After several months, I came to the conclusion that I preferred the Bifrost 2 when feeding the T4, as the Wavelight sounded kinda glarey and something was amiss.

    Well, with the J-ISO between the balanced Wavelight and T4, I can definitely confirm that the SE outputs SUCK!
    What I'm hearing is possibly the best my system has ever sounded! And that includes the (balanced) DSHA-3F which I also own (albeit not with the Nickel core transformers I wanted - thanks to FedEx who broke my first amp and actually LOST it on its way back to Doug :mad:. He rebuilt a new amp for me but only had Amorphous available.).
    I had a BLAST with the Utopia yesterday. I got that feeling where everything suddenly connected and it was just me and the music (actually, in the music in the case of the Utopia - these headphones make you feel like YOU are the music. It's pretty incredible!)
     
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