Rockna Wavelight Impressions/Review

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

  1. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

    Staff Member Friend Gearmaster
    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2018
    Likes Received:
    5,678
    Dislikes Received:
    14
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Avalon
    *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: Exceptional. With linear filter, has everything you could want; a bit of tube bloom and wetness, massive slam, superb nuance, grand stage, and very good resolve. 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. Still has that EC stage; very good combo.
    • 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; NOS filter on Wavelight fixes this and damn does this sound good. 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.

    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***
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2020 at 12:13 AM
    Xecuter, Azteca, zonto and 41 others like this.
  2. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2015
    Likes Received:
    1,946
    Dislikes Received:
    4
    Trophy Points:
    113
    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.
     
    exocer, Syzygy, pavi and 7 others like this.
  3. abraxas666

    abraxas666 Acquaintance

    Contributor
    Joined:
    Jul 28, 2016
    Likes Received:
    98
    Dislikes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    18
    Location:
    WA
    @ChaChaRealSmooth did you have time to test the "synergy" with the Raal Requisite + Jot R?
     
  4. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

    Staff Member Friend Gearmaster
    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2018
    Likes Received:
    5,678
    Dislikes Received:
    14
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Avalon
    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.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2020 at 12:10 AM
    pavi, 9suns, abraxas666 and 1 other person like this.
  5. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2015
    Likes Received:
    1,946
    Dislikes Received:
    4
    Trophy Points:
    113
    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.
     
    Michael Kelly likes this.
  6. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

    Staff Member Friend Gearmaster
    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2018
    Likes Received:
    5,678
    Dislikes Received:
    14
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Avalon
    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.
     
    Michael Kelly likes this.
  7. famish99

    famish99 Friend

    Friend
    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2017
    Likes Received:
    1,278
    Dislikes Received:
    7
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Austin, TX
    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

    Friend
    Joined:
    Sep 25, 2016
    Likes Received:
    2,375
    Dislikes Received:
    5
    Trophy Points:
    113
    Location:
    Palo Alto
    Home Page:
    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

    Staff Member Friend Gearmaster
    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2018
    Likes Received:
    5,678
    Dislikes Received:
    14
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Avalon
    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.
     
    Golmang, earnmyturns and AdvanTech like this.
  10. etherealsound

    etherealsound Rando

    Joined:
    May 30, 2018
    Likes Received:
    16
    Dislikes Received:
    2
    Trophy Points:
    3
    Location:
    Madison, WI
    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

    Staff Member Friend Gearmaster
    Joined:
    Dec 6, 2018
    Likes Received:
    5,678
    Dislikes Received:
    14
    Trophy Points:
    93
    Location:
    Avalon
    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.
     

Share This Page