Holo Audio - Spring DAC - Level 3 - "Kitsune Tuned Edition" - Impressions & Reviews

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by Torq, Nov 7, 2016.

  1. perkele

    perkele Facebook Friend

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    Thank you Torq for this well thought out writeup. It's refreshing to see overhyped product to actually live up to the reputation.

    Keep those impressions coming, especially lvl1/2 versions are very interesting. For me 700$ difference is really significant.
     

  2. Marvey

    Marvey Loves sex and records

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    @Torq: Is this worth buying to put on the loaner list? I don't want to bother if it isn't worthy. I get a good sense of where DACs stands from your reviews and comparisons, but I wanted to hear it from you again.
     
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  3. Luckbad

    Luckbad Basshead - Friend

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    Check your PM from me.
     
  4. Marvey

    Marvey Loves sex and records

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    Spoke to Tim already. He wanted to know if I was Purrin on HF, which I am. But I don't post there anymore. I'd rather not deal with possible entanglements and just buy it straight out for a review if this product is significant enough. He mentioned he might have a slot open in early December, but I may be out of the country around that time.
     
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  5. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    @Marvey I am biased, seeing as I own a Spring and prefer a non-oversampling sound, but I think this one is worthy of a loaner tour. I think it and the Pavane (possibly Menuet, which I'll be borrowing soon) are legitimately competitive DACs in the non-oversampling realm. All well above the Musette's performance, and are the first two NOS DACs to not make me worry about the usual trade offs. Not saying they'll convince those that prefer oversampling, which is the majority, but maybe enough to actually swing some opinions. But, again, I'll admit to my bias and see if @Torq agrees.

    If you need any assistance coordinating a loaner while out, I'd be happy to help.
     
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  6. Marvey

    Marvey Loves sex and records

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    Do you have the same one as reviewed here?
     
  7. Torq

    Torq Last Remaining Good HF Poster

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    Yes, I think it's worthy.

    And I think it'd be interesting to expose more people to alternative R2R approaches and, also, a fully competitive high-end NOS implementation - assuming there's a realistic base of people actually interested in that here, at least.

    I think an equally important question is which version to go for - which is harder for me to speak too as I've only heard the Level 3 and it'll be at least a little bit before I can get my ears around a Level 2 (probably Thanksgiving to hear them back to back).

    And I agree with @Hands; which was the also case with what we were independently hearing and discussing, behind the scenes, before we got this far with impressions.

    ...

    I may be able to put my unit up for a tour, depending on my minimum-travel-schedule (I should know if that's workable in a few days*). That's more about logistics and timing than willingness. Wouldn't get things started any sooner, at least as thing are looking, and it would likely be limited to six weeks, but I'm game if it works with my schedule.

    Just bear in mind it's a full-size component and quite heavily built.

    (*I offered this with my RedNet 3 as well; which would now be an AES D16, and would be over the same period/duration).
     
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  8. Luckbad

    Luckbad Basshead - Friend

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    UPDATE: I'll revise my review this weekend or next week, time permitting. The short version is that leaving it on did wonders and now I plan to acquire one of these DACs myself.

    I received the Holo Spring DAC Level 3 Kitsune Tuned Edition for review. I don't get to keep it, nor do I get a discount on the unit.

    It's important to note the context of my review. I'm not a detail lover. I don't like brightness, I do love bass. I listen to music for engagement and enjoyment. I prefer warmth and smoothness to clarity hyperaudiophile words.

    The chains:
    A) Lynx E22 AES → Sonic Frontiers SFD-1 MKII SE+ [6н23п-ев] → ampsandsound Mogwai aka "Gizmo" [6н9с МЭЛЗ металл.цок., 6п3с-Е] → Sennheiser HD650 (modded)
    B) Lynx E22 AES → Holo Audio – Spring DAC – LEVEL 3 “Kitsune Tuned Edition” → ampsandsound Mogwai aka "Gizmo" [6н9с МЭЛЗ металл.цок., 6п3с-Е] → Sennheiser HD650 (modded)

    I let the Spring DAC warm up for about 30 minutes before first listen. I started in NOS mode. My immediate impression was "soundstage." It has nore width and depth than any DAC I've heard with headphones.

    That was followed by a heightened perception of detail in comparison to my standard Sonic Frontiers chain. Great extension on both ends with excellent layering and separation. There's nothing there with the Spring that isn't there with the SFD-1, but it's easier to pick it out.

    I swapped to the non-NOS modes for a few minutes each then went back to NOS mode and haven't bothered to switch back. No thank you. Things get too bright and clinical with the oversampling. Less smooth, less impactful, less engaging. That button might as well not exist. I'd significantly prefer a Gumby over the Spring if I wanted oversampling in a modern unit. The Sonic Frontiers DAC is much better than the oversampled Spring. Back to NOS mode forever, then.

    After an hour or so of listening, I started to feel a little bit of fatigue. For those not aware, I'm super sensitive to highs. That means the Spring has some brightness to it (or something else) even though I don't audibly detect it. I can listen to the SFD-1 for hours without any fatigue. After a couple of hours with the Spring, I got a headache.

    Given my experiences with a lot of R-2R DACs, I figured it would be best to leave the unit on for a longer period of time to see if it smoothed itself out. Conveniently, I had a 4 day trip to Northern California for my sister's wedding. I left it in Standby mode the entire time I was gone, which uses the small toroidal transformer to suck minimal power but keeps the DAC chips warm.

    When I came back, I was treated to basically the same sound I left. But, I didn't get a headache this time. Time and heat conspired to eliminate whatever was causing me fatigue on first listen. Or maybe it was just mental relief that I could stop listening to Future Sonic Spectrum G10s direct from a Google Pixel XL now that I wasn't in bum-f nowhere multiple hours north of civilization.

    One problem upon my return, however, is that after in Standby for that long, music started to periodically have a minor dropout here and there. This can be caused by the digital receiver chip getting out of sync with midi-chlorians. I powered the DAC down completely for about 10 minutes and the dropouts didn't come back all night.

    After flipping the power switch back on, it remained super organic and smooth. I tossed some of my favorite bass tracks its way and it did an excellent job with them, with one caveat: Enhanced soundstage comes at the expense of the feeling of impact. Stage (and dynamic) compression are actually advantageous to the sensation of bass, so you sacrifice some of that feeling by gaining the bonkers soundstage and exceptional layering the DAC provides.

    I'd likely go back to the JJ KT88 tubes in my Mogwai long term with the Spring since it compresses the sub-bass and gives me additional impact. In general, I've tuned my Mogwai with the Sonic Frontiers DAC in mind, so I'd have to go through the whole process again if I were to buy the Spring.

    Ultimately, the Spring DAC turned out to be quite an outstanding unit. It's built solidly, looks great, and has way more features than are necessary (read: DSD is pointless and makes the DAC cost more than it probably needs to).

    It's beyond the price range I'm willing to spend on a DAC alone and didn't exceed the Sonic Frontiers to the point that I'm itching to press the "Buy" button for it.

    Is it great? Yes. Is it better than what I have in every way? Nope.

    Where is it weak? Bass punch on my Sonic Frontiers SFD-1 MKII SE+ w/ 6n23p tubes is superior. The SFD is overall a bit more romantic and smooth sounding. Not actually more organic--the Spring does a ridiculous job at portraying the pluck of a guitar string, for example--It does nothing fancy and can't go beyond 48kHz, and also has some useless functionality of its own (HDCD). Detail and resolution are better on the Spring, but I'm not a whore for that anyway.

    If the Level 1 is close to the Level 3, it's worth a purchase even for me. I've heard "night and day" descriptions between the two, though, so the Level 1 might not be worth consideration. Maybe I can get a review unit of the Level 1 or Level 2 to see what I'd be missing.

    In comparison to other top tier modern DACs, I'd take the Spring over all of them that I've heard. I'm not a fan of the Yggdrasil. I get a headache within minutes. To me, Yggy is the digital-to-analog equivalent of a Sennheiser HD800. The Spring does basically everything better than the Master-11 I used to have (at a notably higher price). It's better than the MHDT Labs Atlantis+ overall, though less of a chameleon that can be tuned to my preference with tubes.

    It's a great DAC. Probably the best I've spent any real time with. Worth the money? That's up to you. I'd probably buy it if I were single and didn't have any kids to feed.

    But, remember, we're talking about a DAC here. I can get a bigger difference between it and the Sonic Frontiers DAC by changing the tubes in my amp. Hell, I can get a bigger change in sonic characteristics by changing the tubes in my DAC. Or using MP3 instead of FLAC. Or buying new earpads for my HD650 (that might be a slight exaggeration... the soundstage alone is nothing to scoff at).

    I don't plan to part with my Sonic Frontiers DAC to replace it with the Holo Audio Spring DAC Level 3. The differences don't warrant the purchase for my own prefere...

    By Trump's lips! Symphony No. 5 in C Minor had to come on while I was about to submit this.

    Wow.

    Okay, anyway, still too expensive for me.

    Go buy one of these if you have too much money laying around and you don't want to send the money to me.
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2016
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  9. blubliss

    blubliss Friend

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    I would definitely be interested in a loaner. I want to try it with the i2s output form my Sonore Signature Rendu.
     
  10. mrweirdude

    mrweirdude Asshole lowballer - acquaintance

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  11. Marvey

    Marvey Loves sex and records

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    It's decided then. For those of you guys going huh: I've known @blubliss for a long time now. Only occasionally does he descend from the the clouds. I see him approximately once every two to three years. Besides, I'm interested too; and while the DAVE was good, it didn't tickle my fancy (also the price is stupid, it looks even stupider, and I've really had enough of fanboys who regurgitate crap about 2,000,000 taps and how it's not a sigma-delta DAC, but an FPGA DAC).
     
  12. Luckbad

    Luckbad Basshead - Friend

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    Note: The Taobao version is not the same as the Kitsune version. The Level 1 might be, but the Level 2 and Level 3 are not.

    Also, there's a 100% chance the loaner is going to be beat to hell. The copper-colored parts are going to get scratched up.

    As long as you're cool with that, it'll be a great DAC to have on loaner.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2016
  13. Marvey

    Marvey Loves sex and records

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    I expect folks here to love beaten up stuff. All my camera bodies and lenses are beaten up. My Andromeda IEMs are beaten up. My ZX2 has a small scratch on it. I don't want prissy audiophiles here.
     
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  14. thegunner100

    thegunner100 Hentai Master Chief

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    Agreed! My Corolla is pretty scratched up with a nice dent in the rear bumper :p
     
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  15. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    I do have a Level 3 version from Kitsune/Tim. Though I think the newer Lvl3s come with a couple small tweaks over mine. I don't think this would be anything subjectively major.

    It's funny because the SFD I have now sounds noticeably brighter, less organic, and more lean than the Spring. Tried a couple different tube types. @Luckbad I can't remember how yours differs...
     
  16. Cellist88

    Cellist88 Self important pretentious ass

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    WOW!!!!!!!! >< SBAF Loaner! Heard the dac at new york audio show, and was floored. Pretty awesome stuff ><
     
  17. TwoEars

    TwoEars Friend

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    A chi-fi R2R dac wins the hearts and minds of sbaf? Some believe they would prefer it to the Yggy? I wouldn't have put money on that a month ago.

    Would be interesting to do a shootout of Gumby vs Spring DAC lvl 1. SE and balanced both preferably.
     
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  18. mscott58

    mscott58 Friend

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    Anyone paired the Spring with the LAu yet? Cheers
     
  19. Cellist88

    Cellist88 Self important pretentious ass

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    I am actually also interested on the level 1 vs gumby comparison, because I'm pretty dead set on getting a Gumby but hearing the level 3 made me think about it again. Cant get either one until I decide to settle somewhere ><(always migrating between Europe and US, so voltage problems for the gumby ><).
     
  20. blubliss

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    Thanks Marv!
     

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