I am going to upgrade my DAC some time in the next few months and I have some friends that have a Hugo Chord, Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2 DSDse with the Femto Clock upgrade and a Bryston BDA-1 DAC. We decided to to a DAC shoot out and compare them. Then one of my friends sent me a link to a new company called Exogal based here in the Twin Cities. They have a new outstanding DAC called the Comet which sells for $2,500 and $3,000 with a beefier external power supply. So I emailed them and asked if they would be interested in including the Comet in the shoot out. Jeff the CEO was game and dropped the unit off at my house about a week before the shoot out. I had a few days to play with it and was very impressed with the sound. It clearly bested my aging AVA Ultra DAC a hybrid tube design. I will go more into how it sounded in my system after the shoot out results.
This past Saturday night 2 friends and I went over to another AC members house for the shoot out. For kick's one guys brought over his $500 IFI DAC and $299 IFI tube buffer to see how it would stack up against the other 4 dacs.
Magnepan 3.7 speakers
Dual AVA HiFi 600R amps used in a mono block configuration at 600wpc @ 4ohms
AVA FET CF tube Preamp
Computer based music using JRiver software
Emperical Audio OR5 off ramp USB converter which allowed us to immediately switch back and forth between 2 DAC's at a time.
Because we could only switch between 2 DAC's at a time we compared each DAC to each other, picking out the one we thought sounded the best and then compared the 2 winners. Here are the results-
The IFI was clearly out classed by the other DAC's in detail, resolution, dynamics and listenability. It sounded flat in comparison but we all expected that going into this. It was not bad sounding by any means but it was totally out if its league.
The Wyred 4 Sound came in 4th. It hits hard with good dynamics and bass but it was too bright and had a little grain. It sounded great with acoustic guitar with great attack, detail and resolution, but on rock music it was irritating and almost harsh. This was a surprise because I have heard it in my system and my friend's who owns both the Hugo and W4S and it did not sound that way. In fact it was one of the DAC's that I was considering buying up until this test.
The next 2 DAC's were a tough decision for me. I would call it a tie between the Comet and the Bryston, although the person that owns the Bryston liked it the best. The Comet has this unique 3D or holographic sound with a huge sound stage that is wide, deep and tall. It has great air and transparency, the best out of all the DAC's. It was actually uncanny in a good way on how clear and holographic it sounded. It reminded me of hearing a pair of higher end Martin Logan ESL's a few years back which I found to have tremendous transparency and a 3D sound. In addition we all agreed that it had a very nice midrange bloom. Bass was tight, fast and controlled but not as deep as the Bryston or W4S. Resolution was very good, better than the Hugo and not as good as the Bryston or W4S. Drums had very good kick and snap. Vocals and horns were smooth and very natural. We listened to Anne Bisson's Blue Mind CD using a Cambridge Audio 840 as a transport at the beginning of the test and her voice had good texture. All 4 of us however felt that the sound leaned a just bit to the bright side of neutral mainly on rock and roll. It sounded excellent when listening to Billy Mclaughlin's guitar on his Finger Dance album. 2 of us felt that it would be a great DAC for Jazz, Acoustic and Classical music.
The Bryston on the other hand did every thing well. It had a nice neutral tone, very good resolution, probably the best dynamics and bass out of all the dac's. It had a thicker or heavier sound compared to the other dac's. Because of this it did not appear to have the amount of air and transparency of the Comet. It sounded great with all types of music. It has good pace and rhythm and was about equal with the W4S in this area. The Comet was a little slower and the Hugo the slowest.
The Hugo Chord was the DAC that 3 of us preferred and ranked number one. It also does every thing well but it has a lush, liquid midrange and a more romantic sound. It sounds good with all types of music with out any fatigue. It was the most musical, smoothest sounding out of all the DAC's. It had good dynamic. It did not have the crisp detail of the W4S or the transparency and holographic sound and resolution of the Comet , nor the dynamics or bass of the Bryston but it sounded damn good. Some people may not like the sound because it can sugar coat the sound a little. Certainly if you are the type of person that likes a dead neutral and more clinical sound or razor sharp detail then it is not the DAC for you.
In the end, we all agreed that the Comet, Hugo Chord and the Bryston were excellent DAC's and each had it strengths and weaknesses. Clearly system matching is important. I had the Comet in my system for several days and it was very neutral sounding. However, I use a Pass Labs x250 amp, a BAT VK51se tube preamp and Magnepan 1.6 speakers.
I will post a dedicated review of the Comet, its features, build quality and how it sounds in my system tomorrow. In addition I will have the Comet for a couple more weeks and I will try it with more traditional cone speakers (PSB and Monitor Audio) and post my findings.
If any one has any questions about the DAC's and the Comet in particular, please send me a PM.
Here is a link to Exogal and the Comet-http://www.exogal.com/index.php/products