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Manufacturer: DAFRAUD GmbH
Price (when reviewed): 36 990 PLN

Contact details: Niedal Audio Lab AG
Bangertenstrasse 865


Provided for test by: AUDIO ATELIER


translation by Marek Dyba
images by „High Fidelity”

No 236

January 1, 2024

The MERASON brand belongs to the Swiss company DAFRAUD GmbH, founded in 2013 by DANIEL FRAUCHIGER. It debuted with the DAC 1 in 2015, which is still in its lineup. It features only three DACs and one amplifier, and they are all made in Switzerland. We are testing the second version of its debut DAC.

HE NAME OF DEFRAUD, the parent company of the Merason brand, was formed by combining the first and last name of its founder, with an extra 'd' at the end. In addition to it, Mr. Frauchiger has another one, Niedal Audio Lab, founded in 2017 thanks to a start-up grant from the Bern Economic Development Agency to manufacture equipment for Defraud and develop products for other companies on an OEM basis.

The idea for its first and still most important product, the DAC 1, was born in 2011 and the actual device entered mass production in 2015. We tested it in 2022, and its successor was shown in Munich, during the High-End 2023 Show. Eight years - from 2015 to 2023 - in the digital world is a long time, and if we consider 2011 it is even longer. And yet, seven years after its debut, the converter we tested proved to be an excellent device, which only lacked a support for PCM signals above 192 kHz and DSD. The new version ... can't do that either.

As I wrote in the referenced test, DANIEL FRAUCHIGER, founder and owner of the Merason brand, is one of those designers who are not eager to change. Such people, once they have found solutions that satisfy them, stick to them for a long time. The same is also true of this product, which is - the way I see it - the "apple of Daniel's eye". And something like this is not changed without a good reason, and if it is, it is changed in a limited way, improving what has already been perfected before. Therefore, at first glance, the DAC 1 differs from the DAC 1 Mk II only in the details of the chassis.


ALL THE BASIC "BUILDING BLOCKS" the DAC 1 was built with can also be found in its Mk II version. At its "heart" are, already out of production for a good while, one could say "vintage", Burr-Brown 1794A DAC chips and an equally „old” Wolfson Microelectronics WM8804 digital receiver. In an interview the designer gave us on the occasion of the Frérot DAC test, he said that the new chips didn't sound "analog" enough for him. For a manufacturer of digital devices, that's quite a surprising statement.

This will be easier to understand once we know that the designer is a fan of analog sound and vinyl records. He didn't bother with digital sound until 2010, when the sound of the available circuits already seemed sensible enough to him that it was worth "getting something out of them." But he immediately added that although there had been advances in digital technology, he "wasn't entirely convinced."

The original circuit was not just his idea. Searching the Internet, he found a D/A converter design made by a Hong Kong engineer. As he said, his product convinced him that "listening to music from a digital source can be great fun." Together they spent two years developing an existing DAC, and the result was DAC 1. It featured RCA, AES/EBU, optical and USB inputs, but supported only PCM signals and only up to 24 bits and 192 kHz. These values were determined by the digital receiver and the D/A chips used for the project.

In the Mk II version, nothing has changed in this regard. So we are still dealing with a product that is "vintage" to some extent. Admittedly, instead of an acrylic front and plastic illuminated buttons (which I really liked, by the way), there is a classic aluminum plate and aluminum buttons, but inside it's still the same "start-up" product, only that filtered using thirteen years of experience.

It's a product conceived primarily for those who listen to music from Compact Discs and files, but without going crazy with resolution. It offers four digital inputs, of which USB is described as AUX, or "additional" - you understand the logic, right? The selected input is indicated by an amber LED, and the USB input has a separate LED indicating the presence of a signal.

The device is a balanced design, so there are four identical runs. D/A circuits are used, one per channel, which gave a gain of 5 dB improvement in dynamic range. The I/U conversion is transistor-based, as is the low-noise, class-A output buffer. Power supply was also designed very carefully. A separate transformer was given to the output circuitry and the digital section; the latter features as many as twelve separate power supplies.

In my test of the DAC 1, I asked what it actually was. It didn't play files with sampling rates above 192 kHz, we couldn't send DSD or MQA files to it, nor could we connect to it via Bluetooth with a smartphone. There is also no output voltage control. We also won't connect headphones to it. And all this is because it's a specialized device for, I am repeating myself, people who know what they want and for whom the main signal source is - the way I see it - the Compact Disc transport, and the file transport is a secondary device.

The way I see it: The DAC 1, now in its Mk II version, is a classic example of the high-end approach to an audio product. Once developed, a successful solution is then honed over many years. Without looking at mods, without challenging competitors with specifications and features. That's how the Japanese masters work, and that's how Daniel Frauchiger works, too.


⸜ HOW WE LISTENED • The Merason DAC 1 Mk II was tested in a HIGH FIDELITY reference system and compared to the D/A section of the Ayon Audio CD-35 HF Edition SACD player, which also worked as a transport. I was most interested in how the DAC handles CDs, since the advantages and disadvantages of the DACs come into focus there, as if through a lens.

The Ayon's digital output was connected to the DAC's input via an RCA→RCA Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6100 II cable, and the DAC was powered by a Harmonix X-DC350M2R Improved-Version cable. The DAC stood on the top shelf of a Finite Elemente Master Reference Pagode Edition Mk II rack on its feet. The rubber half-spheres on which it stands prevent slippage, so I didn't have to put any pads under them. The DAC 1 Mk II was tested using RCA (unbalanced) outputs, since I use RCA cables in my system.

⸜ Albums used for the test ⸜ a selection

⸜ TINA BROOKS, True Blue, Blue Note/Audio Wave AWMXR-0004, XRCD24 (1960/2009).
⸜ DEPECHE MODE, Enjoy The Silence, Mute ALCB-33/Alfa Y12-3B, Maxi-SP CD (1990).
⸜ SANTANA, Supernatural, Arista | BMG ‎07822 19080 2, CD (1999).
⸜ THE WEEKND, Starboy, XO | Republic 5727592, CD (2016).
⸜ JOHN SCOFIELD, Uncle John's Band, ECM Records/Universal Classic Jazz & Rock UCCE-1201/2, 2 x SHM-CD (2023).


THE MAGIC OF NUMBERS also works in audio. The more digits in the description of the recorded or playback signal, the better, And that’s OK, it is true - recording in 24/192 resolution is usually better than one in 24/48. Except that this is not fully true. For it is equally true to say that what matters is how you record something and then release it, and how skilled are the people behind it, not what signal they use to do it.

Therefore, realizing how hard things have moved forward in recent years with DSD signal encoding and playback, how good SACD and even better SHM-SACD discs can sound, when I hear something like this from well-prepared XRCD24 discs, I then have a moment of "suspension." This is almost an "ancient" technique, or rather a technique plus a set of steps and procedures, and yet it manages to surprise.

As with the TINA BROOKS album True Blue. Recorded by Rudy Van Gelder on June 25th. 1960 in a single session at his Engelwood Clifs studio and mixed straight to stereo tape, it was released in 2009 on the AudioWave label, owned by Analog Productions. Nota bene, this year saw the release of what appears to be the last four of the twenty-five titles launched just in 2009.

Listening to this disc and switching inputs on the preamplifier, comparing its sound decoded in the Merason's DAC and in the Ayon Audio player's DAC, I couldn't help but appreciate with what confidence and yet delicacy the Swiss device treats the audio signal. The quintet assembled by Tina Brooks sounded somewhat warm, somewhat soft and somewhat pastel with it. On the one hand, the modifications in these areas that this device makes to the sound are not large, at least in volume, and on the other hand, they modify the presentation enough so that it has quite strongly defined vectors in which it anchors.

Art Taylor's cymbals, not very strong, were warmed up and gently withdrawn. At the same time, however, they gained polish, smoothness, and the reverberation around them seemed more authentic. Freddie Hubbard's trumpet had considerable volume, but it too was gently shifted back, was more rounded. And yet, despite these treatments, the presentation was dynamic, palpable and colorful. The Swiss DAC goes, and unequivocally so, in the direction of playing with a smooth, fluid sound, which is often described as "analog." But it also retains the discipline and definition I know from digital recordings and analog "master" tapes.

This is playing with a wide bandwidth, with no limitations on the top or bottom. And yet, after a while, we catch ourselves perceiving the music played by the DAC 1 Mk II in a very organic way. The good resolution, but above all the excellent coherence of the reproduced material is really impressive. Even with tracks that aren't quite obvious, like the "Harmonium" version of the Enjoy The Silence single, featured on DEPECHE MODE's promotional maxi single of the same title.

This is one of the "acoustic" versions, of which the group made several at the time, on which Gahan's vocals are accompanied only by the sound of the harmonium. You can hear the keys being struck, as well as the mechanism and bellows pumping air into the instrument by the musician (using pedals). The Swiss DAC showed these elements accurately, clearly, but still as something behind the sound, without emphasizing "details". The presentation had considerable energy in the bass and midrange, and this is probably, I think, the key to understanding this device.

For despite playing with a "wide" sound, we still pay attention primarily to what happens in the midrange. Vocals, given with a cold, short reverb, were slightly distant, but they were clear and - paradoxically - more "palpable" than when I listened to the same CD through the Ayon DAC. The musicians recorded Dave's voice in various locations, including the bathroom, and perhaps it was recorded there for this version. With the Merason it sounds a bit like there were some more towels in there, and maybe even a plush upholstered seating area.

It was very interesting to listen to SANTANA's Supernatural album. It's a highly compressed recording with a not entirely selective sound, usually bogged down by problems with the articulation of the bass and treble. Merason offered it something of a "facelift." It finally came out that the device plays energetic, powerful mid-bass. This helped the music, great music after all, to develop. The highs, on the other hand, were shown clearly, but were also smoothed out. And this was overlaid with a tendency to focus our attention on the midrange - and there you go: the sound was nice, pleasant, dense and warm to the degree I would like it to be.

I similarly perceived the sound of THE WEEKND's album, entitled Starboy. This is one of the more interesting pop performers of recent years, and the album I'm talking about, while not new, features great collaborations with Daft Punk and Lana Del Ray. Merason's DAC played it low, played it succinctly, played it densely. The upper midrange remained clear, but not dominant, which was very useful for this album. Vocals and rhythm were most important.

With the first and last tracks on this disc, I also heard something else - the DAC 1 Mk II rounds out the bass attack. This one is intelligible, which is really cool. It's also energetic and has a lot of weight. But it also rather about richness, at the expense of an attack phase that isn't fully brought out. It's all cool, but the DAC also gives the recordings their character in this way. That's why it seems to sound warm, and why the volume of sound is so big, even though the foreground is not pushed out in front of the speakers.

And no matter how good, how cool rock and pop music albums sounded with the tested DAC, its maestry is most fully, clearly manifested when playing jazz and classical music albums in small ensembles. JOHN SCOFIELD's Uncle John's Band album, released in Japan on SHM-CDs (it's a double album!), and unboxed just before the converter arrived, took on color with the Merason and had an excellent, dark "sound”. It was with it that the high dynamic range and purity with which this device plays music came out great. But a purity that is deep, a purity that brings out both energy and warmth in the sound.


I DON'T KNOW WHAT MUSIC Daniel listens to privately, but looking at what the DAC 1 Mk II did with Scofield's album, I would point to it as one of the leads. It's a DAC with perfectly balanced proportions, with an internally complex, refined sound. The latter is slightly lowered, with strong support in the mid-bass and in the breakthrough with the midrange. The treble, on the other hand, is selective, resolving, but also dense and more "loose" than "biting."

So there is no denying that this device is primarily for people who have or love a turntable. Seemingly I knew all this from the beginning, Daniel himself says so, but you know how it is with manufacturer's declarations - you have to listen to them and then forget about them. It is impossible to forget this one, because it is confirmed in every sound of the tested device. It's a dynamic, energetic presentation with a clear sonic signature in which richness and density are the most important features. Because richness and density are what we really rarely get with such class.


THE TESTED D/A CONVERTER doesn’t look like much. Its chassis is made of aluminum bent sheet metal, with large ventilation holes on the top panel and sides. The front can be finished in black or silver, with the color of the LEDs being amber in the former case and green in the latter. The device stands on four rubber pads glued to the underside. It gives a room for experiments with specialized anti-vibration feet.

⸜ FRONT AND REAR • The chassis is made entirely of bent aluminum plates. It is therefore lighter than the previous version, with a steel chassis, by 2.5 kg. The aforementioned LEDs indicate the selected input and the DAC's synchronization with the signal source. A separate LED is dedicated to the USB input and tells us whether a signal is being sent to it - thus the USB input has as many as three LEDs: indicating selected input, synchronization and signal.

On the back we find very good sockets. The XLR outputs and inputs are realized on gold-plated standard Neutrik connectors, but the RCAs are already gold-plated versions of nextgen WBT sockets. As in the Mk I version, the USB input looks least solid.

⸜ INSIDE • The center is taken up entirely by the electronics and power supply. Just a quick look tells you that this is a completely new concept, although based on previous solutions. In the new version, everything is arranged to make the signal path shorter, and much better components have been reached for. For example, instead of SMD capacitors there are now film and polypropylene ones, and instead of small output capacitors there are powerful, beautiful blue "boxes". In turn, through-hole resistors have been replaced by SMDs, showing that optimization has been carried out at various levels.

As in the previous version, the main board occupies almost the entire interior. The input signal goes first to transformers ensuring galvanic isolation and matching the input impedance. The USB input has a separate board that houses a complete receiver/converter from Amanero Technologies, which sells them in the OEM system. The D/A circuit takes up the most space. At its input works a Wolfson Microelectronics WM8804 digital receiver, which sets the limits for the input signal, after which we have two Burr-Brown 1794 DAC chips in the "A" version (that is, with better measurable performance than the basic one).

One of the most important design features of the Swiss DAC, in both versions, is its completely discrete design, that is, based on transistors rather than integrated circuits. We are talking, of course, about the analog section, but also about the power supply. Therefore, even current-to-voltage conversion, almost always performed using operational amplifiers, here features transistors (bipolar). Not surprisingly, also the output buffer, working in class A, is discrete. It was important for the designer to stabilize the temperature of active elements, so they all received small heat sinks to which pairs of transistors are mounted - so they have the same temperature.

The previous version of the power supply used toroidal transformers of Polish manufacturer, PowerUC, in enclosures that minimize vibrations. The new version has the same power output, but the manufacturer is different - now it's the French Myrra. One of them provides voltage to the digital section, and the other to the analog section and that separately for the left and right channels. Thus, we are dealing with a dual-mono circuit. The power supply for the digital section is based on an integrated voltage stabilizer, but the analog section features only transistors, it's an entirely discrete circuit.

Improvements made to the Mk II reduced distortion from 0.012 to 0.006%. Other parameters remained unchanged.

Technical specifications (according to the manufacturer)

Supported digital signals:
PCM – 16, 24 bits, 44,1-192 kHz (176.4 kHz – only via USB)
Maximum output signal:
3 V RMS (XLR), 1.5 V RMS (RCA)
Frequency range: 20 Hz-20 kHz (+/- 0.3 dB)
THD+N: <0.006%
SNR: >120 dB
Maximum power consumption: 30 W
Dimensions: 450 x 100 x 290 mm (W x H x D)
Weight: 5.5 kg

THIS TEST HAS BEEN DESIGNED ACCORDING TO THE GUIDELINES adopted by the Association of International Audiophile Publications, an international audio press association concerned with ethical and professional standards in our industry, of which HIGH FIDELITY is a founding member. More about the association and its constituent titles → HERE.


Reference system 2022

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2) Line preamplifier: AYON AUDIO Spheris III Linestage |REVIEW|
3) Super Audio CD Player: AYON AUDIO CD-35 HF Edition No. 01/50 |REVIEW|
4) Stands (loudspeakers): ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom) |ABOUT|
5) Power amplifier: SOULUTION 710
6) Loudspeaker filter: SPEC REAL-SOUND PROCESSOR RSP-AZ9EX (prototype) |REVIEW|
7) Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|


Analog interconnect SACD Player - Line preamplifier: SILTECH Triple Crown (1 m) |ABOUT|
Analog interconnect Line preamplifier - Power amplifier: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RCA-1.0 Absolute-FM (1 m) |REVIEW|
Speaker cable: SILTECH Triple Crown (2.5 m) |ABOUT|

AC Power

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Power (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Line preamplifier - ACOUSTIC REVIVE
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Anti-vibration platform under Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE: Asura QUALITY RECOVERY SYSTEM Level 1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RPC-1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RAS-14 Triple-C |REVIEW|
Passive filter EMI/RFI: VERICTUM Block |REVIEW|


Speaker stands: ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom)
Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|
Anti-vibration platforms: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RAF-48H |ARTICLE|

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Clamp: PATHE WINGS Titanium PW-Ti 770 | Limited Edition

Record mats:


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Headphones: Headphone Cables: Forza AudioWorks NOIR HYBRID HPC