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Digital to Analog Converter
Wyred 4 Sound DAC-2

Price: 1499 USD

Manufacturer: Wyred 4 Sound LLC

Wyred 4 Sound LLC
4235 Traffic Way, Atascadero | CA 93422, USA


WWW: Wyred 4 Sound LLC

Country of origin: USA

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Pictures: Wojciech Pacuła
Translation: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

Wyred 4 Sound is a brain child of EJ Sarmento – it started its life as a way of utilizing the knowledge acquired in the company Cullen Circuits, where he worked for some time. The first product built under the new brand name was the small power amplifier 200S, built around ICEPower modules from B&O – so it was a class D amplifier. Building and testing took a “whole” weekend and next week he powered up a small web page and sold 20 units. This is how it started. The next step were the modifications of various units and then a whole line of self made products.
Currently W4S offers two DACs: DAC-1 and DAC-2, a preamplifier STP-SE, two integrated amplifiers: STI-500 Integrated and STI-1000 Integrated, three power amplifiers: mono, stereo and multichannel, also cabling and an offer to modify various devices.

DAC-2 is the more expensive of the two DACs. “More expensive” does not mean expensive in this case – looking at its capabilities, and also its construction, it cannot go unnoticed, that in this case the price is not adequate. This is because the company resigned from some things that increase the retail price on purpose. I do not say, that this is the only right way, because it isn’t, but it is one of the possibilities, equally valuable like others. It is about the fact, that W4S sells its devices mostly directly, over the internet. We can find distributors, but their margin is probably lower than in case of other manufacturers – it just cannot be that high. This allows to cut the price by 40-50% in the very beginning. Adding to that the enclosure without any fancy things – it is solid, but very simple. And the margins of the middlemen and – exactly – the enclosure are making the most costs of all devices sold in the audio shops. Like I mentioned in the editorial, the unit for testing was made especially for “High Fidelity”. The modification was done in the output stage to make it work directly with headphones. The company lowered the impedance of the analog stage and I got an interface cable from 2xRCA to big jack 6.3mm.

Clint Hartman, the representative of W4S, tells about those changes:
“The modification was done through exchanging the resistors in the critical places in such a way, that it would lower the output impedance, what optimized the performance of the DAC with loudspeakers. I would like to underline that we never did it before, for no one else, but we made it with pleasure for you Wojtek. We would like to hear your comment to our work – we are curious ourselves, what came out of it. At the moment we did not decide, if we will offer this to other users – it remains to be seen… I would also like to add, that on the outputs of the unit (RCA and XLR), when we activate them by a mechanical switch on the back plate, there is a residual DC current – similar to all products of all companies. This is why we recommend to set this switch on for good. In general it is worth being true to the rule, that first we power on the source, then the preamplifier or amplifier. And we switch off in reverse. This is nothing big, but worth remembering”.

The DAC-2 maybe looks modest, but there is no modesty in it. This is a technologically advanced, very nicely designed unit, which has nothing in common with the DIY market or companies (usually Chinese ones) which offer their DACs based on experience coming from the hobby market.
The DAC-2 is a DAC with a 32 bit chip Sabre32, a worked out power supply and a proprietary USB input with asynchronous clocking, accepting signals up to 24/192. The latter requires writing of their proprietary driver. The company did not disclose, who did it for them. It means only, that the driver works with 32/64 bit versions of Windows XP/Vista/7 and MacOs 10.4 to 6 and was Microsoft certified.
The unit is balanced from the start to end, coupled with capacitors and has a big current capability. Without that it would not be possible to drive headphones with medium impedance. I used for testing mostly the Sennheiser HD800 with 300Ω impedance, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro with 600Ω, 2000 edition (test HERE), and AKG K701 and HiFiMAN HE-500.
The unit can work with a fixed or variable output voltage – we can choose the mode. Volume control is done in the Sabre32 DAC with 32 bits precision. But it is still a digital voltage control. The company points out, that the unit reclocks and eliminates jitter from the input digital signal. It seems, that this is done inside the converter chip. This is important, because the SPDIF signal, used most often, is a very complicated way of transmitting data, which is prone to jitter. According to Clint Hartman, a special way around that was created. First the signal is slowed down by 50% of the cycle length. Then the cycle width is measured and compared with the cycles on both sides of it. Then the chip corrects this width to average it. This should drastically minimize jitter.
The device allows to change to output voltage and set the regulation range: 0-40 or 30-70, it also allows for remote power on and off, changing the digital filter – slow and quick, changing the width of the PCM (infinite impulse response from <50, 50, 60 to 70kHz) etc. We can also change the balance between channels and dim or switch off the display. And change the absolute phase. This is for sure no DIY product.


Recordings used in the test (selection):

  • Audio Accessory - T-TOC Records High Quality Data Master Comparison, TDVD-0002, DVD-R, ripy 16/44,1, 24/96, 24/192 FLAC.
  • Stereo Sound Reference Record. Jazz&Vocal, Stereo Sound, SSRR4, SACD/CD.
  • Stereo Sound Reference Record. Popular Selection, Stereo Sound, SSRR5, SACD/CD.
  • Bill Evans, Everybody Digs Bill Evans, Riverside/JVC, JVCXR-0020-2, XRCD.
  • Brian Eno, Craft On A Milk Sea, Warp Records, FLAC 24/44,1.
  • Carol Sloane, Hush-A-Bye, Sinatra Society of Japan/Muzak, XQAM-1031, CD.
  • Charlie Haden & Antonio Forcione, Heartplay, Naim Label, 24/96 FLAC.
  • Convectiva, La Mandragore, Fidelio Musique, MasterFlash, S/N 02, 24/176 PCM.
  • David Munion, Pretty Blue, Stockfisch Records, SFR 357.6072.2, CD.
  • Diorama, The art of creating confusing Spirits, Accession Records, EFA 23450-2, CD
  • Fidelio, Sampler, Fidelio Musique, MasterFlash, S/N 21, 24/96+24/176 PCM.
  • Frank Sinatra, Sinatra At The Sands, Sinatra Society of Japan, UICY-94366, SHM-CD.
  • Holst, The Planets, Buzz Ansamble, Fidelio Musique, MasterFlash, S/N 09, 24/96 PCM.
  • J. S. Bach, Solo Suites Nos 1,3&5, Mischa Maisky, Deutsche Grammophon/ Universal Music Company [Japan], UCG-50085, SHM-CD.
  • Metallica, Master of Puppets, Vertigo/ Universal Music Company [Japan], UICY-94664, SHM-CD.
  • Mikołaj Bugajak, Strange Sounds and Inconceivable Deeds, Nowe Nagrania 001, 45 rpm LP+CD+WAV 24/44,1;
  • Norah Jones, …featuring, Blue Note, 09868 2, 16/44,1 FLAC.
  • Phil Collins, Face Value, Warner Bros/Audio Fidelity, AFZ 027, gold-CD, FLAC.
  • Tingvall Trio, Vattensaga, Skip Records, SKP 9087-2, CD;
  • Al Di Meola, Flesh on Flesh, Telarc, 24/96, FLAC.

Japanese versions of the discs available on CD Japan.

As it seems, discerning digital devices is most difficult. From the point of view of a follower of analog sources, like a turntable or a reel-to-reel tape deck, all CD players and DACs sound the same. Bad. In my opinion this is not true, but I do understand some emotional component of such statements, a result of a certain frustration – on first glance most digital sources really sound similar.
It is about the fact, that the character of distortion brought in by digital coding and decoding does not resemble the way we know from analog sources or nature. The majority of measurable parameters is better in the digital devices, this is why the final effect is strongly unified – the difference in distortion between, let’s say 0.03% and 0.003% is not audible at all. Of course it is, but not directly. Because in a digital source the distortion manifests itself in rather longterm listening. The sound has to be sampled, what means split in pieces (actually the word “digit” comes from “divide”). This is not a continuous sound, but a fragmented one, which the device tries to glue together in the output circuitry (filter). I think, that we can hear that perfectly, albeit on subconscious level. This often leads to nervousness, tiredness or even anger. This is how our brain reacts trying to protect us from it. And now – it is not about how much the digital devices differ from each other in the first second, but about the way we perceive it after more time; it is not about an A/B comparison with short samples (and also no ABX testing) but about the result of comparing a few discs, listened to as a whole.

I needed this introduction to put that what I will write in the right context. The DAC-2 is a very cheap product. Its price, 1499 USD is about 4077,28 zł (the exchange rate being 2.72zł for 1USD) converts into something more than we are used to. I already wrote about its versatility, but the sound follows functionality.
Compared to my reference player, Ancient Audio Lektor Air, which can handle most digital sources up to 100000zł we can hear the limitations of the American DAC without problems. I will start with those, because it will allow us to better understand its phenomenon compared to CD and SACD players from the 12000-15000zł price range.
The Polish CD player sounds with the frequency range extended more to the top and bottom at the same time, and the extremes are not as accented as in the American DAC. This is a common experience for digital devices – higher resolution, the ability to built more three-dimensional shapes results in the attack not having to be so strong, the instruments do not have to be drawn by the front of the sound waves. Air seems more soft, but it mimics the real instruments better, much better, and the sound is more natural with it.
I mentioned the sound spectrum extremes – the Air reaches much lower than the W4S. This can be heard with any kind of music. With jazz, like on the disc Vattensaga from Tingvall Trio, when the man plays the contrabass, he plays two strings at the same time. This could be heard with the DAC only to a certain moment, below it there was only one string, and not completely accented. The Air showed it to the very end. The same thing happens with rock material, like from the disc Homeland Laurie Anderson. This is a splendid disc, and at the same time fantastically recorded. And the bass… In the opening piece Transitory Life it hits quick and short, but fleshy. The DAC-2 showed very well, surprisingly well, but it could not surpass a certain threshold, where the instrument starts and the sound ends. Air does that. Similarly things happen with the treble. The American DAC seems a bit brighter. Not as much as the Rega DAC, but the treble are more pronounced than with the Air. It is just, that to show them, to differentiate them well, to enter in them as deep as with vinyl, or expensive digital players, we have to underline their “mobile” parts, meaning the attack, improve the rise time, etc. And the DAC-2 does it brilliantly.

And those elements related to rhythm, resolution (despite all) and sound stage make this DAC stay next to the best players costing more than 10000zł without a trace of embarrassment. I tested three of such players lately – Ayon CD-1sc, Luxman D-05 and Marantz SA-11S2. Each one of them is a nice device. They differ in terms of sound, with emphasis on CD or SACD (the Marantz and Luxman), but in general this is the same level. The DAC-2 sounded similarly well with CDs, if not better. It was not as tonally colorful as the Ayon, or so precise as the Marantz, it could not filter out the digital rubbish as well as the Luxman, but it seems to collect the best characteristics of each one of them, combining it into something, that gives more pleasure from listening than with all of those players apart.

The DAC-2, taking into account its price, does everything well. It is hard to ponder on anything bad. We do not even want to. This is a well mannered, dynamic sound with a nice palette of timbres. Its sound stage is not so deep as in the Air, but very good in general. I would like to return to the rhythmic aspect once more – playing the Diorama disc, especially the piece Kiss of Knowledge, so a very marching, gothic piece, I moved my feet and played the air guitar. Yes, there was too much of the treble, this is the flaw of the recording, which can be handled to some extent only by the best players around, but it could be heard, what it is all about, that the vocal, which timbre annoys me, was prepared that way; to sound spectacular from time to time, giving the impression of coming from a big plane, from any point of the sound stage. Yes, it is good sound.

But like I say this is not an ideal sound. This was heard when comparing with my CD as well as with vinyl played from the Kuzma system (Stabi S + PS + Stogi S 12 VTA; text next month). And still it cannot be hidden, that the America engineers could place many possibilities in that small box, both functional and sound.
And yet decoding the 16/44.1 signal from a CD drive is only one of the various abilities of that DAC. This is also, or maybe most of all, a unit capable of decoding high resolution files – both from audio file players and PC (via USB).
And with hi-res files it showed, that it can achieve much more, than with CDs. I compared the hi-res files played from the DAC with their counterparts on CD played from the Air. I did not want to verify if higher word length and sampling frequency make sense – because that is out of the question in my opinion. I just wanted to verify what happens with the sound, what changes, when we change the CD quality signal to hi-res. And things do change.
The DAC-2 is a very resolving device. Only now it can be fully heard. The sound with hi-res files is much more palpable, it gives that what I had earlier with SACD discs played from the Luxman D-05 (a brilliant thing!). The DAC-2 went further, because it differentiated everything better – while the Luxman homogenized the sound a bit, unifying the sound of various discs a bit (without exaggeration, but still), the American DAC showed every time what is the difference between the files, what was the recordings, etc. This is why I was so impressed while playing the disc Flesh on Flesh Al Di Meola – how many things are happening there! Increasing the resolution does not always result in positive things for many DACs, because the amount of information increases, and they cannot handle it well. The DAC-2 kept everything in its hands. And this – presence – was surprising. This was again not such a good level as from the Air and CDs played from it. Some things cannot be achieved by just changing the files. But this element, that results in having the performer at home, on our carpet, was done well. So the disc Strange Sound and Inconceivable Deeds Mikołaj Bugajak recorded with 24 bits sounded fantastic. I compared it with the vinyl 45rpm issued at the same time from the same digital master tape, and the vinyl offered still a better transfer of energy, the sound was still closer, in an emotional sense, but the difference was not big, and close to that what the same material gave played from CD on the Air.

I think, that the times, when a PC or MAC will become hi-end sound sources are closer and closer. This is not yet the moment, there is still much to do, but I think mostly on the computer end, with software. The USB input from the American DAC shows, that the hardware is already up to par. This is one of the few cases, when the USB sounds very good. This is still not the same sound, as from a file player playing with analog outputs, but it is close. The differences are mostly on the lower presence of the musicians with the USB and a slightly brightened timbre. The latter is a bit surprising and I do not know, why it’s there. It was also surprising, that changing the absolute phase helped with that in most cases.
But I had no doubts, that the USB input on itself is top notch. I compared it with the USB/SPDIF converters Haliade Bridge (24/96) and KingRex UC192 (32/192) – both are nice, sound differently, but are in general of high class. The DAC-2 sounds better with its own USB input, converts the signal inside and sends it directly to the DAC chip. It is mostly about better dynamics and smoother background. On the other hand it can be called nitpicking, because the quality of the sound is brilliant. Especially with hi-res files. Please check out the files from the label Fidelio, sold in the form of USB master flash cards – I received a few to listen to them and I am impressed. The DAC-2 sounds just plain brilliant with them.

I left the case of driving the headphones directly from the RCA outputs of the DAC to the end. I will say it as follows – in general the unit handles things well current wise. This is a very clean and resolved sound. I think, that in some aspects this is a sound comparable to headphone amplifiers for 1000-1500zł. We have speed, good signal slew and really splendid dynamics.
That, what the external amplifiers do better, is the showing of the lower octaves, which are more fleshy. It is not about pointless kicking, but about the rhythmical aspect and addition of the sound stage. Because it is here concentrated around the virtual listening axis.
So is it worth your while? Hmm – we get it almost for free, for the price of the converter cable. So if we are not obsessively attached to headphones (like I am), then I am sure, that this is a sound, that will satisfy most requirements for listening. And not only with high impedance headphones – even those with an impedance of around 50Ω sounded loud and really nice.


The device looks quite utilitarian from the outside. The only ornament of the black, covered with structural paint, resistant to mechanical damages enclosure, are two, aluminum elements on the front. Those are black in the black and silver version of the unit. The latter has silver (or rather graphite) sheets of the enclosure. In the middle of the fascia there are three silver buttons (Power, Up and Down) and a VTF dot-matrix display with a blue filter. On the display we can read the chosen input and the level of the output signal, as well as the information from the menu. Because the DAC-2 is an advance device, with many functional items – some of them we can activate from a small, plastic remote, but some are only available operating the three buttons on the front panel. The back is very crowded. On the bottom we have the analog outputs and inputs, on splendid sockets. There is a by-pass input for home cinema systems and an analog output – unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR. Above there is an USB type B socket, described as “24/192 async USB” what suggests it can accept signals up to 24/192 and has asynchronous clocking, independent from the computer clock. Even higher are the digital inputs. And there is a lot of them – those are two RCA inputs (up to 32 bits and 192kHz), two optical TOSLINK (up to 32 bits and 176.4kHz), AES/EBU (32 bits and 192kHz) and a HDMI input (32 bits and 192kHz). The latter is only a socket, but not a format of the link – the HDMI cable is used here to transfer a I2S from a compatible source (actually it is a balanced I2S signal). Such are offered for example by PS Audio in their transport Perfect Wave Transport. According to Srajan Ebaen, who wrote that in his review of the DAC-2, this is natural, because the company Cullen Circuits mounted devices for PS Audio, when EJ Sarmento worked for it (now PS Audio manufactures in China, in contrast W4S makes their units in USA). This is interesting, while this socket and cables are not used widely (I am talking about HDMI) – actually the amount of very good cables of that kind is very high. Bravo W4S!
On the side there is an IEC socket with a mechanical power switch. And two mini-jack sockets for the 12V trigger, which can be used to remotely activate the RCA “HT bypass in” sockets. The unit is supported by big, rubber feet.

The circuits inside was divided between four PCBs – the company mentions, that the DAC-2 is ready for the digital section upgrades. Near the front panel there is one with the microprocessor handling the display and the display itself. Two cables run there – one with the power and one computer type ribbon cable with control signals and data for the display. The three further PCBs are closely connected together, by bolts and pins.
The bottom PCB is biggest. It houses a big, very worked out PSU and analog output circuits. The power supply uses four big capacitors with the Wyred 4 Sound logo, 22000μF capacity each, with the markings “Low ESR” and “Super CAP” on them. There is no information about the working temperature (85 or 105°C). But looking at the big cooling slots in the enclosure we do not need to fear about them overheating and quick decay. In front of the capacitors there are three, really big, heat sinks, where integrated voltage stabilizers are bolted to. Those heat sinks have also the function of a shield for the electromagnetic radiation of the toroidal transformer, which is placed in the front of the unit. The rest of the PCB is the analog section. A beautiful one. The circuit is made based on low noise transistors and ultra precise, low noise Dale resistors. Both channels are separated from each other by the power supply section, made especially for that part. According to the company we have three stages of filtration and thirteen points of regulation. In the middle of each section, like a spider in its web, there is a TL072 chip – maybe working the PSU section. On the PCB we’ll find also the information, that it was originally made for the DAC-1. The outputs are very solid, gold plated. Those are also keyed with hermetic relays. The further two PCBs are for the digital section. The smaller one, with the USB receiver and controller is suspended under the bigger one. The converter is the DSP chip Xilinx, which has the algorithms of the asynchronous handling of the port, and for converting the USB signals to something recognizable by the DAC. Almost always such chips change the signal to SPDIF. But here the constructors decided to shorten the signal path and send the I2S signal to the DAC. Otherwise the DAC would need to convert the SPDIF signal to I2S anyway. So there is one of the stages of processing less. Next to the DSP there is one more chip I do not recognize. And two splendid clocks. The chip has its own driver, written especially for it, which has to be installed first from the CD-R supplied. The bigger PCB has all the other digital inputs. As you can see, all the electrical inputs are separated with transformers matching impedance. The main space is occupied by a large DAC chip ESS ES9018S. This is the pride of ESS Technology, 32-bits (of course we are talking about theoretical resolution, it is more about the digital part of the chip; the not so bright sides of the chip are described by the people from MSB Technology in the article What about 32 bit DACs. On the other hand its assets are described in the article Technical Details of the Sabre Audio DAC by Martin Mallinson and Dustin Forman, people from the technical department from ESS) Sabre32 Reference DAC, which is used in many hi-end, uncompromised devices. It is interesting, that this is an 8 channel chip – maybe the channels are connected in parallel, minimizing the distortion and noise. This means that we have four branches – two balanced, with two converters per branch. Next to this chip we have a high class word clock (next to the USB chip were two similar clocks). The whole looks very professional. Similar to the USB receiver the constructors decided to shorten the sound path – there is no separate digital receiver, the one built in the DAC was used. There is also an active upsampler.

I will just add, that the mentioned transformer has only one, symmetrical secondary winding. Just behind it we can see powerful rectifying diodes, bigger than in lots of integrated amplifiers. Most probably the power supply is designed to handle high impulse currents.
I will just add, that the manual was well written. Professionalism to every extent – no bullshit, only the good things, but in depth and with no understatements.

Technical data (according to manufacturer):

THD (20Hz-20kHz, weighted “A”): <0.006%
Frequency response (<+/- 0.075dB): 20Hz-20kHz
SNR: >115dB
Crosstalk: >9 dB
Noise (weighted “A”): <7μF
Noise: <10μF
Output voltage XLR: 5.2V (14.2dB)
Output voltage RCA: 2.6V (8.2dB)
Output impedance: 100Ω
Pairing of channels: >+/- 0.5dB

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  • Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC (tested HERE)
  • Cartridges: Air Tight Supreme, tested HERE, Miyajima Laboratory Waza, tested HERE.
  • Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III with Re-generator Power Supply; version II tested HERE)
  • Power amplifier: Tenor Audio 175S, tested HERE and Soulution 710
  • Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom version (reviewed HERE)
  • Loudspeakers: Harpia Acoustics Dobermann (tested HERE)
  • Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro, 600&#160;&#8486; version (reviewed HERE, HERE, and HERE)
  • Interconnect: CD-preamp: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300, article HERE), preamp-power amp: Wireworld Platinum Eclipse
  • Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, tested HERE
  • Power cables AC (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
  • Power conditioning: Gigawatt PF-2 Filtering Power Strip (reviewed HERE)
  • Audio stand Base &#8211; under all components
  • Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD (article HERE)
  • Pro Audio Bono platform under CD