Louis Motek, aka, Mr. LessLoss, aka, the German speaking Lithuanian daredevil of HiFi was at it again. Nodding to the classic salesman line, “Do you feel you’re missing something? Do you feel there’s more? Do you ever wonder what could be? If you answered yes, then I’ve got something for you…” Yet again, I fell prey to his works of wonder. Already smitten with LessLoss – as many of you know, I own several of his C-MARC power cords, a C-MARC S/PDIF digital cable and the stupendously fabulous C-MARC custom phono cable – I frankly couldn’t resist the temptation. Yet another new toy to explore and play with? Why not. Louis’ surprise email exchange finally brought to life his ask: if I was interested in reviewing his latest digital offering, the Panzerholz enclosed and thusly bulletproof LessLoss Echo’s End Reference DAC.
A remarkably clean, no-nonsense sort of Panzerholz enclosed box arrived shortly thereafter in a sturdy flight case. Did I mention Echo’s End Reference is enclosed in Panzerholz? In case I missed it, I’d like to remind you that Echo’s End Reference is built around a super solid and bulletproof case of Panzerholz. Louis has a fascination with Panzerholz. Inert, damped and built to last several lifetimes, not to mention resist several bullet blasts, he first doodled around this wonder material whilst becoming friendly with the fine folks at Kaiser Acoustics. Exclusively built around Panzerholz enclosures, Kaiser Acoustics has developed a formidable, nay, legendary reputation for producing some of the very best loudspeakers in the market today. Add Louis’ minimalist vision to the mix and you are presented with a sleek, firm and nondescript box containing a pair of left/right R2R ladder DACs and LessLoss custom, proprietary add-ons, power filtration devices, C-MARC point to point wiring and many other very high-end custom bits and bobs. Never one to shy away from showing off his skilled, bespoke craftsmanship, the enclosed pictures tell the visual story. Delightfully executed, built by hand, one DAC at a time, this has to be among the finest built bespoke digital converters out there. Beauty, in this case, is indeed skin deep. Given all this artisanal craftsmanship, I, for one, do not feel as though this DAC asking too high a cost factor. Frankly, there are multitudes of multi-box solutions out there that cost similar, yet at least on Saville row, offer far less elegance.
And yet, all together, this has to be the most non-remarkable looking DAC I’ve ever laid eyes on. Friends visiting chez K these past few months didn’t even notice it. So subtle are the design cues that with the DAC placed on my Tabula-Rasa solid wood rack (sadly, not made out of Panzerholz…), it almost looked like a jewel box, or a cigar box, or even an heirloom – not a DAC selling for a click less than $20k. The newly arrived Playback Designs MPS-8, even my trusted AURALiC Vega G2, at least appear to look like digital audio converters in today’s design language terms. While the Vega G2 boasts a unibody CNC machined from aluminum block case, the Playback Designs MPS-8, a gorgeously sculpted – perhaps the finest looking design theme in HiFi today – also CNC cut from solid aluminum block, chassis, both have a defined appearance of representing some sort of HiFi component, especially so the MPS-8, which also boasts a CD tray. Echo’s End? Clearly not designed to compete on visual terms with either of these DACs.
Further separating Echo’s End from the competition is the fact that this LessLoss machine is a DAC, and a DAC only. Reminiscent of my EINSTEIN The Last Record Player, CD player, also just that and nothing else, the LessLoss provides four inputs of the digital variety: USB, AES, S/PDIF and BNC. That’s it. The output end is equally sparse, with left/right balanced and single-ended outputs. A standard IEC power receptacle completes the I/O for Echo’s End. No other buttons, switches, lights, are visible on the Panzerholz case. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Tote Hose. No wonder people don’t recognize it for what it is; they recognize it for all the things it isn’t. Ain’t that funny. Then again, I dare say a typical sort of LessLoss-y type product. Kein Firlefanz.
The ladder DAC inside supports hi-res PCM and up to double-rate DSD; all switching between inputs is done automatically; i.e. the unit automatically recognizes which input to switch to and voila, off to the races you are. Having long ago switched my digital playback library to Roon power by Roon Nucleus via my 32TB QNAP 8-bay NAS, I really have no need for a dedicated (or otherwise) MacBook to act as a classic source component. Both the AURALiC and Playback Designs accept ethernet inputs and thusly act as Roon endpoints, which removes a whole bunch of futzing with this that and the other. That said, to test the USB input of Echo’s End, I simply ran my USB leashed MacBook Pro acting as Roon endpoint. While I had to manually configure the newly visible generic DAC, for optimal performance, neither Roon, nor the MacBook nor Echo’s End showed any signs of trouble whilst sorting through thousands of standard and hi-res PCM and DSD files. MQA’d Tidal files? No problem, given the first Origami unfold was handled by Roon / MacBook Pro anyway. Newly acquired and hi-res Qobuz files – needing no conversion anyway – played equally fine and without any hitch.
Rigged up to playback system one, itself consisting of EINSTEIN The Preamp and The Silver Bullet Mark II OTL amplifiers, driving Wilson’s Alexx, and EINSTEIN’s own The Loudspeaker (*superb indeed), musical bliss was virtually guaranteed from the first note. On first listen and without a doubt, Echo’s End Reference follows the clear sound path set forth by everything I have auditioned from LessLoss going back to the mid 2k’s and their first DAC product: organic, authentic, resolved, dynamic. No matter the cut’s to be transcoded, the sonic signature was virtually the same. Echo’s End seems to echo the enclosure – Panzerholz – quite to a T, or perhaps more likely, a P. Trentemøller’s Evil Dub, off his 2006 release, The Last Resort, is anything but a simple, ProTools produced track. Here, the artist is weaving in and out of thematic, propulsive, nay, explosive bass lines, intertwined with playful phase effects that ought to give any system a proper workout. Whereas some digital systems favor a more spotlit presentation, cueing the listener into each of the themes, Echo’s End presents you with more of a stage view, which is to say you are listening to the entire production rather than drawing your focus to and from each note and phase effect.
This same sonic signature can easily be heard on symphonic orchestras, quaint quartets and trios, jazz cuts or really any other genre. On a Star is born, the soundtrack to the film, Lady Gaga performs several cuts well above her normal repertoire. Not a big fan – in fact, no fan at all – of her overproduced dance pop productions, here, she transforms herself to a genuine artists and female vocalist of the highest order. Of course, having a virtually unlimited production budget, given the blockbuster status of the motion picture, tends to produce quality work even if that work ends up being dramatically commercialized mass marketed bubblegum pop music. Half-way through the album, track number some such or another titled “Is that alright”, shows Lady Gaga accompanied by only a solo piano. While the track is drenched in schlacky reverb from beginning to end, the production quality, as juxtaposed as it may seem, is rather masterful. It’s really a shame that most of the folks who listen to this soundtrack will likely never hear it in all its faux glory, because in the end, it actually really sounds damn fine. Through Echo’s End, this presentation is far more than lifelike: the producer’s intent never was to have Lady Gaga performing in your room – quite the opposite, it was to have you, the listener, brought to Lady Gaga’s. Cinemascope-y in sound, scale and sense, Lady Gaga becomes larger than life, enveloping you into the mix start to finish. That organic, natural and neutral sonic signature of Echo’s End plays fantastically well with this type of a recording. Where the Playback Design’s MPS-8 is far closer to that presentation, AURALiC’s Vega G2 moves the curve the other way, highlighting the leading transients and giving the entire image a more edgy feel.
Next, I wanted to take to EINSTEIN’s The Last Record Player, my trusted CD source. Here, a simple leash via LessLoss’ C-MARC S/PDIF cable, proved that system synergy really is a thing. The EINSTEIN does one thing and one thing only rather well: it plays my CDs, in sync with the rest of EINSTEIN’s house sound. Wide open, dynamic, punchy and with just the right amount of sweetness, this player’s hallmark is how it transforms simpleton CD sound to almost hi-res like status and quality. The only other deck that did / does the same, though taken to even more realism, is Andreas Koch’s Playback Designs MPS-5 of yesteryear, and the all new MPS-8 of today. Dog, man and leash in hand, Echo’s End proved once again that no matter the input and source, this DAC’s sonic signature stayed the same. A habit of late has been to acquire the CD version (and LP) of any new music I purchase; thus enabling me to have at least a 16/44 hard copy on hand. Similar to my findings with the MPS-8, I have come to realize that no matter the quality of the stream via Tidal or Qobuz, the actual, physical medium – in this case, 16/44 redbook CDs – always sound better than either stream source. Simply put, both the EINSTEIN and Playback Designs disc players perform at far higher quality levels when spinning discs. Streaming from my QNAP’ed NAS via Roon’s Nucleus is a close second; then followed by Roon’d Tidal/Qobuz. I have done this comparison time and again, with results that are very similar. Only when I play hi-res MQA or Qobuz PCM files, does the delta begin to shrink and in many cases exceed the CD quality heard through either disc player. Echo’s End further helped clarify this with its organic character highlighting just how good, nay, great, good old compact disc can sound.
In the end, what does it all mean? Frankly, to me at least, this LessLoss DAC is a bit of an enigma in today’s market place. First, it’s expensive, at $19,628 USD. While the build quality, internal makeup and parts quality are undoubtedly first rate, it begs the question of just who this DAC is for. Show-off’s and luxury, diamond studded watch aficionados need not apply. Here, the bling factor is practically nil. No fancy case work to show off, no lights to dim or displays to distract. Echo’s End is a beautifully made, wooden box, sitting atop your rack. It transcodes digital to analog, that’s it. It does so in a manner exclusive to the philosophy of LessLoss. As their name implies, less loss by definition implies more musical information, detail retrieval and texture. Editorializing isn’t part for the course. What you hear is what you get. Once you bite off the LessLoss tree, you may not look anywhere else – my personal ownership of their C-MARC based cables proves the piped point. Reference quality in every regard.
Yet, in today’s market, and even with all these accolades, that’s a tough sale, not that LessLoss is seeking to raise funds from Angel investors. How many they sold, I don’t know, but I bet its to genuine, bona-fide audio and music connoisseurs to whom bling is a dirty word and likely not even in their vocabulary. Old school audiophile comes to mind. I’m willing to wager that if Jonathan Weiss of Oswald Mills Audio where to ever venture down the path of digital, Echo’s End or something similar is very likely what he would conceive. It fits the bill. It’s all about the music, nothing more, nothing less. Here, Echo’s End shines and then some. Given that my music is generally of the 33-1/3 or 45 variety, my digital fix is served well with Roon. On the occasion that I spin a CD, there’s the EINSTEIN and Playback Designs that will do the trick. Have computer, will end all echoes. That’s it: Echo’s End is a DAC for a minimalist musicphile seeking to enhance his digital bits – nothing wrong with that.
Product: Echo’s End Reference ($19,628 including a custom built flight case)
Wilson Audio Alexx
EINSTEIN The Loudspeaker
EINSTEN The Preamp
EINSTEIN The Last Record Player, CD source
EINSTEIN The Silver Bullet Mk II, OTL mono block amplifiers
McIntosh MC611, mono block amplifiers
Kubala-Sosna Elation!, speaker cables, interconnect and power cables
LessLoss C-MARC, power cables and S/PDIF
15” MacBook Pro 2018, source
Roon system consisting of Roon Nucleus and Roon software
HRS M3X equipment base
Tabula-Rasa, solid wood equipment rack
QNAP 32TB 8-bay NAS
eero in home mesh network / WiFi