Jump to content
  • Danny Kaey
    Danny Kaey

    LessLoss Echo’s End Reference DAC Full Review

    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.

     

    LessLoss-EchosEnd-_FON3891-1000px.jpgA 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. 

     

     

    LessLoss-EchosEnd-_FON3756-8bit-1000px.jpg

     

     

    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.

     

    LessLoss-EchosEnd-_FON3751-8bit-1000px.jpgRigged 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.

     

     

    LessLoss-EE-3261-1000px.jpg

     

    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.

     

     

     

    LessLoss-EchosEnd-_FON3718-8bit-1000px.jpgLessLoss-EchosEnd-_FON3744-8bit-1000px.jpgLessLoss-EchosEnd-_FON3751-8bit-1000px.jpgLessLoss-EchosEnd-_FON3752-8bit-1000px.jpgLessLoss-EchosEnd-_FON3756-8bit-1000px.jpgLessLoss-EchosEnd-_FON3775-8bit-1000px.jpgLessLoss-EchosEnd-_FON3795-8bit-1000px.jpgLessLoss-EchosEnd-_FON3891-1000px.jpgLessLoss-EE-3253-1000px.jpgLessLoss-EE-3261-1000px.jpgLessLoss-EE-3265-1000px.jpgLessLoss-EE-3268-1000px.jpgLessLoss-EE-3269-1000px.jpgLessLoss-EE-3271-1000px.jpgLessLoss-EE-3277-1000px.jpg

     

     

     

    Additional Information:

     

    Manufacturer: LessLoss

    Product: Echo’s End Reference ($19,628 including a custom built flight case)

     

     

    Associated Equipment:

    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

     



    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments



    I echo SuperDad's sentiment. I infect think the engineering and prototyping etc... is worth a lot. My Brother has in fact brought an item to market and I have seen first hand the steps he went through to get there. I would love to hear one of these for myself, but perhaps the 5K model and not the 19K model.

     

     

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    2 hours ago, Ralf11 said:

    sounds like a post on Porsche...

     

     

     

    hey, I know damn well where my 20K+ went on engine work... 😉

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    1 hour ago, Danny Kaey said:

     

    That’s a great question and I don’t know the answer to it, nor do I frankly care. The DAC is fabulous and LL Implantation of the final product is terrific.

     

    Can you verify that it is indeed limited to 24/192 in actual implementation? Did I miss that in your review?

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    53 minutes ago, Danny Kaey said:

     

    Well let’s see. Go find a supplier of genuine Panzerholz, have them give you a quote for a case the size of this DAC. Once you have that number, add another zero to it, because by the time you actually have the chassis you want, you’ll probably go through 20 revisions. Then, once you took out a second mortgage on your home, carefully source all the other parts, because this isn’t a review of the Soekris DAC modules. Once you have all those parts, the pretty box and DAC modules, find an engineer who will put it all together for you. Finally, when you’re done, shoot me an email and send one for review and let’s see what you put together.

     

    Is that fair enough?

     

    PS: of course, you don’t have to go for the Reference edition either; I bet the Original Echo’s End for $5342 sounds great too... 

     

    😎

    There is maybe $2-300 of Panzerholz in that case.  That wouldn't include the machining of it.  But a CNC will do that just fine.  And I could make prototypes of another material until satisfied with the shape.   Might need to mortgage the dog house.  Couldn't get a second mortgage on my house or the dog house as I don't have a first one.   Don't need an engineer to assemble it either.  

     

    So I don't see $20k in the gear.  As already said, if it sounds good and you are happy fine.  But considering the very heart of this multi-bit DAC is a relatively affordable Soekris I'm straining to see where the extra money came in.  I realize small runs are more expensive and don't expect anyone to sell their product for parts cost.  I believe Soekris makes two versions, one having tighter resistor tolerance.  Just as a guess maybe the non-reference version uses that.  You also can't tell from the website, but is the Original in the same case made of the same material?  

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    I certainly hear what people are saying about parts cost and final product cost but we’ve been down this path before many times. 

     

    There are so many things that go into the price of a product that people conveniently leave out. These aren’t made by 10 year olds in a third world country. LessLoss builds these in a location that likely has some monthly fees to keep the roof over its head. It likely has a bunch of stock that it can’t sell in the event that there are failures down the road. The company likely participates in expensive trade shows. I could go on, but the cost of doing business is more than the sum of the products parts. 

     

     

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    23 minutes ago, AudioDoctor said:

     

    hey, I know damn well where my 20K+ went on engine work... 😉

     

    sorry! I meant to say Ferrari

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    6 minutes ago, esldude said:

    I already said I didn't expect people to sale products for cost of parts.  For all the reasons you list. Yet there is some link to parts cost and final product cost.  All of those things are true of Soekris as well.  Yet I can purchase a finished product with the same board in it for a small fraction of the cost.  They've got a more expensive box, and some other parts, but it still kind of takes my breath away to see inside and think $20k?????  That is okay, but it sure would be nice if someone did a comparative review of the Soekris as offered and this expensive version.  

    I certainly hear you. 

     

    I like comparisons as well but I’m not sure the Soekris is the only selling point of this DAC. 

     

    $20k ain’t cheap that’s for sure, but I’ve yet to see a product like this anywhere else. 

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    15 minutes ago, Ralf11 said:

    the cost of the parts was subtracted out in the post up above

     

    the huge amount left over must represent R&D + pure profit

     

    I expect per unit profits to be much higher on a product that sells to a small market

     

    but...  how much is going to "excess profits"??

     

    a comparison test with a $10k DAC or a $5k DAC is what's needed

    $5k and $10k? Why not $5.00 and $10.00. I’m sure you can find one on Aliexpress made in a sweatshop. 

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    5 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    I certainly hear you. 

     

    I like comparisons as well but I’m not sure the Soekris is the only selling point of this DAC. 

     

    $20k ain’t cheap that’s for sure, but I’ve yet to see a product like this anywhere else. 

    Other than the unusual case material, and the price what is so unlike any other product?  

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    11 minutes ago, esldude said:

    Other than the unusual case material, and the price what is so unlike any other product?  

     

    C’mon, you can say the same about every product ever made and reviewed, here or elsewhere... 

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    7 minutes ago, Hugo9000 said:

     

    (My bold of the above posts)

    Some here have questioned a $20k product, and this is the response?  So is it your intent to imply that something more affordable than $20k might have been made by children in third world countries?  Isn't that a bit over the top?

    It’s way over the top. Just an illustration and a bit absurd. 

     

    However, I used this to make a point. Labor costs a hugely variable. Working conditions are hugely variable. 

     

    Also, I though the $10k and $5k numbers were quite arbitrary and if this DAC was that expensive, people would be asking for $1k and $500 comparisons.

     

    Bonus, a cheap Aliexpress DAC may measure well 😁

     

     

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    13 minutes ago, esldude said:

    Other than the unusual case material, and the price what is so unlike any other product?  

    Wow, I look at this product as a whole, taking everything into consideration, and can’t think of another one like it. 

     

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    Value and cost are mutually exclusive concepts to me.  Something may cost a fortune to build, market, and sell but that does not equate to value towards consumers. 

     

    On another front, are we about to start the "tone wood" debate, Panzerholz vs Rosewood vs Ebony vs......?

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    17 minutes ago, Danny Kaey said:

     

    C’mon, you can say the same about every product ever made and reviewed, here or elsewhere... 

    Not every product, but yes the huge majority of them.  

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    14 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Wow, I look at this product as a whole, taking everything into consideration, and can’t think of another one like it. 

     

    I'm honestly lost as to what you see that is different.  Can you elaborate? 

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    52 minutes ago, Ralf11 said:

    the cost of the parts was subtracted out in the post up above

     

    the huge amount left over must represent R&D + pure profit

     

    I expect per unit profits to be much higher on a product that sells to a small market

     

    but...  how much is going to "excess profits"??

     

    a comparison test with a $10k DAC or a $5k DAC is what's needed

     

     

    Only two of the parts to be fair. There are more parts inside the DAC, but I don't know the cost of those.

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    23 minutes ago, esldude said:

    I'm honestly lost as to what you see that is different.  Can you elaborate? 

     

    Sure digital goes in and analog comes out. But I believe this DAC is very unique. 

     

    Think of all the things people may value when it comes to a product of any kind. I’m not saying I value all of these, just that this DAC has differences from others with respect to these as a whole. 

     

    Craftsmanship

    Materials

    Component selection

    Hand made 

    Made in Europe

     

     

    Plus, is there another DAC with these? Not saying I value all of them, but I know some are unique to this DAC. 

     

    Echo's End Reference

    Solid Panzerholz enclosure (it does the same thing for sensitive gear that it does for natural sound used for speakers).

    Grounded custom hand made carbon fiber transformer shroud (really lowers the noise floor down to incredible stability at very high frequencies, important for Jitter reduction).

    Cryogenically treated, solid copper, gold plated power inlet (Sound is smooth and dynamic as a result.)

    Most precise resistors available (we only ever use the very best ones with the very best specs available).

    Dual power supplies, dual Soekris boards, reprogrammed by LessLoss for dual mono configuration (this provides amazing stereo separation and a whole lot of nuance in terms of spacial presentation. Everything becomes more 3D and liquid. It is really nice when compared to a single board in normal stereo mode.)

    XLR output derived from four mono channels of resistor ladders (output buffering schematics completely bypassed. This is possible because one board's Right channel converts the signal in phase and the Left channel converts the same digital signal out-of-phase. The phase reversal is done still in the digital realm, so the balanced signal is digitally perfect, without noise from an output buffer. This provides amazing clarity, transparency; a holographic sound and a super low noise floor.)

    LessLoss special custom S/PDIF - I2S conversion schematic (developed and manufactured by LessLoss, it is much better than Soekris onboard solution).

    LessLoss controlled automatic digital input selection (Soekris boards receive only I2S from LessLoss board)

    LessLoss unique 3.3V generation for internal I2S (The USB 5V supply is discarded; and the 3.3V is made with our own power stabilizer and Firewall 64X technology. It is super smooth and stable. Makes you forget you are listening to a computer USB source!)

    All floating bolts point-to-point star grounded (you can see this in the picture as silver looking wires coming from bolt to bolt throughout). This lowers the internal noise reflections and makes it dead silent inside.

    New integrated Firewall 64X technology (6 units implemented here. This is brand new technology, the best we ever made.)

    C-MARC™ internal hook-up wire (All power and analogue signal leads are C-MARC™. This takes a lot of labor to prepare but we feel the results are so organic and natural with great speed but never getting tiring to the ear. Well worth the extra effort.

    DSD (2x) ready over USB.

    Plays up to 192 kHz sampling rate PCM data.

    Hand polished 100% natural beeswax impregnated (Looks very beautiful in real life, even smells really good, too, though never overpowering.)

    Will have a precision engraved brass placard on the front of the unit, with model name engraved by laser on top.

    Ships in a LessLoss branded water-tight flight case

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites



    Create an account or sign in to comment

    You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

    Create an account

    Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

    Register a new account

    Sign in

    Already have an account? Sign in here.

    Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...