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  • 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

     



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    7 hours ago, PeterSt said:

     

    Alex, thank you for pointing this out. I seemed recognize the board but couldn't place it.

    And without beating around the bush, I think your implied merit has, well, merit. And @Danny Kaey, I am sorry, but the review already was too strange to really be one (I read it ahead of responses). 

     

     

     

    My review is already too strange to really be one.

     

    🙄

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    6 hours ago, mansr said:

    What is that supposed to mean?

    I mean that ADCs typically aren't used to convert at 384 kHz. 96, yes, this is ubiquitous, 48 kHz, too, but in recording scenarios it is not a professional standard to record at 384 and therefore anything you see on the music market which claims to be a 384 kHz sampling rate recording is likely a mathematically contrived version of the originally recorded material.  This is a heated discussion in the audio recording arena.

     

    There might be some scientific applications for recording at 384 like recording bats, but in order for this to be justified, all the gear in the chain needs to have extremely low noise even at ultrasound frequencies in order for the intermodulation effects not to add even more noise to the audible spectrum that we humans can indeed hear. Maybe some rare labs have this capability but for the world of audio this type of extension of sampling rates simply does not add value and can even be (due to interpolation distortions) detrimental to the result. 

     

    If you ever compare a high jitter recording at high sampling rate vs. a low jitter recording at a low sampling rate, you will always prefer the low jitter recording. In terms of hierarchy of importance with direct relation to sonic quality, low jitter is much, much more important than the difference between, say, 48 kHz and 96 kHz. Today there are even ADCs (AK5397 for example) which can do 786 kHz but it remains disputed as to its usefulness in real-world (human ear) audio applications. 

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    5 minutes ago, Louis Motek - LessLoss said:

    I mean that ADCs typically aren't used to convert at 384 kHz. 96, yes, this is ubiquitous, 48 kHz, too, but in recording scenarios it is not a professional standard to record at 384 and therefore anything you see on the music market which claims to be a 384 kHz sampling rate recording is likely a mathematically contrived version of the originally recorded material.  This is a heated discussion in the audio recording arena.

     

    There might be some scientific applications for recording at 384 like recording bats, but in order for this to be justified, all the gear in the chain needs to have extremely low noise even at ultrasound frequencies in order for the intermodulation effects not to add even more noise to the audible spectrum that we humans can indeed hear. Maybe some rare labs have this capability but for the world of audio this type of extension of sampling rates simply does not add value and can even be (due to interpolation distortions) detrimental to the result. 

     

    If you ever compare a high jitter recording at high sampling rate vs. a low jitter recording at a low sampling rate, you will always prefer the low jitter recording. In terms of hierarchy of importance with direct relation to sonic quality, low jitter is much, much more important than the difference between, say, 48 kHz and 96 kHz. Today there are even ADCs (AK5397 for example) which can do 786 kHz but it remains disputed as to its usefulness in real-world (human ear) audio applications. 

    Sure, recording music at such rates is of dubious benefit. Nevertheless, such recordings are not hard to find. For the purpose of this discussion, I'm regarding 352.8 kHz and 384 kHz as equivalent, the former for some reason being far more common.

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    23 minutes ago, mansr said:

    Sure, recording music at such rates is of dubious benefit. Nevertheless, such recordings are not hard to find. For the purpose of this discussion, I'm regarding 352.8 kHz and 384 kHz as equivalent, the former for some reason being far more common.

     

    most definitely not the music I listen to.

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    15 hours ago, Ralf11 said:

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

     

    Or maybe with RBCD vs an EC designs MOS16.  Also a “R2R” DAC (using  ECD’s own board) , also AFAIK handmade in Europe (Netherlands), but in this case for €363. Useless as a piece of furniture though.

     

     

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    So the enclosure is acting as a dielectric and not a shield.  It won't reflect/absorb RF energy, but dissipate/slow it down.  

     

    I prefer to keep cotton away from wires in my builds.  Cotton absorbs airborne moisture, adding to the possibility of corroding of conductors.  Unless either the case or cable assembly is hermetically sealed.  Also it gets compressed during the harness assembly, thereby losing all of it's real benefit as a mostly air dielectric.

     

    Interesting design, good luck with it.

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    12 hours ago, Axial said:

     

    The DAC reviewed here is made in Europe. 

     

    but maybe made in Romania or Bulgaria, no matter where the designer lives...

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    Louis - thanks for responding in this thread.  Ultimately, I'd like to see a DAC-off listening test -- you can take on Peter... or one of the others mentioned above.

     

    I am also curious if you tried using Lignostone?

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    15 hours ago, Louis Motek - LessLoss said:

    Meanwhile, we and like-minded audiophiles are still discovering deeper and deeper depths in good 'ol 44.1. The whole question of sonic discovery in digital always was and always will remain the further and further reduction of jitter. It is just that simple.

     

     

    Yes. Except, I don't like the word "jitter", because it parcels up all the degrading influences into one convenient grab-all - turn the anomalies or noise interference into 'jitter equivalents' if you like, but it may distract one from addressing "non-jitter" areas.

     

    It was very obvious, to me, 35 years ago, that CD was indeed "perfect" - but playback chains were, and still to a large degree are, weak as sh!t, and only highly focused efforts could, can overcome the numerous flaws in the path; sloppiness and lack of attention to detail will undermine precisely what one is trying to achieve.

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    Archimago brought an essential point; in any subjective audio review of an audio product, particularly when for the majority of us it takes few years of savings, any sensitive audiophile would love to see measurement graphs in real life's performance...on the test bench in addition to a set of ears. It is the least we can ask for as well aware audiophiles. 

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    3 minutes ago, Axial said:

    Archimago brought an essential point; in any subjective audio review of an audio product, particularly when for the majority of us it takes few years of savings, any sensitive audiophile would love to see measurement graphs in real life's performance...on the test bench in addition to a set of ears. It is the least we can ask for as well aware audiophiles. 

     

    Certainly something you can ask for; that said, I’m not an audiophile and I’m certainly not an aware audiophile. The last few feet of HiFi (from the cone of your speaker to your ears) is all subjective anyway so even if a set of measurements where provided, who’s to say that you or I won’t hear otherwise. Psychologically speaking, the power of suggestion is immensely powerful a force. 

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    9 minutes ago, Axial said:

    Archimago brought an essential point; in any subjective audio review of an audio product, particularly when for the majority of us it takes few years of savings, any sensitive audiophile would love to see measurement graphs in real life's performance...on the test bench in addition to a set of ears. It is the least we can ask for as well aware audiophiles. 

     

    Right. When I bought my first mechanical watch that I saved up for, I asked the salesman for a 24h +/- second measurement cycle. Ummmmm. No, I didn’t. 

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    2 hours ago, Archimago said:

    Fascinating discussion boys...

     

    Just wanted to say that TWENTY THOUSAND AMERICAN DOLLARS after income tax, before sales tax, before shipping costs is still a big number for a DAC. Even to the "liquid" multi-millionaires I know. It does look nice though.

     

    Man, where have you been bro? 20k is chump change in high-end land these days. I’m not even joking. 

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    6 hours ago, Danny Kaey said:

     

    most definitely not the music I listen to.

     

    Just as an aside, there are some wonderful pieces available.  For example, this album, available in DSD64 and DSD128 (the resolution I have it in) features one of the most beautiful versions of Beethoven's Heiliger Dankgesang I've heard: https://crierrecords.nativedsd.com/albums/dreams-and-prayers

     

    (Yes I do realize much of the editing is done in "DXD," 352.8kHz resolution.)

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    1 minute ago, Jud said:

     

    Just as an aside, there are some wonderful pieces available.  For example, this album, available in DSD64 and DSD128 (the resolution I have it in) features one of the most beautiful versions of Beethoven's Heiliger Dankgesang I've heard: https://crierrecords.nativedsd.com/albums/dreams-and-prayers

     

    (Yes I do realize much of the editing is done in "DXD," 352.8kHz resolution.)

     

    I do love classical music, which is likely a candidate for such resolution. That said, I could care less of the kilohertz and megahertz wars. To me, this is the equivalent of arguing over megapixels on a camera sensor. There are so many more relevant factors impacting music reproduction that this is generally speaking utterly meaningless noise. 

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    3 hours ago, Ralf11 said:

    you don't seem to understand my post - I listed 2 very low cost labor countries in Europe

     

    Apparently, I didn’t - that said, generally speaking, most all of Eastern Europe is low cost. Though with that come a plentitude of other factors such as skill levels, work ethics, language barriers, cultural implications, regulations, etc. that have a potentially massive impact on manufacturing. 

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