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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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    1 minute ago, Danny Kaey said:

     

    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. 

     

    If you have a particular work by a particular artist available in multiple resolutions, it may be that this is meaningless, yes.  Or the best version may be available only in some form of hi res, such as DSD (my preferred versions of Tommy and Gaucho are in DSD resolution).  Or, granted, it may be the CD version, but I don't know of many DACs that won't work with RedBook.  Or that particular work by that particular artist may not exist in a RedBook version, as with the recording I linked in my last comment.

     

    So absolutely agreed that on a general level, people may pay too much attention to "resolution wars."  On the other hand, I don't like the idea of being barred from recordings I might enjoy because of my equipment.

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    20 minutes ago, Danny Kaey said:

     

    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. 

     

    Yes I understand. It's just that we like to have more food in our plates, so we can taste and eat more after a hard day's work @ the office pushing pencils. ☺️

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    22 minutes ago, Danny Kaey said:

     

    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. 

     

    It's not the same; it's a time piece movement. 

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    3 minutes ago, Axial said:

     

    Yes I understand. It's just that we like to have more food in our plates, so we can taste and eat more after a hard day's work @ the office pushing pencils. ☺️

     

    Haha, true!

     

     

     

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    2 minutes ago, Axial said:

     

    It's not the same; it's a time piece movement. 

     

    It is - same implication... 

     

     

     

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    25 minutes ago, Danny Kaey said:

    ... Psychologically speaking, the power of suggestion is immensely powerful a force. 

      

    Danny, you are doing a credible job @ it. I have no reproach on your task force. 

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    25 minutes ago, Danny Kaey said:

     

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

     

    True, it's small peanuts for most of us. It's just that we also like to think about the ones below us; the regular audiophile clientele. 

     

    Anyway, money is irrelevant today in most rich societies. 

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    13 minutes ago, Jud said:

     

    If you have a particular work by a particular artist available in multiple resolutions, it may be that this is meaningless, yes.  Or the best version may be available only in some form of hi res, such as DSD (my preferred versions of Tommy and Gaucho are in DSD resolution).  Or, granted, it may be the CD version, but I don't know of many DACs that won't work with RedBook.  Or that particular work by that particular artist may not exist in a RedBook version, as with the recording I linked in my last comment.

     

    So absolutely agreed that on a general level, people may pay too much attention to "resolution wars."  On the other hand, I don't like the idea of being barred from recordings I might enjoy because of my equipment.

     

    Valid point - hence why most DACs today do DSD/PCM, (MQA), etc. personally, and in this day and age, I’d much prefer a Roon endpoint DAC with built in Ethernet streaming - put differently, if I had the choice of 2 DACs, one with all formats and the second with limited formats but Ethernet streaming, I’d take the second option. I’m sure @Louis Motek - LessLoss Is perhaps even working on just such a solution. 

     

     

     

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    I would be interested to know how this DAC compares to something such as the Aqua Acoustic La Scala MKII Optologic DAC which retails for 8k.

     

    Edit, I see we are apparently done talking about the DAC.  My bad... 😉

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    32 minutes ago, Danny Kaey said:

     

    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. 

     

    Yes, the "format wars" are a nonsense - what 44.1 through barely 16 bit capable DACs can deliver is convincing SQ of the highest level, and this can been the case for decades - those "other things" are the killers of subjective quality, and unless addressed are massive handbrakes, holding back the potential of what a particular setup is capable of.

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    17 hours ago, Louis Motek - LessLoss said:

     

    The S/PDIF standard only goes up to 192 kHz sampling rate, and that is the limit we published on our website. The USB input, however, does play 384 kHz sampling rate files, not that any truly exist. 

    This type of talk about sampling rates has absolutely no correlation with sound quality. One can easily devise ways to create lower sampling rate files which sound obviously superior to their higher sampling rate counterpart. All you need to do is tweak the upsampling/downsampling algorithms in order to do this, and the market is chock full of available algorithms. Each has its own sound.  The unsuspecting listener often never knows, nor even takes the time to try to inquire, what the originally recorded sampling rate was in the first place. The general mentality and experience in this regard is so narrow and fragile that it is an embarrassment to the entire art of audiophile culture that this topic ever exploded the way it has. Remember the scandalous sampling rate hacks on HDTracks? The publishers would upsample to a higher rate and charge more for the downloads just because somebody passed the file through an upsampling algorithm, something that most any DAC today does in real time anyway, including Soekris. 

    These days, most people listen to conversion being carried out at 384 kHz without their even knowing it. They play what they think are different sampling rate files (not knowing the original recording's sampling rate in the first place, nor having any way of finding out), then listen as their DAC upsamples in real time to 384 kHz, without even knowing it. 

     

    Those who are quickly excited about sampling rates very quickly get turned off by the math and engineering behind it. It is ironic. 

     

    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.

     

    The whole numbers race in digital audio can be traced back to the analogous numbers race in the competitive field of computer processing. The big difference is that the concept of audio quality is strictly a real-time process, whereas computer processing is always a break-neck speed of churning out of crunched numbers with error correction algorithms with no recourse to perfect timing in real time. Like, why do I have to wait for my cursor on my screen to show me the word I typed half a second ago? I think you get the picture. Latency and multi-tasked resource allocation vs. the smooth flow of real time. The prior easily marketable with faster and faster speeds. The latter boring as hell from a marketing perspective. 

     

    This is why the higher sampling rate numbers are so much more attractive to those in the selling business.   

     

     

     

     

    It was just a question regarding my own curiosity about whether or not we were actually talking about the same DAC board is all.

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    34 minutes ago, Danny Kaey said:

     

     

     

     

    Good tune for comparing DACs ... not necessarily this specific version ...

     

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    1 hour ago, Danny Kaey said:

     

    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. 

    $20,000 is enough to be powerfully suggestive.

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    Price, and looks, bear almost no relationship to the capability of audio, in the now - a favourite memory is hearing the most expensive, triple box dCS rig a decade and a half ago checking every box for why people hate digital sound - scrawny, scratchy, unpleasantness to the n'th degree - having heard the same following rig, just prior, achieve superb quality from a high end TT source rubbed salt into the wounds even deeper

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    6 hours ago, soekris said:

    It's correct that a normal non sign magnitude DAC need very precise resistors as the MSB bit toggle all the time when the signal crosses zero, so THD is always relative to full level, while in a sign magnitude DAC ony the bits used by the signal changes, so THD is relative to the actual signal level. The PCM1704 was sign magnitude and so is the soekris line of DACs and DAC modules.

     

    OK, so the debate about what's required for precision is still going on, eh ? :P

    To be clear, I was never involved in the initial DIYAudio thread - I only followed it.

    Today's point is: you seem to suggest that I relate my "math" to MSB toggling. No idea where you got that from, unless you saw "MSB" in my Excel line. ... For monotonicity the MSB('s) need to be more precise than the LSB('s). That's all. People discussed it back then and maybe I am not attempting that today (why would I - and I am also not saying it is necessary), but all I talked about was that with the least possible words (mentioning IMD which refers to linearity which comes down to monotonicity, etc. and now try that with 24 bits) ...

     

    6 hours ago, soekris said:

    please do a little research before posting those claims....

     

    that is, if you talked about that. Maybe I misunderstood.

    I could also refer you to some larger thread about the glitching of some R2R DAC, but a few people won't like me for doing that. So I won't. Haha. But anyway, you must be talking about that (glitching). I was not ...

     

    Maybe you referred to me implying (!) that the PCM1704 can measure better than your board showed at various places. So yes I sure implied that. But you know, I was trying to stay far away of being "competition" and just brought it in neutral fashion. That could have stayed like that until a. people start to bring forward claims which can not be justified and b. someone explicitly tells me to better stay out because being competition. The two don't go along well.

     

    The main problem seems to be that we talk about the very same thing with the very same objectives. Spreadsheet time again:

    image.png.52932ceb9601459251f26466f9f1309c.png   

     

    ... just to show that I am serious, including low resistance of the ladder (I put your 625R in there and it will be linear to the 24th bit but mind the required accuracy = "Tolerance").

     

    I am not trying to be competition at all and merely appreciate what some people are capable of; When I finished my R2R discrete project and had all the 2700 parts in the house for a 2 channel trial, I just gave up because I knew it couldn't be better than the 1704 based proven design. It's up to you or anyone what to think of this, but one thing is relatively important: I don't have to make up any kind of justification for using a discrete ladder because the best chip ever made for the job went EOL. This is how you see me talking in the other direction: "the 1704 is better because ...".

    (and the inside information is that I bought all the 1704's at some stage)

     

    So you see, we talk about the same. My discrete design included all what was Sign Magnitude and more. Much more. But also too much because of that. Unmanageable (IMO). And obviously when I would not have had the idea that the discrete ladder would be for the better, I would not have started the whole project (kept me from the streets for 2 years).

    I just don't see how the currently running design can be improved upon. And the stupid thing is: all I made up for the discrete design for improvement, can also be applied to (added to) the silicon design. I will always lose from myself. (THD+N is just too good)

     

    Figures are not everything although for me it is a base. I always envisioned the sound of discrete as "analogue". And maybe I am jealous that some got there. You sure did.

    Thanks.

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    2 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    You're the guy who judges sound quality based on YouTube videos right? 

     

    I'm the guy who listens for giveaways in the YouTube video that there's something wrong with the sound - get together a dozen YouTube clips, half of live music making; and half of recordings of audio rig playback - and have someone not interested in audio separate them into the two groups, from listening to the sound only.

     

    If the clip makes it very difficult to identify that it is in fact capture of a system playback, then more things are right than wrong.

     

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    The interesting thing is that many audiophiles need a rig to sound like a rig; they don't like it when the playback doesn't impart strong personality to what they hear ... the makeup is more important than the skin underneath ... :)

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    11 hours ago, Ralf11 said:

     

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

    The Echo's End DAC is made by LessLoss right here in Lithuania. We have here a VAT tax rate of 21% and income tax rate of 15-35%, not to mention mandatory state social security tax. Whoever said that the retail price does not include international shipping is incorrect. Our prices include international shipping via 2-3 day courier with full tracking on every item we sell, including all versions of the Echo's End DAC. 

    Kaiser acoustics currently use the twin enclosure Echo's End Reference Supreme edition, having compared it to other cost-no-object DACs costing $100k. Ours is about one third that price. 

     

    How do we do it? By being very careful to spend exactly on those features and implementations which bring direct sonic advantage. This is done by a lot of experience and countless direct listening evaluations. 

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