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New Aqua Formula DAC (Multibit R2R)


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Just received this vi email:

 

FORMULA-DAC.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Optologic DAC

 

The Formula Dac is the first in the aqua - acoustic quality's production to show a proprietary D/A conversion system, that we name Optologic Dac. This conversion system follows the same multibit technology (already used in the previous world acclaimed dacs such as La Voce and La Scala) but with a discrete R2R resistors ladder instead of Burr Brown PCM1704 dacs.

 

Technology

Galvanic and magnetic isolations are implemented between the FPGA and the four branches of the R2R ladder converter. This creates complete isolation of all digital circuitry - including the clock - from the analogue section for a pure clean ground plane. It also plays the main role in the differential management of the R2R ladders, achieving perfect symmetry between the counter-phase halves. The result is the highest tonal contrast and naturalness never heard before from digital sources.

 

The Formula Dac uses no digital filter or any other compensation, relying instead on maniacal attention to each sub circuit. The analog and digital power supplies are executed purely discrete by extensive use of BJT, Mosfet, Jfet and ultra-fast diodes. Passive parts were selected not just for the best sonic result but also for their top quality, longevity and reliability. With the exception of six superior quality electrolytics, all other caps are Tantalum, solid-polymer OS-CON and double-metalized MJP. The signal path itself is direct-coupled and free of all capacitors. The two output stages (one single-ended, one transformer-coupled balanced) use discrete BJT and JFet with metal-film resistors. All the electronics parts show an ultra low RF noise.

 

 

 

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FORMULA-DAC-003.jpg

 

 

 

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Founder of Audiophile Style

Announcing The Audiophile Style Podcast

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Interesting. I must be a bit behind the times though - magnetic isolation? Any info on that?

 

-Paul

 

I think that refers to transformers.

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical to EtherREGEN -> microRendu -> ISO Regen -> Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 DAC -> Spectral DMC-12 & DMA-150 -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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This DAC was being played at AXPONA back in April and at some other shows since then. Sounded quite nice but it was hard for me to really form any opinion since it was being used with amplification and speakers that I had no previous experience with.

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A friend of mine just borrowed one for a week long home demo and I had the pleasure of listening to it in two sessions about 3 hours each where we compared it with 3 other dacs, although though none in that lofty price point. In session one the host compared his Reference Schiit Yggy, his Meridian pre/dac(not sure of the model) with a recently installed available upgrade and the Formula. A few days later another friend brought over his Chord Hugo along with windows laptop w/SSD running JRiver. Session one used the hosts Meridian Soolos Server & NAS, session two was mostly via laptop/JRiver.

 

The host switched gear without telling us what's what and we listened to volume adjusted same tracks on all of the above. We used 5 tracks for demo:

 

Amber Rubarth - Losing My Religion -Scribbled Folk Symphonies

Anne-Sophie Mutter(James Levine/Weiner Philharmoniker) - Carmen Fantasie (Introduction) - Carmen

Van Morrison - Bring It On Home To Me - It's Too Late To Stop Now

Steely Dan - Babylon Sisters - Gaucho

Eiji Oue/Minnesota Orchestra - Dance of the Tumblers from The Snow Maiden - Exotic Dancers From The Opera

 

We listened to the first three tracks(which I brought along) with me in the sweet spot and then repeated for each dac. Then switched seats so the other visitor, a professional musician and audio industry insider, got the sweet spot for the last two tracks which he provided. We listened to those tracks on each of the dacs, then we discussed our opinions. The 2nd session was the same except the Meridian dac was replaced by the Hugo.

 

Each of the three listeners liked the Formula best on both days, but not by all that much. The Formula was engaging, tonally natural and dynamic in an unforced way. Everything sounded effortless. The closing notes of Carmen really took your breath away. A couple of other listeners a day before us commented that the Formula homogenized the sound giving a slight smoothing sameness to all tracks that they viewed as a potential weakness.

 

By comparision, the Yggy sounded a bit disjointed via the Soolos with a smaller soundstage and more etched images, and much better on day 2 via laptop/JRiver. I've been huge Yggy fan in and was surprised that it would be bettered to my ears, even with the cost differential. The Meridian was plodding with a lack of transient attack that was a bit boring but deep bass. The Hugo was a toe-tapper but couldn't resolve the orchestral complexities as effectively.

 

For those in a position to consider a dac north of $13k, it's hard to say how much of premium is appropriate for what most would probably call a small but consistent improvement. I told our host that if you asked me to choose between the Formula and the Yggy topped with a stack of 10,000 dollar bills, the latter would make more sense for me. He is still pondering the question now a week later as he considers the siren song that's calling.

 

The Formula is definitely capable of some magic and worth checking out if you are considering dacs in the price range and won't miss it's lack of DSD.

Digital Source: Synology DS415+ NAS  and Small Green Computer SonicTransporter i5 Running Roon Core > Blue Jean Cable Cat6a >TP optical converter > Sonore OpticalRendu with Sonore LPS> Curious USB > Denafrips Pontus DAC

Analog Source: Dynavector XX2 mk2> Audiomods Series 5 silver arm > Sota Nova Series VI turntable w/Condor & Roadrunner motor controller/tachometer > Nagra BPS battery powered phono stage>

Both: BAT VK51SE preamp> Krell FPB300 power amp > Sound Lab A3 ESLs > > Custom room treatment > 50 yr. old ears(left-handed)

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A friend of mine just borrowed one for a week long home demo and I had the pleasure of listening to it in two sessions about 3 hours each where we compared it with 3 other dacs, although though none in that lofty price point. In session one the host compared his Reference Schiit Yggy, his Meridian pre/dac(not sure of the model) with a recently installed available upgrade and the Formula. A few days later another friend brought over his Chord Hugo along with windows laptop w/SSD running JRiver. Session one used the hosts Meridian Soolos Server & NAS, session two was mostly via laptop/JRiver.

 

The host switched gear without telling us what's what and we listened to volume adjusted same tracks on all of the above. We used 5 tracks for demo:

 

Amber Rubarth - Losing My Religion -Scribbled Folk Symphonies

Anne-Sophie Mutter(James Levine/Weiner Philharmoniker) - Carmen Fantasie (Introduction) - Carmen

Van Morrison - Bring It On Home To Me - It's Too Late To Stop Now

Steely Dan - Babylon Sisters - Gaucho

Eiji Oue/Minnesota Orchestra - Dance of the Tumblers from The Snow Maiden - Exotic Dancers From The Opera

 

We listened to the first three tracks(which I brought along) with me in the sweet spot and then repeated for each dac. Then switched seats so the other visitor, a professional musician and audio industry insider, got the sweet spot for the last two tracks which he provided. We listened to those tracks on each of the dacs, then we discussed our opinions. The 2nd session was the same except the Meridian dac was replaced by the Hugo.

 

Each of the three listeners liked the Formula best on both days, but not by all that much. The Formula was engaging, tonally natural and dynamic in an unforced way. Everything sounded effortless. The closing notes of Carmen really took your breath away. A couple of other listeners a day before us commented that the Formula homogenized the sound giving a slight smoothing sameness to all tracks that they viewed as a potential weakness.

 

By comparision, the Yggy sounded a bit disjointed via the Soolos with a smaller soundstage and more etched images, and much better on day 2 via laptop/JRiver. I've been huge Yggy fan in and was surprised that it would be bettered to my ears, even with the cost differential. The Meridian was plodding with a lack of transient attack that was a bit boring but deep bass. The Hugo was a toe-tapper but couldn't resolve the orchestral complexities as effectively.

 

For those in a position to consider a dac north of $13k, it's hard to say how much of premium is appropriate for what most would probably call a small but consistent improvement. I told our host that if you asked me to choose between the Formula and the Yggy topped with a stack of 10,000 dollar bills, the latter would make more sense for me. He is still pondering the question now a week later as he considers the siren song that's calling.

 

The Formula is definitely capable of some magic and worth checking out if you are considering dacs in the price range and won't miss it's lack of DSD.

 

Interesting. Never had a Yggy demo but the Hugo/Mojo always impresses. In this price range it would be nice to see an MSB Analog + Renderer (or Quad USB card) + Power Supply comparison as they are pretty identical price wise. Another nice shootout would be with Chord's Dave. The Berkeley is 6 more so probably not a fair comparison.

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it would be interesting how the Aqua Formula compares to other discrete R2R like Totaldac, Rockna, Metrum Adagio or MSB or different concepts like Chord Dave?

Also is not the point of the Formula optical isolation between DAC and anything before the DAC?

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We compared MSB Analog DAC/Power Base to Chord Dave last week. Both DACs have been connected via USB (Wireworld Platinum USB 7, Analysis Plus Purple Plus USB) to a Macbook Pro (HQ Player in "native mode", no PCM to DSD conversion used as we prefer to handle the files natively) and both DACs were connected directly to a power amp via RCA using the DACs inbuilt volume controls. The MSB plays in a different league in our oppinion. There was simply "more of everything" with the MSB meaning more details, better transients, better soundstage and a very natural tonality. Please do not generalize our findings since these are our findings. We tried to make the A to B test as fair as possible and we had very high expectations for the Chord due to good reports. One of our listeners said that a multi bit/R2R DAC is simply better than any FPGA or Delta/Sigma DACs and for the above mentioned comparison this is true. Therefore I guess that this Aqua Formula DAC can be a very interesting DAC which is worth to try it out.

In the middle of old school hifi and computer based hifi...

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We compared MSB Analog DAC/Power Base to Chord Dave last week. Both DACs have been connected via USB (Wireworld Platinum USB 7, Analysis Plus Purple Plus USB) to a Macbook Pro (HQ Player in "native mode", no PCM to DSD conversion used as we prefer to handle the files natively) and both DACs were connected directly to a power amp via RCA using the DACs inbuilt volume controls. The MSB plays in a different league in our oppinion. There was simply "more of everything" with the MSB meaning more details, better transients, better soundstage and a very natural tonality. Please do not generalize our findings since these are our findings. We tried to make the A to B test as fair as possible and we had very high expectations for the Chord due to good reports. One of our listeners said that a multi bit/R2R DAC is simply better than any FPGA or Delta/Sigma DACs and for the above mentioned comparison this is true. Therefore I guess that this Aqua Formula DAC can be a very interesting DAC which is worth to try it out.

 

While I have not compared the Analog to the DAVE, I too found the Analog to be a fantastic product. It is not discussed very often on this site and I recommend people, who are in this price category, to give it a try.

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it would be interesting how the Aqua Formula compares to other discrete R2R like Totaldac, Rockna, Metrum Adagio or MSB or different concepts like Chord Dave?

 

A more price-competitive Metrum offering is the Pavane; the Adagio is a Pavane-with-volume-control. (The Formula does not have a volume control, apples-with-apples, yes?) Plus, it's available whereas the Adagio isn't quite there yet.

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  • 2 months later...

Hi,

I will receive for eval tomorrow the new La Scala with the Optologic upgrade. Hoping for the best!

Mac Mini Late 2014 (16G/SSD) w Uptone JS-2 w OWC Thunderbay 4 Mini RAID (JS-2) / Roon

Aqua LinQ w EtherCon cable (Ghent) w Uptone EtherRegen w Uptone JS-2

Aqua Formula xHD w Ocellia RCA Interconnect & Shunyata Delta NR

Kora TB 200 Integrated Amplifier w Audio Art Power Cable

Magico V2 w Ocellia speaker cables w Shunyata Dark Field Elevator & JL Audio E-Sub e110 X 2

All equipment, including subwoofer on Modulum platforms (modulumaudio.com)

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Would someone recommend the best settings for HQP? Using a mRENDU as well.

Thanks

Mac Mini Late 2014 (16G/SSD) w Uptone JS-2 w OWC Thunderbay 4 Mini RAID (JS-2) / Roon

Aqua LinQ w EtherCon cable (Ghent) w Uptone EtherRegen w Uptone JS-2

Aqua Formula xHD w Ocellia RCA Interconnect & Shunyata Delta NR

Kora TB 200 Integrated Amplifier w Audio Art Power Cable

Magico V2 w Ocellia speaker cables w Shunyata Dark Field Elevator & JL Audio E-Sub e110 X 2

All equipment, including subwoofer on Modulum platforms (modulumaudio.com)

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Would someone recommend the best settings for HQP? Using a mRENDU as well.

Thanks

 

Really no such thing. Really. It depends on your system and your taste.

 

The best thing to do is to read the descriptions in the manual of the different filters and try a few, along with different upsampling options. Then take the one you like best and compare it to some others.

 

In my case, for instance, it didn't take me long to find out I generally prefer the filters with "no post ringing" converted to DSD.

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protector +_iFi  AC iPurifiers >Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Conditioning+Isolation>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Listening: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Matrix Element i Streamer/DAC (XLR)+Schiit Freya>Kii Three .

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: RPi 3B+ running RoPieee to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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OK - This is a wonderful music machine.

I have had a QB9-DSD for many years, then sold it to upgrade... took me a year toi settle. This is my new DAC.

Had the chance to have a Pavane for 2 weeks in my system a few weeks ago.

One reproduces sound, the other reproduces the intent of the musicians.

 

Forget about the technical aspects (highs, lows, imaging, PRAT...). It gets out of the way and let the musicians live in front of you.

 

Using it with mRendu + Ultracap + Roon + HQPlayer currently upsampling everything to 192, poly-sync-short / NS9.

 

US distributor says he prefer no upsampling. Will test that later, but very low priority. Havent tried DSD yet.

 

There a probably better megabucks DACs, but this is the end of the road for me.

Mac Mini Late 2014 (16G/SSD) w Uptone JS-2 w OWC Thunderbay 4 Mini RAID (JS-2) / Roon

Aqua LinQ w EtherCon cable (Ghent) w Uptone EtherRegen w Uptone JS-2

Aqua Formula xHD w Ocellia RCA Interconnect & Shunyata Delta NR

Kora TB 200 Integrated Amplifier w Audio Art Power Cable

Magico V2 w Ocellia speaker cables w Shunyata Dark Field Elevator & JL Audio E-Sub e110 X 2

All equipment, including subwoofer on Modulum platforms (modulumaudio.com)

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OK - This is a wonderful music machine.

I have had a QB9-DSD for many years, then sold it to upgrade... took me a year toi settle. This is my new DAC.

Had the chance to have a Pavane for 2 weeks in my system a few weeks ago.

One reproduces sound, the other reproduces the intent of the musicians.

 

Forget about the technical aspects (highs, lows, imaging, PRAT...). It gets out of the way and let the musicians live in front of you.

 

Using it with mRendu + Ultracap + Roon + HQPlayer currently upsampling everything to 192, poly-sync-short / NS9.

 

US distributor says he prefer no upsampling. Will test that later, but very low priority. Havent tried DSD yet.

 

There a probably better megabucks DACs, but this is the end of the road for me.

Jacques - Thanks very much for sharing your impressions. I just want to confirm that you're talking about the new LaScala with the Optologic upgrade, and not the Formula DAC.

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yes it is. Never heard the MKII. But I had a La Voce for a week. Different league as you might expect.

Mac Mini Late 2014 (16G/SSD) w Uptone JS-2 w OWC Thunderbay 4 Mini RAID (JS-2) / Roon

Aqua LinQ w EtherCon cable (Ghent) w Uptone EtherRegen w Uptone JS-2

Aqua Formula xHD w Ocellia RCA Interconnect & Shunyata Delta NR

Kora TB 200 Integrated Amplifier w Audio Art Power Cable

Magico V2 w Ocellia speaker cables w Shunyata Dark Field Elevator & JL Audio E-Sub e110 X 2

All equipment, including subwoofer on Modulum platforms (modulumaudio.com)

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the Adagio is a Pavane-with-volume-control

 

the Adagio looks like a Pavane with volume control, but is a bit more than that.

It has Transient Two modules for dac converting instead of Pavanes Transient One Modules, that means the doubled number of dacs inside. Each Transient two module has its own FGPA Chip, the pavane has one FGPA for all Transient modules. Work voltage inside is doubled too.

 

The volume control works with the voltage of the Transient modules, so there is noch loss cause of digital volume .

 

roon ROCK on a NUC Dawsoncanyon

Metrum Acoustics AMBRE Streamer

RME ADI 2 DAC Fs DAC/Pre

XLR > ATC SCM45A pro

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  • 1 month later...

After another month with my La Scala MKIII, I could not be happier.

System has never sounded better. In my book, this is a must hear DAC.

Mac Mini Late 2014 (16G/SSD) w Uptone JS-2 w OWC Thunderbay 4 Mini RAID (JS-2) / Roon

Aqua LinQ w EtherCon cable (Ghent) w Uptone EtherRegen w Uptone JS-2

Aqua Formula xHD w Ocellia RCA Interconnect & Shunyata Delta NR

Kora TB 200 Integrated Amplifier w Audio Art Power Cable

Magico V2 w Ocellia speaker cables w Shunyata Dark Field Elevator & JL Audio E-Sub e110 X 2

All equipment, including subwoofer on Modulum platforms (modulumaudio.com)

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After another month with my La Scala MKIII, I could not be happier.

System has never sounded better. In my book, this is a must hear DAC.

 

I will receive my updated La Scala on Monday. I doubt that I will be able to offer much regarding an old vs. new comparison, given I have to rely strictly on memory. That is, unless the sound is significantly different. Very excited to find out.

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Interesting. I must be a bit behind the times though - magnetic isolation? Any info on that?

 

-Paul

 

Paul, what they are referring to are likely GMR chips. These are integrated circuit isolators which use transformer like designs on chip to provide for isolation. This is a fairly common way to isolate digital signals.

SO/ROON/HQPe: DSD 256-Sonore opticalModuleDeluxe-Signature Rendu optical--Bricasti M3 DAC--DIY Purifi Amplifier-Focus Audio FS888-JL E 112 sub-Nordost Tyr USB, DIY EventHorizon AC cables, Iconoclast XLR & speaker cables, Synergistic Orange Fuses, Spacetime system clarifiers.                                                       

                                                                                           SONORE computer audio

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