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Exogal drops the other shoe . . .


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I'm relatively new to CA and a happy owner of an Exogal Comet DAC. Exogal is a company in MN whose principals come from Wadia. The company's website is nothing to write home about, but I've gotten outstanding customer service from Jeff Haagenstad, the CEO, and I have the feeling that these guys are really serious about changing the digital audio game. The DAC has received excellent reviews and can be had for just over 2K.

 

They've recently released an amp (the "Ion") to match the DAC. Its a diminutive thing, 100wpc, and sits on top of the Comet. It seems like a class D amp (small and cool) but it's not exactly that either. I don't know what it is or how it works, but this long and over the top review will give you a sense of Exogal's aspirations: http://www.dagogo.com/exogal-ion-powerdac-review

I thought members of this forum would find these developments interesting . . .

 

I'm pleased enough with the DAC to be tempted, but others may see downsides (like the Ion only works with the Comet). Exogal seems to be out to break the mold in high end audio.

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How does this differ from NAD's Direct Digital products like the M2 (which has been around for years) and the upcoming M32 (shipping in a few weeks!) which I believe are both powerdacs like the Exogal?

 

The reviewer mentions the M2 in the article but then seems to dismiss it because NAD later released the M12/M22 separates.

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The technology in general doesn't seem to me to be unique. I think there are a few other units doing something similar on the market, as this sounds like some kind of PWM power dac, with a filter at the output to convert the signal to analog.

 

As for whether you should buy it, I'd ask you a couple of questions:

 

How happy are you with the DAC? Can you see yourself living with it for a long time? No upgrade-itis on the horizon?

 

From reading other reviews, I'm sure it is a good DAC, but I didn't see anyone writing that you can't get a better DAC if you spend a significant chunk more of change. If you can envision yourself wanting to upgrade the DAC in the next few years, I'm not sure the amp is the best idea, as it only works with the DAC and you'd have to sell both of them to upgrade one. The set might be difficult to sell on the used market.

 

I think the review you referenced was a bit gushing, as the writer even admits he hasn't heard some of the high-end DACs on the market. So how does he know that this is the end all of digital audio, as he seems to think?

 

That said I'm sure the combo is very good and a good value for the money. Having an amp section designed specifically to work with your DAC (they are essentially one component when connected) is a great idea. I've heard PWM power DACs before and liked them.

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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I put in an order recently and set it up today. Recommended break-in, per dealer, is 200 hours on the Comet and 100 hours on the Ion.

 

I'll update once the components have some hours on them. They will be in a 2ch setup only (not headphone).

 

Cold out of the box the sound is lean, but still quite listenable. Good amount of detail and note definition.

 

I also found the Dagogo review by Doug Schroeder to be over the top and that always raises a flag. Of specific concern is whether my speakers will pair well with the combo. Mr. Schroeder also mentions responsiveness to power cords...will have to see for myself.

 

The Comet itself is well reviewed across multiple reviewers.

 

I also own the Wadia 121 decoding computer DAC, though it is currently out of rotation. That Wadia was designed / built by the current Exogal team (correct me if I am wrong about this) and was / and still is very capable at its street price from a few years ago.

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The Ion is a true Power DAC and doesn't use PWM. Way back when in the Wadia 27 days, they couldn't get a Power DAC to work reliably because the technology didn't exist. It does now and we were able to bring it to market.

 

Can you explain what that means? How is the digital signal turned to analog and amplified in a "true Power DAC"?

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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@jhaagenstad

 

Jeff, you may want to start a thread here at Computer Audiophile on your Exogal Comet-Ion products. It will allow you to have more control (for obvious business reasons) and focus (for product and end-user/customer specific reasons).

 

Let us in the community know how we might be able to help.

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The Comet and Ion have about 20 hours on them.

 

There have been some improvements in SQ.

 

Bass is starting to sound better. And it 'kicks' in with surprising speed...something Schroeder's review makes a point of.

 

What stands out to me, from an overall perspective, is how clean the sound is. If this holds, I will try to describe it better. And just in case anyone is wondering, I state this as a positive.

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@jhaagenstad

 

Jeff, you may want to start a thread here at Computer Audiophile on your Exogal Comet-Ion products. It will allow you to have more control (for obvious business reasons) and focus (for product and end-user/customer specific reasons).

 

Let us in the community know how we might be able to help.

It's an interesting idea... although sometimes moderating a forum can be a full-time job! Mostly we try to stay out of the conversation because, well the Internet can become a mud pit pretty fast!

 

I do want to thank you for giving both the Comet and the Ion a chance and we all hope you enjoy them!

 

Jeff

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  • 1 month later...

@sockpit

 

Thanks for reaching out. I've been offline here and at Head-Fi for over a month because I've been very busy with our home renovation and with travel as I complete our move to NOLA from NY and Boston. Unfortunately, listening to music has not happened at all.

 

I will have some down time now that the Holidays and end of year is upon us...mainly because the work on the house will slow down...Here's to hoping for some time to actually sit down and do some music listening!!!

 

The good news is that both the Ion and Comet have been running daily driving the sound from the TV optical out so they should be fully 'broken in.'

 

Voices sound very real to my ears. There is great clarity, even at lower volumes, which also means that there is exceptional detail retrieval. The programming that is accompanied with soundtracks sounds very good. Since I am listening to audio output from a TV, what also stands out is how fast it is processed...there have been no lip sync timing issues.

 

What stands out the most is (this is also what I was impressed with when I first turned on the Comet/Ion combination) is how 'clean' the sound quality is. And just so there isn't any confusion, I want to make it very clear that I am not saying that it is lean.

 

These are very general impressions and I will do my best to report back when I can dig into some music and A / B versus my other setup.

 

I can say that if I were asked, I would strongly recommend the Ion/Comet combination even at this early stage.

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@Cyrus. Thanks for the prelim and good luck with the move. I've ordered an Ion and will be able to set it up after some holiday travel. I suspect I'll be done with new acquisitions for some time now. A uRendu and LPS 1 are my front end, and I like my small satellites very much. Will be nothing to do but enjoy the music and try to forget about gear!

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Computer Audiophile

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I'm relatively new to CA and a happy owner of an Exogal Comet DAC. Exogal is a company in MN whose principals come from Wadia. The company's website is nothing to write home about, but I've gotten outstanding customer service from Jeff Haagenstad, the CEO, and I have the feeling that these guys are really serious about changing the digital audio game....I'm pleased enough with the DAC to be tempted, but others may see downsides (like the Ion only works with the Comet). Exogal seems to be out to break the mold in high end audio.

I've been thrilled with my Wadia 151 (one of the first if not the first product to be marketed as a powerDAC) and have no doubt that the Exogal is an advancement over my unit. The concept and the 151 changed the game for me in many ways. I willingly bought myself into the low power & 24/192 (optical) ceiling because I don't anticipate going beyond that for the practical lifetime of this unit (maybe, at 70, for my practical lifetime too) and the amp sounds good enough through my Focal 726s to keep me happy. My 151 is rated at 50 WPC into 4 ohms, so having 100 WPC into 8 would certainly mean more headroom and perhaps more openness to large scale works and crescendos. And I'm quite confident that the SQ is better overall than the Wadia's.

 

I don't know if I'd have been so willing to "settle" for this when I bought it if I didn't have other systems. I just wanted to learn about digital sound options, and this was a pleasing and relatively inexpensive way to get into the next generation of devices. But it turned out to be so good that it's now our living room system and the one we listen to together at the end of the day and when we have guests, parties etc. Both of our other good systems (Emotiva Stealth / JBL 305 system with various digital sources and my vinyl-only Thorens / SME / Audioquest / Parasound / Prima Luna / LS3/5a system) live on the 16' countertop-desk in the library and I'm pretty much the only one who listens to them.

 

So I'd have no hesitation at all about buying the Exogal Ion/Comet).

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I've been thrilled with my Wadia 151 (one of the first if not the first product to be marketed as a powerDAC) and have no doubt that the Exogal is an advancement over my unit. The concept and the 151 changed the game for me in many ways. I willingly bought myself into the low power & 24/192 (optical) ceiling because I don't anticipate going beyond that for the practical lifetime of this unit (maybe, at 70, for my practical lifetime too) and the amp sounds good enough through my Focal 726s to keep me happy. My 151 is rated at 50 WPC into 4 ohms, so having 100 WPC into 8 would certainly mean more headroom and perhaps more openness to large scale works and crescendos. And I'm quite confident that the SQ is better overall than the Wadia's.

 

I don't know if I'd have been so willing to "settle" for this when I bought it if I didn't have other systems. I just wanted to learn about digital sound options, and this was a pleasing and relatively inexpensive way to get into the next generation of devices. But it turned out to be so good that it's now our living room system and the one we listen to together at the end of the day and when we have guests, parties etc. Both of our other good systems (Emotiva Stealth / JBL 305 system with various digital sources and my vinyl-only Thorens / SME / Audioquest / Parasound / Prima Luna / LS3/5a system) live on the 16' countertop-desk in the library and I'm pretty much the only one who listens to them.

 

So I'd have no hesitation at all about buying the Exogal Ion/Comet).

 

Thanks for this! You might get a kick out of Hagenstad's reply to a criticism in the comments section of the glowing Dagogo review of the Ion. I'd supply the link, but am tablet-challenged.

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Computer Audiophile

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Thanks for this! You might get a kick out of Hagenstad's reply to a criticism in the comments section of the glowing Dagogo review of the Ion.

I assume you mean this:

"The original Wadia PowerDAC was never a commercially viable product. Yes it was announced, yes a few were sold, but they weren’t reliable and never worked right and were quickly taken off the market."

 

I don't know if he's referring to the 151 or to a prior product with which I'm not familiar. But the 151 has performed flawlessly for me in the 4 or so years that I've had it, so I can't comment on overall reliability except to say that my sample of one has been perfect. It was very well reviewed and I think it's a wonderful product for those who make realistic demands on it. The DAC is similar in sound quality to my Emotiva Stealth CD-1, which is to say clean, detailed and laid back, with no peculiarities or sonic character of which to speak. Warmth in the source material comes right out the speakers, as does shoddy recording / engineering / mastering.

 

I'm sure the 151 wasn't commercially viable, as production cost must have been too high to turn much (if any) profit - it seems very well made to me and there's no sign of skimping. It's a low power digital amplifier, which also limits its potential market. I'm sure the team learned a lot from designing, producing, and marketing the 151 with whatever limited sales they achieved. And looking at the prices of Exogal equipment, that team learned how to price their wares more effectively as the market opened up to accommodate more costly devices like this.

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Thanks for this. I had the same interpretive difficulty. Anyway, above in this thread he writes: "Oh, and the Wadia 121 wasn't designed by any of us. While we all met at the end of Wadia as a separate operating company within Fine Sounds, the 121 had been designed by the prior group of engineers..."

 

So the Exogal guys aren't taking credit for what has proven for you to be an excellent PowerDac, but I he is certainly suggesting the Comet/Ion is the "Tesla" of such concepts. Will let you know how mine turns out. Am currently using a class D amp, and it's hard to imagine it can be bettered by that much. But then again you often don't know what you're missing until something betters what you've got. Cheers.

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I can't comment on the Ion but I received an ever so slightly used (seller said he purchased a demo and never set it up) Comet Plus DAC about a week ago. Out of the box I was happy. It has since undergone a transformation that has made me delighted. If it continues to improve I'll be whatever surpasses delighted.

 

I purchased the Comet (over the Ayre Codex) because from what I read it's designed specifically as a pre direct into an amp. Even through the not so hot temporary speakers I'm using (need to get my Audio Notes repaired) it produces alluring, dynamic, properly scaled, faithfully reproduced music that sounds like... music. Not a digital representation thereof. The only other somewhat pricey DAC I've had was the Mytek Stereo 192 DSD. The CA thread on that unit some years ago triggered that purchase and, despite months of trying, it wasn't a very happy experience..

 

I should note that @jhaagenstad was incredibly responsive last week via an email exchange when, through my stupidity, I couldn't get the app to work (overlooked connecting the antenna).

 

If Jeff is following this thread - what benefit is there in updating the firmware? I have yet to gather the nerve and wonder if there's a functional or sonic upside to doing so.

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Jeff has been extraordinarily helpful with my questions. He may chime in, but my guess is that the various updates right now pertain to getting the Comet to play well with the Ion. My experience of the Comet is the same as yours. It's a fantastic DAC, and with FPGA has a future.

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Computer Audiophile

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When it comes to updating the firmware, it's really about whether you want to use an Ion or not. When we first introduced the Comet in Europe in 2014, we had a few updates that worked out the bugs in the DSP core and we added DSD capability. But once we got it all working we really haven't touched the core code.

 

The 2.xx releases really only activate the EXONET interfaces and make it possible to connect the Ion and... whoops... may have said too much... If you have a Comet and are using a non-EXOGAL amp, you would get literally nothing new by upgrading to a 2.xx release.

 

And don't worry about feeling stupid leaving off the antenna... I can't tell you how many people don't attach that antenna. We've thought about inserting a springy hand gizmo in the box that slaps you as you open the box and hands you the antenna. But that seems overly harsh...

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We've seen the words "over the top review' a whole bunch of times and I would have to say that we were all blown away by Mr. Schroeder's comments. All that stuff came out of his brain except for the answers we gave to the questions he asked.

 

Regarding the Wadia PowerDAC I referred to in my snarky moment on the Dagogo forum, I was referring to Wadia's earlier effort at creating a true PowerDAC. Only 8 were sold and they all came back to the factory. The 151 isn't technically a PowerDAC and neither is the Intuition (and we had NOTHING to do with the Intuition, the 121 or the 151!) The ability to handle high power in the digital domain isn't something that comes from our Audio backgrounds. Jim and Jan and I have had wide-ranging careers and have done a lot of sophisticated DSP work, and power-handling work. By combining what we knew we were able to bring an actual PowerDAC to market but it was a lot harder than we suspected. Internally, we've been listening to it for over a year, getting it right and we were amazed at how quiet and fast the technology is.

 

And as for having our own forum, we kind of want to stay out of that fray. We're happy that you guys are talking about our stuff and we read every word written in anything from around the world and we do discuss it and use it when we plan what we do but frankly if we stick our noses in too much then it A) gets to be too much to manage and B) tends to stifle the conversation.

 

I will say that we all laugh a lot when someone complains that the Comet can't hold up against something 10x - 30x the price. The fact that we're even in that conversation proves our street cred. So keep that stuff coming!

 

And yes, we know that we could have charged a lot more for our stuff but we're trying to build products that deliver extremely high performance for people who may struggle to save up $10K for a system. Don't worry, we're making money. We're not greedheads and we're not making fancy looking watches with Timex innards either. We're trying to bring in the customer who may have been scared off by the price tag.

 

And yes, we are well aware that the Comet's silver on silver display sucks, big-time. It was an experiment. Mixed results. Live and learn.

 

OK. Back to my lurking! Have a good night!

Sent from my Linux 8-Core Speed Demon using Computer Audiophile

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we're trying to build products that deliver extremely high performance for people who may struggle to save up $10k for a system. Don't worry, we're making money. We're not greedheads and we're not making fancy looking watches with timex innards either. We're trying to bring in the customer who may have been scared off by the price tag.

You're also following a time-honored (and proven) principle that makes businesses into going concerns but is ignored in favor of the quick buck by too many people today.

 

One of the most important things I learned in business school was the difference between a satisfied customer and a delighted customer: satisfied customers still look elsewhere, but delighted customers don't even consider it. If you tell them you can't fulfill a need and have no satisfactory substitute, they ask you for your opinion and where to go to find it - and they remain your customers.

 

I had the same audio dealer from 1969 until he retired in the '90s (Dan Greenfield, the founder and operator of Danby Radio in Philly in 1949). Dan had a long term perspective on both business and audio. He was an early designer and activist in the high end - here's a link to a fascinating AES program review from the 1951 Audio Fair, at which Dan presented a new speaker and amplifier as described in the paragraph about Danby Radio. He was one of the first dealers for Mac, Marantz, HK, Crown, and a host of other audio pioneers. He designed equipment with his buddies, most notably with Fred Martin (Martin Speakers) - the two of them did the first sound reinforcement system installation ever at Philly's Academy of Music, and one of his typical long term customers and friends was Eugene Ormandy (conductor and music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra for over 40 years).

 

Dan swung for the fence when it seemed right, but he also delivered audio solutions to people who hadn't a clue about brands, designs or next-great-things. His patience, advice, and judgment were legendary if you listened to him - and he suggested that you go elsewhere if you didn't. If he was unfamiliar with something a customer wanted, he'd go out and buy one to find out if it was worth bringing in. He and his techs dissected serious new gear on a regular basis, and he checked everything he sold to be sure it both sounded right and met specs. And he offered what he considered to be the best quality and value he could provide across the spectrum of cost and complexity. If he thought that no currently available product was worth its cost for what you got, he designed and built or helped his sources design and build one that was. As a result, people stayed with him whether or not their tastes, desires, and budgets matured over time. Some went from $500 systems to $50k systems and others simply maintained and replaced what they had as needed. But all were delighted. It sounds like you and your organization are taking the same fine path.

 

I applaud and support your approach. I'm only sorry I'm too old to expect being able to look back on Wadia and Exogal like I do on Danby Radio!

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