From the Mola Mola website: "TRUTH IS BEAUTY-Mola Mola embodies the idea that once you've removed everything that isn't the music, that what remains is the music.”
So how did they do (besides the nice tag line)?
Full-Scale Output Level (XLR): 18dBu Full-Scale Output Level (headphone): 18dBu Signal to Noise Ratio: 130dB THD, IMD: not measurable (estimated -140dB) Bandwidth: Up to 80kHz (apodizing response) Integrated jitter: <1ps from 10Hz upwards, <300fs from 1kHz upwards Jitter rejection: >80dB at 1Hz after 20 seconds of loc
Aesthetics and Operation:
The Tambaqui is relatively small (approximately: 8” W x 13” D x 4” H; 12 pounds) rectangular component with a wave-like top. It comes with an Apple remote for controlling volume, which seems appropriate because if Apple designed audio equipment it would look like the Tambaqui. There is also an app which controls volume, input presets, balance, etc. I’ve never tried the headphone function, therefore I cannot comment on this feature and haven’t seen a review that discusses its capability. Outputs are XLR only. It has the usual inputs: USB, AES/EBU, s/pdif, toslink, HDMI, but also ethernet. The USB input is also used for software updates. I haven’t played with footers or weights, just put it down on a solid surface and enjoyed the result. The manual advises that in most cases you simply plug the DAC straight into the wall. I did that with excellent results, but the usual two months of thunderstorms made me reconsider and I now use a power conditioner that doesn’t adversely affect the sound quality.
I haven’t used a preamp in decades, so I can only report within this context. The way I use the Tambaqui (copper ethernet input; Roon endpoint; volume control), the streamer and preamp functions are provided by the DAC. I assume that the Tambaqui was designed using the Mola Mola Kaluga monoblocks as amplification (which I have). Clearly, there is great synergy with the Kalugas and I haven’t heard the Tambaqui with other amps.
The Mola Mola gear performs very well at low volumes; listening enjoyment is possible with a wide range of volume settings, from background music levels to concert-like listening. The Tambaqui never gets ragged at higher volumes (or lower). These days, the Tambaqui is on at least 6 hours each day. Of course, some of that is background music at low levels, but it never fails to engage your musical sensibilities. When I crank it up and am focused on the music, I feel like an omnivore, enjoying my well-deserved meal while waiting for the next tasty morsel, even after listening for a long period of time. In short, there is no listening fatigue.
I have tried the USB and AES/EBU inputs. I’m not sure if there is a difference among inputs (a separate streamer was used with those inputs); my choice to use the ethernet input was based upon a desire to eliminate the streamer as a separate box and hopefully realize greater transparency. Since Roon is my only playback software, and the Tambaqui is a Roon endpoint, ethernet is my preferred input. Using Qobuz within Roon provides a very large library of music that can be discovered. This can be accomplished in different ways, of course, but I very much enjoy the simplification of a DAC and two amps as my main gear.
I’ve had enjoyable (and well-considered) DACs in the past. The Tambaqui makes them seem a bit opaque and a bit homogenized. And that is the amazing think about the Tambaqui: it provides a presentation that is much more live music without forcing you to choose only excellent recordings. Redbook sounds better than my previous DACs did with higher resolution material. The Tambaqui is very transparent, with what appears to be a very low noise floor – the usual description of music simply emerging from the speakers applies here. Don’t read transparency as thin or “digital,” playback is very three-dimensional with wonderful density and tone (two of my previous DACs were tubed and I don’t miss the tubes). And then there is the PRAT, which at times can make you jump. The music has excellent velocity and elasticity. But more than anything, the quality that I prize about this DAC is that I can listen as I do to live music – with all the anticipation, excitement and discovery that live music provides. Think about that: In a few hours, you can travel the globe attending performances by truly great musicians. So, how much is that worth to you?
Cost and value:
Retail: $13,400. That is not manageable for many, but the trade-in (or sale) of your current DAC, streamer (preamp too?) and cables can reduce the cost substantially. It is always a question of “compared to what,” and I agree with others, including professionals (see the Positive Feedback review - https://positive-feedback.com/audio-discourse/impressions-the-mola-mola-tambaqui-dac/ “The Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC is an absolutely extraordinary, top-o'-the-heap product, true reference-grade in every way.”), that this is indeed a special DAC. In the U.S., in-home auditions are available from the U.S. distributor, so you can try it in your own system. That is how it found its way into our home. We have had it for about 18 months and while I read reviews of other DACs out of curiosity, I no longer look for the next upgrade.