Weiss DAC202

Weiss DAC202Daniel Weiss cut his engineering teeth working for Studer-Revox, specialising in the design of sampling frequency convertors. He left to form Weiss Engineering Ltd in 1985. His company is certainly better known in pro circles than domestic hi-fi, with clients in many of the top Mastering Houses such as Sony, BMG, Abbey Road to name but a few. It was in 2001 that Weiss entered the high-end market. The technology in this DAC is a spin-off from the twenty five years gained in the pro field.

Launched back in 2009, the Weiss DAC202 used two-stage phase locked loop (PLL) circuitry to target both high and low frequency jitter. Most DACs only suppressed higher frequencies, the company said at the time, but this one also suppresses low-frequency jitter which according to Weiss can have a more destructive effect on the overall sound than high-frequency jitter. It uses an asynchronous FireWire interface, so the DAC202’s clock controls the computer’s audio clocking.

The unit is modest in size (19cmx30cmx7cm) and has looks that belie Weiss’s Pro Audio roots. The front panel is built from solid aluminium and has a centred LCD panel which indicates phase, input, sampling rate and filter type. By depressing the rotary knob, you have access to an extensive menu, including output level gain, and other information about the incoming signal. There is a bit transparency check, whereby you play a file from the accompanying CD, and you can check if any bits are going astray! Having run the test, you are either rewarded by the bitrate being displayed, or the ignominy of the word “fail” appearing on the screen. This is a useful feature which ensures that the DAC has really processed all the information on the test file. In the past, such a test would require a hoard of expensive equipment to check this. To the rear, there are S/PDIF, Toslink and AES/EBU inputs, RCA and balanced outputs.

The Weiss also sports a gold-plated headphone socket, with its own output stage. The output volume may be changed either in crude stages by turning the knob, or digitally using the remote handset. There is another useful possibility; by depressing the same control, revealing the general menu, and by selecting the appropriate output voltage range you can match the output with the sensitivity of your headphones. Similarly, you can choose the range of output voltages to suit your power amplifier, which means you really don’t need to add a preamp into the chain. There is a solid remote control which can select inputs, change volume digitally and continuously (the rotary knob only does this in course discrete stages), as well as phase, filter and mute buttons.

There’s an extraordinary passage from the Coda of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, where Mozart as a last act of symphonic orgiastic bravura, tries to stretch counterpoint to its classical limits by running five themes together at once. This place is a watershed for many systems, as the texture is complex, and only the best can make sense of the chaos. The Weiss DAC202 is gifted with an extraordinary sense of clarity. You are taken to the heart of the performance on this recording, surrounded by air and space, and real holographic sense of the orchestra. The flutes are breathy, the hard sticks of the timpani sting with clarity, and you can feel the person-power in the string section.

The Weiss takes everything in its stride, with a confident unflappability. Bass is amongst the best I’ve heard from a DAC of this period, being clean, rhythmic and timed to perfection. Listening to my own recording of the Allegri String Quartet performing the last movement of Beethoven’s Quartet Op 59 No2, I have noticed on some DACs that rapid changes in volume observing Beethoven’s Sforzandi (accents) from this close-miked recording can result in distortion. The Weiss removed any trace of this, and created a spotlessly clean image of the four instruments, that correlated extremely well with my memory of the sound of the quartet. The microtonal details of the quartet’s sound are clearly there, there is very little smudging or embellishment, and I can clearly discern the sonic differences between the 1st Violin’s Cremonese Amati, and my Brescian Maggini violin. The rapid-fire cellular units that Beethoven writes in this movement are beautifully mapped out in space, and the sense of  ‘danger’ of these bits comes to life.

This recording is completely unprocessed. I find myself drawn to recordings that have a minimum of mastering. Why is it that fifties jazz on vinyl sounds so good, the Beatles’ rehearsal tracks that Apple released a few years ago sound more musically revealing than the cheesy sixties and seventies concoctions that were released to the world? If this all sounds rather Jamie Oliver-esque, the reason I have formed a bond with this bit of kit is because its greatest skill is that it doesn’t make the music sound processed. It takes the best from the pro world and straddles the great divide with panache.

Listening to the last movement of Mozart’s 39th Symphony, it was clear that the Weiss headphone stage was in a different league. Bass was tighter, and double bass notes on the Weiss started and stopped with greater precision. Violins sounded more coherent and life-like on the Weiss, with altogether more depth in the soundstage. The first track of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances played by the Minnesota Orchestra begins with a pounding bass line, and the Weiss was great at making sense of it. Instruments were beautifully etched in space, with a wide range of tonal palettes at its disposal. The headphone stage is no afterthought – I have rarely heard better from Sennheiser HD650s.

An interesting, quirky and highly accomplished product, the Weiss DAC202 offers a supremely clean and controlled sound, with high levels of detail and insight into the musical performance. It’s a reference in the true sense, in that it will tell you what’s wrong with the recording, but fed with the correct source material it absolutely soars. One of the best high end DACs of its day. RT

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