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Version 4/9/2013. Subject to change. Evaluations are ongoing.
Don't forget about Page/Tab 2
Matrix X-Sabre CommentaryMatrix X-SabrePS Audio Perfectwave 2
Revision 1*
Firmware 2.03*
Filter 1**
PS Audio Perfectwave 2
Revision 1*
Firmware 2.10*
Filter 4**
PS Audio Perfectwave 2
Revision 2*
Firmware 2.20
Resonessence InvictaSchiit GungnirMytek Stereo192-DSD DACMytek Comments
Anax's Comments / Counterpoints (3/15/2013)LFF's Comments (3/21/2013)Purrin's Replies to A's Comments (3/15/2013)$1,100* critical factors in the performance of the PWD.
** a slight factor
* critical factors in the performance of the PWD
** filter 4 is the smoothest which I prefer with 2.20
* new production PSA PWD2 - firmware cannot be rolled-back.Linear Apodizing (1) filterLFF Comments
Anax Comments
PriceComments were provided only after reviews were independently confirmed.$2300 used?

PWD1s upgraded to 2. May not sound the same as the new PWD2s.

This is the new PWD2 which cannot be rolled back to the older 2.02/2.03 firmware.
Supported Formats16/44 to 24/384 and DSD16/44 to 24/19216/44 to 24/19216/44 to 24/19216/44 to 24/192 and DSD16/44 to 24/19216/44 to 24/384 and DSD
ChipESS ES9018Wolfson WM8471Wolfson WM8471Wolfson WM8471ESS ES9018AKM4399?ESS ES9016
USB ReceiverXMOSXMOSXMOSXMOSTheyscon (software driver) / CypresC-Media?
Analog Stageop-amps?Discrete / through-hole componentsDiscrete / through-hole componentsDiscrete / through-hole componentsAD797 J-FET op-ampsDiscrete / SMTop-amps?
ITreble Rendering and DigititusCurious, do you find 2.2.0 dry?Yes, I tend to find Wolfson chips' treble inoffensive, but also rather on the dry side. In contrast, the AKM chips (my modded Behringer, the Schiit DACs, a few other cheap AKM chip based DACs, etc.) seem to have a sweeter treble.B-
There is a slight glare or hardness to how the last octave is rendered. The good thing is that the timbre of the treble isn't "off" and the extent of the "digititus" is quite tolerable. It only gets fatiguing over very long listening sessions. I can easily see past this issue because this DAC has many other good qualities. But I do think it's worthwhile to mention because this is often a consideration for many who are in the market for a new DAC.
A little wooden or stuff in presentation - not as sweet as the Schiit.
Slightly bright with sometimes a treble sheen. It doesn't get fatiguing like the X-Sabre, but the timbre can be off depending upon the components in the rest of the chain. Filter 4 helps a lot here.
Harsh in the silibance region, especially with vocals and percussion / snares. It's different from the X-Sabre where is a slightly glare from the mid to upper treble. With the Invicta, the issue lies in a very narrow area between the upper mids and lower treble. As with the X-Sabre, the issue is slight. However it's immediately notable rather than a thing than gets fatiguing over time.

This shouldn't be noticeable with most classical or jazz recordings using acoustic instruments.
The least digital sounding. The mid and high treble rendering is slightly sweet.
Could easily be rated F. Decided to give it a D- for the benefit of the doubt. It takes me or Anax 60 seconds to get annoyed. LFF was annoyed within the first two seconds.

Talk about treble glare, hardness, brittleness, digititus, etc. This is the poster child for it.
It's a shame I didn't cotton to put in my ears. Literally had me cringing two seconds in. Anax and Purrin gave it more of a chance which resulted in me being tortured to more of an extent than I would have liked. Treble peak and grain galore! The HD-700 of the DAC world.I'm not saying anything.
IITonal Balance2.2.0 is brighter balance if we agree. But bass is still superb, not bass light at all or mid recessed. Sounds thinner. Brighter (in back to back comparison to PWD2 and Gungnir)Nope not bass light at all. I do feel 2.20 has less bass power - volume that is - but it's every bit as impactful.B
Seems to lack some warmth with a de-emphasized midrange. Hard to describe, but lacks the meatiness of the Gungnir and to a lesser extent the PWD2.
Overall warm tonal balance with a slight thick bass. Can sound slightly forward at times. The most harmonically rich among the DACs here.
Maintains a small amount of warmth from the PWD2 firmware 2.03, but with added brightness in the lower treble. The harmonic richness of 2.03 is maintained. Not as much bass power.
Overall warming and lusher sound than most of the other DACs in this comparison. Rendered sounds have a sense of body, maybe a little too much at times. I really wanted to give it an A rating for the warmth, but ultimately the minor timbral inaccuracies, particularly with percussion, and the treble issues drop this down a notch.
Very nice. It obvious Schiit put in a lot of effort to get the tonal balance right on this DAC. Vocals are particularly pleasant. Kate Bush's voice on Peter Gabriel's Don't Give Up gives me goose bumps.
On the thin side. Lacks bass extension (see below)
(retrieval of low level Information, fine detail, ambient cues)
Maybe B+ (X-Sabre) hard to sayB
At first I felt the X-Sabre was extremely strong in this area, but upon switching among the DACs, I decided otherwise in terms of real micro-detail. The X-Sabre's precision and crispness does lend itself to good detail extraction though, but not all of this is micro-detail. It's still no slouch in plankton extraction though - quite good in fact.
The PWD2 wins easily here. It simply throws out all sorts of fine-detail all over the place. One is immersed with ambient cues, the softest of soft sounds, etc.
No change from PWD2 fw 2.03B+
Slight resolution loss.
Not all that resolving of low-level information. I actually felt the X-Sabre was slightly better.
This is not a strong suit of the Gungnir. I can hear stuff from the other two DACs which I cannot hear on the Gungnir. At the same time, the Gungnir cannot be said to be entirely weak in this area. I find that it does extract sufficient low level information to keep me interested in listening. Otherwise I would have thrown it out the window.
B+ ?

It does seem to have more plankton (can extract more low level information than a Benchmark DAC1). The Benchmark DAC1 is detailed on a macro level, but it doesn't do micro-detail that well. Despite, the treble issues, there is a certain level of musicality or involving with it.

Not fully assessed. We could not listen to this DAC long enough to give this category a proper assessment.
(speed or authoritativeness of small contrasts in volume)
Yes. Noticeable on isolated instruments like drum kits and violins/strings.The Rostopovich and Talking Heads tracks we tend to use over and over demonstrate this easily.C
The X-Sabre sort of blurts things out and doesn't quite swing or dig into the music with authority in order to reproduce the most subtle aspects of sound. The flattest sounding among the DACs.
Obviously very much related to above. The PWD2 really digs into the music and renders those tiny volume contrasts in an almost immediate way. Those who have heard Eddie Current amps know of this effect.
No change from PWD2 fw 2.03A-
Slightly not as good.
Manages a good amount of those instantaneous micro-contrasts in volume which makes music involving. Handicapped in that the Invicta is not a great Plankton extractor in the first place.
Manages a good amount of those instantaneous micro-contrasts in volume which makes music involving. Handicapped in that the Gungnir is not a great Plankton extractor in the first place.
Not assessed. We did not listen to this DAC long enough to give this category a proper assessment. It's possible this unit may have been defective.
(impact, explosiveness)
Oh IC what you are doing. You are separating the macro swing from ability to shift/turn on a dime. Maybe this analogy will help delineate this and the continuous gradations bit. In this regard, the XSabre may seem to just as dynamic if you allow the impression of bass bloom to count but the treble I felt never swung high enough to get certain timbres right like cymbals and chimes, etc..B+
Very good in this regard in the bass. Nice and punchy. Just a hair less impactful across the band compared to the others. Explosiveness in the upper mids and treble could be strong - a little bit dull with metal percussion impact.
Very powerful dynamics, throughout the entire audio band. Firmware 2.03 is particularly dynamic in the bass.
Not much change from PWD2 fw 2.03. Although the bass is less powerful or voluminous overall, it certainly does not lack dynamics.
Read below. Still what I would consider good.
Very explosive, particularly with the bass. Lots of bite and impact in the upper mid and treble with percussion. This DAC has good drive and will keep you awake.
Not assessed. We did not listen to this DAC long enough to give this category a proper assessment. It's possible this unit may have been defective.
VIContinousness and Gradations of Volume LevelsI would say something like that shitty EMM 2 would rate a D/F here for scale of flat sounding non dynamics. Maybe include a ( macro dynamics) bracket in your definition for PWD to clarify.Yup, that EMM 2 (not the X) was like 4, 5, 6, 7 in comparison. Had good continuity in volume levels, but levels sounded restrained to medium volumes.B-
Read the PWD2 notes first to understand what I mean as follows: 3.0, 4.5, 6.0, 7.5, 9.0. This is sort of an exaggeration of the effect, but the X-Sabre just doesn't have the continiousness in volume levels as the PWD2. The good thing is that it can play at least some softest sounds (inter-related to Plankton above.)
Hard to explain. The PWD2 can reproduce sound levels from ppp to fff. In other words, 1, 2 , 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 , 9, 10. It does so without missing gaps in between sound levels. I think this, along with the below, is one of those qualities of great DACs which is seldom recognized by many.
No change from PWD2 fw 2.03B-
Tends to reside around the moderate volume range. Whereas the Gungir tends toward sounding loud, and the X-Sabre tends toward having a wider range of volumes, but with less granularity, the Invicta bunches things up in the middle range, but with good granularity. Think 3,4,5,6,7,8. I thought it had a slight tendency to sound sleepy - very much the opposite of the Gungnir which tends to me awake.
Read the PWD2 notes first to understand what I mean as follows: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. The softest sounds are either compressed or missing (inter-related to Plankton above.) In other words, the DAC does have a tendency to sound louder than the others. However, the volume levels which are reproduced is continuous.
Not assessed. We did not listen to this DAC long enough to give this category a proper assessment. It's possible this unit may have been defective.
VIIContinousness of Sound in Time (liquidity, lack of grain)On this scale I would say 2.2.0/Auto is a C/C+ and XSabre is a C+/B-. With Filter 1, 2.20 becomes B+/A-A- if running PWD2 2.20 with filter 4 and up-sampling in JRiver to 176/192. I noted a more liquid sound when using up-sampling in JRiver. I know the PWD2 will shift the digital filter way out of the of the audio band when being fed with hires. The JRiver up-sampling maintains plankton better than the PWD2 hardware based up-sampling filters.C+
The sound from the X-Sabre is more discontinous and less liquid than the other two DACs. The C+ score should not be taken as "bad", but simply not as good as the others, which are very good or outstanding in this regard.
The best way to describe this: 45 rpm record vs 33 rpm record. The PWD2 is very liquid and connects everything together. The rendering is very smooth and reminds of me the Wadias, especially with filter 1. Filter 4 is even more smooth, IMO, overly so. I think this, along with the above, is one of those qualities of great DACs which is seldom recognized by many.
A little more grainy and not quite as smooth and liquid as the PWD2 fw 2.03
Very smooth sounding and liquid sounding, despite some treble grain, which should not to be confused with the temporal grain or discontinuity discussed here.
Very smooth presentation which sometimes breaks apart with more energetic music. Lack of ultimate resolution and detracts somewhat.
It did seem grainy and discontinuous. (Originally rated C-, but D is the correct assessment.)
Should be a D.
VIIISoundstage and OpennessThis is surprising, the X-Sabre was extremely wide for me, but that was via Coax. It was more normal towards the PWD width via USB. Maybe 2.20/Auto is less wide? I actually found the XSabre to excel over the PWD for some tracks that had sounds originate from one side and carry to the other side, they sounded more continuous and coherent where the PWD sounded more appear from one side and land on the other rather than carry along. Depth is superior on the PWD. I am running speakers, and as you know I could honestly give a crap about "stage" with headphones. Staging with headphones is like trying to get a motorcycle to make a 1G turn. I'd rather do the 1G turn with an FR-S or Porsche.

USB and Coax differences may certainly play a role. Space seems to be one of those aspects most affected by data transmission protocols.
Good openness. Stage width is just beyond the edges of the speakers. Imaging is not as stable as the PWD2. Stage starts about one foot in front of the speakers and is without as much depth as PWD2.
The stage is expansive. The width of the stage lies a foot or two outside of the speakers. The stage depth starts at the speakers and extends further back. Localization, left right, front-back is extremely precise and stable - spooky. The staging with speakers is unreal and too good to describe.
No change from PWD2 fw 2.03B-
Good width, but soundstage has very delinated borders. Very precise placement of instruments. Very little depth. The flattest of all the DACs here. Sounds constrained, but this could be a matter of preference.
The sound-stage lies mostly between the speakers and with only a little bit of depth. Imaging is stable and precise.
Not assessed. We did not listen to this DAC long enough to give this category a proper assessment. It's possible this unit may have been defective.
IXBlacknessPWD was equal/better to task here on my settings/rigYeah, USB sucks on PWD for blackground. Coax is better. Coax from your 50lb Denon or the PWT is dead black.A-
Very black background from which sounds emanate.
The background is not totally black (especially from USB).
Slightly more black than PWD2 fw 2.03
Kind of a dark grey
Kind of a dark grey.
Not assessed. We did not listen to this DAC long enough to give this category a proper assessment. It's possible this unit may have been defective.
XPrecision, Control, and ClarityYeah 2.2.0 no problems here which is why I like it more. This is important for me, I don't like fuzzies. For my PWD rig it's an A- via USB and A+ via coax depending on what's in front of it.Yup, 2.20 owns for precision, clarity, and control. As you well know, I am more willing to sacrifice a little of this to get that Wadia "baby butt smoothness" effect.B+
Almost as precise, controlled, and clear sounding as the PWD2, except in the bass (see below.) The midrange and treble control of the X-Sabre is excellent.
Midrange and treble is precise, controlled and clear.
This is where fw 2.10/2.20 excels. Extremely clear, precise, focused, and controlled rendering of sounds.
But falls apart during complex and/or dynamic passages. Congested.

Between the X-Sabre and Gungnir.
Not as precise, controlled, tight, and clear as the others except for the bass, where the Gungnir is slighter better than X-Sabre.
Not assessed. We did not listen to this DAC long enough to give this category a proper assessment. It's possible this unit may have been defective.
XIBass RenderingC+
Bass exhibits plenty of punch and speed, but exhibits blurriness in the sense that bass instruments do not have easily recognizable tune or pitch (at least in comparison to the other DACs.) Instead, the X-Sabre kind of reproduces thuds and booms (exaggerating here, but I hope you get what I mean) Doesn't quite have the power in the last octave compared to the PWD, but still extends very well.
More lush and not as precise as fw 2.10/2.20. However still very tuneful and much more powerful. Great low end extension. I would consider it as good as 2.10/2.20, but different.
A less powerful, but more precise and cleaner bass rendering compared to fw 2.03. Just as extended.
Huh, where did the low bass go?
Great bass extension, power, impact. Really wanted to give it a B. However bass seems mushy and congested at times.
Great bass extension. Great impact. Very tuneful.
Limp dick bass. Limp in power and extension. Good definition, but good definition is meaningless if it's limp.
Limp dick bass.Treble presentation wasn't the only issue, bass performance was quite off as well w/ the Stereo192 DSD DAC.
XIIEdge and AttackA-
Crisp articulate edges and attack without being overly so. There is no blunting of peaks. There is the slightest loss in dynamics of the small peaks - but this is more related to the microdynamics issue.
Crisp articulate edges and attack without being overly so. There is no blunting of peaks. However, it's able to be silky smooth too when its necessary.
Compared to PWD2 fw 2.03, slightly more edgy and less smooth.
Attacks, whether of high or low intensity, seem somewhat blunted or dampened.
This is somewhat related to the precison and control aspects. Slightly soft overall, but maintains good bite in the upper mids.
Not assessed. We could not listen to this DAC long enough to give this category a proper assessment.
Final ThoughtsI need to hear the Gungnir, love the vocals on the PWD 2.2.0. Did Taylor sound dry last night to you?Bah, vocals are too dry for me on 2.20! Yes, Ms. Swift did sound dry. That entire record is messed up anyways.

[For those of you who do not know, we like to use less than ideal recordings in addition to good recordings for equipment evaluations. Recordings of marginal quality tend to reveal problems much more easily - they have way less latitude if the equipment has any issues.

Consider commonly used audiophile recordings like Patricia Barber Modern Cool Track #7 or anything from Joe Islam's ...Tillerman. Those recordings sound fucking great from almost everything. So it's useless to us.

There's a reason why 2/3 of the vendors at HiFi shows won't less us play our stuff, and will only play flamenico guitar or girl + guitar music.]

* Slightly "spitty" mid/high treble.
* Slightly flatter sounding compared to the others, but no slouch in this area. There are $10K DACs which still can't beat this.
* Blurry in the bass. Hard to make out pitch in the bass.


* Dynamic, precise tight rendering of midrange and treble.
* Clear sounding with great blackground.
* More plankton extraction than Gungnir and Invicta, but less than PWD2.
* Solid piece of aluminum can be used as a weapon.


* More polite and less bite in the upper mids than the PWD2 and Gungnir.


At $1100, highly recommended. It's shortcomings are minor.

* Slightly thick sounding. FW 2.02 is smoother and lusher but less precise in the bass than FW 2.10/2.20
* The leftover forwardness of the PWD1 does show up from time to time.


* Significantly better plankton extraction, continousness and range of volume levels, and rendering of sound in time.
* Best micro-dynamics. It is by far the most involving sounding - least flat of the DACs.


* Critical to keep in mind this is an upgraded PWD1 to PWD2, which may different from the new PWD2s which cannot be rolled back to run the older firmware.


The far the best of the bunch. It's no contest.


* Brighter treble. Possible issues with treble timbre.


* More articulate, crisper, but less powerful bass.
* Less smooth, but clearer sounding.


Retains most characteristics of the PWD2 firmware 2.03 but with the above differences

* Mushy or congested bass then things get busy.
* Slightly harsh in the sibilance area.


* Overall warm, inviting, lush, smooth, liquid.
* Great body and meatiness to rendered sounds.


*Gets really really really hot. Like hotter than the hotter running Schiit amps.
* Polite and forgiving, yet still competent at the technicalities.


While not a colored sounding DAC (it's neutral enough), the Invicta can be considered a specialized DAC because of its presentation.

* Not the strongest with plankton extraction.
* Rendered sounds slightly out of focus compared the other DACs.
* A few have remarked that the Gungir sounded too dynamic. This is probably because the softest sounds are compressed upward or omitted, leaving a tendency toward moderate and louder sounds.


* Doesn't do anything outright wrong or offensive.
* Great tonal balance.
* Highly dynamic. 
* Vocal and sound rending is the sweetest from this DAC.


* Lots of drive and very energetic
* As an aside, the Gungir does correct the very slight sibilance and mid-bassy characteristic of the Bifrost. It's also more resolving (especially in balanced mode) and has more precision, clarity, and control than the Bifrost as well.
* Using Coax instead of USB improves the aforementioned shortcomings not insignificantly.


This is really good Schiit for $750 and no doubt a value leader for the price.

* Take a Benchmark DAC, give it more plankton, and way way more digititus. I wouldn't say it's clinical sounding, just that the treble is really tough to bear. I still couldn't stand the treble after 4-5 minutes with the speakers at 40-50db and me sitting in the other room.

* Weakest among all the DACs in bass extension, bass volume, and bass impact


Very resolving.


* PC / USB2 with Mytek drivers was used. Evidently, the DAC supposedly sounds better with Apple / Firewire.
* It's speculated that this unit could be defective or incorrectly used with a computer. Although two other members who have heard another unit have agreed with the treble issues, but to a much lesser extent.


Agreed with LFF's assessment: Have not heard a DAC so unlistenable in such a long time. The digititus made us lose any desire to futher evaluate this DAC.
(Based on Personal Preferences. Anything Rated Should Be Considered Worthy.)
#3 (tie)#1#3 (tie)#2Refuse to use in my current system
Very Important Must Read NotesJust got done evaluating three sets of regulators for a Buf3 build, so I'm actually in the mood for this. DACs are hard to figure out and one has to be in the mood to care.Mytek responds:
All DACs were left plugged in and not turned off for at least 48 hours. (Likely to increase as this review progresses because I will not turn the DACs off.)http://www.changstar.com/index.php/topic,883.msg22161.html#msg22161
JRiver was set to 24 bit output. 44k PCM was resampled x2 to 88k (and 192k for later sessions.) EQ was applied with speakers, but not with HE-500. Album replay gain was also used for volume leveling.Alternate viewpoints:
DSD streams were converted to 24/176 or 24/192 PCM in JRiver for the PWD2 and Gungnir. For the X-Sabre and Mytek, they were bitsteamed (no PCM conversion.)http://www.changstar.com/index.php/topic,883.msg22227.html#msg22227
Evaluations were performed using the Mjolnir as an amp / pre to the following:

> Fostex fe166 rear loaded horn high efficiency wide-banders with Hsu sub and Fostex T90 supertweets. Speakers are EQ'd for listening position using the EasyQ plug-in in JRiver.

> Crest CA2 power amp > HiFiMan HE-500s with fuzz pads.
DACs were fed via USB from Windows laptop
Feedback from Maxvla and olor1n (review was revised with their feedback in mind):http://www.changstar.com/index.php/topic,869.msg21262.html#msg21262
Re-analysis and reply to Maxvla. Possible explanation of disparities:http://www.changstar.com/index.php/topic,869.msg21319.html#msg21319
USB 2.0 input was used with the Mytek
Tracks UsedPeter Gabriel So (original CD) - Mercy StreetEagles California Hell Freezes Over - Hotel CaliforniaSheffield Labs - Drum Improvisation
Peter Gabriel So (original CD) - Don't Give UpAlison Krauss New Favorite (MFSL) - Let Me Touch You For a WhileScorpions-We'll Burn the Sky/Your Light
Peter Gabriel So (original CD) - In Your EyesAlison Krauss New Favorite (MFSL) - The Boy Who Couldn't Hoe CornUltrasone Demo Disc
Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues (remastered) - This Must Be The Place Alison Krauss New Favorite (MFSL) - The Lucky OneBobby McFerrin-Bang!Zoom/Friends
Jennifer Warnes - Rock You GentlyBread-It Don't Matter to Me
Pixies Surfer Rosa (MFSL) - Brick is RedHall n Oates-One on One/You Make My Dreams
Nirvana Nevermind (MFSL) - LithiumElton John-Tiny Dancer
Depeche Mode Strangelove (SACD) - Behind the WheelGipsy Kings-Mosaique
Depeche Mode Violator (SACD) - HaloGodsmack-Voodoo/Whatever
Eric Clapton Unplugged - Tears in HeavenShakti-La Dance Du Bonheur-hi-rez
Eva Cassidy American Tune (Hires) - Drowning in the Sea of LoveLimp Bizkit-Take a Look Around
Eva Cassidy American Tune (Hires) - True ColorsMadonna-Holiday
Rostropovich Cello Suites - Suite 1 - PreludeRush-Tom Sawyer
Taylor Swift Fearless - BreatheSpyro Gyra-Goovin' for Grover-hi-rez
The Essential Darryl Hall and John Oates - Sara SmileSystem of a Down-Atwa
The Essential Darryl Hall and John Oates - I Can't Go For ThatEagles-Hotel California; Hell Freezes Over
Michael Jackson Thriller (original CD) - Billie JeanAnne Murray-Danny's Song
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Copland: The Music of America - Billy the KidChakachas-Jungle Fever
Cincinnati Pops Orchestra - Copland: The Music of America - Fanfair for the Common ManVivaldi-Gloria (Missa Sancti Spiritus)
Nirvana In Utero (MFSL) - All ApologiesVivaldi-Concerto for 2 Violins in D major, RV513 Aston Magna
Special ThanksTo Maxvla for his generousity, inquistiveness, and bravery for letting us pick gear apart
To Q, for sending the Mytek our way
To Tari, for sending the Invicta our way
To Schiit, for their generosity, support of many meets, and bravery for letting us pick their gear apart
To LFF, for making me aware of great recordings of great pop songs from time to time
To RD, for moral support and being a fellow member of the anti-hype society
To all the other regulars at Changstar for having such bad attitudes
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