Some comments from our happy customers
I have been considering a new DAC for a few months. As one does, I have been scanning, reading, chatting and musing about DACs for that time. I was interested in the following DACs:
- Schiit Yggdrasil (Analog 2)
- Holo Spring II L3
- Someone else posted about the SW1X DACs and I added them to my list. They are not too far from my home in the UK so I thought I could check them out and they sounded interesting.
- I was also possibly considering the Lampizator Amber 3. Several other keen head-fiers seemed to really like it (and other Lampizator DACs).
I am using an RME ADI II presently for my main setup with a Glenn OTL amplifier and (primarily) ZMF Verite Closed.
I reached out to Slawa at SW1X and asked if I could come to check out his DACs. He was very helpful and accommodating, so I planned time to visit. It was fun. To share some direct thoughts after the visit, here are a few lightly moded excerpts from PMs I exchanged with two other head-fiers.
I spent a good ~4h w/ Slawa’s. I can’t un-hear any of it. I am now clear on a few things (and less clear on others!):
- I really should get a new DAC.
- He makes very nice DACs.
- USB as transport needs thinking on how to handle.
- ASR-like SINAD, THD, etc DAC measurements really do not correlate with “sounds good”.
Slawa is a nice and interesting guy who likes to experiment and make cool DACs. He certainly has strong views on how DACs should be made. There was another long-time customer there picking up his DAC3 after having some minor mods and a new USB-SPDIF unit. He was interesting to talk to.
We listened for a bit to Slawa’s main “killer 2-channel system” as-is for a short while (including one of his DACs). We then put my RME ADI II DAC into this setup, replacing his DAC. The very, very audible power supply wall-wart switching noise was a horror to behold once we even plugged it in, with the DAC itself still in the box. The RME compared to any of his DACs (which we did cover later) sounded completely flat and lifeless. The RME was a small 2d napkin in front of you as opposed to a giant 3d spatial image. No hyperbole; it was so night and day I was floored. We played the same song, ~volume-matched back/ forth and it was stark. Instruments moved “into place”, things sounded alive. With the RME it was almost like you just took “the real music” and squoze it from top to bottom, left to right, with overall less amplitude and conceptual acoustic-mass.
He showed the changes of replacing, one at a time, black-gate capacitors for other capacitors. Amazingly audible changes even for one change. It was a very interesting demonstration of detail I wouldn’t have guessed. That said, he is not a “roller”, he wants to find the right thing, put it in place and move on.
We then compared his DAC1 and DAC2. DAC1 sounds good, DAC2 sounds even better, DAC5 sounds better. I am sure the intervening models follow the line between 1-5.
For myself, what I am not clear on; if the RME compared to any of his DACs is so starkly different, how does it compare to any of the other DACs I am considering? The difference on the speakers was truly massive. It is really hard to say after a few hours of listening and talking if it was the same relative size on the headphones.
His DAC II was much better on the headphones, but perhaps not as jaw-dropping different as on speakers. That is expected I guess when his system is in the very expensive zone all told and the HP setup is far more humble!
His DACs are dead-silent, musical, #certainly-definitively-unquestionably-much-better than my RME DAC.
All of that sounds very enthusiastic. It is/ was. I would like to be sober at the same time. I have heard some very nice hi-fi kit to be clear, but I have not heard every high-end DAC out there. The experience did rebase my expectations for the kinds of changes I could expect to hear.
(2) The second brilliant engineer.
I wrestled at this point wondering whether or not to explore vinyl as a source.
looking at the costs of good turntables, cartridges, phono amps, cabling – supports…….. it wasn’t looking too attractive
also whilst the idea of a physical media in your hand, with glossy covers and info really is a hark back to the past , and attractive, I also was aware of the £20 or so outlay for each record , and given i had none it would escalate into an expensive collection –
i figured the digital platforms and CD (i had loads) was more sensible at this point so i looked at some outboard DACs; that would transform the sound of my Oppo203 4k player, and land me in musical nirvana
so i tried a few .. Rega, Naim, Arcam and finally the Qutest (Chord)
none of these external DACs could out perform the in built DACs on my 4k blu ray player, (oppo203). they all sound more or less the same. I could really not understand what the press hype about these was about. They did nothing for me, and the presentation remained tiresome.
then i stumbled across a review somewhere, of an audio-note like approach to DACs, so forget the fancy DSD and very high sampling rates, and just focus on the information present in 16/44.1 ….
Slawa Roschkow designs his version of this – SW1x-DACs and I thought I may as well try out this version of events, in my system; with the knowledge and agreement that if it didn’t gel i could send it back. Slawa hand-built me a DAC-II (standard version), and I got this late January.
Being hard to please in hifi terms is important yet annoying as there is always an issue that prevents enjoyment of the music. This DAC-II installed has been an amazing transformative improvement.
So the accurate and amazing sounding Oppo DAC is now revealed as thin and unsubstantial, where the decay tail of notes is sharply truncated, and the acoustics of the recording room is woefully under represented.
The DAC-II fills out each note, so that it sounds a real – living entity in time and space. The fatness is not tied to any slowness or ploddingly poor timing. Quite the opposite there is a velvety flow, effortless and tight to the music now. It carries you along.
The notorious habit of streaming, where one listens to the first 20 seconds then jump to another track or album. I found myself stop doing this, and listening to whole pieces, and often entire albums fro star to end. When was the last time i did this ?
John Darko, who reviews digital sources constantly talks of ‘Acoustic density” , and now I know exactly what he mens by this.
So the DAC I have (and am not sending back!) is only the DAC-II standard, and there are higher variants available from Slawa (at greater cost of course). Can’t imagine how good these would sound, I only wish o could afford such delights. I am aware that I can send my DAC back for retrofitting of improvements, whenever funds allow…. so I have a stellar upgrade path ahead.
Slawa provides other products , carefully designed and tuned to this house sound which is so attractive. I can’t recommend these enough.
Conclusion: I will resist temptation to grab well-rated HIFI from mass-production sources. I will always value the direct interaction, communication and have influence when sourcing components direct from the engineer/designer – these true experts really care about quality audio delivery as the success or failure of their business depends on this , and less driven by the usual marketing nonsense.
Some fine tuning, this thing, you just opened a crack in my system a dropped a huge, bleeding, veins out dripping flat on a surface piece of heart in the middle of everything, yes it has gobs if detail, extension, yes. Separation of instruments whatever, there are not just instruments playing, they are crying, they are happy, the singer is playing his soul with the devil right in front of me. Digital, analog: hell…
Was about to updatemy Lampizator amber to the current version. After reading your comments, decided to pursue another direction. My impression, every expression in your review is spot on accurate. It took about 3 months, but I now have a well seasoned SW1X level II “special” in my system.
This is digital like I have never encountered.
The bloom of large orchestrated crescendos and choir voices is absolutely lovely. There are any number of beautifully gifted but hard to interpret female vocalists that are now reproduced without distraction (recordings from Madredeus, Pink Martini, Dulce Pontes, Hot Sardines to name a few). No more impulsive longings for a return to analog.
I am so incredulously delighted to have found this DAC, I am tempted to go on. This being a public domain, further words would seem as fabricated hyperbole to anyone who has read your review.
I will say, there “was” something about digital I always found unnatural. Like striking a bell and clasping your hand around it. An abrupt fade to a completely silent but lifeless background. Ambient decay is captured and brought to life in an expansive dimensional way. Old time audio enthusiasts who have dipped their toes in digital waters, and winced, may find SW1X a truly satisfying portal to a diverse world of streaming music.
From a practical standpoint, would like to mention Nigel, the USA midwest SW1X rep. He was a pleasure to deal with.
I know it’s an old cliche but the SW1X DAC products sound so analog that it is virtually impossible to know you are listening to a digital source. The sheer palpability, the presence that the SW1X DACs produce means they provide a reality to the sound that so far I must say is unmatched. If you are looking for a DAC that makes you feel you are literally “there”, then this is the DAC for you. With very high hopes we will be purchasing a SW1X phono stage next. If the SW1X DACs can make digital sound so incredibly analog, just how good can their analog do analog? We are so excited to be involved with this top shelf product.
Something really weird just happened.. in a good way 🙂 I have the song Asylum playing (from the Supertramp Crime of the Century disc) and suddenly things simply opened up. Not saying the stage went left into my neighbor’s yard but the entire stage opened in all 3 dimensions. Very interesting. I was nodding off a bit when it did this, immediately bringing my focus back to the music and even though this is a 45 year old studio recording it felt like they were in the room. As you described below it was almost spooky so I believe I just got a taste of what you are describing for the special and IV and V. Very nice. John
“- its a very revealing DAC- and ruthless with poor recordings, and clearly highlights well recorded stuff; its quite an instrument !”
Your DAC is really good. I’ve had a lot of them and none them really stood out as special. The more money I spent, they each got better but they still all pretty much sounded the same. Same in the sense of a strong family resemblance.
This new DAC of mine is so relaxing it is amazing.
My buddy who lives in the Seattle, WA area recently drove to my house for a weekend visit. He brought his Lampizator Atlantic DAC with him to compare it to my DAC III. I must admit that I was a bit nervous at the prospect of pitting my DAC III against his $12,000 Atlantic. I’d heard his DAC twice before and I knew it sounded fantastic both times.
Well, we played different songs repeatedly (as audiophiles often do) trying to identify differences, weaknesses, problems, and unpleasant sounds. There were no unpleasant sounds coming from either DAC. They both sounded wonderful. I think I detected a tiny bit of background hiss or slight fuzziness emanating from his Atlantic during certain tracks that was not present in my DAC III. My friend either didn’t notice or decided to say nothing about it. Could that have come from the filter(s) that are used in the Lampizator?
After 2+ days of listening, we called it a draw – except for that slight warm fuzziness that I detected.
I thought you might like to know about the above event. I’m delighted with my DAC III, and I’m even more delighted that I did not buy an Atlantic as I had originally intended last year! 😁
I wanted to add.. I just got home from work and taking a few minutes to indulge in music as I get ready for dinner. What I am hearing is just amazing. Very acoustical music.. guitars and vocals mostly and the recording is nothing “special”. Yet the sound is incredible and again I am hearing layers. Is amazing how much bass an acoustic guitar can generate. It carries me away and for afew minutes now my rough day fades and I feel my soul being fed.. this music has soul. It isn’t just notes.. it ins’t just a guitar or a voice. I think what was missing before more than anything was the soul and now that I have that returned my love in music has also returned. I am lissing to a woman sing who passed when she was very young. She did not reach any level of stardom while alive. In fact few knew who she was outside of washington DC’s small bars. After she passed a radio station in England played her version of Over the Rainbow and it was the English who breathed her in. Her name is Eva Cassidy and she died at age 33. Now her music lives on and right now I am very much enjoying her singing “What A Wonderful World” from the “Best of Eva Cassidy” CD. If you want to hear some of the soul your DAC is providing give Eva a shot. It sounds incredible! John
Hi Dr Slawa,
doing some listening on the Dac 3 Signature being fed by Lumin U1 Mini via XLR. The DAC is hooked via RCA2 out.
sound is very analog like. one thing that strikes me is how the speakers totally disappeared from the room. Not sure if it is the the DAC or the new pre amp, but so far I am liking what I am hearing.
Of all the things I did in 2018 striving for better sound NOTHING compared to adding your DAC. While the other things I did helped and did matter, the single biggest change came because of the DAC III. I am less convinced the delta sigma DAC designs, regardless of expense, would have had an equal effect. The sound tone is just different. I see people chasing oversampling as a cure for defects elsewhere in the design. DS Dac chips in general are very inexpensive chips. I had access to 3 lower end DS DACs (actual DAC chips were good chips). One was built into my Atoll music player, another is built in to my Thoebe preamp and the third was part of the $6000 Esoteric CD player. While there were 8some* differences between them, for most part they were mostly the same. In each case I always felt something was missing. A lack of fullness was what my perceptions told me. A sense of thinness. The music played was detailed and clear but it had no soul, no body. Background sounds were mostly on a single plane and played at the same volume. It lacked space and life.
With your DAC each instrument, each voice has its own life, its own body, and plays at its own volume. The background, as is the foreground comes out in layers and unfolds. The music has life and really does draw me in. I now feel almost like a crack addict when I do not have time to listen to a few songs.
I dop hope others will take this journey. Those who enjoy DSD 512 and feel it is the answer to whatever it is they are missing I am happy for them. I suspect DSD 1024 will be around the corner to further help in their quest to listen to interpolated notes in search of what is missing. But for those who want soul to their music and to hear what was originally recorded I do hope they find one of your DACs. I believe they will be amazed.
More than half a year has passed since I had my DAC 1 Signature upgraded. Unfortunately I was not able to give it a really good listen till recently – was occupied with some other important things and had no much time for fun. Although my first impression was kind of modest, now, following a few months of listening, I really enjoy the sound and I’d like to thank you for dedicating your time to and being so patient with me. Switching to a tube preamp following your recommendations made a big difference and now I think about a decent SET amp and a pair of sensitive speakers to further improve my system.
Thank you for the great sound delivered by your equipment.
All the best to you and any success to SW1X Audio Design.
Started from a Beresford dac, then to a Teac, upgraded to a Moon dac and finally got this dac SW1X dac…. i am not good with words, but I can only say this is the most natural sounding dac. Everything sounds amazing: bass, mids, and highs that can blow your mind. No matter what mood I am in, this thing brings a smile to my face. Equipment used: auralic aries, AN Otto phono SE Signature, AN ANJ-hemp and THIS SW1X. Thanks Slawa and Bogdan Bordeianu for bringing true natural sound to my ears!!!!
I have watched SW1X from the start and have been a fan of the concept.
I was using an AN Dac 1 1x whicch used the AD 1855 chip and the mini valve so beloved of AN
I thought it was pretty damn good
I now use the SW1x Dac 1 and it is much more musical with space.
There were some adjustments to make and throughout it all Slawa could not have been more helpful
with advice and some practical help as well
The DAC 1 is staying.
Anyone contemplating a stand alone dac MUST listen to this
Slawa after running DaC on repeat for 48hr with purist audio revB conditioning Cd along tube signal treatment ( got that one from Wojtek)
Dac Sw1x produces Astounding sound I’m absolutely astounded even in my modest system difference is astonishing. I don’t even want to complement yet 🙂 but I can’t help myself I did not expected that level of change I’m sure it’s is not the end of changes because I understand that Caps and other elements need to settle 😉 . There was specifics track on Chesky Jazz sampler where after pressing play you can here artist coming to the room picks up saxophone takes breath and music emerges from back background but what is amazing that you ca. Hear acoustics of the room artist playing .
That track we played before Dac was tested at friends house with with expensive denon amp and top cd ( Japan edition ) and dyna audio speaker . We all were surprise by this track especially owner of the system . he could not wrap his head around fact how Dac can outperformed his multi thousand CD player 😉
I will keep you informed one DAC goes for proper listening tests.
There is one Person Owner of audio store he is in audio for 35 years they have lots. Of hiend gear there but he loves music and does not judge audio by name or price .
Call you before I leave for Poland
My review of the SW1X DAC 1 Signature
So what do we have? A nicely plain atheistically pleasing aluminium case with a single light in the front. But that’s only the outside. Open the lid and it’s clear inside we have something special almost akin to a piece of rather fine Jewellery, it’s all mapped out beautifully with fine quality components and wonderful silver wire and excellent soldering.
After 40 years of opening up hifi boxes and thinking is that all there is and I have payed a fortune for this!? this one really impresses.
Being one for not rushing in on the sound of quality hifi I have been patient no end and honestly given this Dac a good six months run in, bearing in mind we have a myriad of black gate capacitors and other hand picked components it’s only fair to make an assessment after this amount of time and this Dac needs a ruddy long time to get to its best.
I can report a cd based system that honestly bats with most record players I’ve owned over the years but crucially we have more detail and a solid deep/real bass. Also must mention an exquisite mid treble which appears and then fades with a 3D like effect, all of this presented with faultless timing. Being a drummer in a previous life it’s great to have my music presented with the correct timing a rare commodity these days. All in all I made a no brainer purchase and mostly definitely recommend this Dac.
I am using this Valve Dac with a Cyrus CD T – CD player and for me it’s a perfect match.
My review of some products from SW1X
I have been collecting and listening to Hi Fi for about 45 years. The move to digital, and up-sampling in particular, has been a big disappointment in the last 15 years. Like many I am not enamoured by the digital ’headache’. Previously this annoyance has been somewhat ameliorated by the use of valve amps (McIntosh 225, Audionote Meishu, EAR 861), transistor NOS DACs and horn speakers, but there are times when I contemplated giving up trying to improve my system.
Then, by chance, I spotted an advert for SW1X, carried out extensive auditioning, and finally entered a new world. Below is my best attempt to review the kit I have bought. I am no technical expert and I leave Slawa of SW1X to fend off any technical question.
Almost all interfaces to computers rely on USB connection and the job of the USB1 is to convert that signal to SP/DIF and hence onward to the DAC. It does clever things with the clocking and predominantly makes use of valves. It doesn’t have a sound in the absolute sense and can only be judged when in line with a good DAC. It’s a smart well finished box. In my case it is brushed aluminium which I like as it diminishes the sort of minor marks that occur on black boxes over time. Connection is minimalist with a USB cable in and an SP/DIF cable out. A mains switch makes up the compliment and this is placed at the rear to encourage one to leave it on 24/7, particularly with the internal Black Gate capacitors. In operation it was immediately recognised by my Raspberry Pi.
DAC 1 Signature
This is where the magic reveals itself. There is an SP/DIF cable in and phonos out, and again there is just the mains switch on the rear. If you are looking for an analogue sound from a digital source then the search is over. I used to own a Linn Sondek, Ittok etc and its memory has been truly laid to rest. CDs that were unlistenable are now enjoyable and discs that were once enjoyable are now wonderful. I have learnt over the years to avoid over focussing on details within the sound, being old enough to remember that Naim sold a thousand amps based predominantly on the reproduction of a rim shot on a drum. Well this DAC just makes music, overwhelming, foot tapping, sing along music. It does high and low frequencies and a lovely valve-like fluid midrange, but at no times does it draw undue attention to specific elements. Its just a pleasure to own it.
If the electronics are the icing on the cake, then these cables are the cherry on top. In the past I have often played lip service to the choice of cables not really hearing too much in the way of differences but happy to settle for Audionote silver ANV cables so I didn’t have to worry about missing out on something! Suddenly I was hearing differences. SW1X cables bettered the Audionote cables which went on E Bay. The real revelation were the silver mains cables. Slawa has his own recipe for cables using strands of silver wire of mixed radiuses in what is essentially an air dielectric. A key element is their (zero) impedance. I cant begin to guess why 1m of silver mains cable can impact on several miles of supply cable to the house, but it does. I would say the interconnect between computer and USB1 is the cable to get in order to share the insight and at about £100 it’s a steal. Each change of cable allows the system to breath more easily. The soundstage opens up and just becomes more real. Eventually the speakers disappear – Amazing.
Slawa is one of the nicest people I have met in Hi Fi. For creativity and innovative thought I would put him alongside the likes of Peter Qvortrup and Tim De Paravicini. Yet he is friendly and happy to talk through any naïve questions I may have.
Dear Slawa –
Left it running overnight and am now sitting in my dressing gown (!) listening to Alina Ibragimova Bach Violin Concertos. It is very good: one of very few products that I have heard over the last 15 years so that has truly impressed. It will be a pleasure to review it. …
It is mad good for the money.
USB1 now back in my system where it belongs …. Smooth analog sounds again. I hadn’t really appreciated how good the USB1 was until it was gone and whatever changes I make to my system in the future the USB1 will remain
Thank you for a fascinating afternoon and for taking the time to show me your work and discuss the state of modern hifi
I will be in touch again when I am able to spend some time listening for longer to your superb kit and will certainly bring one of my own DACs for comparison
Also thank you for your speedy turnaround on my repair
Dear Dr. Slawa,
I will be brief and express what is important.
I will borrow a term often used by astronomers when they are about to view the performance of a new telescope – for the first time.
“First Light”……..meet design expectation?
First Sound & Impression…..
The performance of the SW1X DAC is stunning. Very good DAC indeed.
Excellent voice, dynamics, speed and good sound staging. Good analogue feel to the sound, without comparing – close to turntable set-up. Sound is detailed, organic, almost live perspective. Richly textured, full bodied. Sound of metal instruments imparted with right timbre, non aggressive to the ears. Immense sound stage with ambience, transparent, musical, and finely focused.
I would not wish to overstate the SW1X in a manner that would exaggerate its designed purpose. Hence a understated comment is probably best. The greatness of the SW1X should be awarded to your philosophy behind using the best materials to bring forth the refinements that is possible from an equipment rather than relying on technolgy alone.
Afterall, what we are driving at ultimately is achieving the most musical sound isn’t it. With the SW1X – you have.
A good CD player is essential.
Kindest Regards – Simon
Your DAC is wonderful. It is better than the ZANDEN or my Stax. I am very happy with it. I hope to soon buy the USB / SPDIF Signature. I’m a little worried about leaving the DAC still operating. How long the tube will remain in perfect condition?
It’s really good with complicated or busy music. It’s the cats pyjamas!