There are multiple factors, which help to explain why our DAC products display a direct from the source analogue sound character, can convey convincing musical realism with low level musical complexity and the fine spatial nuances that other DACs struggle with. Amongst other things our products intentionally do not have “bells and whistles”- load of features that most mainstream DACs showcase. The features may make the product stand out being more attractive, helping to sell a product but in the end come at the cost of sound quality. The features that contribute to destruction of musicality in a high performance audio product are but not limited to displays, meters, volume controls, switches, buttons and relays, multiple in- and outputs and last not least vast compatibility to all possible media formats and standards, just to name a few.
The mentioned features in most cases either add no value to sound quality in best case scenario or simply irreparably destroy musicality. Apart from that, they also do have the tendency to come and go with fashion. The problems is that once those features are out of fashion, what remains is a lifeless sounding product, which eventually ends up being for sale. Below are some of the key differences between SW1X and products of our competitors:
We believe that instead of spending money on the non-essential & useless features, one is better off investing money on R&D, materials & components that contribute to reproduction of finest nuances of music. All SW1X DACs are digital-filterless designs, i.e. there is no over-sampling, no jitter reduction, no noise-shaping and no re-clocking. Since all our DACs are designed to operate without any digital filtering or any kind of digital signal manipulation that is required for over-sampling, all filtering is done in the analogue domain for the best possible signal integrity. Our finest DACs employ highest quality TDA1541, PCM56 & TDA1543 converter chipsets, well known for the their analogue sound character, solely because we found them to be the best sounding available (yes, even much better than the any more modern 24bit or 32bit versions!). So, when the fashion is gone, our products are still making music, therefore making the SW1X DAC products time-less and more valuable. In other words we choose to focus on music, focus on the factors that really matter in music reproduction, optimized for a single format (PCM) and intentionally omit the fashionable features and other feature inheriting factors that may be contributing to convenience but are counter-productive to the quality of music reproduction.
Our DAC products may look simple because absence of the extensive list of “bells and whistles” because they are functional designs, i.e. optimized for high performance music reproduction and only for that one purpose. The key being here- everything designed to be really elegantly simple, where each component is not too much or too little and is optimized for each other to work in harmony. One of the main factors is the elegant circuit design for both digital and analogue output stage. Digital side is powered by a discrete transistor shunt regulated power supply, not the usual 3 legged- L78xx type integrated voltage regulators as found in products of our competitors. The other factor is that the amplification of the analogue signal performed by a tube output stage, which is single ended, Class A, without any negative feedback loops, powered by a tube rectifier. In between there a discrete I/V conversion interface with directly connects DAC output to the grid of a powerful driver or power output stage tube.
The last but not least important factor is the combination of our elegantly simple circuit design with the finest specially selected components & materials, which are just as important as the circuit design. One has the option of choosing between 5 different performance levels and STD, Special and Signature versions. While the Special and Signature version already are full of finest specially selected materials & components, the more basic STD version offers high quality materials & components, which can be upgraded with extras that is also being offered as an option.
On contrary to SW1X DAC designs, all on the market available over-sampling and up-sampling DACs employ dramatic signal modifications in form of noise-shaping (read more about it in an article here) or some other form of signal manipulation, which kills the musicality and buries it with op-amps or transistors which operate in complex negative feedback loops. Most of those DACs (and other products) out there are either too complex & over-engineered (computer type with many low quality components & materials) or too simplistic using off-the shelf solutions (lacking any creativity) or using low quality components & materials or a combination thereof. These DAC products have a lot in common- they are usually loaded with features such as inputs and outputs, displays etc. – a sign that they were designed by electronic engineers, not musicians. The consequence is that they may look all very different but they all do sound essentially very similar: flat, synthetic and lifeless- where some DACs may sound a bit better than others in some departments. Some manufacturers try to differentiate themselves from the rest by either not disclosing what integrated converter circuit is being used or by a FGPA (field-programmable gate array) type of a DAC, which is nothing but a programmable IC chip, programmed with custom signal manipulation algorithms- a feature borrowed from computers but in essence not sounding much different from the rest.
Overall, the major difference to most common mainstream DACs is that our DACs are designed by a team of creative engineers with musical education background and not by electronic engineers who understand only textbook circuit designs and nothing beyond that. We purposefully moved away from the so called “mainstream approach” (make the product look attractive above everything) and adopted a radically different approach (focusing on music, our way) in designing audio equipment. We hope that this approach is not offending anyone but this is crucial to sound quality and music reproduction- the only feature that really matters in the long run after all.
Dr. Slawa (SW1X) Roschkow, August 2018