Digital analogue sound Digital analogue sound.
Three words representing a large industry counting hundreds of products, as thousands of good-sound fans globally are looking for the analogue sound, that they once loved and know well, in digital devices and systems, with the digital experience that they come with and that we all have come to get used to. Most good-sound consumers nowadays have turned to the ease that platforms such as Tidal and Spotify offer, or/and to the file reproduction, usually in high definition, from some kind of storage unit. The dac, following the file reproduction philosophy, is central to the search for the ideal device, that will offer the best of the digital world (definition, dynamic digital sound) along with nuances of analogue sound. This search may feel like a safari in the wild jungle of a multitude of product offerings. Adding the factor price in the function, this safari becomes even more challenging, as the… explorer has to pay the… price for every, otherwise small, mistake.
I had read all those positive reviews from the global press about the “dac giant killer” with the analogue sound, the Holo Level 3 “Kitsuné Tuned Edition”. I had listened to its performance as it played out at the last “Image and Sound” Expo in Athens in the large room of Chameleon Audio (the company which brought the product to Greece with Mr. Nikos Kostadimas) and I was impressed. I had to listen from my own sound system, as well, and live the real… home experience. Before going into detail, I shall say this: I am still impressed! Let’s see why.
First of all it’s worth mentioning some of its unique features:
It is a ladder dac. Ladder dacs are a blast from the past famous for their very good analogue sound. They use a network of high-definition durable resistors and demand high power to achieve the best possible reproduction of the analogue signal, whereby the prevailing manufacturing trend in most modern dacs replaces all of these resistors with one microchip. Making a high quality ladder dac is a very expensive process. In this field one will find products from companies such as MSB with five or six-figure pricetags. HoloAudio managed to make one that costs just 3.000 euro. The Holo uses 2 ladder networks, one for PCM and one for DSD!
It is a Non Over Sampling dac, so it can play natively whatever file you want.
It supports natively, without any oversampling, DSD 1024. Actually it is the only ladder dac globally that reproduces DSD files in 1024 sampling, as well as PCM files up to 1536 Mhz, crazy numbers compared to other products out there.
The top ΚΤΕ “Kitsuné Tuned Edition” that is available today is different from the other two editions (version 1 & 2) in the hardware and materials that have been chosen to build it rather than the functionalities, as described in this section.
This new device has Mundorf Evo SilverGold Oil caps and a power transistor 100VA O-Type green label pure 4N silver.
Digital connectivity is complete and possible via these 6 entry points:
I2S (LVDS HDMI)
It also has balanced and RCA plugs.
Kitsuné Tuned Edition”, the best of the best Holo Audio has to offer!
Balanced (XLR) and RCA outputs, plus all the digital inputs you will ever need.
The “hearings” took place from my home sound system consisting of an Antipodes DX Gen2 streamer/server, Stahl Tek Vekian’s dac (with which the relevant A/B testing took place), Jadis’s i88 amplifier and Harbeth 40,2 speakers with Tellurium q cables. My philosophy while listening was to test samples from representative musical genres and various definition file samples.
The first sample was from a flac file and Tidal – Cassandra Wilson from the Travelling Miles album and the piece Never Broken. A cover piece (the original being from Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter) from a great band with the riveting voice of Cassandra Wilson. Wow!
The deep sweet voice of the singer filled the room, the sounds of the natural band instruments came up out of nowhere creating that 3D feeling with multiple layers, characteristics of a good live sound.
The acoustic bass was tight, realistic, fast and… addictive
Stereophile magazine characterized and categorized this digital to analog converter/source as one of the few “out of this world” products in 2020.
Lush, bold and very analog sounding with excellent tonal colors, timbre and dynamics.
Similarly impressive was the outcome of the Tainted Love (originally by Soft Cell) cover by the latin jazz singer Karen Souza.
Realistic wholesome piano sound, a transfixing voice, and dynamic sounds.
The 3D feeling omnipresent, as if the room had doubled.
The samples of good jazz recordings with a lot of musical instruments, discrete natural sounds and on PCM flac files from Tidal were magic.
But can Holo “rock it” just as well? Queens of the Stone Age from their unforgettable album “Songs for the deaf”and the piece “Hangin’ tree” from a flac file from Tidal.
Most of the dacs I have listened to, including from my Stahl Tek Vekian dac, cannot fully represent the wholesome rich harmonic sound of Josh Homme’s guitar and of the unique voice of the one and only Mark Lanegan.
Not the Holo! Hands down, the best dac execution that I have ever heard, even when compared to a 25.000€-worth dac.
Moving on with a MQA file and now the Stone Temple Pilots are on in my living room with the mind-blowing “Dead and Bloated” from the landmark album of the 90’s grunge scene, “Core”.
As much as I can try to share with you the dynamic sound, with the drums creating the chest thump effect that someone can only feel in large rock concerts, the sound of the guitars, the perfectly tuned in bass and the clear voice of the unforgettable Scott Weiland with its warmth and strength, it is impossible to pass on the feeling.
You have to try it.
Finally with a DSD64 file and more specifically the great song “Yulunga” by Dead can Dance, the experience was just crazy. Lisa Gerrard’s voice accompanied me on a virtual world travel.
There is no point in describing all the separate sound details.
This was truly a transcendental experience.
Common features in all the songs I heard were the analogue sounds, the warmth in the sound the disappearance of the “digital sound”, even in difficult files and all of these in great definition.
This is one of the rare times when one comes across a device that has achieved something truly innovative and important, coming ahead of the competition.
The Holo level 3 dac Kitsune tuned edition (its full name) is the top Holo dac edition (there’s also Level 1 and 2 available).
With a pricetag at 3.000€, it is incomparable to any other dac of its league, while with its analogue sound features and its native file reproduction (up to DSD 1024) capabilities it can easily be compared to much more expensive digital converters.
Congratulations to HoloAudio.
Streamer/Server: Antipodes dx gen 2,
Clock Antipodes p2,
DAC stahl Tek Vekian
, Amplification: Jadis i88,
Speakers Harbeth 40,2.
Cables: Harmonix hs 101 slc, ic tellurium q black diamond.
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