Rockna Wavedream DAC – Review
I waited for it since a while now and I finally got my ears on it.
Why am I so excited about it? Let’s get into that. The specs of this DAC are very interesting to say at least and they are very well explained on the Rockna’s website.
Looks & Build Quality
Rockna’s new product has very good build quality, with a chassis made entirely of black anodized aluminium with a very sturdy 20mm thick front panel. The looks are quite decent, with a rather spartan box compensated by an elegant fascia.
Let’s have a closer look:
- The first thing I loved about it was the fact that Rockna gave up on using normal DAC chips which from my point of view are a limitation. Will tell you what they use in a bit, leaving it to be a surprise, as it was for me. All I am telling you right now is that Wavedream has some unconventional R2R dac modules.
- It has a software defined architecture. I won’t try to explain this better than Rockna, as they already did a good job at that:
All building blocks of the Wavedream DAC concernig digital processing are built entirely on a single piece of programmable silicon – a FPGA . With a FPGA, it’s internal hardware architecture could be described by a piece of software (actually, a very complex one). When upgrading the Wavedream with new firmware, you actually change it’s hardware. This system allows great flexibility, obsolescence protection and let us improve the sound of your dac by changing it’s internal architecture, or add new cool features, or improve the existing ones.
- Femtovox Clock System (300 fS) that that assures that only extremely small amount of jitter is present at the dac conversion clock input. The clocking system is at the heart of a good DAC. What is music without timing? The better the clocking system the more precise the sound will be. Rockna explains it better here:
The clock is the heart of a digital reproduction system. It’s accuracy and jitter levels are critical in regard of sound quality. Only a very good clock system can make the way to the analog sound on the output of your DAC. If the clock is flawed, digital harshness will occur and the analog feeling of the music will be severely altered. Apart from the performance of the clock itself, equally critical is the construction of the clock tree (the clock distribution architecture) inside the DAC. The jitter amount that really counts it’s not only the performance of the clock itself – but the clock which actually enters the dac and is used for conversion – let’s call it the conversion clock. The conversion clock that enters the dac section relies on the clock tree, which is usually not just routing, but in most cases conditioning, altering it’s quality. A poorly designed clock tree can degrade significantly the clock quality entering the d/a section, even if the source clock has great performance
With these facts in mind, we designed for the Wavedream an advanced clock system called the femtovox. With femtovox in place, one is assured that only extremely small amounts of jitter are present at the dac conversion clock input. It’s unique architecture employs that conversion clock is directly synthesised at the dac input, without any conditioning, giving constant jitter performance at any sample rate. The conversion clock is controlled with 1 ppb precision, while exhibiting about 300 fS of jitter. The smallest jitter figure in the world? No. The smallest jitter figure where actually matters? Probably.
- Custom Digital Filters allowing upsampling up to a fixed rate of 16x. The DAC modules will decode the digital strem with a rate of 768khz or 705.6 khz, according to the input sample rate. This is assured by some powerful processing power, as the filters are made by combining the capabilities of 58 DSP blocks, resulting into 15 GMACS of processing power. ( Note: GMACS stands for Giga (billions of) operations per Second, a common measure of DSP performance. )
- The power supply is made of 3 ultra low noise toroid transformers involving no switchmode whatsoever. There are a total of 20 linear regulators inside the dac. It seems that Rockna put a lot of attention here as well, as the power supply for the DAC modules is designed from scratch to assure low impedance and ultra low noise. Also, the transformer section is internally shielded to prevent internal EMI leackage
- Wavedream also has a pre-amp feature included, having 256 steps (0.5 dB on each step) of volume control
- Fully symmetrical layout with shortest signal paths
- THD+N, 0 dB: 0.006%
- 125 dB Dynamic Range
- S/N ration (A-Weighted) – 140 dB
- Remote control
It has a variety of inputs that makes it very flexible:
- Coaxial S/PDIF – capable of 24 bit, 192khz
- AES/EBU – 24 bit, 192 khz
- USB – 32 bit – 384 khz PCM, DSD 1bit, 11.28MHZ
- HD-Link1 (LVDS) – 384 khz PCM, DSD 1bit, 11.28MHZ
- HD-Link2 (LVDS) – 384 khz PCM, DSD 1bit, 11.28MHZ
It also has normal rca, and 3 pin-xlr balanced outputs.
The menu is simple to use and it’s yellow light and fonts gives the unit a sexier look. One other thing I love about it, is that you can set the level of brightness, so at night it doesn’t get annoying.
As said in the specifications, wavedream also includes a pre-amplifier which may be very useful in some situations. The volume control is very smooth and easy to set at any the level you want, as it has 256 steps of 0.5 dB.
Let’s look under the hood and see it’s “engine”:
Ok, so the surprise is out of the box now. Yes, the wavedream uses MSB Dacs! I see this as a major plus for the unit. However, you must remember that this is a new product with proprietary design and except for DAC modules, it doesn’t take anything else from the MSB units.
I must say, that I am really impressed by what I have seen under the hood, as I love the clean design and the components inside.
In the middle you can find the brain of the operation, the Spartan 6 FPGA:
I have also used a Chord Usb Silver Plus to connect my hydra-x and wavedream to the computer. Besides this, I used a Chord HDMI Advance for the I2S output from Hydra and a Chord Anthem Reference to connect the wavedream to Burson Conductor and Taboo Mk3.
Don’t forget that it needs some break in to get the most out of it. I felt that wavedream really opens up after a while.
After I got to play through the menu I felt I needed to test through some options there, so the first thing I did was to test the filters. After a while I ended up listening with the Hybrid Filter as it seemed to bring more details, better transients and openness to the sound.
As I said before, Wavedream has I2S inputs too, besides the spdif and usb. The Hydra-X has a I2S output as well, but I have never had the chance to listen to any other outputs from it, except the spdif one, until now.
The first thing I did was to compare the USB Input to the coax input that was coming through hydra. I felt that the usb input from wavedream was a clear winner here as it had better soundstage, instrument separation, imaging and transients.
When I have connected Hydra to the I2S input of Wavedream, things have shifted in a very surprising way. I think I have never used Hydra at full potential, as I found out that the I2S output is quite superior of the spdif one. I couldn’t pick a clear winner here as I loved both presentations and they were kind of close. The usb input from wavedream seemed to have a wider & more holographic sound while the i2s input with Hydra seem to have blacker background with deeper bass.
This DAC is truly something else. The drums are hitting your ears with full impact and detail, but still managing to be subtle and very natural. The piano is playing effortless from a deep layer in the back of the scene with amazing detail and naturalness. When the voice came into play, I notice the subtle and very pleasant tonality and texture attached to it. Then, the chorus came into scene, taking my breath away, with excellent layering and voice separation. Also, every instrument & voice has a very distinguished presence.
The first thing I observed was the crystal clear guitars with excellent pluck attack, detail and extension. Then the bass struck me with full power. Just how I like it : fast, deep and detailed with exploding impact. The details attacks you from every direction, coming out of a deep, black background.
The drums are so natural and full that I could also feel the texture of the material they are made of. Also the echoes from the drums go throughout the whole scene and you can hear the sound echoing in the room, showing the huge soundstage it is capable of. Hugh’s voice is incredible with an excellent texture and tonality. The guitars are just tickling your ears with crystal clear plucks, showing excellent details.
The rain from the beginning was phenomenal. I felt the need to bring an umbrella to the room and it made me realize I am thirsty. This is how well the sound of the rain was reproduced. Also, I heard something I never heard before in this song, a car passing by, anno, it wasn’t at my place, it may have been near the studio. The level of details is amazing. Again the drums impressed me with their impact and detail. The whistle and instruments coming from the deepest layer showed a very large and holographic soundstage. Michael’s voice showed a very detailed texture and had a very nice tonality and presence in the song. I felt the need to close my eyes and just listen.
The details and attack of the instruments is breath taking. Also the positioning, imaging and instrument separation are so good that you can pinpoint every instrument from the orchestra. You can hear every pluck, every string with it’s full extension and life. All sounds come full of energy and life from every direction in a perfect harmony, creating an incredible listening experience.
It’s been a while since I’ve been so moved by the astonishing beauty of a song unleashed to full capabilities by a powerful DAC. The violins struck a sensitive chord in my heart. Wavedream transposed me into the concert hall completely, showing incredible transparency. The soundstage was incredibly holographic and large. The violins were so detailed and transparent that when the crystal clear female voice accompanied them from a deep enchanted layer, the song transposed so much emotion that it gave me tears.
I consider this a benchmark for female voices and wavedream passed through it effortlessly. The voice was incredibly transparent, clean as a whistle and with extended texture and tonality.
I am writing this with tears in my eyes again. The chorus starts with a subtle and present tone but full of emotion. The drum is deep in the scene but the impact is amazing and you can feel it in your whole body giving a very sobre air. Mercedes’s voice is so well extended and incredibly expressive passing every emotion from every tone giving me shivers and goose bumps throughout my body.
I’ve been to Leonard’s concert in Bucharest and with Wavedream if I close my eyes I see him near me on the scene. The presence of his voice is amazing and wavedream reproduces it extremely well. You can hear his hoarse voice coming deep from his throat. Also I have noticed at 1:56 that he touches his face and how his fingers go through his beard showing incredible detail.
The guitars body and texture is so detailed that I feel it in my body. The dynamics are amazing. Even if the guitar is playing at low volume,it still has incredible presence and detail. As you may already expect, Bon Jovi’s voice is like the other voices until now, presented with incredible detail and texture.
Does it know how to rock? Oh…yes! The song is exploding with energy and has excellent PRAT. I loved this song even with HD800. Crowded layers? So what? Wavedream decompressed them into a large scene and handled every layer with incredible precision, leaving a lot of air between them.
The bass is incredible as it has exploding impact, excellent detail, goes very deep when it should and seems to be controlled by an iron hand. Also it seemed very natural to me and I often had the impression I felt the material the drums were made of. I could feel the drums in my body, and no, I wasn’t using speakers, just headphones.
One of the best mids I have ever heard in my life. All is at superlative with this DAC. Every instrument is alive and kicking and the voices are out of this world. You can hear every tone in the singer voice, every emotion, passing it to you, making you feel the song and the emotions he wants to transfer.
As you expect the treble is top notch as well. The sparkle is crystal clear and full of life and extension.
This is another breath taking aspect of Wavedream as it has very fast and natural decay and incredible attack.
Details & Micro Details
With wavedream you discover a lot of interesting new sounds in your favourite songs, things you may have never heard before. Besides the obvious things you will hear improve like instrument & voice extension, sometimes an instrument playing subtle in a deep layer you have never heard before, you may hear a car passing by the recording studio or the artist scratching his face. Some say that don’t like analytical sound. Well, the good news is all those details come in a very natural way and I don’t consider the sound to become analytical. Nothing is pushed in front by force, all comes naturally. This helps passing the emotions from the song to the listener with better efficiency, as you can hear the whole extension of the instruments and all the tonalities and effort of the singer’s voice.
Soundstage, Instrument separation, layering & positioning
The instruments are extremely well separated and layered. Even in the most crowded passages you don’t feel that the layers blend in, as wavedream seems to decompress them in a much larger scene, leaving a lot of air between the instruments. I can’t even refer to stereo presentation any longer as 3D or holographic would be a much more accurate description. Also the soundstage is incredibly spacious and airy.
Dynamics & Micro-dynamics
This is another amazing aspect about wavedream. I often noticed some instruments in the orchestra that are meant to be subtle, and wavedream manages to do this but still giving them life. You can feel every instrument however subtle it is and however further in the back it may be.
Energy & Tactility
Some of the features from above result into something I love very much. I am referring to the tactility of the sounds. I can feel the guitar like I am plucking it myself, I can feel the drums and the material they are made of, the voice singing into my ear and sometimes feeling the warmth of the breath, the violin and cello chords vibrating. So every sound has it’s energy, however subtle it may be. You can imagine that when the song wants to be energetic, wavedream makes it explode with energy.
Wavedream transposes you in your favourite concert hall or it opens the window directly into your music and helps you lose yourself into your favourite songs.
Everything about wavedream is superlative. The emotions I have felt on the journey It took me, reminds me of MSB Analog Dac. Yes, it is that good. I didn’t have it here to do a direct comparison, but I must say that the experience and astonishment were quite similar. If I remember correctly, WaveDream could even surpass Analog Dac resolution wise while still keeping a musical and analog sound signature. Overall, I think they are on the same level of performance.
Considering the performance and the fact that it comes with all the inputs, features and pre-amplifier mentioned in the first part, WaveDream is a first class DAC and will be serious competition to the really big players on the market.
Rockna unleashed a real beast in the world, a truly high end dac that goes in the top of my recommendation list. My excitement and expectations for this DAC were exceeded by the results.
The Wavedream comes in different versions and prices
- Platinum Unbalanced with “just” 2 Platinum Dacs ( this comes at 4900 EUR + VAT )
- Platinum Balanced with 4 Platinum DACS
- Signature Unbalanced with 2 Signature DACS
- Signature Balanced with 4 Signature DACS
The review unit is the balanced version with 4 Platinum Dacs.
For the other versions you should ask the prices directly at Rockna.
So yes, this doesn’t come cheap, but the specifications and components are truly of a high end dac that should be a real powerful monster that could compete with the most serious players out there and as you can see Wavedream is indeed a beast.
- Excellent deep, controlled, fast and very detailed bass with a natural tonality
- Extremely well detailed but in a natural non analytical way
- Excellent dynamics & microdynamics
- Very big & holographic soundstage
- Incredible instrument separation, layering & positioning
- Top notch transient response with incredible attack and laser decays
- Incredible with voices
- Excellent PRAT & Tactile feeling
- A lot of inputs, making it very versatile
- Well built Remote control
- The buttons from the menu have a delay sometimes
- Sharp edges and corners