Rockna Wavedream DAC – Review
You remember Audiobyte Hydra-X ? Well, Rockna is the mother company of Audiobyte and wavedream is their latest product.
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:
The tests have been done with Decware Taboo MK3, Audeze LCD-X with Toxic Silver Widow, Burson Conductor, Audiobyte Hydra-X, Sennheiser HD800 and AG500 Power Regenerator .
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.
Infected Mushroom – Becoming Insane
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.
Hugh Laurie – Battle of Jericho
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.
Michael Jackson – Stranger in Moscow
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.
Hans Zimmer Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus – Jack Sparrow
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.
Andre Rieu – Les moulins de mon coeur
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.
Bon Jovi – My guitar lies bleeding in my arms
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
Sa inteleg ca Chord Hugo e un mic copilas fata de Rockna…
I haven’t had them side by side for a direct comparison, so I cannot tell you for sure. However, I think that while Rockna is superior, I wouldn’t be as dramatic to say that Hugo is just a child compared to it, as I think the little guy can stand it’s ground pretty well.
Foarte bun review,elegant, detailat, si foarte bine structurat dar cred ca ar fi si mai interesant daca ai precizat toate componentele si accesoriile folosite, surse, amplificare, casti sau boxe, cabluri etc. Unii prin alte partii spun si in ce rack au fost montate dar asta e cam exagerat recunosc 🙂
Multumesc. Am enumerat componentele folosite la inceputul “Test Setup”
Analog is not the standard. Analog’s resolution is not infinite, it is the same it was in 1950.
About 10 bits. Tape about 12 bits, D2D possibly 13-14. Digital 32 bits.
Analog noise -70 dB at best. Digital in the latest products -140dB.
Many orders of magnitude superior.
The standard is to hear what the microphones heard. And then record it.
You can hear more or less hear what the microphone hears on good monitors and headphones using the line feed.
Close up positioning of the speakers, for the mics are most often set up — close up.
Audiophiles listen often in the far field. What they hear is not what the mics heard.
That is why when you see photos of recording, remixing and post production facilities, the speakers are at ear level, close up, in your face.
In direct bypass tests, comparing to the line feed, good digital recordings portray what the mic heard better than the best analog recordings.
It’s as simple as that.
My words are backed by many of the best engineers who had pioneered the best recording techniques and even direct-to-disk.
For example, Bob Katz said that for the first time the consumer can get an exact copy of the master.
Only in digital.
Analog, therefore, is not the standard.
Unless you’re living in 1950.
Thank you for the detailed explanation. I was aware of what you said. I use the term analog to describe a natural and very pleasant sound reproduction, closer to real life, no sign of digital harshness.
How would you describe real life sounds, other than analog? Yes, the real life sounds are analog too.
Sadly, misconceptions are abounding. Do not confound dynamic range with resolution for analog signals. While the intrinsic dynamic range of analog recording media isn’t spectacular, resolution is practically unlimited (if we disregard the quantum nature of the universe – e.g. the electron’s charge is quite small, but still discrete).
The intrinsic dynamic range (as in S/N) of an analog recording might be comparable with that of the digital representation on 10-14 bits, but it’s resolution is much more higher, not speaking of higher bandwidth (Nyquist–Shannon sampling theorem limitations doesn’t apply).
The apparent “resolution” (S/N in fact) is actually limited by noise. That’s the reason why (more or less elaborate) noise reduction techniques, and systems, also based on psychoacoustics, were developed, and applied, which expand the global dynamic range by lowering the noise level in silent passages. The ear isn’t capable to discern sounds in it’s global dynamic range at all times. Fainter sounds are masked by stronger ones, so the technique is to slide the perceptible dynamic range in the global dynamic range, so as to include all relevant sounds.
In the digital domain something similar is obtained by using floating point representation.
When the argument of the (extremely) high dynamic range (theoretically) attainable by 32 bits digital representation is raised, it plainly ignores that it’s actual resolution at any moment is limited by the useful signals’ amplitude. The digital integer representation of (very) low amplitude signals has a much lower effective resolution, while that of an analog signal doesn’t practically suffer. A solution would be to use digital FP representation, which has the same resolution over a much wider dynamic range.
Also, the most important aspect is ignored: the sounds captured by the microphone, and reproduced by the speakers are still in the analog domain, with it’s inherent limitations regarding dynamic range.
Other ignored aspects are the conversions between the analog, and digital domains, which transform a continuous (analog) signal in a discrete (digital) one, and vice versa, where the limitations of the sampling theorem apply. While the conversion (see Fourier series) of continuous sinusoidal signals could approach perfection, the most difficult part are transients, which pose little, if any, problems for analog systems. Much care has to be taken that no signal which violates the sampling theorem limitations reaches the ADC, or undesired aliasing will take place.
Music isn’t just a mix of continuous sinusoidal signals…
This is a topic that is near to my heart…
Thank you! Where are your contact details though?
Thank you. About -> Discussions/Contact
and the test with CD?, what is his level of quality about that, analogical sound at last…, comparatively with the best analogical material, or not? , manyl people don’t listen musics uniquely with a computer, thanks for them, incomplete test ….
I don’t use CDs myself. I don’t have the patience or space at the moment. Sorry. I have tested some cd players as transports and indeed they sounded very nice, but I am not sure it was because of the CD per say. I think the transport is the important part here.
And for that you have :
I’m looking to order Rockna dac , I asked Audio guy ( which he recommend me to get rockna or msb before )
He have both Chord dave and Rockna , after he tested both , I asked him which one you prefer ? he answered : Rockna, I asked: why ??
he said : ”I’ve also been using the Chord Dave. It is much better than anything they’ve made but still not the measure of the top Rockna.he said : Rockna is better in depth, more natural, while maintaining the reference level of delineation”
That is very interesting to hear. I’ve been wanting to hear Dave for a while now.
Indeed Rockna does excel in the areas you described in your post.
Rockna DAC: Wow. Very detailed, insightful review. A beautifully designed and crafted component. It’s remarkable to read about the extensive research and talent designing that goes into such a premium offering –that this review exposed, and indeed extolled.
I suspect, if not already, that this new “Streamer/Renderer” category, many more otherwise unknown names (both company, designers and designs) will be revealed throughout 2017 –and beyond.
Considering the premium design, parts and construction of the Rockna DAC, it offers up a serious value proposition at and above its price point.
Thank you, Peter! Glad you found it helpful!
Rockna is overpriced at least 50%. Compare salaries for example in Switzerland and Romania where Rockna comes from. In Romania, salaries are $400 per month, in Switzerland 10 times more. Top Rockna sells for $16000. if 50% of that is parts and 50% labor (both include distribution, marketing, margins, etc, equally), then the real price is $8000 + 8000/10 = $8800.
Regarding what is better, only blind tests with a 1000 of participants can say. Not impossible, there were such tests of 16/44, 24/192 etc. And the tests showed results like 49.7%, which means it was all guessing, e.g. in choosing between 16/44 and 24/192 music.
Secondly, as 6moons stated, it is speakers where the biggest distortion occurs (distortions of 20% are common even in best speakers), plus room influence etc., so much so that all those DAC measurements basically cannot be utilized. I.e. it is a placebo effect: you plunged serious dollars and dopamine and serotonin in your brain increase its production to save you from disappointment in realizing that you just destroyed all plans for your children education, so you really “hear” “improvements”, bt what basically is just a placebo effect.
So, in your view, Romania should only have cheap products? :)) Does not how the wheel turns man…what about products made in China? Do you have any idea how much stuff is made in China?
Related to speaker distortion, I actually measured my speakers and it has very low distortion. When it comes to destroying all of your plans for your children education, I can’t even take you seriously :)). If you do that with audio, you have a big problem indeed, but it’s not because of audio. You would have done that with other hobbies.