Rockna Wavelight DAC – Review
As you may have seen, my time has been limited lately and I didn’t manage to write any more reviews. However, it is time for me to make an exception for something that I think deserves our attention. In 2014 I have discovered one of the best sounding DACS I have ever heard and to my surprise it was built here in Romania. It was indeed in the big league on the same level with MSB Dacs.
I am talking about Rockna Wavedream. The owner and engineer behind it has a lot experience in this field and has been working in the field for decades. He actually has a lot of contributions within other international audio companies throughout the time.
Man….I wrote that review in 2014…how time passes. With Rockna, the time didn’t pass in vain, as it has made huge progresses since then. If the old Wavedream was made with MSB Dac chips, since then, they managed to design their own high precision R2R Dac chips driven by FPGA algorithms. I have been really curios to hear the new DACs and here we are.
I also said that in this review I would surprise you (old headmania.org fans, who miss me). It might be a good surprise or a bad surprise, but I also have a video review of sorts where I actually talk about my experience with this wonderful DAC.
You can find more information on the official page.
From an input perspective, I really cannot complain. It seems to have everything I would ever need.
Listening impressions and tests
It has been more than half of year since I have purchased this DAC and I have listened to it combined with the following:
- Martin Logan ESL-11A Speakers
- Kinki Studio EX-M7 Power Amp
- Raimond Audio power amplifier
- Massdrop THX-789 AAA headphone amp
- Topping A90 Headphone Amplifier
- SMSL SP400 Headphone Amplifier
- Audeze LCD-2c headphones
- Quad Era-1 Headphones
- Sennhesied HD650 Kiss Mod
- Focal Clear Headphones
- Focal Elegia Headphones
- Meze Empyrean Headphones
- Hifiman HE1000SE Headphones
- Soekris 1541 Dac
- Aune S5 Network Player
I want to start with the fact that MSB Analog DAC was one of the components that lasted the most in my system throughout my audiophile history so far. It was love at first listen and when I have first heard it, I just couldn’t believe my ears. At that point in time that DAC was something outside of the norms and it offered everything I have cherished in a good audiophile experience: a combination of lack of grain, transparency, impact, very natural tonality without any harshness whatsoever, good soundstage and clarity. The combination of all of the above was like lifting “the digital” veil from the music, offering an emotional, transparent and natural listening experience.
A short while after this, I have had the opportunity to hear the Rockna Wavedream, the balanced edition with 4 MSB Dac Chips inside and otherwise Rockna proprietary tech. I was astonished to see that it wasn’t only in the same league with my Analog dac, but technically speaking it was better than it. Since then, Rockna made huge progress and designed in house DAC chips and new Dacs.
What I can tell you about Analog Dac after many years of ownership is that it still an incredible dac today as well. However, with all the firmware updates and the new new Quad USB input it had switched it’s sound signature a little towards the old Signature DAC IV, but without the energy and dynamics of DAC IV. So in time it ended up sounding cleared, more detailed, better defined leading edges, but somehow flatter without a lot of energy.
This and the fact that in a speaker system with a power amp, it’s not sufficient as a pre-amplifier, it looses some of the wooomf and dynamics. You need a good pre with it and I am not a big fan of adding an entirely new component in the system. I have enough already.
Now don’t get me wrong, it still sound great, but I wasn’t as mesmerized as I was a few years back.
In the meanwhile I managed to get my hands on a Rockna Wavelight. When I have added it to my system….It was love at first sight, similar as it was with Analog DAC. I will get into more details below.
Before that, another thing I loved about Wavelight is that it has all the inputs and outputs you need, not like MSB where you have to pay an extra 1000$ for each freaking input.
I have managed to test the USB against I2S (with the Aune S5 Network Player). The USB input is good, but if you have some problems the USB output from your PC, you won’t get the most out of this DAC. I am using it with this USB Card and it improved the sound quite a bit: https://www.matrix-digi.com/en/products/333.html
With the Aune Network Player on I2S you will get even more details, control, clearer leading edges and energy. However with that USB card, these are now very close.
Another thing to mention is that this DAC is quite powerful and it has 5.8V on the balanced output. This combined with the volume control made it an excellent option to use with my power amp in my speaker system. I am not sure you will need a PRE with this DAC, so this in my opinion is a major plus.
Another thing I love about this DAC is that you can play with filters and you will actually be able to hear quite a difference between them. It also has the NOS option. I enjoy Hybrid the most, but sometimes I listen in NOS mode.
Now let’s get down to business.
As you might have seen above, I have tested this DAC on lots of headphones, amps and very good speakers. The first thing that I have noticed when the song started was the space, the big, airy soundstage. Also the sounds were coming out of very well defined places, leading a natural and holographical experience. Now…the instruments…If I was a poet…I would have written a poem about the experience. The textures, the details…the definition…..so many words….that I have to combine to describe this experience. Not only it was an impeccable technical experience, but it was emotional due to how amazingly detailed but also in the same time natural each and every instrument sounded. So well defined, so…detailed, so transparent…so natural… I could have transposed myself in each and every instrument, lived in the vibration of the sounds. No..I haven’t taken any LSD :)). It was just that good.
Two words: headbanging experience. I guess that the first that come to mind when listening to this song is slam, impact, weight and speed. Yes, you might find better speed in other delta sigma dacs, but the speed here is impressive as well and on top of that the impact and slam is to die for. It just takes you and wipes the floor with you in all directions.
Oh Man…the vibration, the energy. This is like an adrenaline shot of music with Wavelight. You can feel the body of the instruments, the vibrations of the chords, you can almost feel the displaced air.
It amazes from the beginning when you some very detailed and lively instruments. The guitar chords gave me goosebumps and then the voice entered and gave me shivers down my spine. The voices on wavelight are in a league of their own: a combination of transparency, incredibly detailed and natural textures, presence and natural tonality. Oh…and how the music starts to gain in pace and how this dac manages to transmit the energy and livelihood…is just amazing again.
Some of the sound features were also covered in some of the songs from above, but when it comes to details, energy and slam…I couldn’t not mention this song. If you have a good system that can scale ( for example the Martin Logan ESL-11A with the Kinki Power amp, The Raimond Power amp or the Topping A90 and Hifiman HE1000SE), this song is just jaw dropping in terms of slam, energy and chords. You can feel the chords, you can hear the air displaced by the chords, you can feel each tap on the guitar…It’s just…amazing.
Did I tell you about the vocals? Oh…I believe I did… But wait..it gets better. The vocals were so real, so vibrant of life that by the end of the song I already had my pirate/sailor clothes on and I was preparing to set sail.
Now I can go on with tons and tons of songs as each will offer incredible experiences on this DAC, but I will try to make a summary below.
The bass is superb. It has incredible punch, weight and very good control. You might find better speed in some of the top delta sigma dacs, but the impact…the slam, the weight…the texture is just jaw dropping.
The midrange is magic on this DAC as well. They are so natural, so vibrant, so detailed that I can feel each instrument, I can visualize it and I feel like I am becoming part of the music.
You would believe that because it is an R2R it will somewhat lack in this department. If you think that, you couldn’t be further away from the truth. I have listened to speakers and headphones capable of incredible treble. One example is Hifiman HE1000SE. I can say that I have never expected the treble to be so detailed, fun and natural in the same time without any sign of harshness.
Pure awesomeness! Wavelight is like a pill of energy. The slam on this one if combined with the right amp and speakers/headphones can be legendary. It can be subtle, but when it needs to, it will slam the floor with you in all directions. It happened to me on a lot of songs to be surprised by a drum that came out of nowhere so strong that I almost fell down from the chair. Really good slam, good timing and dynamics. With really good delta sigma dacs you might get more microdynamics, but I have never heard a DAC to be so fun (maybe the old theta dacs, but it lacked in other deparments compared to wavelight).
The details are also amazing and are “shove them in your face” details like with other dacs on the market. It is detailed on the whole spectrum with lovely details into the bass extension, voices, instruments, chords, etc. You will hear how the finger touches the chords, how the air gets out of the singers’s lungs, etc.
This is one of the strongest areas of Wavelight. It sounds like you have the instruments in your hand, like the vocals are here in the room with you. It sounds deliciously natural, but in a technical way as well.
The soundstage is big, with a lot sense of air but also with a pinpoint precision when it comes to putting sounds into place. It’s a very holographical experience overall.
I have heard this dac scale…and it can scale a huge lot. From all the headphones I have and actually from anything I have ever heard, Hifiman HE1000Se is top of the line here and Wavelight did a great job to make the most of the headphones.
It has been a long time since I have been so excited by an audio component, but here we are. This is one of the best DACs I have EVER heard. Did I hear DACS that sound better from at technical perspective? Yes, but Wavelight is a beast when it comes to combining a lot of things together like: very good technical abilities, incredibly natural tonality & great features in one package.
Analog DAC is still a great DAC but it sounded a little flat and dull in comparison to Wavelight, so as you would guess, I now own this DAC.
Now you might ask me how it sounds compared to HydraVox which is made by the same engineers, but with different tech inside. If Wavelight did not exist, I would have switched from Analog Dac to HydraVox. Yes, it’s that good. It’ a little more detailed and more precise, but it doesn’t have the slam/dynamics of Wavelight nor the same natural tonality. Don’t get me wrong, HydraVox is still one of the most natural DACs I have heard, but it’s just not on the same level with Wavelight in this department.
Do I recommend it? Well…of course I do..I bought it myself! Oh..such a wonderful experience/journey this DAC brings.