The Sabre ES9018 DAC is a popular item. And I have quite a bit of experience with devices that employ it. I’m a big fan of its capabilities, its honest audio rendering, its nearly flawless decoding of myriad audio formats. That said, I’ve not been a fan of some of the devices it has been installed in.
Some are just too forward-sounding for me. Others are lazy devices built to show off a chip. Vivace is neither. It’s a thoroughly designed DAC. It is toned, musical, and mature.
It’s amazing just how musical Vivace is despite its incredibly low levels of distortion. I’ve been tapping my feet so much in the last month that I wore a small hole in the plastic floor of my plastic Japanese flat. I’ve not enjoyed a DAC as much as I enjoy Vivace.
It plays super duper clean. Its signal is just smooth enough to excite musical verve without begging for salt. Contrast between low and high frequencies is high, but far more impressive it is complete lack of distortion. There is none. While DAC-80 boasts a slightly higher signal-noise ratio, Vivace’s signal is far cleaner. For all intents and purposes, it is free of THD and IMD artifacts. In fact, its performance is reference-level.
And while I don’t think anyone would be able to hear the difference, USB signal quality slightly edges out coaxial performance. Both inputs boast extremely low jitter and digital ring artifacts.
So what about signal power?
At a fixed (full power) single-ended setting of 2VRMS, there is more than enough clean signal for most power amps out there. Balance is excellent even at lower voltage settings, making Vivace a wonderful companion to portable headphone amps, desktop power amps, and powered speakers.
The balanced signal is stronger still, and even cleaner.
I’ve matured as a headphone listener over the last few years, today preferring a slightly velvety spread to jarring contrast. And velvety is just what my favorite Beyerdynamic DT880 headphones need. Vivace delivers that. It doesn’t, however, over-deliver.
Neither high nor low pass mars its neutral signal. Most impressive is its stereo image, which is wide, clear, and offers extremely detailed lows and mids. Highs shimmer somewhat less than some DACs that suffer from the ‘detailed’ label. There’s nothing scary about that. What is almost scary is Vivace’s penchant for the third dimension. It casts a large shadow and fills it with music, up, down, and all around. Space between instruments is good, but far more impressive is how those instruments are situated, and interact with one another, how a trilling Grateful Dead guitar jumps out of nowhere, but pulls together as part of a whole. It’s an experience I’ve not had before in a DAC. And it is wonderful.
Whichever you choose, your feet are guaranteed to tap.
If you unplug Vivace from the mains, getting it up and going again requires that you also unplug and replug the USB cable from the chassis. If you do not, you won’t get music from Vivace. That is a small, but annoying point that detracts from the otherwise stellar experience served up by this excellent DAC. The other small, annoying point, of course, is the small, smooth, well-labelled, but ultimately annoying-to-operate attenuator. Ho hum.
The home audio landscape is crowded with DAC units bearing prices around 1.420€. Most of them are good. Few, however, have as much to say about themselves, or your music, as LinnenberG’s does. Vivace has helped me to discover again seminal albums from my youth, from my uni years, and from last week. I’ve fallen in love again with Autechre, with Boards of Canada, with Depeche Mode, with Bruce Springstein, and with pretty much everything else floating around my hard disk.