Review: Keces S3 DAC/AMP

Disclaimer: The Keces S3 was sent to me from the manufacturer in exchange for my honest opinion.  I do not believe it needs to be returned.

 

Starting Words

There are several things that I love about writing for Headfonia.  Maybe my favorite is getting to hear something really good, from a company I haven’t heard of before.  Although getting big ticket items from well-known brands is always exciting, I think it is even more interesting to see something new pop up from the unknown, and arrive at my desk, demanding a review.  Today, demanding my attention is the S3 DAC/amp from Keces Audio.  Never heard of them, you say?  Yep, me either.  They have been around for a bit; they seem to specialize in power conditioners and LPS.  Today, they thought, is the day we get into the amplifying and DAC part of the game (well, that thought came a while ago actually, as this product, like any other, did need time to be developed).  I was told that they did make a DAC some time ago, but it’s been a spell, and now they are getting back in it with a fresh start.  Well, let’s have a look!

Keces S3

The Keces S3 is a DAC/amp retailing for $1299.95.  Not the cheapest price ever, but let’s see what it offers.  It can be used as a DAC/amp unit, as an amp with another DAC, or as a preamp, running out to another amp.  As far as inputs go, it offers USB, coaxial and optical for digital, and both balanced and unbalanced for analogue.  For output, it offers balanced and unbalanced, both for use as a preamp, and for headphone output.  The only things it can’t do are output a line level analogue signal or a pass through for a digital signal.  So, it can do quite a bit.

Looking at the unit, it is relatively large, so if you are looking for a real space saver, tiny all-in-one, this might not do the trick, but it doesn’t take up any more space than your average separate DAC and amp, and, of course, has fewer wires and cables to deal with, so for anti-clutter and convenience, that is always a plus.  The build of the S3 is sturdy and solid, while not being the sexiest thing on the planet.  The Keces S3 is made out of machined aluminum, as seems to be the standard today.  It weighs just under 9 pounds.  It has a small LCD screen on its front.  Its switches and connectors all feel solid.  The all black look is, or course, something I am always fond of.  My only strike against the build is more with the look than the quality.  The top of the unit is obviously a separate piece screwed on, with the six screws plainly visible.  It does really look bad, and it doesn’t make it feel any less solid, but it is noticeable, and as opposed to some other high end units, which take pains to hide such things, it does stick out, just a bit.  It doesn’t bother me at all, but your mileage may vary.

As far as function goes, the headphone outputs are on the front, while all the others listed at on back (pretty standard there).   The LCD screen displays the input being used, the signal being received, the volume and the gain level.  It is simply and easy to read.  Between the screen and the volume knob is the gain switch.  It has two levels: low and high.  I never needed to go into high gain, but the HE-560, single ended pushed the low gain to the roof, so beyond that is where low gain taps out.  The volume on the KECES S3 uses a 128 step attenuator, so channel balance should never be an issue.  One of the only nitpicks I have with the S3 is that the attenuator will pop and crackle when turned at higher volumes, especially if turned fast.  I would, admittedly, like that to go away, but I would still definitely file that under “very minor”.  Upfront, to the left of the screen, you have a switch to go between headphone out and preamp out.  Finally, of course, there are your balanced and unbalanced headphone outs.  As far as what formats will the DAC decode, for whom this is a big deal, the USB will do up to DSD256, and the optical and coaxial with go up to 24/192.  So, there that is.  All in all, the Keces S3 is packing a lot of features within its frame.  This really is an “all you will ever need” box.  Of course, that only means something if the S3 can deliver in the sound department.

The review and part on Sound continue on Page 2 of this article, after the click here or the jump below

Features

  1. High Quality Toroidal Power Transformer.
  2. High-performance DAC-ESS ES9026PRO.
  3. USB DAC: PCM 32 bit/384kHz and DSD DSD64(DoP)/DSD128 (DoP) DSD64/DSD128/DSD256 (ASIO Native).
  4. COAXIAL/OPTICAL DAC: PCM 24 bit/192kHz and DSD DSD64(DoP).
  5. Placed Balanced/Unbalanced Headphone output: Max Output Power 2000mW + 2000mW@32ohms.
  6. Placed RCA/XLR Input/Output interface: Could be a Preamplifier.
  7. Volume Control System: 128 step attenuator. Accurate control volume to achieve left/right channel balanced.
  8. Isolation circuit: Completely separates the grounding of the digital and analog sections.
  9. Volume/Source/Sampling display using OLED has excellent visibility.
  10. The 4mm thickness of the aluminum chassis to effective to blocks EMI/RFI interference.
  11. The full-metal body realizes both vibration control and elegant style in an A4-size body that enables placement on a desktop to be a PC HIFI system or to be a small stereo system.

The review and part on Sound continue on Page 2 of this article, after the click here or the jump below

Review: Keces S3 DAC/AMP
4.6 (92.94%) 17 votes

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5 Comments

  • Reply November 25, 2017

    Klay

    I suppose this is a sister unit (meaning made at the same factory or by the same vendor) to Gustard? Looks pretty much the same PCB board. Hopefully Keces does better quality control than Gustard. Current Massdrop price is very attractive indeed.

    • Reply November 26, 2017

      Dave

      I doubt that it is related to Gustard, but I will check on that. It is a very nice deal on massdrop. I hope those who can take advantage of it.

  • Reply November 25, 2017

    Chuck

    I thought this uses a 9026 chip.

  • Reply November 25, 2017

    Chuck

    Refering to…..

    DAC Section

    Using the Sabre 9028Pro, it has the sound one might have come to expect from a Sabre DAC: clean and neutral, but musical.

    • Reply November 26, 2017

      Dave

      You are correct on that. I missed that when proofing. It will be corrected. Thanks!

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