I try not to talk too much about the technical aspects of amps and DACs in my reviews cause the most important is how it sounds but this time I really found it important to mention a little bit more as usual, I initially even wanted to talk about the different stages but I can do that later in the comments if anyone is interested. Those of you who don’t care about what’s inside the box probably took a short cut to this part anyway and are anxiously waiting for the verdict.
For this review I mostly used the USB-connection from my laptop as this is what most users will end up using. The amps used are mostly the Violectric V200 and a custom built tube amp. I had to connect the V800 to the V200 unbalanced as my balanced cables Mike made me seem to have died on me and I had no other pair around to test it. Headphones used are the Beyerdynamic T90, the Audez’e LCD-2 and the Hifiman HE-500. I used higher end headphones on purpose cause they best reveal the difference of the DAC. Or differently put: with a source of this level you want to use a top tier headphones to enjoy/notice what the DAC is capable of. As recommended by Violectric I chose the “Best” position for the re-sampling and fed it with different bit rate files.
The most important thing to say about this DAC’s sound is it’s neutrality. It converts everything with a lot of detail and it does not add anything to the music. No bass or an extra thick warm layer, nothing. The sound you get is clean and uninfluenced yet still smoothly flowing. You’ll get a lot of detail, clarity and an accurate neutral sound. And that doesn’t mean it is an overly analytic and boring DAC, au contraire, as I said it sounds quite smooth. The V800 manages to get the detail out of your music but it stays perfectly in the middle of things: not boring or bright or warm, no extra bass but reality is what you get making it smooth across all frequencies. The Rein Audio X3 in comparison has a really thick smooth layer added to the sound, making it warmer, more lush sounding.
Sound staging, left-right balance, 3-dimensionality and positioning are very good in this setup. There’s enough room between the instruments so you get an open non congested sound, without being overly spacious. There isn’t really anything to complain about, it’s that well made. It’s an open sounding, good and complete DAC as it should be at this price level and it’s hard to find flaws. Where most neutral DACs often come out being dry and boring, the V800 can be described by these two words: neutral and musical.
To me the smooth word comes out before the neutral part when I describe the V800 DAC. If you ask me how it sounds, I would say that it’s extremely smooth. The neutral part that Lieven described, while not the first thing that came to mind, is something that I’d go “well, okay I can understand why he said that”. It’s definitely far from a colored DAC like the Ref7.1, Neko D100, or Ayon Skylla II, but comparing neutral DACs like the Benchmark DAC1, Lavry DA10/11, Fostex HP-A7/A8 would all result in a “yeah they’re fairly neutral” statement, though each having their own particular way of sounding neutral. Take a listen to all these different DACs and you would say that none boasts a particularly strong coloration yet they have their own way of doing this “neutrally”.
Going to a more tangible observation, Violectric’s V800 retrieves detail better than the Burson Sabre and PCM1793 DACs, Benchmark’s DAC 1 (I have the original version not the newer models), and the Fostex HP-A7. It’s less detailed than the Lavry, the Fostex HP-A8, the Asus Xonar (especially Muses edition), the Ref7.1 and Ayon Skylla. It really is not a champion in detail retrieval but that’s not really what you’re buying with this approximately $1,300 DAC. They way it presents minute detail softly in the background is particularly soothing to the ears and for instance I like how the V800 was smoother and less tense than the sound of the Lavry or the Asus Xonars. It doesn’t try too hard to be detailed and articulated, instead it has a relaxed way of bringing a good amount of technicalities into the music. Soundstage width is pretty good but I’d like to hear more depth in the sound. Additionally background can be blacker (Lavry DA11, HP-A8, Neko D100, Ref7.1, Skylla are all blacker and with more depth).
Coming from the X3 DAC was quite the change though as the X3 DAC is a very musical and warmer sounding DAC, having more influence on the music. I think both DACs are more or less at the same level of detail retrieval and sound stage (X3 might be a bit wider), however with the V800 you get neutrality where the X3 adds even more smoothness and a bit of warmth making it a more “musical” less neutral DAC. Those of you who have read the Rein Audio X3 DAC review maybe remember I absolutely love the LCD-2 with their DACs and while the V800 certainly did very good to say the least, I can’t say it made me fall in love as much as the X3 DAC did in combination with the V200. Completely other story however with the HE-500, maybe this headphone is the more analytical of the two, but the synergy with the V800 was amazing and I’ve never heard the HE-500 to sound this good in combination with my amps. The Beyerdynamic T90 with my custom built tube amplifier sounds wonderful,incredibly good. It’s a mix of both worlds: the clarity and detail from the V800 that the T90 loves and the smoothness and warmth of the tube amp. A perfect combination.
Pairing with the V200 is definitely the sweet spot of this DAC and vica-versa. I don’t think I enjoy a pairing as enjoyable for the V200 as with the V800. The two blend very well together to produce this highly refined, smooth sounding system with ample of power to drive even the Hifiman HE-6 to better levels than the Burson Conductor one box set up (and any other DAC/Amp box in the market that I’ve tried). By itself, the V800 is an okay $1K level DAC and if you’re looking for extremely high levels of resolution I would recommend going to either the Asus Xonar Essence Muses or Fostex’s HP-A8. Or even the mostly underrated Neko D100 Mk2 DAC (seriously one of the best DACs ever — just under the radar).
By itself, I don’t think the V800 is just a good DAC. It doesn’t break any price-performance records in the price that it’s being offered for, and though the sound is good, it doesn’t strike to be extremely special in the sea of other DACs. If you want the highest level of detail retrieval for $1K that has got to be the Asus Muses Edition which comes pretty hot after, but not quite, the level of the Fostex HP-A8. If you want something with a relaxed tone, good musicality, and still good technicalities, NekoAudio’s DIY-like creation is my best recommendation for up to $3K. But if you’re using the V200, and are running either the LCD-2/LCD-3, or Hifiman HE-500/HE-6, then the V800-V200 set up is extremely super good and so far unmatched (especially for the Hifiman, Audez’e users with bigger budget can go for StudioSix though it’s amp only for $5K).
Where does that put us?
Is the V800 a great DAC: Yes. I would without doubt choose the V800 cause it does everything right and it would easily show the influence a new part of my setup would have on the sound. It’s as neutral as Switzerland in times of war and it’s enjoyable. What more to ask for?
As said before, if you want a DAC that does nothing wrong, that shows you in detail what is in the original file and you like a neutral and clear sound without being over-analytical then you will love the Violectric V800 for sure. Is the V800 worth its price? To me it is, especially when you have the higher end headphones and amplifiers to hear the difference. Price is 1.100€ inside the EU and 924€ for the rest of the world, you can buy it from your local dealer or from the international online shop on the violectric website.
I wonder what Violectric has in store for us next!