This unit was loaned to me by my friend Jann to test.
Weiss is a company well known in the high end DAC market for producing products that have garnered both subjective praise as well as typically exhibiting truly excellent objective performance. For a long time the DAC502 was arguably the best measuring DAC ever tested by John Atkinson at Stereophile for instance.
The DAC204 is the latest entry from the firm, and is targeting a lower price bracket than its bigger brother the DAC502, and to achieve that it forgoes much of the proprietary digital processing offered by the 502 and instead runs a more ‘basic’ ESS implementation using the ES9018S chip.
Unfortunately the DAC204 was only here briefly during a meet and so I did not have an opportunity to take photos of the internals of the unit. And given as there are none available online I’ve been able to find, at present I cannot make any evaluation of the internals.
The rear of the unit offers the expected balanced XLR and single-ended RCA outputs. Weiss mentions that there are four D/A converters used in parallel per channel, though it’s unclear whether this is referring to the use of multiple chips, or the multiple converters that are present in the 8-channel ESS9038 PRO chip inherently.
There are also however not only SPDIF inputs, but also SPDIF and AES outputs, as the DAC204 can be used as a DDC/Digital-to-Digital converter. Handy for those that may wish to daisy chain for a multichannel setup for instance.
There is additionally an attenuation selector as the full output of this DAC can be quite hot at 7.5Vrms.
The digital inputs of the DAC allow for upto 192khz over SPDIF, or 384khz over USB, however the DAC does run at a maximum of 192khz internally and any 384khz content will be downsampled to half its native sample rate.
– Audio Precision APx555 B-Series Analyzer with 200kOhm input impedance set unless otherwise specified
– USB Source: Intel PC via intona 7055-C isolator
– All measurements shown are with the DAC connected via USB unless otherwise specified
– Measurement setup and device under test are running on regulated 230V power from a Furman SPR-16-Ei
– Audioquest Mackenzie XLR and RCA interconnects
– Intona Reference Impedance Characterized USB Cable
– Audioquest Carbon SPDIF and AES cables (1.5m)
– Exact analyzer/filter configurations for each measurement are detailed in the full reports
– Measurements shown are with the DAC set to no attenuation unless otherwise stated
Full Measurement Reports:
Reports available here:
Dynamic Range (AES17): 126.9dB
IMD SMPTE: -105.9dB
Noise Level RMS: 2.93uVrms (20hz-20khz) – 5.77uVrms (20hz-90khz) – 40.03uVrms (20hz-1Mhz)
DC Offset: 2.3mV active, 2.2mV idle
1khz Sine, 0dBfs, XLR Out:
Distortion is generally very low, keeping all harmonics below -125dB and with very low noise too.
Low level signal output:
Low level signal output is very good
Filter Ultrasonic Attenuation:
Here we unfortunately see some unwanted additional activity between about 25khz and 65khz. This is a relatively common issue and is caused by a misconfiguration of a parameter in the ESS chip itself. It’s a quirk that not all manufacturers have found the solution to and it’s a shame to see this in a device from Weiss but hopefully can be resolved by a firmware update. (This is not a hardware issue).
Idle Noise FFT:
THD+N vs Frequency:
THD rises into higher frequencies. HOWEVER, the additional distortion products are higher order and above the 20khz band. So whether this matters will depend on your view as to the audible impact of additional distortion/noise above 20khz.
This was also disappointing to see. IMD is higher than lower priced competitors and also this still shows a distinct ‘ESS hump’
Intersample Overs Test:
When DACs oversample, they can sometimes encounter a situation where the reconstructed/interpolated waveform goes above 0dBfs (the maximum possible digital value).
This is particularly common with poorly mastered music that has been ‘brickwalled’ (To clarify: I mean brick-walled as in the loudness-wars term, not brick-wall nyquist reconstruction filters https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war ).
DACs ideally should have a few dB of digital headroom to accommodate this and reconstruct properly, and many such as Chord, RME, Benchmark etc do, and will output signals with intersample overs without any issue/distortion.
But many do not do this, either out of lack of awareness of the issue or because doing so usually means sacrificing a few dB of dynamic range and/or THD+N performance. And as a result will not be able to properly reconstruct these signals.
We can test this by creating a signal that induces intersample overs.
See in the image below. All the 44.1khz samples (squares) are below the 0dBfs limit, but the actual waveform itself, is above this limit.
The DAC204 does not have any additional internal headroom and therefore will distort/clip in the presence of intersample overs. Recommended that you set your player volume to -3dB when using this DAC.
Jitter performance is not great and from a product this expensive and given the performance of Weiss’ other products, this was surprising and a shame to see.
The Weiss DAC204 unfortunately does not seem to live up to the reputation forged by its predecessors such as the DAC502. Given the fact that this is considerably more expensive than other ESS based options from companies like Eversolo, Gustard or SMSL that all perform in objective terms substantially better (and are using higher end ESS chips to begin with), and it also lacks the advanced digital processing offered by its bigger brother the DAC502, or the cheaper Ferrum WANDLA, it unfortunately becomes tough to see what the draw of this product is.
Weiss is a name which carries quite a bit of weight and hopefully this is just a blip in an otherwise very well regarded history of products.