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Thread: SW1X: A review of a new DAC from a new company

  1. #1
    Join Date: Jan 2015

    Location: Coggeshall, Essex, UK

    Posts: 587
    I'm chris.

    Default SW1X: A review of a new DAC from a new company

    This is my first review --- be gentle with me !


    The purpose of this review is to describe my time with the SW1X DAC1, as designed and built by Dr Slawa Roschkow

    I will not be writing this review from a technical perspective, firstly because there are others far better informed than myself, but also because I don’t believe I listen to music and enjoy it with the technical side of my brain.
    Music can soothe me, and excite me in equal measure, and I can and I do lose myself in it. Only when I am painting my daubs do I detach so thoroughly.
    Therefore, I want a hifi system that puts as little between myself and the performer as possible – if I notice the system itself (after the inevitable initial adjustment for it) then the system is probably not for me.

    I have bought enough hifi gear – especially in my early days – from very well known dealers and even better known manufacturers based on a 15/30 minute audition where it’s brightness and I now realize (misplaced) ‘detail’ impressed me so. Only to live with the same components and after a while find them almost unlistenable.

    Upfront I have to state that I am personally convinced that all DACs do not sound the same. I have no desire to enter into a debate about all DACs being equal and that it is only 0’s and 1’s after-all, and also that higher sampling rates have to be better. From my own experience I know that this is incorrect. I will leave Slawa of SW1X and others better qualified than myself, to explain why; be it the impact of sound shaping, master clocks and negative feedback loops etc -- basically I am interested in the reasons why - but not that interested!

    I have been something of a box swapper in the past and as a result I have tried quite a few DACs; at least a dozen, from the very cheap Chinese, via the latest tube-based favourite, or the new must-have simplified USB-only model and onto a 2 box design - and in most cases I have been able to find something I liked about them; but they always felt digital and somehow synthetic – it didn’t always feel like music is the best way I can describe it.
    I was always drawn more to tube based units and was resigned to accepting the accusation - that I now know to be false – that I seemed to prefer distortion over transparency. Indeed, even with a well regarded 1,000 transistor based DAC, I found myself putting a Musical Fidelity tube buffer in the listening chain – I now realize this probably helped with an impedance mismatch as much as adding tube ‘warmth’ but whatever – I knew something was lacking.

    What is it that was lacking?

    When I hear music live I perceive it as a whole and complete experience and my aim will always be to try and recapture that, I will inevitably fail but some systems can bring me a lot closer than others. There have been numerous times when I have been sidetracked in this – just as I had been with my early hifi shop auditions, by the increased perceived transparency I was hearing – with some DACs I initially marveled that I was witnessing more detail in the percussion for example, and I focused on that. What I failed to realize was that the music shaping was unbalancing the sound and in fact the detail was now too prominent – if the band were playing live in front of me I would not have been homing in on the drummer or the pianist, I would be listening the music in the round – the detail would be there but it wouldn’t drown out other parts – the very details I was treasuring were in fact proof that I was not hearing the music as it was played – I wonder how many others can relate to this?

    How did I come to discover this?
    I guess the first time I heard a truly balanced and truly musical system was an audition at the SW1X designer Slawa’s house. But now I can hear something very similar in my own home with the SW1X DAC 1. This DAC is not the last word in what can be achieved (it is the SW1X base model) and the same goes for the rest of my equipment; but it provides me with great pleasure and at a price I can justify and afford --- in truth I can often justify spending more but right now I can’t afford it!

    The DAC 1 is in a simple but sturdy and reassuringly heavy casing and has nicely understated labelling -- it weighs in at roughly 5.5kg and the craftmanship inside is excellent.
    Much of the wiring is solid silver (not silver plated copper) the RCA connectors are of obviously quality and it uses the TDA1543 chip a Non Over Sampling design.
    It employs a tube output stage with zero feedback.
    For this review I have it coupled with a SW1X USB 1 transport (a USB/SPDIF convertor) and connected to my Innuos Zen music player (NAS & Server) and onto a Clones 25i integrated amplifier that plays through Impulse H2 speakers.
    (The USB 1 converter – to my slight surprise if I am honest – makes a meaningful difference to the sound quality, but that can be discussed elsewhere.)

    My summary of the SW1X DAC 1: it is musical, it delivers a human quality and ultimately it does not feel digital.

    I have heard an analogy of taking a veil off of the music and I understand that now – it is like having a pair of reading glasses for too long, your eyes adjust to the slowly deteriorating sight day by day – but then you get a new pair with the correct prescription and everything is suddenly clearer and more vivid and true.
    This is what the DAC has been for me BUT, and it is a very large ‘but’ – it is still a musically balanced sound.
    The music I hear is ‘cleaner’ without being at all clinical or cold. The detail is there without doubt and I can home in on a particular instrument should I want to – but it is not placed there for me, out of time.
    Just as in real life I can decide if I want to focus on just the drumming etc because it is not imposed on me by the DAC. I read an article highlighting how wondrous and sophisticated our ears and brains are. The example used was our ability to be able to hear a conversation between two people across a room, by simply filtering out all the noise around us – it is incredible we can do that, and to me it proves that the best filtering (if it is needed) lies in our own heads and we do not need an algorithm to impose filtering on us.

    I now understand a little more about the technical side of things, but that will always be secondary for me. But I am happier than ever that there is someone out there who shares the same aims and is doing the research -- and I have learned Slawa’s research is all via listening tests – despite being very technical he is not persuaded by ‘the numbers’ which can and do lie. ‘Lies, damn lies and statistics’ springs to mind (I admit I was a risk analyst by trade) and as an example the reported DAC resolution and sampling rates are only theoretical and are at the chip level, not the DAC output itself, the DAC that contains all the other ‘noisy’ components operating simultaneously with the chip, for instance.

    To conclude, I think you can tell from the tone of this review that I am a fan of the SW1X products --- I am – the best feedback I can give is that I am listening to more music now than before.
    I am a happy customer and in time I may look higher up the SW1X chain of products but right now I am very happy with my Level One experience.
    Hats off to Slawa and SW1X !





    Post-script
    For transparency I want to note that I enjoyed the DAC so much that I am considering joining Slawa in his venture, but this review reflects my honest unbiased opinion .... if I join Slawa it will only be because I believe in what he is trying to establish.
    Last edited by hughandella; 15-04-2016 at 10:51. Reason: updated photos

  2. #2
    Join Date: Feb 2013

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    I'm Grant.

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    A nice write up Chris.... I have moved it to Digital as its where it is best suited
    Regards,
    Grant ....
    Sometimes incompetence is useful. It helps you keep an open mind.
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  3. #3
    Join Date: Jan 2015

    Location: Coggeshall, Essex, UK

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    I'm chris.

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    Thanks Grant -- a slightly better photo (only just !)
    Last edited by hughandella; 15-04-2016 at 10:52.

  4. #4
    Join Date: Jan 2009

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    Excellent review Chris - well done!

    Is it possible for you to provide a contact link, and to give some indication of the cost of the SW1X?
    Have you listened to this month's choice in the Album Club?

    Barry

  5. #5
    Join Date: Apr 2008

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    I'm Neil.

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    Another fan of true multi-bit, non-oversampling DACs. Nice write up, am not at all surprised that you find it such a natural listen; I used to use a similar DAC (Audiosector).
    Mana Acoustics Racks >> Custom Silent Media Server >> Halide Bridge USB (with AQVOX USB power) >> Pedja Rogic's Audial Model S DAC + Pioneer PL-71 turntable / Vista Audio phono-1 mk II / Denon PCL-5 headshell / Reson Reca >> LFD DLS >> LFD PA2M (SE) >> Royd RR3s.

  6. #6
    Join Date: Jan 2015

    Location: Coggeshall, Essex, UK

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    I'm chris.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Barry View Post
    Excellent review Chris - well done!

    Is it possible for you to provide a contact link, and to give some indication of the cost of the SW1X?

    Thanks Barry --- the base unit as tested current costs 499 plus VAT and the main outlet is on eBay here http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/SW1X-Audio...UAAOSwjMJXBo-C

    eBay isnot the right marketplace for what we hope to build into a well regarded true audiophile range and we are in early discussions with selected independent dealers as we feel that is our natural home. A website is also close to completion and we may sell direct from there but we have to be fair to any dealers ofcourse and not undercut them ... but we all have to start somewhere and for that eBay has been useful --- we have sold several units ( interestingly quite a few into the FarEast who are discerning buyers as you know ) and the feedback has been excellent but until this point the units were basically built to order and demand meant we didnt have review examples available --- that is changing slowly and we now have some units we are using to visit dealers -- we dont want to be get ahead of ourselves and slip into hubris but i (we) genuinely believe that for the price we can beat all DACs out there (have to have that belief!) ... the USB/SPDIF Transport is something else and we hope to have a review from someone completely impartial to SW1X soon

    Will be posting internal shots soon --- there are some on the eBay link ---- we currently only offer Level 1 'standard' and 'signature' versions (the extra cost is purely based on better capacitors - black gates etc ) but already have working prototypes upto Level 3 ..... as well as solid silver interconnects ..... I think you can tell I am somewhat enthusiastic (!) but aware that the history of hifi is littered with some probably great products that failed as businesses --- so we want to build slowly .... and luckily as well as having Slawa's technical skills we both have some business experience too and so hopefully can avoid some pitfalls along the way ... there has to be room for well designed and well manufactured hifi and we feel that the industry has gone the wrong way with ever higher sampling rates and sound shaping etc ... it sometimes feels like 'progress' in name only akin to the apparent need for 5 blades on a new razor ha ha `! ..... anyway all we ask is for people to listen to the equipment and then decide .... Slawa is going to join the forum and will post more technical details and probably answer questions as needed --- but we dont want to start a NOS vs Sigma Dacs thread - there's been a few of those !! .... tks anyway for taking the time to read the review -- crossed fingers
    atb
    chris

  7. #7
    Join Date: Jan 2009

    Location: Essex

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    Thanks for that Chris.

    If Slawa joins he will need to join as a Trade Member, and since you have declared yourself to have an interest in the enterprise, you will need to change your membership status.

    Regards
    Barry
    Have you listened to this month's choice in the Album Club?

    Barry

  8. #8
    Join Date: Jan 2015

    Location: Coggeshall, Essex, UK

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    I'm chris.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yomanze View Post
    Another fan of true multi-bit, non-oversampling DACs. Nice write up, am not at all surprised that you find it such a natural listen; I used to use a similar DAC (Audiosector).
    Many thanks Neil ..... yes I think that the industry has missed a trick and taken a wrong turn --- tube output ensures impedance matching as well as a linear signal --- ( there my technical knowledge ends ha ha !) .... I have used NOS DACs -- cheap Chinese TeraDak based and upto Metrums etc - this DAC to my ears atleast is in a different league and in some ways the biggest surprise for me was the difference the USB/SPDIF convertor made ---- there are true technical reasons why this should be so (Slawa's area ) but it still came as a surprise to me I guess because i'm used to DAC swapping but not convertor changes ..... hopefully we can get some more thoughts on here from happy buyers !
    thanks again and atb
    chris

  9. #9
    Join Date: Feb 2008

    Location: http://www.homehifi.co.uk

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    Quote Originally Posted by hughandella View Post
    Many thanks Neil ..... yes I think that the industry has missed a trick and taken a wrong turn --- tube output ensures impedance matching as well as a linear signal --- ( there my technical knowledge ends ha ha !)
    Are you assuming that transistors cannot be used for impedance matching?

  10. #10
    Join Date: Jan 2015

    Location: Coggeshall, Essex, UK

    Posts: 587
    I'm chris.

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    Quote Originally Posted by StanleyB View Post
    Are you assuming that transistors cannot be used for impedance matching?
    No not at all --- and as I have stressed i am not claiming technical expertise ..... I was trying to infer that not only do we believe in NOS Dacs but also tubes as well --- other people have different approaches and gives people choice which has to be good ...... for what it's worth I have enjoyed your DACs in the past ..... not looking to have to check every post to ensure it can't be percieved as implied criticism ---- we think tubes are better than transistors - you take a different approach --- both have issues

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