Weiss DAC2/Minerva Review

History & Background

The DAC2/Minerva is the new product line from Switzerland manufacturer Weiss Engineering. Weiss hold an unique position manufacturing ultra high quality products for both high end consumer and professional markets. Chief designer/owner Daniel Weiss joined Studer digital audio lab 5 years before he found Weiss Engineering in 1985. Daniel designed sampling frequency converter and digital signal processing electronics for recorders ( JVC, Sony F1 and Sony 1630/1610). This was the day before the AES/EBU interface existence. Daniel ideas are always ahead of its time. Some of his latest designs were rooted many years ago, but waiting for the DSP power in order to execute correctly.

From the beginning stage of business, Weiss Engineering put its focuses on the highest quality demanding mastering studios. The legendary modular “102 Series” is milestone in mastering world. Up to date 24/96 processing, 102 Series is still being used in many CD/DVD/SACD productions today. It is proven that Weiss products are very long lasting. Modules such as Low cut filter, hardware control panel, software GUI on Mac, Level Control, 4 in 2 Mixer, Dynamic processors, Equalizers and many more were designed to fit in the 102 frame.

During my mastering life in Canada, I was one of the lucky owners of Weiss Gambit series, including the fabulous DAC1. I have very close connections with Asia audiophile circles, provide consultancy for few HiFi manufacturers and distributors, plus audio senior contributing editor for Leo Fung’s “Journey To Sound” magazine at that time. Daniel showed me his interest to develop a high end consumer line, and I was involved since then.

It was 2001 that I brought the first Medea prototype DAC back to Hong Kong. In just a very short period, Medea becomes the best sounding DAC in high end consumer market all over the world. Reviews from Taiwan AudioArt, Hong Kong, The Absolute Sound 2003 Golden Ear Award, Stereophile and more. The Stereophile measurement has shown Medea a text book perfect design. In 2005, the matching Jason up-sampling CD Transport was launched. The Jason/Medea combo is still the digital front end to beat in HiFi market even with today standard. Daniel Weiss products are not fashionable gadgets, they are very long lasting tools for professional studios and audiophiles, to create and enjoy music.

Weiss DAC2/Minerva

DAC2/Minerva is an entirely new series from Weiss Engineering. There are many audiophiles who want to own a Weiss front end, but the Jason/Medea combo is not easy to afford. Moreover, computer audio storage/playback becomes popular, more high resolution playback sources materials are available. From a mastering engineer perspective, we know high resolution 24bit/96kHz or 192kHz recordings are so much better than the 16/44.1 CD resolution. DAC2/Minerva is designed toward this direction.

Computer as Source

Top 3 questions in computer as source.

(1) Which soundcard is better?

(2) How can internal soundcard sounds as good as the external high end DAC?

(3) Is it possible that a noisy computer can produce good sounding compare to my high end CD transport?

Today music productions are mostly created in DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), either PC or MAC. There is no reason why computer cannot produce good sounding playback while the original source is created at the same place. In technical perspective, data integrity is important. Jitter performance is another major issue.

Features

Weiss DAC2/Minerva features jitter free from AES, SPDIF or directly connected to PC/MAC via Firewire 1394. This is not just simplify the requirement of a good computer digital soundcard, which usually are expansive professional audio options like Lynx and RME. Weiss DAC2/Mienrva provides better de-jitter performances. In Mastering, we insert different digital processors to form a mastering signal path. If the DAC cannot produce good de-jitter performance, the more processors in the chain, the worse sound we will get. The mastering job becomes more difficult. It is the reason legendary recording and mastering engineer Bob Katz named Weiss DAC as Holy DAC. It is one of the few DACs in the market that capable to completely eliminate jitter for perfect conversion.

Firewire VS. USB

Weiss picked Firewire connection but not the more popular USB connections for reasons. From professional studio perspective Firewire is widely used in audio and video transfer. The new Macbook no longer equips with firewire connection. We think Apple is trying to push professional users towards Macbook Pro. For firewire control chipset, Oxford chipset provides the best performances in compatibility.

Connections

Weiss DAC2/Minerva is a full feature DAC. There are connection options to fit your need.

(1) CD Transport to DAC  e.g. SPDIF and AES inputs are provided.

(2) PC/Mac computer as source. e.g. Firewire connection.

(3) PC/MAC computer as source with second external DAC

(4) DAC2/Minerva can sync to master clock via any digital input (AES or SPDIF), even using  the firewire 1394 connection for computer as source. (software setting on below)

(5) Vinyl and analogue sources record on computer and playback

DAC2/Minerva can record AES input signal to computer. Combine the Weiss reference ADC2, audiophile can record their vinyl collection with up to 24bit/192kHz resolution on computer hard disk for further playback in full resolution.


Software: Drivers for Windows™ and OSX™ operating systems.

Devices Settings: You can view a list of available device, if you have more than one DAC2/Minerva or AFI1

Global Bus Settings: You pick the Master Device, all other device will be sync to this Master Device Clock

Sync Source: You can select Internal, any pair of digital inputs or Wordclock input.

For studio (and few audiophile) situations, there are master clock to sync the whole system. DAC2/Minerva can sync to the master clock via any digital input, even using the firewire for playback. You just need to select under the PC/MAC Weiss software Panel -> “Clock Source”

Sampling Rate: DAC2/Minerva supports all major sampling rate from 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz and 192kHz

Buffer Size In Samples: Larger buffer sizes increase robustness against dropouts, lower buffer sizes provide low latency.

Operation Mode: determines the stability of the system. For weak systems you should select Safe Mode Level 3. For lower latency Normal or Save Mode Level 1 can be selected.

Windows: (Driver Version 3.3.4.3998)

Master: If you have more than one device, here select which device to act as Master

Sample Rate: Current working sampling rate

Sync Source: Internal  / AES input

Buffer Size In Samples: Larger buffer sizes increase robustness against dropouts, lower buffer sizes provide low latency.

Operation Mode: determines the stability of the system. For weak systems you should select Safe Mode Level 3. For lower latency Normal or Save Mode Level 1 can be selected.

New PC Driver includes DPC latency checker, it shows you if your computer is suitable to playback live audio. Based on the DPC latency checker, it also has a Recommended Operation Mode.

New Features – Analogue Output Level control:

picture-33

We have been waited months to release the new edition of Weiss DAC2/Minerva. They delay are due to newly added features. Selectable analogue output level matches well with different preamp/poweramp input sensitivities. Selectable by a rotary switch on the back, 4 settings, same level at both RCA and XLR outputs:

  • DC coupled, short circuit proofed output circuitry, Output impedance: 50 Ohm
  • +17 dBu (5.48Vrms) with a 0dBFS sinewave input
  • +11 dBu (2.74Vrms) with a 0dBFS sinewave input
  • +7.2 dBu (1.78Vrms) with a 0dBFS sinewave input
  • +4.8 dBu (1.35Vrms) with a 0dBFS sinewave input
Digital Volume Control: 0.5dB steps over 120dB range. The volume control is done in the digital domain and is properly dithered, which means that the quality of the level control is at least on par with an analog volume control. Ideally the Minerva unit is operated at digital volume levels at or near to the maximum level in order to utilize the dynamic range of the Minerva. By using the 4 different analogue output level settings plus digital volume control, user can easily achieve an optimistic transparent gain chain.

Insert Signal Path: This mode enable DAC2 takes either Firewire or SPDIF/Toslink input as source, send the signal out to external processor and decode the loop back processed signal. This mode is perfectly mate with Weiss Linear Phase digital EQ1-MK2-LP.

Sampling Rates indicators: 4 LEDs on the front panel shows the current locking sampling rate. This is especially useful for firewire connection.


Sound Quality

Weiss DAC2/Minerva won Ultra Audio Jeff Fritz “The World Best Audio System” award, and indeed it sounds far better than I expected (sorry Daniel). It is NOT just a low pricing solution to fit the market demand. It has the most attractive mid-range that I heard from all DACs in similar pricing. British audio magazine HiFi News wrote DAC2/Minerva is as good as dCS flagship Scarlatti. The mid range is not colour like tube, but euphony and high resolution. This aspect is very important for high sampling playback. When I listen our up coming jazz records “Audiophile Jazz Prologue – Part 03” 24/192kHz master tape, the whole soundstage and timbre are remain warm and musical. I have test many mid range pricing DACs with high sampling sources, they usually sound thinner and lost density. The high end has never been such well define and musical. No wonder both Ultra Audio Jeff Fritz and Chris Connake from computeraudiophile.com mentioned this point when playing Reference Recordings 24bit/176kHz HRx. The bass area range is very full and deep down. I have reasons to believe this is due to the DAC2/Minerva analogue output stage topology.

Compare to Weiss own reference DAC1-Mk2/Medea, the DAC2/Minerva mid range is warm and attractive. However the reference DAC still carry better authority on bass and high ends. Greater dynamics and powerful. The DAC2/Minerva maximum output is +17dBu which is 5.48VRMS (peak level) on XLR, and lower on RCA. Both XLR and RCA outputs can be used at the same time without interference. There are separate drivers for the two outputs. The low output impedance (50 ohm) is capable to drive passive preamp, but the reference Medea DACs has +27dBU plus almost 0 ohm in comparison. Remind you the Medea costs four times over Minerva.

It is interestingly that all Weiss DACs has a character as “California sunshine” “Healthy” “Creamy” in my book. All frequencies are presented in very good ratio in the soundstage. This is a big reason why Weiss DACs are used in mastering studios. Mastering engineers rely on what they heard to finalize the master sound and they demand the clarity and micro dynamic even in the deepest and widest soundstage. Some of consumer DACs produce slight blur resolution at the deepest/widest soundstage in order to create a sharper contrast images in the front. Weiss does not produce such effect.

I tested up-sample ripped CD files using Weiss own professional computer program SARACON. It is the best quality sample rate conversion available in the market. How good? The THD+N is better than –180dB for 32 Bit fixed point I/O, unweighted. Audiophile can test with different up-sampling results and match with their own preferences. DAC2/Minerva supports all sampling rate from 44.1kHz to 192kHz. This can be a good upgrade for computer audio as source user. SARACON represents the best SRC you can find, has much higher value than audiophile cables.

Measurements: A loop through with our reference ADC

Weiss Minerva/DAC2 THD (at -3dBFS): Left: +0.0002% / Right: +0.0004%

Weiss Minerva/DAC2 Dynamic Range: L/R: +112.2

Weiss Minerva/DAC2 Noise Level:

We did these measurements in our mastering lab, it is not a manufacturer press. One can see how clean the spectrum is, even you have no technical background on measurements, you can see there is almost nothing but just the testing signal frequency. The measurements are constant in all sampling rates.

Conclusion:

As the reseller and partner of Weiss, my comments are surely biased. From mastering engineer and audiophile point of view, I am truly happy that Daniel can create such a good DAC in this price range. It doesn’t need much more confidence to say that playing back high res materials with a computer can sound superior than any CD combo in the market. Technologies have gone forward. I met many Japan audiophiles during my last Tokyo trip, they are all looking into the NAS music storage. More and more records companies will release their high resolution music through different media.

Websites for uncompressed music downloads and/or hires carriers:


  1. stephen

    26 October

    Hi Kent
    i think Minerva sounds even better than his brother Medea.Sound quality is so welcome in most listening room especially mid-range performance.
    Minerva becomes my true reference DAC.

    Highly recommended to END USER only.

    Best
    Stephen Cheng
    Eastview

  2. admin

    27 October

    Hello Stephen,

    I’m so glad to hear from you, and happy that you love the sound of Minerva/DAC2. Indeed it is a hard to beat performances DAC in such affordable price range. Minerva/DAC playbacks Harry Belafonte at Carnegie Hall is especially attractive.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, if you are in Toronto area, you will have to visit Stephen in Eastview Audio. We had a lot of good old times there and I learnt a lot form him.

    East View Audiophile
    270 West Beaver Creek Road
    Richmond Hill, Ontario L4 B3 Y9
    Canada

    Bests,
    Kent

  3. Skymnarkjurry

    13 November

    Спасибо за пост! Добавил блог в RSS-ридер, теперь читать буду регулярно..

  4. admin

    13 November

    Мое удовольствие!

  5. bgagwan

    5 December

    I plan to connect a Minerva to a HDD – Music Server through a Fire Wire – Siltech Classic Aniversary – G7 Fire Wire Cable.
    Will this work ?
    Thanks for your suggestions….
    ‘Bhagwan’

    05.12.2008

    Mumbai – India

  6. admin

    5 December

    Hello Bhagwan,

    Nice to meet with you here. Both PC or Mac music server will work with Minerva. The HD which stores the music flies can be external/internal as well. The Weiss Minerva will act as a computer sound, but in superb quality one.

    Bests,
    Kent

  7. bgagwan

    5 December

    Hello Kent !

    Thanks for that;

    Basically I will need to get a Mother Board that supports fire wire & I will out put digital audio from my HDD to the Minerva through a fire wire cable; Is that corrcect ?

    Have you had any experinace with a fire wire cable ? Any particular brand you recommend ?

    My Minerva will connect to a GAD Sonata Allegro Pre Amplifier – XLR Balanced –

    The Siltech G-7 Anniversary is good – but damn expensive. Any other cheaper option available.

    Appreciate the imputs.

    Regards,

    Bhagwan

  8. admin

    8 December

    Hi Bhagwan,

    > A Mother Board that supports fire wire & I will out put digital audio from my HDD to the Minerva through a fire wire cable; Is that corrcect ?

    Yes.

    > Have you had any experinace with a fire wire cable ? Any particular brand you recommend ?

    I personally think 1394 cable is not sensitive like analogue cable, however I do have client using crystal 1394 cable for his system.

    > My Minerva will connect to a GAD Sonata Allegro Pre Amplifier – XLR Balanced –
    > The Siltech G-7 Anniversary is good – but damn expensive. Any other cheaper option available.

    Cable matching depends on your system sounding and taste. Please share with us about your result.

    Bests,
    Kent

  9. Jean-Michel ANQUETIL

    14 December

    Hi ,

    Very interesting review , i have been looking at this dac for quite sometime , I am living in Shanghai and will come to honk kong at the end of january .

    What is the price of the Dac 2 in honk kong and where can i buy it and listen to it ?

    Thank’ a lot

  10. Vash

    29 December

    Dear Kent,

    Do you think that this Weiss DAC2 firewire input can read those i-link (1394) data of current Japanese universal disc player ?

    B.Rgds.,
    Vash

    • admin

      29 December

      Dear Vash,
      I am sorry but the 1394 protocol are not the same.

  11. Vash

    29 December

    Kent,

    Thanks for your prompt reply. BTW., is the online order for DAC2 comes with the upgraded new faceplate ?

    Thanks again.

  12. admin

    29 December

    Hello Vash,
    Yes, all current new DAC2 comes with the upgraded new faceplate.
    Bests,
    Kent

  13. Vash

    29 December

    Hi again,

    Actually, I am considering on purchase a new 24/192 dac. I found both 2nd hand of EMM labs dac6 and dcs upsampler+dac combo are quite attractive. Anyhow, seems WEISS DAC2 is the best on c/p ratio. Am I right ?

    ^_^

  14. admin

    29 December

    Hello Vash,
    I emailed you about details. But yes, of course the Weiss DAC2 is the best on C/P ratio. It provides direct connection to PC/Mac that capable to playback TRUE 24/96 & 24/192 high resolution music files. Have you download those sample files from my server? Please try and let me know if you find any different between the 16/44.1 and high resolution files.

    http://www.designwsound.com/dwsblog/?page_id=318

    Bests,
    Kent

  15. Vash

    31 December

    Hi Kent,

    The performance of DAC2 in my Panel speaker system is stunning !! Thanks so much for the introduction.

    BTW., do you have any idea on playback 24/192 HDAD disc under Windows XP environment ? Seems those currently available DVD A/V software only support 24/96……..

    Best regards,
    Vash

  16. admin

    31 December

    Hello Vash,

    I am very glad the Weiss DAC2 shines on your system!!
    Too bad that I have a lunch meeting but next time will visit your place again and exchange more about audio. Have you download our free samples in high resolution? I think you will like them too.

    I have no idea how to playback 24/192 HDAD under Windows XP. But my thought is you can get some ripping software and rip the track back to WAV or AIFF file in 24/192. Then you can import to your prefer software player. This is another reason why we are releasing DATA DVD-ROM. Everything is now file base on computer world.

  17. bhagwan

    13 January

    Hello Kent !

    I got my Minerva.
    It is a ‘good’ DAC.
    The Firewire 13944 is really very very convenient.
    I still need to set it up in my set up.
    Will do so after 1 month.
    However, I did listen to it with a Hovland HP-100 + Cadence Canasya [845 Mono Amplifier]
    Manger 103.3 Speaker.
    It is a good DAC.
    It plays the HRX – Ref Recordings like a ‘dream’ !!
    Regular music gets ‘upsampled’ to 192 KHz.
    This is a good DAC.
    I have to listen to it against a Meridian 808i.2 & Cary 306 Professional CD/SACD Player.
    All this will happen after 1 month, once my set up is in place….

    13.01.2009

  18. Tongpoh

    16 January

    just received DAC2. newbie in computer audio, need help for setup. which t os is best xp or vista? which playback software foobar or media monkey? what plug in with foobar?

  19. ted_b

    21 January

    I have a question about the Windows setup. So, unlike the Berkeley Alpha Dac, which has famously mated with a $700 Lynx AES16 card (for SPDIF output) the Minerva only needs Firewire from a motherboard, not a dedicated hi-end soundcard, right? Aside from the discussions of the merits of an audiophile-grade Firewire cable is there a mobo that is in favor right now as the “best firewire sound”? Does this firewire topology mean that I could run my music server, similar to how I run Squeeze Center today, from an adjacent room, with a long firweire cable (instead of current ethernet), and preclude any need for spending addtl $$ on silent in-room hardware? Thanks,
    Ted

  20. admin

    21 January

    Hi Ted,

    Yes, Weiss Minerva/DAC2 needs a 1394 Firewire connection. For desktop computer this can be either your mother already has one, or added on a PCI firewire card which is very affordable.

    If you use a firewire connection to the Weiss DAC2/Minerva, the DAC itself will be the master clock, not the computer. So the firewire cable has theoretically no effect on audio stream.

    Ethernet can run much much longer than Firewire. You will need to check up the spec. for how long a firewire cable is recommended. Few meters are not a problem.

    Bests,
    Kent

  21. ted_b

    22 January

    Thanks. From what I gathered the max recommended firewire cable length is 4.5 meters.

    So, are you (and others) saying that the minimalist-style of Windows setup that other audiohile-type music servers are painstakingly going through (no anti-virus, small OS footprint, deleted extraneous tasks) is not an issue with this type of server (of course, silent-running hardware is still an issue if you want the machine in the room with you)? This fact alone makes the Weiss much more cost-effective than the Berkeley (no $700 card, no minimalist pc setup needs, no dual cable SPDIF or AES needs).

    • admin

      28 January

      Hello Ted,
      There is a survey on positive feedback online. http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue41/ca_intro.htm
      Yes, my computers can do other things as well as playback bit perfect digital data. The key is always lies on the DAC, even you may have the worse jitter USB connection, if you have a DAC can able to clean up the jitter, that’s not an issue.
      Through my demos, I have shocked so many local audiophile presses with just a 6 years old Mac Powerbook 17 with Weiss Minerva.

  22. lapaix

    26 January

    For a while I debated between the Berkeley DAC and the Weiss DAC2. I decided on the Weiss for two reasons (at least). First, cost: the Weiss DAC2 is ~$2800 USD vs ~$5000 for the Berkeley. However, to use the Berkeley I would have to purchase a Weiss AFI1, which adds another ~$2000 to the cost, although there is one on Ebay now for half that. Nevertheless, that is a large and unnecessary expense since the Weiss attaches directly to my Macbook Pro via firewire. Second; Mac OS X is a much cleaner interface than PC (sorry if you’re a Windows person, no offense intended), and as other have mentioned there is no reason to have a specially modified computer. It is just much more convenient on a Mac. There is absolutely no way for me to audition either of these systems without spending hundreds of dollars to fly all over the country, and even then there is really no way to compare since each person has a unique system and unique room acoustics; hence, a comparison at a dealer showroom would be meaningless anyway. Therefore, I’ll “gamble” on Kent’s judgement and the reviews of other people (Chris Connacker at Computer Audiophile, for instance) who seem reasonable, and go with the Weiss.

    • admin

      28 January

      David, please keep me update with your comments! Thanks

  23. ted_b

    28 January

    Not sure of the forum rules regarding prices…but wow nice price at $2800! 🙂 Go for it.

    Let us know how it sounds, and what your final server setup is (in room, etc.)

    Thx
    Ted

  24. ted_b

    29 January

    Thanks. Yes, i published that survey on a couple forums already (jncl. CA). I like you answers. 🙂

    The survey points out the best and worst of the industry. The best in that there are many folks working very hard to find answers and solutions through different means. The worst in that there seems to be no real consensus, yet, on any basic paramount issues…many answers seem specifically pointed toward one’s own product and agenda. Oh well, these are classic symptoms of a industry (music server) in its infancy.
    Thanks

    Ted

  25. admin

    29 January

    Indeed, you are very right about the surveys. I respect everyone should have his/her own perspectives, it is only that some perspectives are wrong in technical theory, or showing unclear understanding about it. thanks.

  26. George Ip

    12 April

    Hi Kent,

    Can you tell me where I can listen to the Weiss DAC in Hong Kong? I have been ripping all my CDs collection to the Hard Drive in AIFF format in the Mac platform. My current DAC is the Mark Levinson 30.6. I am interested to hear the Weiss and looking for a future DAC to compliment my Mark Levinson as it can’t play the Hi Rev sound files.

  27. Kevin

    6 September

    你好,本人想約時間試機,請問邊個時間同地址方便?thx

  28. admin

    2 March

    @Kevin

    Thanks for your purchase Kevin, enjoy your sound.

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