Are we witnessing the dying days of the standalone DAC? It is definitely starting to feel that way — a reality that was inevitable when you consider how many audio components utilize an internal DAC in 2022.
With very few exceptions, almost every integrated amplifier sold today comes equipped with its own DAC and it’s part of every streamer or network amplifier.
The Head-Fi revolution helped Topping and Schiit Audio move a lot of desktop DACs that were more affordable and the Dongle DAC market is already oversaturated.
AVRs, TVs, Roku Media Players, and Soundbars? There is a DAC inside all of them.
I’m old enough to remember a period during the 1990s when Stereophile and TAS browbeat audiophiles into believing that their digital audio setups couldn’t deliver 16-bit/44.1kHz worth a damn if they didn’t own digital separates.
A proper audiophile owned both a CD transport and DAC because audiophile CD players on their own couldn’t dig out the magic present on those expensive MoFi, DCC, JVC XRCD, and Sony Mastersound CDs; let alone the 0000s of non-audiophile quality CDs being released every single year.
Raise your hand if you fell for that bullshit.
Guilty as charged. Audio Note, Sonic Frontiers, and Theta Digital did very well when I succumbed to the power of the mob.
The Spring3 Kitsuné Tuned Edition (KTE) may not make a lot of sense to some with wireless speaker systems integrating some rather high-end DACs in 2022, but this might be one of the finest external DACs that we’ve ever heard; and that includes a few that are 10x the price. The Spring3 KTE is an R2R Ladder DAC that supports hi-res PCM and DSD.
The Holo Audio Spring3 KTE measures 16.9″W x 2.2″H x 11.8″D and weighs 18 lbs. Inside its solid case constructed from copper and black-anodized aluminum, are two entirely separate, fully balanced converters: a 24-bit, discrete R-2R for PCM, and a discrete resistor network to handle DSD up to DSD512.
The USB and I2S inputs accept PCM data up to 32-bit/768kHz and DSD512, and the S/PDIF inputs up to 24/192 and DSD64. The outputs are balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA). The Spring3 rests on silicone-damped copper feet.
Connected to a CD transport or streamer, this DAC makes music come alive. If you’re wondering if it makes sense to spend this kind of money on a DAC when digital technology is evolving so quickly, the answer is that a great DAC doesn’t lose its value as a component just because something new comes out.
90% of available digital music is red book CD quality (or less) and the 10% that qualifies as high-resolution digital audio will always be supported by this DAC.
If streaming platforms like Tidal, Deezer, Spotify, or Qobuz are your primary sources of digital music – the Spring3 KTE will allow you to uncover a lot of great sounding music for years to come.
The timbral accuracy is second to none, and there is a level of resolution that you might not expect from a DAC that starts at $2,198 depending on the configuration.
A boutique online manufacturer, Holo Audio, is distributed by KitsuneHiFi, and even with the long wait time for delivery, this is one DAC worth waiting for. The Spring3 KTE still starts below $2,200 and gives music listeners a real taste of what reference quality digital audio can sound like.
The Spring3 KTE USB DAC reproduces layers of detail, and offers a warm tonal balance, low noise floor, and superb top-to-bottom coherency.
I will have a lot more to say in January, but the Holo Audio Spring3 KTE DAC feels like the last of its kind; most certainly at its price which won’t make sense to those getting into high-end digital playback for the first time with desktop headphone rigs or 2.1 systems fronted by a network player.
Connected to my Roon Nucleus, Audiolab 6000CDT, and Marantz CD60 — the Holo Audio Spring3 KTE DAC reframed how digital audio can sound with CDs, downloads, and digital streaming platforms.
The organic nature of its presentation with the DAC set to NOS (non-oversampling which bypasses the AKM AK4137 sample rate converter chip) mode, was some of the most beautiful sounding digital audio I have yet to experience; and I will not get sucked into the “analog versus digital” debate on this one.
A component either brings you closer to the musical experience or it fails in its purpose.
The Spring3 KTE DAC recreates the soundstage with excellent depth and width and the imaging is spot on; musicians and instruments are locked firmly in place.
I’ve heard some more incisive sounding DACs, but the extra degree of edge always becomes fatiguing and really doesn’t sound very natural with a lot of recordings.
Vocals and strings have so much presence and body that I felt a rather sadistic urge to torment my family with classical music on a nightly basis; I can’t explain why they show such little interest in Mozart, Dvorak, Shostakovich, or Stravinsky — but the Spring3 KTE had me sitting on the edge of my sofa and converging with the power and emotional impact of the music.
The Holo Audio Spring3 KTE connected to the Unison Research Triode 25 Integrated Amplifier was one of the best sounding DAC/amplifier combinations I’ve heard in many years. At any price. Undeniably captivating.
Where to buy: $3,098 at kitsunehifi.com
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