My SW1X Review

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Tlay, Feb 7, 2021.

  1. Tlay

    Tlay Forum Resident Thread Starter

    West Coast
    This cannot be delayed any longer. This DAC has made the greatest transformation to my system to date. I have the SW1X DAC III with a few upgraded parts (some Audio Note and Black Gates) in key areas for maximum benefit.

    I only have about 30-40 hours logged already but it is SO GOOD that I have to share my impressions. I have been really wanting to upgrade my digital front end as I have about 2,500 cd's. I have been reading a lot about various DAC's and I narrowed it down to two criteria- tubes and Non oversampling (99% of my cds are standard redbook).

    Here is the kicker, and please don't laugh, I am using an ancient Sony bluRay player as transport fed SPDIF through some old AR research cable and since the DAC doesn't come with a power cable, I found in my old parts drawer one that would suffice just to burn this thing in. I can only imagine that a proper transport and cables would further enhance what already glorious sound I am getting.

    The rest of my system for what it's worth consists of the following: transport>DAC>Audio Note M3 preamp>Whammerdyne 2a3 amp>Devore O96 speakers with Auditorium 23 cabling holding it all together.

    I have not had anything resembling hi-end digital in my system before so no real comparisons can be made, although I have heard plenty of other high end systems with very costly digital converters. Vinyl has been my prefered medium of choice for 90% of my listening time.

    Enough preamble. The first album I played was Starker plays Kodaly. Immediately I heard so much texture that I was dumbfounded. My experiences with digital to this point led me to the conclusion that digital just sounds plasticky and flat. However here there was a real musician in front of me playing a flesh and blood instrument with real PRESENCE! Now my heart was pumping. The bass is so full and musical. There are so many shades down low I never knew existed. Electronic bass, double bass, lowest regions of the piano, kick drums that smack you in the face. All unique, obviously, but oh so musical.

    Dynamics through this thing is awesome! From drums of various kinds that just hit you in the gut to saxophones that burst out of silence and startle you. I listen to a lot of jazz and on most digital I have heard the band seems to just smoosh together and without that dynamic punch and emotion that a real band can convey. This DAC makes music! And dynamics are so critical to this in my humble opinion.

    Presence. Check. Texture. Check. Dynamics. Double check. What else? My speakers are known more for portraying music as a 'wall of sound' live vibe and not so much perfect spacial cues. Although the soundstage is plenty wide I have never achieved spatial depth very well with these except with maybe some stupendous recordings. With this dac though I have depth! String quartets I can 'see' the individuals playing but also coversing together as a whole. The drum kit sits well behind the other players on the stage and some musicians I can locate further in front or closer to the mike. Cool!

    This amp also does a remarkable job carving out musicians playing more 'solidly' in place than I have heard. I am sure, and have heard, some decent dacs due this reasonably well but not with the combination of meat on the bones presence that this portrays. Most that I have heard make the artist feel like a ghost hovering somewhere 'over there.' This amp lets me hear the hall or venue the musicians are playing in. A church feels like a church should. Johnny Greenwood's score for There Will Be Blood was so fun! Massed strings, plucked strings, individual intimate settings, raucous wood blocks and drums; all came together from the biggest wall to wall orchestral sound to small intmate instrumental voices. It was sad, haunting, exciting, unnerving and over way to soon!

    Overtones and harmonics are awesome! I hear the attack of the notes yet they linger like they should. When I played Richter plays Schubert live album I could hear the full flavor of the notes sounding out until they naturally decayed. I could hear the drum skins reverberate. What is really amazing is that I can more easily hear the bass players contribution in a jazz quintet. Sometimes unless I am REALLY focused on it they tend to get drowned out by the horns or drums. Bobby Hutcherson's vibes hang forever over the band shading the music.

    The dac has really outdone itself. It has all the aforementioned traits but but also is so non fatiguing it's ridiculous. It really is indistinguishable from vinyl as far as that goes. It is liquid smooth and never etched that some, if not most, of digital I have heard. Many people have said that digital is catching up to vinyl if not surpassed it. I have never been convinced of that, until I heard this thing. I am not a technician or engineer. I don't know what factor most contributes to this dac being so real sounding, non fatiguing, rhythmic, and toe tapping. Is it the tubes? The simple circuit? The high quality parts? I don't know but I can't see my system getting much better. I can't imagine what the higher priced models bring to the table. I am smitten. I am now a firm believer in the importance of the source first philosophy.

    It would have been really fun to compare the Audio Note TT3 that I purchased to this. But, alas, that will have to wait another year or so.

    Paraphenalia. Slawa was an absolute pleasure to deal with. He advised me step by step on what to expect from parts options to delivery. He responded most always within a day or two which instilled confidence and peace of mind. I never felt lost in the shuffle. Be aware. My order was placed on Dec 5th and I received it January 25th or so. However I hear he is getting busier so wait times may be longer. Just a guess though.

    I highly recommend you read his interview he did with Dagogo. If his philosophy lines up with yours I can't see how you would be disappointed. As far as I know you can continue to upgrade your unit with higher quality parts until your hearts content because he isn't redesigning the entire circuit. Those of you who want blingy casework will be disappointed. It has a nice understated quality nearly identical to Audio Note. It's the engineering and parts that shine.

    For research. Obviously his website. There are other reviews out there but you'll have to search a little. This isn't some massive company you find in a bunch of brick & mortor stores. Dagogo is the most recent. A nice lower level model reviewed on youtube. HiFi Advice has a couple. And some average non professional reviews can be found on
    Whatsbest forum. Good luck. And I am sure Slawa can easily respond through email if you have any questions like he did for me.

    Thanks for reading and good luck to you all in your hifi journeys.
    fcdvpds and Roar like this.
  2. fcdvpds

    fcdvpds Forum Resident

    Hong Kong
    Thank you for sharing your experience @Tlay. I am also very much interested in non oversampling tube dacs and the SW1X II Special is in my wish list. On one hand I am very curious about it but on the other hand I am happy with my mhdt Atalntis that I have now used for 2 years...I am trying to follow the rules...if you are happy with what you have, don't change it...but your review leaves me wondering about what I might be missing.

    gkg2k likes this.
  3. Tlay

    Tlay Forum Resident Thread Starter

    West Coast
    If you're happy with what you have then I'd leave it and enjoy. I have never heard an MHDT dac but I've read much about them and I can count on one hand which companies were on my shortlist to audition and they were one of them.
    You get that NOS analog sound at a very reasonable price point.
    I decided on SW1X because I am an Audio Note fan and the designer comes from the same school of thought that Peter Qvortrup adheres too - simple circuits, tubes, high quality parts-less bling, listening above testing, NOS, love of older designs blended with newish technology, etc.
    The dac ii special you're interested in I'm nearly positive you would be thrilled with. How big of a difference between the mhdt and Slawa's interpretation I can't say.
    If you have the money to part with, and curious enough I'd say the SW1X is worth pursuing. If you're content, which is difficult in this hobby, I'd leave well enough alone and enjoy!
    I can say that now, for me, I enjoy both my digital and vinyl immensly, and digital has become a real treat!
    Good day and good luck!
    I think SW1X does home auditioning through some kind of lending library that may be worth looking into.
    fcdvpds likes this.

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