Q: Beyond the cost factor, what else defines and differentiates your product?
A: One thing that differentiates us is that we approach the design of a digital device from a purely audiophile standpoint. In contrast, most manufacturers take a computer hardware approach. If you search a bit, you will see that most of the designs today follow almost exactly the PDF application notes by the chip maker. It is almost a copy/paste job. Such guidelines are most rudimentary and following them strictly settles for sonic limitations.


Q: You appear to have aimed at very specific sound qualities. How did that affect the numbers game on accuracy?
A: Generally speaking, digital audio devices that sound good also measure well. If they sound good and measure poorly, we are measuring the wrong thing. So the 0.0000 game is significant but doesn't always tell the whole story. The good thing when you make your own device is that you can control the sound. We all like the sound to be magically realistic and very dynamic. Other manufacturers—say a very reputable one from the US—offer magically realistic sound and angelic detail. You don't want to move lest you disturb this fragile balance. By comparison, our sound is bolder and meatier without loss of detail. To our mind, this doesn't make it better or worse but different. That said, we also achieved excellent numbers accuracy but that took a lot of engineering time. Practically we did not compromise any serious parts at all. Check out what is inside the Ayazi and you will understand. We followed a pure audiophile path and the design as such has no compromises. We did not give away anything much, sonically speaking.


Our approach was to extract the last drop of performance from tried and tested processors and operate them within an ultra-stabilized circuit with a huge power supply. On the one hand, the Ayazi supply is far more expensive than originally planned. On the other hand, the circuit operates so well that the extra cost was more than justified. To balance out, we had to distinguish between sound-critical components and supportive ones. For example, in the Ayazi the power supply caps are of higher capacitance and voltage than the circuit normally requires. Yet they are sonically critical. One would think that they are peripheral to the DAC function and yet… Here's another example. Measuring the Ayazi with a poor power supply and its own power supply (exceptionally good if I say so myself), the basic measurements don't differ. But the sound does. Go figure! To make things more confusing, there are also mechanical considerations that influence the sound. The Ayazi board, for example, is separated from the chassis with metallic spacers. It helps.


Q: Your core chip is an ESS product. Why did you go with that as opposed to another manufacturer and why this specific part?
A: We trust ESS a lot. We have found that they are highly specialized and have a sound philosophy we agree upon and like. They know how to make DAC chips which we believe are ahead of their competitors. We use the ESS ES 9023. The best way to characterize it is as a positive accident of this industry. It is low cost yet extremely good and versatile. It is harmonically weighted in its analog stage and sonically very balanced. Although very good out of the box, it can do miracles if you know how to deal with it and pair it in a circuit. It is an agile design if you know what you are doing. You can play with it. It is very responsive to different components and actually 'listens' to whatever you do with the rest of the circuit. You can experiment with it a lot. It is very sensitive to tweaks and we think we made a lot of positive tweaks. The ES 9023 has no ceiling and that is a good feature!


Q:
I noticed that have chosen to convert DSD to PCM. Why?
A: Despite marketing hype, there are almost no pure DSD recordings available to consumers. DSD cannot be used for editing so unless the recording is in native DSD without any mixing (a very rare occurrence), well, it had to be converted to PCM for mastering before being repackaged as DSD. Why degrade performance (more quantization noise and errors) by adding the additional step to convert to DSD when the master is already in PCM? On technical specs DSD64 files have roughly 33 times the resolution of a 16/44.1 CD. That reads good on paper but against current standards is an apples to oranges comparison. The equivalent PCM resolution of DSD would be slightly more than 24/88. So a DSD file has less data density than a 24/176 PCM file and even less than 24/192. DSD also has significantly higher quantization noise which is much closer to audible frequencies. Around 20kHz it rises sharply, requiring significantly more sophisticated digital filters as well as noise shaping and upsampling algorithms which can result in distortion. To minimize this in professional gear, most DSD recordings today are made at twice the rate used on SACD. Those discs were modulated at 64 x the CD frequency to often be called DSD64 while the professional equipment at double this rate is often called DSD128. While this reduces some problems, it introduces others such as doubling the file size and of course the download times and storage requirements.


Q: What about the argument that DSD is closer to analog in sound?
A: A common marketing myth about DSD vs. PCM is that when blind listening tests were done, there was a consensus that PCM had a fatiguing quality and DSD a more analog-like quality. This proved to be total marketing BS. Personally I have used Foobar to compare DSD in iso form vs. PCM converted to 24/88 and could not detect any difference with a Zodiac Antelope Gold/Voltikus Phonon SMB-02 and headphone combo. Until real technological progress comes along, we stick to 24/192 Flac.


Q: But won't your upcoming higher-end DAC actually do native DSD?
A: Hype and demand create market requirements. The previous comments still hold true, though.


Break-in took a fair bit of time so patience will be a prerequisite. Digital file delivery is a continuing adventure so expect learning curves and bumps along the way. In my system, USB and Linux combinations have been hit and miss and in this case the courtship between Wyred4Sound Music Server and Ayazi was an unexpected miss. Thus the Wyred was relegated to S/PDIF for onboard file and Tidal material. Primary USB source for the Ayazi DAC fell to a Dell laptop freshly redone in speedy SSD. Some material was either duplicated on the laptop or in the case of Tidal, accessible in parallel for comparisons on identical material. Tidal remains a paradox. The undiluted 44.1 HiFi option is legitimately the superior choice but in my digs hampered by inconsistency of delivery. Through the Wyred its sound rivals best Redbook file storage. Through the PC it's an uphill battle. Trotting out the laptop carried automatic provisos. Prior experience taught me a few ground rules for the exercise to have serious meaning. Isolation and vibration management are mandatory. The highest resolution files, best software and priciest DACs could be relegated to little better than Bluetooth quality if left undone. USB by nature and name is conveniently universal but also a compromised audio solution. It is subject to contamination when competing against multiple USB devices like keyboard, mouse, printer & Co. This is avoidable with onboard music files but trickier with internet sources and a wireless USB dongle. A hard-wired Ethernet connection is absolutely preferable and the quality difference between delivery methods is unfortunately substantial. Another avenue to explore is an operating system bypass via software like Fidelizer (as yet untried). Windows is intended to be a jack of all trades so this type program should yield improvements by prioritizing PC resources to become a dedicated audio component. Since the Dell XPS Studio represents a reasonable cross section of the laptop PC universe, these setup suggestions can be considered forewarning and forearming in pursuit of musical happiness.


Were there other setup issues? You bet. The first was mechanical. The Ayazi is vibration sensitive and prior to addressing the issue exhibited midbass prominence, congealing of fine detail and loss of spatial cues. Observations documented in the review assume rectifying the situation with vibration management. PC software compatibility and hardware recognition on both PC and Linux server proved interesting conundrums and showed that high-resolution file delivery via USB remains imperfect. On the Dell the Ayazi DAC operated flawlessly with its dedicated driver. Unfortunately adding the company's own 3R device created a situation where the PC had difficulty recognizing the DAC and corrupted the Ayazi driver in the process. Reinstalling the driver brought back the Ayazi but the allergic reaction to the 3R remained. In turnabout fair play, the 3R Renaissance worked marvelously with the Wyred DAC-2 on the same Dell and achieved stellar results with zero issues. The Renaissance 3R/Grant Fidelity tube DAC-11 combination encountered occasional dropout with the PC and an oddity where the Wyred server no longer recognized the DAC-11 after the 3R inserted. It became very much a head-scratching affair shared between multiple designers and myself. I was told that my experiences were extremely uncommon and that both units have excellent track records in the field. My reputation for conundrums and anomalies causes seasoned engineers to flee at my approach so count me a worst-case guinea pig. Oink.