AQUA La Voce S2 high-end DAC R2R resitor ladder type - 4x modular swappable DACs

AQ 03 DAC LAVOCE
SPECIAL PRICE: NZ$ 2,995.00 ea (incl. GST)
Original: NZ$ 4,995.00 (incl. GST)
Saving: NZ$ 2,000.00 (incl. GST)
AQUA

The Art of the Digital domain

Demo

CHRISTMAS SPECIAL - SHOWROOM DEMO AVAILABLE AT SPECIAL PRICE IN AS NEW CONDITION, FULL 12mth MAUFACTURES WARRANTY

A Newly Refined Second-Generation La Voce S2 D/A Converter.
"The La Voce is really a great DAC. It looks classy, is well made and sounds superb."
(TRANSLATED) - Philipp Schneckenburger, EINSNULL

"It really is a wonderful overall package that has me wonder." - Srajan Ebaen, 6MOONS

"As far the ability to render emotion of music, Italian DAC felt by far the best." (TRANSLATED) - Krzysztof Kalinkowski, STEREOLIFE

The DAC segment is developing very dynamically, but it is also terribly crowded. On the one hand it's good, because we have virtually unlimited choice. On the other, it is difficult in such a mass find something interesting. The more might be interested in model Aqua La Voce S2. We get an interesting design with modular architecture that allows to adjust the sound and functionality for our needs, and what is most important - and addictive musical sound. All this gives a remarkable machine that once invited to a house may never leave there.

The new La Voce S2 combines product innovation and state-of-the-art technology, producing superior sound performance and the best styling. Designed to provide absolute modularity and the ultimate in sound quality, La Voce S2 D/A converter is the culmination of years of aqua’s research in the areas of electronic engineering in relation to digital audio reproduction.

Further refined La Voce S2, a revolutionary design which employs modular R2R type converters in DFD mode
- cod. D104K - Burr Brown PCM1704-K (2 dac) - sign magnitude R2R ladder DAC 24bit / 192 kHz - DFD mode
- cod. D101 - Philips TDA1541A - R2R 16 bit / 96 kHz (R1, S1 grade selection on request)
- cod. D165 - Analog Devices AD1865 - R2R 18 bit / 192 kHz - DFD mode

CD IS NOT OBSOLETE
"Aqua Acoustic Quality La Voce (one of Aquas DAC) comes with a strong array of digital inputs. I2S started to appear lately on more and more devices. With I2S La Voce offers unique option and reduction of jitter to a lower specs. With prompt observation of industry I can concur that CD is not dead at all as some people or industry is trying to present. There are vast offerings of greatly mastered CD's that can still give a strong run to the high resolution digital audio files. If the transfer from master tapes was done at best and skilfully mastered you'll have hard time to distinguished between redbook and high resolution files of the same song. And as we sadly witness many of high resolution files are only up sampled. This 'froud' comes still from some of the leading vendors... With such dealings one surely wonder about good and great intentions of music industry with the pushing trends of high res files". 
"La Voce offers a great option to explore your CD collection or a great investment if you're in the constant search of great sounding redbook album and building of your library along with a stand out Jitter reduced playback. Not closed path at all if you ask me". 
"What its most important about Aqua Acoustics La Voce is its ability to portrait music with correct timbre and colour. La Voce offers potent and passionate approach to enjoy in exploring your digital collection. In the age where harshness is more then often recognised as true resolution La Voce offers unique and favourable approach to spot on reproduction of music. If your urges of digital conversion points at natural imprint look no further. You'll be hard pressed to find a DAC performing with such pace and correctness. And with the choice of swapping chips the universe of fine tuning and refinement to your needs is further more elaborated." 
"Like all Italian devices I had pleasure to review in past few years Aqua Acoustics is no exception of bringing a unique passionate DNA incorporated into their DAC. Lifelike emotional curve of enjoyment shines within this black box".
"La Voce" is entirely designed and hand assembled in Italy, with passion".
…….Matej Isak. Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine

6MOONS Wrap. .....it justly reinforces that its design decisions and concomitant performance flavor are quite rare. Where at least to my mind it gets really interesting is with that most mundane aspect of it all: price, being very well put together the La Voce S2 from Italy pursues the Audio Note, AMR, Metrum, Zanden & Co. type sound for a lot less than most. With Italian, not offshore manufacture, that's twice interesting. Add circuit modularity and hot-swappable converter boards for in-situ voicing.
It really is a wonderful overall package that has me wonder. What type of posh challengers might the tube/Mosfet hybrid hotrodded version for twice the coin take on? As is, the La Voce is a perfect stand-in for the well-liked Dutch Metrum Hex. If I wasn't already behexed, this Aquarius—six planets not moons at that—would go the Aqua route. Being my virginal encounter with this company, I thought it a terrific first blind date with a very happy ending!
…. Srajan Ebaen

Features

Specifications

Reviews

Awards

Videos

Features

• High performance proprietary DFD (Direct From Decoder) digital decoding without digital filter for purest digital signal quality

• Galvanic isolated S/PDIF - AES/EBU Digital input

• Jitter free digital interface AQlink (I2S protocol), uncompromising digital connection to La Diva cd transport

• Zero S/PDIF Jitter design, digital receiver stage PLL (phase locked loop) technology

Supplied Standard with • precision sign magnitude R2R ladder DAC with 2 Burr-Brown PCM -1704K arrayed in  dual mono configuration (PCM1704-K DAC option)

• Passive current / voltage conversion (I / V)

• Discrete Regulator (MOSFET, J-FET, BJT) for analog and digital DAC’s power supply

• RJ45 (AQlink) input connection, employs CAT6 cable

• 2 separate low noise power transformers, one for the analog and one for the digital section

• MODULAR DESIGN with upgradeable multi board system

• Fully discrete analog stage, not even a single Op-Amp is used

• Proprietary USB Firmware / driver :
Apple MAC OS - Linux OS : USB asynchronous native support, no need to install drivers software

• Fully upgradeable Bit perfect asynchronous USB module with resolution up to 24 bit and 192 KHz, operates with computers running OSX 10.7 and above, Windows XP, 7 and 8 ASIO - WASAPI bit perfect high-speed

• Digital phase selector on front panel

• High-quality parts selected for sound quality:
   - 105° long life capacitors
   - low noise Metal Foil ultra-precision resistors
   - metallized film pulse capacitor
   - ultra-fast diodes

• Aluminium anti-resonant cabinet with Nextel

• Designed and handmade in Italy

• Input:
  - AES/EBU XLR Digital Input
  - USB HD 24 bit /192 kHz
  - RJ45 AQlink (I2S serial bus) - 24 bit / 384 KHz
  - BNC coax (S/PDIF) 75 ohm  -  24 bit / 192 KHz

• Analog output:
   - RCA single-ended
   - XLR balanced asymmetrical

UNIQUE HOT SWAPABLE DAC OPTIONS:
STD - D104 - DUAL Burr Brown PCM1704-K (2 dac) - sign magnitude R2R ladder DAC 24bit / 192 kHz - DFD MODE
OPT - D101 - Philips TDA1541A - R2R 16 bit / 96 kHz - DFD MODE (R1, S1 grade selection on request)
OPT -.D165 - Analog Devices AD1865 - R2R 18 bit / 192 kHz - DFD MODE

INPUT / OUTPUT UPGRADEABLE MODULE OPTIONS:
  - D112 - AT&T fibre ST Input module 24 bit / 192 KHz @ $300
   - D113 - SPDIF RCA digtal Input module 75 ohm - 24 bit / 192 KHz @ $195
   - D114 - OPTICAL TOSLINK digital Input module - 24 bit / 96 KHz @ $150
   - E604  - XLR Analog Output module @ $475

Specifications

Native Sample Rates Supported
   - S/PDIF - AES/EBU: 24 bit / 192 KHz
   - AQlink - I2S serial bus: 24 bit / 384 Khz
Asynchronous USB (High Speed) - USB Type B
Digital Receiver - PLL (phase locked loop) technology 128 or 256 FS internally selectable
AQlink (I2S bus) - CMOS level
Digital filter - Proprietary DFD (Direct From Decoder) digital decoding without digital filter
Oversampling factor - 1x
Digital to analog conversion type - MODULAR: Multibit sign magnitude R2R ladder (PCM1704-K DAC option)
Analogue Outputs
   - UNBALALANCED - 2 RCA Output 2.1V RMS
   - BALANCED (asymmetrical output) - 2 XLR Output : 4.2V RMS
Current / voltage conversion (I / V) - Resistor passive (I / V) 
Output Impedance - 100 Ω RCA - 200 Ω XLR
Load Impedance - 10 k Ω (min.)
Frequency Response - 20Hz to 20kHz +0.5dB/-0.5dB
THD + N - <0.1% 1KHz -20dB
Front Panel - Power, input selector
Power Consumption - 100-115V / 220-240V; 50 or 60Hz - 58VA
Dimensions - ( W x D x H ) 450 x 310 x 100 mm
Weight - 7 kg
Front finish - Satin Alu Silver or Satin Black
Case finish - Grey Nextel powder coated

Reviews

"La Voce" is entirely designed and hand assembled in Italy, with passion.
Matej Isak.

SUMMARY REVIEW: What its most important about Aqua Acoustics La Voce is its ability to portrait music with correct timbre and colour. La Voce offers potent and passionate approach to enjoy in exploring your digital collection. In the age where harshness is more then often recognised as true resolution La Voce offers unique and favourable approach to spot on reproduction of music. If your urges of digital conversion points at natural imprint look no further. You'll be hard pressed to find a DAC performing with such pace and correctness. And with the choice of swapping chips the universe of fine tuning and refinement to your needs is further more elaborated. 

Like all Italian devices I had pleasure to review in past few years Aqua Acoustics is no exception of bringing a unique passionate DNA incorporated into their DAC. Lifelike emotional curve of enjoyment shines within this black box.

EXTENDED REVIEW: In the present age of digital audio we came to a luxury of being able to choose form vast offerings of companies putting their knowledge, passion and views in an approach of how to convey the music from digital source. 

Italian company Aqua Acoustic Quality approaches to design with the vision that translates in carrying proudly musical excellence, artistic tradition, the passion for the land, the spirit of innovation and craftsmanship of its people. Fully Italian breed. 

So basically an emotional path with the clear goal of pursue in the service of music. Sounds like a fair and noble way to drive a venture.

First encounter of emotional bonding

From the first note played through the Aqua Acoustic Quality La Voce it was clear how this device radiate with a distinctive energy. Its the given approach they took that translates to the sound of outcome. Musical!

Insights into Aqua Acoustic Quality La Voce

Let me give you the company specs regarding La Voce to fully understand dedication and vision of the company. Here is their official introduction: 

Unit comes with one conversion circuit of your choice, or you may purchase more as you wish:
- Burr Brown pcm1704
- Philips TDA1541A
- Analog Devices AD1865

The dacs are easily interchangeable. These are the finest innovations ever produced in the field of high fidelity converters.

Innovative treatment of the PCM digital signal:

After exhaustive listening tests, a 1x sample rate has been chosen as the best. The digital signal (I2S format) taken from digital receiver transfers directly to DAC integrated circuits (i.e., Burr Brown pcm1704 or other depending on your choice). Digital decoding is done by our exclusive circuit DFD (direct from decoder) without any digital alteration (upsampling, oversampling, digital filters, etc..).

All aspects of the power supply circuit have been selected for the best quality and consistent result.

The section of the circuit board which stabilizes the analogue stage utilizes a power mosfet, for which power is generated by j-fet and bipolar transistors.

The power supply for the analogue section of the integrated DAC integrated circuits is also generated by discrete semiconductors. The digital section is powered by high performance regulator circuits.

The diodes used are ultra-fast. The whole circuit board has been designed to minimize ripple and to separate the various electronic devices in order to eliminate interference.

The digital receiver employs three separate power lines (VA - VD - VL) to drastically reduce jitter as much as is technologically possible. Moreover, the analogue and digital power supplies are completely separated.

The quality of components, reliability and durability, as well as sonic.

DAC options:
- cod. D704 - Burr Brown PCM1704 (2 dac) - R2R 24bit / 192 kHz - DFD MODE
- cod. D741 - Philips TDA1541A - R2R 16 bit / 96 kHz - DFD MODE (R1, S1 grade selection on request)
- cod. D165 - Analog Devices AD1865 - R2R 18 bit / 192 kHz - DFD MODE

The big difference between our DAC "La Voce" and other devices on the market lies in the possibility of your being able to choose the particular DAC converter for your personal demands. Moreover, the DAC IC converters are easily interchangeable-snap in, snap out-to give the true audiophile the option to experiment with and experience the sublte differences in sound quality. This option takes into serious consideration the future technological evolution of high fidelity sound production, and will enable the owner to simply plug in the next generation of DAC converters as we assemble them.

The intense design work and cure to detail is full gratified at every listening.

La Voce A class J-FET digital to analog converterOverviewFeatures• Digital decoding is done by our exclusive circuit DFD (direct from decoder) without any digital alteration (upsampling, oversampling, digital filters, etc..)

• galvanic isolated digital input signal will accept up to 24 bit 192 kHz
• passive current / voltage conversion (I / V) 
• pure A class jfet stage gain with no feedback and with a gain selection dip-switch for best match with the chosen DAC
• fully discrete analog stage 
• discrete MOSFET - Jfet separate power supply regulators are used in the analogue circuit
• the components with extraordinary attributes of quality, reliability and durability, as well as sonic (105° long life capacitors, metal film resistors and foil film low noise 1% and 0.1%, film output capacitors, etc.). Every single component has been chosen and selected after extensive listening tests.
• digital phase can be inverted with a jumper on the pcb
• Philips TDA1541A and Analog Devices AD1865 are DIP sockets mounted.

• Digital inputs:
coaxial S / PDIF (RCA or BNC) 75 ohms
- I2S PCM RJ45 digital input
- optical Toslink
- AES / EBU balanced 110 ohms 
-AT&T (optional)
• USB input:
24 bit / 192 kHz Bit perfect ASIO - WASAPI High resolution asynchronous High-Speed USB port. A Xcore microcontroller is interfaced directly in I2S protocol conversion board bypassing the digital receiver
• aluminum anti-resonant cabinet with Nextel

The sound of difference

La Voce is offering three different DAC to choose from. Analogue Devices AD1865, Burr Brown PCM 1704 and Philips TDA1541A.

They are also user swapable and Aqua offers them as plug in modules. This gives you an easy choice in 'tuning' your digital front end to a desired direction that suits both your taste and synergy of a system. 

As I entered the review, pace from the strike of the first note played energy and float of the music was enriched with the right dynamic of a natural tonal palette. Many times when I talk about natural darkness of tone people get confused or even scared. They think there is something wrong when I described a device with such character. What comes wrong are people's understanding, perception and approach to the sound of the equipment. Basic sound imprint of natural totality is dark in its core. Not a sky opener with bursting dynamics that have nothing to do with reality we live in. Most modern DAC's fail in a primal task of sound reproduction. Its first and foremost role of a converter to conway the music as it is. No additional fireworks or show offs. I do understand such artificial approach of some companies, but it have nothing to do with the reality. It deals more with the studio approach of equalising and tampering with the sound. If one is in the search of following the current trend of altered reality is fine. For an audiophile striving for the puristic musical imprint La Voce opens the door to the things as they are in a highly established way. 

Interaction

La Voce locked greatly with my Apple computers. When operating with digital files I prefer the solid state drives. They do offer more precise and refined way of dealing with digital audio formats. We've come to a level of sophistication of digital audio replay where every little nuance matters like anything. I always repeat about people feeling how complex and hard is to set a turntable cartridge properly. Try to established a clear and trouble free computer based source. And before doing so research the matter. You're get baffled with the choices and ways of going 'wrong'. 

La Voce exclusive circuict DFD (direct from decoder) that works without any digital alteration (upsampling, oversampling, digital filters, etc..) clears the path of already burden task of digital conversion. Digital might looks easy and simple in its dealings w with zeros and ones, yet each processing of data further reduce the final outcome of converted sound. The purist way to look at things digital is as less processing as possible. Understanding this much more people are starting to reach out to devices with less processing and purer sound outcome. 

CD is not obsolete

Aqua Acoustic Quality La Voce comes with a strong array of digital inputs. I2S started to appear lately on more and more devices. With I2S La Voce offers unique option and reduction of jitter to a lower specs. With prompt observation of industry I can concur that CD is not dead at all as some people or industry is trying to present. There are vast offerings of greatly mastered CD's that can still give a strong run to the high resolution digital audio files. If the transfer from master tapes was done at best and skillfully mastered you'll have hard time to distinguished between redbook and high resolution files of the same song. And as we sadly witness many of high resolution files are only up sampled. This 'froud' comes still from some of the leading vendors... With such dealings one surely wonder about good and great intentions of music industry with the pushing trends of high res files. 

La Voce offers a great option to explore your CD collection or a great investment if you're in the constant search of great sounding redbook album and building of your library along with a stand out Jitter reduced playback. Not closed path at all if you ask me. 

Music

Dire Straits track Private Investigation converted on the fly from ISO SACD copy of legendary Love over Gold album hold no reserves in emotions of Mark voice, guitar mojo playing and excellent following of the band. Whole presentation of La voce is focused in the middle and pushed a bit back. With this album it felt like La Voce puts a listener into a third row for the given distance. Nice feeling and a great way to enjoy the music. No complaints. 

Further on with 24bit 96khz version of Jobim-Getz Girl from Ipanema album Astrid and Antonio vocals were smooth with recognised tube warmness and even more familiar bloated bass. Not a perfect record, but I know it so well and its one of my desert island album choices. So in most cases I can instantly distil the nature of the given component. 

Conclusion

What its most important about Aqua Acoustics La Voce is its ability to portrait music with correct timbre and colour. La Voce offers potent and passionate approach to enjoy in exploring your digital collection. In the age where harshness is more then often recognised as true resolution La Voce offers unique and favourable approach to spot on reproduction of music. If your urges of digital conversion points at natural imprint look no further. You'll be hard pressed to find a DAC performing with such pace and correctness. And with the choice of swapping chips the universe of fine tuning and refinement to your needs is further more elaborated. 

Like all Italian devices I had pleasure to review in past few years Aqua Acoustics is no exception of bringing a unique passionate DNA incorporated into their DAC. Lifelike emotional curve of enjoyment shines within this black box.

"La Voce" is entirely designed and hand assembled in Italy, with passion.

5 YEARS WARRANTY

……..Matej Isak. Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine.

It’ll suit anyone with a music collection that spans a vast array of contemporary fare for which production values and dynamic range compression could most charitably be described as mixed.
John H. Darko
as evidenced by the Darko DAC Index, a better textured, more dramatic sound awaits those prepared to forego the DirectStream’s touchscreen, remote control and digital-preamplification. With international exchange rates moving in the USA’s favour of late, ~US$6000 now gets you this reviewer’s favourite DAC to date: Aqua Hifi’s La Scala MKII 
With an approach to DAC design that’s decidedly old school this lesser-known Italian company flicks its chin at modern trends. The (less costly) delta-sigma silicon found in the vast majority of rivals is nowhere to be seen.

Te Aqua La Voce S2’s detail diggin’ dog doesn’t circle your feet, yapping “Ya gotta see this. And this. And this. And this.” It connotes quiet confidence with a simple but potent message: “Behold, I have such sights to show you”.

 
It’ll suit anyone with a music collection that spans a vast array of contemporary fare for which production values and dynamic range compression could most charitably be described as mixed. Ironic that such profound gratification from modern day music should come from a DAC design avenue that points to the past.
Not all audiophiles subsist on a diet of nicely recorded, thoughtfully mastered material. I’d wager most don’t. Most likely that most audiophiles choose music irrespective of the mastering engineer’s prowess with dynamic range compression. The Loudness War might be an ongoing pain in the proverbial but to allow one’s playback hardware to dictate the material that gets fired through it – that’s the sound of the tail the wagging the dog.

For the modern music fan, s/he who has a tendency toward alt. rock, indie, electronica, avant garde et al, the ‘music first’ mandate can sometimes be a real challenge, especially when upgrades slowly expose the inadequacies of the source material.

Exhibit A: Oasis’ Definitely Maybe is one of the better known crimes perpetrated against dynamic range in 1990s. Listen to the whole thing in one sitting can feel like a marathon run for the ear. Frankly, it’s exhausting, especially when the playback chain starts with something as seemingly transparent as the Chord Hugo.

Exhibit B: The Future of the Left (nee McLusky) make smart-ass proto-punk for the modern era. They’re one of this writer’s favourite bands OF ALL TIME and yet in the hands of the AURALiC Vega, aurally it’s like going toe-to-toe with Mike Tyson. Punch drunk is how I feel after “Lapsed Catholics” has wrapped Travels With Myself And Another. 

And lest anyone think this is only an issue affecting contemporary choices…

Exhibit C: a ruthlessly revealing DAC like Resonessence Labs’ INVICTA can sometimes make Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited sound like a four-year old emptying a box of spanners down a metal staircase. Repeatedly. For forty-five minutes.

However, as evidenced by the Darko DAC Index, a better textured, more dramatic sound awaits those prepared to forego the DirectStream’s touchscreen, remote control and digital-preamplification. With international exchange rates moving in the USA’s favour of late, ~US$6000 now gets you this reviewer’s favourite DAC to date: Aqua Hifi’s La Scala MKII 

With an approach to DAC design that’s decidedly old school this lesser-known Italian company flicks its chin at modern trends. The (less costly) delta-sigma silicon found in the vast majority of rivals is nowhere to be seen. Ditto FPGA + in-house code à la PS Audio or Chord Electronics. DSD? What’s that again?

At the heart of Aqua Hifi’s two D/A converters beats the long discontinued multi-bit R-2R PCM1704 conversion chip from (TI’s) Burr Brown: 4 x the top-drawer ‘K’ version show up in the La Scala MKII (€4890) in ‘true differential’, dual mono config (as per the chip’s inherent limitation). In the La Voce S2 (€2180), 2 x PCM1704-K run dual mono minus the ‘true differential’ bit. Balanced signalling and output arrives post-decoder via an optional board (fitted but untested here).

From this Burr Brown chip we get PCM compatibility up to 24bit/192kHz but the La Voce S2’s modular design accommodates digital board swapping for when owners want to try a different flavour. Options for the (also R-2R) Analog Devices AD1865 and Philips TDA1541A are for those untroubled by a CD/Redbook ceiling on sample- and bit-rate compatibility.

Pop the lid on the La Voce S2 and you can’t miss the twin toroidal transformers that ensure independent power supply to the analogue and digital sections. Conspicuous via their absence are op-amps. As per bigger bro, I/V conversion and output staging in the La Voce S2 remain resolutely discrete (but no tubes or optocouplers).

The signal still comes right off the conversion chip though. In Aqua Hifi speak, that’s ‘Direct From Decoder’ (DFD). For everyone else its translates to an absence of digital filter / oversampling. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a NOS DAC.

Aqua R&D uomo Cristian Anelli fills in the blanks: “One of the main factors in La Scala and La Voce’s different sonic approach is the elimination of digital filtering. Since 2005 we started to research a different solution from the upsampling / oversampling ones – the absolute standard in that [noughties] digital era.”

“We realised that the ‘heart of the sound’ would be found not only in eliminating the digital filtering but also in the quality of PCM signal transmission (I2S, etc).”

Digital inputs out back number four: AES/EBU, BNC, i2S and XMOS USB. Notable by its absence (on my review unit) was the consumer standard toslink. Apple TVers and gamers should fret not – it can be optioned, along with coaxial S/PDIF, at order time.

“The so called ‘jitter problem’ is important to the final sound quality, but not the only issue that affects the digital playback,” continues Anelli. “That is the reason why we developed a whole new circuit that would later be identified as DFD (Direct from Decoder). DFD circuitry is purely made out of logic gates and La Scala MKII DAC’s DFD circuitry is more sophisticated than the La Voce’s.”

Aqua recommended 200-300 hours burn-in. A Curious USB cable was hooked into the behind of my review unit. At the other end, a Mac Mini running both Roon and Audirvana+. Downstream, Vinnie Rossi’s LIO played the role of pre- and headphone-amplifier into Adam Tensor Delta loudspeakers and HiFiMAN HE-1000 ‘phones.

Looking back, I could’ve written this review after the first album played through the La Voce S2: The House Of Love’s razor-thin-sounding debut from 1989. It sounded less offensive than I’d remembered. So too did that which followed: The Fatima Mansion’s Valhalla Avenue, an album whose final third is so caustic-sounding that a wince is never far away. The legacy of 1980s production values (or is it in-studio A/D converters?) loom large. Again, via the La Voce S2, it sounded far from terrible. And a little bit terrible is the way I remembered its sound. WTF.

Time for some Roon Radio. Starting with the most of obscure of The Fatima Mansions’ B-sides, “Gary Numan’s Porsche”, one gnarly indie rock track rear-ended the next: McLusky (“Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues”), Nick Cave (“Papa Won’t Leave You, Henry”), The Hold Steady (“Little Hoodrat Friend”), The Vaccines (“Post Break-Up Sex”), Low (“Sunflower”), Tame Impala (“Be Above It”), Throwing Music (“Serene Swing”).

No single tune in this Roon-generated playlist grated as much I thought it might. Or that it once did. Or some combination of the two. Some even sounded pleasant. WTF x 2.

I clocked up the hours over the course of two weeks, occasionally clicking the LIO’s input over from a Chord Hugo TT fed by an Aurender N100H for a quick progress report. With 200 hours on its odometer, I returned to the La Voce S2 for further assessment.

Despite seeing ones and zeroes from the inferior transport, listening to the La Voce S2 brought on a little rear-view reflection: not since owning a Marantz CD63 MKII back in the mid-90s do I recall such continuous easeful listening with ALL source material (and not just the nicer sounding stuff). A kindness-to-all delivery is the most noticeable way in which this Aqua DAC sets itself apart from the competition; a difference that’s more pronounced than that of Vega vs. INVICTA.

And yet the Aqua unit proved to be as adept as its rivals with detail excavation – yes, even the sub-US$3K-category-leading Chord Hugo – but it didn’t lean as heavily on the Chord’s high pixel-count M.O., which proved a real boon for indie rock n roll’s diminished spit n polish. When relayed via DACs that prioritise down-to-the-bone exposure – Mytek Stereo192-DSD, AURALiC Vega, Resonessence Labs INVICTA – even minutiae get a full undressing. There is no choice but to wake up and smell the coffee.

Fans of Steve Albini-produced albums will know this all too well. One of my top picks from his enormous body of production work is The Auteurs’ After Murder Park. Next to the Italian contender, the afore-listed delta-sigma units play it thinner/reedier, making it more difficult to listen past the drier, leaner sound of Albini’s signature sound that’s so pivotal to this album’s live sense of unease.

Player separation is fine if it doesn’t threaten the listener’s sense of the whole. In this respect, the La Voce S2 trumps its rivals, better delivering The Auteurs as a complete band. The Hugo TT’s take separates players via a slight thinning of acoustic mass and a further teasing out of atomic-level detail. In this respect, the TT more readily exposes the band’s four constituent members but in turn demands the listener’s ear/brain play a subconscious game of reassembly. In other words, the La Voce S2 is for those who want to eat cake without being explicitly reminded of flour, butter and sugar.

Spying the scene from a different angle, the La Voce S2 contrasts its rivals as sounding more scientific. They play Heston Blumenthal to the Italian’s Jamie Oliver.

Could it be then that the Mytek, INVICTA, Vega and Hugo/TT satisfy detail FOMO (fear of missing out) more than they properly nourish the listener? Of course not – but some will undoubtedly hear it that way.

If you find Sabre-rattlers all much of a muchness, the Aqua unit could well be a better fit for your tastes, especially if your music tastes closely align with that of your average Pitchfork or Uncut reader: The Hold Steady, Autechre, David Bowie. With the latter’s catalogue yet to see a remastering job that didn’t leave it sounding nervy and overly etched in the treble, this old-school R-2R-equipped unit is just the ticket for savouring the ‘Berlin trilogy’ in a single sitting.

And no – not all PCM1704-loaded DACs sound alike. Sporting a quartet of the very same Burr Browns, a Reference 5.32 from wallet-friendly goto Audio-gd just couldn’t keep up with the Aqua’s ability to draw players in the depth dimension. I thought it sounded good in its own right but somewhat flat and lifeless when A/B-d against the La Voce S2.

If vinyl lovers find themselves drawn to PS Audio’s DirectStream because of DSD’s seemingly kinder handling of transients, those same boys from the black stuff might find comparative levels of aural satisfaction with the Italian – and for le$$. The pleasure derived here is of a slightly different nature: the Aqua sounds cooler and more considered. On rhythmic poise and composure during complex passages I’d call it a dead heat.

That said, this Milanese-manufactured unit isn’t for those who demand a kitchen sink feature set. The absence of bells and whistles no doubt helps keeps pricing sane but Aqua’s approach is one of sharp focus on a shallower depth of field. If you need headphone output and/or portability, the Chord Hugo remains the go to device at the La Voce S2’s price point. If you’ve only need for the DAC portion then the Italian is one deadly serious contender.

One word to nail this Aqua’s essence? Rectitude. The La Voce S2 keeps treble incision on a short leash, there’s just the right amount of upper-mid crisp-crunch and an elegant sufficiency of low end import. A DAC for those who want that Goldilocks moment each and every time they hit play. A DAC for those who can’t handle the truth? Perhaps. But try listening to the brickwalled grinding dirge of Future Of The Left’s catalogue at full tilt on your existing DAC as see how far you get. In the La Voce S2’s hands, it’s hours and not minutes. Brutal honesty is rarely the best policy.

The Aqua La Voce S2’s detail diggin’ dog doesn’t circle your feet, yapping “Ya gotta see this. And this. And this. And this.” It connotes quiet confidence with a simple but potent message: “Behold, I have such sights to show you”.

It’ll suit anyone with a music collection that spans a vast array of contemporary fare for which production values and dynamic range compression could most charitably be described as mixed. Ironic that such profound gratification from modern day music should come from a DAC design avenue that points to the past.

DAR-KO award? You betcha.

..............John H. Darko

the La Voce S2 from Italy pursues the Audio Note, AMR, Metrum, Zanden & Co. type sound for a lot less than most. With Italian not offshore manufacture, that's twice interesting.
Srajan Ebaen

REVIEW SUMMARY: Whilst the La Voce strikes me as somewhat less unique than its maker would seem to claim, that not only takes nothing away, it justly reinforces that its design decisions and concomitant performance flavour are quite rare. 

Where at least to my mind it gets really interesting is with that most mundane aspect of it all: price, and being very well put together, the La Voce S2 from Italy pursues the Audio Note, AMR, Metrum, Zanden & Co. type sound for a lot less than most. With Italian not offshore manufacture, that's twice interesting. Add to that unique circuit modularity and hot-swappable converter boards for in-situ voicing. 

It really is a wonderful overall package that has me wonder. What type of posh challengers might the tube/Mosfet hybrid hotrodded version for twice the coin take on? As is, the La Voce is a perfect stand-in for the well-liked Dutch Metrum Hex. If I wasn't already behexed, this Aquarius—six planets not moons at that—would go the Aqua route. Being my virginal encounter with this company, I thought it a terrific first blind date with a very happy ending!

EXTENDED REVIEW: Three-letter abbreviations are like secret hand shakes. What to some means global positioning satellite becomes geopathic stress to others. Either deciphers GPS correctly. And both are connected. CIA can mean central intelligence agency. Or a certified internal auditor. The former should use the latter. NOS can mean a national organisation study. But there's also the Neurofeedback Organisation Switzerland. How about tube nutters and collectors of vintage vertical power Jfets? To them NOS becomes new-old stock. And homo digitalos reads it as non-oversampling. The latter two meanings can overlap again.

Take the four chip options which Italian Aqua Hifi offer for their La Voce DAC S2. All of them are R2R resistor ladders. Burr Brown's PCM1704/1704-K has long been discontinued. That makes it NOS. Even so it remains a top choice for designers who dislike current Sigma-Delta converters for Redbook playback. The Philips TDA1541A is an even older-but-goodie R2R chip of the early 16-bit era. That's NOS again and here available in R1 and S1 selection grades. Finally there's the Analog Devices AD1865. That's an 18-bit chip also of the R2R persuasion and also out of production.

Whichever you choose—BB is the default—all are used two up (dual mono) and in DFD mode. That's Aquarian for direct from decoder. It means bypassing all on-chip digital filters. No upsampling. NOS again. Squared if you will. Their AQlink implements the I²S protocol on RJ45 to link to their La Diva disc transport via CAT6 cable. I/V conversion is passive. This says 'hell no' to the otherwise ubiquitous op amp at this juncture. Regulation is by Mosfet, JFet and BJT. No integrated chips again. And that's true for both analog and digital circuits. The output stage then casts another evil eye at opamps. None here either. Discrete is the word. So is being modular. Hence the multi-board upgradeable platform. Word. With the 1704/1704-K chips, the standard BNC, USB and I²S ports are good for 24/192. Who cares about 32-bit/384kHz? Should you do, Aqua's defiance will strike you as backward. For those whose high-resolution libraries max out at a native 24/192, it's a non-issue and a gutsy stiff finger at silly popularity contests.

That BNC and I²S rather than coax and Toslink are the standard here reiterates the same level-headed attitude. Ditto the 0/180° phase switch on the front. Aqua Hifi focus on engineering, not fashion. But they aren't snobs about it. Input options can add 24/192 AES/EBU, coax, AT&T fiber and 24/96 Toslink. 2.1V RCA outputs are standard. 4.2V balanced are optional. Output impedance is 100/200Ω respectively. Trim is silver or black for the fascia, Nextel gray for the casing. Size is 450x310x100mm WxDxH. Weight is an unassuming 7kg. Finally the similarly spec'd bigger brother La Scala MkII DAC adds two ECC81 triodes which are cleverly direct-coupled to Mosfets with LED bias to create single-stage hybrid voltage gain. For that deck our toroidal iron goes EI core and the power supply has to get more complex to support those valves and their heaters.

And that's all she said on the subject of Aqua's current catalogue (have since upgrade to Optologic La Scala and added statement Formula DACs). It's a 3-up affair purely concerned with digital: one top-loading CD transport—yes, those are still made and that they do one here tells us yet more—two DACs with USB but no DSD or DXD. C'est ça. To get back at acronyms, Aqua is short not for the age of hippies and free love but Acoustic Quality. This somehow reminds me of German firm Aqvox. Back to our Italians headquartered in Europe's fashion capitol of Milan. They pride themselves on investment in long-term R&D. For concrete results they cite their DFD mode which they call proprietary*; discrete high-speed opto-coupling for galvanic/magnetic isolation of digital inputs; a proprietary isolated synchronous discrete circuit for digital decoding and clock management; and their discrete regulator technology.

In very early 2014 a quick Google search on the subject showed it. Aqua converters had been around in a few incarnations already. Refinements and revisions had been ongoing. Yet on the other side—reviews, ads, forum chatter, general buzz—things were rather less active. The website had just three distributors in Holland, Russia and Taiwan. This underlined engineering over sales & marketing muscle. Having been contacted for a review now not sooner; and not for the tubed La Scala but more affordable La Voce model all were suggestive. Aqua had been patiently biding their time to perfect their platform before pursuing a global audience in earnest. That at least was my remote read from the armchair. To see how close I was, company contact Stefano Jelo had to chime in.

It was Cristian Anelli of their R&D department who replied on behalf of the company. "Aqua Acoustic Quality was born three years ago. Our main goal was and still is sound reproduction in the most neutral simple way. That's why we design our digital sources with a class A analog stage, zero upsampling, zero oversampling, no digital filter and no feedback. We consider both solid-state and tube circuits with no prejudice at all. We use the electronics parts we need and where they can be employed at their best. The La Voce uses a Jfet/Bjt analog output stage, the La Scala a hybrid ECC81/Mosfet design. Even if they are technically different, the final result shows them to carry the same genetic design imprint.

Though we were amongst the very first to introduce a USB board with 24/192 decoding in the La Voce and La Scala converters, we still developed the state-of-the-art La Diva transport because we trust in the Redbook standard as the reference in digital reproduction. We like to build our products to last and avoid obsolescence as the common curse for expensive high-end equipment. In addition, our jitter-free digital AQlink interface (I²S protocol) provides the best possible connection between transport and DAC. Thus the modular system we use in our converters gives our customers the certainty to enjoy their music for many years and update our products with little effort and money. This way one can profit from our R&D department's innovations.

"Plans for 2014: first of all we are going to release a La Diva DAC to match the dedicated CD transport. Secondly we are working on a top-line front-loading integrated CD player. About La Voce S2, its revolutionary main goal was to offer the possibility to choose among different D/A conversion modules with the best chips available. An easy snap-in/snap-out action is all that's required and you simply do that at home. In time the first project underwent several evolutions. Anyone can upgrade the previous version with the new modules and electronics boards.

The S2 version is new for several reasons. Its analog stage was redesigned, the final layout changed as have the PCB materials, electronic parts and power supply. Now it has modular interchangeable digital inputs (AES/EBU, BNC, coax, ST fiber AT&T, Toslink) and a new converter module (code name D104K with 2 x Burr Brown PCM1704-K pure R2R ladders). The design definitely differs from the standards led by a currently frenzied market which pursues things mostly for marketing reasons. For example we do not use large harmful electrolytic capacitors but long-life capacitors with low ESR. We choose our electronic components with military and professional standards."

I now asked Cristian how he would describe the sonic flavours of the four available S2 converter modules; and how the La Voce transistor and La Scala tube hybrid platforms in general compared sonically.

Cristian Anelli: "Compared to all others DACs on the market*, one of the main criteria for our converters' different sonic approach is the elimination of digital filtering. In 2005 we started to research a different solution from the ubiquitous up/ oversampling which so dominates the digital era. 
We realised that the heart of the sound was not just the elimination of digital filtering but the quality of the PCM signal transmission. Surely the so-called jitter issue is relevant to final sound quality but it is far from the only aspect which affects digital playback. That's why we developed an entirely new circuit which only later became identified as DFD or direct from decoder. This circuitry is purely made from logic gates. 
The La Scala MKII's DFD circuitry is more sophisticated than the La Voce's. Galvanic and magnetic separation are achieved with high-speed opto-couplers (Optologic) which you can find beneath the BB PCM1704-K board. This allows ground potentials to be completely separated for the digital and analog stages. In addition it provides for an accurate cleaned-up PCM signal spike. Common to both models is a realistic but relaxed sound with the highest precision in the time domain to generate an outstanding soundstage with lots of ambience. For conversion we purposely rely on pure multi-bit R2R ladder ICs exclusively. About the sonic differences of the converter modules for the La Voce:

Conclusion at a glance. 

To make sense of the Voce's core quality requires a brief detour into time/phase-coherent speakers. As an absolutist design dogma it's practiced by only the very few. Think Vandersteen, pre Mason-era Thiel Audio and Green Mountain Audio for three quick brands. There are more but it's a small list. From this shortage we can extrapolate that this design ethos resonates not with the shopping majority. Otherwise 1st-order would dominate. It doesn't. It's just a blip. (As with anything else, there are good and bad 1st-order designs. Membership doesn't guarantee quality.)

To some listeners though anything but a 1st-order speaker sounds subtly off: nervous, choppy, vaguely irritating, not quite right even if it can prove vexingly elusive to clearly pinpoint a hard reason. Here we are not talking about theoretical merits and demerits of engineering choices. This is about individual psychoacoustics and brain chemistry. Some seem aurally prewired for a special sensitivity to such time coherence. Others have trained themselves to notice it and no longer un-notice it to get satisfaction from anything else. Like religion this can't be argued. You either believe or you don't. Is you is or is you ain't? Enter non-oversampling filter-less D/A converters. They too are in the grave minority. They too suffer very rational attacks from the engineering chairs about why they're a bad idea. And like our endangered but resilient species of 1st-order time-aligned loudspeakers, they're going nowhere soon but seem here to stay. Which by implication means that if you're not prewired or trained to key into this NOS thing, it'll pass you right by as well. You could feel most befuddled indeed by what all the fuss is about. There's nothing anyone can do about that.Désolé.

Owning both the Hex and a maximally upsampling AURALiC Vega, I can relate. On colour intensity, retina-display sheen and subtle sweetness the Vega beats the Hex even to my ears. Yet the former is on my desktop streaming 320kbps Spotify+ for constant new music discoveries; or converts AIFF files from my iPod. The latter plays in the main system. Having laboured over describing it already many times, here are the fruits of those labours. The 'zero-sampling' thing is first and foremost about flow and rhythmic ease. If you follow hifi measurements, you're familiar with frequency response, phase-vs-frequency, distortion and waterfall plots. None of those apply. The only conventional measurement that would seem to have any bearing at all on our case today is the impulse response. Track how convoluted poor impulse response charts accompany highly enthusiastic speaker reviews. We're back to where we started. Most listeners seem inured to the charms of the time domain which an impulse response plot tracks for speakers. (With digital there also are the pre/post ringing plots.)

To grossly exaggerate for effect, proper timing is the difference between a swing band and a marching band. If that image communicates, you've nailed down the essence pat. Now tone it down to be appropriate. Think of better terms to describe the effect. You'll probably arrive at things like fluid/rigid, gushing/controlled, loose/taut and various derivatives thereof. That's it; subtle but real. The second effect I hear from both NOS DACs and time-tweaked speakers has to do with soundstage sorting. It strips out a subtle blur. Vagueness becomes certainty, ambiguous image scaling shrinks and locks down to proper size, the depth domain opens up fully and audible space as an acoustic other than your own descends fully. Such better timing can also reduce or eliminate 'warmth' or 'mass' which in this context actually stem from small imprecisions and ghosting. Again, that's it. Nothing drastic but still noticeable.

I've heard vintage-chip NOS DACs that were soft on top. AMR's master mode 2 corrects for it. Zanden Audio's original implementation I reviewed and owned did not. The La Voce seem to incorporate its own 'correction' or doesn't suffer this artefact in the first place. Otherwise I have nothing to report on for the frequency response, tonal balance or any of the other usual suspects of hifi discourse. Nothing stood out as less or more than appropriate other than this very familiar rightness. It's simply not appropriate to turn rightness into righteousness. Live and let live.

Wrap. 

Whilst the La Voce strikes me as somewhat less unique than its maker would seem to claim, that not only takes nothing away, it justly reinforces that its design decisions and concomitant performance flavour are quite rare. 

Where at least to my mind it gets really interesting is with that most mundane aspect of it all: price, and being very well put together, the La Voce S2 from Italy pursues the Audio Note, AMR, Metrum, Zanden & Co. type sound for a lot less than most. With Italian not offshore manufacture, that's twice interesting. Add to that unique circuit modularity and hot-swappable converter boards for in-situ voicing. 

It really is a wonderful overall package that has me wonder. What type of posh challengers might the tube/Mosfet hybrid hotrodded version for twice the coin take on? As is, the La Voce is a perfect stand-in for the well-liked Dutch Metrum Hex. If I wasn't already behexed, this Aquarius—six planets not moons at that—would go the Aqua route. Being my virginal encounter with this company, I thought it a terrific first blind date with a very happy ending!

…..Srajan Ebaen

The La Voce......is simply the best DAC so far for me.
Mike Cox

REVIEW SUMMARY: I could ramble on about many of the albums in my collection and how the La Voce sounds but I would only repeat myself after a while. The La Voce with Philips TDA1541A in my system is simply the best DAC so far for me. In the past I have used a Meridian CD203, Perpetual Technologies P1/P3A and I still have a home made DAC where I use transformers to interface from the DAC chip to the outside world, only my home made DAC comes close to equaling the La Voce. Listen to the La Voce if you can and benefit from the choice of DAC chips to tailor the sound to match your system.

EXTENDE REVIEW: It was 1 year ago when I wrote my first review for TNT Audio on the La Voce DAC from Aqua Acoustic. Since then Aqua have been busy developing a range of products and now they have upgraded the La Voce. The unique selling point for the La Voce is (I believe it is still unique!) you can choose from 3 different DAC chips, the Burr Brown PCM 1704, Philips TDA1541A and the Analogue Devices AD1865, with a new Wolfson module due out shortly. The DAC chips are on plug in modules that are easy to swap so you can purchase them all and swap as the mood takes you. The TDA1541A is fitted in a socket so if you have access to the R, S1 or S2 series DAC chips these can easily be fitted.

When I originally reviewed the La Voce it was equipped with USB as well as SPDIF coaxial and TOSLink optical inputs. The new version has an updated USB interface that supports asynchronous USB at up to 24bit 192Khz (96Khz only for TDA1541A). Also supported is an I2S input as well as the original SPDIF and TosLink inputs. The team at Aqua - acoustic quality are very enthusiastic over the I2S interface and now produce a CD transport supporting I2S, claiming it to be the best for quality, I will come to this later.

Irrespective of the DAC chip you use there is no up/over sampling, whatever data you feed the La Voce that is what is then passed to the DAC chip for conversion. Aqua have picked 1X sampling because to them it sounds the best, they then concentrated on getting the best possible sound for the money. The analogue section uses a discrete regulated supply, no cheap off the shelf regulators here. The board layout has been optimised to minimise interference between the analogue and digital sections, keeping noise and supply ripple to the minimum. The output stage after the DAC chip is a discrete design using high quality coupling capacitors on the output.

The first version of the La Voce was supplied as a kit and you can still purchase it in this form for 750 Euros (price increase due soon). There is a tutorial available on Youtube explaining how to assemble the kit.

This new version was supplied as a finished product in a nicely design case with a thick aluminium front finished in black (anodised I think) with white silk screened lettering. The rest of the case sports a grey nextel like finished aluminium chassis. At the price point the fit and finish of the La Voce is excellent though perhaps not class leading. Personally I prefer the effort and expense to be put into the internals and skip the machined from solid case work that is becoming more popular these days.

Choosing the DAC chip

In my system at home I have the La Voce fitted with the Philips TDA154A. Before making the choice I was able to audition the Burr Brown and Analogue Devices modules at the Aqua demonstration facility in Milan.

I was able to use all my regular test tracks either on CD or streamed via USB from the Mac-book Pro. Even with music I am familiar with it was hard to know how the DAC would sound in my home system, the facilities at Aqua are very different. It was possible to hear the differences and to decide which DAC had the best characteristics for me. The Burr Brown DAC was exciting, with really good grip over rhythm and timing. On track like Eagles Hotel California from Hell Freezes over or something from Steely Dan on their album "Two Against Nature" the sound was just infectious and exciting. With tracks from female vocalists like Mary Black, Eva Cassidy or Diana Krall it was a different story. The Philips DAC had such a wonderfully natural tone to the voice it was hard to move on and evaluate the other DACs. The Analogue Devices DAC seemed to sit somewhere in between the Burr Brown and Philips DACs, never reaching the same levels as the others in rhythm/timing or tone. In the end I decided to stick with the Philips DAC, the same as with the original review a year ago.

USB Interface

The original La Voce that I had purchased as a kit was supplied with a standard USB interface that whilst it worked I was never happy with the sound. The new version of the USB interface is a different story and for me produces the best sound quality, I prefer it to using SPDIF from my ancient Meridian CD200 transport (probably passed it's best). Using my Mac-book Pro the USB interface is easy to setup, no drivers are required and it is a simple matter of selecting the sound device in the system preferences.

It did not take long before the Aqua team realised there was a problem! Out came the frequency meter and a quick check showed that whatever the source file sampling rate the DAC was always being fed data at 192Khz. The Mac-book was up sampling the data to match the full capability of the DAC, this is not desirable and rather goes against the design goal of no up-sampling. The solution was to install an application called Pure Music from company called Channel D. This application is marketed a music server for the MAC platform and works with Itunes, the interface to select the music is Itunes but the music is actually played by Pure Music. The output data rate is automatically switched depending on the source so no undesirable up-sampling and you get an on-screen confirmation when the data rate switches.

As you would expect the La Voce via USB will also work with a Windows PC, mine was running Windows 7 though older versions back to XP are supported. To use Windows you must install a driver that is available to download from the Aqua Acoustic website. The installation process is a little tricky (nothing is simple with Windows!) but after Aqua Acoustic supplied a new Beta version it installed and worked well. I tried the PC for completeness to ensure it did actually work, my listening tests were conducted mostly via a MAC or from the CD transport.

I2S interface

While visiting Aqua Acoustic I was able to audition the La Voce using their new CD transport and the I2S interface. With the SPDIF interface also connected it was very easy to switch between the two communication channels. The benefit is reduced jitter though there is no interconnection standard, on the La Voce an RJ45 (ethernet) connector is used. Using my regular CD tracks and switching between the interfaces the sound quality was better via I2S, there was less haze between the listener and the artists, the acoustic soundstage was more defined and believable. When I upgrade my CD transport (not far away) I will ensure it does have an I2S interface.

Listening at Home

Back in my familiar surroundings and with the equipment and listening room I know well the La Voce was soon up and running, it is always exciting plugging in a new piece of equipment. It all worked, no damage from the flight back from Milan so I left it to warm up for a few hours quietly playing a random selection of tracks. When used in the same way as the previous version of La Voce via the TOSLink optical fibre interface fed from my Apple Airport Express wirelessly connected to the Mac-book the sound quality was just as good. The La Voce with TDA1541A really brings out the texture and tone of my favourite female vocalists, artists such as Mary Black, Eva Cassidy and Christine McVie. If we take the classic 1977 track Songbird, written and performed by Christine McVie on the Rumours album, the La Voce beautifully displays the acoustics of the venue, the gentle guitar backing to Christine on piano and her vocals are rendered with superb tone.

As already explained the new La Voce has a much better USB interface, this is now my preferred method of connection from the MAC. With the Pure Music server application I know exactly what data rate is being sent to the DAC and I can now exploit the small number of Hi Res files I have acquired. Starting with regular tracks ripped from CD, with the Tallis Scholars performance for the South Bank show of the Allegri Miserere. The La Voce via USB renders the acoustic background of the venue with detail like no other DAC I have heard. The singers voices have beautiful tonal structure and are placed in space like heavenly angels. This is the most wonderful recording and with the La Voce you are transported to place and time of the recording, your very own time machine!

If we now sample some Hi Res recordings, my first test was the Paul McCartney and Wings Album "Band on the Run", a download from HDTracks. This I find very disappointing, I have never really liked Paul McCartney except when with the Beatles and in particular John Lennon, the hi res version of Band on the run really does not show the supposed benefits of 24bit 96Khz encoding. I don't think this is a function of the DAC but more the intrinsic quality of the recording. The next high definition recording is from Sam Cook, Portrait of a Legend, again from HDTracks and the particular track being Summertime. The clarity and detail is just amazing for such an old recording, I am still not convinced the premium for the high definition recordings is worth paying. A well recorded album at regular CD quality can sound just as good if not better than a middling album in high definition. So far I do not have any modern high definition recordings, this is next on my list of things to do.

The next standard definition track to play was Stimela from the 1994 recording by Hugh Masekela, again the sound stage is clearly laid out in front of you with width, depth and clarity. Vocals are important to me and the way Hugh Masekela comes across is thrilling, just like being at the performance. I have spoken a lot about the sound stage and tonal qualities of this DAC but we should not forget other areas of the performance, the electric bass on Stimela is fast and tight, excellent rhythm and timing characteristics usually found attributable to Naim brand audio.

Conclusions

I could ramble on about many of the albums in my collection and how the La Voce sounds but I would only repeat myself after a while. The La Voce with Philips TDA1541A in my system is simply the best DAC so far for me. In the past I have used a Meridian CD203, Perpetual Technologies P1/P3A and I still have a home made DAC where I use transformers to interface from the DAC chip to the outside world, only my home made DAC comes close to equaling the La Voce. Listen to the La Voce if you can and benefit from the choice of DAC chips to tailor the sound to match your system.

Awards

STEREO TIMES MOST WANTED COMPONENTS 2015 AWARD

Aqua Hifi La Voce S2 DAC: La Voce's big brother, Aqua HIfi's La Scala, is justifiably well regarded as a master of musicality at a non uber-DAC price point. Little brother La Voce wears the family jewels loud and proud for half the price.

Years ago, a more expensive Audio Note NOS DAC set a high bar for performance in my system; a bar that wasn't approached again until La Voce arrived.  

This R2R NOS DAC is the genuine article; incredibly natural sounding with all genres, easily winning a place in my system up against various and sundry more 'modern' Sabre and delta/sigma based brethren.  Yep; retro everything is a trend among millennials, and Aqua Hifi's La Voce S2 made it one at my house too.  Some things were done a certain way for a long time for good reason. 
.........David Abramson

Videos