Post by MartinT on Jan 30, 2019 7:10:56 GMT
The LKS is a large unit, very nicely built and finished in brushed aluminium. There is no pressed steel here, it’s all milled panels. It’s quite heavy too, at 7kg. It features a large green informative display and buttons on the front panel. There is also a milled remote in the same finish.
The key feature of this DAC, and the reason it has a small cult following, is that it employs the latest ESS Sabre 9038Pro chips in dual mono configuration. Combined with this is a femto-clock with less than 82fs jitter and Nichicon, Mundorf and Wima capacitors inside. There are Cardas and Furutech connectors on the rear. It also has a fully discrete output stage, everything being laid out on a single circuit board. The power supply is a dual linear separating digital and analogue sections, with 13 separate regulators. The DAC chips have heatsinks on them and the unit runs warm to the touch.
There are several connectors on the back: inputs are co-ax, optical, BNC and AES S/PDIF, USB (at a choice of two different specifications), I2S-E (I2S over Ethernet) and I2S-H (I2S over HDMI). Outputs are either single-ended phono or balanced XLR. The volume can be fixed for use with a preamp or variable for direct connection to a power amp, the latter giving a 0 to -127dB range. If USB input is important to you, there is an upgraded version available with an Amanero USB board.
Sample rates accepted are PCM 44k, 48k, 88k, 96k, 176k, 192k, 352k, 384k, 768k; DSD 64x, 128x, 256x, 512x, 1024x; DOP 64x, 128x, 256x. There are also a total of 11 selectable filters including brickwall, linear phase, minimum phase, apodizing and hybrid. The PLL bandwidth can be set for tighter clock capture and better sound quality, at a cost of not locking onto some signals, or loosened to accept poorer connection quality. Finally, de-emphasis can be enabled for recordings made using it.
The display shows input, format & sample rate, filter, PLL setting and volume. These same functions are repeated on the excellent remote, for which you will need a CR-2032 battery. The DAC has been on the market for almost two years and revisions have been made to the cooling and some component choices. The small Chinese company listens to feedback from users and has incorporate some changes as required. It’s a mature product with a small cult following, although virtually unknown in the West.
There are many possible settings, so I’ve settled on the SLOW-M Minimum Phase filter, the same as was used in my Ayre player, as a starting point. I’ve also set the PLL bandwidth to 2 as I don’t get any lock problems. Input for testing was BNC S/PDIF from the Allo DigiOne via a Black Cat Silverstar 75 cable. I intend to move to I2S at some point but I can’t use that input just yet.
The LKS is powered from my PS Audio P10 regenerator via a Coherent 6D power cable. It runs warm to the touch and I have given it over 100 hours of burn-in. I replaced the rear panel fuse in the IEC inlet with a Synergistic Research SR Red fuse. I also have an SGS grounding box connected to the unused co-ax socket ground. After a short experiment with driving my power amp directly from the LKS using its volume control, I decided the balance was too bright and light in the bass. I therefore conducted all my listening with the LKS connected to my Pass XP-20 preamp. I also tried single-ended and balanced connection to the preamp and preferred the latter using Yannis 223.5 ConnectLitz XLR cables.
Data lock occurs within half a beat which is fine for most music. I found the occasional stream missing the first note in the music as it acquired lock. It’s possible that further adjustment of the PLL bandwidth will help it lock faster, but I left it set to 2. Sources were Qobuz Studio, Spotify HQ and some local hi-res files.
The rest of my system is a Belles SA-100 power amplifier and Usher Dancer Be-20 speakers.
Overall, the LKS throws an enormous amount of detail onto the soundstage, revealing just how much was laid down in the original recording. Furthermore, it can create very large dynamic swings and features attack with startling leading edge detail. It's a ‘big' and ‘fast’ sounding DAC with a rhythmic flow and sense of ‘boogie’ that makes you want to just keep listening. The soundstage is wide and deep and can occasionally be uncanny: I have turned my head thinking that someone is in the room with me more than once. Frequencies from top to bottom are naturally balanced. If there is deep bass it certainly reproduces it, but it doesn't sound bass heavy unless that's the nature of the music. The sheer amount of attack can make it sound bright on some material, but I don't think it’s balanced that way, the edge detail just fools the brain. Listening at around 88dB peak through my speakers, there is no fatigue over several hours, a good sign that there are no nasties in the playback chain.
Robert Plant - The Principle of Moments - Big Log & Thru' With the Two Step: stark studio sound, extreme clarity into a distinctive acoustic. Dire Straits - On Every Street - You and Your Friend: the opening feint drum roll loading up the room, overall ambience, striking dynamics. Dire Straits - Communique - Where Do You Think You're Going: clarity, power of drumming. Paul Simon - One Trick Pony - Late in the Evening: astonishing clarity and detail in the percussion, almost overshadowing his vocals. Bill Callahan - Apocalypse – Drover: huge depth, Callahan mouthing ‘tse tse’ rather like cymbals. The Mountain Goats - The Life of the World to Come - 1 Samuel: beautiful cymbal decay, percussion, guitar body being tapped. John Patitucci - Remembrance - Messaien's Gumbo: fantastic percussion texture and shape, knockout dynamics. Dave Brubeck - Time Out - Blue Rondo a la Turk: very natural percussive piano, nice soundstage. Jewel - Spirit – Barcelona: the wah keyboard (?) in the opening and her fantastically held crescendos. Juliette Commagere - Queens Die Proudly - The Big Middle: hushed whispering in the opening. Paul Simon - Graceland – Homeless: palpable studio, infra-bass air movements.
Respighi – Belkis Queen of Sheba – Oue, Minnesota: expansive orchestra, lovely distant percussion reaching a tremendous peak later in the piece. Respighi – Pines of Rome – Lane, Atlanta: the superb organ in this Telarc recording rumbles with incredible impact during the Catacomb section. Glass – Koyaanisqatsi – Prophecies: wonderful massed voices stage left, each voice easily distinguishable, basses singing at the end. Wagner – Gotterdammerung – Solti, VPO: staggering brass section climaxes in this amazing old Decca recording. Shostakovich – Symphony No. 10 – Jarvi, SNO: massively dynamic rendering of Shostakovich's contempt for Stalin. Durufle – Requiem – Malmberg, SRC: the layered choir and organ in this BIS recording make for an achingly gorgeous rendition of this work. Vivaldi – The Four Seasons – Drottningholm, Sparf: another favourite BIS recording of mine and it passes the test, sounding stupendous with ultra-vivid lead violin, explosive dynamics and deep continuo organ.
A comprehensively equipped DAC for those with a highly resolving system. Very dynamic and highly detailed, it will match those who prefer an upfront presentation and will best suit a neutrally balanced system. Because of the edge detail and attack, it’s likely to sound too bright in an already harsh or brightly lit system. This is the first DAC with Sabre chips that I have found to be natural sounding, yet it retains their known ability in the resolution department.
The only real difficulty you will have is no ability to get a demonstration anywhere, unless you know someone who owns one (!) I did my research and took a punt and it paid off. I bought it through Amazon so as to get some buyer protection. It arrived surprisingly quickly from Shenzhen in China and was exceptionally well packed.
Most importantly, and the reason it’ll be staying in my system, is that the LKS delivers remarkable levels of musical insight. Some recordings are so vivid that you will hear everything the engineer intended, and perhaps some unintentional things, too! Some live recordings, both rock and classical, will pin you there in the event with an unforgettable musical experience. That, ultimately, is what hi-fi is all about.