Weiss Engineering has been making high-end audio gear in Switzerland since 1985. Initially their focus was professional audio, with Weiss components being used in some of the biggest studios in the world. More recently, they’ve taken that studio expertise and applied it to the audiophile HiFi market. With all of that history, DAC502 represents nearly 40 years of professional and audiophile experience poured into one device.
Build Design, Packaging
DAC502 comes in a very nice box with a luxurious presentation. Included in the package are a remote and power cable. The cable is certainly ripe for an upgrade, but the remote is a bit more bespoke, with a rounded metal trim. There’s nothing fancy or particularly interesting about the look and feel of the Weiss DAC502. The design is simple, sturdy, and utilitarian. The front gives you a standard single-ended headphone plug, the LCD screen, and the volume knob. There’s actually a balanced 4-pin XLR headphone jack on the back of the unit rather than the front, which means you’ll need a longer cable for balanced operation, but it keeps the front looking fresh and clean.
The faceplate itself is a textured aluminum, while the top and sides have a more typical smooth feel to the metal. Using the device itself, all the functions are managed from a combination of the touchscreen and knob, while the remote gives you a more convenient way to access a number of functions.
From a build perspective, there’s nothing that screams “this must be expensive!” and it’s more of the simple understated aspects of the build that tell you about its quality. There’s a top notch feel to the knobs and connectors, and the way everything seems perfectly in its place. There’s strong attention to detail. The more you use the device, the more it’s clear that it was built for precision and function, not to be pretty and flashy.
There are a host of configuration options available on the device itself, from the basics, to a parametric EQ, but the real power of the device is unlocked through the web interface. While you can set up any of the DSP options using the touchscreen and knob, the process is much easier through the web interface. There are also a number of features, like the presets, which are only configurable through the web interface.
Setting up the web interface is as easy as plugging DAC502 into your network with an ethernet cable. The device does not have wifi, so you will need a hard connection to use the web interface. While this might not work with all setups, you can use the web interface to create up to 12 presets that are saved to the device and can be recalled later with the remote. To add a layer of complication – but also power – you can save multiple presets for the individual DSP filters, and then apply combinations of those DSP presets as Global presets.
Getting further into the weeds, there are also a mix of universal options, headphone only options, and speaker only options. So while the Creative EQ, De-esser, and Vinyl Emulation (among other options) are universal, the Room EQ and Crosstalk Canceling are only available for Speakers, while the X-Feed and Headphone EQ options are only available in headphone mode. There’s a lot to process here, so it might be easiest to just break it down a bit:
Configurable in Web Interface
Configurable on DAC502
I tested the De-Esser with the Audio-Technica ADX5000, and found that it reduced harsh or fatiguing tones without impacting my perception of air or resolution in the highs. The vinyl emulation is a bit of an odd feature, that didn’t really do much for me either way, as is generally the case with trying to make things sound more “analog” there’s perhaps a bit of warmth added to the sound, but it’s a very subtle effect.
EQ can be a little challenging, you’ll need a good working knowledge of Parametric EQs – Shelfs, Peaking filters, Q, gain, etc. to tune the sound the way you’d like. It’s also very difficult to set up on the device itself, and I would 100% encourage you to use the web interface to set these up if possible.
If you have an Audeze headphone, you’re in luck, as the Weiss DAC502 has a number of presets for headphones, but they’re currently only for Audeze’s LCD series. It seems that more could be added, but the unit has been out for quite some time with no additions to the EQ. Perhaps there will be more in future updates? I tested with the LCD-2 Closed and LCD-XC and felt that both EQs were an improvement over the original tuning, but I also tweaked them a bit more using the Creative EQ.
The Loudness EQ is an interesting feature, designed to counteract specific outside sounds in order to cancel them out. I didn’t have a chance to see how it fared against a vacuum cleaner, but it’s a cool concept that gives you a different take on noise cancellation. The Dynamics setting is essentially some compression applied overall that keeps things from being either too loud or too soft. It’s a sliding scale, so you can adjust it to your liking. It’s primarily designed for using with speakers in a “party mode” situation, where you don’t want to be adjusting the volume at, but this might also be a good tool in conjunction with the Loudness EQ to remain oblivious to housework or yardwork being done around the listener.
The Crossfeed for headphones is one of the more straightforward versions of this feature I’ve used – and one of the more straightforward features on this device – it’s just a simple slider that controls the total level of the channels fed to each other. On the flipside, the XTC (Crosstalk) Canceling is designed to eliminate the natural crossover on speakers. This is somewhat of a niche feature that is typically used for listening to “dummy head” type recordings that are specifically designed for headphones, but you could use it to generate a harder separation with any recording that has hard panned instruments (try out Cream’s Disraeli Gears for one).
The real power here is using the web interface to create presets for each of these settings, and then configure global presets with a combination of those presets. Those can be presets for different headphones, different genres, or different types of use (morning music time with the kiddos might call for a different EQ than after-work relaxing with Miles Davis). Using the remote, you can switch between global presets at the touch of a button, giving you a world of options.
While you can use the DSP to tune it any number of ways to match your own preferences, the core DAC502 sound is spectacular – without ever touching a single configuration option. There’s vivid imaging, and a huge soundstage. The noise floor is a bottomless, black abyss. DAC502 is capable of delivering incredible speed and resolution, along with detail on the highest level, whether as a standalone unit or as a component in a larger system.
Often talking about the sound of a DAC at this level is tough, because at its root (before you add all the DSP functions) the goal of a DAC is to simply provide the most accurate delivery of the music possible. Probably the biggest difference between your average audiophile DAC and a $10,000+ monster like DAC502 is the DAC’s ability to seemingly reach back in time – before the original analog sound was converted to bit and bites – and deliver something that’s better than simply translating the file. You’re not just getting a slavish translation of the digital file, you’re getting an attempt at capturing the original intent of the artist.
All that is great, but what’s the result? DAC502 is clearly tuned for the discerning listener who wants an unbeatable level of detail, but not a clinical or analytical presentation. It’s musical, but not in the way that some might use “musical” to describe a tuning that is overly lush or warm. It’s accurate and transparent for sure, but even without the vinyl emulation on, it seems to be capturing some of the spirit of vinyl pressing with your high res digital files.
In terms of capabilities as a standalone headphone DAC and amp, DAC502 has strong performance and is capable of driving a wide range of headphones. It’s the same story you’ve heard before: 90%+ of headphones will be driven brilliantly, and many in that last 10% will be driven quite well, while the top tier of high impedance, low sensitivity headphones will still need a dedicated amp.
Comparison: Chord Qutest, Questyle CMA Fifteen
While it would be great to stand this thing up next to a Chord DAVE or a Meridian Ultra and see how they compare, I don’t have access to an array of top end DACs, so I thought I’d ask the question, “What do you get from the Weiss DAC502 that you don’t get from DACs at a fraction of the price?” So for comparison, I used the Questyle CMA Fifteen and the Chord Qutest (with the Anni, since the Qutest lacks a direct headphone out).
Right off the bat, the big thing both of these DACs are lacking is any kind of DSP or sonic configuration. Along with that, DAC502’s configuration options are definitely a next level feature that you won’t find even on many other higher tier DACs. If you need more than a great sounding component, and want a piece that can be the centerpiece of your digital music experience, DAC502 gives you so much more there.
In terms of general connectivity, it’s a closer match. Qutest lacks balanced outputs of any kind – as does Anni, but the CMA Fifteen more or less goes toe to toe with DAC502. DAC502 has some additional digital options (including ethernet connectivity) while CMA Fifteen plays nicer with IEMs and has a 4.4mm balanced output.
Tonally, CMA Fifteen delivers a sound that’s closer to DAC502, with its accurate but musical delivery. By itself CMA Fifteen’s sound feels both vast and crystal clear, but DAC502 feels even bigger, with even more clarity, and with a stronger sense of realism to the sound. The Qutest/Anni combo delivers an incredible 3D image along with a sense of detail and resolution that’s closer to the DAC502, but without that same level of musicality that DAC502 and CMA Fifteen give you.
In the end, while there’s always some degree of diminishing returns at higher price points, what DAC502 gives you is the ability to have it all. From a sound perspective, you get the musicality, the clarity, the imaging, and the detail, all in one package. From a capabilities perspective, you get a host of features designed to tune for every preference and compensate for any listening environment, and a comprehensive web interface to control all that. While Qutest and CMA Fifteen provide incredible sound at a fraction of the price, neither can come close to the total package of DAC502.
The Bottom Line
Weiss DAC502 is the DAC that really can be everything to everyone. Its performance coupled with its deep feature set and sonic customizability make it nearly unbeatable as a DAC/Amp combo from a feature perspective. Set all that aside, and at its core DAC502 is about more than just turning the 0s and 1s from digital audio back into the sound waves they represent, but actually reaching back to recapture the original performance and deliver it to your ears.