I am in the market for a new DAC and I recently auditioned and compared three candidates in my system. One of them being the new Aqua La Scala mk II optologic. The other two: the Metrum Pavane and the Chord DAVE.
My impressions: the Aqua and the Metrum are in the same league but totally different. In short, the Aqua is for audiophiles, the Metrum is for music lovers. An analytic, neutral and a bit sterile presentation vs. a musical one. The Aqua is better in layering and sound staging, the Metrum in engagement and delivering emotion and a more analogue sound field. I somehow expected the opposite because of the tube stage of the Aqua. The Metrum rocked in my headphone system, the Aqua was flat and uninspiring. With the Aqua I found direct USB input delivered the best quality. With the Metrum, the optimal connection was via AES/EBU fed by a Mutec MC-3+ USB. The USB implementation of the Metrum seemed of lower quality.
If I had to choose between the two I would not hesitate and go for the Metrum. The new Adagio (with volume control) has updated DAC modules and I was informed that the Pavane will get this modules as well and will sound even better. Btw, as other contributors to this thread, I also experienced a popping noise in the right channel with the Aqua when switching sample rates.
As price would suspect, the DAVE is in another league. It is musical, it creates a soundstage and gives spatial clues that I consider as a new industry standard and almost close to perfect. And oh, that timbre… For me, the only downside is the form factor and especially the build in headphone amp. It is not certainly not bad but it is not a competitor to my Bakoon HPA-21. I hoped it was. I suspect because my LCD-3’s are difficult to drive. The combination with the Bakoon on the other hand even bettered the Metrum.
There a some other DAC’s I want to audition (Ayre QX-5 twenty, new Weiss DAC 50x) before I make a decision but until now the Chord DAVE is on top of my list!