Holo Audio CYAN DAC/Amp - Official Thread


#1

For those potentially interested in combined DAC/amp products (sometimes referred to as “all-in-one”, or AIO), which seems to be something of a swelling tide lately, I thought you might be interested in this little box:

It’s a balanced, discrete R-2R, DAC and headphone amp, in a compact form-factor, from Holo Audio the same designer/company that developed the Spring DAC (one of my favorite high-end DACs). It’s on kind loan from Kitsune HiFi, the US face of Holo Audio.

Once I’ve had a proper chance to listen to it, I’ll post some impressions/a review. Chances are I’ll also compare it to the RME ADI-2 DAC, Soekris dac1421/dac1541 at a minimum (open to suggestions for other, similar, units of interest), since they’re in the same fundamental space.

It’s a very pretty and extremely solidly built little unit … and delivers quite a bit more grunt than I was expecting. Saying more than that, however, requires proper listening (should be a fun weekend).


Holo Audio Azure - Headphone Amplifier - Official Thread
#2

I’ve had this thing running for more than my “minimum 72 hours” now. At this point I feel safe in making some comments on about how it sounds … though a proper, detailed, review will follow a bit later.

The most prominent impression I have is that, quite unexpectedly, this sounds very similar to Holo Audio’s Spring DAC. At least in NOS (Non-Over Sampling) mode. This is, for those unfamiliar with how NOS DACs sound, quite a departure from your more typical oversampling DAC. NOS devices will be a little rolled off at the extreme high-end, and have a somewhat warmer/sweeter sound.

The DAC stage of the CYAN is the raison d’être of the piece. Like the Soekris and RME units, the DAC implementation is significantly more impressive than the headphone output. At the same time, the CYAN has a more convincing, and more enjoyable, headphone amplifier than either the RME or Soekris boxes. It also seems a lot happier driving demanding cans than the immediate alternatives.

Taken as all-in-one units, the CYAN is, so far, my favorite. The combination of pure NOS (and optional OS) operation with a very competent headphone output make it the easiest and most broadly enjoyable unit of the three to listen to. The ADI-2 DAC is more resolving, but the headphone output does dynamic elements no favors. The Soekris unit, while highly resolving, is a bit thin and analytical in comparison.

As pure DACs, feeding external amplifiers, then it depends on how you feel about NOS vs. OS operation. Musically the CYAN is lovely to listen to. The RME is more faithful, and more resolving, but not necessarily as enjoyable. The Soekris remains a little too clinical/analytical for my preferences.

A proper review will follow … but in the mean time, if you’re looking at a DAC/amp in the ~$1,000 space, you’ll want to make sure this is part of your evaluation.


#3

I was looking at this after you mentioned it and I ended up going with the RME…maybe at another stage I’ll look at this again, or if I can find one used…not likely as I had never heard of them until your mentions. But one can hope lol.


#4

If you’re free Wednesday afternoon, you’re welcome to stop by and listen to it.

Given your current MCTH and pending BH Crack 1.1 builds, you’re probably better served with the RME anyway.

The NOS delivery of the CYAN vs. the OS output from the RME are quite different. The RME is, for me, so far, the more technical and accurate DAC. And the RME’s features are hard to beat. “NOS” from the RME is nothing like NOS from the CYAN, though. It’s an interesting comparison.

As an all-in-one, purely for listening to music, I’d probably take the CYAN at this point (I’m also a sucker for NOS rendering). But coupled with an outboard amp … the RME wins.


#5

Good to know I don’t need to desire over it as much as I did the RME. What time on Wednesday? I might be able to get in an hour or so in the early afternoon, we are heading to L.A. on Thursday and I need to make sure everything is prepped for the trip ( visiting wife’s family and friends for a couple of days). I don’t think I have anything you would like me to bring… I did just get the NFB 11.28 in but not sure you would be interested.


#6

I’ll be home from noon on. But if you only have an hour or so, perhaps best to leave it until you get back. I suspect you’re going to want to spend more time than that just fiddling with stuff … your call there.

No need to bring the NFB 11.28, but appreciate the offer (already familiar).


#7

I can swing 12 - 3 time frame, if that works for you?


#8

That should be fine … but let me confirm first thing in the morning as there’s some stuff brewing that might need my attention work-wise (hopefully not, but I won’t know for sure until the AM).

And since I’m posting … here’s another picture of the CYAN, with the Hugo 2 for scale, and some other fun bits in the background:


#9

For whatever reason that DAC/amp reminds me of Blade runner… also no worries I’m pretty flexible, just let me know.


#10

Beautiful picture and beautiful gear. Your one lucky guy. Enjoy.

-Paul-


#11

Ahead of the full review, I thought it might be worth mentioning that:

   HQPlayer (DSD512, poly-sinc-xtr, high-order NS) -> CYAN (DSD Module) is a noticeable improvement vs. raw.​

Normally doing this sort of thing is just “different” for me, and not worth the effort. But in this case, if you have a suitably powerful PC (or solid CUDA GPU compute capacity) and a copy of HQPlayer, then it’s definitely worth checking out.


#12

So, I finally finished and posted the full review of the Holo Audio CYAN. You can read that here. It was a great fun unit to review and entirely enjoyable to listen to.

I got to try it out with lots of headphones and my existing headphone amplifiers, as well as comparing to some additional units (some distinctly not in the same price bracket), that would take things a bit beyond “reasonable size limits” for a review - but feel free to ask and I can cover this as part of this discussion.

Questions, discussions, comments, thoughts … along with any errors you spot … are best continued in this thread.


#13

Lovely writing, and thanks for introducing me to that Ottmar Liebert track, it’s given me insight into something I’ve heard in the HD58X and would like to better understand.


#14

Were you able to compare to the r-2r from massdrop? I’m curious how it faired. I still have a lot of audio gear I need to try/experience.


#15

If you mean the Massdrop x Airist Audio R-2R DAC (which, oddly enough, just started another drop), then yes I did!

Tonally they’re quite similar - including a general sense of “sweetness” to their delivery. The CYAN is definitely the more technically capable of the two units, across the board, however; and is best compared to units like the RME ADI-2 DAC, the Soekris dac1421.


#16

I did like the comparison with the ADI-2 DAC, when you posted this I was on the fence between it and the ADI-2, but I obviously went with the one I’ve been eyeballing for longer. But I now have this company on my radar, and I like what they are doing, based on aesthetics, research on them and your review of course. I’m only familiar with limited DACs and the Mass drop X Airist will be my first R-2R DAC when it ships.


#17

I was asked, privately, about synergy between the CYAN and the HD650, so figured I’d share those thoughts here as well …

The CYAN is a very enjoyable pairing with the HD650. The smooth top-end of the CYAN yields a very satisfying and consistently grain-free delivery. There’s still a little mid-bass bloom. Otherwise the tonal presentation is quite pure, excepting some early roll-off in NOS mode and the general sense of sweetness that this also imbues to music. They deliver pretty much as hard a punch as you’re going to get out of them (outside serious tube stuff). Detail retrieval is excellent and the overall presentation is a lot more open than one might expect with the HD650.

If you have original HD650 (2003 to about 2015, I think), and hear any “veil” with them, that’ll get exacerbated slightly - and that will be noticeable more in NOS mode. Not a concern with newer units, nor for those that have performed the more common modifications and/or are running with the latest pads. And putting it in OS mode will help there too.

I also found it works really nicely with the HD660S … where my preference was very definitely to run it in NOS mode. Though that’s something of a redundant statement as that was my generally preferred way to run the unit anyway.


#18

The product site says there’s a brightness control. Is there a way to turn off the display altogether (“blackout mode”) while the unit remains operational?


#19

Yes.

The dimmest setting is completely off. Then it cycles back to the brightest setting.


Holo Audio CYAN DAC/Amp - Review & Impressions Index
#20

Hi Thanks for your very insightful review. Read your comment re I2S and USB. Interested to know what grade of USB cable you were using? Also how did coax fare in comparison to USB in your listening?

Vincent