The Exogal’s strongest suit perhaps is that it isn’t the most immediately revealing revelation. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, it’s simply that a lot of audio seems to be initially impressive, where the Exogal slowly, but inexorably, convinces you of just how damn good it is. Some will never get this, because they want the ten-second ‘wow!’ demonstration. Others will realise music is about more than just being impressive and discover their music holds deeper joys. I played ‘The Pull’ from Richmond Fontaine’s excellent We Used To Think The Freeway Sounded Like A River [Décor] and felt wrist-slittingly ‘uplifted’ rather than blown away by the sound, which is precisely how you should feel when listening to this track. High-res is great through the Comet (it will happily play 32/384 and DSD128) but it isn’t mandatory, because you find yourself drawn to the music rather than the sound it makes. You can do that to almost any genre or style of music: I even ploughed through some truly wonderful – but horribly recorded – 1970s Ethopian jazz-funk by Mulatu Astatke (‘Yègelié Tezeta’ on Ethiopiques Vol 4 [Buda]) and the Exogal simply got out of the way to let the groove play on. It also did the same through the digitised line input,
Add the separate power supply, and the difference is immediately justified in the listening. The bass becomes more solid, more authoritative, more ‘real’, and the stereo image extends even further from the boxes. It’s not a vast change - certainly nothing like the difference between most DACs and the Comet, but it just makes the Comet more ‘Comet-y’. Put simply, it’s a ‘no going back’ upgrade.
There is one mark against the Exogal – the display. Smack in the middle of the front panel is a little silver square, that most people think is some kind of logo, or maybe some sort of power indicator. Look closer: it’s the lone display for source and volume level. This is elegant and discreet, yes, but silver text against a sliver background is not high on the readability stakes. If the Comet is used as a DAC only, this is not really an issue, but if the Comet really does take over the role of digital ‘hub’, this needs to be more clearly marked. It’s a measure of how good the Comet really is, though, that I’d be willing to put up with this display without turning a hair.
We aren’t in the comparison review business, but there’s something going on here that’s worth commenting upon. Right now, the best DAC I know of is, on balance, the Nagra HD DAC: there are probably better ones, but the few I can think of are so expensive they cost about as much as funding a good ol’ 1980s South American insurrection. But the HD DAC is not exactly cheap: I’m still clinging to the review sample, but the excuses are wearing thin, and I know sooner or later, I’ll either have to man up and buy it (thoroughly Ron Jeremy-ing my bank balance in the process) or find something similar for considerably less money. The Exogal Comet (especially with optional PSU) comes close. Possibly ‘close enough’ close.
While we’re talking of things beyond the Exogal’s purview, using it with the masterful Melco N1Z music player is, quite simply, the cheapest way into digital’s Premier League. This is a combination that can stand shoulder to shoulder with digital’s giants like complete multi-box players from dCS, CH Precision, Esoteric, Metronome, and Nagra. I can’t speak to Meitner, MSB, Playback, ReQuest, Soulution, or Weiss, because I’ve not spent that much time with these player systems (and my experience with Esoteric is somewhat behind the curve), but it’s immaterial. The point is, the Melco/Exogal combination has the audio chops to have a dog in the big digital fight, at a price most of these big-ticket contenders might set aside for packing cases. OK, so ultimately, these top-tier players are not ousted by the Exogal, but it puts up one hell of a fight. Where it loses this fight is in bass depth and intensity, and dynamic shading. Reaching for Peter Hurford’s organ (snurk, snurk) the sheer scale of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue (BWV 548) in D Minor [Decca] is foreshortened slightly on the Exogal next to the really big guns. Also, the headphone output tends to sound harsh at moderate to loud levels, even on comparatively efficient Sennheiser HD25-IIs. But, try to find a more complete and more intrinsically ‘right’ sounding digital hub for the same money. It’s almost impossible.