Rockna is a Romanian company that started just before the millennium with a pair of monoblock amplifiers, but its founder Nicolae Jitariu is something of a digital wizard. Jitariu has done design work for Goldmund, PS Audio, and MSB, so it was inevitable that a Rockna DAC would eventually appear. But it took until 2013 before its first Wavequest DAC (running FPGA technology and 160 MHz asynchronous sampling) appeared. Today, Rockna makes two products; the Wavedream Net, a CD/DVD transport and network streamer that can incorporate Roon, and the subject of this review – a PCM/DSD DAC with I2S inputs alongside more familiar connections and the ability to decode up to DSD512.
The Wavedream DAC is based on R2R ladder DACs and can be purchased in single-ended form with two such converters, or with XLR outputs and two pairs of DACs to produce a genuinely balanced output. Ladder DACs are not something you find in mainstream digital equipment; they are discrete devices that are usually custom made by audio companies rather than chip manufacturers. So, if the price for the balanced version looks high, see if you can find a similarly equipped converter for less.
This Rockna is a substantial and flexible beast. It has a wide array of inputs on high quality socketry, including
S/PDIF via coax, AES/EBU on XLR, USB and two HD links on HDMI (a system pioneered by Jitariu). These accept an I2S input from the Wavedream Net and bypass the conversion processes required of more common digital interfaces. The only drawback with I2S for in- and outputs; it’s usually used for internal connections rather than along external digital pathways, so compatibility between different brands is not guaranteed. The yellow display on the Wavedream greets you with the sample rate of the last signal it converted alongside the input selected, volume level, and filter chosen. As mentioned, this is a flexible DAC that offers users plenty of adjustment options; as well as selecting from linear, minimum, and hybrid filters or go commando with no filtering at all. Rockna upsamples all inputs 16 times and the DAC operates at either 768kHz or 705.6kHz depending on the original signal. The output stage is a discrete design that acts as a high speed buffer and is constructed old school style with through hole components that combine J-FET and bi-polar transistors in a Class A design. This is not a me-too product in any sense of the word.
All that flexibility that makes the Rockna a slightly tricky piece of kit for the uninitiated. Most DACs have on/off and input buttons and some offer other features as well, but they don’t usually require menu-controlled set up. Here the top left button scrolls through variables like input, filter, phase, clock, dither, and volume, while the right hand buttons scroll up and down to change any of these. Once this has been grasped, it’s not long before this DAC can be prompted to produce sound if it has a suitable input attached. It is also possible to have it remember the last settings chosen with a long press of the menu button. But this is definitely an ‘RTFM’ converter. Matters are made a little easier by the supplied remote that allows inputs, etc., to be changed, but it is a somewhat generic handset meaning that you carefully have to seek out the appropriate control buttons, though things like the volume controls are obvious.