Yes, you can used the Weiss DAC501 as a DAC on its own, and it’s a good one in its own right, but it’s using a tiny fraction of the DAC501’s performance potential. In fact, I’d go so far as to say if you were looking for just a DAC, there are ones that deliver the performance of the Weiss DAC501 for a fraction of its price and not find that an aggressively negative statement. The desktop version of the Chord Hugo, for example, has a musical performance that is on a par with the Weiss DAC501, and if all you want is a device that converts digital data into analogue music, go down that route.
Instead, the Weiss DAC501 takes that basic performance and runs with it. Not all of the DSP options are fully unlocked at this time, but those that are prove surprisingly effective, and that inspires confidence that the rest will work when they are finally released to the public. Take lateralisation, for example; some are perfectly comfortable with the sensation as if there is a tiny orchestra or band living in the space between your ears, but a system that offers a modicum of reduction of these lateralisation effects and makes it seem like you are listening in a room with some musicians is gratefully received. To date, this has been of mixed success, in that the best remove musicians from inside my head to an echoic, bathroom-like environment wrapped just around my head. Different... but nothing like reality.
Given Weiss actually makes those instruments seem to live outside the space between my ears even without DSP, iI am expecting very good things when this lateralisation system is unlocked. The Weiss presently shows this best with either really large-scale music (Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Solti [Decca]) or paradoxically really simple music (‘Because He Was a Bonny Lad’ from Here’s the Tender Coming by The Unthanks [Rabble Rouser]), where the stability of the generated image is best portrayed. Medium-sized bands can still get slightly ‘in-head’ in their image solidity.
Vinyl emulation is fascinating, and I’m still in two minds as to what it does, and whether or not I like it. It seems to be generating a small amount of low-level crosstalk (mixing a small amount of left channel output in the right channel and vice versa) and possibly some harmonic enrichment, and even a slight high frequency roll-off, but in the process it seems to create that kind of natural-sounding deep soundstage and a sort of effortless ‘listenability’ that typifies good vinyl. One of my current regular tracks at the moment is ‘The Ghetto’ from Everything is Everything by Donny Hathaway [Atco]. This started life as an LP back in 1970, and while it’s a good transfer, you are always wishing it was the LP playing (my vinyl copy is so scratched, it appears to have been used to clean ice skates at one time). Weiss’ emulation is good here. Not perfect – there’s no noticeable processing effects, but it’s not as vinyl as I’d like, but it’s a good stab at making obviously digital systems less digital. These were my two go-to DSP settings.
There’s one other setting that I found myself using a lot; if I’m honest, more than the vinyl emulation described above. The Creative Equaliser, which sounds like a late 1980s TV show. In fact, used carefully, a judicious bit of tone shaping can help out a lot of recordings. Not all of us own a well-manicured, carefully managed record collection. Some of us have great but badly recorded music in our collections. The equaliser is what a good tone control always should have been: a first-do-no-harm modifier of the tonal balance of a signal, making those bright and compressed recordings of the last 20 or so years less bright. Which means I can listen to Oasis records at last. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but the equaliser is a very good thing.