Rockna Wavelight DAC/preamplifier

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Solid-state preamplifiers,
Digital-to-analog converters
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Rockna Wavelight

In the company’s product literature, Rockna pledges its allegiance to a, “highly precise digital sound, but with an analogue charm; rich in detail, but free of digital glare” This is where I2S kicks in, as it is a very difficult task to make that claim plausible and, more importantly, audible in a system that doesn’t support I2S. Multiple sources were used and included CD, high-resolution disc formats, internet radio and, of course, a vast selection of all existing high-resolution music files (WAV, FLAC, AIFF) played back either from a dedicated advanced server setup or, occasionally, even from my high-end laptop computer. A lot of time has been spent using commercial streaming services, predominantly Tidal and Qobuz in their highest quality resolution settings.

Rockna Wavelight is meant to be on power either in its standby mode or fully ‘on’. And for a good reason. It took a good couple of days for all the circuits to be adequately conditioned and it was fascinating to monitor gradual improvement of the overall sound in a clearly perceptive manner during the initial 48 hours or so on mains power. Initially, it sounded very ‘digital’ without a shade of doubt (lean, tight, fast and clinically precise) only to complete its transformation into something very opposite. Of course, had I read the manual more comprehensively, I would have discovered that this is precisely what is to be expected during its first hours out of the box!

The overall sonic signature of the Rockna Wavelight DAC is very traditional, almost old fashioned in character and colours, but ultra-modern in terms of how its highly musical character happens to be imposed on the listener. A beguiling analogue tonal warmth and true richness of musical detail are complemented by the Wavelight’s ability to react swiftly to any dynamic and tonal changes ruthlessly dictated by the piece of music played. Speaking in digital terms, I often felt like I was listening to the most beautiful Wadia digital sound of yesteryear rejuvenated to be able to keep pace with the most capable and sonically impressive DACs of today. In other words, a high degree of musicality without any dissection of music; detail serving music, rather than the other way around. A very low level of noise serves Wavelight’s enviable dynamic capability very well indeed. From the quietest passages to the loudest moments within a wide variety of recordings, Wavelight exhibited a solid and firm grip that remained present at all times, totally undeterred by anything thrown at it. Soundstaging is also very good indeed and well developed in all three dimensions. Interestingly enough, Wavelight is quite insensitive to any particular genre of music and handles admirably complex classical music as much as small jazz combos or solo singers, etc. Overall, a very versatile performer ticking all the boxes.

I experimented with most of the digital inputs available and, just as expected, found the sonics best through the I2S input which is executed in a handy format of a HDMI port. So, for as long as the digital output of your source has the same interface, any audiophile grade HDMI cable will provide the most complete connection and no loss of streamed data. I2S sounds so much more natural and lifelike even compared to S/PDIF or AES/EBU that allow inherently more, sound affecting, permutations... and ample choice of cables from all the leading manufacturers. Don’t get me wrong – 75 and 100 Ohm coaxial digital cables of excellence will always give great results, but wherever possible, I give I2S justified primacy.

No less interesting results were achieved listening to commercial streaming services. High-resolution files sounded real, full bodied and often almost as good as best recordings on CD, and some even better than that. Many will disagree, but I still maintain that a truly good sounding 16-bit/44.1kHz Red Book recording, competently oversampled (oops, sorry, up-sampled!) and minimally filtered outperforms many more ‘advanced’ and complicated formats we have heard to date. That does not mean that, again, a good high resolution is incapable of sounding enjoyable, but I find they can lack consistency in sound quality. Last, but not least, while the built-in preamplifier section works well and sounds really good, best results will be, as always, heard from the Wavelight DAC used just as a DAC into a line input of a dedicated, full blown, line preamplifier (with output on the Wavelight set at maximum).

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