After finally getting around to ripping my CD collection it seems that 2013 has been the year that I started to seriously look at some standalone DAC options and try and see what separates one from another. I mean its all digital so surely a DAC is a DAC and they all sound pretty much the same? Well no actually.
I have had half a dozen different products here over the last 12 months ranging from the surprisingly competent budget priced Musical Fidelity V90 at £200 through to the £2k Eximus DP1 but one stuck firmly in my mind though and that was the Jolida Glass FX Tube Dac II (reviewed here by our own hifiwigwam back in April) What I loved about the Jolida was its warmth and tonal richness. It was a DAC even a hardened vinyl lover could embrace. At the time I really needed a DAC with a preamp section so the Jolida reluctantly made its exit from my system but even the highly resolving Eximus at four times the price couldn’t stop me craving the tonality of the Jolida.
So now I have another Glass FX here for review in its Mk 3 guise. So what has changed? Well both DACs are based around a Burr-Brown PCM1798 chipset. Visually the Mk 3 retains the same sturdy but attractive metal casing (available in black or silver) and glass top plate along with its 2 visible 12AX7 valves however this time a volume control and a 3.5mm headphone socket have been added.
The input selection consists of 1 x S/PDIF, 1 x Toslink and 1 x USB. The Toslink and Coax inputs both support 24/192Hz while the USB is limited to 24/96Hz. USB is selected by default on power up and inputs are selected using the front panel push button selector.
The DAC was supplied to me by Robert at Aired Audio the official UK Importers for Jolida. Robert advised me that he now only imports the Mk3 with an output capacitors upgrade. In standard form both the Mk2 and Mk3 have ClarityCap SA output capacitors but here the Mk3’s performance is improved with the use of ClarityCap ESA output caps.
When I first fired up the Mk3 it wasn’t sounding as much like its predecessor as I expected. It felt leaner, more focused, more ‘Daclike’. I left it on for a day or two with the stock TungSol 12AX7valves in place. Robert also included a pair of US made 12AD7s which seemed to be an improvement but nothing night and day. Obviously one of the attractions of a tube dac is having the chance to experiment with different options a see what takes your fancy.
With so many DACs at this price point I feel I get better results using an SPDIF converter rather than running direct to the USB input. In this case I used a TeraLink-X. These can easily be picked up from eBay for around £30. So down to listening and as with the Mk2 I found everything had a wonderful fluid feel. There is definitely no top end harshness or glare here. Bass is excellent and vocals and acoustic instruments have an authentic natural presence. I have changed amplification since I had the Mk2 but I’m convinced that the resolution has improved with the Mk3.
I am not normally someone who listens on headphones and upon arrival of the Jolida I didn’t even own a decent pair. However I have just treated myself to a pair of AKG K550s. With the AKGs being brand new I know they will need some running in so I don’t feel I can comment overly on the performance in this area but what was apparent is that the Jolida has plenty of gain available so I imagine it will suit a wide variety of headphone options.
I found the volume control particularly useful and is a definite bonus if you have your DAC situated away from your main system close to your listening position or laptop/streamer. In addition you are now have the option to run the analogue outputs from the Jolida directly into a power amplifier.
In conclusion: I recently had some fellow wammers round and we had a run through half a dozen DACs and I’m glad to say but also not surprised that the Jolida was very well received. I’ve been living with the Glass FX for around a month now and it’s been a joy to listen to. There is an excellent balance between resolution and musicality which will make it a strong contender to many. It’s the kind of DAC you can easily take for granted, music is reproduced with a certain finesse that stops you thinking about 0s and 1s and just lets the music flow and that is exactly what I want from a DAC.
If you feel the same way I would urge you to give the Jolida an audition. At £540 RRP it’s a bit of a steal.
For further information and sales contact Robert at www.airedaudio.co.uk
Associated review equipment:
Acer Laptop running Windows 7 / Jriver software / FLAC
Modwright LS100 Preamp plus Modwright KWA100SE Power amp.
Discuss the review here