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Modwright Elyse DAC Review

For a company that started out nearly fifteen years ago providing modifications to digital equipment, Modwright’s first standalone DAC has had a long gestation. Still if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.  And in that time Dan and the team have undoubtedly spent many hours honing their skills in creating output stages and power supplies of uncommon quality to go into the finished product.

The Elyse sits inside Modwright’s customary full width chassis, sharing the same design parameters as the amps and upcoming phono stage, therefore build quality is chunky and purposeful.  Modern DACs need a slew of inputs to compete in today’s market and the Elyse runs USB (192k, async), RCA, BNC and AES/EBU. I did all my listening using the Modwright Transporter as a transport using an RCA digital cable.

The Elyse also features balanced outputs, as well as single ended.  Controls on the front panel include a mute, phase inversion and a display off which defeats that blue-coloured panel design and the DAC input frequency status LEDs.

Modwright’s DAC is expensive but they have spent money where it counts.  The internals are packed full of audiophile goodies.  Power supplies are separately regulated for digital and analogue stages with valve rectification.  Analogue circuits feature Lundahl output transformers and no caps in the signal path which is based around the 6922 tube.  Modwright encourage tube rolling to your own taste.

Listening to this DAC was an absolute pleasure.  Sonically the Elyse fulfils all the modern high end criteria of transparency, resolution and fine detail.  The Elyse showed its class in the upper mids and treble which are incisive, but completely unfatiguing. Compared to budget DACs that give the impression of being hyper-detailed but grow annoyingly tiresome, the Elyse midrange was akin to refreshing walk in an Alpine meadow compared to a battling through bitter February gale in Nottingham.

I constantly wanted to delve further into those upper mids from the Elyse and I never heard the Kaplan’s version of Mahler’s second symphony sound better.  Instrument placement in the soundstage was top notch and the tension of the opening bars to the tender emotion of the alto solos was all rendered beautifully.  At contrasting ends of the frequency range, cymbals and timpani were exquisitely natural.  Jumping forward a hundred years or so and across the musical spectrum a to Fever Ray, SBTRKT, and Sinead O’Connor the Elyse resolved bass lines brilliantly, although I never felt them become overwhelming or artificially spot lit.

Sometimes at this price/performance level you are looking for one outstanding sonic attribute, one party piece to justify the price tag, but the Elyse performed so strongly across so many musical types that the only danger would be to overlook it for being roundly excellent!

There are sonic similarities with the Modwright modified Transporter that I own, but now that Dan Wright has had the opportunity to design and build his own digital product from scratch I think the house sound of the Elyse has more in common with his own integrated and pre-power amplifier efforts. There is that sense of massive reserves of clean, powerful output but Modwright manages the trick of eschewing the soulless quality of certain American high-end brands that have been trading on their name for years.

Buyers at this price will undoubtedly have an extensive audition list, but make sure the Elyse is on it.

£5,495. Available from Modwright’s UK Distributor – BD Audio.

DAC: Burr Brown PCM1794.

Tube Rolling: Rectifier: 5AR4/5R4GYS/5U4G/5U4GB/5V4G/5V4GB/217.  Driver tubes: 6922/6DJ8/7308

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