30 December, 2011

Review: YBA WD202

Review: YBA WD202 DAC
Overview: YBA

I shall not mince words. This is a wonderful DAC with a quite distinctive sound. I think I can pick it out from a crowd.

Status of YBA
According to the web, Chinese manufacturer Shanling (a good company in my book), said to have long been majority shareholder of YBA, bought the remaining shares in early 2010, but have retained the service of Monsieur Andre.

The official website, now revived, makes no mention of this fact. You shall note that YBA has 3 levels of products. Top-of-the-line is the Signature series, which has retained its classic looks (and I hope the good sound I have heard before) and is rumored to be still made in France. The Passion series is one tier below, extension of their more recent efforts (I'd guess made in China now?). In the HK AV Show recently I spotted the new look, ghastly in my opinion.

The WD202 DAC belongs to the budget DESIGN series (which has its own website), made in China but they look better than the Passion series! All products sport a solidly milled case with three-pronged support instead of the usual four rubber feet. Assembly is intricate and you have been warned that removing the case to take a glance at the innards is a risky proposal.

The WD202 is full in features and has been rave reviewed. The Stereophile review is excellent and extensive. Read also the Techradar review and goodsound.

Initial Impressions "...The most special thing about it is the way it "speaks"...Most CDPs and DACs sound more similar than dissimilar. In my experience, very few DACs sound distinctive. I know people are going to trudge out the absolute sound/neutrality thing, but as any vinyl person would know, each good sound has a personality. Early Naim digital is also memorable in this regard...As soon as I plugged in the YBA, I was shocked by its personality. It "speaks"! It gives punctuation to music, makes the musician's phrasing easy to follow. comm-buddy says its quite analogue and indeed it is...It is not often I call up people to talk about a DAC. With this one, I called up 2 people..." (posted in R33)

More What is it that intrigued me? Techradar has nailed it: it is the way the YBA handles microdynamics and rhythm and pace, way beyond what we usually hear in a digital player. All of a sudden, you can hear all the stressed beats effortlessly. This kind of replay enlivens a track like Take Five from Brubeck's Time Out. Focusing on Morello's drums, the bad CD player can make the strong beats only that little louder than the weak ones; the average CD player gives you an approximation of the playing; but the truly outstanding player, like the YBA (or an old Naim, say the CD2), makes you aware of the infinite dynamic shading and brings out the full flow. Whatever the CD, the YBA delivers the music in spades. In my system, the bass has a slight tendency to be a little ripe, but the way it moves is excellent. It is a cliche to praise digital gears as analog-like, but if a piece of gear qualifies for that term, the YBA is it.

There is very good detail and soundstage, possibly superior to the Musical Fidelity M1 I praised previously, but the two players cannot have more different sounds. In comparison, sonic images of the M1 are more spotlit and leaner, the rhythm not as felicitous. When it comes to ability to play loud I feel the YBA trumped the M1, hence here I take issue with Techradar's review.

USB In and Other Impressions I loaned it to my friend com-buddy to try out the CAS. He did, and more (posted in R33)...

"...Totally amazing performance and very high price/performance ratio. Sound is pretty analog (which is a must to reduce the harsh CAS sound). Good details and accurate. At this price, what else I can say?..."

"...I have tried to use the coaxial out from the Wd202 to feed into another DAC..Amazingly, It improves the sound for the other DAC a lot(20-30%). I think the jitter has been reduced by the buffering of the coaxial out. (editor's note: this is corroborated by fellow R33 mate chkwan:"...I have connected the Coaxial out from WD202 to my Aqvox II and my friend's Northstar. Both have very significant improvement. If anyone has more than 1 DAC, why not to give a try...I have discovered it many months ago and emailed to YBA to ask if it can be used to reduce the jitter, but they did not give me any answer...")

"...this decent YBA WD202 performs like a $20K+ dac with fool-proof operation...may jeopardize some self-claim superior designed DIY trader's business..."

"...After another month of usage of this fabulous DAC, I found it is improving after a one month non-power-off torture. Without losing the original analog taste of sound, it offers even more details and textures on every note. Piano just sounds more piano. Nothing more and nothing less..."

Testing system :
CD-- Studer A734 Limited (original Pikatron transformer output) ; Arcam D137 (Haufe transformer output)
CAS--Compaq notebook
Preamp: Revox B286; Telefunken STP-1.
Amp: Dynaudioacoustics T1000; Klein Hummel SB280.
Speakers: Dynaudio D40 3 way floorstanding. Revox Studio MK-IV 3 way bookshelf.

"...This little inexpensive DAC is just too much fun...."

Headphone Amp I have not yet tried out the earphone output.

A killer and a bargain. In the US this sells for around $800, but I think price may drop later, because in HK this sells for around USD 500. I suspect the difference may reflect clearance. Given the sea changes at YBA I'd wait if not in a hurry. No matter, even at list price it is a must for audition.

Brief Note on Audio Refinement Audio Refinement is a Taiwanese company that used to collaborate with YBA. It is not clear whether YBA still has ties with it now that the company is sold to the China PRC. Many years ago I heard one of their CD players. It did not at all give me any of the feelings I have with the WD202.

Below pic: Innards of the WD202 from Greek website AVMentor:

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