Rockna Audio Wavelight Pre/DAC – Follow-up by Mike Wright
This dear friend is a follow-up to Terry London’s excellent Rockna Audio Wavelight Pre/DAC review. I won’t recreate the wheel here, going over items Terry touched upon so eloquently, but will instead offer thoughts on the Wavelight’s performance. I was flattered when Terry asked me to do a follow-up to his review. He gets to spend time with what I consider a lot of “great finds.” I wasted no time getting in touch with Robert Neill, President of Worldwide Wholesales in Canada. Worldwide Wholesales represents a range of world-class electronics that are known for sonic excellence and performance. Throughout this follow-up review process, Robert was accessible and very accommodating.
And So It Begins…
Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, shall we? The Wavelight is a very interesting DAC to listen to. Tonally, it has an organic warmth that is more natural sounding than what you would typically refer to as “tubey.” Truthfully, the Wavelight is anything but tubey. Instead, its sound is refined, revealing, and realistic. The Wavelight is very extended, detailed, and airy in the highs and has rock-solid, deep bass, which speaks authoritatively when the music calls for it. There is no bass bloat or uncontrolled boominess at all. That “natural” sounding quality that the Wavelight possesses makes listening to music more enjoyable. Vocalists were portrayed as being unrestrained and with sustained harmonics. The performances appeared in my room on a well-delineated, layered, and transparent stage that extended beyond my speakers with good center fill and notably good depth. This quality makes listening to large-scale orchestral music an even more appreciable experience. The performers on the stage had their own three-dimensional space and air as the Wavelight helped to develop an image that I felt I could walk up to and around. The Wavelight’s transient response was exceptional, though a little odd initially, as I kept checking to make sure that I was not missing anything. I heard this slightly warm tonal delivery without any edginess but presented increasing amounts of inner detail and lifelike, believable transient information. The Wavelight was allowing me to hear more musical information that I had somehow been missing, such as fingers traversing bass strings or the subtle sounds of drummers adroitly making use of every part of their setups.
For musical references, I used the following. For female vocals, I listened to quite a bit of Lizz Wright’s Dreaming Wide Awake [Verve]. I love Ms. Wright’s (no relation) warm, rich vocal tone and phrasing. Great vocalists, such as Cassandra Wilson, have a way of making a tune all their own, and Wright is no less accomplished. The one track I kept coming back to on this offering was “A Taste of Honey.” Wright sings this selection with a bluesy, almost sad timbre, but the musicians added a lot to this track. Many vocalists surround themselves with musicians that are more than capable of taking over the recording. Still, this group of performers: guitarist Chris Bruce, bassist David Piltch, drummer Earl Harvin, and Glenn Patscha on keyboards, makes this album a dual treat to listen to. The Wavelight was instrumental in allowing me to hear Wright’s vocal intonation and inflection.
Another vocal favorite I’ve been diggin’ on of late is Chris Stapleton doing “Death Row” on his From A Room: Volume 1 [Mercury Nashville] CD. I really do not listen to Country music very much though the supporting musicians, the guitarists, sometimes do catch my attention. This track just strikes that part of the brain that makes me sit down and take note of Mr. Singleton singing about what he’s going through, waiting for his impending fate. Not only the vocal power and emotion he sings with, but his guitar playing stands out to me as well. The Wavelight’s dynamic range allows Mr. Singleton’s vocals, which go from calm to a loud wail, and Mr. J.T. Cure’s melodious bass tone makes experiencing this performance all the more enjoyable.
Listening to classical music, a recording I really enjoyed playing through the Wavelight was Johannes Brahms Symphony No.1, Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Gunter Wand [RCA Legacy]. I have heard a couple of versions of this work where the opening was a little fast, but this one sounded just right. The Wavelight made this recording sound tonally, just right. There was a lot of detail from this recording with the ambiance, the hall sounds, and the sounds coming from the audience and the symphony members themselves. The orchestral timbres were pleasing to listen to.
A Few More Thoughts
The Wavelight is a very well made and solid DAC. As you would expect, there were no performance issues encountered, and I used it in more than a few system configurations with several different digital cable types. I did quite a bit of plugging in, unplugging, using a laptop computer, CD players, and a dedicated network renderer. Even switching shelves and platforms, the Wavelight withstood the rigors of the review period I put it through. The Wavelight is a top-of-the-line performer, not just sonically and operationally, but it’s very flexible as well. The Wavelight has a slew of inputs, SPDIF, AES, USB, IS2, Optical, all designed to allow you to use the digital device of your liking. There are also the filter options to dial-in the sound you like the best. I found all these selections to be more nuanced and not really have a lot of effect on how the Wavelight sounds or performs but allows the listener to put more of his sonic taste on the music. My favorite Wavelight filters were the NOS (non-oversampling) and the Hybrid.
Another extensive feature of the Wavelight is that you can use it as a preamplifier. What is unique about this aspect of the Wavelight is that it utilizes an analog volume control instead of the customarily used, but usually not very good sounding, digital control. While I would not want to replace my VAC Renaissance preamp with the Wavelength, it did a genuinely lovely job of playing music with the other pieces in my system. For a temporary fix during a preamp absence for repair or upgrade, the Wavelight absolutely can step in and keep the show going. I have been blessed to have pieces inhouse for review to make some excellent comparisons. This review was no exception as I had the excellent sounding Bricasti M3 in temporary residence at the same time.
The M3 and the Wavelight are both excellent sounding DACs that operate near that top level. I am really hesitant to compare them because I enjoyed them both immensely, and both more than my Blue Circle BC510 NOS DAC reference. Comparing the two DACs, the M3 and the Wavelight are immensely musical, detailed, dynamic, and generally check all of the boxes for those attributes we like to judge music. The most significant difference being that the Wavelight is slightly warmer sounding. That tonality is there from the high frequencies to the low frequencies with the Wavelight having somewhat deeper bass, the M3’s bass performance was only slightly tighter. Overall, in terms of what the Wavelight does musically for more than $1200 less, straight up DAC versus DAC, I would choose the Wavelight. At the same time, the M3 has a network renderer built-in, and the Wavelight does not. I did not feel it would be fair to the Wavelight to compare it to the M3 while using the M3’s network renderer, though in most cases, the Wavelight more than held its own. In the course of working my Bricasti M5 review and using it with the Wavelight, I can say that the Wavelight’s performance is even more outstanding! Anyone looking for a DAC with network capabilities should give the Wavelight a listen. In this pairing, the Wavelight did not present quite as much of that tonal warmth, but instead, replaced it with more air, dimensionality, and a tad bit more of that you are there kind of realness.
I am told by Robert Neill that Rockna also has a stand-alone network renderer in the works. I would anticipate that the combination of their renderer and the Wavelight will sound exceptionally good. Neither I nor any of my friends have heard Rockna’s top-of-the-line DAC, the Wavedream, but I have read that it is near the very top of the “state-of-the-art” of where DAC performance is. The Wavelight cannot be very far off from its elder sibling and gets a “Most Highly Recommended” designation from me. The Rockna Audio Wavelight will be one of those review pieces that will be missed.
Tekton Design Moabs
hORNS Symphony (Review pending)
VAC Signature 200 iQ Amplifiers (used as stereo and monoamps)
BSC Audio BSC100m 100-Watt Mono-amps
Gilbert Yeung Designs NSI-GY Integrated Amplifier
VAC Renaissance Mk V with Phono
Merrill Heirloom Turntable
Rowland Research Consonance Tonearm
Transfiguration Phoenix Cartridge
Asus Laptop w/Fidelizer Pro, Roon, and JRiver v.26 for Hi Res Files
Blue Circle Audio BC510CR NOS DAC
Bricasti M5 (Review pending)
Marantz SA-7S1 CD Player
Dynamic Design TBK Interconnect
Dynamic Design TBK Speaker Cable
Dynamic Design PAAPI
Shunyata Anaconda Interconnet
Silversmith Fidelium Speaker Cable
Clarity Cable Digital Cable
Essential Sound Product Essence II Power Cords
Power Line Conditioner
Inakustik 3500P (Distributor loan)
Essential Sound Products Essence Power Distributor
Blue Circle BC60X1
Star Sound Apprentice Platforms – used under speakers and mono-amplifiers
Star Sound Sistrum Rhythm Two Platform Stand
Symposium Acoustics Ultra Platform
Symposium Acoustics HDSE Rollerblocks
Symposium Acoustics +2 Rollerblocks
Epiphany Stand Systems – Celeste Reference Stand
Worldwide Wholesales (North American Distributor)
Telephone: (519) 619-9924
Rockna Audio Wavelight Pre/DAC – $4,750.00
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