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Follow Up: Exogal Comet DAC

Exogal-3532

2/8/2016

This is an update and follow-up to John Richardson’s review of the Exogal Comet DAC.

Let me just say that I love this DAC.

What struck me, in direct comparison to AURALiC Vega DAC for example, was how relaxed everything sounded. The VEGA DAC, which has been a reference for a couple of years now, has an almost unforgiving nature — it can easily sound bright or a little bleached. Not the Vega’s fault, however — when fed a diet of quality audio bits, the sound is insightful, deeply detailed, and thoroughly illuminated. By contrast, the Comet from Exogal is almost sleepy. But the detail is still there! What isn’t, however, is any sense of edge. Even fed pretty so-so bits, the Comet still presents them as glorious music.

In the high-end, we talk about the merits of a solid-state system versus a tube-based system. Detail, deep bass, and ease-of-use are weighed against tone, timbre, engagement, and emotion. Which kind of audiophile you are is defined by choices that line up to those values, that is, to what you value. As a reviewer, I tend to split the camps — I have systems that do one thing and systems that do the other.

Bestof2015In the “detail” versus “tone” debate, the Exogal will appeal to the latter group, right off the bat. But interestingly, I think it can hoover up quite a few of the former group, too. As John and I have mentioned, it’s not that the Comet doesn’t “do” detail — believe me, it does. It’s just that it sets them into the woven tapestry of music, and it does so perhaps better than the Vega. It’s non-fatiguing to a fault, but unlike other FPGA-based systems (like the Playback Designs or the PS Audio Directstream), the Comet doesn’t round off transients. Treble is there, it’s just that it doesn’t bite. Bass performance is quite good, too, though I will offer that my old Berkeley Audio Designs Alpha DAC will pulverize it in this regard. The outboard PSU helps quite a bit here (and this is where the real value of that extra $500 lies), but I suspect that there is really only so much you can do at this price point — remember that the Alpha (with its required USB converter) is almost three times the cost of the Comet.

Getting back to a closer comparison, I can imagine that the Vega will have very broad appeal — because it’s tendency toward speed will enable many systems to sound far better than they actually are, or have any right to sound. Many headphone-based systems, especially ones that rely on tubes (based around a Woo Audio amp, for example), could get a much-needed jolt of energy from adding the Vega — and that change could revolutionize the listening experience (not as much as better tubes, but I digress). Many headphone-based systems that are already revealing (based around a Cavalli Audio amp, for example) may find that the Comet, by contrast, lets them hear music instead of just “great sound”.

A side note: we don’t really talk about the tech inside the Comet for a reason. That reason? It’s proprietary. Check out the review at Audiostream for some more details around it.

Another side note: the Comet does have an analog input and a headphone output, making it a full-function machine. Unfortunately, I found this approach to not be worth pursuing. I suspect the issue has most to do with the required use of the on-board volume control. Let’s just say that I’m not a fan, as the resulting sound quality is only “functional” instead of “great”. My advice — pretend those aren’t there and just use it as a DAC.

Editor's Choice: BMC UltraDACWhen the Comet arrived at the startlingly low price $2,500, it was clearly the one to get, and for me, established a new high water mark on the price/performance curve. Unfortunately, the Comet and the Vega are now shipping for about the same price ($3,400, including the outboard PSU for the Comet), which erases the advantage and makes it more of a toss-up. In my book, both are excellent performers and I can see a clear need and place for both. My recommendation? Try ’em both.

As a side note, if you do try out the Comet, give it some time. On first listen, I will admit that its sonic virtues didn’t scream themselves out at me. It was only after some time, realizing that I’d invested a lot of time listening to music through it, that it struck me how beguiling the Comet really is. Sleepy? Maybe. But in a Rip Van Winkle kind of way — watch out, or you’ll find you’ve grown a full-on Santa Claus beard during that last listening session.

The Exogal Comet picks up an easy Editors Choice award from the team here at Part-Time Audiophile, and as you probably already know, it picked up a Best of 2015 award to boot. Highly recommended.

By the way, the DAC has been thoroughly reviewed. Here’s a partial list:

Update

March 10, 2016

We’ve just learned that the Exogal Comet is now being sold direct in the USA by Underwood HiFi. Inquiries about pricing: 770-667-5633.

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4 Comments on Follow Up: Exogal Comet DAC

  1. Please note that Underwood Hifi is now selling Exogal for the factory in the US. Our pricing all their unique hi value products has been reduced considerably but can’t be published. We are at 770-667-5633 and glad to discuss current deals with all potential customers.

  2. I Thought my Hugo sound better and more close to natural than vega (sound digital) But i can’t say the samething to Comet . you should very careful when you use natural because no dac in th whole world I can say it’s sound natural 100% even the msb select II .
    I’m eager to read your review about Hugo TT ,chord dave and Nagra Hd .
    and the Berkeley Reference was very bad joke by the writer, absolutely fault review. it can’t even beat msb analog .
    berkeley Reference : first was to be under 5000$ , then for some reason they change the price to be 16000$ ,shame on Berkeley Audio .
    what’s the best dac ( close to natural ,don’t effect the sound and make it sound real ) under 10k$ ?
    I want to know what’s your dac mr : Hull ?
    Thanks for your work on this review .

  3. My sincere apology for being such a squeaky wheel…Pwetty pweeze, with cherries on top…I’d love to read a mano-a-mano duel, Exogal Comet vs. the virtually identically priced $3500 new-for-2015 exaSound e22 DSD DAC.

    At 2014 RMAF, exaSound demonstrated DSD 5.0 master recordings > e28 multi-ch DSD > direct to Bryston multi-ch power amp > five Magnaplanar speakers. This was clearly (pun intended) one of the best all-time reproduced sound demos ever. For absolute holographic transparency, it reminded me of the best Ray Kimber Isomike 4.0 demo in a huge room, with a ton of Pass Labs pure class A amps and eight huge Sound Lab stats (two per corner; not likely a coincidence that both these systems employed DSD multi-ch masters). I strongly suspect the e28 in a room as large as the Isomike room, with similar amps and speakers, would rival or even possibly outperform the Isomike room.

    All or most specs for the 2-ch stereo e22 are improved vs. the e28.

    Estimated prices for the gear in the exaSound room:
    DSD multi-ch masters: ?
    Digital IC for above: $500
    exaSound e28 multi-ch: $3500
    Five analog XLR for above: $1k
    Preamp: none
    Bryston 5-ch power amp: $10k
    Speaker cable: $1k
    Five Maggies, sorry unknown model, check w/exaSound: $10k

    Any $25k 2-ch system would positively pale compared to the above 5.0 system.

    Yes, it’s true, it’s primary advantage exists only playing multi-ch DSD recordings, and I have no idea how big is that selection. I wonder if there is DSD software to convert 2-ch DSD to 5.0? If not, exaSound should work on such software.

    But that system rivals Kimber’s best all time Isomike demo, valued over $300k IIRC (Ray handed out a price sheet at that event). That system was good enough to justify paying admission price to experience it. One Isomike drawback is that it requires four mics attached to a huge (8′ tall IIRC) vertical foam cardioid baffle hanged by a scaffold, limiting the recording venues to only huge spaces. No such limitation with standard multi-ch recordings employed in the exaSound demo.

    I bang this drum for absolutely no reason other than to extol the virtues of it, to widen its appeal and potential acceptance among audiophiles, who tend to be overly conservative and avoid taking risks, being different.

    Ray Kimber and the exaSound folks are true audiophile pioneers.

    • Part-Time Audiophile // February 14, 2016 at 1:03 PM //

      I haven’t had a chance to spend any time with the exaSound stuff, nor do I have an intro over there ….

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