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.
In 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.
When 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:
- Audiostream, where it won an award.
- Headphone Guru, where our own John Grandberg reviewed it, and it won an award.
- The Absolute Sound, where it was greatly admired.
- HiFi+, where it was greatly admired.
- Soundstage, whom I’m pretty sure liked it.
- Ultra High-End Review did like it.
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.