Luxury & Precision W4 and W4-EX DAC/AMP

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I am always intrigued by @torq’s perceptions of performance, as I find them very much aligned with my own. My dongle solution has been Lotoo PAW S1 & S2 which I have found very acceptable. Looking forward to trying out the W4 when it arrives.

Just received my W4 today. Just for fun, tried it with my MySpheres 3.2 - no go… will not drive them.

Listening to them with my U12Ts, and they are very good. Need to compare them head to head with the Lotoo PAW S2, which has been my goto dongle for the last year.

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As in doesn’t work at all?

If that’s the case, there’s something odd going on … possibly a marginal 4.4mm connector (plug is usually the culprit) - which can result in shorting.

There is sound, just not acceptable on the MySphere 3.2s Very thin sounding. Even at MAX volume, it was very faint.

But I did have a problem with the lightning connector making good contact on my iPhone. The case for the iPhone was causing the lightning connector to not fully seat. Requires a little exacto surgery to open the opening for the lightning connector.

The A&K SP3000 drives the MySphere 3.2s perfectly.

Also my U12Ts sound great from the L&P W4.

That could be a misaligned connector. I’ve had plain old 3.5mm TRS plugs “leak” a little audio when not aligned, and then become quite loud with an adjustment. Some jacks are longer than others, some sockets are longer than others, and some plastic surrounds have a different shape. My Bottlehead Crack socket is deep, and some jacks require a credit card thickness gap to get both channels working.

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Very strange … definitely sounds like there is something else going on there.

I’ve had no trouble getting much more demanding headphones to unsafe volume levels, and still exhibiting good control, from the W4. Synergy is another matter, but lack of power/drive with anything not pathologically inefficient, has not been an issue.

I had a Lotoo Paw S1 that was super fussy with its 4.4mm connection. Had to get that replaced. Though I’m still fairly sure it was the combination of plug and socket, and not just one or the other, causing the issue.

Thanks, Ian

I think I have a defective USB C to lightning cable or socket.
I will check the USB C to USB C cable and see if it works better. (UPDATE: works perfectly, must be the USB C to lightning cable that is the problem)

I did try a Lotoo PAW USB C to Lightning cable, and that didn’t work at all.

I sent an email to L&P, but haven’t heard back. If I don’t get this fixed I will return the unit for a replacement. (UPDATE: MusicTek, distributor of the L&P W4 replied is sending me a new USB-C to Lightning cable). Very responsive service.)

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After having a busy month, and only being able to try the W4 on a few headphones, last night I spend some time listening to the W4 with my Rosson RAD-0 using Hart Cable balanced connection. Source was Qobuz coming from a new Apple iPad Mini.

This combination was very musical and not at all fatiguing. Even listened to almost all of the new remaster of Talking Heads “Stop Making Sense (Live)” which is certainly demanding from the music fatigue point of view. I was, in a short while, just listening to the music :phone: , which is clearly the proper level of oblivion, and often difficult when you’ve been in the audiophile camp and listening critically for far too long. I even found a lovely new album, “A Song for Leon” which is a tribute to Leon Russell. This album is a compilation of different cover recordings, one or two of which are slightly muddy or distant, some intense and intimate like Monica Martin’s rendition of “A Song for You”, and gives an excellent workout of the detail and nuance from the W4.

Over this past month, I’ve tried the W4 with most of my headphones and have enjoyed the pairing. It even stretches the Sennheiser HD-6XX about as far as it normally goes, especially with balanced cables. (I usually run the HD-6XX on more power - the Lyr3 with the “solid state tube” and Bifrost 2/64 which has great detail, years after @Torq rubbed my nose in the fact that the Dragonfly Black didn’t cut it with those phones).

I hope you get your connection/power issue straightened out so you can report what it’s like with the MySpheres.


:phone: There is a saying, sometimes attributed to Twain, but certainly from around the mid Mississippi-Missouri River flood plain - “Sometimes I sits and thinks, other times I just sits.” and it is pointed out that you need to pass through the first stage before getting to the latter and more blissful state. This is what happens when the audiophile eventually lets go in the face of low irritation, which is, I think, the W4’s forte.

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Thanks. A replacement cable is on the way from MusicTek.

I know what you mean about “just sitin”. I have been listening for the last hour to the Sun Bear Concerts (Japan - 6 hours) by Keith Jarrett on my OG Utopias, where everything gets out of the way, and my brain is immersed in his incredible improvisation. On first listening, he sounds repetitive until you get into his groove, then you “get it” as the waterfall of notes washes over you, and he takes you on an incredible hypnotic journey. Wow. Just “sitin”.

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Thanks @pennstac , very nice review!!!

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Just a quick add-on note -
You can see elsewhere that I had tried using the W4 with my Sennheiser Momentum 4 in wired mode. The sound signature of the Momentum made me want to try some EQ on Classical, and the W4 was happy to oblige.

This did open up the sound reasonably on the Momentum 4 - no complaints. I’ve ordered a silver cable from Hart to do the 2.5mm to 3.5mm connection. The included cable looks like a cheap afterthought and is just a bit short. I’ll report if the 4 foot braided one helps any more.

I really do like the choices afforded by the W4. Its light weight and impressive quality are really making it a go-to for me.

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I have been having trouble getting my iPhone to charge consistently. A colleague suggested that I might have “pocket lint” blocking the connectionsl. He had a similar problem which was solved by a pair of ceramic (non-conductive) needle nose tweezers to pull this out of the socket. I will give it a try.

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Cotton ear swabs. 90% or 99% isopropyl alcohol (minimal water).

and/or

Pencil eraser on the pads.

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What @generic said, or try canned air, or take it to an Apple Store and they have a tool to pull crud from a lightning port in a few seconds. Fixed one of my old phones easy-peasy.

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I know this comment was made a long time ago, but I just now saw it, so it’s new to me, and hopefully I can help! I’m listening on Sennheiser IE600 and SpinFit W1 eartips primarily through 4.4 balanced output. I had the W4 before the RU7, and I expected that I would like the RU7 quite a bit more. I have a Denafrips Ares and Topping E70 Velvet in my main stereo, and I use tube-only amps for my phono stage, pre-amp, and amplifier, so it’s safe to say I like a colored sound signature. I prefer very slightly warm to neutral. I like detail, but I am allergic to sibilance, and I will sacrifice detail every time to avoid that harshness. I was intrigued by the W4 having an option to modify tonality to a more laid back presentation with the “Tune” setting of 01, but I have almost exclusively listened to it on Tune 02. I have also been using it with the SDF for the IE600. My general sound impressions are largely the same as in the OP’s comments as well as Torq’s.

When I heard the RU7, I was sure that I was missing something or that the gear or my ears needed time to break in, so I let it play for a couple of days unattended and I did my best to patiently give it a good try. I know I like the R2R sound of my Ares a lot, and I didn’t mind the idea of dropping a little detail to get engagement with the RU7. I know it’s not technically an R2R, but I am ignorant of the actual differences, in any case, it has a resistor network that makes the music. Unfortunately, what I got from the RU7 really surprised me. First, I confirmed that it was not just from playing it on my phone with inadequate power by trying it on my computer on a USB-C port right on the motherboard and had precisely the same audio quality impressions. The RU7 sounded muddy and incoherent, particularly in busy passages, compared to the W4, which I could forgive, but it also brought a marked harshness, actually maybe better described as “graininess” that really surprised me. This seemed to persist regardless of settings I chose. I did detect a little of the extra “naturalness” which I associate with the R2R style DACs in vocals specifically, but it was nowhere close to enough to justify the other unpleasantness in the sound. I just wanted to get the IEMs out of my ears, or better yet, plugged back into the W4 ASAP. I’m really surprised when I hear anyone say that the RU7 has good technicalities in its performance, because my experience of it was quite the opposite. My hypothesis is that there could also be a great deal of unit variation given the precision needed in the resistor matching.

The W4 has been extremely surprising to me, and I have not found many other delta sigma DACs that feel like they can provide the level of emotion I feel from music on the W4. If it is helpful to anyone to see where I’m coming from / compare for your own tastes, I have felt this similar level of naturalness and engagement from the following:

Topping E30 (original, not the II, which I have not tried)
Denafrips Ares, but only when used along with the Iris DDC between it and my mini PC Roon endpoint
Topping E70 Velvet

I have not felt this kind of emotional engagement from the following DACs:

Pro-Ject Pre Box S2 Digital
Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt - not harsh, actually a little rolled off, but not emotionally engaging to me
Questyle M15 - very close, and definitely the best Sabre implementation to my ears
Shanling UA3 - I was optimistic for this one due to the AKM chip, but it was really harsh to my ears)
Matrix X-Sabre Pro MQA - extremely disappointing - no one wants to dislike the sound of something they spent that amount of $ on. I replaced it with the E70 Velvet and couldn’t be happier with that decision.

Final thoughts on W4, I can confirm that it pairs well with the IE600, as well as LCD-X 2021, Focal Clear OG, and Sennheiser HD 600 (I don’t have a balanced 4.4 cable for this one, but even through single ended, it can drive at levels at the high end of comfortable to me in high gain mode at 85-90 on the volume setting, and they sound fantastic through it). I still like my E70 Velvet and A90 Discrete stack a little better for my desktop system, but I don’t feel like I’m missing a ton when I go on the road with the W4. I cannot recommend this one highly enough. I have sold all of my other dongles. I’m sure that now that I have this one, I’ll never want anything else new again :rofl: - it’s totally endgame until it isn’t.

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I’m ready to give away my other mobile DACs also - except the iFi Go-Link and Apple Dongles, as they both have different use cases. The W4 is unique in that it has a proprietary DAC chip. Your comment on the Dragonfly Cobalt is spot on - and that was my prior mobile go-to.

I’ve not tried the relaxed tonality, but I do like the EQ profiles, in particular the Classical (for well, Classical, but also Baroque, and even modern orchestral). And it also pairs well with the HD-6xx, the Rosson RAD-0, and IEMs from the TruthEar Zero:Red to the Audeze LCDi4.

I’m not surprised that you find the W4 outperforming some desktop devices. I just felt comfortable lending out my Sabaj A20d as unless I really need the power, the W4 simply sounds better to my ears. I’m certainly not giving up the Bifrost 2/64 and for that matter, I like my FiiO K9 Pro ESS which I think sounds as good as the W4 (and is my current favorite Sabre implementation) although the sound is different. Of course there is a bit of a weight and power differential…

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Just revisiting this thread. I’m curious if you have listened to any DACs with the AKM 4499EX like the E70 Velvet or the Geschelli J2S. To me, the Sabre DACs are a bit on the harsh / hashy / grainy side in pretty much all implementations I’ve heard. I feel like the E70 Velvet feels a bit like the W4 in terms of smoothness and naturalness, but still with great detail.

I also fairly briefly tried the Tube MINI from Woo Audio, and I think the tubes might improve the harshness of the Sabre a good deal. It had some really magical moments, but I thought there was a little bit of that grainy / flat character to it. I really can’t say for sure, as I haven’t had enough time with it. Unfortunately, it had a short in the switch, so it’s back at Woo in NY for a repair, and I can’t be sure that the issue with the switch wasn’t affecting the sound, so I will withhold judgment. I look forward to comparing it in the near future, and I’m optimistic that it will be a very enjoyable device to use in a few situations. Even if it is awesome, I don’t foresee it replacing the W4, as it is significantly less practical (if you bump it, it rings, etc.). I don’t know which Sabre DAC is in the MINI, so that could also be a difference between it and the 9028 and 9038 implementations I’ve heard if it is a different model. I’ll be curious if it is a dongle worth owning alongside the W4…

I have not, as far as I can recall. I have favored the Burr-Brown in the early days (now Texas Instruments). With Sabre, the implementation matters. (with all the implementation matters). I’ve not ventured into the very high end, not sure my ears are good enough. My go-tos are the Schiit BiFrost 2/64 (upgraded from the 2), FiiO K9 Pro Ess (a Sabre system), and the W4. I have an older TEAC Dac in my speaker system, and an iFi Bluetooth DAC on my work speaker system.

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Right on! Well, if you do like the W4, you might like the sound signature of the AKM 4499ex DACs, they tend to have a smooth, natural, but detailed presentation like the W4. I haven’t gotten to check out the Bifrost 2/64, but it looks interesting. I’m pretty sure it’s higher end than the E70 Velvet, and probably on par (in terms of price, but pretty different as DACs from what I understand) with the Geshelli with the 4499ex upgrade.

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Just received a W4 from MusicTeck. Out of the box it sounds fantastic, but I haven’t had time yet to compare to other amps. I do think it sounds awesome using the balanced output with the Empire Ears Odin, Empire Ears Raven, and 64 Audio Volur. Dead silent noise floor (playing 4’33", so not just a paused track), very dynamic, musical, and neutral sound.

What I was very curious about, after reading other reviews, is how it would do with my Lightning-based iPhone 12 Pro. No connectivity issues so far, but I have noted that not all OTG usb-c to Lightning cables work. Notably, the Questyle LTC02 OTG cable, which otherwise has proven quite reliable with other dongle/amps, does not work. On the plus side, the following 3rd party cables worked for me: ddHiFi MFi07S, FiiO LT-LT2/LT3, and even the cheap Meenova (the long 4 ft one; haven’t gotten a good 10cm one yet). I don’t want to update my phone yet, but I do look enviously at the USB-C port of the newer phones…it seems like there are so many less problems with that port versus Lighting (ptooey!).

I love the Questyle M15i, but I’m not sure it is as clean as the W4. OTOH, the M15i is almost half the price of the W4 and seems less demanding of power. I’m going to be given these 2 a lot of listening time.

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Not even all USB-c to USB-C cables work … which is really a “iffy USB-C vendor” issue.

In both cases, you’ll find some cables will work perfectly, some only work if they’re connected the right way round, and some don’t work at all.

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