Massdrop x Airist Audio R-2R DAC - Review

Yeah, went back through the comments…I think I’ll have to wait on it also… canceled my order. Kind of bummed was looking forward to this, but at least I can wait and see how it turns out. If it gets revisions etc… hopefully it isn’t a one an done.

Thanks for the review. If i were looking for a DAC i might consider this.

I especially appreciate the amp comparisons. I’m surprised the mcth paired well with the rdac.

When I get a chance, I’ll update the review … but Massdrop have confirmed that instead of the current micro USB connection on the RDAC, they’ll be using a full-size USB “B” connector for the production run.

This seemed to be a concern for many on the discussion on the actual “drop” page.


I did some research and I’m back on the purchase list. Sure some things are questionable, but as far as my research went nothing illegal. Plus, with them updating it before it ships is good to see.

Oh, it’s quite real.

And it was delicious!

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Airist R-2R DAC and the sweet synergies


I am still new to the audio review world, especially DACs and amps, so forgive my transgression below if any are found. I got my grubby little hands on the Airist R-2RDAC review unit on loan from the Massdrop review/audition tour, which was handed off to me by @Torq.


I used the Airist R-2RDAC with a couple of different amps (mostly Massdrop made with one made by me, kit provided by Bottlehead) which will be detailed below. I used mostly my HD800 Super Dupont Mod, and the Massdrop X Focal Elex, and just because there was so much Massdrop X gear I also listened with my HD58X Jubilee, and HE4XX (but I didn’t use them as much for review/impression). Everything really sounded great coming from the Massdrop “X” Stack!


Smooth, buttery smooth. With solid state amps it sounds crisp, but with a nice layer of velvet smoothness. Tube amps (hybrids count here too) just add more gooey magic to an already great sounding DAC. There is just something about the sound coming out of this that makes me go for it with my tube amps over all my other DACs.

Massdrop X Cavalli Liquid Carbon X

Out of the Massdrop Cavalli Liquid Carbon X (MCLCX) also on loan through Massdrop, which @Torq passed along to me for this impression.

It has a nice air to it, Bass is not overly present. Mids sound not too far out but about right for a nice relaxing listening session. Highs are rolled off just a little early for my preference, but after listening for longer sessions make for a much easier and enjoyable listen. A little distant feeling, very clinical. Now that isn’t to say it is bad here oh quite the contrary…it has precision in its delivery, while at the same time not being sharp, or piercing. It delivers with such sweetness that you can’t call it harsh, but it doesn’t hide the highs or mids. I was initially not very fond of the combo, but the more I spend listening to it…mmm it just melds so very well. Listening to “Hotel California” by the Eagles (remastered version), and wow, the detail, air and presentation are amazing. I am addicted to listening to all the details in this song. The R-2RDAC almost feels like a guilty pleasure DAC, it really is a smooth operator and just coats everything in a layer of sweetness that is hard to describe without sounding cheesy lol. I initially didn’t like using the R-2RDAC with a solid state like the MCLCX, but after putting some good listening time into it…I really can’t complain and find it to be a faster paced, but still relaxing go at my music.

Massdrop X Cavalli Tube Hybrid

Now out of the Massdrop Cavalli Tube Hybrid (MCTH) my personal unit. Bass has presence! Mids are more intimate, and present. Highs snap, and roll off just about right. The R-2R really shines with some tubes! The details…oh the details. I pick up so much while listening to “Hotel California” By the Eagles (remastered version). The MCTH adds just enough tube goo, to make the combo come together like Milk and Honey. I really find this to be one of the more fun and relaxing combos I’ve listened to with the R-2RDAC. I could sit in the dark and drink some good whiskey, while listening to this combo for a long time. Just immense, airy, weighty, and covered in a light layer of sweetness. Just enough to let you know you’re listening to something special. I highly recommend this combo, it doesn’t have the same “punch” as the MCLCX but it makes up for it in even more warmth and smooth sparkle.

Bottlehead Crack

Ok…my favorite combo, Bottlehead Crack (BHC) another personal unit. Wow, just…wow. Basically, everything good about the MCTH just doubled/tripled/quadrupled? Too much? Never! Ha! The combo is sublime. Detail, air, intimacy, and a solid rumble in the lows. I can’t get enough of this combo, I’m going to be very bummed when I have to give the R-2RDAC unit back and have to wait for mine to be delivered. Now some of this might come from the fact that I put my BHC together myself, which fair, but also it is something that should be experienced, especially with the synergy of the R-2RDAC. Where usually the BHC adds the flavor to DACs, these two just dance together. Such a warm, intimate, yet layered with details experience. Kind of like a favorite memory that you can playback in your head, over and over. You know it well and can remember all the details down to smell/colors/surroundings etc. That is the feeling I get with these two. I can’t stop listening to them, and it is a battle with myself from turning the volume knob ever higher.

The end…for now

Now as a disclaimer I really am biased by my Bottlehead Crack, it has a special place in my audio chain, so know that it probably colored that part of the review lol. That being said the MCTH is no slouch here, and is my second favorite amp pairing. The MCLCX also pairs quite well and has more sparkle and analytical/neutral pairing, that the R-2RDAC adds just enough sweetness to.

I think the magic that the R-2RDAC delivers is due to its ability to separate out all the parts of a track, then lace them all together in a honeycomb dripping with goodness. I am really excited to get my hands on my R-2RDAC when it finally ships, now the wait became even longer, but also worth it. This is the first R-2R style DAC I’ve listened to so take that as you will. I do have a couple different DACs that I use for reference, to include RME-ADI2 DAC, JDS Labs El DAC, and a couple of integrated DAC/amps (NFB 11.28/The Element), all have their place. I really did enjoy the Airist R-2RDAC and I’m truly looking forward to getting my hands on my own insert Gollum quote about precious here. I hope you enjoyed the read, as much as I enjoyed listening to this lil DAC.


You really do have some fantastic gear Tyler. As ever your impressions are great too. A damn good read as always. Just a thought if you had to choose would it be the MCTH or the MCLCX. Taking into account that I like clarity and detail. I think I already know your answer having re read your post but hey ho.

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Honestly it’s a tough decision, I lean closer to the MCTH. But the MCLCX is no slouch here either, it resolves really well and is not “worse” but the same quality as the MCTH but with a different flavor, think flavored Coke. Some people like cherry, others like vanilla…and other degenerates like mixing coke with coffee(why do I feel the eyes of judgment on me all a sudden). Sorry for the long response, but essentially it comes down to what your preference is. I find the magic in the MCTH, but it is more a sound profile thing then one is better than the other.

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I definitely get where you’re coming from with this. As we both know sound is a very subjective thing and always comes down to taste in the end.

Seriously though coke and coffee. :face_vomiting::nauseated_face:.

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I have to admit, that I have added coke to a coffee mug that had just a lil residue/oz or two still in it and found it good. But it is usually because I’m lazy and don’t rinse/wash my mug before switching to Coke after morning coffee lol…but I fully agree that coffee flavored coffee is not the tastiest thing! lol

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That’s an honest answer at least. It’s one way of getting your caffeine hit.:slightly_smiling_face:

I don’t get this whole butter and coffee thing but coke and coffee sounds even worse.

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Butter and coffee? Why I mean, just WHY…:anguished:

It makes you bullet proof…


Coke and coffee sounds… like something I’d try, honestly. One combination I can heartily recommend is coke (the brown kind) in milk, proportions to taste but I sometimes go 1:1— it’s something I came up with as a tween some years ago on the fly, but when I Google-d it I found that it was a combination that many people had been keyed in to by milkshakes.

Same thing happened with my adding a conservative pinch of black pepper into green tea. I was inspired by reading this childrens’ book series called Atherton, I think it was, and their consuming a dish called “black and green”. I had black pepper and green tea on hand, figured the worst that could happen was that I’d waste some leaves. I liked it, to my surprise, and a Google search revealed that I was far from the first person to try that combination as well.

I swear people will do anything for a more interesting flavour, though I can hardly blame anyone for doing so, haha.

Oh wait, this is a DAC thread. Whoops, I got caught up in the conversation. I’ve been wanting to get my hands on the Airist R2R DAC since news of it first cropped up on SBAF, but between the ethical issues implied by supporting Airist (not illegal != moral) and the fact that I’d just gotten a Bifrost Multibit when it was announced pushed it down my list of priorities below a new amp and better cables.

I’d be interested in hearing more people’s thoughts on it, but I somehow doubt that MD is going to keep on with this collaboration given the sordid story behind it. sosolar’s making DACs now too I believe, but it won’t be nearly as affordable as this was, which is a shame really.


A “just came in” update from Massdrop - it seems the R-DAC will be delayed.

My understanding is that an issue with the finish of the chassis was found in final QC, rather than it being an electronic/performance issue. Unfortunately the chassis is often the longest lead-time (and nearly always the biggest PITA) component, and the units are now estimated to ship in May.


This saddens me…thanks for the heads up!

Just got word that this should be shipping out by end of month!! F’s to the yeah!!


End of week is the new estimate for shipping!!! So much stoke to be had!


Looks like they’re actually shipping out today!

Given how fast delivery tends to go with Massdrop’s usual shipping model, I should have mine in 2, maybe 3, million years.

[Any other shipment via USPS to that end of the world typically takes 3 days at most (Massdrop always seems to take 10).]