Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Femto DAC by Calyx

décembre 12, 2012 by · 2 Comments 


Don’t let the price make you run away. You need to stay right to the end of this review, it will be worth it.

Calyx Femto DAC

First impression: the enclosure ( 54 x 51 x 25 cm ) is heavier than you’d expect. Whatever’s inside is dense.

Second impression, after unpacking: the Calyx people have marketing in the blood, they treat the customer like a king.

• White gloves
• A user’s manual which, in the current fashion, gives pride of place to measurement curves. These will delight the fussiest fanatic. Calyx is obviously proud of the unit’s measured performance.
• I’m disappointed that apart from a brief mention of basic functionality, there’s nothing to tell you how to use the digital filters labeled 1, 2 and 3.
• All-metal remote control.
• Sublime chassis! Such splendor, the machining is perfect. Calyx has used CNC machinery wherever possible. When you take off the cover you even find blocks of machined aluminum over certain components, engraved with the company name.

Calyx Femto DAC cork feet

Looking under the unit, I note the four feet are padded with cork. This is rather unusual. Manufacturers who pay attention to vibration control are not exactly common.

The chassis is usually a “detail” which slips under the radar and yet, to judge from the surprising performance of the earlier Calyx 24/192 DAC, the chassis must account for a large portion of sonic performance and the Calyx people get that. As an example I offer the noticeable difference in sound between the Femto and Invicta DACs, both of which use the same Sabre ES9018 chip. I’ll have more to say about this a bit later.

Calyx Femto DAC cork feet detail

The remote can control volume, input selection, phase rotation and the three digital filters, but I didn’t see a dimmer control.

Those who judge quality by weight will approve of the Femto DAC. It’s not overly heavy, at about 18.5 kilograms, but it is compact.

The on-off button on the side caught my eye.

Calyx Femto DAC on-off button on the side

Its positioning may help the user avoid contortions in some cases, depending on where the unit is placed. Another happy thought was the double labeling on the back panel, one set right side up as usual, the other set upside down so you can read them looking down from above, which happens often enough. Other makers should do the same, it’s obvious how practical it is if you just think about it.

Upstream equipment

• 2007 MacBook Pro Core2Duo, 2011 MacBook Pro Core i7
• 500 GB hard drive, 7200 rpm
• Music file formats: FLAC, WAV, AIFF, DSD
• Digital formats supported: 44.1k, 48k, 88.2k, 96k, 176.4k, 192k
• MacOS 10.6.8
• USB cables: standard $5 model, Audioquest Coffee ($250), Blueberry Hill Figaro Silver 1.8m (made in Canada)
• Dedicated AC feed for the laptop

My own hifi stereo system

My own system

• Aurum Acoustics Integris CD player, (made in Canada)
• Audio Research amplifier, modified in class “D” CL3 Gemincore (France)
• Monsoon FPF 1000 hybrid loudspeakers modified by me with external crossovers using Mundorf (Germany) silver in oil capacitors and Mundorf and Furutech (Japan) connectors
• Amadeus tripod rack by inovaudio (made in Canada)
• inovaudio 2d Mk II quadratic diffuser (made in Canada)
• Pro Audio Design solid wood diffusers (made in Canada)
• inovaudio 3-material spikes and cups (made in Canada)

Calyx Femto DAC on my system


In addition to those already mentioned:

• 2-metre Toslink, unknown brand, $30 at Centre Hi-Fi
• Halide Design Bridge USB-to-S/PDIF, BNC connector ($395)
• Silver coax BNC/BNC of our own design, 3 metres
• Carbon/rhodium coax of our own design, 1 metre
• RCA interconnects: Blueberry Hill Figaro silver and Onda System
• Furutech RTP-6 power bar
• Furutech GTX Rhodium AC socket
• Reference model AC line cords, custom-made for the magazine, with Furutech FI-50 Rhodium connectors.

For the RTP-6: Blueberry Hill Figaro silver/rhodium AC cable with Furutech FI-28 Rhodium connectors

• Reference model speaker cables, custom-made for the magazine, with Furutech Rhodium banana plugs

S/PDIF carbon/rhodium cable custom made Reference for the magazine

DAC Inputs

• two RCA S/PDIF
• Two optical (Toslink)
• one BNC
• one USB

Sampling rates from 44.1 KHz to 192 kHz.

Femto DAC by Calyx


We’ve only just said goodbye to the Invicta DAC by Mark Mallinson of Resonessence Labs, but we remain on familiar ground because the Femto DAC also has ESS technology inside:

• two latest-generation clocks for 44.1/88.2/176.4kHz and 48/96/192kHz, each with very low jitter.
• two ESS Technology ES9108 Sabre Reference 8-channel 32-bit 400Hz DACs

I tried out the Calyx Femto DAC with all of its digital inputs to get a good idea of its capabilities. I found the sound just ordinary with the toslink input, so this one is better avoided if you have the choice.

Vincent Belanger’s Ave Maria (VINCENT BÉLANGER – from his album LA – 05 – AVE MARIA__96k-24b.wav) was a pure delight. The instruments and the voice were distinctly separated from the organ, the slightest inflections were reproduced effortlessly, the music flowed like spring water. Magnifique!

Even though the Invicta and the Femto DACs use the same Sabre ES9018 chip, the sound of the two units has absolutely nothing in common. I put this down to differences in chassis, power supply, dimensions and the relative proximity of the different components. The chassis counts for a lot on the final result, just like the AC supply and the shelf the unit sits on—neglecting these is a sign of great ignorance. But I’m confident that if you’ve come so far that you’re interested in a $7200 DAC, you already have a respectable store of experience.

Femto DAC by Calyx a perfect match with CDP integris

The different connections we tried from the laptop to the DAC:

• USB output to USB input. Excellent results.
• USB output to BNC input via the Halide Design Bridge. Very good results.
• USB output to S/PDIF input via an M2Tech HiFace 2 (24/192). Excellent results.
• Toslink optical: ordinary results, not recommended

Throughout the listening sessions I used Amarra (v. 2.4.1) and Audirvana Plus (v. 1.3.5) software.

The best listening was using USB to USB with the Audioquest cable and using USB to S/PDIF with the m2tech HiFace 2.

M2tech HiFace Two

Another thing we noticed was improved quality using the right-side USB port on the 2007 MacBook Pro. With the 2011 MacBook Pro, I used an externally-powered USB hub.

The Femto DAC gave excellent results used either with the laptops or with the CDP Integris CD player as a transport, linked with an S/PDIF cable. In the latter case the player handed off volume control to the DAC.

Sample rate 192k, Femto DAC by Calyx

The Femto DAC converts the input signal according to the computer’s preference settings. Used with a CD transport, the incoming signal’s sampling frequency is recognized automatically.

The 3 Digital Filters

Filter 1, 2 or 3 on the Femto DAC by Calyx

The filters roll off at 50 KHz, 60 KHz and 70 kHz respectively. I preferred filter 1 during my own listening sessions.

What does the name Femto mean?

Femto is a unit name for time measurement. One femto second is one quadrillionth (0.000 000 000 000 001) of a second. The Calyx Audio Femto has extremely low jitter. The value is 500 Femto second. Over 99% of the DACs on the market are measured by picosecond. A picosecond is 10 to the negative 12th power of a second. A femtosecond is 10 to the negative 15th power of a second. Therefore, you know how low the jitter value the Calyx Femto has.

Strengths of the Femto DAC

• Enclosure machining
• General high end build quality
• All-but-inaudible background noise level
• Reads AIFF, FLAC, WAV and DXD formats up to 32/192
• All-metal remote
• Subjective dynamics
• Simple and original vibration decoupling based on cork pads
• Tonal balance
• Well-placed rear connectors, easy to use
• Side-mounted on/off switch

Back side Femto DAC by Calyx


• No headphone jack
• No protection under the remote
• Cost
• No display dimmer
• English-only user manual
• No possibilty of viewing the display on an external screen
• No front-panel USB input
• Volume setting memory needs attention, no overload protection

At this price level I get a little more demanding, so all these details count as far as I’m concerned.

The impressions of Marq Doyon of vinylaudiophile.com

Hifi system from www.vinylaudiophile.com, owner Marq Doyon

Here are the results of my listening sessions with the Calyx Femto DAC, as compared to my Audio Aero DAC.

The soundstage is truly holographic.

Limpid supersmooth highs, very evenly-balanced tonality.

A DAC which will please a demanding audiophile.

Femto DAC by Calyx under www.vinylaudiophile.com system

Music file listen while the Femto DAC evaluation.

Catalogue 2L Label Norvégien :

    Haydn- String Quartet in D, Op. 76, No. 5 – Finale – Presto _stereo_96k.flac
    Haydn- String Quartet in D, Op. 76, No. 5 – Finale – Presto _stereo_192kHz.flac

Metallica en 24/96
The Unforgiven.aiff
The Unforgiven.wav
Nothing Else Matters.aiff
Nothing Else Matters.wav

George Faber Blues
Plage N°9 en 44.1

Holly Cole
romantically helpless en 24-96k

FIDELIO musique label canadien
DIR. DANIEL MYSSYK – IDYLA – 13 – RONDEAU__176k-24b.wav
LA MANDRAGORE – CONVIVENCIA – 06 – Toute_seule__176k-24b
Anne Bisson : Blue Mind en 16/44.1
BUZZ BRASS – LES PLANETES – 06 – URANUS__96k-24b.wav
JEAN-PASCAL HAMELIN – tableaux intimes – 13 – PRÉLUDE op28 no15__96k-24b.wav
LA NEF – DESERTS – 01 – RUB AL KHALI__96k-24b.wav
VINCENT BÉLANGER – LA – 04 – L’AIR DU SOIR__96k-24b.wav
VINCENT BÉLANGER – LA – 05 – AVE MARIA__96k-24b.wav
VINCENT BÉLANGER – LA – 07 – AMITIÉ__96k-24b.wav
VINCENT BÉLANGER – LA – 10 – ANDANTE__96k-24b.wav

Oscar Peterson Trio – You Look Good To Me.wav
Chan Chan.wav
Crying Shame.wav
Hotel California (Eagles).wav
Isnt She Lovely.wav
Old Man.wav
Pueblo Nuevo.wav
Sad Old Red (Simply Red).wav
Sunny side of the street.wav
The Goodbye Look.wav
Wailin Wall.wav
What’s wrong with me (Anne Bisson).wav
Whiter Shade Of Pale.wav

Femto DAC by Calyx


No unpleasantness in the sound, nothing aggressive on the horizon, extended dynamic range, palpable presence; it’s the kind of equipment which brings us closer to the music, letting us feel notes and voices as if they were very near. The soundstage is wide and provides a lovely 3D effect (when the software has it to give, that goes without saying). To me this was proof that the Sabre ES9108 chip can play music differently, and this was a surprise.

Sabre 9108 inside Femto DAC

Words and musical notes stand out distinctly, I love the liquid quality of the sound and especially the presence, yes, presence, that sensation that the music is right next to us and we don’t have to make the effort to go to it. It’s articulate, fast, tight, the transients are clear, the music “snaps” with life, difficult to express this feeling in words but it’s a real pleasure to listen to.

I admit to hesitating for a short while before finally admitting that this is the best DAC we have had in our hands so far.

I also have to admit that, compared with my reference CD player, a $14,000 Integris, HD music from my computer played with better definition, better dynamics and, more than that, it gave me the feeling of being closer to the instruments. This is what is “magic” about HD files when they are well reproduced. When I think of everything that’s been said on the Net in the last two years about music file playback, the poor guys, we are really at a crossroads now, the situation has evolved at last and we can say that the CD player as we know it can now evolve too. Computer files are in the process of becoming a standard, a complementary one of course.

On rare occasions, the computer had shown me it could beat the performance of the CD player and now we know why. The only ones who could say the opposite had very ordinary source material and a system that was really not well set up for this kind of thing.

Femto DAC by Calyx a perfect shape

Players have evolved considerably since a year ago.
To get music from a computer, you have to work at it and it’s not all that easy.

The reason is that, on the one hand, you need a computer that can handle music files without noise. Then you need a (software) player which can deliver the music stream to the DAC, plus a USB or S/PDIF cable worthy of the name, and then the DAC itself — many stages to go through before you can get down to listening.

Femto DAC by Calyx

Now, in October 2012, the game has changed.

Yes, I know that on several occasions and with mid-level DACs, we’ve gotten very good results, but here we are a long way ahead of “very good results”; we’ve moved up several levels in performance. There does come a time when, to get a little more, we have to spend a lot. (This is an unwritten rule in hi-fi.) And to get this little bit more — which makes all the difference — we often have to make an exceptional effort.

To get back to music and the Femto, and thinking only of the brass and the piano, I’ve never had the chance to hear anything like such rightness of timbre and associated dynamics on my sound system.

Femto DAC by Calyx inside view

I would have been happy to go through my entire music collection. But our time with this wonderful DAC was limited, there were more aficionados waiting on the long list of lucky people who were going to live with this machine, if only for a short while.

Telling you that I could hear perfectly the violinist’s intake of breath on Track 4, 1 minute 26 seconds in, would be utter idiocy. I’ll leave that kind of thing to others. What this DAC adds in value is its grace in communicating sounds. Music flows like a liquid.

The only thing you really have to know about this converter is that it respects musical sound, or at least that it delivers the goods without artifice, without artifacts… the music, just the music. Whether it’s from my laptop or from the CD player, the DAC’s musicality came through, and at the same time I rediscovered P.R.A.T (Pace, Rhythm and Timing): I was tapping my foot to my favorite tunes.

Femto DAC by Calyx and his remote

Not forgetting either that I wasn’t using any esoteric USB cable, nor a high-priced player. I state this to show you beyond a doubt that by following the same procedures, the performance of a unit like this can be enjoyed.

Is the Price Justifiable?

All the same, there’s not much in the way of circuitry inside, you may say. Just as much as in any other unit, I’d have to answer. The Calyx people are not nuts, any more than their competitors are—they know exactly where the Femto stands in relation to the competition in terms of performance. More than that, though, the body work is splendid and so is the integration of the circuits and connectors, almost one of a kind, I don’t think I’d be mistaken in thinking that the chassis alone cost 60% of the budget.

DCS, Soulution, Burmester, MSB, Wadia, Briscati, Bryston, Light Harmonic, Da Vinci and Weiss all see things exactly the same way, except that their price tags may well be a lot higher—and are those prices justified, in turn?

I was shaken up by this encounter. I had thought up to now that the Koreans only knew how to make inexpensive, entry-level products; that for technological mastery you had to go to the States, to France or to Switzerland. Wrong. Northeast Asia is in the race now, with a skill that is more and more obvious at any level of production, in the auto industry, in computers, TV, photography, video and now in audio. We’ve come full circle, we can’t ignore Korea any longer.

We talk a lot about HD music files, but I want to say that I enjoyed listening to 16/44.1 material with the Femto just as much as any file going all the way up to 24/192. In fact I took out a few CDs and played them on my Integris with the Femto, and in one way I appreciated this configuration the most, because the DAC gave the player a the new lease on life; the player just needed this little push to sound sublime.

Whether it was Rameau’s Imaginary Symphony, the Taratata Duos Vol. 2, the soundtrack of the film Miami Vice 2, the Seven Last Words of Christ or Vincent Bélanger’s Ave Maria, or any of the others I tried, each one was a rediscovery.

Charlie Haden’s Montreal Tapes, in 16/44.1 WAV format, was an immense joy and a constantly renewed pleasure. The percussion sounded natural, the brass too, everything sparkled; such beautiful sound, as rich as you could ask for while toeing an impeccable tonal line. This is the disc I’ll close these comments on.

Frankly, the only fault I can find with the Femto DAC is its price. If it weren’t for that, it would be staying in my system as a reference, until the next discovery. The metal around a circuit like this costs a lot of money per kilo.

Careful, though, don’t get me wrong about the price. Even if its internal circuitry isn’t super-sophisticated, this DAC holds up in terms of sonic performance. I would be very curious to try it against some of the “big boys” at $10,000 or more, never mind what was inside and comparing only the units’ sonic performance, certainly not fame, supposed reputation or Ego.

Remember too that with different AC cables, S/PDIF interconnects and USB cables you will get different results. So don’t hesitate to experiment, it’s worth it. You’ll be surprised by the performance of this converter once you’ve got it properly installed.

Editor choice 2012

The Calyx Femto DAC has to be heard in your system at least once. You’ll never hear its sounds the same way and it will open the door to the possibilities of tomorrow. The digital medium has never been closer to convincing me it’s mature.


Charisma Audio

Manager : Bernard Li

Suite 86
4261, Highway 7
Markham, Ontario
Canada L3R 9W6
Telephone: (905) 470-0825
Fax: (905) 470-7966

E-mail: charisma@rogers.com

Web site : www.charismaaudio.com

Article by Marc Philip, independent publisher, all rights reserved, copyright 2012, text and photos are the property of the author and the magazine, under creative commons licence.

Have a nice day and happy listening !


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  1. […] “… The Calyx Femto DAC has to be heard in your sys­tem at least once. You’ll never hear its sounds the same way and it will open the door to the pos­si­bi­li­ties of tomor­row. The digi­tal medium has never been clo­ser to con­vin­cing me it’s mature.“ Mit die­sen Wor­ten schließt der Test­be­richt von Marc Phi­lip zum Calyx Femto DAC. Lesen Sie den gan­zen Bericht hier. […]

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