Holo Audio May KTE Dac

audioarcher

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May 7, 2012
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Hi guys, Have not posted much in some time, but think this Dac is worth posting about.

I've had the May in my system for almost 4 weeks now. I traded in my Holo Spring 2 KTE Dac for the May KTE version. Had the Spring 2 for about a year. I have about 400 hrs on the May so far.

I'm using a I-9 SonicTransporter for a music server with Hqplayer as the player. Usb cable is an Intona Ultimate. Still using Innersound Kaya loudspeakers, but now use custom made active crossover with copper chassis, z-foil resistors, and various highend caps. Innersound amps still in use. Added two Rel G1 mk2 subs, and ELAC 4Pi Plus.2 super tweeters roughly a year ago.

The May is a very quiet Dac. Not just for an R2R, but for any kind of Dac period. Had a Mola Mola Tambaqui Dac before I got the Spring 2 and the May is right up there with the Tambaqui in the SNR department. The Tambaqui was very good, but was ultimately too fatiging in my system. The Holo dacs on the other hand are not fatiging at all. Which is very hard to do without sounding boring.

The differnces I hear between the Spring 2 and May are these. The May is quite a bit quieter. The May also does the frequency extremes better and is more resolving of detail. Stereo separation is noticably beter as well. The May is dual mono construction with a separate power supply, so that makes sense. As far as tonality between the two it is very similar.

Other dacs I've had in my system lately are the Yggy 1, and the Emm Labs DA2. Had the Yggy for a couple of years. I liked it and it compared favorably with the Spring 2. Only had the Emm Labs DA2 for a couple of days. Sounded lovely with PCM, but DSD was behind the Spring DAC by far. Decided to stick with the Spring at that time. Wonder how the mk 2 version of the DA2 sounds?

Anyway that is my 2 cents so far.
 
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spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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Great stuff, Audioarcher. There is a real choice now in dacs at the $5k and below price bracket. Good to hear your comparisons.
Can I ask, does the May favour I2S connection as does the Spring? This variance btwn USB, AES/EBU, S/PDIF and I2S, on different dacs and thus knock on effect on which streamer is best suited, is a consideration.
I'm very much liking your comment that the May is quiet but not boring. I suspected the Mola dac might be relentless (like the Mola Class D amps), and this is the single biggest turn off in digital audio.
My local streamer contact is a confirmed fan of the Holo Spring. He'll have to get the May in to demo.
 
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audioarcher

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May 7, 2012
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Hi Spiritofmusic, I have not tried the I2S on the May yet. Did try the Singxer SU-6 I2S on the Spring 2 and did not find it superior to USB. The Singxer sounded a little less clear to me, which to my mind means it probably introduced more jitter. From what I've read people did like the I2S better with the original Spring 1, but they have improved the usb implementation since then.

I will try the spidf input in the future. They say they have much improved the PLL design in the May. I have an old server with a Lynx card I could try out. Also an old disc player.
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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USB would be great, tbh. My likely server choice is Innuos Zen or Zenith where USB is the optimal choice, with a possible upgrade to Phoenix USB Reclocker.

For you as an experienced Holo Springs owner, the May is a definite step up? And thus over Yggy too?

I take your comment on glare v seriously. In the last few years I've been to so many demos where digital glare is as bad as it was in the dark days of the 80s. My Eera Tentation cdp has such an analog sensibility that I can listen to disc after disc as if they're vinyl. I need the same "organic" reproduction from any dac used in streaming. Hence your comments here are piqueing my interest.
 

audiotronic

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Oct 3, 2020
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Hi audioarcher, are you still enjoying your May? I am thinking strongly about getting one as well. May I ask about your preferred HQPlayer settings when using the May? DSD or PCM? NOS mode on the May? Since you had owned the Tambaqui as well, it there anything that you miss with the May that the Tambaqui did better? Or do you considered them to be on the same level except for the mentioned „too fatiguing‘“ with the Tambaqui? Would be great to hear your thoughts and about your impressions.
 

audioarcher

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May 7, 2012
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395
Seattle area
Hi audioarcher, are you still enjoying your May? I am thinking strongly about getting one as well. May I ask about your preferred HQPlayer settings when using the May? DSD or PCM? NOS mode on the May? Since you had owned the Tambaqui as well, it there anything that you miss with the May that the Tambaqui did better? Or do you considered them to be on the same level except for the mentioned „too fatiguing‘“ with the Tambaqui? Would be great to hear your thoughts and about your impressions.

Hi audiotronic. Yes, still enjoying the May Dac. At first I preferred upsampling with Hqplayer to 384k using either the closed form filter, or poly sinc ext2, but after around 500 hours of break in I prefer using Hqplayer without any upsampling. Upsampling seems to smooth things out. After break in May does not need it.

What do I miss about the Tambaqui? Well, I do miss how open sounding it was. It was brighter sounding which can sound nice, but it is a double edged sword. In the right system I'm sure it would be a keeper. If you have a chance to audition one you should.
 
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audiotronic

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Many thanks, audioarcher. May I ask whether you think that there are aspects in sound quality where the May betters the Tambaqui? If so, what would that be. So except for a more fatigue-free listening,what are the other areas where you feel the May to be an upgrade over the Tambaqui?
 

dsyzling

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Aug 14, 2019
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I think reviewers that discuss comparisons between DACs are personally more interesting - Herb Reichert does this well for Stereophile. I appreciate conducting that kind of comparative review is difficult unless you have both dacs to hand - you can't rely on your memory of a component. Personally, I agree with Michael here about A/B dac comparisons when they approach a certain level of technical quality - to me they become more similar and differences become very slight. I have to live with a component for a significant period of time and then switch before being able to discern the more subtle differences. I'm not talking about the difference between a Chord DAVE and a Totaldac.

I think it's interesting that he describes the May as being 'crystal clear' and emphasising the extra elements being added by the Totaldac tube - this was exactly the comment made by Steven Guttenberg comparing the Terminator Plus to his original Terminator. He favoured the original because although the Terminator Plus clearly provided more detail he lost a certain amount of body and weight that he enjoys.

A controversial question might be, does a focus on the measurement of certain dac characteristics lead to a certain type of sound - or the elimination of particular identifiable and quantifiable digital issues or distortion lead you to the type of sound being discussed here. With the dac's improved measurements (specific and possibly narrow as they may be) are they now becoming more similar? Personally, I think other aspects can influence the sound, upsampling or nos, power supplies, external connections (USB, ethernet, I2S) etc. I think these all provide additional 'qualities' but we are seeing reviewers use very similar terminology about a new stream of dacs.

This statement also struck me in the review about the Totaldac in comparison, 'This extra-emphasis, this increased drama offered by the Totaldac travel with it from recording to recording, which I perceive as a good thing.'

There is a possible implication here that something is being added (or may be exaggerated), that recordings might sound more alike and consistent. I can understand both perspectives - some of the elements that are 'added' (for want of a better word) can be seductive and improve my enjoyment of music. The corollary, I don't want all of my recordings to be homogenised, I want to hear and appreciate their individual character. I want to stress that I'm not making any judgements of components or approaches here.
 
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spiritofmusic

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Darren, good comments. I might be biased (because £5k is the most I'm prepared to spend on a dac for a streaming solution), but there is so much action at the £3-5k level. And the May sits there nicely.

I agree that there was a certain parsing of words. The reviewer praised the May quite strongly, but he hinted at it not having the organic quality of the TD.

I run an Eera Tentation cdp, and it's biggest attribute is a nicely palpable organic textured SQ...you heard this when you visited recently.

Crystalline sounds attractive as a quality, but if the May is lacking a bit of body, that's a negative in my mind. It looks like you still get what you pay for in audio.

Darren, there's a very friendly dealer for Holo near me. Good reason to revisit the area?
 
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audiotronic

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Too bad that the USB input on the May was not tested (and compared to the one in the Tambaqui). Also the use of HQPlayer can have stunning benefits as I have experienced yesterday for the first time with my little Chord Mojo connected to an OpticalRendu. With HQPlayer upsampling of redbook CD files to DSD256 fed to the Mojo, this little DAC delivered amazing sound quality. Hard to believe without experiencing it first hand. Thus, I keep wondering how much closer the May would get to the Tambaquis physicality and 3-dimensionality with HQPlayer at work ... then OTOH the Stereophile measurements of frequency response of the May when fed with native DSD show a somewhat fast roll off so that the Tambaqui will most likely stay to be the more open sounding DAC.
 

spiritofmusic

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Jun 13, 2013
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I found it jarring he reviewed the May thru Bluesound Node 2i...is that REALLY the best he could manage?
My friendly local dealer for Holo I'm certain will use a better streamer, likely Lumin.
It surely made sense to review the May thru this, or DCS Bridge, Innuos Zen/Zenith, Aqua LinQ etc.
 

dsyzling

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Aug 14, 2019
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I can only describe changing a PS Audio dac to using a Tambaqui when I was listening to some Wolf Von Langa SON speakers. The front end was a Pink Faun 2.16x server/streamer connected via USB. When the Tambaqui replaced the PS Audio a number of elements were immediately noticeable. Bass depth and punch were the most obvious, just deeper more textured. Transients were quicker, music had slightly more energy but not overdone, and finally, I could hear more atmospherics, reverberation - may be the lower noise floor.

We then swapped the Pink Faun via USB to use the network connection. With what was a very quick A/B comparison, I couldn't hear a huge amount of difference, I would need to spend more time with one configuration and then swap to discern more subtle changes. It did make me think I could live with the direct network connection before adding an additional streamer if cost were an issue.
 

audiotronic

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Sorry, probably I had misinterpreted the Stereophile measurement of DSD mode. I now think that this DSD mode curve in Fig.9 refers to OS DSD mode. There is no frequency response shown for NOS mode fed with DSD material, I believe. Any idea how that May look like?
 

wh01sjongalt

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Feb 26, 2019
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I've had the May KTE DAC for a few weeks and must simply say it's an amazingly natural sounding emotionally engaging and resolving piece of gear. I find no fault with it. It's the best DAC I've ever heard in 20+ years. It's transient response, inner detail, timbre, tonal colors, image specificity, micro and macrodynamics are simply spellbinding. I'll never buy a chip based DAC again. This is as quiet and as clean as the best measuring Dacs I've owned, but it's delivers a performance so close to the real thing it's quite startling and eerie. Guitars and other string instruments will blow your mind. Vocals are so naturally presented. Bass transients are incredible, and the highs are never fatiguing.

Immediacy, dynamics, detail retrieval, and all the while, being utterly natural and effortless.

A masterpiece of a dac.
 
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Ron Resnick

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Has anyone compared the sound of this Holo Audio KTE May directly to the MSB Discrete?
 

audiotronic

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Thanks for your impressiions wh01sjongalt.12244. May I ask about the way you use your May? Do you feed it with PCM or DSD maybe from HQPlayer? Also maybe you would like to share with us some names of your other best measuring DACs before getting the May?
 

Ron Resnick

Site Co-Owner, Administrator
Jan 25, 2015
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For anyone who has a KTE May DAC:

What streamer are you using with it?

How does it perform sonically when converting Qobuz to analog?
 

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