Marenius DAC-S2 Review – 2015 update

If you judge a piece of gear by how often you use it then Marenius’s DAC – S2 passes the test
with flying colours. In use daily, I never tire of listening to the Marenius, almost certainly
because of the insights it delivers into the audio material and the sheer amount of detail that
it delivers. Right now I’ve returned to Joe Cocker (see below) listening to Sheffield Steel with a
a sense of loss. However that 80’s snare SMACK still grips me and  the Compass Point All Stars
still sound stellar.

marenius_logo

Not so long ago I took the DAC-S2 down to Audio T – http://www.audiot.co.uk/storefinder/cardiff/ –
home of lots of top class audio gear and a place where Nytech hang out – real hifi made in Wales.
Go Phil and Amanda! http://www.nytechaudioshop.co.uk
We plugged the S2 into a cheap streamer and went head to head against a box from Naim – and the S2
acquitted itself tidily – as we say in Wales. Anyway here’s the original review.


There are only three nations in the world who are net exporters of pop music, managing to
sell abroad more than they buy in. The US of course were it all started. The UK, home of
the Beatles and Adele and, well what is your guess? Sweden wouldn’t have been top of my
list but in fact it kind of makes sense that the Swedes are in that exclusive top three. With
all that music pouring out of Swedish studios it’s good to see some Swedish pro audio gear
reaching out beyond the Nordic borders.
I came across Marenius when looking for location equipment.

dac_s2

 

They make portable recorders and hi-spec battery powered mic amps. Their latest product
however is more general in application, in fact it is almost as universal now as your monitors.
Marenius have launched a DAC. In the world of hi-fi it has long been recognised that digital
to analogue conversion is a tricky and highly important business.

Right now there are at least two British made hi-fi DAC’s that will leave you no change from
five thousand pounds, this is a serious audio engineering. It began with two box CD players,
transport in one, DAC in the other. These have been on the upper end of the CD market for
years. However the argument runs that the importance of the conversion process transcends
the needs of CD playback. Every digital playback system might benefit from high quality
digital to analogue conversion and with computer replay the order of the day in most studios
and mastering houses the scope for professional solutions is significant.

Talking of two box solutions, the DAC—S2 comes in two boxes. Two nicely finished red
aluminium boxes that are purposeful yet easy on the eye and feel good in the hand. The
remote power supply is small enough to be tucked away somewhere and there is a nice long
high quality locking din lead between the psu and the main DAC. Both boxes warm up in
operation, don’t leave your Magnum on here for any length of time. Round the back of
the main DAC you’ll find the I/O. Balanced (XLRs) and unbalanced outputs — optical,
unbalanced SPDIF (coax) and AES balanced (XLR) digital inputs. Round the front three
small switches, a headphone output and what Marenius describe as a ‘cripplingly expensive’
P&G volume control for the analogue outputs.

dac_s2_psu

In use the S2 is simplicity itself. Plug in and
power up using switch number one. Select your
input from three way switch two, select ouputs
from three way switch three. Set volume
with silky smooth cripplingly expensive
volume control. The output switch offers line ouputs
and or headphone output, while the input
switch selects between the three digital inputs.
Sample rates up to 96 kH are converted and
the volume control acts on both headphone and
line out signals. A green led signifies power on while each selector switch has three leds to
confirm your selection of input and outputs.

Having established that the Marenius is a good looking box which is simple and flexible to
use, the question remains, ‘Why would I want to use it?’ And the answer is very simple.
Audio quality. Just about every piece of digital kit now comes with analogue ouputs, and
even if they didn’t the DAC-S2 would be an expensive option if all you wanted was any old
analogue version of your signal and quality wasn’t important. No, the S2 lives or dies by the
audio quality it delivers.

’I’m drinking sweet champagne Got the headphones up high’ — yes life as an Audio Media
reviewer is pretty good. Sadly unlike Joni, I’m not flying first class into Vegas, nor really
sipping sweet champagne, no, I have tea. But I do have my headphones up high, because
everything through the S2 sounds fantastic. Take Nazareth’s cover of the Joni Mitchell
classic ‘This flight tonight’. I laughed out loud listening to the interplay between Manny’s
guitar and Dan’s vocal. Now, I’ve heard the joke a million times in the last forty years. I
just heard it afresh courtesty of the Marenius DAC. Returning to one of last year’s projects
the vocals sound great, sweet and perfectly balanced (if I say so myself!) The imaging fixes
the guitars in stone and the cajon has depth but retains precision. In fact the mix seems
really tangible and you feel confident that you are hearing through to the heart of the sound.
I really appreciated the bloom and gloss of the TC-M5000, but not enough reverb on the
guitar — remember great monitoring doesn’t hide your mistakes, aux contraire.
Having enjoyed the S2 for some weeks now, I got into the habit of taking notes anytime I
felt I was hearing more. This is not the conscious intenionality of ‘reviewing’ but having the
time to relax and hear stuff as it strikes you. So what do the notes say? ‘Bass, resonant with
authority but always gripped and tuneful’, This is one of the first things to strike me, listen
to anything with the Compass Point All stars on it and Sly, Robbie and Sticky will lighten
your whole day, synergistic and tighter than money in Merthyr. ‘Snares crunch’ satisfyingly,
guitars have ‘a sharper edge’, previously unheard keyboards appear shyly from the melodic
shadows, cymbals crisp and musical. On older projects tape hiss and pre-echo are clearly
audible and even chairs squeaking that had to date slipped through unnoticed.
One of the hardest qualities of mixing to describe is the requirement to get instruments to
‘sit in the mix’, while retaining their individual character. Not only do we want ‘everything
louder than everything else’ but we want everything mixed to perfection with everything else,
but retaining its own absolute and unique character. To pull off this impossible trick, we
need monitoring equipment that is as transparent as possible. Allow mixing engineers and
producers to make the changes they want, confident they are hearing the authentic sound of
their project. That is sort of experience you get from the Marenius.
Nothing is perfect and I do find the red leds on the S2 slightly too bright. If you must
have an external clock input or support for sample rates above 96 kHz then the Marenius
DAC—S2 is not for you. Otherwise that volume control sets off the stellar sound beautifully
and functionally this is classic kit. Great analogue sound from a digital source starts here.
Sweden, thank you for the music.

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