Lake Superior

G-Point Audio are one of the coolest distributors around. They give the small boutique companies a chance and every brand in the portfolio sounds good as well. Why would Greg want it any other way? That’s why when Greg told me this DAC was something I should review, I was expecting to be impressed by its sonic performance. Having started to trudge through a section of the high-end DACs on offer I have started to get a feel for the things manufacturers try (or do) achieve and while each to their own they have unique characters, nothing has stood quite as considerably away from the rest as the COS. More importantly, I am absolutely swept away by its sound.

This is a DAC of the highest performance without a doubt but does so very much in its own fashion. It is the most tranquil component I have ever used in an audio system. Its calmness never exerts itself and this directly effects the nature of you’re following audio chain. I bet you could have some abruptly shouty single driver speakers at the end and still maintain a snippet of calmness in the sound. The way it outputs analogue is in the upmost state of liquidity. Not that syrupy thick sort either, the light, grainless stuff. Music comes through seamlessly.

The D1 also excels when it comes to maintaining composure in its dynamic range. While it doesn’t have a hint of forwardness, this DAC can snap in full blown life from any simple passage in a way that surely will leave your hairs standing on end. Listening to Jeff Buckley’s 24/192 recording of the classic Hallelujah you consciously notice how he becomes more emotionally involved with the lyrics, his voice gaining power throughout. It is also how this power and rawness can contrast with how this manages just one or two instruments playing, surrounded by complete silence. No DAC I put up in comparison quite compared when it come to how silence and space were used.

Comparing to other DACs becomes an odd task because its presentation is so totally COS. I mean compared to my totaldac it may seem like things could be close. Both are more laid back presentations compared to the likes of Lampizator models with their harder, more in your face sonic but while the totaldac leans towards that classic tubey thickness with that NOS inspired laid back treble, COS stays way more level headed throughout the frequencies. While its bass is less gooey and warm, it has a much more empowering way of getting deep and creating an ambience from that range. Lampizators Lite 7 has a snappier, quick punch bass in comparison. The totaldac does still have its own rewarding properties over the COS, such as a grander scale and a more emotive midrange. Emotions do come at the cost of some airiness, which the COS has more of. That will be because its treble is not near as rolled off. Putting it back up against the Lite 7 that has a more explosive sense of dynamic, but does not do with the same subtlety and it always sounds quite excited, not doing the quiet sections near as precisely. I must say the fact the D1 is softer, in general, does probably help.

I am blown away by this in terms of sound. It goes toe to toe with my totaldac in overall performance while also being a more impartial component, not being as exaggerated in warmth or treble roll off, while still having a very relaxed analogue sound.

A Little Harder

COS’s newly released junior model was clearly going to have some expectations on its shoulders from users who had previously heard the D1 because as we have already established, it is a special product. I loved that I was able to plug my Sennheiser HD800s and ZMF Blackwoods directly into the amp via my dual 3 pin XLR Double Helix Cables Complement 4 in opposed to having to find some adapter like most of these all in one solution limited to a single ended output or even the more common 4 pin XLR. What was immediately apparent was that it had no problem powering headphones. That is both the demanding planar from ZMF and the high impedance Sennheiser.

With the task of gaining driver control out of mind, we can concentrate more on how this sounds as a DAC and headphone amp combination. The sound seems to be a very clean one but with my HD800s quickly become a little cold and sterile. While that will always be more of a risk with the notorious HD800 and would not even cause concern if you was plugging in some type of Audeze creation, it does still act transparent to the qualities of this product. It seems that this product has harder edges paired with a more no-nonsense decay. What I said for the decay especially goes for the low end. An area that is hard but doesn’t linger long enough for a completely realistic timbre. That being said this does all lead for a very clear and detailed listen regardless of what headphones you are using.

Using the line out of the H1 I was able to compare the amp section solely to a few amps. Now, these were stand alone amps without DAC sections such as a single Questyle CMA800R and Harmony Design’s Ear 909 but both provided a much vaster headspace as well as a richness to the sound. It did seem like a considerable upgrade to add a dedicated amp. While that does leave this as a device that can be built upon in the future by investing in another amp, I have found that the Questyle CMA800R with a sub £1000 DAC end up sounding still rather favourable to the H1, just with the hassle of two units. Beyond that, you even have the similarly priced CMA800I which shares the CMA800Rs analogue section and comes boasting a Wolfson WM8741 based digital section. It does seem that with the H1 while it has been equipped with a suitably powerful amp with an impressive balanced drive feature, it is still in the DAC section their talents lie best.

I thought to really see what the DAC of this was capable of I would compare it with its much bigger DAC sibling. While the price between these two products is not exactly fair, I thought I would at least limit the D1 to its single ended output so it couldn’t take a quick leap ahead of the bat. While these aren’t competing products in any way, I thought I would just get a feel to how the DAC section stack up against one another. I mean they do follow a similar architecture. One area they do have quite sporadic differences would be in power supply and that could be a reason as to why the D1s dead silent background, makes the H1 feel a little less blank. Oddly enough I found the H1 DAC section to have a much more weighty mid bass than when I was using my cans with it leading me to question whether they missed a trick there but it was still apparent that the D1 had the much fuller bass overall. The H1 also has a more tinny vibe to its high end, not to the level of Yulong’s DA8 or North Star Design’s Incanto but it didn’t have that complete honesty in the notes. Perhaps un-surprisingly though there was, for the most part, some nice similarities. However, I am sad to report that the H1 doesn’t possess that amazing fluidity and lack of grain the D1 does nor does it have the same individuality. What this means is that the H1 is a very good DAC, performing very admirably for two and a half grand but some of the differences it has between the D1 really do show the price and the component differences. Not that you should expect any less.

Moving to sing the DAC’s praises a little more highly and it really was an impressive listen. It easily bested any all in one unit I have tested in recent times and not only had a more complete sounding DAC section than Exogal’s Comet but its headphone output was much better than that. Let me make it clear that the analogue section wasn’t shabby, it just got bested by some of the best dedicated headphone amps out there and still was a much more powerful solution than the headphone sections in some other top DACs like Antelope’s Zodiac Gold, the Comet as aforementioned and a DAC that I recently reviewed but now shall not be named….

Concluding

As complete products, I have two conclusions, each to their own. For craftsmanship and design, I only have one thought for them both. That is that COS are perhaps making the finest chassis I have had in my home. It is flawless in its finish and it has no ugly screws or bolts littering its chiselled aesthetic. Whats more I can confidently say these aren’t just lookers, they are the real deal inside and out, a true beauty on every plane.

That being said the D1 is a straight up amazing product. It has a very special presentation that makes it really stand out from the crown of top tier DACs and while it may not boast quite the feature set of some of its foes, it still heralds a great pre amp ability on top of being a great line level DAC. I am so impressed by this product in absolutely every area of it that I can’t not give it our Good Buy award. There would be an injustice if I was to overlook doing that.

H1 is a nice idea, with extra appeal to the lesser budgets and headphone crowd. However, it just lacks some versatility without line balanced outputs and even analogue inputs. On top of that beyond workmanship, it doesn’t have anything to really separate it from the rest, even the design is not as out there as D1. The DAC is very nice while the amp is a bit weaker than competitive models. It still will do justice with a lot of headphones and I am sure you will really enjoy its performance, but it is not the last say in this domain and in my opinion, is just another option to be considered.

Sonny Trigg
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  • KM YONG

    It’s really interesting that you compared the H1 with the Exogal Comet. I’m looking at both this DAC as well, and is likely going to use it to drive Stax amp-headphones. Would you give a more detailed comparison between the two?

    • Comparing the line outs of the two I find the H1 to be firmer and quicker, with less mid bass slam but a slightly more reaching depth. I also find the H1 to be the clearer and more open sounding DAC. I think the COS is technically better! That being said as Stax are generally quite open and quick to begin with, you may like that extra richness and warmth from the Comet?