Reviews

Review: HoloAudio May KTE DAC: A Sonic Masterpiece

Review: HoloAudio May KTE: A Sonic Masterpiece with Kitsuné Enhancement- Embark on an auditory journey with the HoloAudio May KTE, where innovation meets sonic brilliance and sophistication

Introduction:

In high-end audio, where precision and musicality converge, the HoloAudio May KTE DAC with Kitsuné modification emerges as a formidable contender. Venturing into uncharted territories of audio excellence, this flagship digital-to-analog converter hails from the distinguished Chinese manufacturer HoloAudio, renowned for pushing the boundaries of audio reproduction. The May KTE, entrusted to me by Magna Hifi, the esteemed Dutch importer and sales company responsible for Europe, promises an auditory journey elevated by its extensive tuning, bearing the Kitsuné Edition moniker, a testament to the meticulous enhancements undertaken by the US hi-fi specialist retailer KitsunéHifi. As a seasoned test editor, my encounters with cutting-edge audio equipment have often prompted reevaluations of personal reference setups. Will the May KTE, with its myriad upgrades and innovative features, once again redefine the standards and potentially become a new benchmark in my audio journey?

Delving into the intricate details of the May KTE, one encounters not just a digital-to-analog converter but a meticulously crafted piece of audio engineering. From hand-made transformers to discrete R2R ladder DAC design, this DAC embodies HoloAudio’s commitment to innovation and uncompromising sound quality. The allure of Kitsuné modifications, promising heightened musicality, further elevates expectations. As the May KTE takes its place in my listening environment, I embark on a sonic exploration, eager to uncover the nuances and subtleties that make this DAC a standout in the competitive landscape of high-fidelity audio.

HoloAudio stands as a beacon of innovation in high-end audio, recognized for its commitment to pushing the boundaries of digital-to-analog conversion. Founded by the visionary audio engineer Jeff Zhu, HoloAudio has garnered international acclaim for its meticulous craftsmanship and dedication to sonic excellence. Renowned for introducing the first ladder DAC capable of handling DSD natively, the company has carved a niche for itself in the competitive audio market. With an unwavering focus on discrete design, cutting-edge technologies, and unique features such as Kitsuné modifications, HoloAudio continues to captivate audiophiles seeking a transformative and immersive musical experience.

Specifications
digital inputsCoax RCA, Coax BNC, AES/EBU, optisch Toslink: PCM 44.1-192K (24bit), DSD 64X (DOP), USB: PCM 44.1K-1.536M (32bit), DSD 64-512X (DOP), DSD 64-1024X (Native), 2 x I2S: PCM 44.1K-1.536M (32bit), DSD 64-1024X
Analogue outputsFor PCM 48K NOS: THD+N 0.00017% @1K(-115dB), DNR 130dB, RCA: output voltage 2.9Vrms, impedance 27 ohms, XLR: output voltage 5.8Vrms, impedance 54 ohms, For DSD 128X: THD+N 0.00025% @ 1K(-112dB), DNR 115dB, RCA: output voltage 1.45Vrms, impedance 27 ohms, XLR: output voltage 2.9Vrms impedance 54 ohms
Power supply switchable220-230V 50/60Hz – fuse 2A SB 5x20mm, 110-115V 50/60Hz – fuse 4A SB 5x20mm
DimensionsPower supply and DAC housing each: 430x300x55mm (W x L x H) without protruding parts
Weight18kg
Power consumption60 Watt
Preis6.350 Euro

Initial Impressions:

Upon first encountering the HoloAudio May KTE with Kitsuné modification, my initial impressions were marked by anticipation and curiosity, fueled by the DAC’s reputation and the promise of enhanced musicality through the Kitsuné Edition. As a seasoned test editor, I approached the evaluation with skepticism tempered by an openness to the possibility of being musically captivated. The May KTE’s sleek and elegantly crafted exterior, adorned with CNC-machined black and copper components, immediately conveyed a sense of precision and attention to detail. Connecting it to my audio system, the device’s dual monaural design, with separate housings for the power supply and converter, hinted at a commitment to minimizing interference and maximizing audio purity.

Navigating through the initial setup and exploring the extensive features, such as the selectable I2S contact assignments and the PLL function for jitter reduction, added to the anticipation. The discreet black-and-white matrix display, providing real-time information on PCM or DSD resolution, contributed to the overall sense of sophistication. As I prepared for the first listening session, I couldn’t help but acknowledge the subtle excitement – a blend of skepticism and eagerness to unravel the sonic character that the May KTE might unveil. It was in this atmosphere of heightened expectation that the DAC took its place in my audio sanctuary, ready to unfold its sonic signature and potentially challenge my existing reference setup

Noteworthy Upgrades:

The Noteworthy Upgrades implemented in the HoloAudio May KTE with Kitsuné modification contribute to its premium status and promise heightened audio refinement. The introduction of two hand-made 100-watt O-type transformers, intricately wound with 1.5 millimeters of pure silver wire, represents a departure from conventional toroidal transformers. This shift generates a more homogeneous magnetic field, laying the groundwork for the May KTE’s acclaimed low-noise performance. Additionally, the hand-selected DAC modules, distinguished by their exceptional measured values, aim to elevate the dynamics of the DAC, ensuring a nuanced and responsive musical reproduction.

The CNC-machined black/copper DAC module covers, adorned with laser-engraved Kitsuné logos, not only contribute to the device’s aesthetic elegance but also hint at the precision of crafting each unit. Including pure silver-plated and rhodium-plated Faston connectors at the IEC input underlines a commitment to signal integrity and high-quality connections. Furthermore, incorporating a Red Nano fuse with gold/silver, graphene, and quartz filter materials aims to enhance the overall stability and purity of the electrical signal. The capacitors, a critical component in any audio device, undergo an upgrade to KTE capacitors, replacing the standard Vishay capacitors, with claims of delivering outstanding voice production and substantial improvements over the Level 1 and Level 2 models. Finally, the custom-built HoloAudio 1000 volt 1 microfarad capacitors replace the Mundorf Evo silver/gold capacitors, contributing to the May KTE’s intricate and refined signal path. These meticulous upgrades collectively justify the higher purchase price of the May KTE, promising an audiophile experience that transcends the ordinary.

Technical Overview:

The Technical Overview of the HoloAudio May KTE with Kitsuné modification reveals a meticulous approach to digital-to-analog conversion, showcasing the innovation and engineering prowess that define the device. At the core of its design philosophy is a discrete R2R ladder DAC, a signature feature of HoloAudio’s commitment to uncompromising audio quality. Crafted under Jeff Zhu, a pioneer in the field, the May KTE boasts the distinction of being the first ladder DAC capable of truly handling DSD natively.

The May KTE’s architecture incorporates separate patented R2R D/A converters for PCM and DSD, employing Jeff Zhu’s patented “Linear Compensation” technology, shielded with copper for optimal performance. The double monaural design, with distinct power supply and converter housings, further attests to the company’s dedication to minimizing interference and preserving signal purity. Notably, the May KTE operates without oversampling, aligning with HoloAudio’s preference for a purist approach to audio reproduction. Despite this, users can choose from three different oversampling options through the menu, allowing for a personalized listening experience.

The Phase Locked Loop (PLL) function, a critical aspect of the May KTE’s technical repertoire, employs Crystek VXCO clocks to re-clock every incoming digital signal. This meticulous clocking system and integration of a FIFO buffer (First In, First Out) for synchronization helps mitigate jitter issues associated with different digital interfaces. The device supports native DSD 1024 and PCM up to 1536 kilohertz, showcasing its versatility and capability to handle high-resolution audio formats. The May KTE also pays special attention to USB connectivity, incorporating a high-quality USB port and utilizing two super-fast XMOS xu208 controller chips. This intricate technical framework, along with constant attention to clock precision, results in a DAC that seeks to deliver not just accuracy but an engaging and immersive listening experience.

Functionality and Connectivity:

The HoloAudio May KTE’s functionality and connectivity options testify to its user-centric design and versatility within audiophile setups. Offering a comprehensive range of features, the device seamlessly integrates into diverse audio systems, providing users with various customization possibilities.

The device’s I2S contact assignment offers four alternatives in the basic device settings, expanding the range of connectable sources and accommodating different system configurations. The inclusion of this flexibility underscores HoloAudio’s commitment to user convenience. Additionally, adjusting the phase of the two balanced XLR outputs adds a nuanced touch, allowing users to fine-tune the audio output in rare instances where phase adjustments are necessary for optimal performance.

The Phase Locked Loop (PLL) function, a unique feature of the May KTE, deserves special mention in the realm of functionality. This technology, utilizing Crystek VXCO clocks and a FIFO buffer, addresses jitter concerns associated with digital signals. By re-clocking every incoming digital signal, the May KTE ensures a stable and jitter-free audio stream, contributing to the overall clarity and precision of the audio output.

Beyond its technical intricacies, the May KTE caters to user preferences by providing three different oversampling options through the menu. This flexibility allows audiophiles to tailor the device’s performance to suit their tastes, showcasing HoloAudio’s commitment to delivering a personalized and enjoyable listening experience.

Including a high-contrast black-and-white matrix display enhances the device’s usability, providing users with real-time information on PCM or DSD resolution. This display, coupled with the intuitive menu navigation, adds a layer of user-friendliness to the May KTE’s functionality.

Moreover, the availability of multiple input options, such as I2S, S/PDIF, AES/EBU, and USB, ensures compatibility with various source components. The thoughtful consideration given to these connectivity options highlights HoloAudio’s dedication to accommodating diverse audio systems and preferences. Whether utilizing the CNC-milled aluminum remote control or the discreet display, the May KTE’s controls are straightforward, enhancing the overall user experience. The device’s functionality and connectivity options align seamlessly with its technical capabilities, delivering a versatile, user-friendly audio solution for discerning enthusiasts.

Build and Design:

The build and design of the HoloAudio May KTE with Kitsuné modification exemplify a harmonious blend of aesthetic elegance and meticulous engineering. Crafted with precision and attention to detail, the May KTE stands as a testament to the company’s commitment to sonic excellence and refined visual appeal.

The dual monaural design, with distinct enclosures for the power supply and the converter, is a striking architectural choice. This separation reflects an engineering approach focused on minimizing interference and adds a touch of sophistication to the device’s overall aesthetic. The CNC-machined black and copper components contribute to the unit’s visual appeal and symbolize the robustness of its construction.

The copper sides and feet not only serve an aesthetic purpose but also potentially aid in grounding and shielding, contributing to the overall performance of the DAC. The attention to detail extends to the DAC module covers, which are CNC-machined and feature laser-engraved Kitsuné logos, emphasizing a level of craftsmanship beyond mere functionality.

The discreet black and white matrix display, constantly providing information on PCM or DSD resolution, adds a modern touch to the classic design. The display and the slightly clattering copper buttons on the remote control offer users the flexibility to toggle between settings effortlessly. For purists, the ability to switch off the display further underscores the device’s commitment to accommodating varied user preferences.

The May KTE’s compact yet sturdy construction makes it a visually appealing addition to any audio setup. The copper accents balance elegance and functionality when paired with the CNC-milled components. The thoughtful design choices, from the layout of the components to the arrangement of connectors, contribute to a user-friendly experience without compromising on aesthetic appeal.

In essence, the build and design of the HoloAudio May KTE reflect a commitment to excellence, not just in audio engineering but also in the meticulous crafting of a device that seamlessly integrates into the audio enthusiast’s environment while making a bold visual statement.

Listening experience

The listening experience with the HoloAudio May KTE transcends mere auditioning; it is a captivating journey through the intricacies of sound reproduction, revealing the device’s prowess in delivering an immersive and emotionally resonant sonic landscape. Connecting the May KTE to my audio system, I was immediately struck by its ability to convey the subtleties and nuances of my favorite music with exceptional clarity and precision.

Choosing the I2S input, known for its superior performance in my system, the May KTE exhibited a remarkable balance of crispness and warmth. With its intricate design, the Audioquest Dragon 48 HDMI cable brought out the best in the I2S connection. It resulted in a tonal richness that enhanced fundamental tone intensity and provided a realistic reproduction of voices across various pitches. The DAC’s compatibility with different cables, including the Audioquest Diamond USB and Habst USB Ultra-3, offered ample opportunities for fine-tuning, allowing me to tailor the sound to my preferences.

While the USB connection showcased the high-quality USB port and two super-fast XMOS xu208 controller chips, it was the I2S interface that stood out, rendering a more concise and warmer sonic profile. The May KTE’s ability to discern tonal differences between cables was evident, making the sound test an engaging exploration of sonic possibilities. The device’s inclination toward clarity, warmth, and resolution across the entire frequency spectrum underscored its musicality.

Comparative listening sessions, including reference DACs like the PS Audio DirecstreamDAC and the Soulnote D-2, revealed the May KTE’s unique sonic character. While the Soulnote emphasized fundamental tone energy, the May KTE excelled in transparency and detail retrieval. The May KTE’s spatial imaging, dynamic capabilities, and finely drawn details set it apart, providing an immersive experience that captivated me for extended listening sessions.

As the May KTE continued its break-in period, it showcased a gradual improvement in warmth and fundamental energy without compromising the remarkable nuances and spatial performance. The DAC’s ability to arrange instruments with realism in a wide, structured stage left an indelible impression. From the delicate nuances of Christian Li’s solo violin to the powerful bass performances of the Ray Brown Trio, the May KTE exhibited a unique balance of precision and musicality.

Dynamic tracks like Johnny Cash’s “A Man Comes Around” showcased the May KTE’s ability to handle intricate details against a quiet background, delivering a weightless and dynamically striking musical experience. The device’s finesse in reproducing orchestral music, like Robert Schumann’s symphonies, underscored its transparency and spatial order.

In conclusion, the HoloAudio May KTE met and exceeded expectations during the listening experience and sound test. Its evolving musicality, combined with unparalleled spatial performance and resolution, established it as a standout DAC capable of delivering an audio experience that is technically impressive and emotionally moving. The May KTE’s ability to reveal the depth and richness of every musical note makes it a compelling choice for audiophiles seeking a transformative and enduring listening experience.

Comparisons and Final Thoughts:

In high-end digital-to-analog converters, the HoloAudio May KTE with Kitsuné modification stands out through its unique features and distinctive sonic character. Compared to other DACs, such as the PS Audio DirecstreamDAC and the Soulnote D-2, the May KTE’s individuality becomes more pronounced.

One of the standout features of the May KTE is its discrete R2R ladder DAC design, a hallmark of HoloAudio’s commitment to audio purity. Going beyond conventional DAC architectures, the May KTE implements separate patented R2R D/A converters for PCM and DSD, featuring Jeff Zhu’s patented “Linear Compensation” technology. This innovation sets the May KTE apart from competitors and contributes to its ability to handle DSD natively, a rare feat in the DAC landscape.

The Kitsuné Edition modifications further distinguish the May KTE, with hand-made 100-watt O-type transformers wound with pure silver wire. These transformers, meticulously selected DAC modules, and upgraded capacitors elevate the device’s musicality. The attention to detail in the CNC-machined black/copper DAC module covers, engraved with Kitsuné logos, adds a touch of sophistication to the design.

Regarding connectivity, the May KTE offers flexibility with four I2S contact assignment alternatives, accommodating different system configurations. The Phase Locked Loop (PLL) function, utilizing Crystek VXCO clocks and a FIFO buffer, addresses jitter concerns and ensures stable clocking for incoming digital signals. The device supports native DSD 1024 and PCM up to 1536 kilohertz, catering to audiophiles seeking high-resolution audio playback.

During comparative listening sessions, the May KTE’s sonic performance outshines, with an exceptional balance of clarity and warmth. Its unique ability to discern tonal differences between cables, especially in the I2S connection, allows for fine-tuning and customization according to individual preferences. The May KTE’s evolving musicality during the break-in period and its captivating spatial imaging and dynamic capabilities position it as a distinctive choice for discerning listeners.

In summary, the HoloAudio May KTE distinguishes itself through innovative features, meticulous craftsmanship, and a sonic signature that sets it apart in the competitive landscape of high-end DACs. Its discrete design, Kitsuné Edition enhancements, and attention to sonic details contribute to an unparalleled listening experience, making it a noteworthy contender for audiophiles seeking a DAC that transcends the ordinary.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, the HoloAudio May KTE with Kitsuné modification is a formidable testament to the fusion of engineering precision and sonic artistry. Its discrete R2R ladder DAC design and Kitsuné Edition enhancements set it apart in high-end digital-to-analog converters. The unique combination of hand-made transformers selected DAC modules, and upgraded capacitors attests to HoloAudio’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of audio quality. The May KTE’s ability to handle DSD natively, with its customizable features like I2S contact assignment and selectable oversampling options, positions it as a versatile and powerful component within any audiophile setup.

Beyond its technical prowess, the May KTE delivers a listening experience that transcends expectations. The device’s evolving musicality, captivating spatial imaging, and dynamic capabilities create an immersive journey through the intricacies of sound. Its ability to reveal the subtle nuances of instruments and voices, coupled with a finely balanced tonal profile, establishes it as a standout choice for those seeking accuracy and a deeply engaging and emotionally resonant audio experience. The HoloAudio May KTE, with its meticulous craftsmanship and distinctive sonic signature, emerges as a compelling option for audiophiles who appreciate the marriage of technological innovation and musical artistry in their pursuit of sonic excellence.

Reasons to Consider Buying the HoloAudio May KTE:

  1. Sonic Excellence: The May KTE’s discrete R2R ladder DAC design, coupled with Kitsuné Edition enhancements, delivers an exceptional listening experience characterized by clarity, warmth, and an immersive soundstage. Its ability to handle DSD natively and the meticulous selection of components contribute to a sonic signature that stands out in the high-end DAC landscape.
  2. Customization and Flexibility: With selectable oversampling options, I2S contact assignment alternatives, and versatile connectivity options, the May KTE offers a high degree of customization. This flexibility allows users to tailor the device’s performance to match their preferences and system configurations.
  3. Meticulous Craftsmanship: The device’s build and design, featuring hand-made transformers, CNC-machined components, and engraved Kitsuné logos, showcase a level of craftsmanship that goes beyond functional excellence. The attention to detail in aesthetics and engineering reflects HoloAudio’s commitment to creating a premium audio component.
  4. Innovative Features: Including unique features like the Phase Locked Loop (PLL) function, utilizing Crystek VXCO clocks and a FIFO buffer, addresses jitter concerns and contributes to stable clocking for incoming digital signals. These innovative features demonstrate a commitment to cutting-edge technology.

Considerations for Not Buying the HoloAudio May KTE:

  1. Price: The May KTE, with its premium features and Kitsuné Edition enhancements, comes at a higher price point. The investment may be a significant consideration for budget-conscious buyers, especially if their audio system does not necessitate the advanced features offered by the May KTE.
  2. Complexity for Novice Users: The extensive customization options and technical features may be overwhelming for those new to high-end audio. Novice users who prefer a straightforward setup without delving into advanced settings might find the May KTE’s functionality more complex than necessary.
  3. Availability of Comparable Alternatives: Depending on regional availability and personal preferences, buyers may find other DACs with similar performance characteristics at a potentially lower cost. Exploring the broader market to ensure the May KTE aligns with specific needs and preferences is advisable.

In summary, the HoloAudio May KTE presents a compelling choice for audiophiles seeking a top-tier DAC with customizable features and an exceptional sonic signature. However, considerations such as budget constraints, simplicity of use, and alternative options in the market should be weighed before making a purchase decision.