Aqua La Voce S3 Discrete arrival

Aqua La Voce S3 Discrete arrival

Italians Do it Better is a record label I’m a fan of. They were started by record producer/composer John David Padgett – better known as Johnny Jewel – and musician/artist Mike Simonetti in the mid-2000s to bring life to Jewel’s project albums/bands like the Chromatics and Glass Candy.

When I initially heard a few cuts off the Chromatics fourth album Night Drive several years ago I was all “this is classic Ital-disco… what a perfect name for their label.” I found out later that they were a Left Coast startup outta Portland and Los Angeles, but I still thought of them as a Euro-dance label duo who chain-smoked, sported thick sunglasses, were draped with scarves, rode Vespas and cavorted with models on beaches.

I was playing a Chromatic’s cut “Tick Of The Clock” through the new Aqua Acoustic Quality Voce S3 Discrete DAC so of course this was going through my head because the Voce is designed and built in Italy so that phrase “Italians Do It Better” immediately jumped into my head as I was playing the Chromatic tracks through the S3 Discrete. I'd been busy making sure the Voce was being fed a steady diet of disparate tunes for the last few days as it broke-in and it all just kept sounding better and better.

I don’t know about you, but my mind wanders when I’ve got a curated playlist going – and the S3 wasn’t putting out the type of sound that had me in a clinical-listening mindset. Just the opposite, it’s an incredibly musical DAC that is dead easy to set up and get going and started to really open up and lose the compressed soundstage and tonal flatness after about 100 hours of playback through it.

Musicality, resolution and realistic timbre to instruments seems to be the overarching focus of the engineering behind the proprietary FPGA-based digital decoding (with no digital filtering) and the discrete R2R ladder DAC design the newly-upgraded S3 now sports.

So far as I can tell from initial listening sessions with an Aurender N10 feeding the Voce a mix of MP3, WAVE, AIFF, FLAC and DSD files (USB specs are: Asynchronous USB module with resolution from 44.1kHz to 384kHz PCM up to 24 bits, DSD64 and DSD128), they seem to have nailed that focus, as every album I play through it now seems to open up and get more saturated with tonal color as the hours burn-in the signal path.

According to Aqua, in order to "protect the investment, owners of original La Voce can upgrade to La Voce S3 Discrete DAC. The update for the La Voce units of existing owners consists of the following hardware / firmware modifications:"

  • FPGA / decoding board cod. P608, high-resolution up to 384kHz PCM and DSD128
  • R2R Ladder resistors board cod. P607
  • USB board cod. P901 with new firmware
  • hardware modification of main board P601
  • hardware modification of I2S / USB board P603

Look for a full review in the coming weeks once I get another couple hundred hours on the unit and have a chat with some of the engineering minds behind the Voce S3’s upgrades at Acoustic Quality, as I want to know how they got so much bespoke technology into that chassis and have it come in at under $5,000 USD.

Via Luciano Manara, 17 - 20122 Milano

ednaz's picture

For awhile now, I've wondered whether R2R DACs, with their rows of precision matched resistors, are going to be more prone to age related failures than solid state DACs. As a long time computer technology architect, I've always found that "fewer boxes" (boxes = components, or applications) perform better and more reliably. It's one of the things that's held me back from R2R. While I can easily afford them now, and wouldn't have problems with repairs, that's not going to be true 10 years from now when I'm no longer working full time. And at that time, I'll be able to enjoy listening so much more than now...

Just curious - is the field too small for real world evidence of long term reliability?

UpTone Audio's picture

Not much to worry about. The resistors in an R2R network have virtually no current flowing through them. And given that they are high precision/high-reliabilty parts they will last forever.

What does age in most gear are the electrolytic caps in the power supplies--more so in power amplifiers. But that's not something unique to R2R DAC designs.

bmichels's picture

a direct comparaison between those 2 chalenger in the same price range will be very interesting ;-)

Rafe Arnott's picture
Unfortunately I do not have the Denafrips unit, as that review was done in New York by Alex.