Forget Hi Fi, Remember Music...
Converting the 1's and 0's into something truly organic and natural sounding...
A brief description
Abacus is five input digital-to-analogue convertor from Budapest-based Heed Audio. Constructed in a simple but smart and solidly built chassis matching that of Heed's Elixir integrated amplifier, Abacus has a typically minimalist european aesthetic. No unnecessary functions distract from the task in hand - being the gateway between the digital and analogue worlds.
For the digital conversion, Abacus uses an AKM chip and converts PCM audio up to 32bit/384KHz and DSD128 via USB, and 24/192 PCM via its S/PDIF inputs. Abacus accepts up to 5 devices simultaneously via coaxial RCA and BNC, two optical Toslink, and USB inputs.
There are DACs around this price point with more impressive 'numbers' on paper, but more important to the overall sound quality than the digital conversion itself is the implementation of the analogue output stage as well as the quality of the power supply. These are things Heed Audio have always placed a lot of emphasis on, and a look inside the Abacus reveals this is evident once again.
A generous and well designed linear power supply, fully discrete analogue circuit design, and isolated digital and analogue sections
Living with Abacus
In use, Abacus couldn't be simpler. The digital inputs are handily numbered 1-5 on the back panel to match the input number of the selector buttons on the front panel. A simple LED display inside the circular window shows the current selected input and resolution rate. A remote control provides total control of the Abacus from the sofa (that sounds like a basic but it's something that is not available to all standalone DAC's even at this price). There's not much more to add here - once the Abacus is in place in your system it's easy just to forget it's there, it's also easy to forget that you are listening to digital music at all - we will come to that.
A tidy rear panel with numbered inputs corresponding to the input buttons on the front. Note the input 6 labelled "Aux Card" for an optional streaming module...
A remote control is supplied to switch inputs and select between digital filters (4 filter options for PCM, 2 for DSD), as well as volume and input selector buttons for the amplifier and CD player controls.
Abacus not only matches Elixir cosmetically; the two pieces work together with a synergy that elevates the whole performance beyond their price point.
Having lived with Abacus for a long time now and tested it in a variety of different systems in the shop and at home (including some highly revealing ones), I find it's a sound that never becomes fatiguing. That's not to say that it takes the edge off music; there's still bite when required. But any trace of digital "glare" is absent.
Anyone familiar with Heed's Quasar phono stage will recognise similar traits in the Abacus. There's warmth and body; the sound is thick yet clear and with no sense of sluggishness. There's a great amount of depth and detail revealing lots of textural information without ever sounding "clinical". There's also a lovely sense of space conjured up, a palpable presence - typically Heed.
Overall it's a well-balanced and cohesive presentation, importantly very forgiving of lesser quality digital formats, yet will impress when fed with the highest quality files. No part of the frequency range is overblown or overemphasised and it manages to skilfully walk the fine line between relaxation/sophistication and excitement. Ultimately, in a word, "natural" - that may be a cliched term in the audio world, but I can't find another that sums up the Abacus better. It simply gets out of the way and allows you to "forget hifi, remember music", as is the Heed way.
Who is it for?
Audiophiles looking for the most precise, technically accomplished or sharply detailed sound at this price point can find plenty of alternatives that will do the job. Whilst definitely not lacking in the "hi-fi" technicalities you would expect of a premium DAC, what Abacus offers to music lovers is that magic touch of natural analogue warmth, a liquid musical flow and a depth and cohesion that is more about enjoying the bigger musical picture than the micro details of what is going on within it. And as Heed themselves ask;
PRECISE, NEUTRAL AND UNCOLOURED MUSIC? SHOULDN’T IT BE THRILLING, ENCHANTING OR SPELLBINDING? JUST FOR THE SHEER PLEASURE OF IT…
Available in silver or graphite black, PVP €1.350. To view the Abacus product page, click here.
Abacus is also available as a package with the Elixir amplifier for a special price.
As partners from the same line in Heed's product range it's no surprise that there's a fantastic synergy between Abacus and Elixir that makes this compact two box system punch far above it's price point. Together, these provide all the digital and analogue inputs one could need, a high quality integrated phono stage and an exceptional headphone amplifier, as well as the Elixir's effortless power to drive any reasonable pair of loudspeakers with ease (thanks to Heed's "Transcap" technology that 50 watt power rating is not to be underestimated...) The only thing lacking is wireless streaming*, but that can be easily remedied. A device like the Zen Blue from iFi is a good option, making available all of the highest quality Bluetooth formats to stream from your phone, tablet, or computer.
The quality and character of Abacus is such however that it will slot right in to practically any system.
*Abacus may yet see a plugin Bluetooth module available for that input number 6...