Aqua Formula xHD Optologic Modular DAC Page 2

An infrared remote handset is optional, but the DAC also offers an RS232 port to the rear for control in custom installations. Or, if you're using it with a computer, you can just select the USB input and forget all about the DAC – yes, all £12k-ish of it! What you're unlikely to forget is the performance of the Formula xHD. I'm not sure of the provenance of the review sample, aside from its grilling on PM's test bench, but after a week or so of gentle use in my system to let all those components warm up, when serious listening began I was both amazed and charmed by the music singing forth.

sqnote Whipcrack Fast
Opening the listening with pianist Anna Fedorova's latest Rachmaninov [Channel Classics CCS42620; DSD128/DXD] I was struck by the clarity with which the Jared Sacks recording was conveyed via the Aqua DAC, especially in the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Not only is the presentation whipcrack fast where required, with a lovely sense of the attack and decay of each note, but the music is supremely easy to enjoy – there's nothing mechanical or artificial going on here – with a fluid, organic quality, and a real glow of the concert-hall ambience.

Even more, this DAC delivers the fluency and emotion of Fedorova's playing in magnificent manner, while giving the playing of the Symphony Orchestra St Gallen, here 'on their home ground' under Modestas Pitrenas, wonderful weight and drama. Nor do you need to stick to 'hi-res' recordings to hear what the Formula xHD can do. Playing Heart Of A Woman, Etta James's somewhat glossed-up 1999 album of love songs [Private Music/RCA 01005821802], it's striking how the quality of the voice shines through, even against the lavish arrangements here. It's hardly classic Etta, but it's still something of a spine-tingler in the way the DAC brings out all the scale of the accompanying forces while still retaining focus where it should be.

Magical Experience
Streaming the David Bowie Is it Any Wonder EP via Qobuz Studio [n/a cat no], the Formula xHD again does that intimacy thing with 'I Can't Read' before slamming and snarling into 'Stay' and then delivering Eno's now-remastered funked-up remix of 'The Man Who Sold The World' with gloriously deep bass and skittering beats behind a close-up yet reverberant view of Bowie's voice. The ability of the Aqua DAC to get deep into a recording and deliver it with crystalline clarity makes it a magical experience.


Whether fed in from a PC via USB, or using the 'conventional' digital inputs, the Formula xHD does a superb job with CD-quality music, even opening up the muddy mix of Billie Eilish's dense When We All Fall Asleep… [Interscope/Polydor 7742762]. I'm still not sure this display of youthful precocity is yet a set with which to fall in love, but at least through the Aqua DAC there's a greater awareness of what's going on within the production.

There are no such qualms with the latest remaster of The Tallis Scholars' recording of the Allegri Miserere [Gimmell CDGIM639; 192kHz/24-bit], for the combination of the 2019 wash 'n' brush-up and the sheer clarity of the converter brings us very close to 'surround sound' without the extra speakers. The voices soar into the lushly-captured Merton College Chapel acoustic, and Alison Stamp's top notes sound easier than ever. Just close your eyes and wonder at it all.

Similarly, the simplicity of Raís, a new album on the 'one take' Just Listen label [JL010; DSD 128], shows the ability of the Formula xHD to thrill with the sheer realism of voices and instruments, whether with the tender numbers or the more dance-influenced tracks, the trio set up and close-miked in a large space – as is all too apparent.

Due to the 'no edits' recording technique, the music has an immediacy that's infectious, and this is matched with a sound to die for, both recorded and reproduced. Dynamics are striking but never irritatingly so. This just sounds like real music, as if you are sitting in front of the performers listening, from each breath and phrase of vocalist Kris Berry to the way pianist Randal Corsen and guitarist Jean-Jacques Rojer are balancing their instruments with the voice.

It's simply a performance, captured, and the Formula xHD brings out all of that sense of listening in, rather than hearing something manufactured in a mix.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
The Formula xHD looks costly for a relatively 'featureless' DAC – even one hand-assembled – but then you listen, and it all makes sense. This DAC is revealing without being trying, lush but not bloomy, and above all capable of a sound so musical, whatever the source, that it's impossible not to be captivated. It'll breathe new life into old recordings, and have you exploring many new ones. It's simply magnificent.

AQ Technologies S.r.l.
Milan, Italy
Supplied by: Elite Audio Ltd, Fife
01334 570 666