Ferrum ERCO DAC/Headphone Preamp Page 2

This filter is part of a suite of digital management strategies here: the team has written its own code, running on an ARM processor, to optimise the performance of all the digital ports (USB, coaxial and optical S/PDIF) and handle the MQA functions – after all, the HEM team was involved with the manufacture of Mytek DACs. Meanwhile, the audio path is fully balanced from the DAC to the modified IC amplification used for the outputs, which is rated at 300mW/300ohm and 1.7W/50ohm at the unbalanced outputs, and 1.2W and 6.1W into the same impedances via the balanced feed.

sqnote Clear Your Desk
Simple is as simple does, and the beauty of the ERCO is that it's dead easy to set up and use, whether in desktop or main system applications, and certainly compact enough, at less than 22cm wide, 20.6cm deep and a mere 5cm tall, to be parked in one's workspace. It's also beautifully packaged and the quick start guide tells you all you need to know, which is good – given the performance on offer here, you'll want to get into it as soon as possible.

Using the ERCO as a DAC into various preamps and integrateds, and using unity (0dB) gain on a couple of occasions so the Ferrum's volume control was doing all the work, it gave a very good account of itself, with a wide-open, detailed sound possessing plenty of sparkle and heft. Playing a stupidly extended Carl Palmer drum solo from the recently released The Silent Choir ELP live set [ELP/Lo-Light Records download] – the version of 'Rondo' runs the better part of 20 minutes – the ERCO made the most of the slightly murky 1971 live sound. Palmer's drums thundered and cymbals sizzled, as they should, while switching to headphones realised a sound that was even gutsier and tightly paced, especially when running in balanced mode through my Oppo PM<-1s [HFN Jul '14].

The sound here is all about control, effortless power – as one might expect from the output figures unearthed in PM's independent testing – and clean refinement. Well, unless the music is a bit on the grubby side, and needs some grit served up with all that hi-fi stuff, in which case that's just what the ERCO delivers. However, play it sweet and low with the likes of Barbara Hannigan's Dance With Me set with the Ludwig Orchestra [Alpha Records ALPHA790; 96kHz/24-bit download] and the amplifier settles into a wonderfully lush and nostalgic shimmer that's quite captivating.


Single-ended (RCA) ins/outs and balanced (XLR) outs are joined by optical (192kHz), coaxial (96kHz) and USB-C (384kHz/DSD256) digital ins, plus a brightness control for the fascia logo and PSU ins for default 'wall-wart' and Hypsos DC supplies

Hannigan's voice was beautifully resolved, with every element of her breathing and phrasing readily apparent, while the orchestra had a rich 'palm court' sheen to it as it slid from jive to samba to a glorious Viennese waltz on the version of 'I Could Have Danced All Night'. Even without any crossfeed trickery here there was a lovely sense of soundstaging and presence via headphones, helped by the airy sound of Oppo's planar magnetics. It's a fabulously old-fashioned-sounding set, and the ERCO just lapped it up.

Cut Glass
Change pace to the Filharmonie Brno recording of Philip Glass's 12th Symphony [Orange Mountain Music, Bandcamp download; 96kHz/24-bit], inspired by David Bowie's Lodger album and with the orchestra complemented by organ and vocals, and the ERCO does an excellent job of opening up the dense scoring. Those cascading rhythms were tackled with confidence as it charged through the big, percussive sound of the fourth movement – 'Boys Keep Swinging' – bolstered by its resolution and dynamic power.

It's all rather strangely magnificent, and the amp is just as adept when it drops down a couple of gears to the intimate sound of Doug MacLeod's bluesy A Soul To Claim album [Reference Recordings, Fresh! FR-746; 44.1kHz/24-bit]. The ERCO focused on MacLeod's slightly careworn voice while punching out the backing band behind him. The sense of the singer this 'up close and personal' was uncanny. 'Smokey Nights And Faded Blues' sounded just as the title suggests it should, its lazy chug driven on by the clarity of the ERCO, before the album spun into the 'lonesome whistle' opening of 'Only Porter At The Station'.

I've been giving the recent Sinfonia of London/John Wilson set of Ravel orchestral works [Chandos CHAN 5280; 96kHz/24-bit] quite a lot of play of late, simply because both the performances by Wilson's hand-picked band and the recording itself are sensational, as is clear from the slow build to a crashing finish of opener 'La Valse'. And in the hands of Ferrum's ERCO and a decent pair of headphones, it sounded just as wonderful as it has on the rare occasion – house empty – when I've played it through my main system at satisfyingly high levels.

Breathe Easy
Without any messing about or manipulation, this amplifier just let the music breathe, and allowed the huge dynamics to thrill, right the way through to the climax of the closing 'Boléro', which was delivered with a drama way beyond just being 'that Torvill and Dean stuff'!

Great music, played superbly, and delivered with real impact and style – what more could one want?

Hi-Fi News Verdict
The high-end DAC/headphone amp sector isn't exactly a barren landscape, but Ferrum's ERCO sits at the top of the hill. Its sound is as finely detailed as it's weighty and dynamic, typically driving headphones to stunning effect whether with gritty blues or whirling orchestral strings. There's focus, finesse and control here when required, but it's just as adept at slamming out rock with a ferrum-clad fist!

Supplied by: Signature Audio Systems
07738 007776