Exogal – Out of this Galaxy
Retail price in the Netherlands: 2590 euro
Exogal was founded in 2013 by audio industry veterans who have worked for some of the biggest names in the industry. The founders Jim Kinne, Larry Jacoby, Jeff Haagenstad, and Jan Larsen have set out to create products that are truly “out of this galaxy”, hence the name Exogal (Exo means “outside” or “out of” and Gal is short for “Galaxy”).
Jim Kinne was responsible for the birth of the Wadia 27 DAC and 270 CD transport and he is the technical heart and soul of Exogal. Being a long time Wadia fan, I must admit that this was what initially drew my attention to the DAC. What is quickly evident when listening to the Comet however is that it does not mimic the classical Wadia sound.
USB vs Coax
Using the Aurender N10 as a source, it turned out to make a distinct difference whether the Comet’s USB input or SP/DIF input is used. Prior to this review, I’d already established that the Aurender sounds pretty consistent across its various outputs, which is very helpful for DAC input comparisons such as this one.
The Comet has a very smooth sound, and this is further substantiated when using its Coax input. Using an AudioQuest Diamond cable, the Asynchronous USB connection makes for a noticeably tighter, more articulate sound, with better dynamic behavior and more immediate transients while the Comet’s inherent smooth character prevents the sound ever becoming overly controlled. Needless to say, continued listening was done using the Comet’s USB input.
DSD and hi-res PCM
Although I tested the Comet with some DSD material and it plays these files back flawlessly, I don’t normally put special emphasis on this format and don’t have much material to test with. Hi-Res PCM is also handled with aplomb but the majority of the listening was carried out using 44/16 WAV CD rips.
Interlinks used are the Cardas Clear, in XLR version. I also tried the T T L treated Hexlink Golden 5C XLR’s and while these sounded a little bit more outgoing in the bass and lower midrange, they also took away some of the Comet’s finer detailing and reduced treble refinement, so the Clear stayed in place for the duration of the review.
Power adapter polarity
It’s important to experiment with the orientation of the power adapter in the power outlet: one way around the sound will be softer and more rounded, the other way around tighter and more upbeat. I chose the latter.
The Comet is a modern DAC with sleek looks and no buttons. It has a reflective grey LCD display showing input, output, volume and sample rate, but the display is not backlit and in many light situations it is impossible to read from just about any angle except when viewed straight ahead.
Perfectly readable display when viewed from straight ahead…
… mixed resuls from an angle…
… and near impossible to read from above when strong light comes from the side.
An IR remote control is supplied, but all the DAC’s functionality can also be controlled from a mobile phone via Bluetooth. Thankfully there are no filters to choose from and there are no other settings to make whatsoever: the unit sounds the way it sounds. There are separate output stages for all 3 outputs: XLR, Cinch and headphones. A fully-fledged linear power supply is optionally available which when combined makes the Comet a Comet Plus. As standard however the Comet comes with a wall-wart switching power supply and this is how I used it.
The Comet is not a DAC that will “wow” you by blasting powerful sounds from your speakers, rather the opposite. Much like classical Jeff Rowland gear, the Comet is ever so refined, gentle and soft-spoken. Also like Rowland gear, the Comet has superb low-level resolution and is fluid to the point that one simply can no longer speak of a recognizably digital portrayal of music signals. Its sound really is 100% continuous and as smooth as a baby’s butt. It’s important to note that the Comet is not just very smooth, but also manages to not gloss over the very fine detail: its resolving power really is on par with the best I have heard. Importantly, the Comet also sounds organic and timbrally correct in equal measure.
While its detailing is never in question, perhaps as a result of a lack of distortion or edge, the Comet’s smoothness can sometimes make for a sound bordering on the polite. For systems with modern and efficient components, this will likely be a good thing, but my setup prefers a powerful source to sound its best. In this light, I find that at times the Comet could be slightly more resolute and expressive.
There is no restraint in terms of natural dynamics: music flows freely and there is excellent differentiation between soft and loud sounds, but the Comet stops just short of the kind of attack and articulation that I hear with very dynamic DACs such as Wadia in generic, the Jeff Rowland Aeris and recently the Meridian Ultra DAC.
The Comet has an easily likable, familiar sound, mixing some of the traits of two DACs that I like a lot. Costing 5 times the Comet’s friendly price tag, the Jeff Rowland Aeris, the Comet can’t match the Aeris’ dynamic delivery, its spacious sound or its powerful bass. But judged purely on timbre, character and smoothness, the two are more similar than different. In terms of resolution and refinement, as well as for its well-behaved dynamic behavior, the Comet’s sound is reminiscent of the non-oversampling, nonfiltering EC Designs Mosaic DAC, but with an overall more powerful delivery and a fuller tonality. I find this very impressive, considering that the Comet does include digital filtering.
The Wadia 121 was recently found to be a pretty good DAC in its own right and indeed when compared directly to the Comet it still has a very appealing fullness of tonality, reminiscent of the typical classical Wadia timbre. The 121 is also quite articulate and well-focused and can sound more solid because of this, but it can also sound quite dry in comparison to the utterly fluid Comet. Also the 121’s articulate nature seems to come at the expense of spaciousness, the Comet having a considerably wider soundstage. The most obvious distinction between the Wadia 121 and the Comet is in the level of refinement. Fluidity, treble air, low level detailing: on these aspects the Comet is not only better than the Wadia 121 and Wadia 521 but actually on par with the best I have heard, and that includes DACs with stratospheric price tags.
The Comet’s dynamics are comparable to the 121’s, but on this aspect, the Comet cannot match the expressiveness of the Wadia 521. The latter sounds larger still, has a fuller, riper tonality and has a more immediate quality throughout the entire frequency band, most obvious in the bass and lower midrange.
Wadia’s trademark solid bass finally is something that is almost never matched by any DAC (the Ultra DAC being an exception) and the Comet is no exception. Don’t think that the Comet sounds lightweight though – its bass is nimble and weighty, and well-balanced.
Media Room Setup
A comparison with the Rein Audio X3 DAC that I used in the Computer Audio Room aka Media Room finally before the Comet arrived shows just how good the Comet really is. In combination with the Genelec 8050 active monitors the X3 produced a tonally neutral sound with great timbre, articulate bass and with a powerful, well-focused sound. Substituting the X3 for the Comet the initial feeling is of a less forceful sound, but the Comet’s strengths slowly grow on you, largely unnoticed. With the X3 swapped back into service, it took some time to come to terms with the old sound again. The X3 has a very communicative direct sound and sounds quite “Rock ‘n Roll”, but otherwise the predominate feeling is of a stripped-to-the-bones sound, lacking color and fluidity, but most of all lacking refinement. That’s the thing with a non-edgy sound that has superb resolving power: you don’t really notice its magic until it is taken away.
For its superbly refined, tonally rich, continuous and fluid sound and adding DSD support, extensive connectivity, a beautifully solid housing and Bluetooth control, this really is a pretty impressive package. Add in its realistic price tag and it becomes something of a bargain. Because the Comet sounds quite unforced and smooth, I would not advise using it in an already very relaxed sounding system, but otherwise, the Comet comes highly recommended.