Soulnote D2 - Recenze (review) - English

Pro původní recenzi navštivte:

When engineers from Marantz Japan, who envision a different development path, team up with a developer who started building amplifiers in the 80s at NEC and Philips, they create Soulnote. This increasingly popular manufacturer, with around fifty employees and a diverse product range, may seem exotic in our context. The company philosophy asserts that technical specifications and listening quality are loosely related.

Soulnote’s offerings are straightforward: Series 1 is "premium hi-fi," Series 2 is high-end, and Series 3 represents their pinnacle of current capabilities.

The Series 2 includes the integrated amplifier A-2, the versatile phono preamp E-2 for MM, MC, and DS Audio optical cartridges, and the D/A converter D-2.

If there is something immediately characteristic of the brand, it is the almost brutalist chassis with massive horizontal ribs, as well as the completely unusual way of (non)attaching the top cover with vents. On the D-2, this cover is almost floating, which supposedly has a noticeable effect on the quality of reproduction, just like the use of really prominent and sharp spikes on the bottom.

The D-2's front panel features its rectangular logo beneath a thin line display behind a thick acrylic cover at the top. The control buttons (fairly small), power button, and labels are on the ribs, while tiny LEDs indicating various functions, operating mode, or selected input are deeper between the ribs. Input selection uses a metal element similar to the volume control on the A-2.

The rear panel features an unusually placed power socket (top right) and a wide range of connectivity options. There are two AES/EBU inputs, two coaxial inputs, and one USB input. The analog output is available in both RCA and XLR forms, with a small switch to change polarity for the XLR output.

There are also three additional switches: one for selecting the FIR filter (with or without oversampling, not usable with DSD signals), another for stereo or mono mode (enabling two D-2 units as left and right channels), and the third for switching the low-pass filter between manual and automatic (activated when playing DSD). Additionally, a 10 MHz input for an external clock is available, switchable between internal and external clocks with a slider.

If the physical construction is impressive, the internal design is equally remarkable, conceived as a serious dual mono setup. Inside, enthusiasts will appreciate the multitude of components. Symmetrical modules for the left and right channels are on the sides, with the digital section and power supply, featuring a large 400 VA bifilar toroidal transformer with eight secondary windings, in the center. There are so many circuits that the PCBs are stacked in two layers.

When a signal enters the D-2, it is decoded with the help of the new Texas Instruments PLLatinum RF LMX2594 chip and a thermally stabilized clock generation chip, ensuring minimal jitter at just 45 femtoseconds.

The most interesting part, however, is the core of the converter, consisting of four ES9038PRO chips, two for each channel in synchronous mode. The entire signal path is fully symmetrical (starting from the power supplies) and uses no feedback, which allows for practically perfect impulse response when operating without oversampling (according to the manufacturer). The PCBs are coated with a 70-micron thick copper layer.

Another intriguing technology is the USB Bulk Pet transfer mode, an alternative to the commonly used isochronous mode. Although it requires special drivers, it significantly reduces the load on both the source computer and the converter, leading to fewer errors.

Soulnote D-2 supports PCM (32 bit / 768 kHz) and DSD (22.6 MHz or DSD512). The circuits operate from 2 to 120,000 Hz (-1 dB), with a signal-to-noise ratio of 110 dB and total harmonic distortion not exceeding 0.008%.

The D-2 is a relatively robust component, weighing 17 kg, with a footprint of 43 x 40.5 cm and a height (without spikes) of 16 cm.

We had the opportunity to listen to the Soulnote D-2 primarily with the excellent company amplifier A-2 – their mutual synergy tames the almost aggressive liveliness of the A-2 and, conversely, awakens the otherwise calmer D-2, resulting in a very natural, faithful, and audiophile-sounding whole. The two components simply "click" together. However, we also listened with the Musical Fidelity M8xi and especially with the Norma Revo SC-2 / Norma Revo PA 160 MR, the former through Fyne Audio F1-5 and the latter through KEF Blade One Meta, with the Métronome DSC as a comparator. Details such as cabling, accessories, and more can be found in the description of individual setups on the right -->.

Initially, we expected the sound signature to align with the integrated amplifier A-2, so we were somewhat surprised when the pulsating electropop bass in "Swoon" by Imogen Heap ("Ellipse" | 2009 | SONY | 884977078220) was rather rich and lush – certainly well-tensed and elastic, but nonetheless calmer, pleasantly pliant, and colorful rather than analytically tight and incisive. Nevertheless, it is very pleasant; the lower tones are juicy, and even compared to the notoriously voluminous sound of the Métronome DSC, the Soulnote is not shy. The sound of the A-2 with the D-2 beautifully softened without losing that nice sense of liveliness.

Zuzana Smatanová's vocals in "Otcovi…" ("ECHO" | 2018 | Pandora | 8588006725896) were beautifully delicate and refined through the D-2, with a hint of velvety elegance and tenderness. While the Métronome is cleaner, more three-dimensional, and more detailed, it is also three times as expensive. In this context, the D-2 performs truly wonderfully – musically and yet distinctly, with beautiful resolution. The aforementioned touch of velvet ensures that even harsher tones do not sizzle but rather caress and entwine lovingly. The midrange is very rich, but not heavy or lazy – the vocals, in particular, are almost palpably human.

Jeff Ballard's brushwork in "Alfie" (Brad Mehldau Trio | "Day is Done" | 2005 | Nonesuch | 0075597991024) lands on the cymbal calmly and thoughtfully, with plenty of whispering bristles that you can hear. It’s not a hissing uniform sound but a maturely differentiated presentation with long reverberations and easy clarity. Yet the metal is primarily colorful rather than sharp, and modest in volume – not recessed, but more subtle. This might be why the D-2 fits so well as a counterpart to the A-2. At no acoustic level did the D-2 exhibit any traces of aggression, harshness, or fatigue in the highs, despite being sufficiently detailed.

The track "Lepidlo" by Slovak multi-genre singer and songwriter Katarzia ("Antigona" | 2018 | Sinko Records | SR0114) is full of dynamic impulses and electronic "blasts." The softer, calmer style of the D-2 presents these in an effortlessly supple manner, almost nonchalant or "easy" sound. Nevertheless, the presentation maintains a well-balanced ratio of richness, fullness, and weight, without being overly soft. The decisive tone is nicely taut, strong, yet somewhat Japanese in its subtlety.

Unlike the A-2, which approaches details proudly, almost dominantly, the D-2 offers an elegantly calm, neutral, and perhaps overall inconspicuous style. However, the intricate "The Beltway Bandits" with its endless array of ideas by Frank Zappa ("Jazz from Hell" | 1986 | Universal | 0824302387528) had individual sounds that were easily discernible, effortlessly and calmly placed into context. The wild musical flow, as interpreted by the Soulnote DAC, is more fluid and continuous. The organic whole has a mature clarity; we would confidently declare the D-2 as a benchmark for non-technical sound without any mannerisms. Simply pure, clear, and yet relaxed sound.

Although the sound characteristics of the D-2 are certainly not thin, the space in Nielsen's "Ved en ung kunstners baare," composed for the funeral of the author's prematurely deceased friend, painter Oluf Hartmann, as performed by the Emerson String Quartet ("Intimate Voices" | 2006 | Deutsche Grammophon | B0006340-02), is more organized and naturally expansive rather than overly expansive. Despite this, the instruments are not "compressed"; they have solid proportions, and there is enough space between them for you to focus on each one individually or on the stereo image with clearly defined width and depth as a whole. The resolution and control are so good and so stress-free that it’s hard to find any fault with the spatial orientation in the recording.

The version of "Too Much Heaven" by Jordan Hill ("Jordan Hill" | 1995 | Atlantic | 7567-82849-2), where the original authors from the Bee Gees provide background vocals, is a calm, very gentle pop song that ideally overlaps with the character possessed by the D-2. The music is soothing, velvety full, colorful, and fluid; the DAC conveys it with immensely beautiful musicality in a highly refined manner. The sound is soft, partly because the D-2 extracts the character of the recording itself, and partly because the DAC is simply tuned that way – but if you pair it with a livelier amplifier (especially the A-2), everything "clicks" and the presentation suddenly becomes uncolored, neutral, realistic, and optimally balanced.

Soulnote is a remarkable brand. It sometimes feels slightly exotic, going somewhat against the mainstream, but overall, its components are characterized by thoughtful and honest construction. The D-2 DAC is no exception – it’s not cheap, but it offers a wide range of possibilities, from a purely minimalist mode that processes the signal with only the necessary minimum to playing around with filters and other features. Not to mention that demanding users can purchase a second unit and transform the DACs into an ultimate mono setup. Whether you want to be an audiophile tinkerer or simply plug and play, the Soulnote D-2 offers excellent quality for the money invested. It has a silky, warm, very musical, and beautifully rich character on its own, which practically begs to be paired with a more lively amplifier – like the A-2, where the synergy between the two distinct styles results in a perfectly clear and balanced, practically transparent sound. No matter how you decide, the Soulnote D-2 is an excellent high-end DAC with the gift of musicality and very easy listenability.



  • Calm, elegant, and richly colorful sound performance
  • Comprehensive connectivity and adjustability
  • Robust chassis
  • High-resolution support
  • Subtle musicality
  • Pairs very well with the A-2, resulting in a highly organic sound
  • Option to upgrade to mono mode


  • Quite sensitive to placement (should not be placed on another component or a hard surface, as the sound may become less defined), possibly due to undamped chassis vibrations