The Exogal Comet DAC – The Giant Slayer!
The vast majority of people reading this page will look at the Exogal and think to themselves “I’ve never heard of this brand before, therefore it can’t be that good because product ‘xyz’ is getting all the “good” reviews, and “why would I be interested in this?”
Exogal is an American brand, founded in 2013, by true audio industry veterans, Jim Kinne (Wadia), Larry Jacoby (Wadia and one of the Stillpoints founders), Jeff Haagenstad (Wadia & McInstosh) and Jan Larsen.
The Comet is their first product and is available in 2 versions.
It is available on its own for £2500 or with the upgraded Comet Power Supply for £2950 (to be fair everyone ends up buying it with upgraded external power supply, I don’t recall supplying one without it). To add a power supply at a later date is £550 so it’s worth doing it at the point of purchase.
The Comet is a DAC, a preamplifier and it also features a side mounted headphone socket.
The Comets uses no off-the-shelf DAC chips or FPGA implementations in its design. Instead it uses a custom design processor and calculus derived algorithms as such the DAC section of the Comet is unlike anything else out there!
Connectivity is comprehensive with a neat little surprise in the form of an analogue input – for a phono stage perhaps? Pre-amp functionality can easily be bypassed if it is not required.
In this day and aget he most commonly used socket is the asynchronous USB type B connection which used to connect something like Melco Digital Music Library or a Mac/PC. This USB socket will playback all sample rates up to and including 32/384 kHz and DSD64 and DSD128.
There is also AES/EBU XLR digital input and SPDIF on a BNC connector which supports playback up 24/192 kHz, the Toslink input supports up to 24/96 kHz.
There are both single ended RCA outputs and XLR outputs and as mentioned above a 1/4 inch headphone output as well.
The Exonet connections you can see on the rear panel are a specific Exogal connection designed to connect to the brilliant Ion PowerDAC Amplifier
The Comet comes supplied with a very basic credit card style remote control which offers input switching and volume control. No one uses it. The reason for this is simple, there is a brilliant app available which communicates with the Comet via Bluetooth (for control only) as seen below. The app offers everything every user could possibly want.
The Comet can be used in a number of ways. It can connect to an integrated amplifier or pre-amplifier or it can be used as a conventional DAC. However, as mentioned above, the Comet features an excellent pre-amplifier as well, so it can connect directly to a power amplifier and you simply use the onboard volume control.
How Does It Sound?
When using the RCA or XLR outputs of the Comet the performance is, for the money, outstanding. It is effortlessly musical, smooth and unfatiguing and you can play it for hours on end without feeling the need for a break. The longer you play it the better it gets. Harmonics and timbre are frighteningly realistic, more so than some other DACs costing a lot more money. I’ve had a couple of clients part exchange DACs and CD players which originally cost significantly more than a Comet does. It get incredibly close to the upper echelon of “true high end” DAC designs costing upwards of £7000/£8000.
The natural partner for a Comet is of course a Melco Digital Music Library; they really do work so well together! That said, great success has been achieved using JRiver on a conventional computer connected via USB. Also using the Comet with Bluesound Node 2 works way better than the modest price of the Node 2 would suggest. Although if you are wanting to hear your music played back to the very highest of standards a Melco would be the primary recommendation.
Lest we forget, there are plenty of people using CD as their preferred format and if you have a CD player that is getting on in years (or one you’ve never been happy with) you’ll find the Comet a brilliant upgrade. It genuinely punches above its price point and you may be suprised at how effective it can be at upgrading a quality disc spinner from a few years ago.
The Ion PowerDAC
The Exogal Ion PowerDAC is the perfect companion to go with the Comet or Comet Plus DAC, the Ion is a power amplifier but also a significant extension to the processing ability of the Comet.
The Ion can only be used with the Comet or Comet Plus, it only has one input, which is a proprietary Exogal connection called Exonet (as mentioned above) – it may look like an HDMI connector but what this connection does is very different! If you look at the business end of the Comet you will see it has an Exonet output alongside the conventional RCA and XLR analogue outputs.
Exogal refer to the Ion as a PowerDAC and not a power amplifier, which is important.
When the Comet is connected via RCA or XLR all of required processing in done inside the Comet itself, but when you connect the Comet to the Ion via the Exonet connection the processing inside the Comet changes and the Ion assists in sharing the ‘digital load’.
The PowerDAC is a digital amplifier, but it is not a traditional Class D digital design, nor does it implement PWM in the way it operates. It has been designed to accurately control analogue power, but in the digital domain. The signal remains in the digital domain until it reaches the loudspeaker outputs.
Earlier this year Exogal released an upgrade for the Ion called the Hyperdrive. This upgrade is a worthwhile step forward in performance, essentially it gives the Ion an approximate 10% increase in power, and allows it to run more efficiently, closer to the guard-rails but without compromising performance or speaker protection!
It delivers 125 watts per channel into 8ohms and will happily drive a pair of Avalon or Vimberg speakers all day long.
The performance is effortlessly musicsal, endlessly detailed but never forward or artificial, there is an incredible sense of weight and resolution.
If you already have a Comet paired with another amplifier it will sound great (they always do!), but combining the Exogal pair together unlocks more from the Comet as well!
Getting the best out of the Comet and Ion – Let’s open a can of worms!!
If you want to get the best out of the Comet or Ion (or any component for that matter), it needs to be installed into a system where it will work to be the best of its capabilities. Out of the box, installed into an existing system, using the supplied in the box power lead and the customer’s existing interconnect it sounds great. But how much further can you take it?
Some distance, if truth be told! The big question of course is where you do start? How much do you spend and what do you focus on? It all really depends on how you like the sound of what it is doing in your system.
Grounding – Connecting the Comet to a suitable Entreq ground box pays dividends. You simply need a single cable to connect to an unused socket on the back of the Comet; the other end connects to a ground box via the spade/hook connection. Also connecting the negative speaker terminals of the Ion to a pair of Silver Minimus Infinity is another great upgrade. The Entreq product pages cover this in a lot more detail. You’ll find Entreq is a fundamental part of what I do and for good reason because it works so well.
Stillpoints – Isolating a component from the environment in which it is installed ends up with a massive increase in resolution, transparency and texture. If a component is installed on a glass shelf it can often have extra bite with an artificial leading edge on higher frequencies. A wooden shelf or a sideboard can often muddy the sound, slowing down bass response and masking nuances and detail. Stillpoints effectively remove the point of contact from whatever your component is sitting on. Do they work? Borrow some and find out for yourself!! I do a lot of Stillpoints demonstrations and they typically result in happy customers If you ground a system first, then Stillpoint it, the results are even greater!
Interconnects & Speaker Cables – If using the Comet or Comet Plus with another amplifier you will need a set of analogue interconnects. The truth of it is that a good pair of interconnects – analogue, digital, usb will pay dividends on the potential performance of a system. Over the years I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with people who have “upgraded’ their interconnect based on a conversation and have been amazed to find in a lot of instances they haven’t actually improved the performance.
The more transparent you can make a system, by lowering the noise floor, both electrically and mechnically, the greater difference you will hear when you make that a/b comparison between 2 cables. I often get asked what is the best type of cable. It’s an impossible question to answer and the best cable depends on the system and what you actually like the sound of! I know which cables will work in any given system given a brief overview of that system, but personal taste always plays a big part.
Power Cables – Again, another controversial subject, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read or been told that power cables don’t work and are a waste of money. Once again, it all depends on the system and how it works as a whole. The entry level Entreq Primer Pro Power Cable is a brilliant option and this cable is quickly becoming very popular.
Listening is key to everything, and like the Interconnects you can often find the results are more marked once you have done other things beforehand.
Look after your Hi-Fi and it will reward you handsomely!
Digital Inputs: AES/EBU on XLR, SPDIF on 75Ohm BNC, Toslink, USB-B, Analog on isolated RCA
Analogue Outputs: One Pair Balanced (XLR), One Pair Unbalanced (RCA)
Weight: 9.2 lbs (4.2 kg)
Dimensions: (HWD): 1.875 x 7.45 x 11.5 in., (4.76 x 19.0 x 29.2 cm)
Finish: Clear (Silver) or Black Anodized Aluminum
Ion PowerDAC Specifications