Setup and Use
Of course, the first thing I did after unpacking the Comet was to read the User Guide. Isn’t that what everyone does? I had to download the 13-page document, along with a guide to the SR-71 remote control, from the Exogal website. Frankly, I found the user guide confusing. For example, it was not obvious to me that the preferred way of operating the Comet was via an app installed on an iPhone or iTouch. That’s pretty basic. Having an owner’s manual online is a good idea; hopefully, it will be updated to become more useful.
The small Comet, together with its power supply, took up about half a shelf on my equipment rack, so there was still enough room there for the Auralic Aries streamer and its power supply. I used a Paul Pang TZ YUN Red II USB cable to connect the Auralic Aries Wireless Streaming Bridge music player to the Comet’s USB input. Exogal recommends using the Comet to drive your power amplifier directly, so I connected the Comet to my power amplifier using Clarity Cables’ unbalanced Organic interconnects and to my subwoofer using CablePro Freedom interconnects. The Comet drove the amplifier and subwoofer with ample headroom. Although Exogal included a standard computer-grade power cord, I substituted a Clarity Cables Vortex power cord from the wall plug to the Comet’s power supply.
I installed the free Exo Remote app on my iPhone. Exo Remote showed me all the information on the Comet’s front-panel screen—except that on the iPhone I could actually read it. Exogal didn’t provide a recommended break-in time, so I gave the Comet 200 hours.
I tried the Comet’s headphone amplifier using HiFiMan HE-400 and Audeze LCD-X headphones—the least and most sensitive headphones in my collection, respectively. To get an acceptable volume level from the low-sensitivity HE-400s, I had to advance the Comet’s volume control to its maximum setting—and I’m no head-banger. The more sensitive LCD-Xs required a setting in the mid-80s—they’d be usable, but are still a little underpowered. Also, there was one significant feature missing from the Comet that’s been present in every headphone amplifier I’ve seen, and that’s a physical volume control. The notion of adjusting headphone volume with a remote control just seems weird to me—I want to reach out and touch some sort of volume control on my amplifier. But that’s a personal preference that you may not share. Additionally, I understand Exogal is planning to release a DAC with a higher-powered headphone amplifier soon.
The only gripe I had was that the Comet often produced a pop when an album started. I haven’t experienced this issue on most other DACs I’ve tried.
The Comet had an open, neutral, spacious sound with good bass and treble extension. Although there was plenty of high-frequency detail, I heard no peakiness or etch. Playing the Scherzo from Henry Litolff’s Concerto Symphonique No. 4, with piano solist Yuja Wang accompanied by the San Francisco Symphony led by Michael Tilson Thomas on the album Masterpieces in Miniature (DSD64/DSF, SFS Media/Downloads NOW!), I heard unusually explosive dynamics and excellent piano sound. Leading-edge transients were portrayed with greater than usual detail. The San Francisco Symphony was captured with particularly rich harmonics.
To assess performance with a male vocal recording, I queued up Neil Diamond’s recent album Melody Road (96/24 AIF, Capitol Records/HDtracks). The eponymously named first track found Diamond in excellent voice, captured by the Comet with rich, full harmonics. Microdynamics were depicted in detail, so that the song seemed to have lots of bounce and momentum. It’s good to have major artists continue to develop their craft instead of just repeating the songs of their heyday.
On the Tallis Scholars Allegri’s Miserere & Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli (96/24 FLAC, Gimell), the track “Miserere” was unusually smooth, and the lead tenor’s voice was unusually expressive. The solo group, which sings some distance behind the main choral group, was very clear, and the Comet captured their distant location quite precisely, with none of the reverberant smear lesser components impose on the song. The distant solo group was reproduced with great purity, while the Comet portrayed the upfront choral group with no overload or congestion.
To assess how well the Comet handled female vocals, I played “Spanish Harlem” from Rebecca Pidgeon’s The Raven, (176.4/24 FLAC, Chesky/HDtracks, remastering by Bob Katz). The Comet captured the resonance of the upright bass that opens the piece with excellent accuracy, and it was easy to imagine Pidgeon vocalizing each word. All the instruments were portrayed with full, rich harmonics.