PrimaLuna Evo 100 DAC

Tube Magic

Equipment report
Digital-to-analog converters
PrimaLuna Evo 100 DAC

My PS Audio DirectStream DAC cost twice as much as the Tube DAC, and thanks to a built-in volume control, could directly drive a power amplifier (but not two). Unlike most DACs, it uses neither tubes nor solid-state devices in its output section; in fact, it has no output section, directly driving the output cables with the output of the digital output filter. Balanced as well as unbalanced outputs are available. PS Audio has updated the operating system several times, each time making non-subtle improvements to the DAC’s sound. The cost of the upgrades? Nada. As in free. Just download them, copy them onto an SD card, insert the card into a slot on the back of the DAC, and turn the DAC on. It upgrades the operating system, and voilà, you’ve got a new, improved DAC. Snowmass, the latest version of the operating system (the systems are named after 14,000-foot Colorado mountains), was installed on my DAC.

On “Folia Rodrigo Martinez,” the initial cascabel whacks were similar to the tube DAC, while the percussion came through with even more detail. Bass extended quite low, with excellent pitch definition. The overall sound was a bit brighter, but not even slightly etched. The music glowed with powerful energy.

“Just a Little Lovin’” sounded more open, with even better continuity of Lynne’s voice and better harmonics on the instrumental forces. If it gave up anything in energy, it made up for it in detail.

“Snilla Patea” was also slightly brighter, with a wider soundstage. There was plenty of dynamic distinction; when the choral forces’ level exceeded the volume of the fiddle, there was no strain or distortion, nor was there any compression.

The opening bass line in “Spanish Harlem” was more upfront and a smidgen better defined. Pigeon’s voice was remarkably pure, although there were still a couple of occasions when her tonal quality sounded a bit threadbare. 

Nordic Noir is a very quiet album, and the DirectStream DAC captured the low-level recording quite well; plenty of detail and vibrant timbre. And when the violin “scream” came in “Darf ich,” the DirectStream DAC’s extended treble performance added a bit of extra shock without sounding etched or edgy. In other words, it still sounded like a violin.

Both DACs were very easy to listen to. The PS Audio DirectStream DAC, at twice the price, had slightly greater bass and treble extension, and was more open. The Evo 100 was extremely dynamic and had great harmonic resolution. At half the price of the PS Audio, it was much more than half the value. While I could find areas where the PS Audio was superior to the Evo 100, in general they were quite close, and I never tired of listening to the PrimaLuna. I suspect that substituting an aftermarket power cord on the Evo 100, as I did on the PS Audio DAC, would have brought the two units even closer together in performance. 

Bottom Line
The PrimaLuna Evo 100 is an attractive, well-made DAC with powerful dynamics, oodles of detail, and a warm, enjoyable tone. When I listened to it, I focused on the music instead of hi-fi artifacts. At its price, it’s a remarkably good value, and is very highly recommended. If I had $3000 to spend on a DAC, the PrimaLuna Evo 100 would be at the top of my short list.

Specs & Pricing

Inputs: USB, AES/EBU, coaxial, optical
Outputs: Stereo RCA
Inputs: PCM (all inputs): 16bit–24bit 44.1kHz–192kHz
DSD (USB): DSD64–DSD128 (DoP) 
DAC: TI (Burr-Brown) PCM1792A
Tube complement: Two (each) 12AX7, 12AU7, 5AR4
Dimensions: 11" x 7.5" x 15.9"
Weight: 28.7 lbs.
Price: $2999

2058 Wright Avenue
La Verne, CA 91750
(909) 310-8540