Positive Feedback Logo

Exogal Comet Plus DAC

07-14-2016 | By Wojciech Pacuła | Issue 86

In this particular case one word explains it all... Wadia (www.wadia.com). This iconic American brand for years has been synonymous with high-end digital source, as it specialized in Compact Disc players, both integrated and separates. Later they were joined by SACD players, for example, Model 581. Wadia Players used the best available transports, i.e. VRDS and then VRDS-NEO from Teac, but it was DAC section of their Players that was the pride and joy of their designers.

Even more so because they were always accompanied with the variable output featuring digital volume control. The process developed by DigiMaster included a digital signal filters, signal's upsampling (also adding bigger bit depth) and adjusting the volume. The latter requires a reduction of bit resolution, thus upsampling was necessary so that the signal from a 16-bit CD, and late also from 24-bit signal from SACD, could be restored without loss. However, Wadia's engineers believed in the principle of a short signal paths, and eliminating the preamp section significantly shortens it (not to mention cost reduction involved).

Exogal Comet Plus DAC


It is no secret that—founded in 1988—Wadia did really do so well in the XXI century. Huge money invested in Power Wadia DAC 790, a digital amplifier, or actually a high power DAC, did not bring an expected return, because the project was introduced ahead of proper time (2000-2002, it was the first digital amplifier in the world). Sale of the company to an external investor was only a matter of time. In 2011 the company was bought by the Italian capital fund Fine Sounds, which previously acquired such brands as: Sonus Faber (2007), Audio Research (2009), Sumiko (2010), and a year after Wadia, also McIntosh (2012).

The change of ownership caused a change in business profile. The designers, who were not able to accept that fact left the company and founded Exogal. Its name was created from the "exo" meaning "out" and the abbreviated form of the word "galaxy" (source: Vade Forrester Auspicious Debut , The Absolute Sound June 24, 2015). In other words, they make products "not of this Earth."

The company was registered in 2013, not by rookies but by veterans of audio world. The people behind the brand are: Larry Jacoby (Vice President of Manufacturing Engineering), Jeff Haagenstad (Chief Executive Officer), Jim Kinne (Chief Technology Officer), and John Larsen (Chief Operating Officer). Technical brains of the operation is Jim Kinne, author of such iconic devices as "decoding computer" Wadia 27, Wadia 270 CD transport and Power DAC Wadia 790.

They declare that they want to produce devices delivering optimal listening experience and those that just measure well in the laboratory. Products have to be designed by them from the scratch using latest technologies. They are to be manufactured in the USA, as close to their headquarters in Minnesota as possible. They have to be small and nice looking. They are to have an open architecture, allowing simple software upgrades whenever these are available. And they have to be easy to control, eg. through your home computer wireless network.


Their first product is a digital-to-analog converter, Comet. Recently company presented also its complementary, digital amplifier, Ion Power DAC. It is pretty peculiar and it features only a HDMI input to which the signal can be sent only from Comet, in digital form.

Exogal Comet Plus DAC

But back to the DAC. It is a small, great-looking digital-to-analog converter, which offers a variety of inputs: asynchronous USB (32/384 | DSD128), AES / EBU (24/192), S/PDIF (24/192), Toslink (24/96) and analog RCA. In the latter signal is converted to digital 24/96 signal. This is necessary because Comet is also a  preamplifier—the analog outputs signal level can be adjusted in 100 increments and the adjustment is done in the digital domain.

The heart of this device is the six-core DSP featuring software written in Exogal. The company does not want to reveal exactly what does it do, but with a high probability we can assume that it includes digital filters, performs upsampling and so on. There are two relevant digital to analog converters: TI PCM 4104 for the main outputs and TI PCM 5122 for the headphone output. As, however, says Jeff Haagenstad, CEO of the company, they do not have too much to do, because most of the activities that usually take place in the modern digital-to-analog converter chips are actually performed by DSP before signal is sent to DAC. I do not know if you remember, but once it was standard, a DAC consisted of two elements: a chip with digital filter and another one performing actual D/A conversion.

Exogal Comet Plus DAC

There are two analogue outputs—a pair of unbalanced RCA outputs and a pair of balanced XLRs. Both outputs can work simultaneously - RCA can be reprogrammed to work in stereo mode, as output for a center channel (I assume that this is an option for multi-channel systems—company's materials are not unambiguous in this respect) or for a subwoofer. Then one can set a delay of the signal for this output, as it is common with AV receivers.

Exogal Comet Plus DAC

The device can be controlled in two ways: with a remote or by an application for a smartphone or tablet. Remote  looks like one for a garage door, but it is quite convenient to use—one can adjust volume, switch inputs and outputs (main or headphones), and activate "mute". Unlike most other applications in this case signal is not completely muted (that's how the "Attenuator" mode in Accuphase amplifiers works). The Exogal Remote App is designed for smartphones and tablets with Android (4.3 and above, with support for BLE), and Apple (iPad, iPhone 4s or later, iPod Touch).

Comet is also a headphone amplifier—the headphone output socket (a large jack 6.3 mm) sits on the side of the device and it features a separately adjustable volume and a separate DAC, a different one that the one delivering signal to the main outputs.

Is High-Resolution Digital Audio for You?

Comet, if we use USB input, accepts almost all types of files available on the market; other inputs are limited to PCM signal. The concept of "Hi-Res" or "High Resolution Audio" familiar to this device then. Yet, the main strength, or main focus of people who created this DAC were always Compact Discs (and PCM signal). Even when the SACD entered the game, signal from it was trans-coded to 88.4/24 PCM. Nowadays, when the "hi-res" is a so catchy phrase opening the hearts and wallets of customers, telling the truth, or what one really thinks is an act of courage, especially if it is said by a small company.

And yet on the manufacturer's website we can find a paragraph entitled: "Is the High-Resolution Digital Audio for You?". Which in itself is not unusual—99.999999% of manufacturers' answer is: "yes, it is." Exogen answers this question in accordance with their conscience, "Frankly, that's not for us to say." Why? My personal answer would be: because it (16/44,1) is still the best-sounding digital format. As the guys from Exogal say: "even if you use more "low-quality" formats such as CD resolution (44.1kHz sampling rate with 16-bit depth) our processing algorithms will make your music sound as good as it can possibly sound".


So during the test CD format was my priority. This was so easy for me as this format always is my priority. The beautiful reissues of King Crimson catalog on Platinum SHM-CD in 7" format, with boxes being a perfect reproduction of the printing of the first Japanese analogue editions (the first two editions, i.e. two covers for each disc!), the first UHQCD discs (Ultimate HiQuality CD), with, among others, King Crimson concert, many albums prepared by Mr. Winston Ma, also ones with personal dedications for me, which I listened to pay tribute to and thank him for everything he did for us—rest in peace my friend!—all these wonderful releases were my primary signal sources for Comet.

Lektor AIR V-edition, with Philips CD Pro2 LF mechanism acted as CD transport connected with DAC using Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6100 digital interconnect.

The device played in a system with an active tube preamplifier, Ayon Audio Spheris III, because I think the high-end preamp in the system is necessary. However I spent also some time to assess the quality of volume control in Comet, connecting the balanced outputs directly to the inputs in the power amplifier Soulution 710.

A separate test was conducted with headphones driven directly by this DAC. Right at the beginning it turned out that the headphone amplifier had too low power in order to drive HiFiMAN HE-6 properly, which happens to be a standard for most headphone amps. So for the test I used Audeze LCD-3, AKG K701 and Sennheiser HD800—primarily the latter. Audeze and Sennheiser played with Noir Hybrid HPC Forza Audio Works cables. Compact discs were demagnetized prior to listening using Acoustic Revive RD-3.

Exogal Comet Plus DAC


Recordings used for the test (a selection)

  • Arne Domnérus, Jazz at the Pawnshop. Vol. I, II & III, Proprius/Lasting Impression Music LIM UHD 071 LE, 3 x Ultra HD CD + DVD (1976/2012)
  • Brian Eno, Another Green World, Island Records/Toshiba-EMI VJCP-68658, CD (1975/2004)
  • David Cross & Robert Fripp, Starless Starlight, Noisy Records/Inter Art Committees | Vivid Sound Corporation VSCD4294, SHM-CD (2015)
  • Frank Sinatra, Lost & Found | The Radio Years, Sony Music 8875147142, CD (2015); review HERE
  • King Crimson, In The Court of the Crimson King, Atlantic/WOWOW Entertainment [Japan] IEDG-01, 7" Platinum SHM-CD + DVD-Audio (1969/2016)
  • King Crimson, Live in Toronto, Penegyric/WOWOW Enterteinment IECP-20252/253, "King Crimson Collectors' Club: Special Edition", 2 x Ultimate HiQuality CD (2016)
  • Lisa Gerard & Pieter Bourke, Duality, 4AD/Sonic SON 139, CD (1998)
  • Maanam, Miłość jest cudowna, Kamiling Co | Pomaton 4601869, 2 x CD (2015); review HERE
  • Mendelssohn & Brahms, Violin Concerto, cello Hilary Hahn, "Best Classics 100", Sony Classical/Sony Music Japan SICC 30088, Blu-spec CD2 (1997/2012)
  • Niccolò Paganini, 24 Caprices for solo violin. Op.1, perf. Mayuko Kamo, BMG Japan BVCC 40003, "RCA Red Seal", CD (2009/2012)
  • Paul Bley, Ramblin', BYG Records/Sunspots SPOT 528, "Actuel 13", CD (1966/2002)

I will not elaborate, I will try to keep the description of the Comet DAC short—I still have a lot of albums to listen to and the day (and night) are short (there's nothing like spectacular start to the test, right?). This is an absolute coincidence, but in a short period of time I had to deal with three products, which caused flushed face and excitement because of the way they enhanced my system's ability to play music. These were: set of TARA Labs Evolution cables that cost approx. 200 000 PLN, Kronos Sparta turntable for about 130 000 PLN (test will be presented in the July issue of "High Fidelity") and now it is this digital-to-analog Exogal Comet Converter for $ 3000. Sorry, not my fault that this American DAC is so cheap and yet so potent in fulfilling my high expectations.

This is not the best device of this type I know, that I had at home, but definitely one of the most interesting ones. The last DAC that impressed me that much was Chord Dave  with a price tag of 47 000 PLN. Comet might not be so refined as the latter, but I did not miss anything with it in my system. It is also different. Its sound can be more easily compared to the sound of TARA Series Evolution cables. It offers also a very similar level of quality—even if I exaggerate a little, it is in good faith, as that's how I feel at the moment.

If you know and remember the sound of Wadia CD Players, you have to throw it out of your head, this DAC sounds completely different. Or maybe it doesn't, maybe it just develops in a virtuosic way what Wadia guys  were already doing before? Let leave it at that for now. Important thing is to forget the stereotypical Wadia sound.

Comet delivers extremely open, fresh sound. After switching from AIR V-edition CD Player it seemed as if the  Polish unit's sound was veiled. But not for lack of treble, nor its little energy—it surely did not lack  that—but because of a smaller amount of details that are a natural result of higher energy and quantity of high tones. Even the dCS Rossini, after all, very open, great player, seemed to be a little less "informative" than the tested DAC.

I am deliberately not talking about "abundance of details" because it is an enemy of differentiation and richness; the excess leads to depletion of sound and its grayness, and consequently deadness. I'm talking about the real wealth of natural reverbs, harmonics and beautiful communication of all sub-ranges; not only the high and mid tones, but also low ones: the quality of the treble depends on the quality of the bass - you can't help, it is simply true.

Low range is very clear, but at the same time naturally soft. DAC does not prolong sustain and decay, it doesn't  try to pump air, thus retaining the tautness of bass whether high or somewhat poorer quality albums are being played. It is rich and fat, but internally and not for show. If I were to relate it to other devices, it was closer to the  bass CD9 Audio Research Reference than to dCS Rossini; one could find also lot of similarities with the top separate MBS Player. And yet it does not sound like any of the above. It offers softness and tautness, it is fast, but rich. That's also how this DAC performs as a whole, without analyzing the sub-ranges.

When we play some disc of real dynamics, let it be the fifth and final version of Jazz at the Pawnshop. Vol. I, II & III by the late Mr Winston Ma, we will find out that this small box has the firepower of a brick of C4—it sounds as if it was loaded with it. Also Polish discs, such as the Kurylewicz Go Right played from Master CD-R, remastered by Jacek Gawłowski was outstanding (more HERE). It happened effortlessly, in a very natural way, which automatically brings to mind the reel-to-reel playback of a "mastertape". I'm talking about subcutaneous dynamics, which does not transform into parody by emphasizing the attack, or the emphasis on the bass parts. It's real, incredible dynamics.

Let me bear with reel-to-reel reference for a moment longer while I describe the soundstage. Spacing and imaging that Comet offers is not so distinct. One would like to have a more tangible sound, but it is the domain of sources playing a little differently—as above mentioned AIR V-edition CD Player, or its better version, Lektor Grand SE. Also CD9 Reference will present images and planes more distinctly, in a more sensual way, although at lower resolution and a with lesser dynamics. Comet unifies planes and images, at least according to the "audiophile" terminology. The whole message is a wholeness, and a picture of the instruments, with their weight, spaciousness, shapes, is "created" in our heads based on minor changes in perspective, different colors, something elusive. It's a much more real way of presentation, ie. more like what's on analog master-tapes.

With the American DAC CDs sound in a more exciting, spirited way. It encourages listener to reach for another and another disc, to buy new ones to compare them with others, to find something new excitements. For this reason, it seems extremely well differentiating device. But it is not. This is a paradox, because all of these features suggest great differentiation, but Comet is trying to make all the recordings without exception, to sound equally well. A little, but only a little bit, it reminded me of my encounter with a four-box dCS Vivaldi Player. I had a similar impression of feeling, of flow of music with any CD.

I wrote about a collision of beauty and differentiation in my test of Evolution TARA Labs cables, so I will not repeat myself. Comet shows everything what once Wadia did, but in a much better way. However, this is still a "Wadia-style" presentation in a sense that all recordings sound fresh, full, smooth, vibrant. The internal differentiation i.e. within a single recording is very good, as it is of dynamics and timbre.

When on Lost & Found | The Radio Years Frank Sinatra sings with a dark, warm, big voice, and he's followed by quite bright orchestra lacking bass foundation, this distinction stemming from a different miking and mixing, is presented extremely clearly. The voice is rich and low and the orchestra is bright and high. But not  artificially brighter - it never sound unpleasant, and the voice is also not artificially warmed up nor approximated.

But lets listen to another disc, let it be, for example, King Crimson, and the differentiation is carried out in the same manner as on Sinatra. It sounds beautiful and addictive, but you have to reckon with the fact that it is not a universal type presentation, it won't be to everyone's liking. If you're a strict "high fidelity" guy and you put this type of approach above the listening pleasure, then you should even try the Comet. However, if you do not care about high fidelity and you listen to the music to enjoy its beauty go ahead and listen to this American DAC—it might be a perfect complement for your system.

Comet as a preamplifier

My assessment of the Comet's volume control was based on a comparison of a direct connection between Comet's XLR outputs and XLR inputs of my Soulution 710 amplifier with RCA output of Comet and RCA input of the amplifier, but with Ayon Audio Spheris III preamplifier between them. So the system without preamp was fully balanced and with preamplifier it was unbalanced. But the it was the only way I could compare the two systems at once, switching inputs in my power amp, and reducing/increasing volume in the DAC. Volume level was every time the same - without the preamplifier Comet's display read '86'.

Exogal Comet Plus DAC

The volume control implemented in this DAC is of high quality. I say this reluctantly, but the immediacy and palpability of the sound without preamp were higher. Also, the dynamics and the "immediacy" of the presentation without Ayon were better. Comet connected directly to the Soulution's input sounded a little brighter and defined images differently. The instruments were presented closer and more in the foreground. Volume control introduces to the sound a little bit of dryness, because it brings out the instruments from their acoustic envelope and brings them closer to us. You have to consider that when building a system around Comet.

I did not notice any loss of resolution in the low range. Bass was a bit more compact and focused bit higher up the range than with the preamplifier. But it also didn't go as softly deep down as it did with preamplifier. It was treble area where a slight reduction in resolution could be found, as evidenced by a lower saturation of sound and a small decrease in its richness. But this is how the digital volume control works, whether it is a simple system in Accuphase Players or sophisticated one in dCS system, or this one in Exogal. The latter deals with this very well, much better than most other manufacturers. So although I would prefer it to listen to it with addition of a preamplifier, the cost of such a device, which would be up to the task, will be high. Perhaps spending more money on loudspeakers, power amp of acoustic treatment for the room would be a better way to spend money.

Exogal Comet Plus DAC

Comet as a headphone amplifier

The Comet's headphone output is in part independent form the main output—common elements are power supply and digital signal processing in a DSP. The sound it offers is therefore bit different. It has slightly mitigated attack, slightly lower resolution and generally more pastel-like performance. The differences in the resolution, however, are small, as they are in differentiation—but at this level of quality (because it's not about the price), they are important.

Exogal Comet Plus DAC

But I do not really see the point of investing in a separate headphone amp. Unless you have at least 6000 PLN to spare so such amp and proper cables. Then it could improve aspects I described above user will benefit from all the advantages of linear output. Otherwise it does not make sense. Comet paired with headphones delivers a very enjoyable performance. This is a multi-dimensional, open sound with a pleasant, "analog" clang to it. There is no fleshy, low bass, but in no case did it bother me, because the presentation as a whole is cohesive, pleasant and fun to listen to. It is a very good performer.


Comet is a device that plays almost all (except extreme versions DSD) types of audio files, and it does very well, with grace. For me, its real value is how capable it is when playing material from CDs. And it is doing it extremely well, with a feeling. Its dynamics, and so is the sound's opening for information (and not the details). All recordings sound better, more natural with it, a bit like the analog tape.

But, as I say, all of them, all recordings, sound very well even though sometimes they do not deserve it. I shall put it aside, because in music you have make some choices. Anyway, for the money such a performance does not happen. I'd be happy present Comet with the GOLD Fingerprint award, were it not that it is a reward not only for a product, but also for its manufacturer's long-standing quest for excellence. Therefore, for now it is "only" the RED Fingerprint. In a few years, GOLD will be granted automatically 🙂


Exogal Comet is a D/A Converter with variable output and headphone amplifier. When "100" value is displayed the digital display volume control is disabled, and the device behaves as a DAC with fixed output. The volume can be adjusted independently for the line-out and headphone output, but it each time you switch between them, it returns to "65" level.

We can read all indications on a small, square LCD display (no backlit). The idea is interesting, the display is  completely different than what you see in other devices. The problem is that it is completely unreadable already form short distance and a small angle. The values can be read on a tablet or smartphone, but who turns one of these devices to find out current volume setting?

The display is located on the front side in the recess. The housing is mostly made of an aluminum cutter forming four side walls. The top is made of dark acrylic and a very nice company's logo is applied on it. Underneath a transparent acrylic plate is fixes, with four metal balls piercing through it constituting four feet on which the device stands. A Korean company already offers a modification for Comet—bottom and legs made of braided carbon fiber (more HERE).

The headphone output is located on the right side, and the other connectors on the rear. Because there is only  a little space there, RCA jacks with analog inputs and outputs are not of very high quality and are placed much too close together. That is why I couldn't use Siltech Triple Crown cables, which I normally use, in this test. Fortunately, I have also Tellurium Q Silver Diamond, that worked perfectly. Apart from the usual input and outputs there are also HDMI input and output described as "Exonet." They are intended for the connection with company's power amplifier. And there is a slot for a small antenna wi-fi. This is not a Bluetooth receiver, it allows user to control DAC over home network wi-fi.

Coaxial input occurs only as BNC. It is of course technically much better than the RCA socket, as it is true 75 ohms. But it is much less frequently used in home audio. A BNC-RCA adapter is included, but it adds more  contact areas. I think there should be so jacks—RCA and BNC.

Exogal Comet Plus DAC

The electronic circuitry is mounted on one PCB. At its center sits a large DSP Altera Cyclone IV, and next to it there are two very nice clocks. Right behind it one finds the Burr Brown SRC4192 upsampler—it looks so that the DSP includes only digital filters. The signal then is sent separately into the line-out and headphone output. The TI PCM 4104 DAC works at the linear output, behind which you can see a row of six large integrated circuits - amplifiers and buffers. These are 6-leg LME99600 chips. There are separate ones for balanced and unbalanced outputs, so you can use them at the same time. The TI PCM 5122 DAC delivers signal to the headphone output, working with two such chips.

Exogal Comet Plus DAC

The entire circuit is an example of modern technology, surface mount, without any exotic components. I noticed an advanced voltage regulation system with multiple gears. There is also a small, complete Bluegig wi-fi receiver. The housing is available in two colors - black and silver.
The power supply was placed in a small, black aluminum box. The LED on its front lights up in green, which I liked a lot. The 12V DC is sent to the DAC via not particularly nice-looking, but apparently fulfilling its task, cable. Only the plug, taken from some popular household appliance, does not fit the quality of the device itself.

Exogal Comet Plus DAC

It is, surprise surprise, a switching power supply. The filtration stage sports several small capacitors with a total capacity of 85 000μF and many cascading voltage regulators. I assume that designers know well what they are doing, because the results speak for themselves. One of the advantages of such a power supply is the ability to work with virtually any supply voltage (85VAC - 264VAC)—no need to use different power supplies for different countries.

Comet Plus

Price (in Poland): 12 990 PLN

Technical specifications (according to manufacturer):


  • Digital inputs: AES/EBU 24/192, BNC 24/192, Toslink 24/96, USB-B 32/384 DSD128
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 47,6 x 19 x 292mm
  • Weight: 4,2kg

Power supply

  • Voltage: 85VAC - 264VAC
  • Power consumption: 25W
  • Output voltage: 15VDC
  • Output current: 1.7A
  • Filtering capacity: 85 000μF
  • Noise (typical):  <400μVpp
  • Cable length: 1.5m
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 152,4 x 165 x 57,2mm
  • Weight: 0.91kg


4657 Aspen Ridge Circle

Eagan, MN 55122, USA

[email protected]



Provided for test by: AUDIO ATELIER


Text: Wojciech Pacuła

Images: Wojciech Pacuła

Translation: Marek Dyba

Visit High Fidelity