Listening to the Linear Tube Audio MZ3 with the Meze Audio Empyrean II Headphones opened my eyes somewhat to the future of high-end headphone systems and what is possible already when you insert a rather capable network player or DAC into the mix.

Are we witnessing the dying days of the standalone DAC? It is definitely starting to feel that way — a reality that was inevitable when you consider how many audio components utilize an internal DAC in 2024.

With very few exceptions, almost every integrated amplifier sold today comes equipped with its own DAC and it’s part of every streamer or network amplifier.

The Head-Fi revolution helped Topping and Schiit Audio move a lot of desktop DACs that were more affordable and the Dongle DAC market is already oversaturated.

AVRs, TVs, Roku Media Players, and Soundbars? There is a DAC inside all of them.

The Spring3 Kitsuné Tuned Edition (KTE) probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to most consumers at this stage of the game — but it is definitely what I buy for my own desktop headphone rig if funds permitted.

There is something very special about this DAC; and whilst it might be a “bargain” by high-end standards when it comes to pricing/performance — it is still a rather sizeable investment.

The Holo Audio Spring3 KTE measures 16.9″W x 2.2″H x 11.8″D and weighs 18 lbs. Inside its solid case constructed from copper and black-anodized aluminum, are two entirely separate, fully balanced converters: a 24-bit, discrete R-2R for PCM, and a discrete resistor network to handle DSD up to DSD512.

The USB and I2S inputs accept PCM data up to 32-bit/1.536MHz and DSD512, and the S/PDIF inputs up to 24/192 and DSD64. The outputs are balanced (XLR) and single-ended (RCA). The Spring3 rests on silicone-damped copper feet.

Connected to a CD transport or streamer, this DAC makes music come alive. If you’re wondering if it makes sense to spend this kind of money on a DAC when digital technology is evolving so quickly, the answer is that a great DAC doesn’t lose its value as a component just because something new comes out. 

90% of available digital music is red book CD quality (or less) and the 10% that qualifies as high-resolution digital audio will always be supported by this DAC. 

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Remote Control for Holo Audio Spring 3 KTE DAC

If streaming platforms like Tidal, Deezer, Spotify, or Qobuz are your primary sources of digital music – the Spring3 KTE will allow you to uncover a lot of great sounding music for years to come.

The timbral accuracy is second to none, and there is a level of resolution that you might not expect from a DAC that starts at $2,198 depending on the configuration (the level one unit is $2,198 USD).  

A boutique online manufacturer, Holo Audio, is distributed by KitsuneHiFi, and even with the long wait time for delivery, this is one DAC worth waiting for. The Spring3 KTE retails for $3,098 and gives music listeners a real taste of what reference quality digital audio can sound like. 

The Spring3 KTE USB DAC reproduces layers of detail, and offers a warm tonal balance, low noise floor, and superb top-to-bottom coherency.

Inside the Holo Audio Spring 3 KTE DAC

Sound

I might be wrong, but Holo Audio Spring3 KTE DAC feels like the last of its kind; most certainly at its price which won’t make sense to those getting into high-end digital playback for the first time with desktop headphone rigs or 2.1 systems fronted by a network player.

Connected to my Roon Nucleus, Audiolab 6000CDT, and Marantz CD60 — the Holo Audio Spring3 KTE DAC reframed how digital audio can sound with CDs, downloads, and digital streaming platforms.

The organic nature of its presentation with the DAC set to NOS mode, was some of the most beautiful sounding digital audio I have yet to experience; and I will not get sucked into the “analog versus digital” debate on this one.

A component either brings you closer to the musical experience or it fails in its purpose.

The Spring3 KTE DAC recreates the soundstage with excellent depth and width and the imaging is spot on; musicians and instruments are locked firmly in place.

I’ve heard some more incisive sounding DACs, but the extra degree of edge always becomes fatiguing and really doesn’t sound very natural with a lot of recordings.

Vocals and strings have so much presence and body that I felt a rather sadistic urge to torment my family with classical music on a nightly basis; I can’t explain why they show such little interest in Mozart, Dvorak, Shostakovich, or Stravinsky — but the Spring3 KTE had me sitting on the edge of my sofa and converging with the power and emotional impact of the music.

Unison Research Triode 25 Integrated Front Angle Black
Unison Research Triode 25

The Holo Audio Spring3 KTE connected to the Unison Research Triode 25 Integrated Amplifier and Linear Tube Audio MZ3 was one of the best sounding DAC/amplifier combinations I’ve heard in many years. At any price. Undeniably captivating.

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Where to buy: $3,098 at kitsunehifi.com

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