Musician Audio Pegasus R2R HiFi DAC Review
My first R2R
I started Pursuit Perfect System a couple of years ago and in that time I have spent a lot of time listening to DAC’s from Chord Electronics and I will admit I have been in-“DAC”-trinated to some degree. I have listened to other DAC’s in this time, quite often they have been built into amplifiers such is the modern way and some of them have been good for specific reasons but none have really held my attention enough to keep me away from going back to the Chord’s.
Musician Audio contacted me and asked me if I would be interested to review their Pegasus DAC which is an R2R design based DAC and I was very intrigued by the look, the price and the specification. Its been very interesting spending time with the Pegasus and I have been very impressed with it.
First Impressions Count
The Pegasus costs £879.99 at the time of this review and is available to buy from Amazon here, this makes the Pegasus the most affordable standalone DAC I have reviewed to date.
I had no preconceived ideas and I will say first impressions, the packaging is ok but I was uber impressed with the overall build quality of the Pegasus. Its heavy it feels solid, I like the size and its overall form factor. There is a pretty cool M on the rear of its top plate which is pretty and cool and maybe if there was an etched logo into the top plate I think that would really set off the design but that would probably increase the price.
I like the the front facia look and simplicity, and I particularly like the use of very small and discrete LED. There are some stand out design choice that really appeal to me as an audiophile such as a Furutech IEC power socket and the use of premium quality connections or connectors. This may seem a minor thing but in practice its not at all and should not be under appreciated. The Chord Electronics Qutest DAC which costs £1195 doesnt have such nice quality connectors and its costs more. Its not until the customer spends £3995 for the Hugo TT2 that they get such nice quality connections that we get with the Pegasus for considerably less.
I do prefer the Chord Qutest digital inputs having BNC connections rather than the RCA SPDIF connections of the Pegasus but that’s a personal thing, you may prefer it the other way around.
Another standout design feature is the use of three legs rather than 4 and 3 makes a lot of sense for a lot of structural and audiophiles reasons but the negative side of using three legs is this the component can easily unbalance so the best thing top do is grab it on its side when you want to plug any cables into it. In pratice and in use it wont be an issue and could be of some benefit
While we are talking connections there are the main digital inputs you would expect USB, SPDIF, Optical, Balanced AES and a HDMI for I2S but there are only a small number of products officially confirmed to work from the HDMI I2S so I wouldn’t buy this DAC if that is the connection you want to use from your source unless its on the approved list found here.
For USB the Pegasus will work driverless for Mac and Linux but you will need to download windows drivers and these are available from the Pegasus website.
On the front there are 2 important buttons besides the on and off – you have the input selector and the NOS button – the Pegasus has built in oversampling to 16 times, this is enabled by default and pressing the NOS (No Over Sampling) button deactivates it and switches back to the original sampling rate.
Sound Quality – quick caveats
There are 2 important factors to point out before I give you my thoughts on the sound quality of the Pegasus. Firstly I didn’t hear it at its maximum or best, I could only use it from its RCA outputs and not its balanced outputs, this was purely because of the system I was using for the review.
The Pegasus is a balanced DAC and the balanced outputs gives the best performance. and this was purely because of how it integrated into my current review system. In saying that I was using the DAC in a pretty high end HiFi system featuring active ATC SCM50ASL speakers and other very high quality components. I have created a sound demonstration video for this system where I used the Pegasus and the results were pretty stunning so I am confident I got to hear a lot of what the Pegasus is capable of, even if not all of it.
The second factor, I used the SPDIF digital input throughout the whole review, its possible USB or the other inputs could sound different but I started with the SPDIF was very happy with the sound and stuck with that. This also allowed me to more easily test and compare different DAC’s in the same configuration, had I used USB it would have meant comparing USB windows drivers and DAC differences and I wanted it to be keep my comparative testing more simple than that for obvious reasons.
For my DAC comparison I used none other than what a lot of audiophiles would think is the best HiFi DAC under £2k the Chord Electronics Qutest
A very good start
I have got to say I was impressed with the Pegasus straight away, it presents music in a relaxed, smooth and fluid way, you could say buttery smooth and most importantly without any real obvious compromises. It took me maybe an hour to adjust to this type of presentation but when I did I could appreciate it a lot for its mellow, musical sound that makes all all music fun and nice to listen to. You can still hear better or worse music file quality but the less good files are not as badly punished and I think this will pay dividends for audiophiles who stream a lot of their music as the quality varies a lot as we all know. I think important to mention the better quality music files will still get the uplift in performance you expect.
The second thing that stood out to me about the Pegasus was its timing which is superb for a DAC at this price, there is no digital tension or hardness to music that can be a sign of less than very good DAC timing. This is the first thing I notice when listening to DAC’s and the Pegasus just sounds composed, smooth and unwavering in its musical delivery and it is a very musical smooth sounding DAC.
The treble delivery is no surprise smooth, maybe a smidgen softer than some other DAC’s but that can be a good thing or a good sign depending. Both male and female vocals have a very nice organic presence about them and again its an unforced clean sound with a bit of a special character to vocals at times, music depending.
The bass, initially I felt was a softer than I am used to, but with more listening its balanced quite nice with the overall smoother presentation of the Pegasus. The bass is clean and nice and tight and I adjusted the custom Dirac Live calibration asking the system for a little more bass to satisfy my bass heathen nature. The bass again has a nice organic character and flow to it
The NOS button is an interesting one with it OFF, its default position the overall sound from the Pegasus is a little softer with more depth to it, more of a go away from you / you look on to type of sound presentation. With the NOS selected to ON (oversampling off) the sound is a little rougher around the edges, slightly worse timing but its more upfront and present. I preferred the sound with the NOS enabled so no oversampling but I can see a lot of audiophiles preferring it the other way around so its nice to have the option of both.
Vs the Qutest
Comparing the Pegasus to the Chord Electronic Qutest is very interesting because these DACs really do things noticeably differently.
The Qutest for starters and for some reason has a much louder output even when its set to 2V output which should match the 2.2v of the Pegasus – but its noticeably louder and the sound is more substantial. The bolder sound can be perceived as better in ways for sure but I am not sure its 100% for the better in every sound area. The Qutest sounds tighter, it sounds more focused, with the main the elements in the stage sounding more dense and the Qutest sounds more detail centric but that can come across as a harder sound.
The Pegasus yes sounds less substantial but it sounds cleaner and smoother overall, a little more vague in its main soundstage elements but that means that some microdetails and subtleties stand out more or are easier to hear in places than with the Qutest.
The Qutest is the better DAC in some regards but the way the Pegasus presents the musical flow, was an easier listen for sure for more varied music and source quality. I have settled on the mindset that your preference might largely depend on your system and of course preference and whether the more mellow Pegasus suits it more than the upfront Qutest which helps the system to resolve its sound better.
I know regulars to my YouTube channel are going to have questions, what about the Qutest with a linear power supply and what about adding the Chord Hugo M Scaler. I didn’t compare the Qutest with a linear power to the Pegasus as that would raise the price to about double what the Pegasus costs so at that point you have to look at the Pegasus in an even greater light.
Interestingly adding a Hugo M Scaler to the Qutest totally changes things, but adding one to the Pegasus does as well, in fact up sampling in the M Scaler to the maximum the Pegasus will take which is the blue mode and feeding that signal to the Pegasus resulted in a stunning sound, totally stunning and I would love to recommend this to everyone as an upgrade path but there a price tag that comes with this.
I was also feeding the Pegasus clean power from an Isotek Genesis One mains regenerator as I know digital circuits really benefit from clean power so factor that into this review as part of my opinion.
I am struggling to think of anything significantly negative to say about the Pegasus. I would prefer it to have BNC digital connections but that's preference. There is no remote control for changing inputs which I would hope is not a deal breaker for anyone but it is something to consider. Maybe the softer sound character compared to other DAC's from the RCA outputs (balanced could well be different) could be seen as a negative, but to me that's part of the Pegasus character and might be why you buy it.
I think the Musician Audio Pegasus is a great DAC for the money with its tank like build quality, nice form factor, great quality connections and most importantly really great sound quality and I really liked the sound of the Pegasus much more than I was expecting to. I am really glad I got to spend time with the Pegasus DAC, I have genuinely really enjoyed it, well done Musician Audio.
An Essential Audition Award is granted in recognition of a products high performance but with a certain uniqueness that makes auditioning even more essential
Musician Audio Pegasus Specification
See the website here