Aqua Formula xhd

Anyone own or have had an opportunity to listen? I’m particularly curious as to any comparisons with the DSD through bridge II and/or the Aqua la scala.

I’ve read a ton of reviews and posts on Agon, etc.—most are very positive, but just trying to get some additional opinions/data points before laying down relatively serious cash or hassling a distributor for a demo unit (if they even exist at present).

Thanks in advance,

Just an FYI, the Aqua Formula xHD is now in its Rev. 2 release.

I own both the Directstream with bridge II and the Aqua Formula xtd, fed by the Aqua LinQ network interface.

They are both excellent DAC’s and they have a similar sound signature, in my opinion. Very musical, great texture and tone.

The Aqua is a bit more refined, neutral and quieter. The combination with the LinQ is superb - reference quality. But, the SQ comparison between the two DAC’s is much closer than the price delta.

I think Ted Smith is a fantastic engineer/designer and a great guy, PS Audio is a solid team and I plan on upgrading to the DS MK II, with the Air Lens streamer, when it comes out. That will likely give the Aqua pair a run for their money.


High praise, indeed.

Welcome to the dungeon…I mean forum.


Welcome @Robelinks !

Thanks. Your response is super helpful. The more I see about the MKII and Air Lens, the more excited I am about those products and their functionality (I think it is a given that they are going to sound fantastic and having the great PS Audio customer support is also a huge plus in my book).

Honestly, I could live with the DS MK I forever and be perfectly content (other than its lack of wifi/airplay capability, which will be offered by the Air Lens or easily solved by a standalone streamer). This is particularly true given the diminishing returns (as you noted) in going up the ladder (no pun intended) cost-wise.

It’s probably not a coincidence that what attracted my interest in the Formula were the descriptions of its sound, in terms which I found very similar to my thoughts on the DS. Not sure why this hobby/obsession lends itself so much to the “this is great, but could it be better?” mentality. I don’t have that with anything other than my audio systems.

For me, it’s a choice between (1) an expensive new DAC/Streamer for my main system right now (supply chain gods willing) or (2) waiting on the DS MK II/Air Lens for the main system and using the money saved for a significant upgrade my office/headphone rig (which is about 30% of my listening time) using my current DS as the source.

Your upgrade dilemma sounds exactly what I was going through. I didn’t want to just get “different” for the sake of a change. I don’t really change my gear, once I find a good fit. I’m not a car, boat or watch guy - this is my only incurable obsession (I Think?!?).

I’m blessed with being able to have two good systems and needed another DAC. I wanted the TSS DAC for my reference system, but the wait for that seemed like it might be too long.

The Aqua Formula with the LinQ is an end game DAC for my main system. I just don’t get the “hummm, I wonder if this could be better?” Thoughts with it.

If the DS MKII and Air Lens are not too expensive, they will be end game for system 2. Otherwise, I’ll be happy with the DS I. It’s a very good DAC, but I think the tech has moved along and getting the streamer in a stand alone, galvanically isolated chassis will really up the DS game.

BTW, I liked the pun. You gotta have a sense of humor to be into this crazy hobby.

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Your statement about the Aqua and not having any thoughts about whether it could be bettered is certainly high praise.

Edit: Meant to ask, is there any genre of music where you think the Aqua is a particularly good fit or not a good fit?

While I’ve listened to a number of different DACs in dealer shops and at shows, I’ve never had the opportunity to listen anything other than PS products in my current setup (first the DS Jr and currently the DS). It’s a constant theme that the DS “punches above its weight,” but I have no real frame of reference because I’m left to wonder with other DACs (when listening outside my systems), whether I’m hearing the DAC, the amps, the speakers, the room, etc. It’s likely “all of the above”

Of course, this is easily remedied—just get a couple of demo units to try out (but I have this weird guilt thing about trying but not buying/buying, trying and then returning) or just bite the bullet and understand that I will take a loss in the secondary market if decide to sell.

I always tell my SO that it could be worse, I could choose to spend $50k/year on a CC membership (if I was a golfer) or $10k/each on a collection of road bikes (if I rode). At least with home audio, I am around and available to take out the garbage when she yells at me for it.

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I would suppose there are “better” DAC’s out there, but the Aqua is end game, for me. It’s good enough for me to not be willing to search for more, probably at a prohibitive price point, that I could rationalize buying.

I listen to a lot of Jazz - piano trios and horns. Rock, pop and female vocals. Classical gets its time on the system. Everything sounds good, to me. It plays electronic and shoe gaze very well too.

It’s hard to demo gear these days and I’m with you, I just can’t demo something at home, unless I’m going to buy it. I hope I’ve helped and not just muddied the waters.

Thanks again. Your responses and thoughts have been very helpful.

Also, it’s refreshing to see someone make an unsolicited reference to shoe gaze. Will need to listen to some Ride this evening…

I’ll check out Ride. I listen to Washed Out, Rhye, Tycho and Bonobo, to name a few.

I thought about your value proposition question:

Buy the Aqua or keep the DS MKI or/and wait to upgrade to the DS MKII and Air Lens (if needed), and I’d probably wait and pocket the cash. I think once PS Audio separates the two functions and Ted Smith puts his secret sauce in the MKII, you are likely to have a different, not better comparison. His secret sauce is really tasty!

Happy listening.

Well, I ended up biting the bullet and purchased the formula. Will be a month or two before it comes in, but I’m excited to give a listen to an R2R (after owning both FGPA and Delta Sigmas). I figure that, after having the Formula, I will have a pretty good idea as to which “type” of DAC I prefer.

I’m going to hold onto the DS for trade for the DS mkII when it gets released. I’m sure that’s going to be a difficult choice between the mkII and the Formula, but a fun one.

Wanted to ask what transport and connection (USB, etc) you use with your Formula? I’ve got a custom I2S (RJ45) on order (as my transport has the same I2S RJ45), but the folks at Aqua couldn’t guarantee that the AQ link and my transport would talk, even if the pin outs are done correctly).

My understanding has always been with Aqua that if you are not using Aqua I2S compatible gear then AES is their connection of choice. With the La Voce S3 I found that to be true.

Congratulations on the new Dac.

I am using a Synergistic Technology Gallileo SX between the LinQ Network Interface (streamer) and the Formula via the AQlink I2S connection. It was my dealers recommendation.

I like your plan on keeping the DS. It’s a great Dac and just sounds superb in tone, texture, timing and tempo - especially with acoustic music like piano trios and small groups. I’m hopeful the MkII will be similar in SQ, but just slightly evolved.

Looking forward to your impressions of the Formula.

Thanks again to you guys for the information and assistance. My hope is that the I2S cable plays well between the streamer and the DAC, but not the end of the world if not (as I didn’t spend stupid money on the cable). If it doesn’t I’ll definitely see if I can get a loaner AES to compare with the USB.

Will definitely post some updates once the Formula arrives and breaks in.

Hi there!
You won’t regret it, i’m certain.
Keep us posted.

I’ve been living with the Formula for about 3 weeks now, with probably 300-350 hours on it. Held off on posting anything regarding the unit until I had a good feel for it.

Purchased through Nick at TMR. Great experience as always. Nick really loves music and gear, so it’s always fun geeking out with him on both areas.

Build/ship time was quoted at around 6 - 8 weeks, and the unit arrived just at the end of that 8-week period (which, all things considered, isn’t a terribly long wait these days).

I opted not to purchase the Aqua streamer, so I’m using a Rose 150b as the streamer/source into the Formula. First nice surprise was that the custom RJ45 i2s cable (Moon Silver Dragon) actually worked. This was a big question mark, as no one really knew whether the two units would talk through that protocol (given the pin out weirdness, etc.).

The Formula sounded great out of the box, but did go through some “awkward teenage years” (particularly with male vocals, which was a bit surprising) until around the 250-hour mark, at which point the overall sound became much more balanced/consistent.


-The DAC is just stupid quiet. I’ve never really appreciated all the discussions around noise, etc. until now. I can’t really describe it other than “you just hear more of everything” and “everything you hear sounds incredibly natural” (e.g., intonations in vocals, decay of notes (particularly piano), the effects created by the movement of the slide on a dobro/drop steel, etc.).

-Perhaps unexpectedly (given some of the reviews I read online), the low end is really good. I’ve always liked the bass in my system (it’s very natural and detailed), but wished there could just be slightly more of it (without it becoming more boosted to level that took away from that natural quality and detail). The Formula did exactly that.

-The Formula replaced the DS in my main system. I think the Formula is more similar to the DS than it is different. They share that same smooth, musical quality (I guess you could say they are both on the “warm” side of neutral, but I don’t mean that in a negative way, because they both deliver great detail and nuance). There is just an additional layer of detail, nuance and everything else in the Formula. That being said, I think the DS does vocals (definitely male; female maybe) as good if not better. Also, I think that extra detail you get from the Formula makes it a bit less forgiving than the DS on lesser quality recordings (particularly live stuff).

Another thing I found interesting is the impact on levels. I would listen to the DS at 95 and, depending upon the recording, the BHK situated somewhere between 45 - 60. With the Formula (which has no volume control), 20 is plenty and anything above 40 literally shakes pictures off the wall two floors above. I’m typing right now with the BHK at 4 and it sounds great.

Over the last 3 months, I have run the DS, the Rose and the Formula as the DACs in my main system. That comparison has made me really appreciate how freakin’ good the DS is. It trounces the Rose in every respect. I prefer the Formula to the DS, but it’s a lot closer of a call (and the Formula is approx 2x the list $ of the DS w/ Bridge II). Accordingly, in my mind, it becomes a personal question as to what are you willing to spend to get that small, but still meaningful, improvement (subjectively speaking).

Two final comments/thoughts:

  1. The DS is now in my headphone rig (using the Bridge II). Rest of the rig is an Auris headphone amp and Focal Utopias. The music that comes out of that rig is just spooky (good) with the DS as the source. I’ve got a Mano Ultra mkiii and Tubulus Concentus i2s on order, and I’ll be ordering either a P3 or P12 for the unit today. I may switch the DS back into my main system with the Mano and Concentus to do another comparison to the Formula because I’ve never been able to experience the DS via i2S with Bridge removed.

  2. I will definitely be ordering the DS mkii when it comes out. It will be interesting to see whether the Formula stays in my main system or gets replaced by the DS mkii.

Thanks again for everyone’s input when I was considering the Formula.


Just a well thought out, well written and informative post! Raising the bar…