The Ciunas is the last iteration of Jkenny’s works, who a few years ago started offering mods for the Hiface USB-SPDIF interface in order to maximize its performance. He subsequently designed a DAC using such Hiface as receiver, and a Sabre 32 bit chip, and now evolved the DAC design into this latest model, the Ciùnas. Any quick research on internet will tell us that Ciùnas means “silence” in old gaelic, to underline the quiet background provided by this tiny, battery powered DAC.
The DAC uses recever section built around the Amanero USB interface, in conjunction with the BurrBrown PCM5102 DAC chip.
The Ciùnas DAC retains the same technology as its close sibling, the Ciunas USB-SPDIF converter, except instead of converting the I2S signal to SPDIF (to send to an external DAC), it passes it to the internal DAC chip. This prevents a double conversion (I2S-SPDIF, SPDIF-I2S) and the inherent degradation.
I have tested the Ciunas agains the Yulong DA8 and the Metrum Octave Mk2.
I have been hearing it through Mordaunt Short Performance 6 speakers, powered by Meitner MTR101 and CKKIII (as preamplifier). I have also used Stax SR-001 Mk2 earphones (with the matching amp modified by Headfier audiocats), and Stax Omega 2 amplified by a SRM-007t amplifier.
Through the CKKIII, I listened to the Etymotic ER4 (modified by Forza Audioworks).
The Ciunas has a smooth, liquid sound signature. Vocals are quite well reproduced without any offensive digital glare, though lacking the liveliness, magic and presence that the Metrum Octave, or Museatex DAC’s, or the Metrum Hex have.
The Ciunas has better vocals than the Yulong DA8, though, which does show a bit of ‘luminescence’.
Both the Ciunas and the Metrum have similarly smooth treble. The Ciunas has sensibly cleaner bass than the Metrum. Both lack real deep bass energy (which, instead, the Yulong DA8 has), but the Ciunas has a bit less power than the Metrum overall, probably due to the Metrum’s excessive midbass.
The much cleaner bass of the Ciunas is particularly appreciable when listening to speakers, especially in less than optimal environment. The midbass produced by standing waves is much less pronounced. The Metrum’s midbass, by comparison, is the worst part of the dac, and low frequency sounds escalate pretty quickly in a room.
The Ciunas is slightly better than the Metrum Octave in regards to details retrieval and instrument placement, when using regular cheap usb cables. Anyway, I noticed that the Metrum scaled better (especially in low level detail retrieval) when paired with the RAL Prophecy cable, while the same cable didn’t have the same impact with the Ciunas.
Compared to the Yulong, the Ciunas offers better, more human vocals, a blurrier picture, and less bass power. The DA8 comes out as a more audiophile source, also having the best and most articulated bass, but the Ciunas offers a better sense of music wholeness.
The Ciùnas comes out as a lower profile source than others I have heard, which I’d vaguely consider in the same tier, like the ones I have directly compared to it: its sound presentation never calls for attention (a kind of opposite compared to the catchy Eximus DP-1, as another example), and its shortcomings are not about adding something undesirable (being it glare, or Octave’s midbass excess), making for a laid back and relaxing listen. Price not being an object, I feel it’s limited by such traits compared to the best sources I have heard (AMR DP-777, Hex, although both are much more expensive, or the upgraded Museatex “cult” DAC’s), which have their own special ways to hook the listener, elegantly.
Understandably, the Ciùnas is aimed to a certain range of people, looking for a USB dac that’s both small and affordable (it’s slightly north of 500 Euro).
Removing such constraints, I’d be very curious to see if future offerings might approach the aforementioned Hex or AMR, while retaining a high price / performance ratio.