HE 2019 SPL Director 2
Not only visually extraordinary: The SPL Director Mk2 DAC/preamplifier combines professional studio standards with high musicality (Photo: SPL)

Test high-voltage DAC/preamplifier SPL Director Mk2

A test that was long overdue. The SPL Director Mk2 has been in the editorial office for a good six months now and has proven itself in the shadow of the impressive SPL mono power amp blocks called Performer m1000 has quietly earned the position of a preamp reference. Even at LowBeats, we needed time to fully appreciate the sonic quality of this DAC/preamp. But the longer you listen to it, the clearer it becomes that transistor technology has been pushed to the limit here…

The director has been there before. In its first generation (click here for the test) it accompanied us for many months as an incorruptible arbiter in a number of listening tests. Its straightforwardness, its relaxed sound at all times and its high operational reliability made it clear that the Director comes from the studio sector, in which the Lower Rhine-based pro-fi manufacturer SPL has played an important role for many, many years.

Although the first Director could do almost as much as the successor, it was only about half as high. The slightly taller design immediately leads us to a point with which the new Director convinces from the very first moment: it looks – especially with the front panel in this crisp red – sharp as a rat. Also because the proportions are much more harmonious compared to the first director.

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SPL Director Mk2 red
Concentrated audiophile power in a compact housing. The SPL Director MK2 has the dimensions 27.8 x 10.0 x 33.0 cm and is available in three color variants: in a racy red…
SPL Director Mk2 black
…in discreet black…
SPL Director Mk2 silver
…or in noble silver. The housing itself is always in anthracite black (Photo: SPL)
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Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. But even those who are more into classic hi-fi design will agree with me that this quasi-studio look with its narrow width of 27.8 cm is really something and clearly stands out from the mass of conventional pre-amps. And of course these VU meters (for those who like them) are absolutely bewitching…

The technology of the SPL Director Mk2

If you put the predecessor on its back, a mouse piano became visible in which you could make some useful adjustments, especially in the studio. The new model only offers these additional options to a limited extent and certainly not in the supine position; it’s not very sexy if you have to remove and turn the device over every now and then. The new Director has therefore once again become a “real” hi-fi component.

But of course there are also technical changes. Perhaps the most important is the digital section, which has largely been taken over from the Phonitor XE. The central component here is the AK4490EQ chipset from AKM. The philosophy of the pro-fi forge, which SPL CEO Hermann Gier outlined very vividly during the last LowBeats visit, is particularly evident with him. It reads: All relevant components are heard and thus selected.

This process brought the AK4490EQ from AKM into play. It is tried and tested, is used by many digital specialists, can handle all major formats up to PCM768 and DSD256 and, to the ears of SPL decision-makers, simply sounds that little bit better than the other products on the market. But – and this is also SPL – it is robbed of its filters. SPL developer Bastian Neu builds them himself. And analog ones at that.

SPL Director Mk2 DAC AKM
The AK4490EQ Audio D/A Converter in the shadow of the two condenser towers (Photo: H. Biermann)

It’s a question of attitude. We have also had the SPL Crossover analog active crossover in the editorial office for some time now. Here, too, the question arises as to whether the separation of the individual branches cannot be achieved much more easily, effectively and cheaply by digital means. “Sure,” says a grinning Hermann Gier. “But the analog one just sounds better.” And he is right.

Because SPL listens a lot, a small weakness was found in the power supply of the old Director. So two large 5,000 μF filter capacitors simply became ten small 1,000 μF capacitors. According to Gier, this brought even more pressure and lightness to the playback.

SPL Director Mk2 power supply
The power supply is equipped like a mid-range amplifier: a powerful toroidal transformer (unusually attached to the side panel) and a whole battery of (blue) power supply capacitors: ten pieces of 1,000 μF each (Photo: H. Biermann)

However, the technology of a modern SPL device would be incompletely described if the high-voltage technology – philosophically called “Voltair” at SPL – were disregarded. Background: Classic hi-fi devices work internally with a voltage swing of plus/minus 15 volts. That is sufficient, according to almost all developers. “Not enough”, say Gier and Neu, who have experienced the limitations of this voltage range not only in the studio sector. Their high-voltage technology relies on an internal voltage range of plus/minus 60 volts. This is four times as much and enables a significantly higher, low-distortion power range. The result, says Gier: “It just sounds more casual”.

SPL Director Mk2 Headroom2
The animation is taken from SPL and roughly shows the advantages of the higher internal voltage: you have significantly more headroom at the top (animation: SPL)

High-voltage technology is also a question of attitude, as its implementation involves some effort. Many components are not designed for such high voltages. For example, the company has developed its own high-voltage operational amplifier, which represents a considerable investment for a rather small company like SPL. But it gives the Rhinelanders an (almost) unique selling point: among the well-known German high-end providers, only T+A has discovered the advantages of the larger voltage swing for itself, but only uses it in its sinfully expensive top (HV) components. Everything clear?


The SPL Director is very easy to use and has a few real delicacies on board. For example, SPL’s well-known adaptation of all adaptive remote controls. They are sworn in to the new director at the touch of a button. Or the tape/monitor loop with level adjustment for tape machines.

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SPL Director Mk2 balanced outputs
At the touch of a button, any adaptive remote control takes control of the Director Mk2 – see picture on the left. The fact that the power amp outputs are only symmetrical makes sense from the point of view of studio professionals… (Photo: H. Biermann)
SPL Director Mk2 Motorpoti
A long-life Alps motorized potentiometer ensures volume adjustment via remote control (Photo: H. Biermann)
SPL Director Mk2 Record Level Adjustment
Not often encountered anymore: A tape/monitor loop, where you can also adjust the usual level differences of tape machines. Superbly done! (Photo: H. Biermann)
SPL Director Mk2 connections
Compared to its predecessor, the higher body also creates more space for more connections. 6 analog stereo inputs, 2 of which are balanced (XLR sockets) and 4 digital inputs: AES/EBU, coaxial, optical and USB (Photo: SPL)
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The rear of the compact Director Mk2 offers no fewer than 10 inputs. That is lavish. However, the compact preamplifier does not have two things: firstly, a headphone amplifier. The pro-fi specialists from the Lower Rhine are known as proven headphone amplifier specialists. And it’s in the nature of things that they didn’t want to include a headphone stage that was slimmed down in any way. Because they have four extremely sophisticated headphone amps in their range that take music listeners to the very top in terms of sound.

Secondly, some hi-fi fans may be missing unbalanced outputs because their existing power amplifier may only have RCA inputs. But SPL’s approach here is absolutely correct: In most applications (power amplifiers are located next to the speakers, or operation of active speakers) the cable runs are well over a meter long. And then, of course, the symmetrical connections are far superior due to their low interference. And there are adapters for everything…

This is how the SPL Director Mk2 sounds

What do you expect from such a preamp that comes from the field of tension between studio technology and hi-fi? Yet probably an incredibly accurate, rather neutral-sounding precision machine. The Prussian ministerial official among the preliminary stages, so to speak. The Director Mk2 disappoints such expectations in the most pleasant way.

For the tests, we naturally combined a wide variety of power amplifiers. Among other things, the new Director was present at the big level festival of the Rotel Michi power amplifiers on the JBL Everest DD 67000. Also Audiolab 8300MB and Nubert nuPower A were also used. But in the end – who’s surprised, with the same stable? – we stayed with our reference power amplifiers SPL Performer m1000. They also harmonized best with the comparison preamps.

But first things first. In the first listening tests, we tried to sound out the quality of the DAC section. Because the converter has no digital output and we therefore had to use the Director MK2 as a preamp, this attempt naturally has its weaknesses. Nevertheless, the differences between the various external DACs were clearly audible. The Director Mk2 kept most of the competitor DACs (then connected via an analog input) at bay with its very dynamic and neutral-balanced performance.

SPL Director Mk2 vs Merason DAC
In the end, the DAC of the SPL Director Mk2 had to compete with the LowBeats reference DAC from Merason to deal with. And did not do badly at all… (Photo: H. Biermann)

Only the LowBeats reference converter, the Merason DAC-1shone with even more information and a better musical flow. However, this exceptional Swiss DAC already costs 4,500 euros, has no preamp functions whatsoever and with it we are already quite high up in the DAC firmament.

For the actual preamp comparison, the Questyle CMA 800P (3.000 Euro) and the Rotel Michi P5 (3,500 euros) were pitted against each other. The small price advantage of the Questyle is actually none, because the exceptional Chinese preamp has no built-in DAC. In other words, the prices are roughly on a par. The following configurations were heard: All three preamplifiers had to prove themselves on the incorruptibly good sounding ATC SCM 50 monitors in both active (ASL) and passive (PSL) versions.

Test setup in the LowBeats listening room
The SPL Director Mk2 in the large LowBeats listening room. In the background you can see the ATC SCM 50 ASLwhich we listened to both actively and passively. That’s why the SPL Monos Performer m1000 next to it. Just to the left of the Director is the NuPrime CD drive CDT-8 Prowhich acted as the signal supplier for the CD listening test (Photo: H. Biermann)

The three pre-amps were also used with the Gauder Audio RC7/9 (here via the SPL m1000) and the JBL Everest DD 67000. The massive JBLs were used with the Rotel Michi M8 monoblocksserved as energy suppliers.

Despite the different configurations, the result was always the same: The Questyle quickly turned out to be the liveliest of the three. In terms of attention to detail and fine resolution, it was second to none. Rotel and SPL sound tonally calmer, richer, more confident – and somehow related in essence.

And somehow not. Where the Rotel sometimes gives the impression of being too powerful to move quickly, the Director MK2 proves to be surprisingly fast. Snare drums sound even crisper and more authentic, voices not quite as open as with the Questyle, but more powerful, much more full-bodied and more detailed than with the Rotel.

Rotel Michi Pre-Amp
The Director Mk2 compared to the Rotel Michi P5. The Japanese model costs the same, but is easily twice as big and even better equipped. In terms of sound, however, the Director was usually ahead… (Photo: H. Biermann)

Take Felix Laband Dark Days Exit, one of my favorite albums to listen to. This is where the small Questyle shines, because its high-frequency resolution comes into its own perfectly. But when the rich low bass kicks in, it has to leave the field to the SPL. The Rotel also pushes an enormous amount of energy to the power amplifiers, but it lacks the bony bite.

Felix Laband Dark.... Cover
Felix Laband Dark Days Exit (Cover: Amazon)

After many days of listening tests, it became increasingly clear how good this SPL preamplifier, which was rather “inconspicuous” at first, actually is. Tonally perfectly balanced anyway and with a wonderfully relaxed, sonorous attitude, it also proves to be a real expert in the dynamic range and draws the listener to the decisive point in a very unagitated way: you no longer think about this or that aspect, about spatial depth or dynamic gradations in the wind sections, but are suddenly in the music. I think that’s the fine art.

A look at the notes of my fellow testers then revealed an astonishing overlap: the bottom line was that they all found the Mk2 to be the preamp they would prefer to listen to at home. A strong vote.


The title of the SPL Director Mk2 chapter is: “sonic serenity”. The SPL Direcctor Mk2 is not only visually different from the usual 19-inch hi-fi. Thanks to audiophile tuning and high-voltage technology, it sounds much heartier, more natural and more relaxed than one would expect from a studio offspring. It makes you want to listen to music intensively for a long time and takes the opportunity to show how far you can go today, even from a musical point of view, with cleverly used transistor technology.

In terms of features, the SPL preamplifier also offers a package that fulfills almost all requirements and convinces with an integrated converter board that makes most (separate) upper-class DACs look pretty old. Against this background, we can and must give the Director an excellent price/performance certificate.

SPL Director Mk2
Test result: 4.6
Sound Quality
Build Quality


The rating always refers to the respective price category.
Earthy, confident and relaxed sound, high naturalness
Compact design, many color variants
High-class DAC with up to 768 KHz/DSD256
10 inputs, 3 of which are balanced

SPL electronics GmbH
Sohlweg 80
41372 Niederkruechten

Pair price (manufacturer’s recommendation):
SPL Director Mk2: 3,500 euros

Teammates and opponents:

Test pre/power amp combinations Rotel Michi: P5, S5, M8
Test line preamp Questyle CMA800P – the purist
Audiolab 8300 CD and 8300 MB – pre/end combination for connoisseurs
Test compact speaker ATC SCM 50 ASL: active better than passive?

More about SPL:

Test SPL Performer m1000: High-end mono amps from the studio
Test SPL Phonitor x – headphone amplifier with 3D sound
Test SPL Director: Professional D/A converter preamp for the home
First test of the SPL Performer s800 power stereo amplifier
Test SPL Phonos: Phono stage with enormous drive

Autor: Holger Biermann

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Chefredakteur mit Faible für feinste Lautsprecher- und Verstärkertechnik, guten Wein und Reisen: aus seiner Feder stammen auch die meisten Messe- und Händler-Reports.