Gramophone Dreams #55: Mola Mola Tambaqui D/A processor Ken Micallef June 2022

Ken Micallef wrote about the Mola Mola Tambaqui in June 2022 (Vol.45 No.6):

When Herb Reichert reviewed the Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC ($13,400) in his December 2021 Gramophone Dreams column, his praise for the Bruno Putzeys–designed processor was effusive. "Mola Mola's Tambaqui did not whisper—it declares loudly: 'See! The truth is more beautiful than you thought it would be!'" "The Tambaqui seemed to expose the core, or body, of recorded sound in a way that upped the intensity of my listening experience." "Transparency, detail, and purity were off the charts." "I heard—and saw—previously invisible molecules of live, reverberant energy."

John Atkinson's measurements of the Tambaqui were also impressive. "The Tambaqui offers almost 22 bits of resolution, the highest I have encountered," JA wrote, concluding, "The Mola Mola Tambaqui offers state-of-the-digital-art measured performance. I am not surprised HR liked its sound."

Curious as to how the Tambaqui would perform in my larger room, with different components, I picked up the unit Herb had reviewed, then in the possession of another reviewer here in New York City.

The Mola Mola's Pelican road case was a thing of beauty, encasing the Tambaqui in a nearly bombproof container, with heavy-duty latches and a sturdy handle. Importer Bill Parish, of importer GTT Audio, supplied the Mola Mola's sleek remote control, made, apparently, from a solid billet of aluminum. I downloaded the Mola Mola app to my iPad.

Other than a Roon Nucleus+ server, the system I used to appraise the Tambaqui was nothing like Herb's system. Herb used Bryston Audio's B1353 integrated amplifier, with Cardas Clear Cygnus single-ended interconnects, and a Rogue RP-7 preamplifier to a Parasound A21+ Halo power amplifier, connected with AudioQuest Mackenzie XLR interconnects. Falcon's Gold Badge LS3/5a's and Harbeth's M30.2s were his loudspeakers.

My setup included a Sonore optical-Rendu player and TRENDnet switch, streaming Roon/Tidal/Qobuz from an Apple iPad mini. A 1m run of Inakustik Reference USB 2.0 cable connected the Sonore opticalRendu to whichever DAC was in use. The DAC was connected to a J E Sugden Masterclass LA-4 preamp with a 2m run of Triode Wire Labs Spirit II (RCA) interconnects. The preamplifier's balanced outputs were linked to an LKV Research Veros One PWR+ power amplifier with Cardas Clear Cygnus balanced interconnects. Loudspeakers were my DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96s (on their own low stands) or the GoldenEar BRX standmounts on 24" Sanus stands. Those speakers were connected to the LKV amplifier with a 10' pair of Analysis Plus Silver Apex speaker cables. An IsoTek EVO3 Aquarius line conditioner was used in my 1875-erected Greenwich Village apartment, where power conditioning is a must.

The Tambaqui presented a series of firsts in digital playback in my system: a Goliath soundstage with proportionate depth and fantastic layering. I've never heard such scale and natural dynamics from a digital source; it made my in-house (functional) DAC sound rather small. Of course, we're talking $13,400 for the Tambaqui compared to the Denafrips Ares II at $750. It ought to sound better.

The Denafrips Ares II, a "24Bit/1536kHz, native DSD1024, discrete resistor ladder" DAC, according to the Denafrips website, has suited my ears and tastes just fine during its stay here, with exceptional resolution. But the Tambaqui sounds like the next generation. Its massive scale was joined with dense, corporeal images—again unlike any digital technology I've heard. Music had weight, energy, space, and scale, with large, physical images.

Does the Tambaqui sound like analog? Not to my ears. It resolved source material better than any analog I've had in my house, and it certainly cast an immersive, remarkable soundstage, but the Tambaqui still sounded digital. In this case, that's a damn fine thing. All the virtues of digital with no apparent vices.

Listening to jazz, electronic, and rock through the Tambaqui was like attending a gala premiere at a large movie theater like the old, grandly Romanesque Ziegfeld Theatre here in Manhattan. The Mola Mola made music with a sense of aliveness and vigor that made listening both fun and revelatory.

I love discovering new pop singers via the streaming services. My latest find is Norwegian electronic vocalist ARY and her album, For Evig. In the electronic lament, "The Sky Was Forever" (24/44.1 FLAC, The Orchard/Qobuz), ARY's voice was piercing but melodious, swooning over synth pads and dinosaur-scale synth bass. The Mola Mola retrieved every vocal movement, from sibilant sighs to P-popping plosives. Amid the song's droning synths and deep synth basslines (bass synthlines?) is buried something that sounds like the flup-flup-flupping of giant insect wings. The Mola Mola's intense clarity and exacting recovery of every sonic element startled. Those humongous flup-flup-flup insect wings actually scared.

Another sticky electronic treat, Leah Ryder's "Caracal" (24/48 FLAC, Epidemic Sound/Qobuz) buzzed sleepily until a waterfall effect and gelatinous, dripping tones oozed through the track like electronic slugs or snails. A swelling, round-toned electronic bassdrum rhythm appeared, with a keyboard melody above. Clean rim clicks sounded stiff and hard. The Mola Mola stretched "Caracal" around my room.

Seeking something more intimate and jazzy, I landed on pianist Florian Weber's Lucent Waters (24/88.2 MQA, ECM/Tidal) with bassist Linda May Han Oh, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, and drummer Nasheet Waits. The piano sound on this recording is only so-so, but Waits's drums were clear, precise, and nearly as 3D as those fluttering insect wings.

Ready to rock, I wondered how AC/DC would sound in such superhigh resolution. The title track from 1981's For Those About to Rock (24/96 FLAC, Atlantic/Qobuz) launches with one of the most powerful intros in rock history, lead guitarist Angus Young's shuddering blues-picking supported by Phil Rudd's bassdrum. The Tambaqui resolved Rudd's foot-driven beat as a very large, resonant wooden barrel with air inside and natural studio decay around it. When AC/DC rolled into the song's chorus, the Mola Mola created the most voluminous wall of rock I've ever heard in my tiny walkup tenement. The Tambaqui delivered every crunching guitar and bassdrum wallop on a massive stage, with scorching energy. The Mola Mola's penetrating transparency allowed every recording to rise to what seemed to be its original and intended character.

Switching out the Mola Mola and the Denafrips Ares II back in, I was surprised at first by how well the Ares held its own. It's an energetic DAC, upfront and present, palpable, with good dynamic range and fine imaging. Its low-end performance was nearly equal to that of the Tambaqui. Compared to the Mola Mola, though, the Ares II had less body—less physicality on instruments and vocals. It was more forward and grainier, and it lacked the Mola Mola's immense soundstage, naturalness, and ease. The Ares II made a good first impression but sounded a little noisy and squashed compared to the much more expensive DAC. At about 1/18th of the Tambaqui's asking price, the Denafrips Ares II is still a very good value.

The Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC is easily the finest digital-to-analog converter I've heard in my reference system, provoking fresh epiphanies with well-known music. Its beautiful remote control and its ability to function as a preamp adds more value to this expensive machine. If you can afford it and want what is likely one of the very best DACs available—I haven't heard them all—then there's a good chance that the Tambaqui is for you.—Ken Micallef

Jack L's picture

...... expression. " qtd HR


Bingo, HR. Now you got it - going DIRECT !!!!!!

Active linestages are REDUNDANT soncially, irrespestive of design/pricing as they screw up the music signals by adding harmonic & phase distortions to the music signals passing through them, IMO. This is physics !!!

My skeptical ears hear the sonic difference with & without since day one many many years back. That's made me build really PASSIVE linestage as 100% linear active & passive linestages were nowhere available back then & even today.

Why not as all CD/DVD/DAC get adequate output voltage & low impedance to drive any commercial brandname power amps to full power ???

FYI, my design/built phono-pramp installed a passive bypass switch to allow my LP, CD/DVD/DAC music signals driving DIRECT my brandname & home-brew tube power amps.

I bet you'd drop yr jaw bigtime when you listen to LP music going from the phonostage DIRECT to the power amp ! I do it ALL the time for as I can't tolerate the music impaired by the redunctant electronics in the music signal path.

It is the forceful latent energy you may have missed so much now fully liberated together with the "nuanced dynamic expression" !!!

Listening is believing

Jack L

Jonti's picture

I do the same: EAR Yoshino Phonobox (which has volume control) goes directly into the power amp. Compared with running the Phonobox via a pre into the power, the sound is much more vital and alive.

Jack L's picture


Bingo ! Listen to the music not any sales pitch !

"Geat minds think alike..." quoted D Belchier in 1618.

Be a smart consumer!

Jack L

allvinyl's picture

I thank you for making me aware of the Phonobox. I currently use a Lino C phonostage and can take advantage of its ability to output a flat signal(non RIAA) or a RIAA signal. Regardless, how would I configure the Phonobox into my system so I'm taking the Viola Crescendo linestage out of the phono signal path? (Excuse my thick headedness)

redwoodaudio's picture

Herb, as the serious DAC reviewer who appears to love digital-as-analog sounding gear that you are, I'm surprised you haven't (to my knowledge at least) taken possession of a Lampizator tube DAC for review (formally or informally). I would love to read about your take on the to-my-ears natural, full-bodied, and expansive Lampizator tech. (Lampizator Atlantic TRP blew away the Holo May in my system).

Jack L's picture


WOW, for some lousy USD3,760 to own a DAC 'game changer' would be toooo
good a deal ! Made in USA !

Jack L

georgehifi's picture

What kind of voodoo is Bruno hatching here, can someone explain to this dummy is it R2R or Delta Sigma? As it says it's 24/192 (PCM DXD??) and yet it up-samples to get DSD??

Cheers George

DH's picture

Bruno uses neither Delta Sigma nor R2R; he and his collaborators have proprietary DAC architecture which apparently is partially software - FPGA driven. The Kii Threes use a similar system.
description of Mola Mola DAC process:

gbroagfran's picture

I own one of these. Yes, it a very good DAC, the best I have yet heard. But a couple of comments:

1. I have never heard the "Big Boy" DACs so I have no idea if the Tambaqui even qualifies as the best. It is the best I could afford at the time, but would not necessarily be my first choice if I had unlimited funds.
2. Though fabulous, it in no way competes with my SME/Aquilar/Koetsu/ turntable overall for sound quality. It does possess some of the best qualities of the TT, which surprised me.
3. Doing a sound quality evaluation with 30.2 speakers is a joke. I do own a pair and they do not sound anywhere as good as my other speakers, which are SoundLabs and Quads. They make nice bedroom speakers, but are not anywhere as good as needed to test the Tambaqui.

Siegfried's picture

Excellent tracks ; it's been a pleasure playing them on my system and Wingless angels was a discovery. Thank you. But the tracks you picked are very consistent with the monitors you used : all the tracks I played, including the reggae, have no low end extension. Can't say that expressions as believable corporeality more solid analog-like physicality forceful and corporal are unfounded with those tracks on my system so I don't doubt you but you simply have not assessed and compared the behaviour of that DAC below ,say, 60 Hz (par level with 1 K for the Harberth which is about true (the 60/1K parity) of the reggae track as well while loudest bass notes are about a dozen dB louder, round 114, and it rolls off very fast below a 55 small peak, still much lower than the 114's ... Considering the price of that DAC it's a bit of a problem not to know how it fares comparatively in sub bass, me think...

deandome1's picture

Not to be or sound critical, but why is it that new, otherwise state-of-the-art, DACs like this beauty keep coming out without USB-C jacks? I asked that of google, and read many posts answering "USB-B is more sturdy, you don't need the throughput capacity, they're not that common", etc. Of course, these threads were at least 4 years old, mostly 8-10...and USBC is actually much more durable re. # of insertions (not that this matters with a rear-connection, the cable will not be moved often!) and they are now der rigueur with every laptop, tablet and Android devices (and everyone knows iPhones will be joining the party soon!).

It's kind of condescending that mfgs don't use them, implying that owners are too old and stodgy to keep up with the realities of modern tech. And c'mon, admit it; most of you (and I!!) are LOOKING for excuses to buy new cables! And even if it's they're not 'needed', capability-wise, what about considering the convenience factor? I'm now at the point where all I use is USB-C/Thunderbolt (same connectors, different, but compatible, protocols), and mostly the ones that have those connectors on both ends. I've been prevented from using my Dragonfly several times cuz I didn't have the usb adaptor with me.


thethanimal's picture

Probably because of the myriad cable options available it doesn’t really matter. These DACs are generally thought to be used with a streamer or a server instead of a laptop or phone connection, so a standard USB-A to USB-B cable would be employed. But if you really want to use a newer laptop a quick Google search told me AudioQuest, Cardas, and Nordost all make USB-B to USB-C cables, and I’m sure all other decent manufacturers do as well. If you’re buying a $13k DAC I doubt you’re using a freebie cable, so if you’re buying a new cable anyway what’s the difference?

donnedonne's picture

Lovely review. Thanks Herb. I have not heard the Mola Mola (yet), but I've home demoed some wonderful DACs in the $10k price range. The Meitner MA3 (Roon Ready) is flying a bit under the radar -- you may want to seek it out for review as well. It's *strikingly good.*

thethanimal's picture

Herb, considering you’re running a Roon Nucleus and both the Tambaqui and the Bartok are Roon endpoints, it seems like connecting both to your preamp simultaneously and running them as a group in Roon would provide an interesting setup for direct A/B comparisons of “Bloom” and “Art of Segovia” in MQA from Tidal and 24/96 from Qobuz, obviously streaming from just one service at a time. I would love to hear your ruminations on the comparisons (even though I could never afford either DAC).

Herb Reichert's picture

I did exactly as you suggest for this report. I make those kind of comparisons all the time. (I usually have two DACs ROONing at once.)

The dCS Bartok decodes MQA extraordinarily well. The Mola Mola does not decode MQA.

As for 'which format might sound better?' I regard all forms of digital reproduction with equal levels of extreme skepticism; and judge sound quality one streaming track at a time.


thethanimal's picture

Thanks for the clarification, Herb. Knowing the setup gives me a framework for interpreting your impressions.

Your digital skepticism mirrors my vinyl skepticism. Not that I don’t think it can sound good, but I haven’t been able to hear something in my room price commensurate with my Node 2i that can match it. Perhaps when I’m an empty nester I can find the time and money for the slight neurosis (meant in the best possible way; we’re all a little neurotic about our passions) required for proper turntable playback. In the meantime my local hifi dealer can clearly demonstrate that a Brinkmann/ARC analog source can trump a dCS Vivaldi — at least on the right recording. But I haven’t the money for either.

Jack L's picture


For merely $699 (price for a Norde 2i from Amazon now!) to get the sound of quality vinyl? It must be a miracle down to the earth from the Almighty Above, pal.

Good luck, but don't hold your breath too soon.

Jack L

thethanimal's picture

Well that’s part of my point, pal. (I mean that to be funny, but I can never tell if your “pal” is condescending or not.) So what’s a guy with a budget to do? A Node 2i into a Decware Zen Triode into full-range speakers can be startling in its realism, but to get that from vinyl it seems like I’d have to spend a full fortune and make listening accommodations that don’t dovetail with raising a toddler. I have a borrowed preamp and Technics 1200 but it just doesn’t match the Node. Is it the cartridge? The preamp? The condition of my old records? How can I tell?

Jack L's picture


For your very limited budget, when a Nord 2i + triode amp can make you happy, why not ?

Yet yr above post "skeptism" gave me the impression that yr Nord could replace vinyl sonically ! I am utmostly skeptical about yr claim.

If you'vd tried hard enough like yours truly, you surely don't need to "spend a full fortune" to get superb vinyl music which blows away digital sound todate, IMO.

To help you to get closer to the music nirvana - vinyl music, let me answer yr questions raised above from my only a few years experience switched over from digital. Who does not start with CD player anyway ??

(1) phono-preamp: YES, phono-preamp is most most CRITICAL part of the
vinyl music reproduction chain. It equalizes the frequency response
of the record recording & boosts the very weak phono cartridge
signals to high enough to drive any power amps to their rated output

Only all triode tube preamp sounds closest to live performance,
IMO. There are quite a few brandname tube phono-preamps in the
marketplace. I shook my head bigtime in looking at their circuit
designs. Most those well-known brandname makers, price irrespective,
design/built their phono-preamps to sell features instead of selling
music quality. Well, marketing to make money ! No money no honey!
Can't blame them.

That's why I had to design/build music friendly phono-pramp for my
own use with 100% linear active devices - triodes, only years
back!! No tetrode/pentode tubes & any bi-polar junction solid state
devices, e.g, FETs, transistors & op-amps which all get non-linear
transfer charactersitcs. This is physics.

Simplicity is the very KEY word for any musical sounding amp
designs. LESS electronics in the circuit path, BETTER will be the
sound. I experimented anough in the past years to confirm this
musically. I forgot to tell you, I am a die-hard audio DIYer,
thanks to my decades' electrical engineering background & my
addiction to quality music. This has saved me a huge fortune to get
music cloest to the live at home.

(2) Cartrdige: with the phono-preamps of RIGHT design, any cartridges would sound good if not better ! Not many rich & willing can afford a $15,000 cartridge, right? My experience told me, given the right match with the right phono-preamp, a not-too-costly MM cartridge can sound pretty musically gratifying.

Mind you I got a MC cartridge/factory matching discretee solid state class A PP headamp (both same Japanese origin) on my SME s-shaped black tonearm. So what! I still prefer my much less costly MM cartridge which sounds more neutral than my MC cartridge. Why? MC cartridges tend to get some tonal characterstics, which I'd call colouration & I don't like at all !

(3) "old records"

If you know how to manage your old records, they all sound fine.
FYI, my 1,000+ stereo LPs are all picked up from thrift stores for a buck or so a piece, including 30+ digitally mastered LPs.

Given PROPER treatment before use, you can 'resurrect' yr old vinyls up to 7th heaven.

Have I spent "a full fortune" to get superb vinyl music? Not at all.

Listening is believing

Jack L

PeterG's picture

I think you missed the qualifier "price commensurate" in his first Node reference. I own a Node on a secondary system where it does very well. It cost less than a pair of interconnects on my primary system, where, not surprisingly, the Node's limitations are obvious.

Those of us with the means to own high-end systems would do well to encourage others to get the best sound they can for the money available. As a source for <$1,000, the Node is excellent.