DAC Reviews

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Michael Lavorgna  |  Feb 11, 2016
Engineering Cred
Ed Meitner, the man behind EMM Labs, has some serious engineering credentials. These include a number of patents and a few decades' worth of product design and innovation including preampfification, amplification, and all things digital (like the Meitner Intelligent Digital Audio Translator (IDAT) digital processor from 1993). I owned and enjoyed the Museatex Meitner STR55 Stereo Amp back in the '90s when I was living the life of an IT guy by day and loft-living painter by night in NYC. I can still remember loving the ST55's design and sound, a nice change from the behemoths populating the floors of high-end shops like immovable metal heat generating odes to speaker design gone awry.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Dec 24, 2015
Extreme NOS
The Metrum Acoustics Pavane is the company's flagship DAC. Like the recently reviewed and well loved Musette (see review), the Pavane relies on Metrum's own Transient R2R ladder DAC One modules to convert Ds to As. While the Musette uses two, the Pavane employs a total of eight DAC modules, four per channel. Unlike the Musette, the digital data feeding those DAC chips passes through the company's FPGA-resident "forward correction module". What's it correcting?
Michael Lavorgna  |  Dec 17, 2015
There's More Than One Way To Skin A DAC
PS Audio's new NuWave DSD DAC has taken some engineering cues from the company's much-loved DirectStream DAC (see review). While the NuWave does not house the same FPGA-based processing as found in its larger and more costly sibling, it does house a complex programmable logic device (CPLD), a device that sits between a programmable logic device (PAL) and a field programmable gate array (FPGA) in terms of complexity. The CPLD in the NuWave is tasked with one important job; take the incoming bits from the XMOS-based USB receiver and other digital inputs and pass it along to the 32-bit ESS Hyperstream DAC corrected; "discovers sample rate and format, reclocks all incoming data, reduces jitter, waveshapes data output to the DAC chip, and utilizes high speed/low gate count logic to reduce propagation delay for faster throughput". The CLPD accomplishes this in what the company calls "Native Mode" meaning there's no sample rate conversion employed. After the DAC, a passive filter is applied in the analog output stage.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Dec 10, 2015
Getting A NOS DAC
Let's agree up front that many Non-Oversampling (NOS) DACs do not perform well under certain test parameters. Aperture effect, which amounts to less than linear frequency response at the extremes, and less than ideal jitter performance (as typically measured) being the more egregious problems, on paper. We have to ask ourselves, why would anyone bother making a NOS DAC? The answer is some people really enjoy the way they sound.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 30, 2015
A Rega Story
Back in the early '90s, I was on the hunt for a new CD player. I was intrigued by the Rega Planet for the same reason everyone else was; Rega built turntables and they waited years before entering the CD market with a player they felt sounded analog. Since CDs never really scratched my musical itch very well, this was music to my ears.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 15, 2015
Data in, Analog out. What could be simpler.
Our phones have DACs. Our computers have DACs. Digital to Analog converts are a dime a dozen (literally in some cases) so why the hell would we want to spend around $10k on a DAC? The answer—quality of life.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Sep 10, 2015
"But Grandmother! What big tubes you have," said Little Red Riding Hood
Warsaw Poland's LamizatOr (What is LAMPIZATOR? It is a play on Polish Lampa (vacuum tube) and Terminator) is the brain child of Lukasz Fikus and his DACs have been causing a buzz in the computer audio world for years. What's the buzz? They sound really good. The Lite 7 DSD DAC is a pared down version of LamitzatOr's Big 7 DAC. The Big 7's tube rectifier and chokes are gone and super premium parts like the Big 7's Jupiter Copper Wax output capacitors are replaced with the less costly Jupiter AM series. The idea with the Lite 7 is to deliver The Big 7's directly heated triode sound for roughly half the price of admission.
Steven Plaskin  |  Jul 16, 2015
The MSB Technology Premium Quad USB2 Module is a new USB input module for the Analog DAC that represents a substantial improvement in the application of USB technology for this highly respected DAC. Both Michael Lavorgna and I have previously reviewed the Analog DAC (see Steve's review and Michael's follow-up) and found it to be an excellent sounding DAC that was characterized by a relaxed natural sound. At the time of my review of the Analog DAC in 2013, MSB sent me the Platinum Data CD IV Transport to be used in the evaluation of the Analog DAC. MSB Technology felt that this transport connected to the MSB Network input module had superior sound to the USB Basic 384 input module and would better demonstrate the capabilities of the Analog DAC. Although I could get somewhat close to the sound of the Platinum Data CD IV Transport with numerous hardware tweaks and software programs, I still found the Transport to be better sounding than using the USB Basic 384 module.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 04, 2015
Direct Digital Trickles Down (and Up)
NAD's C 510 inherits its impressive innards from the company's M2 Direct Digital Amp (see Stereophile's review) and M51 DAC (see Stereophile's review). All incoming digital data (up to 24/192 PCM), the C 510 does not offer any analog inputs, is converted to a pulse-width-modulation (PWM) signal at a sampling rate of 844kHz before being converted to analog. Volume control is also handled in the digital domain and the C 510's 35-bit architecture allows for transparency at any level, in theory. Here's more from NAD, "Due to the very high clock speed [108MHz] and mathematical precision of our reconstruction filters, the resulting audio signal is totally free of digital artifacts like ringing." I suppose the only question remaining is—does all this work to make digital sound less...digital?
Steven Plaskin  |  Mar 26, 2015
The Wavelength Audio Quotient DAC Module is a new upgrade for the Crimson High Speed USB DAC that has added DSD 64 / DSD 128 as well as support for PCM files up to 32/384 kHz. But the Quotient Q1 adds far more to the Crimson than just DSD and increased PCM sampling rate support. Gordon Rankin has gone back to the drawing board for this new DAC module resulting in a number of improvements for his flagship DAC.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Mar 19, 2015
Manhattan
Mytek shook up the DSD DAC market with their Stereo192-DSD DAC back in 2011 at RMAF. At that time, there were just a handful of much more expensive DSD capable DACs and most people wondered if this DSD thing was going to catch on. It did. I favorably reviewed the Stereo192-DSD DAC (see review) which I still use daily. Mytek's new consumer offering is the Manhattan and it represents Mytek's "finest achievement" according to the company. Let's see.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Mar 05, 2015
Out Of This Galaxy
Exo (out of this) + gal (galaxy). Exogal came to Earth in 2013, formed by four audio industry veterans, Jim Kinne, Larry Jacoby, Jeff Haagenstad, and Jan Larsen, "who worked for the some of the biggest names in the industry." From Exogal, "Jim Kinne is the technical heart and soul of Exogal. He’s a legendary audio engineer who’s produced countless award-winning products in his career, including the Wadia 27 decoding computer, Wadia 270 CD transport and the Wadia 790 PowerDAC, to name a few." Exogal currently has three products that include the Comet DAC, the Ion Digital Amplifier, and the Comet Upgraded Power Supply. Today we'll be probing the Comet DAC.
Steven Plaskin  |  Mar 03, 2015
The Resonessence Labs INVICTA Mirus DAC represents the state-of-the-art offering from this Canadian company. The Mirus is closely related to the Invicta DAC that Michael Lavorgna reviewed in May 2013 (see review). Michael presented an excellent review that was quite thorough in describing the features of the Invicta. Since that time, a number of improvements have been added to the Invicta, including a new model called the Mirus. The XLR/RCA output specifications of the INVICTA Mirus outperform those of the standard Invicta. The headphone module is removed in the Mirus, and replaced with a second ESS Sabre DAC ES9018 for each channel. By combing 2 ESS Sabre ES9018 DACS in parallel per channel, a total of 8 ES9018 channels are available for each stereo output. Resonessence Labs has discovered that every time the Sabre DAC output channels are paralleled together performance improves. This feature results in a lowering of the noise and a decrease in THD compared to the Invicta. The dynamic range specification is also improved in the Mirus.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Feb 19, 2015
I Like Bluetooth
Audioengine makes a number of well-priced products that deliver their fair share of musical enjoyment. I favorably reviewed their A5+ speakers (see review) and we own two pairs of their original A2 speakers. Under inspection today is their B1 Bluetooth Music Receiver which adds Bluetooth connectivity to any hi-fi while also offering an internal DAC as well as a Toslink output if you already own a DAC you enjoy. What's the point of Bluetooth? Fun.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Nov 13, 2014
Korg
Korg views their DS-DAC-100 and AudioGate 3 software as a single product, a team that delivers up to double rate DSD natively as well as PCM resolutions to 24/192. You can elect to have the Audiogate software upsample everything you play through it or leave it set for bit perfect playback. The DS-DAC-100 also doubles as a headphone amp with its front-mounted 3/4" jack and associated volume control and I find it's Cheshire Cat smile shape to be a nice change from the ordinary.

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