DAC Reviews

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Michael Lavorgna  |  Feb 25, 2014
The QB-9 Upgrade
Ayre's original 24/96-capable QB-9 DAC caused quite a stir when it hit the market back in 2009 winning Stereophile's Product of the Year award. Wes Phillips of Stereophile sang its praises (see review) then, and Art Dudley followed up by adding his own thoughts to the upgraded 24/192 version in 2011 (see review). While that upgrade did not merit a name change, the new QB-9 DSD did with the addition of single rate DSD play back (DSD 128 capability and 24/384 are in the works). As is Ayre's way, owners of older 24/192-capable QB-9s can have theirs upgraded to DSD status for $500. But that's not the entire story. During the upgrade re-engineering phase, Charles Hansen, Ayre's founder and Designer, also made some changes to the QB-9 DSD that affects the sound of PCM playback and I sure am happy he did.
Steven Plaskin  |  Feb 20, 2014
Wyred 4 Sound is well known to many audiophiles as a company that builds quality high end audio products at reasonable prices. The company was started in in 2007 by E. J. Sarmento who previously worked at Cullen Circuits. The company has grown from its initial offering of the 200s amplifier to a complete line of preamps, power amps, DACs, and music servers. Wyred 4 Sound offers 6 DAC models with 3 versions of the DAC-2: DAC-2, DAC-2 DSD, and the DAC-2 DSDse.
Steven Plaskin  |  Jan 20, 2014
The M1 DAC is built by Bricasti Design, a small private Massachusetts company that was founded in 2004 by Brian Zolner and Casey Dowdell ; both ex-Harman Specially Group employees. Brian previously worked for 20 years with Lexicon where he ultimately became VP of worldwide sales. Casey also worked for Lexicon as a dsp software engineer and helped develop the algorithm for the surround processing Lexicon Logic 7 that was able to distribute multi-channel sound on two-channel media. It should come as no surprise that the first product offered by Bricasti Design was the M7 Stereo Reverb Processor. The M7, introduced in 2007, is now used by many top recording engineers and studios. The M1 DAC was introduced in 2011; its development made possible from the financial success of the M7.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Dec 24, 2013
Did You Say Quad Rate DSD?
The exaSound e20 MK III DAC can handle PCM, DXD, and DSD up to 12.288 MHz (256Fs) on Windows PCs. Mac users max out at the more or less typical DSD 128. While you'd be hard pressed to find any DSD downloads at DSD 256 (or even DSD 128), you can rest assured that the e20 can handle just about any file format you care to throw at it. The e20 also throws in on-DAC-chip volume control, single ended and balanced outputs, asynchronous USB, Coax, and Toslink inputs, and a headphone amp making it one all-around amenable DAC package.
Steven Plaskin  |  Dec 04, 2013
The Benchmark Media Systems DAC2 HGC represents Benchmark’s most advanced and feature laden DAC offering. Despite its diminutive size, the DAC2 HGC is a full featured DAC with an asynchronous USB input that supports PCM up to 24/192 and native DSD 64 using the DoP 1.1 format. A remote controlled preamp is included with Benchmark’s Hybrid Gain Control system that utilizes a servo-driven volume control and 2 headphone jacks with a switch that automatically mutes the XLR and RCA outputs when using the headphone amplifier. A metal remote is included that controls the power, volume, polarity, input selection, mute, and dim controls of the DAC. Other features include a 12V Trigger I/O and Home Theatre Bypass.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Nov 22, 2013
Loki Loki! DSD for $149!
The guys at Schiit seem to look at the world of audiophiles somewhat askance while selling stuff that audiophiles want. It's an interesting stance, askance, and they seem to take a similar view of DSD while offering the Loki, their latest assault on the "high" in High End and what it is is a dedicated DSD DAC. That's right, the Loki won't convert PCM data so you'll have to take care of that elsewhere. The Loki will accept 64x single-rate DSD over the DSD over PCM protocol (DoP) and hand off an analog signal to your hi-fi. Or, um, lo-fi if you prefer.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Nov 13, 2013
UK-based digital music pioneer dCS (Data Conversion Systems, ltd.) has long been known as a company whose products reflect cutting edge digital technology. Yet one of the big paradoxes in the 25-year history of an organization that was part of the original working groups that developed the SACD format, and that originated DoP (DSD over PCM), the protocol that enables transfer and playback of DSD music files packed into a PCM frame, is that it has been slow to incorporate DSD file playback into its products.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 30, 2013
For my review of the SOtM sDP-1000 DAC and Pre-Amplifier, I neglected to talk about its Sample Rate Converter. I've righted that wrong and added an addendum to the review.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 10, 2013
SOtM "Soul Of the Music"
The battery-powered SOtM sDP-1000 DAC and Pre-Amplifier has a host of digital and analog inputs, it can handle up to 32-bit/192kHz PCM files as well as single rate 64x DSD, while offering both RCA and XLR outputs. It can, therefore, act as the heart of a hi-fi system handling a number of sources including a turntable as long as you add a phono pre into the mix. It wraps all of these functions into a very nicely designed aluminum-wrapped form.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Sep 17, 2013
A Musical Ladder
The Totaldac D1-Dual DAC does not contain a Delta-Sigma DAC chip as do most DACs on the market today. Rather it employs a discrete R2R ladder DAC using 200 Vishay 0.01% VAR Bulk Metal® Foil resistors per stereo channel (100 per DAC). A R2R ladder DAC is essentially a series of resistors that act as passive switches converting the incoming digital signal to discrete voltages and unlike Delta-Sigma DACs, the ladder DAC does not require the use of a current-to-voltage converter (I/V converter) or a digital filter. The D1-Dual DAC does not employ any upsampling but its designer, Vincent Brient, has included a user-defeatable non-oversampling compensation filter to help correct the high frequency roll off endemic of the R2R DAC design. Now, I'm not one to stand on ceremony or suggest that a given technology is inherently superior to another—it's all in the implementation. I'm essentially a listener and the D1-Dual DAC is one of the finest sounding DACs I've had the pleasure to live with and listen to.
Steven Plaskin  |  Sep 10, 2013
There has been a movement in the design of high end DACs to reduce jitter to extremely low levels due to the emergence of extremely accurate oscillator-clocks. Recently, I reviewed the MSB Technology Analog DAC with its Femto clock and claims of extremely low jitter. Calyx Audio, a division of the Korean manufacturer Digital and Analog, have utilized an extremely accurate clock to decrease jitter from the standard picoseconds to femtoseconds ; in this case 500 femtoseconds. One femtosecond is one quadrillionth (0.000 000 000 000 001) of a second or 10−15. Calyx is obviously proud of their clock technology and named their flagship DAC Femto. Digital and Analog not only builds a line of DACs, but also Class D amplifiers and a powered speaker. They have specialized in building class D ICs and Full Digital ICs OEM since 1999. In 2008, Calyx Audio was formed to produce high end audio products.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Sep 03, 2013
HD = DXD/DSD
Way back when I reviewed the Resonessence Labs Concero (see review), I wondered/wished, "I wonder if they could easily add DSD capabilities to the Concero?" Depending on your definition of "easy", the answer is a resounding yes. It did take a new DAC chip but ESS came to the rescue and the little Concero now has two siblings; the HD with its DXD/DSD capabilities and the HP which adds a headphone amp to the HD. Like the original Concero, the HD in addition to functioning as a Coax S/PDIF and USB DXD/DSD DAC, it can also operate as a USB to S/PDIF converter handling up to 64x DSD since 128x DSD is beyond the S/PDIF specifications according to Resonessence Labs.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Aug 07, 2013
NAD Digital Classic Series
NAD's new Digital Classic series of components includes the D 3020 Digital DAC/Amplifier ($499), the D 7050 Direct Digital Network Receiver ($999), and the D 1050 DAC that's here for closer scrutiny. The Digital Classics share the same form factor, which was designed by David Farrage, are about the size of a good book, and can sit horizontally or vertically to suit environment and taste. I like the simple and sleek black matte sides with the shiny strip running down the center as well as the touch-sensitive controls coupled with that big, chunky volume knob. Overall a classy look and feel, imo, for such a modestly priced piece of kit.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jul 24, 2013
Arcam's "SuperDAC"
The Arcam D33 DAC is part of Arcam's FMJ Series (Faithful Musical Joy) of components which includes disk players, a tuner, an integrated amp, a multi-channel amp, and a home theater receiver. The D33, dubbed the "SuperDAC" on the Arcam website, which tickles my fancy, is a fairly straight forward 24/192-capable DAC and its understated and stealth-like appearance, "to seamlessly blend with any style of décor", does not really hint at its SuperDAC-ness which we can assume refers to what goes on inside and eventually comes out.
Steven Plaskin  |  Jul 16, 2013
The Analog Power Base is a $2,995 upgrade power supply for the MSB Technology Analog DAC. My recent review of The Analog DAC (see review) was going to include the Analog Power Base, but MSB Technologies’ recent move to a new factory delayed this evaluation. The Analog DAC comes with an outboard Desktop Power Supply that is housed in an aluminum case with two transformers. This power supply is linear with separate supplies for digital processing and the analog circuits of The Analog DAC.

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