DAC Reviews

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Michael Lavorgna  |  Nov 16, 2012
Shinola
The Schiit Bifrost DAC has garnered a lot of buzz for its price/performance ratio. And I mean a lot of buzz from reviewers and forum posters alike. And when a product delivers performance well beyond its price, especially if that price is perceived to be low, that component may as well be sainted or knighted (depending on your point of view). Saint Denon 103, Sir Touch of Squeezebox, and today's specimen under scrutiny, Sir Bifrost of Schiit.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 09, 2012
Pre-amplification
A number of readers asked a very relevant question after reading my initial review of the Wadia Digital 121Decoding Computer—how abouti its preamp? And as with the Mytek review, my answer was, good question. Armed with the Pass Labs INT-30A which allows you to bypass its passive preamp stage, I put the Wadia 121 to the preamp test.
Steven Plaskin  |  Oct 08, 2012
DigiMaster
Just the other day, I was reflecting on the number of components I have acquired from local dealers, or purchased after reading a series of reviews that pronounced the component as being state-of-the-art in performance. Upon first listening to the component in my system, I would be in sonic ecstasy for the first thirty minutes noting the exceptional detail or impactful bass I was hearing. But after about an hour of listening, I became disinterested and could no longer concentrate on the music I was playing. Something was clearly missing that the review and my audio store auditions failed to identify. I usually blamed the recordings and found myself playing the same old titles that sounded “good” on my system. Claus Jackle of AcousticPlan feels he has a solution to this issue with his DigiMaster DAC.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 03, 2012
Pre-amplification
A number of readers asked a very relevant question after reading my initial review of the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC—how about its preamplifier? And my response was—excellent question I will report back. In the mean time I received the Pass Labs INT-30A integrated amplifier on loan for just this purpose. The INT-30A allows you to essentially remove its buffered volume control from the circuit by simply turning the volume up to its maximum level (step 63). As Nelson Pass explained in Erick Lichte's excellent review of the INT-150A (which employs the same volume control as the INT-30A) in Stereophile, "First there is a selector switch, which is just relays, and then there's a buffer that drives the volume control. The output of that goes to the amp, and then you're done. There's not a lot there." While one needs to be careful A/B/C'ing (in this case) when dealing with a maximum level setting, this made for a very simple and effective means of comparing the Mytek's three preamplifier settings—Bypass, Analog, and Digital—with the Pass Labs INT-30A's. So on with the A,B,Cs of preamplification!
Michael Lavorgna  |  Sep 27, 2012
A Fluent DAC
The Sonore/exD DAC represents a group effort between Simple Design and exD. Exactly who did what, when and how is as relevant as knowing what DAC chip is inside any given DAC which is to say it matters as much or as little as you care to imagine since what really matters is how the finished product sounds. This aspect—how it sounds—will be our primary focus and if you want a teaser I'll admit right here up front that I did all I could to prolong the review period.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Aug 07, 2012
Catching the DSD Buzz
The Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC was unveiled at last year's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest right around the time of AudioStream's public launch. As we both approach our first birthday, it seems somehow appropriate that I'm finally taking a closer look and listen. Direct Stream Digital (DSD). There I said it. Most of the buzz at RMAF 2011 was the Mytek's ability to play back DSD natively and while this is truly buzz-worthy for a number of reasons, I'd say that's only about half the story.
Steven Plaskin  |  Jul 30, 2012
A Crimson Introduction
Back in 2006, I remember J. Gordon Rankin posting a thread in one of the audio forums announcing his plans for a new USB DAC called the Crimson. Over the next six months, I exchanged weekly e-mails with Gordon that described the designing and building challenges he faced when trying to come up with a final design of the Crimson. I realized at that time that Gordon Rankin was one obsessed audiophile when it came to a design that would carry the Wavelength Audio name. He would not release the Crimson until he was satisfied that it was the best he could build.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 22, 2012
A Decoding Computer
Wadia is the father of the decoding computer. Their first, the 2000 Decoding Computer, hit the market in 1988 and the company has continued to innovate introducing the digital music listener to the notion of the separate D/A converter (decoding computer), glass fiber-optic links, algorithm-based filters, and the concept of jitter to name but a few. The subject of today's review, the 121Decoding Computer, is Wadia's newest assault on the state of computer-based music playback and I like the way it thinks. Even better, I like the way it plays.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 15, 2012
A Simple Black Dress
Alingsås, Sweden based Bladelius Design Group makes a fairly full line of products including amplifiers (six models), preamplifiers (three models), a phono stage, integrated amplifiers (three models), CD/DVD Players (four models), the Embla Media Player, and from the A-Line our little block of DAC the aptly-named Bladelius USB DAC. If you've seen any of the Bladelius products, or if you've visited their website and taken a gander at their likenesses, you'll have seen some clean, unfussy, and fairly spartan stuff. To my eyes this approach is a breath of fresh Nordic air and I recall the first time I laid eyes on the Bladelius USB DAC thinking—that's a nice chunky mini-monolith-looking hunk of DAC. I hope it sounds as good.
Michael Lavorgna  |  May 03, 2012
Megahertz Tickles
The Invicta DAC is the first product from Resonessence Labs. The main man behind Resonnessence is Mark Mallinson, former Operations Director for ESS Technology and if you know about ESS Technology you'll know they make, among other things, the line of ESS Sabre DACs that you find inside a number of DACs from companies including Peachtree Audio, Weiss, Wavelength Audio, Wyred 4 Sound, Mytek Digital and many more. And now you can also find them inside the Resonessence Labs Invicta.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Feb 15, 2012
Getting High (definition) Without Wires
The Audioengine D2 DAC is one of a new and few breed of wireless DACs capable of sending, receiving, and playing high definition music up to 24-bit/96kHz. As a matter of fact, I know of no other wireless DAC that'll do the same, today. Of course there are loads of UPnP streamers out there that include wireless capabilities but I'm talking about just-a-DAC with 24/96 wireless capabilities built-in (i.e. no dongle needed). One basic difference is wireless DACs are file format agnostic whereas streamers are not. They're more picky. And most streamers piggyback on your existing wi-fi network whereas the D2 provides its own.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Feb 06, 2012
Confessions of a Happy Procrastinator
I’ll admit I dillied and dallied before writing this review. Part of the reason being the Rein Audio X-DAC doesn’t announce its presence in any overt way. Every time I went looking for it, I ended up just listening to and enjoying the music. And that’s all right by me.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jan 24, 2012
The Weight
The Audioengine D1 DAC is the latest product from a company whose products I would describe as no nonsense in a hobby not exactly famous for no nonsense. I ran into Audioengine co-founders Brady Bargenquast and Dave Evans earlier this month at their booth in the South Hall of CES 2012 and when they asked what I thought about a certain DAC, I began to describe in standard audiophile-speak its sonic merits and demerits. I believe it was when the word "resolute" left my lips that I saw the most obvious signs of fatigue weigh down on them like the prospect of Sisyphus' boulder sitting once again at the bottom of that big-ass hill.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jan 04, 2012
It’s Easy
As Sam Tellig said in his review of the Musical Fidelity V-DAC II in the January 2012 issue of Stereophile, there really shouldn’t be much uncertainty or confusion surrounding computer audio and high resolution downloads. Oh wait, here’s what Sam actually wrote, “There’s so much uncertainty and confusion surrounding computer audio and high-resolution downloads.” OK, we don't see eye to eye.

Sam also wonders/worries, “Which hi-rez format will win out? How do you store the downloads you’ve bought (Easy. Don’t buy them.) How do you access them? Will digital rights management (DRM) cramp your style, or data storage fees for cloud computing crumple your wallet?”

Michael Lavorgna  |  Dec 26, 2011
Code Name: M1 DAC-A (for Asynchronous)
The Musical Fidelity M1 DAC under review today is not the same Musical Fidelity M1 DAC that's been around since June/July 2010. This one is new and improved as of a November 2011 street date namely adding an Asynchronous USB input capable of handling 24-bit/96kHz data and adding $50 to its price tag (the old M1 DAC's adaptive USB input was limited to 16/48). There are also some minor changes to the choke-filtered power supply but for those users who skip the USB input, the M1 DAC is very nearly its old self. For those people looking for a 24/96 Async USB DAC, this M1 may as well be all new.

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