Preamplifier/DAC Reviews

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Michael Lavorgna  |  Nov 21, 2012

Throwing Muses
The Asus Xonar Essence One comes in three versions; the standard ($599), the One Plus Edition with Op-Amp Swap Kit ($699), and the unit under review the MUSES Edition (footnote 1) so named for its use of the MUSES 01 Op-Amps from New Japan Radio Co. Ltd. While I wouldn't call the Xonar Essence One MUSES Edition inexpensive at $899, I would say it leans toward the budget side of things, all things considered. With very solid build quality, a 24/192-capable Asynchronous USB input, two S/PDIF inputs, a preamp, a headphone amp, and optional "Symmetrical 8X upsampling", Asus has thrown a lot into the Essence One including the muses.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 19, 2011
The Fort Collins, CO-based brick and mortar store Alternative Audio room featured the Bryston BDA-1 DAC/BDP-1 digital player combo ($2,195/each). The rest of the system I listened to included the Audio Research VSi60 integrated amp ($4,495) and the new Vandersteen Treo loudspeakers ($5,990/pair) all wired with AudioQuest cable. Stevie Ray Vaughan was playing here too and the sound was "hefty yet nimble" and I remember thinking—nice, real nice.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Nov 03, 2016
In This Corner...
Weighing in at a fit 16 lbs. with 10 digital inputs and balanced outputs stands the Roon Ready and firmware upgrade-able Ayre QX-5 Tweeeenty! And in this corner, piles of stuff.
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  |  Sep 18, 2014
Pro-Ject
Pro-Ject may be best known for their turntables, but they offer a dizzying array of products through their Box Designs line as well. From CD players to speakers and most everything in between, in multiple lines ranging from the E Line, C Line, S Line, DS Line, and RS Line (in ascending price order). Today's Stream Box is from the RS line, the top of the Pro-Ject digital heap.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jul 09, 2015
Cary Audio, Raleigh, NC
I can still remember visiting audio retailer Audio Nexus in Summit, NJ back in the '90s and seeing the lovely Cary CAD-300SEI integrated amp which was at the time outside of my comfort price zone. I was heavily into exploring single-ended tube amps and ended up with my first love, the Sun Audio SV-300BE followed by many a Fi amp (I still own the prototype Fi 45), and finally landing very comfortably in the land of Shindo, albeit outside the SET camp. To say that Cary Audio represents an important part of our hi-fi history is to state the obvious and to say that I was looking forward to spending time with their latest DAC would be an understatement.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Feb 18, 2016
Trickle Down
John Atkinson praised the dCS Vivaldi stack (114,496) in his Measurements section of Michael Fremer's review; "Without any doubt, this was the best digital playback I have experienced." and "When I measured the company's earlier four-box system, the Scarlatti, in 2009, I concluded that it offered 'state-of-the-art measured performance.' The Vivaldi improves on the Scarlatti's performance in almost every way. Wow!" The dCS Rossini DAC inherits a number of things from the Vivaldi including the dCS Digital Processing Platform.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Mar 09, 2013
Value
One look at the Emotiva XDA-2 DAC/Digital Preamp/Headphone Amp and you may ask yourself—I wonder how much that costs? And when you learn that the answer is a dollar shy of $400, you may think "Wow" or you may think, "Wait, what does it do?". Price perception is similar to depth perception in that's its all about ones' point of view. While anyone that's been shopping for a DAC lately will more than likely be impressed by the XDA-2s package, what it does is play music and how well it does this one job will tell you most everything you need to know about its value.
Steven Plaskin  |  Apr 14, 2014
The Overdrive USB DAC/Pre is the creation of engineer-designer Steve Nugent of Empirical Audio. Empirical Audio was formed in 1994 and initially concentrated on the sales of patented cable products designed by Steve Nugent. Steve’s background included a degree in Electrical Engineering with 25 years of digital design experience. His resume included work for the Intel Corp. where he served as a design-team lead in the development of the Pentium II processor. Steve has also been a passionate audiophile for over 39 years and this interest lead him into the modification of other manufacturer’s audio products in 2002. His modifications not only included DACs, but preamps, power amps and CD players / transports. The modification of numerous designs gave Steve a wonderful opportunity to see what sounded best in audio and DAC design. During this time, Steve developed the Off Ramp Turbo USB Converter; a device that offered a USB interface to digital products. In 2009, Empirical Audio ceased equipment modification and concentrated on original computer audio product design.
Steven Plaskin  |  Feb 14, 2018
The Empirical Audio Overdrive SX Ethernet DAC/Pre represents Steve Nugent's most current thinking on DAC design. Steve, chief designer and owner of Empirical Audio, has been building Empirical Audio DACs since 2009. His engineering background and experience in digital design have served him well having come up with many original creations and unique approaches in DAC design. The Overdrive SX builds on the basic design of his Overdrive SE, a DAC I reviewed for AudioStream back in 2014.
Steven Plaskin  |  Sep 04, 2014
exaSound Audio Design has managed to carve out a conspicuous place in the high end audiophile DAC market since beginning business less than 4 years ago. Michael Lavorgna reviewed the e20 MK III DAC for AudioStream (see review) and found it to do a fine job on PCM and native DSD playback. The e22 DAC is exaSound’s recently introduced flagship 2 channel DAC having improved on the design of the e20 MKIII to provide a superior level of sound quality. exaSound also builds an e28 DAC that can deliver from 2 to 8 channels of PCM and DSD.
Steven Plaskin  |  Feb 23, 2017
When I recently heard that exaSound Audio Design had released a new model replacement for their e22 DAC, I immediately contacted George Klissarov, President of exaSound Audio Design, to see if I could get a review sample of the new e32 DAC for an AudioStream review. I was very enthusiastic about the e32’s predecessor when I reviewed the e22 in 2014. At that time, I found the e22 to be an excellent sounding DAC and one that did a first-class job playing DSD files. The e22 was built around the ES9018S Sabre32 reference DAC chip and utilized exaSound’s custom ASIO drivers that allowed native DSD256 support for both OSX and Windows.
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.
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.
Alex Halberstadt  |  Mar 19, 2018
When I was a younger man, I used to frequent an Indian restaurant on lower Lexington Avenue in Manhattan called Curry in a Hurry. It wasn't far from my apartment. Upstairs, I'd sit over a heaping tray of russet chicken tikka, poori, nan and greasy samosas, and watch Bollywood musicals on the TV that was chained to the ceiling. What I liked most about Curry in a Hurry was a Bengali dessert called rasmalai—cheese curds in clotted cream flavored with cardamom—and a sign on the wall that read, "Eat Like a King, Pay Like a Pauper."

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