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.
A Dragonfly Killer?
AudioQuest's original Dragonfly DAC (see review) seems to have inspired a number of similar products while igniting the whole 'micro-DAC' market. And for good reason. The original Dragonfly was small, portable, easy to use with hi-fi or headphones, and it sounded good. Putting it on AudioStream's Greatest Bits list was a no-brainer. Kicking it off of that list is also a no-brainer because AudioQuest have gone and done it. They've come out with a Dragonfly killer.
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.
The Burson Audio Conductor packs a bunch of full features into a very solid 6mm thick precision machined aluminum chassis. There's a full function preamp with two line level RCA inputs, a host of 24/192-capable digital inputs, and a headphone amp. A threefer.
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.
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.
The Little Asus That Could
I was impressed with the Asus Xonar Essence One MUSES Edition that I reviewed back in November of last year (see review) finding it fun and engaging to listen to. The new Essence STU due to be released later this month is the Essence One's little brother offering much of the same functionality of its bigger brother minus the latter's XLR outputs. Inside the STU we've got the Texas Instruments (TI) PCM1792A DAC, the 32-bit/192kHz-capable Cmedia CM 6631A asynchronous USB receiver, the TI PCM9211 S/PDIF receiver, and the TI TPA6120A headphone amp. The STU wraps all of this tech into a slender iPad-sized dark gray chassis with an analog volume control for the RCA outs and a separate volume control for the heapdhone out. Add in a two-position Headphone Gain switch and you've got yourself one fulsome package for a hair under four hundred bucks. Nice!
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.
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.
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.
The Director is Meridian's step up in terms of size and sound quality from their smaller and headphone output-endowed Explorer (see review). Meridian views the aptly named Explorer as a portable player whereas the Director is meant to sit and remain connected to your hi-fi. I've now had a chance to listen to the Director for a few weeks and compare it to its smaller sibling side-by-side. If you've already read my Director preview, feel free to skip ahead to the listening section.
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.
The Director is Meridian's step up in terms of size and sound quality from their smaller and headphone output-endowed Explorer (see review). Meridian views the aptly named Explorer as a portable player whereas the Director is meant to sit and remain connected to your hi-fi. While I've been living with the DAC-only Director for about a week which is about enough time for first impressions, Meridian has asked us to keep the Director under wraps until 7am EST Monday August 5th. Not one to miss out on a premier, I thought I'd give the Director the red carpet treatment and offer up some basic facts, photos, and first takes.
M2TECH’s Game Changer
When I learned that TEAC America now distributes M2TECH’s hiFace DAC, a palm-fitting, plug-and-play, Italian-made baby that, for $46 more than Audioquest’s 96kHz/24 bit Dragonfly, delivers up to 384kHz/32 bit performance, my curiosity was piqued. As someone with champagne tastes and a bargain outlet budget, I had to find out if the little baby with the preciously spelled name and the enticing slogan, “Sound quality better than you may expect,” amounted to anything more than an object of idle amusement.