DAC Reviews

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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Apr 17, 2014 7 comments
Another Micro DAC
I don't know about you, but I think choice is good. The micro DAC market has seen a rabbit-like infestation of products including the AudioQuest Dragonfly, Meridian Explorer, HRT MicroStreamer, Audioengine D3, Arcam rPAC, LH Labs Geek family, iFi's nano line, and more. Two things that the Cambridge DAC Magic XS offers that not all the others do is the ability to play back up to 24/192 files and on-device push button analog volume controls.
Steven Plaskin Posted: Apr 14, 2014 4 comments
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.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Apr 03, 2014 21 comments
A Network Node
The Bluesound Node is a network player—Ethernet, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth in, out comes your choice of digital (Toslink) or analog (RCAs) music. The Node supports MP3, AAC, WMA, OGG, WMA-L, FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF in resolutions up to 24/192, gapless playback, cloud services including WiMP, Rdio, Highresaudio, Slacker Radio, Qobuz, Deezer and Juke (all of these services require an account and some have geographic restrictions), and Internet Radio via TuneIn Radio. You can also play music from an Internet URL. All of this functionality is wrapped up in a relatively small round-cornered display-less cube in your choice of high gloss white or black highlighted with a brushed steel strip running down its center. Control of the Node is performed strictly through the Bluesound app for iOS and Android devices.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Mar 20, 2014 4 comments
All-In-One
The Cambridge Audio Minx Xi packs a 40 watt per channel (into 8 ohms) Class AB integrated amplifier, a network player, DAC, and headphone amp into one relatively small and sleek metal-wrapped high gloss white or black package. Throw in Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and the Cambridge Stream Magic app for iOS or Android devices, and you've got yourself one very good reason to never leave your couch. Except to dance.
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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Feb 25, 2014 2 comments
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 Posted: Feb 20, 2014 14 comments
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.
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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Feb 13, 2014 13 comments
Wherever You Go...
Hugo. No, wherever Hu-go...Oh never mind. The Chord Hugo is a portable DAC/Headphone amp capable of passing up to 32/384 PCM, DXD, and DSD 128 data through its FPGA-based DAC to your headphones or hi-fi. There's a digitally controlled volume knob which you can bypass when running Hugo in DAC-mode, multiple crossfeed filter settings for enhanced headphone listening, micro USB, Coax and Toslink S/PDIF inputs, as well as A2DP aptX Bluetooth input so you can stream to the Hugo across the airwaves from iOS and Android devices. Everything is wrapped up in sparkly silver hard-anodised precision milled aircraft-grade aluminum with colored lights and level indicators shining through.
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Feb 04, 2014 4 comments
A Powerful Musical Duo
The Bluesound Powernode delivers network-, smartphone-, tablet-, and Internet-based music via wi-fi, Ethernet, and Bluetooth while also packing an 50 Watt Direct-Digital Amplifier and a 24/192-capable DAC designed by NAD Electronics in one small round-cornered cubed package. The Duo is a sub/satellite speaker system designed by Paul Barton of PSB that has been optimized for use with the Powernode and together they can deliver music anywhere your wired, wi-fi, or Bluetooth range allows. Each come wrapped in gloss white or black with steely metal highlights.
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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jan 28, 2014 6 comments
The Conductor Gets A New DAC
When Burson read my sonic impressions of their Conductor DAC (see review), one of their reactions was to suggest I try the 1793 DAC PCB option which sports a Burr Brown PCM1793 DAC, taking the place of the ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC that comes in the standard version. This 1793 DAC PCB option also lowers the price from $1,850 to $1,700 while delivering a different sonic palette. But which is better?
Michael Lavorgna Posted: Jan 21, 2014 18 comments
A Musical Vault
The Bluesound Vault is in a category all by itself, at least for the time being. The Vault combines 1TB of Network Attached Storage (NAS) with a DAC and digital volume control so you can connect it directly to your hi-fi with a pair of regular old RCA interconnects. Using the very slick Bluesound app on your smart gadget or tablet of choice you can be playing scads of music in no time flat. No computer or external storage need apply. But that's not all.
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Steven Plaskin Posted: Jan 20, 2014 0 comments
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 Posted: Dec 24, 2013 1 comments
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 Posted: Dec 04, 2013 10 comments
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.
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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Nov 27, 2013 14 comments
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.
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Michael Lavorgna Posted: Nov 22, 2013 21 comments
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.

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