sonic.build Sonic DAC
Output: unbalanced RCA
Dimensions: 9 x 7 x 1.5 cm
Weight: not much
Availability: Direct Online
The sonic.build Sonic DAC is put together from individual products you can buy and DIY. Here's the shopping list:
- Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ $34.90
- HiFiBerry DAC+ standard $34.90
- Acrylic Case $14.90
- SD Card $6.90
- Power Supply $11.90
- Accessories $2.90
- Total: $106.40
The HiFiBerry DAC+ standard is based on a 24-bit/192kHz Burr-Brown DAC and it receives its clock and power from the Raspberry Pi B+ on top of which it sits. There is a "Pro" version ($44.90) of the HiFiBerry DAC+ that includes its own dual-domain clocks (44.1 and 48kHz). The SD card in the Pi includes the lightweight OS and Roon Bridge software making the Sonic DAC a Roon endpoint/DAC.
As such, if you are already running Roon Server/Core on your network, I am, setup consists of connecting the Sonic DAC to your network via Ethernet, connecting its RCA outputs to your hi-fi, powering it on, and telling Roon to play through it. Total setup time = 5 minutes (unless you take a beer break).
That's about it. I connected the Sonic DAC to my Ayre AX-5 Twenty, kind of an odd couple in terms of cost, while the DeVore gibbon X speakers brought music into the barn.
He put in his thumb, And pulled out a plum
I would say that all things told, the core system in the barn, and let's not forget the importance of the room (or barn), is resolving.
"Is there any other kind?"
Well yes, there is. My desktop setup, which includes the ADAM A3X speakers, is not as resolving and I've had and heard many systems that are not as resolving. Why bring this up now? Because when listening to and talking about review gear, we cannot discount the environment they are used within. My best guess is someone looking at and considering the sonic.build Sonic DAC, or rolling their own, is not going to mate it with about $30k in associated gear in a dedicated listening room (barn).
My point being—I kinda wish I had something (very much) like a PS Audio Sprout and ELAC B6 speakers (total=$680) as the associated equipment for this review. But I don't so I'd say that my listening impressions are going to be hyper-critical because of the system/room context, which will not be a typical system/room where the Sonic DAC will typically live.
The sonic.build Sonic DAC sounds good, enjoyable, even, but it does not do what more costly DACs do. The best way I can describe its sound is to say that music has a sameness to it as if it's been colored with the small box of Crayolas where more costly DACs add more crayons and colors. On the plus side, music sounds bold and full like a big ball of sound and a bit generalized which can be heard as a kind of boldness.
I happen to have the ELAC Discovery Series DS-S101-G Music Server ($1099) here for review, which makes for more relevant comparison. In brief, the Discovery is an odd beast in that it runs Roon Essentials, which you can think of as a version of Roon Server and Roon Ready in one: One-box shopping. So if we add in the cost of Roon ($499) and my sonicTransporter i5 ($645), both needed for the Sonic DAC, we are talking apples to apples from a cost perspective.
Let's not beat around the bush; the ELAC is a better-sounding player. Tone colors are more varied and vibrant, strings pluck more brightly, voices sound richer and fuller, and the space of the recording is much more believable, open, and tactile. By comparison, the Sonic DAC bunches things up, darkens things down, and subtle details are glossed over. The Discovery takes that sense of sameness I heard with the Sonic DAC and adds a rainbow (I know, but that's the way I hear it). If build quality is important to you, the ELAC is about a hundred times nicer. More or less.
The Sonic DAC fared much better on my desktop. The ADAM A3X's ribbon tweeter is a sparkler which helps add some light to the Sonic DAC's darker sound while the nearfield setup makes less demands on spacial queues. While the overall sound is still on the darker side, and simply no match for the Mytek Brooklyn which normally resides here, I could certainly see someone enjoying this simple and relatively inexpensive system. That sense of sameness is also less apparent here, or perhaps just less bothersome in this system context.
While I have been hard on the sonic.build Sonic DAC, that's my job. Within a complimentary system/room context, the Sonic DAC offers a nice option for people shopping for a Roon Endpoint/DAC that won't break the bank.
Also in-use during the Sonic DAC review: ELAC Discovery Series DS-S101-G Music Server