Inputs: Coax S/PDIF, Toslink, Asynchronous USB, aptX Bluetooth, 2x analog RCA
Outputs: 1/4" headphone jack, mono RCA for Sub Out, 2x speaker binding posts
Dimensions: 8 1/2" x 2 3/8" x 10 7/16"
Weight: 4.6 lbs
Availability: Online and through Authorized Dealers
The TEAC Corporation, a $1.2 billion manufacturing company headquartered in Japan, was founded in 1953. The TEAC division is in the "field of music and audio" and they've pioneered many a product for the studio and home. I was mightily impressed with their UD-501 Dual-Monaural PCM/DSD USB DAC (see review) and the new Teac AI-301DA, which wraps up 22 Watts (into 8 Ohms) of Class-D ICEpower (50ASX2-SE), a 32/192 and DSD 5.6MHz capable BurrBrown PCM 1795 D/A converter, aptX Bluetooth, and a headphone amp into a relatively small package, carries on this tradition.
The AI-301DA offers two pairs of analog RCA inputs, an asynchronous USB input (supports up to 32/192 and up to DSD 5.6MHz), Coax S/PDIF (supports up to 24/192), Toslink (supports up to 24/96), a built-in Bluetooth antennae (memory capacity for up to a maximum of eight Bluetooth device pairings), and an IEC inlet for the included power cord. There's a single RCA for subwoofer out and a pair of speaker binding posts. Up front we have the on/off button which is encircled by a blue LED, a matching source selector button, blue source LEDs, the 1/4" headphone jack, and the motorized volume control. The all-metal chassis, which comes in black or silver, sports some aluminum side panels and the overall look is cool and clean. Teac also includes a remote with the AI-301DA which allows for source selection and volume control.
Teac also offers the HR Audio Player App (for Windows & Mac) which allows for PCM and DSD playback but I stuck with my usual audio players Pure Music and Audirvana. Setting up the AI-301DA was a snap—I connected the AudioQuest Type-4 speaker cables to the Teac and my DeVore Fidelity The Nines, the Light Harmonic Lightspeed USB cable sat between the Teac and my MacBook Pro, then I just plugged that baby in and we were off to the races.
One Cool Customer
"You might say that the [Teac] UD-501 leans toward the darker, richer, and fuller side of things..." This is what I said about the Teac UD 501 DAC and I think it's also a great place to start talking about the Teac AI-301DA. Dark, rich, and full covers the overall character of the AI-301DA and I find this type of presentation to be very music friendly.
The Teac had no problems driving my DeVore The Nines and the pairing threw out a very nice, solid, large and deep sound image. As with the Teac UD-501, I found the presentation to be nicely balanced with no odds or ends sticking out to disturb the experience. Bass was fit and full, the midrange meaty, and the upper frequencies had a nice sweet glow about them. As I mentioned in my review of the PS Audio Sprout (see review), the Sprout delivers a more lively and lit up sound while adding a MM phono input so I see these two integrated Amp/DACs appealing to different customers.
I played all manner of music through the Teac including CD-quality, high res, and DSD and enjoyed them all. For the record, I never, once, have said to myself "I'd like to hear some high res now" or "Time for some DSD" when listening for pleasure. Ever. I listen to music and my listening choices are driven by mood and music. I will share that I typically listen to some form of minimal or classical music in the mornings and things gets progressively more, um, adventurous as the day progresses. I never once felt the Teac was leading me to my next music choice or away from what my mood dictated. This is a very good thing.
I will also share that during the course of this review I've seen the AI-301DA offered online with a $100 discount, making its price $449.99. If you think about what you're getting for that kind of money, and you're thinking something along the lines of "wow", we agree. I also streamed some music from my iPhone to the Teac via Bluetooth and found this also made for some fine listening moments including a full run through of Carla Bozulich's Boy. As I've said many times before, offering Bluetooth on a device like this makes more than perfect sense to me as it allows others to easily share their music through your hi-fi.
The AI-301DA's headphone amp drove the NAD MP50's very well but the combo delivered a little too much of a good thing. I find the NAD's to be a tad dark and rich around the middle, just like the Teac, so something like the PS Audio Sprout proved to be a better mate for the NAD 'phones. I also tried my trusty old Audio Technica ATH-W1000s which tend to be on the brighter side of the sonic scale and this combo, Teac/Audio Technica ATH-W1000, made for a much more musically enlightening duo.
Just for fun, I strapped up the Pono Player to one of the Teac's analog inputs with a length of AudioQuest Victoria cable and took some Bonnie "Prince" Billy for a ride. Interestingly, the sound was more lit up and lively as compared to the Teac's internal DAC and made for a very enjoyable listening experience.
Teac Delivers Another Winner
If you're looking for an eminently listenable and likable integrated amp/DAC and headphone amp that plays back PCM resolutions up to 24/192 and DSD while adding Bluetooth connectivity as well as analog and S/PDIF inputs, you'll be well-served by looking at and listening to the Teac AI-301DA. Just add speakers and you've got yourself a wonderfully musical making simple system.
Also in-use during the Teac review: PS Audio Sprout