Teac UD-501 Dual-Monaural PCM/DSD USB Digital to Analog Converter

Device Type: USB Digital to Analog Converter/Headphone Amplifier
Input: USB (Audio Class 2.0), (2) Coax S/PDIF, (2) Toslink
Output: 1 pair RCA, 1 pair XLR, 1 headphone jack (100 mW + 100 mW into 32 ohms)
Dimensions : 290 (W) x 81.2 (H) x 244 (D) mm, 11.4" (W) x 3.2" (H) x 9.6" (D)
Weight: 4.0kg (8 15/16 lb)
Availability: online and through Authorized Dealers
Price: $849.00
Website: www.teac.com

64x DSD, 128x DSD, and DXD for under a Grand
The DSD wars are heating up. When I started my list of DSD-ready DACs back in November of 2011, there were a grand total of four DACs and two of them were from the same company. The big news back then was the Mytek DAC coming in at $1,695 but if you look at that list today, you'll see more for less (and more). The Teac UD-501 is currently the least expensive DAC on that list but that doesn't mean you're necessarily getting less. As a matter of fact, the Teac offers up to double rate DSD (5.6MHz) and 384kHz PCM playback out of the box which certainly looks like a lot on paper. But what really matters isn't to be found on paper, and it isn't even necessarily only about how it sounds, it is all about how it makes us feel.

The Teac UD-501 is a dual mono design and packs a lot of technological punch into its narrow, stout A4-sized aluminum-wrapped and handle-equipped body. A pair of TI/BurrBrown PCM1795 32-bit DACs take care of the D to A conversion and the USB input is of the asynchronous variety meaning it controls the all-important system clock. There are a pair of toroidal-core power transformers and twin MUSES8920 op amps for the headphone output. That volume control you see on the right side is only for the headphone output as the UD-501 does not offer variable output for its RCA or XLR pairs.

Native DSD up to 128x DSD is handled via ASIO 2.1 for PC users and DoP (DSD over PCM) for Mac users. Since the UD-501 is USB 2.0 compliant, Mac users do not need to install any drivers. PC users have to download and install the Teac Windows drivers for playback of PCM rates over 24/96 as well as for DSD. There are pairs of Coax S/PDIF and Toslink inputs, RCA and balanced XLR outputs, and a 1/4" headphone jack around front. The front panel also houses the on/off switch, input selector knob that also steps through the Menu options once the Menu button is pressed, a display that shows your Menu options or file playback information (PCM or DSD and the sample rate), and a volume control for headphone level. The UD-501 comes in your choice of black or silver.

There are 2 types of user-selectable digital filters for PCM playback (Sharp and Slow or neither) and 4 types of cut-off finite impulse response (FIR) filters for DSD playback. The FIR filters differ in cutoff frequency and gain as follows: FIR Filter 1 Cutoff Frequency = 185kHz, Gain= -6.6dB, FIR Filter 2 (default) Cutoff Frequency = 90kHz, Gain= +0.3dB, FIR Filter 3 Cutoff Frequency = 85kHz, Gain= -1.5dB, and FIR Filter 4 Cutoff Frequency = 94kHz, Gain= -3.3dB.

You can also choose to upsample PCM data to 192kHz for lower sample rate PCM files (its disabled when playing back 192kHz, 352.8kHz, 384kHz, and DSD data). You can also specify the line output as RCA, XLR, or both and there are two settings for the XLR outputs one with pin 2 hot and one with pin 3 hot. You can also have just the line level as output, just the headphones, or both. The USB input receives power from the USB bus and this can be defeated as well if you decide to use one of the S/PDIF inputs instead. Since DXD and DSD playback is only supported via USB, I'd say it makes good sense to go USB.

You can dim the display or turn it off altogether and even show the "Mode" which displays different data for PCM (upconverter status, digital filter setting) and DSD (reception method and which FIR filter is engaged). Finally there's a switch around back for "Automatic Power Save" that puts in the UD-501 in standby mode when it has not received a signal for a while (the manual doesn't state this duration and I'm too impatient to time it).

Teac High Res/DSD Audio Player
Teac offers a free media player that supports 64x and 128x DSD and DXD playback. I downloaded the Windows app (there's also a Mac version) from the Teac website along with the Teac Asio drivers. The Teac App is a snap to get working—just install the Asio drivers and the app, select the Teac Asio Driver in the Configuration menu and you are good to go. The Teac player is fairly basic but gets the job done. You load up tracks and play 'em. I did not spend much time with the Teac app and for all of my listening notes that follow I used my MacBook Pro and Audirvana Plus (running DoP for DSD playback).

Feeling Music
Listening to music is above all else an emotional experience. I know that notion troubles some people but that's just the way it is. Sensual pleasures are hard-wired to our emotions whether we like it or not and I for one, like it. So when we listen to music on a hi-fi we want to be emotionally engaged. Sure we can intellectualize by dissecting this experience into multi-various parts and attach more and less importance to this or that aspect of sound reproduction but in the end, listening to music is all about being there. Using this as a gauge, the Teac UD-501 is for me a very suitable musical suitor.

Overall, the UD-501 (I wish it had a sexier name and I'd be tempted to name mine something like Ursula Dear if I owned one) plays music with an even, steady, and decisive hand. It nails the beat. There's nothing about its presentation that draws particular attention to itself even when we go looking for the bits that comprise the whole. Bass response is fitfully physical and well formed, the spatial presentation is on the muscular side as opposed to billowy with a very natural sense of space around instruments with sounds emanating from deep (where appropriate) silence. There's a rich and plump mid-range and sweet, resolving highs. Vocals of all stripes sound particularly lovely and enticing. You might say that the UD-501 leans toward the darker, richer, and fuller side of things especially if you compare it to something like the Mytek Stereo 192-DSD DAC (see review) which wears its incisive resolution in a more obvious manner.

PCM playback sounds just wonderful and inviting and I found myself exploring my music library unhindered by the temptation for sound effects and with complete disregard for bit and/or sample rates. Of course well-recorded HD tracks sounded exceptionally good and DXD courtesy of 2L's free downloads sounded even better as did DSD. To my ears, after having heard more than a half dozen DSD-capable DACs, DSD continues to entice in ways that PCM just don't. There's a naturalness, ease and silky-smoothness to the overall presentation that PCM seems to lop off. Also the way in which music springs out of silence strikes me as sounding much more real, more dimensional, with DSD. And here, the UD-501 shines nearly as brightly as the Mytek but I'd give the Mytek a bit of an edge in terms of ultimate resolution. The Mytek startles a bit more with an uncanny sense of hearing into the recording whereas the Teac doesn't go in quite as deep.

Listening to double rate DSD through the headphone output of the UD-501 will make any DSD doubter doubtless. Its so good I almost felt guilty. But back to content we can actually get our hands on, regular single rate DSD sounds just lovely as does PCM of all varieties. Driving my Audio Technica ATH-W1000 headphones, I was lost in the music regardless of its pedigree so much so that I could have completely lost myself in music-logic, letting one album inform the next and so on. The Teac's presentation hit all the right notes and more than any one aspect of its performance it was the musical performance itself that drew me in. Time and time again.

I mainly listened to the UD-501 with my Pass INT-30A integrated amp through the balanced connections using the Kimber Kable Select KS 1126 Balanced ICs but I did try the single-ended RCA outputs and as with DSD, if you can go balanced [DSD], go balanced [DSD]. I heard more dynamic snap, resolution and air through the balanced connection. I also took my Leben CS-300XS for a single-ended spin. Since we're talking about any number of variables including cables and amplifiers, this was more about fun (apologies) than testing the UD-501's single-ended versus balanced connections but what became evident is I preferred both and would say that the Teac can live comfortably in either scenario. With the Leben, the overall presentation leaned even more toward the darker side and it seems to me that a Leben customer could enjoy the Teac's leanings even though this combination is not the last word in resolution and detail. Overall the sound has a more burnished glow as opposed to white light.

A comparison that strikes me as hardly worthy of discussion is which of the included filters I preferred since this is clearly a matter of personal preference and these options are available to every owner and the only way to know which you prefer is to listen. That said, I did find subtle sonic differences with the "Sharp" and "Slow" filters for PCM (I preferred the Slow filter since the Sharp seemed to be overly analytical), as well as the DSD FIR filters (I preferred Filter 2 which sounded the most resolute while retaining a nice tonal fatness) so there is some flexibility in terms of shaping the Teac's sound to your liking. There is some output level variation between the different FIR filters so don't be fooled by louder masquerading as better. Or, if louder sounds better, by all means have at it! I also found that I preferred upsampling turned on for PCM playback where lower resolution files sounded more airy and spacious when upsampled to 24/192. Again, since this option is engaged or disengaged with the push of a button and turn of a knob, owners can decide for themselves whether to engage or not.

It Feels Like More
I debated delaying this review so I could spend more time listening to the Teac UD-501, perhaps finding something more, ah hem, critical to talk about. I could point out that I've heard airier presentations with a larger perceived sound stage, or that I've heard DACs with greater resolution that pay more attention to micro detail, and even more refined-sounding DACs, but the Teac's overall presentation, its way with music from CD-quality, to higher resolution PCM, DXD, and DSD up to 128x DSD was all simply inviting and involving. The UD-501 invites you into each musical performance making it downright difficult to leave.

For those looking for a DSD-capable DAC without the need for preamplifier functionality but with the need for addictively engaging music, the Teac UD-501 comes very highly recommended.



Associated Equipment

Also on hand and in use during the Teac UD-501 review: iFi iDAC, Mytek Stereo 192-DSD DAC, Emotiva XDA-2 Differential Reference DAC, Parasound Zdac, HRT Stream HD, Meridian Explorer

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COMMENTS
Steven Plaskin's picture

The Teac UD-501 is offering  so many features and good performance for $849, that it will shake up the complacency of other DAC manufacturers. I think it's terrific that there are  more good DACs being offered for under $1K. 

Now it's time for the record labels to free up their strangle-hold on the DSD recordings. 

moosehunt's picture

I've been looking for a dac that doesn't give up the clarity and detail of my current Benchmark Dac1 USB, but sounds less lean and fatiguing with my Focal Chorus speakers. The TEAC sounds like it might be worth a listen. Minus the DSD capabilities I also wonder how the TEAC's tonal character stacks up against the Schiiit Bifrost or Gungnir. If any other readers have suggestions for DACs that pair well with Focals I'd love to hear them. Michael, thanks as always for the review!

valenroy's picture

Ah... the much anticipated review of the TEAC is finally up! Thanks Michael for the time and effort. What you have written echos my thoughts of the UD-501 completely. I couldn't have written it any better and it seems we both share the same sentiments in the enjoyment of the music through the TEAC regardless of asking price. No doubt I own both the Mytek (main system) and TEAC (headphone setup), I have always felt that the UD-501 holds its own ground against the Mytek at almost half of the cost. I personally think that it is untouchable at US$850 at the moment (I was fortunate enough to get it for around ~US$720 in Singapore 3 months ago) for its repertoire of decoding capabilities and sound reproduction qualities. Furthermore, it paves the way for DSD skeptics to give it a shot at a very reasonable outlay. With the recent commercial availability of DSD128 material at Opus 3 records, the music is just sublime and the best I have heard through the TEAC (and Mytek) - the width of the projected soundstage and dimensionality is out-of-this-world and you will be doing yourself an injustice if you don't download it at just US$12.99 a pop. A japanese phileweb reviewer's recommendation to replace its factory-fitted feets with better ones, which I concurred, yielded a even more tightly focused and stable center image and musical soundstage than before. Anyway, more reasonably priced DSD DACs south of the the 1k mark are due out this year. The future of DSD does looks very bright as what Steven has pointed out indeed!

p/s: A 3-month long forum discussion thread of the TEAC UD-501 is available at computeraudiophile.com by the way.

http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f6-dac-digital-analog-conversion/teac-...

Michael Lavorgna's picture

And thanks for sharing your thoughts on the Teac and the heads up on Opus 3 Records! I will get there and download.

Cheers.

valenroy's picture

Couldn't help but notice you are using Bruce's personal DSD128 transfer from the analogue tapes! Double-rate DSD files are really hard to come by but let's hope Opus 3 Records paves the way for more liquid sounding music to come. Volume 2 of the showcase series should be released in the next couple of days well, very much looking forward to it.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...of the origins of any such transfers nor can I affirm or deny that any such content exists.

;-)

valenroy's picture

... me and my big mouth but I must say it does sound sublime as well....wink

jim tavegia's picture

I wonder how long it will be before the physical players will have usb out and allow the sacd datga stream to be fed to an upgraded DAC like this one? 

When I saw the Dragonfly I thought I should jump.  Then when I saw the Meridian I thought I should jump in, but now with this Teac unit I'm kind of glad I waited. Although the Dragonfly and the Meridian are so affordable that they might just be considered standard equipment for any PC or AppleBook. 

I didn't see computer audio going off in this direction even 3 years ago. Now it is exploding. 

 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I wonder how long it will be before the physical players will have usb out and allow the sacd data stream to be fed to an upgraded DAC like this one?

I believe that current copyright laws would prohibit this kind of functionality.

I'm hoping that we'll see, sooner than later, some of the major download sites begin to offer DSD downloads.

donald2tu's picture

Just got mine today. Couldn't agree with the review more! Just being so happy with the UD-501 (with silver faceplate) that it will be another late night playing with it! Wow!

Oblique63's picture

Hey, just have a quick question I hope you can help with. I'm looking for a lively, yet neutral/accurate, and detailed DAC with a good soundstage for use with my HD 800's (I have a transparent amp for them as well, so don't care  much about headphone outputs). Assuming that I don't plan to listen to much DSD material, only PCM: between the UD-501 and the Concero, which sounds like it might me suit me better? Or if you have any other reccomendations, I'd say my budget limit is basically the price of the one ($850).  Thanks!

paulg's picture

Michael: Have you warmed to 14/44k through the Teac? Since 98 percent of my collection is CD rips, this is important to me.  Thx

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I thought the Teac handled 16/44.1 very well, especially with upsampling engaged and using the balanced connections.

cvision123's picture

Nice review. I read your review on the Chord QuteHD not long ago and I was impressed. Can you provide some comparison between the Teac and the Chord? Thanks.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

So I did not compare the Chord to the Teac directly. Based on memory, I'd give the nod to the Chord especially for 16/44.1 playback.

PDX Hi-Fi Guy's picture

We've had an evaluation unit on our showroom floor for a week or so, and it sounds great under every application we've used it in.  Pretty impressive DAC for the money.

meraklya's picture

With only a few hours on it, the DAC sounds highly engaging and addictive.

They easily could have released it under the "Esoteric" brand and sold for more money... this is quite a bargain, even with the added cost of importing it into Canada.

Question for you, Michael:

Which do you think provides higher quality upsampling, the unit itself or the software engine inside Audirvana?

WLVCA's picture

Wondering if both the single ended and XLR outputs are both active simultaneously on the UD-501?

Want to connect it to both a headphone amp and two channel speaker rig.

Thanks.

 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

You can set the outputs however you like - just RCA, just XLR, or both active.

meraklya's picture

Michael's review sample may have been a pre-production unit... on mine, selecting RCA mutes the XLR outputs, and likewise, XLR2 or XLR3 will mute the RCA output.

"BOTH" applies to headphone output - when you plug the headphones in this determines whether the RCA / XLR will be muted.

Tested this a few times.

Also, in the manual that came with MY unit, the time before entering standby is specified as 30 minutes.

meraklya's picture

For the Audirvana Plus users... here's my take.

Warning!! This may remove sonic veils!!

I turn upsampling off on the Teac. I turn upsampling on inside Audirvana, powers of 2.

For a 44/16 PCM file, this results in 352.8 sample rate being fed to the DAC.

This may be beneficial for a couple of reasons:

Music files aren't upsampled to 192 regardless of the original sample rate, which in mathematical terms, may result in a "cleaner" conversion.

The signal path inside the TEAC is shortened quite a bit by not pulling the signal thru the upsampler chip. In Audirvana, files are pre-upsampled and then loaded into memory.

This also bypasses the internal PCM digital filter, because the indicator of the same disappears from the display even if sharp or slow is selected.

The Audirvana then talks the integer talk to whichever stage residing past the upsampler chip.

At first I thought my music sounded softer. Then I noticed it just lost the harsh edge . I also noticed there is no hardening during build-ups or crescendos. I also noticed a lot of new, previously unheard details. Even some scary stuff like the breath of the flute player.

Fun!

jmillard's picture

Hi,

 

The UD-501 is very interesting and appears to be not only inexpensive but a high performer, especially since it processes DSD.

 

I am thinking of either getting this or a BDP-105, which is also very well thought of.

 

Would you venture an opinion about their relative performance?  I have a BDP-83 and think very highly of it, but it doesn't perform at the level I would like.

 

Thank you,

 

Millard

islandman2020's picture

I too would be interested in a review of the Teac UD-501 vs Oppo BDP-105 especially since the BDP-105 has recently been updated to play DSD.  At first glance anyway, with the ability to access the Oppo's Sabre ES9018 DAC's,  having DSD capability, Marvell Video processing, diversified media support, etc., etc  it seems to me that what you get in the Oppo for 350.00 more far outweights the price.  The 105 is almost a total multimedia device.  But it's DSD sound will be the deciding factor for me,  Michael, iinclude this in your DSD mix if you can!

soansjohn's picture

I have my music files MP3 stored in external Hard Disk.

Question

Can I connect Teac UD 501 with my home theater Bose Life style 48(this does not have any HDMI input/Output.

Can I connect my External HDD to The Teac UD 501 will it play my MP3 audio and 

video files, like a media player?

Bose Life style 48 i guess only play PCM audio output.( not sure if this is correct)

Thanks

Johnson

Archimago's picture

Thanks for the review, Michael.

I grabbed one of these DAC's as well and am in the process of finishing up the evaluation. So far, am impressed by the level of functioning with PCM. I think some audiophiles would be interested with the digital filter turned "OFF" and the implications.

Anyhow, my review/comments:

Initial Impression & Subjective Opinion

PCM Evaluation

DSD Evaluation

jmillard & islandman - see objective comparisons with the Oppo BDP-105 in the post.

lithium's picture

Hi MIchael,

you have mentioned both of them as available equipment in their respective reviews. It would be great if you could mention a comparison as I am strongly considering both. I know it has been a few months but just in case you remember. Thank you for all the great reviews

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Unfortunately it has been too long since I've had the ZDAC here to offer any meaningful comparisons with the Teac. On a practical note, if playing back 24/192 and DSD via USB is important, then the Teac is the way to go as the ZDAC is limited to 24/96 via USB.

lithium's picture

I guess I will have to find someone on the forums who has both for some sort of comparison. I want to be future proof with a DSD DAC but at the same time I am sceptical about the current model of DSD pricing and sales. If things continue the way they are at present DSD will just flail and die like so many formats before it.

I feel that redbook CD offers me so much for so little ( less and less each day) while I will probably have to change my interests in music for DSD. That is fine to see the capabilities of the technology but I am not sure how much DSD I would listen to regularly. 

I thirst for the high end (in tech not price) and question it at the same time......lol

Eagle13's picture

I recently upgraded to JRiver Media Center19 and was pleased to find that it now can do real-time DSD output.  I purchased the TEAC UD-501 about a week ago based on this favorable review (along with other internet resources) and have been very satisfied with it.  It replaced a Cambridge Audio DM+, which I've been very happy with, but I have a fair amount of DSD files now and wanted something comparable that would handle native DSD.

The feature that I was not expecting is that JRiver will output natively in DSD:

http://yabb.jriver.com/interact/index.php?topic=82074.0

I've spent a few hours this weekend A/B 'ing between DSD "upsampling" and native PCM. Having JRiver MC 19 output everything to DSD really is the way to go with this DAC! PRaT and to my ears, resolution, has been fantastic on good old PCM (both Redbook and Hi-Res).  This DAC is marvelous on DSD. 

As always, YMMV!

Caveat Emptor: Real-time DSD output requires a fairly powerful CPU! 

Also, Mr. Lavorgna, thank you for this and your many other reviews and articles,  I always find them very informative and interesting!

Michael Lavorgna's picture

And thanks for reading!

Cheers.

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