DAC Reviews

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Michael Lavorgna  |  Jul 20, 2017
Opto-logic
It means light. Light is used to couple the digital to the analog boards instead of metal/wire so that electrical noise stays away from the analog circuitry where it can do all kinds of harm we can hear. The "A" in DAC stands for Analog which seems to go without saying but some people get stuck on the "D" making the false assumption that digital is "perfect". As perfect as free-range unicorns.
Alex Halberstadt  |  Jun 28, 2017
"If it measures good and sounds bad—it’s bad. If it measures bad and sounds good, you’ve measured the wrong thing." —Daniel R. von Recklinghausen, Chief Engineer, H.H. Scott.

The main thing I’ve learned after an adulthood of listening to recorded music is that we still don’t really understand what makes it fun. What I mean is the factors that make music reproduction emotionally engaging (as opposed to accurate sounding) remain, to a significant extent, a mystery. This is especially true of digital. Which makes sense—the phonograph disk has been around since Emile Berliner introduced it in 1889. Digital encoding arrived nearly a century later, and after three-decades-and-change we’re still getting our heads around how to make it sound like music.

Ola Björling  |  May 04, 2017
photo credits: Aqua Hifi unless otherwise noted

In my day job I interact with people holding PHD's in various tech fields, including audio. Any faith these folks have in my cognitive faculties has a tendency to ebb quickly when they find out I prefer music on vinyl, even if—and, perhaps, especially if—it's mastered digitally at 16/44.1. My response is to regurgitate a spiel on how music exists for the purpose of pleasure, and I simply tend to receive more of that through vinyl, measurements be damned. Depending on the degree of hostility I might also opt to say that signal to noise ratio is not a genre I care for, and try to change the topic.

Alex Halberstadt  |  Apr 06, 2017
Music reaches us in nearly countless ways. We listen in cars, listen in supermarkets, listen during root canals. Music plays while we’re on hold with the cable company, ordering coffee, waiting for a train. Each of these modes serves a different agenda. My boyfriend is a cartoonist who often draws for six to eight hours at a time. The whole time he listens to music. For him it’s a way to mark the passage of time and stimulate a part of his mind that drawing does not reach. "The music I listen to in the studio must have a certain uniformity to it," he told me. "It should be interesting but not emotionally compelling enough to be distracting." This means that recently he’s listened to many hours of Sibelius symphonies, Jandek, and the Long Island death-metal band Suffocation. Go figure.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Mar 16, 2017
R2R, NOS/Or Not
The discrete R2R HoloAudio Spring DAC offers two main operating modes; non-oversmapling (NOS) and a chip-based oversampler (AKM AK4137). You can switch between these modes of operation by simply pushing the front panel "OVER SAMPLING" button. This button offers 4 choices; "NOS" mode which bypasses that AKM chip, "OS Mode" where PCM and DSD are each upsampled to higher rates but remain PCM and DSD, "OS PCM" where all data is "oversampled to PCM", and "OS DSD" where all data is "oversampled to DSD". If you are anything like me, you'll leave the Spring DAC in "NOS" mode, avoiding that Asahi Kasei Microdevices chip like the plague.
Steven Plaskin  |  Feb 23, 2017
When I recently heard that exaSound Audio Design had released a new model replacement for their e22 DAC, I immediately contacted George Klissarov, President of exaSound Audio Design, to see if I could get a review sample of the new e32 DAC for an AudioStream review. I was very enthusiastic about the e32’s predecessor when I reviewed the e22 in 2014. At that time, I found the e22 to be an excellent sounding DAC and one that did a first-class job playing DSD files. The e22 was built around the ES9018S Sabre32 reference DAC chip and utilized exaSound’s custom ASIO drivers that allowed native DSD256 support for both OSX and Windows.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Dec 29, 2016
Skip The Bits
"Hey, you put DSD in my DAC! You put DAC in my DSD!" The buzz surrounding the T+A DAC 8 DSD is all about octuple-rate DSD; DSD512 (512 times that of CD)/22.5792 MHz. The idea being you use Signalyst's HQPlayer software to convert all of your music to DSD512 before sending it to the DAC 8 so that the latter's "True One Bit DSD Converter" can work its magic. Yea, magic.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Dec 01, 2016
All-In-One With A Twist
The ELAC Discovery is a one-box solution for people looking to turn their digital music collection, streamed and stored, into analog while using Roon to control playback. The Discovery handles gapless playback and PCM resolutions up to 24-bit/192kHz (WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, OGG, MP3, AAC) while offering two analog outputs + WiFi for multiroom(s) audio. Here's the twist: Discovery runs on Roon Essentials, which negates the need for a separate device running Roon Server/Core, and Roon Essentials is included in the Discovery's price.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Nov 17, 2016
Pre-Made Pi
The sonic.build Sonic DAC is put together from individual products you can buy and DIY. Here's the shopping list:
Michael Lavorgna  |  Nov 03, 2016
In This Corner...
Weighing in at a fit 16 lbs. with 10 digital inputs and balanced outputs stands the Roon Ready and firmware upgrade-able Ayre QX-5 Tweeeenty! And in this corner, piles of stuff.
Steven Plaskin  |  Oct 27, 2016
Musica Pristina’s Virtuoso Network DAC is a Roon Ready DAC that takes advantage of Roon Lab’s RAAT (Roon Advanced Audio Transport) protocol technology for bit perfect network streaming over Ethernet and WiFi networks. RAAT supports “all relevant audio formats today and for the foreseeable future.” Musica Pristina is one of the earliest companies to support Roon’s RAAT with a DAC that utilizes this new network protocol.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Sep 22, 2016
Brooklyn
The new Mytek Brooklyn DAC does not sport a slicked back undercut, big beard, skinny jeans, a plaid shirt, and tattoos. Wrong neighborhood. What this Brooklyn sports is a preamplifier, a DSD256- and MQA-capable DAC, two headphone jacks which can be paired with a 4 pin XLR to 2 1/4 inch jacks for balanced headphones, a freakin' phono input (MM/MC), and a sculpted aluminum front panel in black (for a touch of Brooklyn) or "frosty silver".
Michael Lavorgna  |  Sep 01, 2016
A DragonFly Tale
[Parental Advisory Warning] I had an email exchange with my friend Joe about music and movies, as is our wont, and asked—
Me "What are listening through?"
Joe "I have two pairs of Shure 580 in-ear headphones, which are very good headphones and also sit in the ear and cut out 90% of outside noise. About as fidelity as I get."
Me "I like those Shure in-ears too. So you plug them into your computer?"
Joe "Yeah, I just plug them into one Apple product or another."
At the time, I was rich in Dragonflys, having my original and the V.1 version. So I sent Joe the original. Here's the first email I received from Joe after the DragonFly landed at his place:
Subject: Damn!

Fuck Me! Dragonfly!

Michael Lavorgna  |  Aug 18, 2016
"Timing is everything." Tommy Shaw
The Ravenna IP technology allows for syncing of multiple audio devices over Ethernet using the Precision Time Protocol (PPT) achieving clock accuracy "in the sub-microsecond range". This comes in handy in recording studios where Merging Technologies got its start, and earned its reputation, back in 1990 in Chexbres, Switzerland. As we all know, timing is everything in home audio, too, so Merging Technologies (MT) imbued its NADAC with, among other things, the Ravenna IP technology.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Aug 04, 2016
totaldac + Roon
If you've read my reviews of the totaldac d1-tube-mk2 DAC or the d1-dual DAC, you'll know they are among my Favorites. When I received an email from totaldac's Vincent Brient asking if I'd be interested in reviewing his new Roon Ready d1-integral-headphone music server/DAC, I responded, "Yes".

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