DAC Reviews

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Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 19, 2014
A Direct Stream
There was a lot of information surrounding the launch of PS Audio's DirectStream DAC. The company released a series of videos on YouTube (see videos) explaining some of the technology behind their new DAC, featuring the DAC's designer Ted Smith. There was also a white paper (see paper) that went into some detail regarding how the DirectStream handles DSD which is, according to them, unusual. Essentially what we're looking at and listening to is an FPGA-based D to A design as opposed to a chip-based solution that leaves DSD in its native 1-bit format. But that's not all.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 03, 2014
6 Sawbucks
Think of the places and ways you can spend $60. The possibilities are limitless and in hi-fi, six Hamilton's doesn't typically buy you much. Even in the virtual cable isle, you'd have to move way down to the "Budget" section to find anything in this price range. Today we'll be listening to a DAC, of all things, that'll run you sixty bucks. Bam!
Michael Lavorgna  |  May 27, 2014
The Objective DAC
Once upon a time, there was a guy who went by the name of NwAvGuy (Northwest Audio Video Guy). I don't know much else about him except what I've learned from reading his blog (see nwavguy.blogspot.com) which you'll see hasn't been updated since May 9, 2012. As far as I know, no one knows the true identity of NwAvGuy or why he chose to disappear from the scene at the height of fame, having just released his statement ODAC. Perhaps Sherwood Forest needed him back.
Steven Plaskin  |  May 20, 2014
Michael Lavorgna did an in-depth job reviewing Vincent Brient’s Totaldac d1-dual DAC (see review) and his Totaldac d1-server (see review) for AudioStream last September and December. Michael not only found the Totaldac d1-dual DAC to be one of the finest DACs he has experienced, but was very impressed with the clarity and abundant musical qualities of this DAC.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Apr 24, 2014
The New Young DSD DAC
The original M2Tech Young DAC was very favorably reviewed by Jon Iverson in Stereophile (see review), "The M2Tech combo's performance had seduced me—where I usually return to the Benchmark once I've done my critical listening to any DAC I'm reviewing, this time I left the Young and Palmer in the system until the morning I had to ship them out. I didn't want to let them go." The Young DSD version adds a number of features to the original including a digital preamplifier with analog volume control, adjustable output level, true balanced output, USB 2.0 compatibility so no drivers are required for Mac users, and of course the ability to play back both 64x and 128x DSD, the latter available via USB.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Feb 25, 2014
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  |  Feb 20, 2014
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.
Steven Plaskin  |  Jan 20, 2014
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  |  Dec 24, 2013
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  |  Dec 04, 2013
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.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Nov 22, 2013
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.
Jason Victor Serinus  |  Nov 13, 2013
UK-based digital music pioneer dCS (Data Conversion Systems, ltd.) has long been known as a company whose products reflect cutting edge digital technology. Yet one of the big paradoxes in the 25-year history of an organization that was part of the original working groups that developed the SACD format, and that originated DoP (DSD over PCM), the protocol that enables transfer and playback of DSD music files packed into a PCM frame, is that it has been slow to incorporate DSD file playback into its products.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 30, 2013
For my review of the SOtM sDP-1000 DAC and Pre-Amplifier, I neglected to talk about its Sample Rate Converter. I've righted that wrong and added an addendum to the review.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 10, 2013
SOtM "Soul Of the Music"
The battery-powered SOtM sDP-1000 DAC and Pre-Amplifier has a host of digital and analog inputs, it can handle up to 32-bit/192kHz PCM files as well as single rate 64x DSD, while offering both RCA and XLR outputs. It can, therefore, act as the heart of a hi-fi system handling a number of sources including a turntable as long as you add a phono pre into the mix. It wraps all of these functions into a very nicely designed aluminum-wrapped form.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Sep 17, 2013
A Musical Ladder
The Totaldac D1-Dual DAC does not contain a Delta-Sigma DAC chip as do most DACs on the market today. Rather it employs a discrete R2R ladder DAC using 200 Vishay 0.01% VAR Bulk Metal® Foil resistors per stereo channel (100 per DAC). A R2R ladder DAC is essentially a series of resistors that act as passive switches converting the incoming digital signal to discrete voltages and unlike Delta-Sigma DACs, the ladder DAC does not require the use of a current-to-voltage converter (I/V converter) or a digital filter. The D1-Dual DAC does not employ any upsampling but its designer, Vincent Brient, has included a user-defeatable non-oversampling compensation filter to help correct the high frequency roll off endemic of the R2R DAC design. Now, I'm not one to stand on ceremony or suggest that a given technology is inherently superior to another—it's all in the implementation. I'm essentially a listener and the D1-Dual DAC is one of the finest sounding DACs I've had the pleasure to live with and listen to.

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