DAC Reviews

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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.
Steven Plaskin  |  Sep 10, 2013
There has been a movement in the design of high end DACs to reduce jitter to extremely low levels due to the emergence of extremely accurate oscillator-clocks. Recently, I reviewed the MSB Technology Analog DAC with its Femto clock and claims of extremely low jitter. Calyx Audio, a division of the Korean manufacturer Digital and Analog, have utilized an extremely accurate clock to decrease jitter from the standard picoseconds to femtoseconds ; in this case 500 femtoseconds. One femtosecond is one quadrillionth (0.000 000 000 000 001) of a second or 10−15. Calyx is obviously proud of their clock technology and named their flagship DAC Femto. Digital and Analog not only builds a line of DACs, but also Class D amplifiers and a powered speaker. They have specialized in building class D ICs and Full Digital ICs OEM since 1999. In 2008, Calyx Audio was formed to produce high end audio products.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Sep 03, 2013
Way back when I reviewed the Resonessence Labs Concero (see review), I wondered/wished, "I wonder if they could easily add DSD capabilities to the Concero?" Depending on your definition of "easy", the answer is a resounding yes. It did take a new DAC chip but ESS came to the rescue and the little Concero now has two siblings; the HD with its DXD/DSD capabilities and the HP which adds a headphone amp to the HD. Like the original Concero, the HD in addition to functioning as a Coax S/PDIF and USB DXD/DSD DAC, it can also operate as a USB to S/PDIF converter handling up to 64x DSD since 128x DSD is beyond the S/PDIF specifications according to Resonessence Labs.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Aug 07, 2013
NAD Digital Classic Series
NAD's new Digital Classic series of components includes the D 3020 Digital DAC/Amplifier ($499), the D 7050 Direct Digital Network Receiver ($999), and the D 1050 DAC that's here for closer scrutiny. The Digital Classics share the same form factor, which was designed by David Farrage, are about the size of a good book, and can sit horizontally or vertically to suit environment and taste. I like the simple and sleek black matte sides with the shiny strip running down the center as well as the touch-sensitive controls coupled with that big, chunky volume knob. Overall a classy look and feel, imo, for such a modestly priced piece of kit.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jul 24, 2013
Arcam's "SuperDAC"
The Arcam D33 DAC is part of Arcam's FMJ Series (Faithful Musical Joy) of components which includes disk players, a tuner, an integrated amp, a multi-channel amp, and a home theater receiver. The D33, dubbed the "SuperDAC" on the Arcam website, which tickles my fancy, is a fairly straight forward 24/192-capable DAC and its understated and stealth-like appearance, "to seamlessly blend with any style of décor", does not really hint at its SuperDAC-ness which we can assume refers to what goes on inside and eventually comes out.
Steven Plaskin  |  Jul 16, 2013
The Analog Power Base is a $2,995 upgrade power supply for the MSB Technology Analog DAC. My recent review of The Analog DAC (see review) was going to include the Analog Power Base, but MSB Technologies’ recent move to a new factory delayed this evaluation. The Analog DAC comes with an outboard Desktop Power Supply that is housed in an aluminum case with two transformers. This power supply is linear with separate supplies for digital processing and the analog circuits of The Analog DAC.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jul 10, 2013
"It’s the undigital digital."
That's a quote from Ed Meitner from an interview in Positive Feedback Magazine (see interview) regarding DSD. And I enjoy that, the undigital digital. For those of you who don't know Ed Meitner, he is an electrical engineer by education and has been involved in audio design for more than 30 years. Ed got his start with Olive Electrodynamics Company where he was involved in designing and building the first VCA controlled recording console in 1972. Next was a stint with Amber the test equipment manufacturer followed by his position as head designer at Museatex (which became A/D/S) [I owned the Museatex STR-55 stereo amp back in the day]. During this time he also wrote about and built the LIM detector, basically the first jitter detector. After ADS, Ed was one of the engineers behind the development of DSD/SACD for Sony. He is currently the head designer for EMM Labs and Meitner Audio which can be viewed as the more affordable arm of EMM Labs. Meitner Audio has two products—the MA-1 DAC and the MA-2 Integrated Playback System that we'll be looking at and listening to here.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 17, 2013
Since Steve Plaskin has already done a wonderful job with all of the heavy lifting in his review of the MSB Technology Analog DAC (see review), I will point you to it as essential reading. This follow up consists completely of my listening impressions, subjective as they are, of the Analog DAC within the confines of my system and listening room (for the most part).
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 13, 2013
UK-based Arcam's rSeries is comprised of "computer and streaming music products". There's the rPac DAC/Headphone amp under review, the drDock iPad/iPod/iPhone dock, the rDAC, rLink S/PDIF DAC, SonLink for the Sonos system, the rCube portable iPod speaker system, and two wireless dongles that work with the rCube and rDAC. The rDAC can be viewed as a portable DAC/Headphone amp but it also works wonders as a desktop device, which is how I used it, feeding your active desktop speakers while serving double time as a headphone amp. The nice thing about the design of the rPac is it includes a volume control for the headphone amp above the associated headphone jack which is on the opposite side of its black aluminum cigarette pack-sized body from the USB input and RCA outputs making it ergonomically friendly for servicing both functions.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 04, 2013
Luxman is an old and storied Japanese hi-fi brand having been founded in 1925. I'll admit to lusting after a number of Luxman products over the years, mainly their tube-based amplifiers, but regardless of the component, Luxman knows how to impart beautiful build quality. There's obvious and tactilely apparent care taken with each objects industrial design. And while I appreciate that aspect of the Luxman line, without matching sonic performance you may as well buy a music box. Luckily for us, the DA-06 delivers on all counts.