DAC Reviews

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Michael Lavorgna  |  Feb 28, 2013
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.
Steven Plaskin  |  Feb 19, 2013
Playback Designs MPS-3 CD Player/DAC
The MPS-3 CD Player, while offering a CD transport, is really a full featured DAC with Asynchronous USB input that supports high resolution files of up to 384/24 kHz PCM and 6.1 MHz DSD through USB with either a PC or MAC. A better name for this product is the Music Playback System 3. Playback Designs offers the same product without the CD transport for $6500 that is called the MPD-3.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Jan 29, 2013
The 99 dollar DAC
How low can we go? Schiit Audio has answered this question with the Modi USB DAC coming in under the $100 mark by an entire dollar. While I don't like to focus on price since performance is why we buy audio gear, there's no getting around the fact that the Modi is $99 and that number represents the least expensive DAC to come through AudioStream HQ so far. What's more, the Modi's outward appearance doesn't tip its low cost hand, at least to my eyes, with its custom steel chassis. So yea, Schiit have gone and done it, offering up what appears to be one heck of an audio bargain with the Modi USB DAC but let's look beyond prices and appearances and see what a Benjamin buys these days.
Steven Plaskin  |  Jan 16, 2013
The Da Vinci DAC has been garnering praise from both reviewers and audiophiles alike after first being exhibited at audiophile shows in 2011. Light Harmonic, a new Sacramento California based company, was launched in 2010 by Larry Ho. The Da Vinci resulted from Larry Ho’s desire to create a DAC that fulfilled his notion of what good digital audio reproduction should sound like. Larry is a dedicated audiophile that, among other things, enjoys vinyl reproduction with a tube-SET amp. After the Da Vinci was created, friends encouraged him to offer this product for sale. The result was Light Harmonic and their first product Da Vinci.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jan 03, 2013
FPGA All the Way
If you know only one thing about Chord Electronics, I'd suggest knowing they do things their own way and that way typically diverges from the main stream. This approach can be seen in any of their products industrial design from amplifiers to preamplifiers to digital to analog converters as they all share a lozenge-shaped outline and a round window for seeing into and emitting light from within. Once inside, you'll aso see that things are far from common. But what matters most, in hi-fi land, is how all of this adds up. Does it serve the music being the relevant question at hand. And not to give too much away up front, the answer with the Chord Chordette QuteHD (DSD) DAC is a resounding Oh yea.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Dec 24, 2012
YouFi
iFi is an outgrowth of Abbington Music Research (AMR) "with trickle-down technology licensed from AMR and aimed primarily at the future, Computer Audio generation". We have two components under review from their Micro line—a USB DAC/Headphone amp and a USB power supply. For a combined price of $500, the iFi pair offers a lot of musical muscle for your money. The rest of the Micro line includes the iCan headphone amp ($249), and iPhono MM/MC phono preamp ($399).
Michael Lavorgna  |  Dec 13, 2012
Good Things Come In Small Packages
During my review of the Resonessence Labs Invicta DAC, I thought, to myself, wouldn't it be interesting if they offered just a DAC? Stripped away all of the additional functionality like the preamp, headphone amp and the front-mounted SD Card Reader and gave us just-a-DAC? Well the guys at Resonessence Labs must have read my mind because they've delivered just that (and more).
Michael Lavorgna  |  Nov 21, 2012

Throwing Muses
The Asus Xonar Essence One comes in three versions; the standard ($599), the One Plus Edition with Op-Amp Swap Kit ($699), and the unit under review the MUSES Edition (footnote 1) so named for its use of the MUSES 01 Op-Amps from New Japan Radio Co. Ltd. While I wouldn't call the Xonar Essence One MUSES Edition inexpensive at $899, I would say it leans toward the budget side of things, all things considered. With very solid build quality, a 24/192-capable Asynchronous USB input, two S/PDIF inputs, a preamp, a headphone amp, and optional "Symmetrical 8X upsampling", Asus has thrown a lot into the Essence One including the muses.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Nov 16, 2012
Shinola
The Schiit Bifrost DAC has garnered a lot of buzz for its price/performance ratio. And I mean a lot of buzz from reviewers and forum posters alike. And when a product delivers performance well beyond its price, especially if that price is perceived to be low, that component may as well be sainted or knighted (depending on your point of view). Saint Denon 103, Sir Touch of Squeezebox, and today's specimen under scrutiny, Sir Bifrost of Schiit.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 09, 2012
Pre-amplification
A number of readers asked a very relevant question after reading my initial review of the Wadia Digital 121Decoding Computer—how abouti its preamp? And as with the Mytek review, my answer was, good question. Armed with the Pass Labs INT-30A which allows you to bypass its passive preamp stage, I put the Wadia 121 to the preamp test.
Steven Plaskin  |  Oct 08, 2012
DigiMaster
Just the other day, I was reflecting on the number of components I have acquired from local dealers, or purchased after reading a series of reviews that pronounced the component as being state-of-the-art in performance. Upon first listening to the component in my system, I would be in sonic ecstasy for the first thirty minutes noting the exceptional detail or impactful bass I was hearing. But after about an hour of listening, I became disinterested and could no longer concentrate on the music I was playing. Something was clearly missing that the review and my audio store auditions failed to identify. I usually blamed the recordings and found myself playing the same old titles that sounded “good” on my system. Claus Jackle of AcousticPlan feels he has a solution to this issue with his DigiMaster DAC.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 03, 2012
Pre-amplification
A number of readers asked a very relevant question after reading my initial review of the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC—how about its preamplifier? And my response was—excellent question I will report back. In the mean time I received the Pass Labs INT-30A integrated amplifier on loan for just this purpose. The INT-30A allows you to essentially remove its buffered volume control from the circuit by simply turning the volume up to its maximum level (step 63). As Nelson Pass explained in Erick Lichte's excellent review of the INT-150A (which employs the same volume control as the INT-30A) in Stereophile, "First there is a selector switch, which is just relays, and then there's a buffer that drives the volume control. The output of that goes to the amp, and then you're done. There's not a lot there." While one needs to be careful A/B/C'ing (in this case) when dealing with a maximum level setting, this made for a very simple and effective means of comparing the Mytek's three preamplifier settings—Bypass, Analog, and Digital—with the Pass Labs INT-30A's. So on with the A,B,Cs of preamplification!
Michael Lavorgna  |  Sep 27, 2012
A Fluent DAC
The Sonore/exD DAC represents a group effort between Simple Design and exD. Exactly who did what, when and how is as relevant as knowing what DAC chip is inside any given DAC which is to say it matters as much or as little as you care to imagine since what really matters is how the finished product sounds. This aspect—how it sounds—will be our primary focus and if you want a teaser I'll admit right here up front that I did all I could to prolong the review period.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Aug 07, 2012
Catching the DSD Buzz
The Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC was unveiled at last year's Rocky Mountain Audio Fest right around the time of AudioStream's public launch. As we both approach our first birthday, it seems somehow appropriate that I'm finally taking a closer look and listen. Direct Stream Digital (DSD). There I said it. Most of the buzz at RMAF 2011 was the Mytek's ability to play back DSD natively and while this is truly buzz-worthy for a number of reasons, I'd say that's only about half the story.
Steven Plaskin  |  Jul 30, 2012
A Crimson Introduction
Back in 2006, I remember J. Gordon Rankin posting a thread in one of the audio forums announcing his plans for a new USB DAC called the Crimson. Over the next six months, I exchanged weekly e-mails with Gordon that described the designing and building challenges he faced when trying to come up with a final design of the Crimson. I realized at that time that Gordon Rankin was one obsessed audiophile when it came to a design that would carry the Wavelength Audio name. He would not release the Crimson until he was satisfied that it was the best he could build.

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