Preamplifier/DAC Reviews

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Michael Lavorgna  |  Mar 09, 2013
Value
One look at the Emotiva XDA-2 DAC/Digital Preamp/Headphone Amp and you may ask yourself—I wonder how much that costs? And when you learn that the answer is a dollar shy of $400, you may think "Wow" or you may think, "Wait, what does it do?". Price perception is similar to depth perception in that's its all about ones' point of view. While anyone that's been shopping for a DAC lately will more than likely be impressed by the XDA-2s package, what it does is play music and how well it does this one job will tell you most everything you need to know about its value.
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  |  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.
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  |  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.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 22, 2012
A Decoding Computer
Wadia is the father of the decoding computer. Their first, the 2000 Decoding Computer, hit the market in 1988 and the company has continued to innovate introducing the digital music listener to the notion of the separate D/A converter (decoding computer), glass fiber-optic links, algorithm-based filters, and the concept of jitter to name but a few. The subject of today's review, the 121Decoding Computer, is Wadia's newest assault on the state of computer-based music playback and I like the way it thinks. Even better, I like the way it plays.
Michael Lavorgna  |  May 03, 2012
Megahertz Tickles
The Invicta DAC is the first product from Resonessence Labs. The main man behind Resonnessence is Mark Mallinson, former Operations Director for ESS Technology and if you know about ESS Technology you'll know they make, among other things, the line of ESS Sabre DACs that you find inside a number of DACs from companies including Peachtree Audio, Weiss, Wavelength Audio, Wyred 4 Sound, Mytek Digital and many more. And now you can also find them inside the Resonessence Labs Invicta.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Oct 19, 2011
The Fort Collins, CO-based brick and mortar store Alternative Audio room featured the Bryston BDA-1 DAC/BDP-1 digital player combo ($2,195/each). The rest of the system I listened to included the Audio Research VSi60 integrated amp ($4,495) and the new Vandersteen Treo loudspeakers ($5,990/pair) all wired with AudioQuest cable. Stevie Ray Vaughan was playing here too and the sound was "hefty yet nimble" and I remember thinking—nice, real nice.

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