Korg Audiogate DS-DAC-100 high resolution audio playback system

Device Type: DAC/Headphone Amp
Input: USB 2.0
Output: RCA, XLR, 6.3mm Headphone Jack
Dimensions (W x H x D): 207 x 160 x 60.0 mm / 8.15 x 6.30 x 2.36 inches (including protrusions)
Weight: 862 g / 1.90 lbs.
Availability: Online and through Authorized Dealers
Price: $599.99
Website: www.korg.com

Korg views their DS-DAC-100 and AudioGate 3 software as a single product, a team that delivers up to double rate DSD natively as well as PCM resolutions to 24/192. You can elect to have the Audiogate software upsample everything you play through it or leave it set for bit perfect playback. The DS-DAC-100 also doubles as a headphone amp with its front-mounted 3/4" jack and associated volume control and I find it's Cheshire Cat smile shape to be a nice change from the ordinary.

The DS-DAC-100 is fairly simple in terms of ins and outs with a lone USB input and RCA and XLR output pairs in addition to the aforementioned headphone jack. The DS-DAC-100 is powered by the USB bus so there's no power inlet or associated cord. Inside resides a Cirrus Logic CS4398 DAC, the same as found in the the lovely Astel & Kern AK240 (see review) among others. The front of the DS-DAC-100 is relatively sparse with its 3/4" headphone jack, volume control knob, and nine LEDs one for power while the others illuminate the incoming sample rate.

There are three spiked gold feet and Korg provides little matching gold cups so you don't scratch your equipment rack's surface. The entire unit weighs less than two pounds so be careful if using anaconda-sized cables as they will tend to pull the lightweight DS-DAC-100 in their direction. I used the DS-DAC-100 with my PC connected with a length of Light Harmonic Lightspeed cable. The DAC was connected via Kimber Kable Select KS 1126 Balanced ICs to my Pass INT-30A and the DeVore Fidelity The Nines.

AudioGate 3
The AudioGate software was a breeze to install on my PC along with the associated Korg ASIO drivers. According to Korg website, the AudioGate 3 software does not run on Mavericks, which is what I have running on MacBook Pro, so this review is based on the PC version.

The AudioGate software is very simple to use. Setup consists of going to the Preferences menu and selecting ASIO and then the Korg Audio USB Device driver. As I mentioned you can have the AudioGate software send everything to the DAC at its native sample rate (Auto) or to a specific sample rate including double rate DSD.

You add tracks through the Main Menu by selecting "Add Audio Files...", "Open Folder", or "Add iTunes Songs". If you select Add Audio Files, a browse window opens where you can select single or multiple tracks to load in the player. Open Folder loads all tracks within the selected folder while Open iTunes Songs opens your iTunes library folder. Once loaded, you just have to select Play and all loaded tracks will play in order.

The AudioGate playback window shows the album cover art when available, track name, album name, the outgoing sample rate, the file type and native sample rate, track progress, volume meters for the left and right channel, playback controls including forward/back and pause/play, as well as the complete playlist. There are also Repeat and Shuffle play options.

The AudioGate software also allows you to burn CDs/DVDs/and DSD discs of the loaded tracks. DSD discs are not SACDs and only select players can play 'em. There's also a handy PDF User Guide and you can even change the player skin to different themes.

Playing With Korg
The Korg DS-DAC-100 is a resolution master. It eats resolution for breakfast and comes back wanting more. That's not to say it sounds overly analytical or harsh because it doesn't. What it does is reveal a healthy helping of what's on your records in a nice, natural manner. There's also plenty of sparkle up top, a pleasing mid-range with plenty of tone color, and if I were to pick on any area of the DS-DAC-100's performance it would be its bass which is a bit shy and reticent.

I played with sample rates running both native and upsampled and I found that converting everything to 5.6MHz DSD sounded the best to my ears, adding a nice natural sheen to the presentation. Music simply sounded more natural and since this a free and easy thing to do, I did it. Over and over again.

Ella & Louis in 24/96 converted to 5.6MHz DSD sounded so lively and present it was shocking. I should mention that Louis Armstrong's voice is largely responsible and is often used to great effect at hi-fi shows largely due to it ability to cut through the recording and burst life-like into the room. That said, this recording is lovely as are the song selections and I enjoyed the entire album through the Korg combo.

Webern's string quartet's are for me mood music as I have to be in the right mood to enjoy them and my listening sessions with the Korg happened to coincide with a Webern mood. The wood and rosin of the Quarteto Italiano came across with nearly lifelike force and drame, the Quarteto Italiano can do drama, and the strings from bottom to tippy top resounded nicely. I will say that the cello's lower registers were not as present as I've heard them, the DS-DAC-100 sounding ever so slightly lighter weight compared to other DACs like the recently reviewed iFi Micro DSD DAC (see review).

Native DSD music like Penderecki's Violin Concerto and Horn Concerto from Channel Classics sounded just lovely through the Korg. While I hate sounding like a broken record, DSD recordings have a very natural and almost uncanny ability to represent dynamic swings and music's dimensionality and these traits were delivered in full by the Korg combo. Again, I've heard more forceful presentations including from the more expensive Auralic Vega but that comes at a cost of nearly six times the price of the Korg. The Vega also delivers more color but listening to the Korg was pretty much pure pleasure.

Listening through the NAD Viso HP50 headphones also proved to be an exercise in musical pleasure. There was a very nice sense of dynamic snap coupled with a finely textured and tonally rich presentation. Micro detail was also laid out in plain view, the ability to hear into the recording making for an engaging listening experience.

Extended listening sessions and many albums later, I found myself enjoying what the Korg combo had to offer. While the DS-DAC-100's bass response is not the last word in low end grip and growl, its positive traits more than make up for this slight deficit. If you're interested in a DAC that sounds at once resolute, natural, and lit up without ever getting harsh or shrill, the Korg combo is worth your time.

Associated Equipment

Also on hand and in use during the DS-DAC-100: iFi Micro iDSD.

derneck's picture

How does it compare to the Vega in that department? or did you mean "for the price"

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Compared to the Vega, it sounds more light weight and not as rich so the Vega appears to allow you to hear further into the recording.
labjr's picture

What is 512mhz DSD?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
rexp's picture

The software player is excellent, were you able to determine how much it contributed to the SQ and how it compared to your current player? Thanks!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...are Mac based, Audirvana and Pure Music, so I could not do a direct comparison with the Korg player.
rexp's picture

Sure but if you connected you current DACs to your PC, you can compare the sound versus connected to your Mac? Would be interesting....

bmac78758's picture

Thanks for the review. Just wondering what happens if you hook it up to your Mac and run A+ or Amarra? Does it work? Nothing against KORG's software, but I already have 10.10 and it will probably be a while before they get support for that.

Esprit's picture

"I played with sample rates running both native and upsampled and I found that converting everything to 5.6MHz DSD sounded the best to my ears"

What is the sw you are using?

deepak5555556's picture

Should i choose korg DS-DAC-100 over ifi micro idsd.