Sony UDA-1

Device Type: Integrated Amplifier/DAC
Input: 1 pair analog RCA, 1x Coax, 1x optical Toslink, 1x USB, 1 x front panel USB
Output: analog line level RCA, 1/4" headphone jack, 2 pair speaker terminals
Dimensions (W x H x D): 225 mm × 74 mm × 262 mm
Weight: 4.0 kg
Availability: online and through Authorized Dealers
Price: $799.99
Website: www.sony.com

The Little Integrated Amplifier/DAC That Could
The Sony UDA-1 incorporates a 20W x 2 Class AB amplifier (into 4 ohms) and a 24/192 and single and double rate DSD capable DAC (Burr-Brown PCM1795) into a handsome black or silver aluminum covered chunky little chassis. 20 Watts isn't much power but if you have speakers that aren't very demanding, and my DeVore The Nines at 91db and 8 ohms aren't, you can get away with 20 Watts. As a matter of fact, the little UDA-1 from Sony drove The Nines to my sonic satisfaction. There are however some operational quirks you must contend with if you use a Mac to get the most of outta that DSD DAC.

First off, if you want to play back DSD files through the UDA-1, there are two sets of drivers from Sony you need to download and install whether you're using a PC or a MAC. Next, and most annoyingly, if you want to play back DSD files as DSD files on a Mac, you have to use Sony's Hi Res Player software. According to my contact at Sony, "This is due to our efforts to keep a 'bit perfect' stream without signal processing. This had to be done due to the lack of DoP certification for UDA1."

The Sony Hi Res Player software is playlist driven, like Audirvana in playlist mode, and fairly limited. But it works. Essentially you just add files to the playlist by selecting add files from the menu. You can save and edit playlists or just play as you go. I prefer the latter and I also preferred using Audirvana or Pure Music for all of my PCM playback so I can take advantage of the convenient Apple remote app for the iPad. Again, PC users can use their player of choice and do not need to rely on the Sony software for DSD playback.

Are you still with me? If you don't mind using Sony's Player app for DSD, we should still be good to go. The UDA-1 sports three digital inputs around back (Coax, Toslink, USB) and a single set of analog RCA inputs for your turntable/phono stage (I hope). There's also a set of analog RCA outputs if you'd like to drive another amp. There's an EQ toggle switch that reads "Bypass" or "SS-HA3", the latter setting is meant for use when paired with Sony's SS-HA3 speakers. An Auto-Standby switch which comes preset to "On" puts the unit to sleep after about 10 minutes of silence. A set of speaker terminals and IEC inlet for the included power cord fill out the unit's backside.

photo credit: Sony

The front panel houses an on/off switch, source selector button, a USB Type A connector for attaching your smartphone of choice, a 1/4" headphone jack, and a nice big chunky volume control. There are also a number of LED indicator lights including power, input, mute (controlled from the included remote), DSEE (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine), and PCM and DSD indicator lights for the incoming file. DSEE is Sony's custom algorithm for putting life back into lossy compressed music, "the USB DAC AMPLIFIER restores high-frequency sound and almost imperceptible fine fade-out sound, which are usually lost due to compression. This gives a natural and expansive sound to compressed audio files." This works for PCM data only.

The included tiny remote includes on/off, source selection, volume, DSEE (on/off), and mute. Overall I enjoyed having, holding, and using the UDA-1 and appreciated its understated chunky demeanor. Whether or not having to use Sony's free App to play back DSD is your call. I found it a little intrusive on my typical listening habits which can best be summed up by words like scattershot and file format and resolution be damned. I want to hear the music I want to hear when I want to hear it. Thank you.

The Little Integrated Amplifier/DAC That Did
On a purely listening level, and most of my listening was via USB since its only here you can take advantage of DSD playback, I found the Sony UDA-1 to be a real treat. A veritable humdinger. Punchy, ballsy, sweet, rich, and flat out fun. I wanted to listen to music through it. Lots. All kinds. The UDA-1, it deserves a more endearing name, made me smile. And that's saying something these days.

Maybe there wasn't the firmest of grips on the bottom end, and if pushed to louder than I like to listen to levels things get a bit strained sounding but all of this will depend on your speakers and I doubt most people will pair the little UDA-1 with full range floor standers. I can see the Sony living on a desktop driving some respectable speakers like their matching Sony SS-HA3 or maybe the lovely KEF LS50. But back in AudioStream central, I enjoyed the heck out the Sony UDA-1 at normal listening levels driving the DeVore The Nines.

Solo piano music was full and rich and I listened to the entirety of Angela Hewitt's reading of Bach's keyboard works for the sheer pleasure of it. The little UDA-1 has plenty of pluck when called for. Switching over to Buffalo Daughter's 1998 classic New Rock with all of its noise, big bass, and stunning guitar work proved the UDA-1 to be no slouch when things get harder core. "Sad Guitar" rocked hard and that simple bass line chugged along nicely, background for the searing sad guitar. Nice.

I also went through my usual litany of "test tracks" from Don Cherry, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Jimmy Scott, Deep Rumba, Jordi Savall, and more and was delighted with the Sony's way with the entire shootin' match. It does delicate, hard, soft, raucous, CD-quality and higher resolutions with equal aplomb. DSD, single and double rate, played through Sony's High Res Player app, sigh, sounded just lovely with that touch of extra dimensionality and luscious true tone I've come to expect from DSD. John Coltrane, Miles, Bob Dylan, and Ali Akbar Khan were all served up in near 3D sound.

Using the Resonessence Labs Concero HD as USB - S/PDIF converter (see review) I did try out the UDA-1's 24/192-limited Coax input and it sounded very much like the USB input. The basic qualities of the UDA-1 remained and if there was any change it was subtle. I thought I noticed a slight lowering of the apparent noise floor with greater resolution but again this was subtle at best and not worth writing home about. Going straight out of my MacBook Pro via Toslink (max resolution 24/96) also proved to be more or less more of the same. Some of the dynamic snap was lost, and the overall presentation seemed softer and less lively. If I were pick favorites it would USB/Coax (admittedly with the addition of a $850 converter) and then Toslink.

I also listened to the UDA'1's headphone jack paired with the NAD Viso HP50 headphones and again no surprises except perhaps how enjoyable the listening experience was. I played some big badass bass heavy tunes like "Aroo" from Kind Midas Sound as well as some delicate DSD from Miles' Kind of Blue, and double rate DSD of Jimi Hendrix's "Born Under A Bad Sign" from the Blues LP (from a vinyl rip) and it was all sheer pleasure.

Last but least I did try a few lossy compressed files using the Sony DSEE circuit in and out and the effect was subtle but preferable to the sound without it. On Marissa Anderson's Traditional and Public Domain Songs streaming from her Bandcamp page, her typically over-driven guitar had more body and life with the DSEE circuit engaged. It sounded more natural. This held for other lossy recordings I sampled as well including the only lossy file I have in my iTunes library, the soul stirring live version of "Satisfaction" by PJ Harvey and Bjork. Spotify's free service also gained a nicer more natural edge with the DSEE. I also tried the DSEE circuit with higher resolution recordings but did not hear any difference.

A Tale of Two Devices
The little Sony UDA-1 is a music maker of smile-inducing proportions. If you're a Mac user and can live with using Sony's app for playing back DSD files, as well as its relatively low output power, you may very well live happily ever after.



Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
derneck's picture

Would you say it could better Teac UD-501 for DSD playback? Not that you like to speculate without comparing stuff directly.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...so it's difficult to isolate the performance of its DAC and compare that to just a DAC. I was, however, very impressed with the Sony and can't see someone taking issue with its DSD performance especially considering its price.
JoeParts's picture

Very interesting review. It seems Sony is doing some nice things on high end audio. How would you compare this amp/DAC with the NAD D3020, apart from the obvious DSD support.

Thanks!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I have not had the NAD D3020 here so I cannot offer any comparisons.
BradleyP's picture

It's good to hear that this is such a nice piece of kit for the money. If one is matching really great, sensitive speakers with this equipment, as you did with the DeVores, then it makes sense. Apart from such speakers, an entire respectable DSD-capable system can be built for peanuts these days. One example would be the iFi DSD Nano and a pair of the overachieving JBL 305 studio monitors for about $450, total. Then again, that's the price of nine DSD downloads.

audiostreamuser2013's picture

I'm looking for something like this for my computer desktop.

Will this unit's 20W amp be able to power B&W's low-end speaker, the 686 S2? B&W recommends "25W - 100W into 8Ω on unclipped programme".

deckeda's picture

- A 20w amp and a 25, 30, 35w amp ... are pretty much the same in real power, all else being equal. Even one twice as powerful (40w) won't sound or "be" twice as loud. It's a logarithmic thing.

The reason why B&W doesn't say it only needs a 10w amp (which could actually still be enough) is because it's safer to have "too much" rather than too little available power at one's disposal. When an amp clips it sends a crazy amount of non-music energy to a speaker. Poof. Just be careful and listen to what's happening if listening loudly.

- The power necessary to cleanly drive (i.e. unclipped) a given speaker depends on the music being played, how loud you want it to be, the size of the room and furnishings, how closely you're positioned to the hifi, and the phase of the moon (but only on Wednesdays.)

- You said desktop, so you're close to the sound source, and misspelled "program" (OK, that was a small joke) and also own British speakers, and probably know what a Vauxhall is and say "Jag-U-ar" so live in the UK; therefore the room is small. The Sony will be great! (And by that I mean "brilliant.")

Michael Lavorgna's picture
The Sony should be fine.
Bucket's picture

Sorry being a bit negative.
Personally from my humble experience, I find all-in-one equipment is not as good as stand-alone or some people prefer to call it dedicated.
After a while, you get sick and tired of this type of sound system.
I would recommend dedicated system highly but I know it looks stylish and easy to connect.
Spend slightly more and you won't regret.

Bucket's picture

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The Federalist's picture

Very interested in this unit... Too bad you don't still have the UD 501 to compare.
Do you have any impressions of the difference in headphone out quality between the two?

I followed the herd chasing after a well known NOS Dac and found it a bit lacking... Only a few months after all the glowing reviews (of which you were on a very shortlist to comment that it was bass thin) did everyone start admitting its deficiencies... Now everyone characterizes it as "thin" So am less inclined to chase boutique offerings.... Especially since it's 99% buying blind.

Consumer behemoths like Sony and Teac may not operate at the vanguard of the industry but with the R&D budgets they have on tap.... They usually don't do much wrong. You usually get your moneys worth.

Thanks for the review Michael.

ktracho's picture

This is the type of product I would like to see more of, since when I'm at my computer at home, I want to be able to listen to my computer as well as my turntable. Also, I have an old set of Stax headphones (two, actually), and my Stax transformer that drives them plugs into speaker terminals. This product would give me the flexibility to use normal headphones as well as my Stax headphones, or even a small pair of speakers. What would keep me from buying something like this is that my Stax headphones seem to sound better with a tube amp; at least, with my good (i.e., not expensive, but not cheap either) solid state integrated amp, they sound a tad brighter than I would like, even though my integrated amp is not as bright sounding as others I've heard in its price range.

gorkuz's picture

Interesting review, tx. One thing especially caught my attention:

"and double rate DSD of Jimi Hendrix's "Born Under A Bad Sign" from the Blues LP (from a vinyl rip)"

Would you mind elaborating a bit on how this was done? Definitely of interest, TIA.

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