Totaldac D1-Direct DAC Review Page 2

Listening continued

Twoism, Boards of Canada, TIDAL 16-bit/44.1kHz

I love everything about the emotronica group Boards of Canada (having stumbled upon them 20 years ago while I was in film school) especially that the duo – comprised of brothers Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin – hail from Scotland, a good 3,530 miles away coast-to-coast, and have nothing to do with my homeland other than adopting part of The National Film Board of Canada for their name. The two got an early start delving into sonic creativity by experimenting with cut-up recorded sounds and various samples utilizing tape machines on which they would layer them for playback. Twoism was their first EP. It was self-financed and was only released on LP (about 100 were initially pressed and often traded hands for up to $1,500 USD before its repressing years later) and cassette via their personal Music70 record label, but it got them noticed and eventually they landed contracts with Skam Records and then Warp Records, which they are still with. It’s a trip-hop heavy downtempo tour-de force that straddles ambient and IDM with moody vintage synths and was born of analog production techniques which I think lends it a warmth and huge spectral decay to keyboard notes that other electronic groups’ music can often lack. “Sixtyniner” is the opening cut and one of my all-time BoC favourites. It’s sad, haunting minor-key(board) opening punctuates subterranean programmed beats and basslines when it isn’t layered amongst them to create a feeling of reflection and loneliness. The public broadcasting radio samples ever-so-subtly injected into the deep background add to the eerie, nostalgic vibe of the track. Here the d1 delivers a beautifully crafted sonic moonscape with a depth and resolution few DACs I’ve ever heard could match. While some could consider the sparse production value to not be a good measure of a DAC’s capabilities, I completely disagree and have found that it is the simplest of songs and melodies that can be the most difficult to convey emotional weight from in digital to analog conversion. Why? Because there’s nowhere to hide any faults in the reproduction – the DAC either nails it and translates it exquisitely, or doesn’t and the entire tenor of the song is lost to merely an approximation of the emotional content. Here the d1 delivers “Sixtyniner” in all its despairing, disconsolate majesty, for although sparse, it is rich in timbre and tone.

Chelsea Girl, Nico, TIDAL MQA 192kHz

Christa Päffgen – better known as simply Nico – came into this world in Cologne, Germany a year before WWII kicked off. At the age of two as the allies pounded Cologne, she was taken by her mother and grandfather to the forests outside of Berlin to escape the bombing campaigns. I like to think it was this time out in the country, torn away from her home and familiar surroundings that shaped some of the melancholic tinges to her singing and songwriting when she became involved with Andy Warhol and jamming with the Velvet Underground in the late ‘60s. Chelsea Girl was her late 1967 debut LP and derived its title from the Warhol film of the same name in which Päffgen starred. Filled with a number of covers by Jackson Browne, John Cale and Bob Dylan to name a few, Päffgen’s voice over the various melodies is what stands out on this album through the d1: regretful, wan and breathy, it commands you to hang on every line uttered. With backing in studio from Browne, Reed, Cale and Sterling Morrison it’s a like a slice of what I think life was like in New York city at the time: poignant, moody, dispossessed and still riding the folksy, drug-fueled high of the birth of the East Village and the quickly fading Summer of Love. “These Days” seems to capture all of that into a sonic encapsulation all of three minutes and 34 seconds long. But, from the moment Cale’s opening acoustic-guitar licks fill the sound stage dead centre between the speakers and Päffgen eases in on a pillow of Larry Fallon’s string arrangements you are drawn in emotionally. The d1’s capacity to clearly separate harmonic structures and timbral variances between wood-bodied instruments like the violins and Cale’s guitar makes what used to be a great song through other DACs into an amazing one, as suddenly those separate resonances are presented so clearly delineated that you realize what masterful mic placement must have been devised for the recording session.

Dynasty, Kiss, Qobuz, 24-bit/192kHz

Oh yes I am. I can see the audiophile cognoscenti shaking their heads or wagging their fingers at me for using hard rock ’n roll glam-makeup mavens Kiss as a source for review material, but I’m doing it. Not only does 1979’s Dynasty have outstanding production value, “I Was Made For Loving You” is a complex, driving disco thunderball of an epic love song that I feel can move anyone to hip shaking through the right DAC. Turning the volume up, way up, I was startled and laughed out loud as soon as Paul Stanley’s rhythm guitar semiquaver was unleashed with Gene Simmons’ dominating bass line right behind it, followed quickly by Peter Criss’ percussion dropping in like a pumping fist behind Ace Frehley’s electric guitar power-riffing. Each exquisitely rendered in photovoltaic relief from one another through the d1 like a strobe-light afterimage. As the almost falsetto harmonies of “doo-doo-doo-doo-do-doo-do-doo-doo” rise up glittering through the sound stage on a floating bubble of pure solid-gold energy I could feel my whole sofa vibrate in time. Just when you think their voices couldn’t go any higher the bridge hits and what has sounded etched on some Sigma-Delta DACs I’ve listened to this through, is glorious and liquid in its presentation; the totaldac’s R2R ladder and FPGA processing taming any treble burn completely and allowing their voices to soar up the scales. Pace, rhythm, timing – the hallmarks of PRaT – is what this cut is all about. Through the d1 every tonal and timbral nuance is presented without blurring or smearing with a speed on the leading edges of notes I’ve rarely experienced. Power, tonal accuracy, timbral delineation, a huge sound stage, three-point fadeaway jump shot decay and the ability to plumb frequency extremes without fatigue on upper registers or bloat on the lowest ones, the d1 makes disco oh-so cool again.


I’m going to use my final take on the d1-direct by going back to my frantic scratches about it when I gave it an AudioStream Editor’s Choice 2018 award in December: “Unpretentious, utterly effortless and imbued with flesh-and-blood tangibility to timbre and tone with transient speed that makes every note vibrate at the frequency of real life, there is only music from the d1-direct.” Sometimes you write something that just nails it and to me that sentence nails everything I covet in the d1-direct. I didn’t want to waste it, but rather repeat it, because as Lyle Lovett said of his short-lived marriage to Julia Roberts (quoting his grandfather and here referencing my sporadic writing talent) “Sometimes even a blind chicken finds a kernel of corn.”

d1-direct specifications

  • 192KHz asynchronous Xmos USB, optical, RCA and AES-EBU digital inputs, selected from a remote control.
  • 44.1KHz, 48KHz, 88.2KHz, 96KHz, 176.4KHz and 192KHz, 16 to 24 bit formats supported.
  • As an option, DSD (DoP standard) supported on all inputs.
  • Embedded custom clock with anti-jitter FIFO memory.
  • Unbalanced 1.6Vrms RCA, the same unbalanced signal is also available on XLR connectors. No headphone output.
  • Volume control, adjusted by a remote control and an OLED display, works for all inputs, not only USB.
  • Phase polarity selected by remote control.
-non-oversampling DAC compensation filter activated or disactivated by remote control.

  • Display switched off by remote control or automatic.
  • R2R DAC technology using 288 pieces of 0.01% VAR Bulk Metal® Foil resistors Vishay Foil Resistors.
  • No active output stage, direct output from R2R ladders thank to new offset management and optimized filtering.
  • External power supply to minimize the noise.
  • Aluminium and PMMA enclosure with massive pure copper anti-vibration plate.
  • Power consumption 14W (18W with the server option).
  • DAC dimensions: height 110mm, width 360mm, depth 290mm.
  • Power supply dimensions: height 65mm, width 122mm, depth 180mm.
  • Weight: 7kg.

Available options:

  • Server/streamer option. The software is the same as the d1-server, RoonReady certified.
  • DSD (DoP) option.
  • Silver massive aluminium front panel.
  • 115V power option.
  • BNC coaxial digital input instead of RCA.
  • 2, 3, 4 way active crossover or more, by associating several DAC boxes.

  • Bass boost.
  • Dedicated power supply for server board.

+33 2 90 02 11 39

ohlins's picture

How about some comparison with the d1-seven?

Rafe Arnott's picture
I'm not sure if you read the whole article...? I clearly state I've had the d1-integral in my home, and that I've heard the d1-six and tube mk2 several times at shows. I don't mention hearing the d1-seven at all. I don't have the d1-seven... so how about I don't compare something I haven't heard.
ohlins's picture

Yes, I did read the review but didn't notice who was doing the review. I thought Michael was doing the review.

Venere 2's picture

Michael has moved on from Audiostream. He left last year.

rugyboogie's picture

Congrats on the new addition to your family. Hope that mom is doing well. Do you still have the Totaldac in your system?

Rafe Arnott's picture
For the kind words... yes, the totaldac is still in my system and I plan on doing comparisons between it and the LampizatOr Pacific, dCS Rossini and the Audio Note DAC 5 Special once those forthcoming reviews are completed.
rugyboogie's picture

That is quite the list of Uber dac's to review. This will take some time and looking forward to reading your review/impressions. Take care and enjoy your sunshine.

Rafe Arnott's picture
...rather than later is the plan. I'm very lucky to have this level of gear to compare – it's difficult to come back down from these sonic heights.
Ejlif's picture

I cannot wait to hear the comparison between the DCS Rossini and the TotalDac!

nick's picture

Just picked one of these up, and can confirm it’s spectacular. More so than anything I have heard before, it sounds like a cross between an analog source and digital. My friend said it sounds like what would happen if a turntable and a CD player had a baby.

Rafe Arnott's picture
Great description of the totaldac... I'll use that analogy some day. Thank you!