Vintage Computer Audio: SilverStone EB01B

I bought the long since discontinued SilverStone EB01B about 6 years ago for what I recall was the sale price of $78 (original retail was $99). I was looking for a relatively inexpensive USB DAC for a desktop system and I’d read a review of the EB01B on a long since defunct website and thought, for $78 why not? The diminutive EB01B sat on my desk and was connected to all manner of hi-fi from T-amps to tiny tube amps to homemade speakers using a pair of Fostex drivers sitting in ceramic flower pots (that was really meant to be a joke but they didn’t sound half bad). Once my listening room merged with my full-time office, I retired the EB01B along with the flower pots for a more serious setup.

SilverStone Technology Co., Ltd is still around although they seem to have gotten out of the USB DAC business sticking to their core of “designing and manufacturing computer enclosures, power supplies, and accessories”. The Silverstone EB01B is a bus-powered USB DAC capable of passing 16-bit/48kHz signals from its USB input through the TI Burr-Brown PCM2702 D/A chip and out through its RCA output. There’s nothing else to do or connect—USB in, RCA out. That curvy front panel incorporates a vertical peek-a-boo slot hiding a pair of blue LEDs that light up when the EB01B is connected to your powered-on computer. I still think the EB01B is a handsome if understated design dressed as it is in black brushed aluminum. Heck for $99 you’d expect some plastic somewhere.

But the real question is how did the SilverStone EB01B age? Six years in computer audio is equal to 42 human years (give or take) and a lot has happened including but not limited to Asynchronous USB, high definition downloads and hybrid automobiles. How does a nearly middle-aged bus-powered, adaptive-mode, cheap non-oversampling USB DAC sound? The answer is, not bad.

In real terms the EB01B sounds a bit thin, dry and threadbare. It will not keep you warm on a cold winter night with gobs of tone and texture. It also is not the last word in dynamic aplomb. It’s frankly a bit stiff and the soundstage is cramped because its not so deep. Image specificity is also not its forte so you won’t get that – they are here – kinda vibe. It’s more like we’re all in this together.

On the plus side, a saxophone sounds like a saxophone and Stevie Ray Vaughn sounds like Jimi Hendrix (kidding). We’re talking about sound akin to good, fun radio. Edited, somewhat glossed over details and maybe, just maybe, making it a great party DAC. One that you’ll never want to shush anyone over so they can hear it better. If you spot one on eBay for $20 or less, you may want to snap it up for your next vintage computer audio-themed rave.

On a more serious note, the question of how well will USB DACs age is an interesting one. On one hand it’s tied to other questions such as how high will bit/sample rates go? Is 24-bit/192kHz the end of the PCM rainbow? (some people like Dan Lavry of Lavry Engineering believe that 192kHz is already overkill) Will DSD evolve into the format of choice for serious music listening? Will USB itself become outdated and supplanted? When is the right time to jump into computer audio whole hog? How much should I spend?

The answer to these questions are predicated on more important concerns—how much time do you spend listening to music as an activity in and of itself? And how important is the quality of that experience? If your answers are along the lines of “a lot” and “very”, my opinion is its worth investing in a hi-fi - today - that allows music to be completely captivating and emotionally involving. In order to find the gear that delivers on that promise, the main thing you have to do is listen. Reviews and specifications won’t provide the answer. At best they are signposts along your hi-fi journey.

I’ll also add that in my experience and opinion 16/44.1 can sound completely captivating and there's more great music available in that format than any lifetime has time to hear. And if you want to explore higher definition music, there are plenty of DACs out there to suite most tastes and budgets. So if you buy a DAC today that you enjoy listening to so much you have to force yourself to stop listening and get to bed and force yourself to refrain from buying all of the music you really need to have, I guarantee you’ll enjoy listening to it tomorrow. Or to put it another way, hi-fi and music are investments in the enjoyment of the what's here now.

deckeda's picture

... you might try to connect it to your trash can? Was that an early attempt to clean up "dirty" sound?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

(actually it's the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) symbol signifying - please don’t throw this thing away when you buy a better one, recycle)

Mark916's picture

They probably got these DAC's on the cheap from Shenzhen China, but on the Power Supply line, Silverstone makes some pretty serious power supplies. If you want quality power supplies with good rails for your Desktop PC or HTPC setup, I wouldn't over look Silverstone on the Power Supply side of the house when building PC's. They also make nice steel computer cases.