DAC Reviews

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Steven Plaskin  |  Oct 08, 2012
Just the other day, I was reflecting on the number of components I have acquired from local dealers, or purchased after reading a series of reviews that pronounced the component as being state-of-the-art in performance. Upon first listening to the component in my system, I would be in sonic ecstasy for the first thirty minutes noting the exceptional detail or impactful bass I was hearing. But after about an hour of listening, I became disinterested and could no longer concentrate on the music I was playing. Something was clearly missing that the review and my audio store auditions failed to identify. I usually blamed the recordings and found myself playing the same old titles that sounded “good” on my system. Claus Jackle of AcousticPlan feels he has a solution to this issue with his DigiMaster DAC.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jul 20, 2017
It means light. Light is used to couple the digital to the analog boards instead of metal/wire so that electrical noise stays away from the analog circuitry where it can do all kinds of harm we can hear. The "A" in DAC stands for Analog which seems to go without saying but some people get stuck on the "D" making the false assumption that digital is "perfect". As perfect as free-range unicorns.
Ola Björling  |  May 04, 2017
photo credits: Aqua Hifi unless otherwise noted

In my day job I interact with people holding PHD's in various tech fields, including audio. Any faith these folks have in my cognitive faculties has a tendency to ebb quickly when they find out I prefer music on vinyl, even if—and, perhaps, especially if—it's mastered digitally at 16/44.1. My response is to regurgitate a spiel on how music exists for the purpose of pleasure, and I simply tend to receive more of that through vinyl, measurements be damned. Depending on the degree of hostility I might also opt to say that signal to noise ratio is not a genre I care for, and try to change the topic.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Jul 24, 2013
Arcam's "SuperDAC"
The Arcam D33 DAC is part of Arcam's FMJ Series (Faithful Musical Joy) of components which includes disk players, a tuner, an integrated amp, a multi-channel amp, and a home theater receiver. The D33, dubbed the "SuperDAC" on the Arcam website, which tickles my fancy, is a fairly straight forward 24/192-capable DAC and its understated and stealth-like appearance, "to seamlessly blend with any style of décor", does not really hint at its SuperDAC-ness which we can assume refers to what goes on inside and eventually comes out.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jun 13, 2013
UK-based Arcam's rSeries is comprised of "computer and streaming music products". There's the rPac DAC/Headphone amp under review, the drDock iPad/iPod/iPhone dock, the rDAC, rLink S/PDIF DAC, SonLink for the Sonos system, the rCube portable iPod speaker system, and two wireless dongles that work with the rCube and rDAC. The rDAC can be viewed as a portable DAC/Headphone amp but it also works wonders as a desktop device, which is how I used it, feeding your active desktop speakers while serving double time as a headphone amp. The nice thing about the design of the rPac is it includes a volume control for the headphone amp above the associated headphone jack which is on the opposite side of its black aluminum cigarette pack-sized body from the USB input and RCA outputs making it ergonomically friendly for servicing both functions.
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  |  Feb 19, 2015
I Like Bluetooth
Audioengine makes a number of well-priced products that deliver their fair share of musical enjoyment. I favorably reviewed their A5+ speakers (see review) and we own two pairs of their original A2 speakers. Under inspection today is their B1 Bluetooth Music Receiver which adds Bluetooth connectivity to any hi-fi while also offering an internal DAC as well as a Toslink output if you already own a DAC you enjoy. What's the point of Bluetooth? Fun.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Jan 24, 2012
The Weight
The Audioengine D1 DAC is the latest product from a company whose products I would describe as no nonsense in a hobby not exactly famous for no nonsense. I ran into Audioengine co-founders Brady Bargenquast and Dave Evans earlier this month at their booth in the South Hall of CES 2012 and when they asked what I thought about a certain DAC, I began to describe in standard audiophile-speak its sonic merits and demerits. I believe it was when the word "resolute" left my lips that I saw the most obvious signs of fatigue weigh down on them like the prospect of Sisyphus' boulder sitting once again at the bottom of that big-ass hill.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Feb 15, 2012
Getting High (definition) Without Wires
The Audioengine D2 DAC is one of a new and few breed of wireless DACs capable of sending, receiving, and playing high definition music up to 24-bit/96kHz. As a matter of fact, I know of no other wireless DAC that'll do the same, today. Of course there are loads of UPnP streamers out there that include wireless capabilities but I'm talking about just-a-DAC with 24/96 wireless capabilities built-in (i.e. no dongle needed). One basic difference is wireless DACs are file format agnostic whereas streamers are not. They're more picky. And most streamers piggyback on your existing wi-fi network whereas the D2 provides its own.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Nov 16, 2017
Nothin' Bugs Me

To my way of thinking, if you want a DAC that offers USB, Optical, and Bluetooth inputs and you want it to sound good without deciding between it and a car, I have news for you.

Michael Lavorgna  |  Sep 01, 2016
A DragonFly Tale
[Parental Advisory Warning] I had an email exchange with my friend Joe about music and movies, as is our wont, and asked—
Me "What are listening through?"
Joe "I have two pairs of Shure 580 in-ear headphones, which are very good headphones and also sit in the ear and cut out 90% of outside noise. About as fidelity as I get."
Me "I like those Shure in-ears too. So you plug them into your computer?"
Joe "Yeah, I just plug them into one Apple product or another."
At the time, I was rich in Dragonflys, having my original and the V.1 version. So I sent Joe the original. Here's the first email I received from Joe after the DragonFly landed at his place:
Subject: Damn!

Fuck Me! Dragonfly!

Michael Lavorgna  |  Apr 02, 2013
Wow Factor
I first saw and heard the AURALiC Vega Digital Audio Processor at the 2013 CES and I remember thinking—I need to hear this one at home. I can't tell you exactly why this was the case especially seeing as listening to music is a difficult thing to focus on at hi-fi shows and determining the performance of a given component within an unfamiliar system is like judging a blind date by an online profile. So let's call my interest in the AURALiC Vega a hunch. And let me just say man oh man did that hunch pay off.
Wes Phillips  |  Oct 16, 2009
These days, it seems you can't shake a stick without hitting a USB DAC, but Ayre's QB-9 ($2500) is something a little different. Ayre's marketing manager, Steve Silberman, was adamant: "The QB-9 isn't a computer peripheral. It makes computers real high-end music sources."
Michael Lavorgna  |  Feb 25, 2014
The QB-9 Upgrade
Ayre's original 24/96-capable QB-9 DAC caused quite a stir when it hit the market back in 2009 winning Stereophile's Product of the Year award. Wes Phillips of Stereophile sang its praises (see review) then, and Art Dudley followed up by adding his own thoughts to the upgraded 24/192 version in 2011 (see review). While that upgrade did not merit a name change, the new QB-9 DSD did with the addition of single rate DSD play back (DSD 128 capability and 24/384 are in the works). As is Ayre's way, owners of older 24/192-capable QB-9s can have theirs upgraded to DSD status for $500. But that's not the entire story. During the upgrade re-engineering phase, Charles Hansen, Ayre's founder and Designer, also made some changes to the QB-9 DSD that affects the sound of PCM playback and I sure am happy he did.
Michael Lavorgna  |  Sep 21, 2017
Short & Sweet
As promised, I am here to talk about 2 other variations on the BACCH4Mac theme; using the included RME Babyface as DAC, and going USB out of the BACCh4Mac-housing Mac into my DAC. Please consider the review proper recommended since I will not be re-hashing the BACCH story.