DAC

Maverick Audio TubeMagic D1 Digital to Analog Converter

Maverick Audio TubeMagic D1 Digital to Analog Converter

When it comes to music, whether live or recorded, I’m best (self-)described as an aesthete… an aficionado… or up to and including an avaricious glutton. Looking at my insatiable appetite in another context, one might recall Edgar Allen Poe’s famous line, “Quoth the Maven, ‘Evermore!’” So what’s this little bit of literary folderol got to do with a DAC review, you ask? Fair question. It’s simply my un-simple way of announcing I approach equipment reviews based solely on their interaction with, and impact on, music—I’m not an engineer. Technical information is always available on the manufacturers’ websites… in this case, www.mav-audio.com. read more…

Topping TP30 & Topping TP31 Headphone DAC Amplifiers

Topping TP30 & Topping TP31 Headphone DAC Amplifiers

For many audio hobbyists the biggest kick comes not from being able to buy something very expensive, (though I do hope to experience this someday) but rather from discovering a really good value. With my enthusiasm growing for headgear the opportunity to find such bargains is turning into a quest. One of the first products in the category is the Topping TP31 and it’s sibling, the TP30. The difference between the two is that the TP30 has a USB input, while the TP31 is Coaxial.

Specifications:
Inputs: Coaxial, RCA Line in L/R
Outputs: Line out RCA L/R, Headphone
Jack, Speakers L/R
Amplifier: Class-T Tripath TA 2024 BTL

Configuration
Output Power 2 x 15W @ 4ohm, 2 x
10W @ 8ohm
Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) 98dB
Dynamic Range 98dB
IHF-IM Distortion 0.1% @ 1W, 4ohm
THD Distortion:
0.03% @ 9W, 4ohm
0.1% @ 11W 4ohm
0.1% @ 6W 8ohm
10% @ 15W 4ohm
10% @ 10W 8ohm
Power Efficiency: 81% @ 15W, 4ohm, 90% @ 10W, 8ohm
Input Sensitivity: 200mV
Power socket:
TP-30 DAC: TP30 uses the 2704 with 16 bit 48khz
TP-31 DAC: Built-in high-fidelity coaxial DAC (PCM1793) – support for 32kHz-192kHz 16-24bit PCM format digital coaxial signal
Headphone Output: 3.5mm 16-200 ohm
Face plate: 8mm thick CNC machined aluminum
Connectors: High quality Gold Plated RCA
Size: 4 inches wide x 8 inches deep x 1 ¾ inches high
Weight: Main unit only 720g

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Audioengine D1 USB DAC

Audioengine D1 USB DAC

How quickly do things change? Just a couple of years ago a headphone enthusiast could count the number of headphone DACs in a handful of seconds. Now, in the early months of 2012 the list is significantly larger and growing with each passing day.

Specifications:

DAC type: Dual Mode USB and Optical (SPDIF)
Inputs: USB/Optical (SPDIF)
Outputs: RCA stereo/3.5mm headphone
D/A converter: AKM4396
Optical receiver: CS8416
USB controller: TI1020B
USB: Type 1.1 or above
Full-scale output: 2.0V RMS (RCA and Headphone)
Output impedance: 47 ohms RCA, 10 ohms headphone
Power source: USB 5V
Power requirements: 200mA
USB power filtering: 2-stage redundant regulation
SNR: >110db
THD+N: <0.002%
Crosstalk: <-85db
Frequency response: 10Hz – 25KHz +/- 0.5db
Input bit depth: up to 24 bits
Input data rate: up to 192kpbs (optical), 96kpbs (USB)
Product dimensions: 3.5” x 4” x 1″ Shipping weight: 1.0lbs (0.5kg)

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Musiland Monitor 01 US / USB DAC

Musiland Monitor 01 US / USB DAC

Budget USB-powered outboard DAC’s seem to be coming all the rage. At a recent meeting with a client at a coffee shop in a rather bohemian-style section of Portland, Oregon I counted four people using such devices. Even before then I would spot one among all the customers using smart phones for personal music. The size of these units goes from that of a memory stick, to the size of a deck of cards. The Musiland Monitor 01 US/USB is equal to the latter.

Specifications:

  • High Speed USB Connection
  • Independent APU MU6010 for 24 bit/192kHz audio processing
  • Optical toslink digital output
  • Stereo RCA, 3.5mm headphone analog output PLUSE high quality digital power management Support 24bit/192kHz digital output
  • Specialized ASIO driver – support Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7
  • Aluminum alloy chassis for minimum interference
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Maximum sampling rate: 24bit/192kHz
  • Digital output: Optical toslink
  • Analog output: Stereo RCA, 3.5mm headphone
  • Digital S/N: 140dB (A-weighted)
  • Digital dynamic range: 140dB (A-weighted)
  • Distributor: Gateshop on Amazon.com
  • Price: $107.99

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Grant Fidelity TubeDAC-11 Review

Grant Fidelity TubeDAC-11 Review

I admit it I like things that serve more than one purpose. The kitchen chair that serves as a step stool, my Swiss Army knife, 4-door pickups, and of course the smart phone. I even have a bit of a soft spot for vintage stereo receivers. With that declaration in place, I was honestly intrigued about the opportunity to review the Grant Fidelity TubeDAC-11 as two years ago (issue 55, July 2010) I reviewed the previous model, the TubeDAC-09. read more…

Matrix mini-i Balanced DAC

Matrix mini-i Balanced DAC

Specifications:

Digital Input:

  • Toslink: 32-192kHz
  • BNC: 32-192kHz
  • USB: 44.1-48kHz
  • XLR: 32-192kHz (AES/EBU)

Digital Output:

  • RCA S/PDIF: 32-192kHz
  • Support AC3, DTS

Analog Output:

  • Pair of unbalanced RCA and balanced XLR
  • Frequency Response: 20-20kHz
  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 120dB
  • Dynamic Range: 118dB
  • Distortion 0.0002% (1kHz)
  • Stereo Separation: 110dB
  • Power: 110v A/C via standard IEC power cable
  • Weight: 2 kg
  • Device Dimension: 205 x 155 x 48mm (L x W x H)
  • MSRP: $349.95
  • Distributor: eBay User TAM’S AUDIO

The quest for a budget balanced digital to analog converter has been an on going for quiet some time. The benefits on an external DAC for a stereo application are well known in the audio industry, it just comes down to how much one is willing to spend and what features they are looking for. The first balanced DAC that I was able to get my ears on was the great Neko Audio D100. This piece of equipment is basically flawless, but since it lacks a USB input, may not be perfectly suited for some PC audio listeners. After many hours on the internet looking at countless balanced DAC from many manufactures, I happened upon the Matrix mini-i DAC sold by Tam’s Audio on eBay. read more…

Beresford TC-7520 DAC/Preamp/Headamp

Beresford TC-7520 DAC/Preamp/Headamp

Specifications:

  • 24-Bit/96-kHz DAC (Digital to Analog Converter)

Inputs:

  • USB 1.1/2.0 Port
  • Digital Coaxial Ports (RCA x2-SPDIF) Digital Optical Port (TOSLINK)

Outputs:

  • Line (Fixed) Analog RCA Output Amp Analog RCA Output Headphone Jack
  • Dimensions: 9.5” W x 4.5” D x 1.5” H Weight: 2.5 lbs
  • Price: $249.00 (US delivery included)

There is an audiophile rule being broken here. We all know that the more functions you cram into a little box, the less impressive the performance from that box will become. Just look at the lowly AV receiver (combining preamp, amplifier, tuner, and sometimes a DAC) that has become ubiquitous, and so rarely satisfying. It is kind of like the minivan equivalent in the audiophile world. You can have the handling of a truck with the cargo capacity of a car…or was that supposed to be the other way around? read more…

Neko Audio D100 Stereo Digital to Analog Converter

Neko Audio D100 Stereo Digital to Analog Converter

Specifications

  • Inputs: optical and coaxial S/PDIF
  • Outputs: balanced XLR to XLR, or unbalanced XLR to RCA Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz (+0 -0.10dB); 3Hz – 22kHz
  • (-3dB) @ 44.1kHz
  • (-3dB) @ 96kHz
  • 20Hz – 20kHz (+0 -0.05dB); 3Hz – 31kHz
  • THD+N: <0.020% @ 20Hz -0dBFS
  • <0.005% typical -0dBFS
  • 16-bit and 24-bit, 44.1kHz – 192kHz audio. Optical and transformer isolated coaxial inputs. Dual PCM1794 chips in mono configuration. Passive transformer-based analog output stage. Tantalum capacitors, 0.1% output resistors.
  • Gold plated input and output connectors. High quality steel enclosure.
  • Toroidal power transformer in separate shielded compartment. Price: $1295

The World of DAC

In an ideal world, the digital to analog converter that you have connected to your digital source would not matter. Since digital information can ideally be read as perfectly as it was written, all it takes is a little converter to read the information and turn the stream into something more than a protocol droid can understand. In fact, since some protocol droids are fluent in over six-million forms of communication, getting one might be the ideal DAC; but that is for a different article. However, we all know that nothing is perfect in this world, high-fidelity audio included. There are little things called jitter, distortion, etc, and all of these nuisances can make the read digital data not true to the source. This is one reason that we have literally a boat load of different DACs on the market, each one reading and interpreting that digital data a little differently. As this truly is a nuisance, it also make the sampling and use of digital audio equipment fun as you try different units and decide what subtleties and sound best fit you and your rig. Neko Audio now offers one of those pieces of equipment that is worth trying. read more…

Budget DAC Comparison: Zhaolu D2.5, CityPulse 7.2X, Musiland MD10

Budget DAC Comparison: Zhaolu D2.5, CityPulse 7.2X, Musiland MD10

Being an audiophile certainly has its joys, but the hobby also comes with its share of frustrations. I am sure many of you have made the mistakeof talking to a friend or family member about your system, and instead of focusing only on the music (as you probably should have), you tried to walk them through the various components. Most of the pieces might appear sensible enough to the uninitiated. Speakers, amplifiers…blah blah blah. As long as you stayed away from a discussion of the aftermarket power cords, you should escape unscathed, right?

No. Try to explain a benefit of an external DAC to someone who is just pretending to be interested in your hobby. Instead of connecting the computer/CD player/music server directly to the amplifier (which of course, you can do), you first run the signal to this little box over here (after buying additional jewelry…er, cables), and that makes everything sound better! Even if your victim is paying close attention, you run the risk of him or her noticing that the computer/CD player/music server has its own DAC! Yes, but an external one is usually better, right?

I certainly think so. Despite the debates that rage in audio forms (presumably populated by enthusiasts/converts instead of incredulous friends and relatives of audiophiles), most of us agree that a $250 external DAC can usually provide a substantial improvement in sound quality when connected to the digital output of a computer, budget DVD player, or music streaming device (Squeezebox or Sonos or similar). Even older CD players (or transports to us audio hobbyists) can be given new life by using a good external DAC, saving the trouble and expense of replacing the entire player.

Modifying CD players with replacement parts used to be quite popular before these inexpensive outboard DACs became so common. However, rejuvenating old CD players is not the primary reason why the DAC segment of the audio marketplace is red hot right now. Instead, it has been fueled by the emergence of good music serving hardware and software. Perhaps even more interesting than the DAC market itself is a subcategory of DAC that is becoming increasingly popular. DAC/preamp combinations that add a volume control (and possibility input switching) to the party make for a real revolution. Allowing the user to bridge the gap between digital sources and a poweramp buys tremendous flexibility, and can be a really inexpensive way to build a very musical system.

And that brings us to this mini-shootout between three similarly priced, similarly endowed DACs; the Zhaolu D2.5 (it is apparently pronounced “Chow-loo”), the CityPulse 7.2X, and the Musiland MD-10 (previously reviewed by A$$A’s Mark Marcantonio in issue 29 last May). All three units upsample, accommodate multiple digital inputs and provide both line-level and variable analogue output to headphones and power amplifiers, effectively making them DAC/ preamp (or more accurately but less colloquially, DAC/linestage) combinations. All three of the little boxes hail from China, all three are available in North America through on-line retailers, and all three are also readily available on eBay directly from China. read more…

Tec-on Model “55” Integrated Amp/USB DAC

Tec-on Model “55” Integrated Amp/USB DAC

Specifications

  • RCA single-ended inputs
  • USB DAC (accepts 16-bit 44.1/48kHz)
  • EL84 x 2 output tubes [fitted with 6P14 “Beijing” in current production]
  • 5755 Raytheon NOS driver tube
  • Self-biasing
  • Zero global negative feedback
  • Choke input filter
  • Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) @ 1kHz, 8 Ohm less than 1% at 4.5 Watts
  • Frequency Response: 17Hz – 27kHz (-3 dB); 30Hz – 17 kHz (-1 dB) Input Impedance: 47 KOhms
  • Power Source: 115/230VAC switchable Power Consumption: 80 Watts Dimension: 7 1/2″ (W) x 10″ (D) x 7″ (H) Weight: 13 lbs
  • Price: $749, currently on special for $398 with free shipping in USA

Confessions

Let me start by stating that I am not a tube guy. It’s not that I have anything against the little glass bottles of fire, or that I think sand amps have any inherent sonic benefit. In fact, some of the best systems I’ve heard have been tube based, not to mention that I love the warm glow when listening in the dark. I’ve also dabbled with hybrid power amps in the past, specifically the long-gone Counterpoint designs in which their MOSFET solid-state output probably colored the music more so than the tube input stage. I even toyed with a couple of DIY tube preamps, albeit with mixed results most likely stemming from my all-thumbs abilities with a soldering iron. But for one reason or another, I myself have never ventured headlong down the valve audio path.

Bottom line – I’m no tube guru that will wax rhapsodic about topologies, transformers and rolling the lastest NOS finds from Ebay. On the contrary, my penchant for Magnepan speakers has directed me towards monster-power solid-state amps given that I do not have the wherewithal to invest in the kind of tube power needed to drive these hungry, lowefficiency transducers. More recently, I’ve embraced the new generation of Pulse-Width Modulated (PWM) amps which are more commonly, though perhaps incorrectly, identified as “digital” amps. I love their typically neutral sound (though some may think of it as overly analytical) that is detailed and effortless combined with remarkable bass extension and control. I bring all this up as a point of reference to properly frame the following review. read more…

DIY Paradise: Monica III DAC

DIY Paradise: Monica III DAC

Specifications:

  • 1 digital input, 1 analog Output
  • Non-oversampling TDA 1545A DAC Chip Asynchronous Reclocking
  • Dimensions H 2 x W 2 x D 4 inches
  • Weight ~2 lbs
  • Price: ~$375.00 (Depends on exchange rate.)

I have had a wonderful extended interview with a beautiful supermodel that has had amazing exposure on the web these last few years. I arranged the meeting with her manager, Yeo of DIY Paradise, and from the moment she arrived in my home there has been a warmer and cleaner sense to every piece of music she touches. Wait, supermodels don’t work with music? Well, after seeing this cute little DAC in action, it is easy to see why Yeo refers to his signature DAC as Monica, and speaks of her like she is a true lady. The equipment has all the right characteristics. It is talented, warm, and friendly–and not a bad looker, either. read more…

Musiland MD10 USB DAC

Musiland MD10 USB DAC

If 2007 wasn’t, then for sure 2008 is the year for music servers. Add-on products are popping up right and left, leading to a myriad of choices and some definite confusion among music server newbies. One of the most fascinating DAC units is the multi-purpose Musiland MD10. It has a tremendous feature set for a small form factor unit that looked quite at home on top of the Underwood modified PS Audio Trio C-100 or the Jolida JD100 cdp.

Specifications:

  • 24bit System, up to 192kHz Sampling Frequency
  • BNC, Coax, USB or Toslink inputs
  • Microcomputer Control, LCD Display, OSD Menu Line or Earphone Analog Audio Output Interface Class A Earphone Amplifier
  • Sampling Frequencies: 32kHz, 44.1kHz, 48kHz
  • 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz or, 192kHz Analog Audio Output Interface: RCA 3.5 mm Phone Socket
  • CIRRUS CS4398 D/A Chip, Up to 120Db SNR Dual digital filtering: 102 db or 75 db
  • Balance Analog Filter class A AMP.
  • LCD Display Real-time to Show Sampling Rate
  • Dimensions: (inches) 6.25. w x 8.5d x 2h
  • Price: $299
  • Manufacturer: DIYEDEN

read more…

Audiophile Output on Mac OSX

Audiophile Output on Mac OSX

Well, I was reading a bit about the Core Audio driver, which is the heart of the Macintosh OSX audio system. This driver is one hell of a trick piece of kit; in fact it has been optimised for use in studios i.e. capable of some pretty nifty bits of trick, with a host of options that once discovered, reveal some startling quality and flexibility. For some reason, I’d never even investigated the settings for either the audio driver or iTunes, which for someone who fiddles as much as me is unusual. Usually I walk every path until I find one I’m happy with.

Now my DAC is capable of accepting several different sample rates on the input side, which it then clocks twice (once per clock) and then upsamples to either 176.4Khz or 192Khz, whichever relates to the input. Apparently, according to the tech guys at Apogee, whatever input is used (i.e. Toslink, Coax, AES, Firewire, etc., etc.), the results will always be the same. I’m mildly sceptical as I just changed my Toslink cable yesterday, and once again, another lift in quality. Maybe once they release the Leopard Firewire drivers, I will receive another happy augmentation in the quality department. read more…

Bolder Cable Company Squeezebox Modifications

Bolder Cable Company Squeezebox Modifications

Modifications:

  • 8 total choices from $125-$1000

Convenience and high quality audio performance are two attributes that rarely co-exist in an audio component. Audiophiles have an innate distrust of any piece of gear that touts its ease-of-use as a selling feature. For instance, in the eyes of discriminating audiophiles, CD changers are often regarded as inferior to a single disc player. Since the transport is a critical step in correctly reading the data off a disc, it stands to reason that a high quality single disc mechanism will audibly outperform the complicated carousel design. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and in some cases a high-end piece of audio gear can actually simplify the process of listening to music. The Squeezebox SB3 is a device that allows an audio enthusiast to conveniently interface a conventional audio system with a computer. A music library is stored on a computer hard drive, and the Squeezebox uses a wireless signal to transmit the information to the stereo system. A stock Squeezebox can be categorized as a “lifestyle” component, yet it can be turned into a high-resolution digital source with a properly designed modification package.

read more…

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