Outboard DACs

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Ed Selley  |  Aug 08, 2011
A crossover from the pro sphere with an extensive feature set Antelope Audio is better known in the pro audio industry than in the audiophile world, although its attendance at the recent Munich high-end show is evidence of its desire to bridge the divide. A glance at the Zodiac+ suffices to confirm its pro heritage. Not only does it describe itself as an ‘HD Mastering D/A Converter’ on the fascia, at the back there are unusual features such as balanced analogue inputs on 1⁄4in jack sockets, a word clock input and de-jittered digital outputs for daisy-chaining to other devices – none of which many audiophile buyers will ever have cause to use. The fascia is dominated by a central volume control that adjusts output level on the balanced and unbalanced analogue outputs.
Paul Miller  |  Nov 19, 2011
Arcam returns to DAC's with a diminutive but well implemented design with the added benefit of wireless. Getting rid of all those computer cables can make wireless hi-fi seem like the next essential, especially if your life revolves around the laptop in your bag rather than a tower under the desk. Enter the Arcam rDAC, Wireless Version.
Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 01, 2018
hfncommended.pngWith an upgraded specification including an asynchronous USB input with DSD capability, ATC’s CD player/DAC/preamp aims to be a complete system front-end

Is this a new twist on the CD player? Or yet another new variation on the DAC? Well, neither actually, for as that ‘Mk2’ suffix suggests, this is a revised version of ATC’s innovative CDA CD player/DAC/preamp combination, selling for £2950 and designed as the perfect partner for the company’s £3375 P2 power amplifier [HFN Mar ’17], or its range of active speakers.

Ken Kessler & Paul Miller  |  Dec 17, 2009
Audio Research explains the role of the DAC7 thus: ‘With the growth of the iTunes culture and the increasing popularity of storing music on a hard drive, we were asked repeatedly to offer a USB DAC that could connect with Macs, PCs and servers to deliver a new benchmark in high resolution digital music playback’. It responded with a righteous solution that doesn’t pay mere lip service to iPods, servers and the like, because it’s an irresistibly musical device when used in a strictly traditional manner: fed by a CD transport. So good was the performance when used with the Marantz CD12 transport and Quad’s CDP99 Mk II CD player that I approached the need to audition other sources grudgingly. Yes, I have a hundreds of tracks on my notebook PC and mobile phone, but the test was my son’s computer – his primary source of music.
Hi-Fi News Staff  |  Nov 07, 2014
Audio Research’s first DAC to bear the ‘Reference’ name incorporates a network music player with access to internet radio stations, USB inputs for direct playback of files from memory sticks and HDDs, and a digital connection for iDevices. The Reference DAC is also an audiophile-grade vacuum tube preamplifier (albeit one with no analogue inputs). Its type B USB rear input socket – into which one can simply push digital data from a connected computer – provides an asynchronous interface that’s compatible with files up to ‘full HD’ 24-bit resolution and all sampling frequencies up to 192kHz. (Drivers are provided on a CD-ROM.
Richard Holliss  |  Jan 13, 2015
Auralic will be a new name to many readers as only recently has this innovative brand become available to UK audiophiles. Based in Beijing, Auralic calls its Vega a ‘digital processor’. We’re more likely to call it a digital preamplifier, since it’s a DAC with a (digital) volume control and Class A preamp built in – not merely a high-current DAC output. There are no analogue inputs but neither are there any fixed-level line outs, so to use it simply as a DAC you connect XLR or RCA outputs to your amp and leave the gain set to max.
David Berriman & Paul Miller  |  Jan 17, 2009
When I reviewed the CD-2 CD transport/player last year [HFN, April ’08], I liked its clean, smooth sound quality, especially when set to the internal DAC’s native 24-bit/192kHz rate. Although a CD player, it is principally intended as a transport (being built around a high-quality Pro2 CD mechanism). The DAC chip included, while good, is not a high-end device, yet Bel Canto managed to extract a very pleasing performance from it. I wondered what Bel Canto could do given a bigger budget for the processing and analogue circuits.
Ed Selley  |  Nov 19, 2011
USB adds to the already useful feature set of this capable design

So successful has the outboard DAC’s renaissance been that there are now more models available than you can shake a stick at. One company that offers a wide range of both professional and consumer models is New York-based Benchmark Media Systems.

Benchmark’s reputation for making fine compact DACs goes before it. But in case you missed the good reviews, the DAC1 USB comes with no fewer than13 sides of US Letter covered in words of praise from satisfied users.

Ed Selley  |  Nov 19, 2011
A new arrival from the US with superb measured performance. Bricasti’s M1 DAC invites comparison with the dCS Debussy [HFN Dec ’10]. Not merely because of its price and professional antecedents but because of a sterling performance on the test bench. Not unnecessarily large, it oozes the solidity you’d expect of a proper professional audio product – it’s constructed of aluminium alloy panels machined from solid before being anodised and the markings laser-etched.
Steve Harris & Paul Miller  |  Feb 05, 2009
There’s some controversy over who produced the first separate digital-to-analogue converter for CD users, but the honour is most convincingly claimed by Arcam, which launched its original Black Box back in 1989. By 1991, you could buy something smaller and cheaper, though as it came from California it had a grand-sounding name. The Audio Alchemy Digital Decoding Engine was the size of a small paperback, with a rudimentary plug-top power supply. In this country, Cambridge Audio wasn’t far behind, launching its original DacMagic in 1994.
Ed Selley  |  Aug 08, 2011
Designed to mimic the design of the Mac Mini, the CEntrance has wider appeal If you’re planning to use a Mac mini as your audio computer (and it’s a good choice given that it is small, smart, quiet and you can always use a Windows OS if you prefer) then why not have a DAC of similar appearance? That’s the USP of the CEntrance DACmini CX, which doesn’t quite pull off the imitation (there are joins in the case at either side) but even without a Mac mini as partner has the benefit of being likewise compact and sleek. That volume control knob on the front panel might suggest that the DACmini, like the Benchmark, Electrocompaniet and Antelope models, offers variable output level but it’s deceptive. The volume control actually adjusts the level of the headphone output only, via the nearby 1⁄4in jack. The rear panel analogue outputs are fixed.
Hi-Fi News Staff  |  Nov 11, 2014
This is Chord’s first network player. What it has done, in effect, is to marry its top-of-the-range QBD76 HDSD DAC with StreamUnlimited’s Stream700 audio streaming client – an off-the-shelf hardware solution for network audio which includes a 3. 5in, 320x240 pixel colour display, supports up to 24-bit/192kHz FLAC or WAV files via wired Ethernet (24-bit/96kHz via a wireless connection), provides for internet radio and offers remote control via a smartphone app. There are just two rear inputs –a BNC socket for S/PDIF connection and, of course, the Ethernet socket – and just two pairs of phono and XLR outputs: one at fixed level and one a variable output, adjusted by an analogue volume control within the DSX1000, which allows for direct connection to a power amp.
Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 01, 2018
hfnoutstanding.pngIt can sometimes seem tricky to keep pace with the changes in the Chord Electronics range, but its Hugo 2 claims technical and spec advances over the original DAC/amp

For a relatively small specialist audio brand – well, by the standards of some of the huge companies the industry seems determined to keep constructing these days – Chord Electronics has its bases covered in fairly spectacular fashion, from tiny pocket devices to hugely powerful amplification. What’s more, there’s little evidence of resting on laurels going on here. The company just keeps on adding new models to its range, from the Mojo/Poly portable DAC/amp/player/streamer combo to the newly announced Etude amplifier, said to use its ‘first fundamentally new topology’ since the company was founded some 30 years ago.

John Bamford and Paul Miller  |  Sep 02, 2011
It doesn’t seem that long ago since D-to-A converters featuring USB sockets were something quite rare. How times have changed in just a few short years. Today pretty much all standalone DACs – including models from UK specialist manufacturer Chord Electronics – have them. Computer audio is ubiquitous in modern households, after all.
Paul Miller  |  Nov 19, 2011
Another digital masterclass from dCS but with added aesthetic charm. Down the years a great many words of praise have been directed at dCS products but I doubt that ‘stylish’ or ‘chic’ have often been among them. Well, the new Debussy DAC represents a big step in the right direction. Let’s begin the tour with that striking fascia, festooned with no fewer than 17 blue LEDs.

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