Outboard DACs

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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.
Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 11, 2022
hfnoutstandingA decade on from the brand-defining M1 DAC and Bricasti has poured all its latter day experience into a new flagship featuring bespoke DAC and clocking technologies

Bricasti Design is not an adherent to the 'keep your range rolling' philosophy. Likely informed by its professional audio heritage, it keeps new arrivals to a minimum. So the launch of the M21 DAC, a flagship D/A converter to replace the £9600 M1 of 2011 HFN Jun '11], is of interest particularly when you clock the updates the Massachusetts-based company has implemented, and its £17,249 price tag.

Review: Christopher Breunig, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 16, 2020
hfnoutstandingWith trickle-down tech from the flagship M1, a custom DSD DAC plus network and headphone amp options, Bricasti's M3 looks like the new go-to star of the range

With its upgraded M1 Dual Mono DAC now in 'Classic' form and selling in the UK at £9499, Bricasti has also announced a more affordable alternative, but still offering 'an incredible array of performance'. The basic M3 USB DAC is offered at £5399, but this increases to £6999 when fitted with its DNLA/UPnP-compatible network streaming card and new headphone amplifier option. The latter includes both 4-pin balanced XLR and 6.35mm single-ended jack outputs, and is available as a return-to-factory retro-fit option as the front fascia requires some reworking.

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.
Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 20, 2021
hfncommendedThe latest in a lineage of DACs stretching back some 27 years has a name – 'DacMagic' – that's as memorable as the parent brand itself. Hey presto, here's the 200M...

The modern hi-fi market is not exactly short of affordable DAC/headphone amplifiers, but the £449 Cambridge Audio DacMagic 200M has not only previous form, but an impressive pedigree on its side. Indeed, a full 27 years have passed since the arrival of the original DACMagic-1 as a slightly late, but very affordable and accomplished 'CD upgrade' DAC. Since then, the company's range of digital-to-analogue converters has been developed and refined, as well as adapted to the requirements of the changing hi-fi arena.

Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 10, 2021
hfncommendedWhat is the connection between this Slovakian-built CD player/DAC and global turntable giant Pro-Ject, and does its triode tube output stage give it an edge?

In the music business, an eight-year wait between albums might give fans cause for concern and raise fears of 'issues' behind the scenes. But we have no such worries about the similar gap betwewen Canor's latest CD player and its predecessor – it's all par for the course for this Slovakian marque. Since arriving in 1995 with the TP101 amplifier (under the brand name Edgar), this self-proclaimed tube specialist has developed a modest catalogue, always at its own pace and with little apparent attention paid to current hi-fi 'trends'. So the promise of the CD 2.10 is firmly rooted in physical CD playback, and a sound informed by Canor's love of tubes, a well-regarded DAC and its detailed attention to build and finish.

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.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 20, 2022
hfnoutstandingTiny, solidly made, UK-built and now even more capable, is this compact USB DAC/headphone amp from Chord Electronics still the one to beat below £500?

Inundated as we are with pocket-money portable headphone amp/DACs, Chord's Mojo 2 asks the question: why drop £449 on a portable headphone DAC? Once you hear it, you'll understand, especially if top-quality sound on the move matters to you. The Mojo 2 is an upgrade on the top-drawer Mojo [HFN Jan '16], the battery-powered, smaller-than-a-deck-of-cards DAC/headphone amp. It arrives with only a £50 price increase that doesn't even correspond to real-world inflation. Even without the Mojo 2 improvements, the original Mojo should retail for £470 in 2022 just for the inflation, so Chord has somehow managed to squeeze in a host of upgrades with but a nominal price hike.

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.
Review: David Price, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 02, 2019
hfnoutstandingWith the option of a high-quality headphone stage, the new entry-level dCS network DAC marks a walk on the wild side for the Huntingdon company. Can it succeed?

By way of celebrating its 30th anniversary, dCS launched the limited edition Vivaldi One streaming DAC/SACD player [HFN Feb '18]. It was a present to itself, and some of the company's most well-heeled customers. Now, however, dCS's gaze has turned from past to future as it debuts its new £11,999 Bartók streaming DAC/headphone amplifier. The non-headphone version represents a saving of £2000.

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.
Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 07, 2019
hfnoutstandingThe high-tech Cambridgeshire company has added a dedicated CD/SACD transport to its Rossini range – and it, and the updated DAC, are remarkably flexible devices

AdCS Rossini CD player? Doesn't the company already have one of those, usable as either a standalone device or as a transport for its range of digital-to-analogue converters? Well yes, and the Rossini Player continues in the range as a pure Red Book device because, at the time it was developed, dCS was unable to source a suitable SACD/CD combination transport.

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