Outboard DACs

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Keith Howard & Paul Miller  |  Feb 05, 2009
The last time I was fortunate enough to have a dCS upsampler at home it was the Purcell, which was limited to upsampling PCM to PCM. Since then dCS has become a staunch advocate of DSD – the 1-bit, 2. 8224MHz coding system used in SACD – and so the Upsampler half of the Scarlatti pairing here (the other being the Scarlatti DAC) offers upsampling to either PCM or DSD. It’s the user’s choice, with dCS’s preference being the latter.
Review: Andrew Everard, Review and Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 07, 2022
hfnoutstandingLockdown afforded dCS's engineers the time and space to look at the implementation of its iconic Ring DAC afresh. The APEX upgrade is tested here in its flagship Vivaldi DAC

You know that old saying about the devil making work for idle hands? While the periods of lockdown over the past couple of years left a lot of hands idle in the hi-fi industry, the wisest turned this fallow period to good use, regrouping and rethinking. That's certainly the case with the engineers at Cambridgeshire-based Data Conversion Systems, better-known as dCS.

Review: David Price, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 01, 2018
hfnoutstanding.pngHugely flexible, hugely capable and, well, just plain ‘huge’, dCS’s flagship Vivaldi four-box digital stack has been condensed into a one-box solution. So why a limited edition?

There comes a time when you have to pop the champagne cork, relax and have fun. That’s what dCS (Data Conversion Systems Ltd) has done with its new £55k Vivaldi One single-box disc player/upsampling DAC/streamer. It’s a limited edition of just 250 pieces, designed to celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary. In that time, the company has gone from being an Official Secrets Act signatory supplying advanced radar systems for the RAF towards the end of the Cold War, to one of the most respected high-end digital audio specialists around.

Ken Kessler and Paul Miller  |  Nov 30, 2011
Valve DACs are intrinsically anachronistic - Tim de Paravicini's new EAR-Yoshino DACute takes the retro attitude a stage further by sounding deliberately analogue

Hard to believe, I know, but the EAR-Yoshino 192 DACute Digital Audio Interface is the company’s first stand-alone D/A converter. The company has also produced CD players but, as main man Tim de Paravicini tells me, his previous experiences with digital mainly involved ‘bits of work for studios. ’ But it was this studio connection that led Tim to develop the 192 DACute.

Ed Selley  |  Aug 08, 2011
A very capable design with the added benefit of wireless connectivity Electrocompaniet’s new PD-1 is the largest DAC here and would be the most traditional in appearance but for its touch-sensitive display panel. It’s solidly enough built – although the review top plate on the review sample did rattle against the fascia. The PD-1 is unique in this group in two respects. First, it is supplied with a remote control, which allows the input source, output volume setting and display brightness to be adjusted.
Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 01, 2018
A dedicated stack that forms one of the most expensive digital playback systems on the market, Esoteric’s Grandioso P1/D1 is aimed squarely at fans of the SACD format

Let’s not beat about the bush: alongside the top-of-the-range, multi-chassis dCS Vivaldi pile [HFN Feb ’13] – I can think of no others in this category – the Esoteric P1/D1 combination SACD transport/mono DACs package will lighten your Amex by a worrying £49,500. That breaks down to £33,000 for the two-chassis player/power supply and £16,500 for the mono DACs. Oh, and if you really want to go the whole hog then the Grandioso G1 Master Clock, not supplied here, adds another £23,000.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 23, 2022
hfnoutstandingThis Polish hotshot brand broke onto the audiophile scene with its programmable DC PSU, followed by the OOR headphone amp. Now, with DAC onboard, comes the ERCO

The name of this new product from Polish company HEM, selling under its Ferrum brand, is spelt ERCO, but pronounced 'ertso'. Apparently it's Esperanto for 'ore', and so follows on from the mineral-based brand-identity – Ferrum, OOR – you get the idea. What's also not immediately apparent, given that all the Ferrum products basically look the same, is that the £2395 ERCO is perhaps the most comprehensively equipped model the company has made to date.

Paul Miller  |  Jun 05, 2009
You may be forgiven for having not yet heard of Firestone Audio though its quirkily designed little boxes appear to be gaining something of a cult following. Made in Taiwan, there’s a plethora of components in Firestone’s range, encompassing phono preamplifiers, various solid-state and valve headphone amplifers including a battery powered model, digital-to-analogue converters and even a dinky little 8W stereo power amp dubbed Big Joe. One of its headphone amps is called Cute Beyond. Did I mention that these miniature boxes looked cute? Funny, that; Firestone calls them the Cute Series.
Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 01, 2018
hfnoutstanding.pngThe Norwegian brand’s latest amp is not just its most powerful integrated, but comes complete with network audio capability. Is this the ultimate one-box amp solution?

Obviously not afraid of a spot of (Russell?) crowing, Oslo-based Hegel describes its new Reference H590 integrated amp, just going on sale at £9000, as ‘Master and Commander’. Apparently it’s ‘A master at musicality’ and ‘The commander of any set of speakers’. Mind you, you might be tempted to forgive the company for its exuberance – after all, the new arrival is something of a monster, standing an AV-receiver-challenging 17.1cm tall, tipping the scales at 22kg and delivering over 300W per channel. Well, 301W a side actually, according to Hegel, making it at least 50% more powerful than its previous top integrated, the H360.

Ed Selley  |  Nov 19, 2011
A simple but effective USB DAC solution. When circumventing a computer’s low quality internal audio processing and pushing out digital audio to an external DAC, there’s nothing more convenient to use than something like the USB-powered Streamer II+ from Californian company High Resolution Technologies (HRT). This is especially true when you consider that the unit boasts asynchronous USB inputs.
Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 27, 2021
hfnoutstandingLaunched with a typically dazzling array of acronyms, the NEO iDSD is nonetheless a more focused DAC/pre/headphone amp, equipped with the latest 'hi-res' Bluetooth

Seemingly there's no stopping Southport-based iFi Audio: it just keeps on trotting out new digital products, all aiming to fill a gap in the market – or create a new gap to fill. Indeed, while writing this review I was unsurprised to see another new launch pop up, in the form of the bright red iDSD Diablo.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 01, 2018
hfnoutstanding.pngThe most ambitious iFi digital product to date is a hugely flexible DAC/headphone amp with an eye on both studio and consumer markets. But is it just a bit too complex?

The idea of the DAC/headphone amplifier is firmly established, whether for ‘on the go’ use, desktop audio or as a main system component. Less than £100 will get you started, with the likes of the AudioQuest DragonFly Black [HFN Oct ’16], Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS V2 or Cyrus SoundKey, while the ambitious might consider models such as the long-running Chord Electronics Hugo [v2, HFN Aug ’18] and costing the thick part of £2000. However, even by the standards of this highly diversified market sector, the range-topping model from iFi Audio, the Pro iDSD, looks pretty punchy with its £2500 price-tag.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 08, 2022
hfnoutstandingSporting a Signature nameplate, the flagship of iFi Audio's sprawling digital product range has been fine-tuned with 'audiophile' components and offboard iPower Elite PSU

No, you're not having a flashback, but you'd be forgiven a sense of déjà vu, given that we reviewed the original iFi Audio Pro iDSD DAC/headphone amplifier [HFN Sep '18]. Then it sported what we thought was an ambitious £2500 price tag, and pro-audio aspirations with a range of facilities so extensive that it paid to know what you were doing when tackling its myriad options and adjustments.

Review: Cliff Joseph, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 01, 2018
hfnoutstanding.pngWith a more compact and elegant design, plus both wired and wireless connectivity, iFi Audio’s new top-of-the-range portable DAC/headphone amp seems to have it all

The iFi Audio range of portable DACs and headphone amps has been one of the main challengers to the popular Chord Mojo [HFN Jan ’16], with its first-generation nano iDSD [HFN Dec ’14] picking up an EISA Award back in 2014. The company recently updated its range with the entry-level nano iDSD Black Label [HFN Apr ’18], which offers a highly competitive audio upgrade for just £199. However, it’s this new xDSD model that’s setting the standard for the company’s latest range of products, with a more streamlined and portable design, improved connectivity, and a £399 price tag that pits it right up against the Mojo.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Aug 24, 2020
hfnoutstandingWith its eye-catching looks, flexibility, solid engineering within and a remarkably grown-up sound, this entry-level DAC from iFi Audio is a conspicuous hi-fi bargain

We've come a long way since iFi Audio was started as an offshoot of high-end brand Abbingdon Music Research, building its initial reputation with its 'Purifier' products, designed to clean up digital signals. And if anyone was labouring under the delusion that these were devices designed to tackle non-existent problems – you know, the old 'digits is digits' thing – the company has since expanded into making everything from complete systems to some of the most cost-effective DACs and headphone amps around. After all, its excellent xDSD [HFN Jul '18], was a 2018-19 EISA Award-winner, following on from the 2014-15 winning footsteps of the nano iDSD [HFN Dec '14].

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