Outboard DACs

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Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 01, 2018
hfncommended.pngThe companion to Klipsch's retro HP-3 headphones has similarly 'classic' styling – yet within the casework is a strikingly capable DAC/amp with an appeal beyond the brand

For some reason, one can't help but be reminded of those great American festive TV specials, usually called 'Home for the Holidays' or something similar, hosted by the likes of Andy Williams or Perry Como, and performed in a huge log-cabin set far up in the mountains of a Burbank backlot. You see, Klipsch has gone decidedly retro with its Heritage range, as noted in our review of its HP-3 headphones [HFN Nov '18], with a brochure liberally scattered with downhome images almost clamouring for a fine bourbon and an even finer cigar.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 08, 2020
hfnoutstandingIn a world where every other product seems to have streaming this or network that, this compact box from the German brand is about as direct – or linear – as it can get

Writing in his Welcome page last month, editor Paul Miller explained how shifting hugely heavy equipment about is all part and parcel of the HFN reviewing 'experience'. Perhaps he was eyeing a recent speaker launch proudly declaring that its new products weigh over 450kg apiece. Add on their external crossover with its power supply, and a quartet of high-quality amps to drive them, and you could well end up wondering whether your floor will support a tonne and a half of hi-fi.

Hi-Fi News Staff  |  Nov 07, 2014
Marantz’s NA-11S1 is similar in functionality to its more affordable stablemate, the NA7004 streamer, in the sense that it’s effectively a DAC that also offers media streaming via Ethernet. But this new high-end design introduces the latest ‘Marantz Music Mastering’ digital signal processing and the option to play Direct Stream Digital (DSD) from a computer via USB. In addition to its rather niche DSD functionality, the unit also plays PCM at up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution (digital input and format permitting), in WAV, WMA, MP3, MPEG-4, FLAC and ALAC flavours. This comes into the unit via optical (up to 96kHz), RJ-45 LAN (Ethernet) or USB Type A and B connections.
Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 11, 2021
hfnoutstandingThis unit may be compact, but it's a highly comprehensive DAC/headphone amp/preamp, with full network audio capability encompassing a huge range of formats

Based in Xi'an, the ancient city in northwest China that's home to the famous Terracotta Warriors, Matrix Audio has a classic hi-fi backstory: it was founded by three audio/music enthusiast schoolmates who regrouped some years later to launch a company to develop and produce hi-fi separates. The DA-100plus DAC was its inaugural product in 2006 since which time the company has evolved its lineup to encompass a range of digital and streaming products that covers just about all the bases, from the X-Sabre Pro DAC [HFN Nov '17] to the new £2795 Element X.

Review: Ed Selley, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 15, 2022
hfnoutstandingPitched at the very affordable end of MA's comprehensive DAC/headphone series, the network-attached mini-i Pro 3 supports a huge range of formats with a powerful punch

The exact definition of what constitutes a DAC has become a little blurry in recent years. Where once the outboard 'Digital-to-Analogue Converter' offered S/PDIF and possibly USB digital inputs together with fixed and/or variable outputs on RCAs and/or XLRs, the latest generation has undergone a fair bit of mission creep. Some of this is undoubtedly in response to the wealth of new digital sources but it also speaks to the relaxing of the principles of hair-shirt minimalism that audio has worked to over many years.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 30, 2022
hfnoutstandingThe compact but comprehensively-equipped Matrix Audio digital front-ends are distinguished by chipset and features. We look at the flagship 'headphone-free' DAC

For anyone still labouring under the misapprehension that Chinese-made hi-fi means cheap and cheerful alternatives to the big-name brands, it's time for an eye-opener. In practice, not only are quite a few of those big names having their products made in China, but its home-grown brands are upping their game and making inroads into markets once dominated by Western and Japanese names. A case in point is the Matrix Audio X-Sabre 3 we have here, following on from the X-Sabre Pro DAC [HFN Nov '17], Element X [HFN Jan '21] and more recently the Mini-i Pro 3 [HFN Feb 22].

Hi-Fi News Staff  |  Nov 07, 2014
Welcome to a world of truly luxurious audio. As it costs as much as many hi-fi enthusiasts’ entire music systems, you’d be right to assume this MBL D-to-A converter aspires to being ‘up there’ with the best of them. . .
Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 01, 2018
hfncommended.pngBilled as McIntosh’s most powerful integrated amp to date, the mighty MA9000 combines transistors with transformers and a ‘blue’ aesthetic that’s truly timeless

Right, let’s get the ‘and fries to go’ thing out of the way first. If ever a product deserved the title, this is the ‘Big Mac’. Or at least ‘Big Mc’, for the McIntosh MA9000 is huge in every respect, from the sheer bulk of the thing – at least by the standards of most integrated amplifiers – to the 45.8kg fighting weight, increasing to 60.8kg packed, and the £12,995 price tag.

Review: James Parker, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Sep 27, 2021
hfncommendedWell, one thing's for sure: the new SACD/CD player/DAC from McIntosh looks quite unlike any other machine of its kind. So, does the sound live up to the unique style?

Take a quick look at the £4995 McIntosh MCD85, and you'd probably think it was another in the seemingly endless line of amplifier variations emerging from the Binghamton factory in upstate New York. In fact, the first sign that this isn't actually a power amp is the weight. Thanks to their hefty transformers and solidity of build, the company's powerhouses tend to be back-achingly heavy, and arrive on pallets – the new MA1200 integrated amp, for example, weighs in at a shade under 49kg, and the MC901 monoblock is getting on for twice that. By contrast, the MCD85 is a manageable 12.5kg boxed, and a positively featherweight 9.3kg in the buff.

Review: Nick Tate, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 07, 2021
hfnoutstandingIf there's one man synonymous with the 'custom DAC' it's Ed Meitner, who has crafted his own digital tech for 30 years. His latest outboard DAC is a chip off the digital block

Twenty years or so ago, standalone DACs were fast becoming an endangered species. The breed had a brief moment in the sun in the early '90s, with almost all CD player brands fitting digital outputs, but until the advent of USB audio, the add-on digital box was on the wane. Now, with the rise of digital streaming, network-attached DACs are the gift that keeps on giving, for hi-fi brands and buyers alike.

Review: James Parker, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 10, 2021
hfncommendedTop dog in a range of just two outboard DACs from Swiss brand Merason, the DAC1 is a modern-day example of 'less is more' audiophile thinking. We lift the lid and investigate

In common with a lot of HFN readers, I have a bit of a 'thing' about overly complex digital devices. I'm not referring to input flexibility – many of us will have systems in which different flavours of digital connection are accommodated, from USB links from a computer to good old S/PDIF from a CD player or the like. No, what I really find obstructive is devices bristling with digital-domain options, from filters to dither to PLL bandwidth and the like, all of which often look like an exercise in 'because we can' – a facilities arms-race – rather than being of any real-world assistance to the user.

Hi-Fi News Staff  |  Nov 07, 2014
Metrum Acoustics outboard DACs offer a specific appeal by implementing a no-frills approach to cosmetic design while cracking the DAC nut in a wholly bespoke fashion. The range, including this flagship HEX, eschews off-the shelf chipsets and are all non-oversampling [NOS] designs. Designer Cees Ruijtenberg was convinced higher audio performance could be achieved by using cutting-edge industrial application chipsets rather than traditional audio components. After much experimentation and listening, a suitable high-speed data acquisition chipset was identified that the company suggests handles 24-bit audio and sampling rates well in excess of the hi-fi standards.
Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 01, 2018
hfncommended.pngThis slimline amplifier from an established French brand may suggest another product from the same country, but it's a very different prospect with some unique features

So, it's a slimline amplifier, and it's French – already thinking of the 'D' word? But while it might seem that the M-One amplifiers from Micromega could be 'inspired' by the success of Devialet's range, in fact they have little in common beyond their country of origin and a passing resemblance in dimensions: under the skin they're very different animals.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 24, 2020
hfnoutstandingAdding Roon-ready capability to its highly customised DAC has given this curiously-named Dutch company another highly intriguing device. Nothing fishy here!

For an insight into the digital audio product we have before us, the £8999 Mola-Mola Tambaqui, I turn to no less an authority than biologist, author and TV presenter Jeremy Wade, best-known for his series River Monsters and Dark Waters, in which he goes in search of – and catches – some of the world's largest and most predatory fish.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 04, 2019
hfnoutstandingTraditional 'resistor ladder' DACs are rarely seen these days but California-based MSB has made the technology its own and elevated performance to an entirely new level

Despite persistent rumours of the standalone DAC's demise, the industry continues to provide us with converters with capabilities far in excess of any digital sources commonly available. MSB's DACs fall into this category, and given the sheer brilliance of the Premier we're reviewing here, it's hard to fathom that this isn't even the top rung of the MSB family, coming in below the flagship Select and the Reference, and above the Discrete. That said, the bare-bones version is £19,500. Ulp.

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