Outboard DACs

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Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jul 24, 2020
hfnoutstandingPrimaLuna's minimalist, valve-equipped EVO 100 DAC may seem a throwback to the time when digital only meant CD, but the sonic performance is truly 21st century

Two words spring to mind when examining PrimaLuna's EvoLution series EVO 100 DAC: 'old school'. Yes, a genre as seemingly new as digital has been around long enough to qualify for that mode of thinking. This unit is, I have been told emphatically, 'a DAC for purists', so £2888 gets you no wireless connections, no pandering to streaming, no headphone output, no level control. It is strictly a DAC in the original sense – a D/A converter-only and not one that doubles as a preamp or headphone amp.

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.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jun 12, 2020
hfnoutstandingLaunched to the audiophile world at CES in 1995, Balanced Audio Technologies may have lifted off like a rocket but has only had patchy distribution in Europe. Until now...

Balanced Audio Technologies – BAT for short – has been much discussed over its 25-year life to date, but until now has remained an object of distant interest for UK audio fans. Now, thanks to distribution by Yorkshire-based Karma AV, all that might be set to change, so perhaps now is the time to take a closer look at the brand.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 27, 2020
hfncommendedThis entry-level combination from US brand PS Audio combines proprietary technology with some tried-and-tested solutions in a preamp/DAC and brace of mono power amps

Colorado-based PS Audio is known for a number of things: its products are handmade in its own US facilities and, as of last year, it only sells direct to its US customers. Here in the UK, PS Audio's equipment is sold more conventionally, through distributor Signature Audio Systems, which premiered the company's Stellar Phono Amplifier at the Hi-Fi Show Live at Ascot in October last year. That product, along with the Power Plant 3 AC regenerator [HFN Jan '20], is part of the new entry-level range from the company.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 22, 2020
hfnoutstandingThe most novel high-end DACs often employ proprietary converter solutions instead of off-the-shelf chipsets. From Italy comes this unique take on the NOS 'ladder DAC'

As we've seen in the past, notably in our review of its La Voce S2 DAC [HFN Aug '16], Italian company Aqua, aka AQ Technologies, tends to follow its own path in the design and engineering of its products. Based in Milan, and just coming up to the tenth anniversary of its founding by chief engineer and product designer Cristian Anelli, it bases its work on what it describes as 'dedicated research with creative thinking'.

Review: Nick Tate, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Apr 10, 2020
hfnoutstandingThe best high-end DACs often employ entirely bespoke converter technologies rather than off-the-shelf chipsets. We look at the first rung on MSB's range of 'ladder DACs'

Based in Silicon Valley, California, Jonathan Gullman and his brother Daniel have become major players on the international hi-fi scene, courtesy of their fine-sounding and technologically innovative range of MSB digital-to-analogue converters. For 15 years this team has turned out increasingly flexible products, and more recently the range has expanded to satisfy a wider group of potential customers.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Mar 23, 2020
hfnoutstandingBest known for its music rippers and servers, the Korean company has now entered the personal audio market with a comprehensively-equipped DAC/headphone amp

When it comes to affordable music players with hard disk storage, few companies have the pedigree of Korea-based Novatron. Its range of products, sold under the Cocktail Audio brand worldwide – including here, before a UK-only rebranding to Novafidelity – starts from as little as £650 for the X14 model. In this instance the user is able to decide how much storage capacity to have installed, or even buy the unit 'bare bones' and add their own choice of drive.

Review: Adam Smith, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Feb 11, 2020
hfnoutstandingAdding full network connectivity to Mytek's Brooklyn DAC+ beefs up an already comprehensive feature set. Don't be fooled by its size – this is a pocket rocket!

Although the New York-based Mytek company has traditionally named its products after the city's landmarks, it has really nailed the title of its latest offering – the £2500 EISA Award-winning Brooklyn Bridge. After all, to describe this all-in-one preamp, streaming network player, DAC and headphone amplifier as 'versatile' or 'useful' would be something of an understatement. Rather like its namesake, which replaced multiple ferry services across the East River in 1883 to provide a single solution that made life easier for everyone.

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: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 24, 2019
hfnoutstandingThe latest 'DAC in a USB stick' may look like AudioQuest's previous efforts, but it's a very different beast – and a conspicuous bargain for use in the home or on the hoof

If the sincerest form of flattery is imitation, then AudioQuest must be feeling very flattered indeed. Since it launched its original DragonFly DAC/headphone amp in 2012, housed in a USB stick and aimed at laptop users, it has seen a raft of similar designs hitting the market from rival manufacturers.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Dec 05, 2019
hfnoutstandingAre the days of the disc almost over? Evidence to the contrary comes in the form of this flagship SACD/CD transport and network DAC/preamp from T+A's 'High Voltage' series

I think I can be pretty confident in saying there aren't too many new British hi-fi components out there whose development has been government-funded. Clearly they do things differently in Germany, where the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy underwrote the design and development of the network-capable DAC/preamp forming half of the subject of this test, T+A's £23,400 SDV 3100 HV. The project has borne fruit in the behemoth of a digital converter you see here, all 26kg of it, described as a 'Super High Definition Audio DAC with bit-perfect data transmission and resolutions of DSD1024 and PCM768'.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 29, 2019
At a third of the price of the Nirvana headphone amplifier reviewed in June, Auris Audio's Euterpe promises valve, er, Nirvana for solo listeners with lighter pockets

As one approaches gear at lower price points, every pound matters that much more. It's simply a fact of life: the customer for Auris Audio's Nirvana high-end headphone amp [HFN Jun '19], at £4900, might be cavalier about issues such as value-for-money, features, finish or other details. Not so the prospective client for Auris Audio's £1499 Euterpe, because the market is over-burdened with serious competitors and money is more of a determinant.

Review: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 18, 2019
hfnoutstandingFar from being just cute and compact, Pro-Ject's Box Design range is now all grown up – as this high quality CD/DAC/preamp combination so vividly demonstrates

Considering where Pro-Ject's Box Design range started, it's come a very long way. It all began with a compact and very affordable phono stage, the original Phono Box, launched as an interface between the company's wildly successful lineup of turntables – which arguably spearheaded the entire 'vinyl revival' – and the amplifiers of the time, many of which had long since dispensed with inbuilt phono equalisation.

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.

Review: Ken Kessler, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 09, 2019
hfnoutstandingLess of a 'Special Edition' than a cosmetic refresh, six years of continuous production has still brought changes to bear in ARC's flagship digital offering. We investigate...

At this stage in the decline of Compact Disc's popularity, is there still a demand for CD players like the Audio Research REF CD9 SE at a heady £14,500? Apparently so, as the original REF CD9 [HFN May '13] remains popular enough to warrant an update. The addition of the esteemed 'SE' suffix on this occasion, however, does not signal as radical a change as seen, for example, in the move from the REF 75 power amp to the REF 75SE. But what Audio Research has done makes it just different enough to warrant the new badge.

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