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.

Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 13, 2024
hfnoutstandingBuilding on the earlier D2 platform, Lumin's equally compact D3 model features a new processor, new DAC, LeedH volume control and support for increased file sample rates

It's not only loudspeaker brands playing the trickle-down technology game. Lumin's D3, its new entry-level streaming DAC, borrows liberally from the Hong Kong manufacturer's costlier network hardware, utilising elements both inside and out to effect a comprehensive upgrade on the previous D2 [HFN Jul '20]. Its maker says the D3 'brings the audiophile potential of music streaming within everyone's reach', and while the £2195 price tag makes that somewhat debatable, it certainly has plenty of appeal.

Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  May 04, 2023
hfnoutstandingArguably the 'sweet spot' in Lumin's range of network-attached players, the new T3 retains the core features of its costlier models, including full use of the super-slick app

The product catalogue of Hong Kong's Lumin, neatly divided between four network players, three network transports, and one-off power amp and streaming amp options, deserves the description 'small but perfectly formed'. That would also be an apt way of looking at its T3, a network player/DAC possessing a neat, easy-to-accommodate design and a feature roster designed to satisfy the needs of the performance-hungry streaming audio enthusiast. In essence, it takes much of what's offered by Lumin's flagship one-box P1 [HFN Jul '22], but trims the spec. (and size) down to a price point of £4195, almost half that of its bigger brother.

Review: Jamie Biesemans, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Oct 17, 2022
hfncommendedJust as Marantz's 40n integrated takes its design cues from models of yesteryear, the partnering CD 60 player confirms the brand's commitment to the 'legacy' silver disc

Is there really a CD revival on the horizon? Rolling Stone magazine kicked off the year bristling with optimism about the return of the Compact Disc but, behind the hype, there's little dispute that this physical format offers great lossless fidelity and costs next to nothing secondhand. Until audio hipsters cotton on to the trend, of course... Sound United, owner of the Marantz and Denon brands among others, concurs, which is why it's launching not one but two CD spinners in 2022. We're not going to talk about the entry-level Denon DCD-900NE here, but about the still very affordable £749 Marantz CD 60.

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: Andrew Everard, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Nov 17, 2022
hfnoutstandingMatrix Audio's Element X2 introduces design, control and input upgrades to the X's network DAC/headphone amp and preamp. All this and a colour touchscreen to boot

At first glance, one might wonder why Matrix Audio felt any need to update its Element X network DAC [HFN Jan '21], the latter receiving our 'Outstanding Product' tag at £2795. However, look at this new X2 model and – while it's still conceptually the same, with a broad retention of technology from the ESS ES9038PRO DAC to the Crystek clock – it's clear much has also changed.

Review: Mark Craven, Lab: Paul Miller  |  Jan 23, 2024
Pure in name and hi-fi heart, Matrix Audio's 10th anniversary Element X2 model loses its headphone amp but gains a pair of new, cutting-edge ESS Sabre DACs

While the list of 'legacy products' on Matrix Audio's website begins with the DA-100 Plus DAC, which debuted in 2006, the Chinese brand insists it only really began life in 2013 when it was registered as Matrix Electronic Technology Co. 'Before that, Matrix Audio existed in the form of a studio', says marketing manager Yang Tao. This explains why the literature for the new Element X2 Pure network DAC (and the sticker that graces the top of the unit) proclaims it a celebratory model, launched to mark the company's 10th anniversary.

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.

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