I picked up this little DAC after christmas, following some other low budget hifi upgrades, like a little tube pre-amp, a 6J1 clone with a set of 6J1-p EV Russian tubes. I hoped this might bring a bit more out of Spotify, which I love for convenience. Like nails on a chalkboard to those lovers of FLAC and other lossless formats but I went in not knowing much, maybe I didn’t google it just right but it seemed hard to find out if any dedicated DAC made a difference to the sound of anything less than lossless. I get that best case tests are the form for hifi enthusiasts and reviewers but enquiring minds would like to know.
Using the DAC
I hooked this up with USB because my PC looks like a pile of parts in a shelf until you fire it up so I can’t remember if I have optical output on that board, anyway, you’ve got Co-ax, optical and the aforementioned USB to play with for inputs. Output is just stereo RCAs, fine for me apart from being one pair short at the time, meaning I had to pool the cigar box VU meters from the loop at first.
Setup is just plugging it in, 9v adapter, input, outputs, done. USB installation was a no brainer, just switch to that device for playback and away you go.
What I’m using it with
My set up, like my computer has a scrapyard vibe around it. The Amps a Rotel RA-312, 70’s, it’s a solid machine, the speakers are Wharfedale W30D Super Lintons, which nobody seems to know a damn thing about, anyway, all original after repairing the jellyfish tweeters, My up front speakers are Sansui S-500u, fairly decent all rounders. Then it gets hookier with the bare board 6J1 pre-amp sitting beside the SMSL
The Sound Quality
The change was pretty sudden for me, I had music enhancements turned on with my built in sound card, which delivered punchiness but made it a bit bass heavy. The DAC initially sounded boring in comparison, however detail was definitely better. On Spotify, the main reason I bought one of these – to get more out of the standard issue, not the super amazing lossless stuff – the difference is there, it’s not gigantic but on the whole things have a cleaner sound to them. To try and get to the bottom of that I listened to a really horrible old youtube rip of an amazing version of Allman Brother’s Blue sky, the signs of heavy compression are still there, however they’re handled better, the cymbals don’t crash on as badly, the whole thing’s a bit less offensive.
On the whole this is an upgrade, it seems to handle playing games fine too, it makes things better and it doesn’t cost the earth, so I’m pretty pleased with it. For my punching above its weight bottom rung audio system it’s a perfect fit and I think it would serve well until you start getting really serious about audio. I do suspect that a number of similarly priced DACs available from Chinese sellers directly would perform in a similar manner but can’t verify that.
A good upgrade until the midrange, well paired with an HTPC or a do all system like my own. Probably won’t make a difference with your in the box computer speakers but connected to something alright you’ll get a return on buying it.