ANALOG DOMAIN DAC1 DAC REVIEW PART 1

Was it hard to resist about this review and test offering? Well... No! For me it was no brainer to jump on the wagon when Angel Despotov from Analog Domain asked me about evaluating his latest creation.

I've explored some of Analog Domain electronics over the past few years and to be honest, I was quite intrigued with addition of the DAC to the Analog Domain portfolio. It's one thing to design and marvel with amplifiers. Creating the DAC from ground up is no easy task for any audio designer and especially with Analog Domain, the broader critical crowd is out here having the highest expectations.

In my role, along exploring product's performance, the important task is to understand the mindset and passion of designer and convey it to the wider audience.

The real luxury of this part of the work is discovering intriguing people, who’re trying to achieve something different with their approach to the higher level of music reproduction.

It's not exactly easy for any audio designer to dive into the black hole of high end audio universe and instantly claim the ultimate conquering of the subtle mechanics, as well to deal with the "suck in" market affect.

But if something very different is born out of such, more daring quest, that reflects the reality with a higher degree or augment the sonic illusion in a new, refreshing way, then I'm always thrilled to dig deeper and report about it.

‘You can learn some entrepreneurial skills, but the entrepreneurial attitude cannot be taught.’ - Ludwick Marishane

Ludwick’s quote sums up Angel Despotov’s character and Analog Domain raison d'être spot on. AD double decker avoid ébauches, but rather operates in the realms of définitif solutions, where music is the king and main focus.

THE DAC1

The Analog Domain DAC1 was designed from the ground up as a high performance state of the art digital to analog converter, that could convey a faithful reproduction of the music.

DAC1 accepts all current and (future) digital formats up to S/PDIF 384kHz/32bits, DSD64 (1x), DSD128 (2x) and DSD256 (4x).

“Our focus has been on maximizing the DAC1’s performance with existing material while looking ahead toward upcoming formats. It’s worth noting that recordings in “native” mode are mostly done at 96kHz/24bits, rarely at 192kHz/24bits and even less so at DSD128. The vast majority of recorded music is down sampled to 44.1 kHz, 16 bits. Maximum performance of the DAC1 will be obtained with higher resolutions, of course.”

“The attached block diagram will reveal what we do differently. Some measurement results for the tech-savvy. Smoothing or averaging was deliberately not applied in order to reveal the full picture, and we have nothing to hide. We're quite happy with the result, actually!” - Angel Despotov

All input data, regardless of its format, is converted to 24 bits and asynchronously resampled at a very high rate. DSD is unpacked, converted to PCM and resampled. The resampled data enters a Digital Filter. The Digital Filter is configured in optimal mode for the output format of the Sample Rate Converter, therefore there are no user-selectable filter modes. Data then enters the DAC stage where it is converted into an analog signal.

“Jitter essentially loses its meaning in this configuration. Input data jitter is practically irrelevant." The Asynchronous Sample Rate Converter takes care of proper word alignment and timing during conversion. The three digital blocks are synchronized to a single, high precision clock to ensure perfect timing. Any CD transport can be used with the DAC1, not requiring external re-clocking or clocking from the DAC1.

The actual DAC stage is a differential output (balanced) design. Its residual distortion is approximately 0.00035% at full scale output, consistent for all input formats. At typical output levels of -10dBFS the distortion falls off to 0.0001% (-120dB) and becomes essentially zero at levels below -20dBFS at -130dB.

Does this matters!? It does in the AD book of truth. "It’s during the quiet passages that DAC distortion becomes most noticeable. One bit is lost with every 6dB reduction in level, therefore a 16-bit DAC will be working effectively at 14-bit resolution or less most of the time. This is the reason why early designs created a bad reputation for digital audio. We hope to rectify this misunderstanding."

And speaking about the dynamic range. Is 130dB enough? "It is more than enough, and here’s why: a signal which is -130dB lower relative to the full scale output voltage of 2Vrms has an amplitude of 3 million times less, or 0.7 microvolts. That is less than many amplifiers’ input-referred noise voltage. ‘We can confidently say that the DAC1 will have an insignificant noise contribution, if any, to the signal chain."

Analog volume control can be optionally installed on the DAC1 as a factory-add-on option, and its the same design as in M75 series of the amplifiers, with remote control.

OPERATION

"We’d like you to relax while enjoying your favorite music instead of fumbling around with meaningless settings or worrying about numbers. We’ve done it for you. The DAC1’s goal is to bring back the enjoyment of music. The user interface and layout have been carefully considered for ease of use. The input data rate is not displayed on the front panel for that reason, and, as demonstrated with the above measurement results and verified in extensive listening test - because it is practically irrelevant with the DAC1."

All the controls on the front panel are simple and straightforward. On the far left side there is on/off power button followed by the array of input select buttons. On the right side red LCD display shows the selected input when button is pressed and it dims out slowly.

On the back side, the left place is reserved for XLR and RCA outputs, followed by digital inputs (SPDIF, OPTICAL, USB, AES EBU), mains voltage selector, in/out triggers, IEC connector and main on/off switch.

Analog Domain DAC1 follows the M75 aesthetics and simplicity of operation. As described above it was first and foremost designed to be an instant play machine.

SUM UP

Angel Despotov already made his evident impact in the high end audio with his wide range of amplifiers. I've been among the first ones who spot something very different within the path, than Angel has taken and I'm more then glad for having a chance to follow and report closely about Analog Domain products over the years.

Analog Domain DAC1 encapsulates similar sonic DNA, that's been carried across all AD products; the unique ability to fuse technology with the musical heart.

Angel is no shy when it comes to speaking about his proud creations and he's also among few designers, that won't hide into the rabbit hole when you start throwing questions at him.

DAC1 embrace the transparency, lighting fast dynamic and balanced voicing. It's interesting how some manufactures gets instantly nervous if you bring out this exact subject in discussion. Why? There are many possible reasons, but no matter how good or highly praised any high end brand’s engineer or team is, the “voicing” part of development represents a crucial process in the high end audio. This is where the fruits differ from the weed.

As with all of the Analog Domain products, the DAC 1 went through the extensive listenings. And it shows! Of course the usual high end scope of technical evaluations is always needed. Not just to comfort tech savvy, but to provide an insights into how and why particular product differ and stand on its own and DAC1 measurements are leveling with the real world aural data, accumulated and written in my listening notes.

Analog Domain first born digital reveal the world of the music with the stand out gestalt and captivating performance. DAC1 employs transparency and dynamic potency in the service of the music, rather then just serving the raw-mechanical workings.

In the era where transparency is too often mistaken for something very different, DAC1 operates in absence of lackadaisical attributes, that became almost defacto connected with quite few contemporary DACs, that are not exactly shy when it comes to the price.

Angel Despotov and his team did their homework more then right and the result is the DAC, that continues the Analog Domain tradition with both aesthetics and sound performance with bold and proud standing.

In the part two I'll focus on the music and conclude the review.

PRICE


TECHNICAL INFO

The DAC1 has the same dimensions as the M75 range of amplifiers, 440x400mm, and is available in matching finishing options.
Height with feet: approx. 90mm.
Weight – approx. 12kg. 115/230V user- selectable.

CONTACT

Analog Domain Audio GmbH
Bergstr. 12
D-82024 Taufkirchen
Germany

Tel.: +49 (0) 1608 173 193
Mobile: +49 (0) 1520 202 54 04

mail: info@analogdomain.eu
web: www.analogdomain.eu