Was it hard to resist about this review and test offer? Well... not really! It was really a no-brainer to jump on the wagon when Angel Despotov from Analog Domain asked me about evaluating his latest creation.

I've already explored some of the Analog Domain electronics over the past few years and to be honest, I was quite intrigued with the addition of the DAC to the Analog Domain portfolio. It's one thing to create and marvel with amplifiers designs, but creating the DAC from the ground up is no easy task for any audio designer. Especially with Analog Domain, the broader critical crowd out there have 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 the high-end audio universe and instantly claim the ultimate conquering of the subtle mechanics, as well to deal with the "suck in" market effect.

But if something very different is born out of such, more daring quest, that reflects the reality with a higher degree or augments 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. Analog Domain double-decker clearly avoids ébauches, but rather operates in the realms of définitif solutions, where music is the king and main focus.


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 downsampled 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 the 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.

Do 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.


"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 the 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 the 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.


Angel Despotov like and love to exhibit the dynamic abilities of his proud creations. So I've jumped on board and went through numerous challenging tracks. One of the albums, that can really put any high-end audio product under the serious stress is Acoustica: Alarm Will Sound Performs Aphex Twin. A whole album is tour de force, but especially The Blue Calx pushes everything to the extremes. 

Yes, the dynamic ability of the DAC is surely among the more important attributes, but it's not a sole feature to get glued to unconditionally. To the point... While some DACs and high-end audio electronics are able to provide the general potent dynamic impact, they fail to render the subtle/finer inner mechanics of the music properly. In this scenario, dynamic signature simply steps forward and mask the small finer details, that are crucial in recreating believable musical illusion. Angel had avoided this particular path with the DAC1. 

While rendering the massive and forceful Alarm Will Sound musical encounter, there was no crushing and camouflaging of the inner details with Analog Domain DAC1. That is a rare feature even in DAC1 given price range and worthy alone of highlighting.  

For the immediacy Sam Cooke - Night Beat's Lost and Lookin' is among on-hand reference tracks. This album is exemplary and shows how good studio album can really sound. Sam's vocal is pure, direct and instantly captivating. If everything is on the proper plane music will simply drag you into the momentum. Again, DAC1 was not in the way of purity and directness. Sam's vocal was of the proper size and three-dimensional shading. Even with some top-tier DACs, the double bass and ride cymbal takes away the vocal's focus. Not with DAC1. Sam Cooke singing and vocal formation was firm, believable and captivating from the beginning to the end of the song...

I guess most of you know a-ha, the Norwegian pop band, that was highly popular in mid-eighties of the twenty century. Fast forward 30 years to the MTV Unplugged – Summer Solstice, 2017's live album by a-ha. Sort of an unexpected recording, but very different and special. I strongly recommend watching the live event video to get a grip on the mood and surroundings of the Harbour Hall at Ocean Sound Recordings in Giske.  

Morten Harket, Magne Furuholmenand Paul Waaktaar-Savoy acoustic renditions of the well-known material and some unreleased tracks include guitars, strings, woodwinds, harpsichord, harmonium. mallet percussion, lap steel etc. 

For most the highlight of the concert was surely a timeless Take on Me, arranged by Martin Terefe. This slowed down version might be too melancholic and poignant for many, but Morten Harket rendition of their most know hit single is completely out of the box. 

It's all about the emotional discharge and interaction. Somehow the sound of the album differs from track to track. At moments it feels like the mix is too dense with too many instruments in action, but Take on Me simplicity radiates above just being potent. Analog Domain DAC1 enormous speed and transparency never interfered with the vibrancy and emotional message of the song. Sometimes the un-natural transparency takes away the energetic density, connected with the emotive vibrancy, yet with DAC1 this was not lost in the translation. 

There are many ways, that music affects us and if we forget about the interactional part of the music, then we simply cannot talk about high-end audio reproduction. Along with technical proficiency, the ability to deliver unchanged music's message can never be neglected. DAC1 performed with more than a healthy balance, delivering a captivating, involving and highly affecting momentum. 

DAC1 strength expanded across many genres and acted with multifaceted, chameleon-like nature easily adapting to the minute differences of the various music. This is certainly the digital music box for the music lovers, that are not sticking to any particular music's genre or sound orientation. 


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 than 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 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.

For not being the biggest fan of sigma-delta this was a quite surprising sonic treat and ear/mind opening experience. M5865 chip is almost exclusively used in the best professional equipment. It's a 5-bit r2r-enhanced delta sigma, working at really high octane speeds. This is, in fact, a 31-level ladder enhanced delta sigma because the actual ladder is not resistive. It features a dual fully differential topology, that promises the lowest distortion of any DAC chip. This particular concept has been taken further in the design of the DAC1 right up to the output - full symmetry of all subsequent circuits. Angel firmly states how this practically eliminates the distortion. So this gives a hint about the refreshing and stand-out sonic impact.

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 than 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 a few contemporary DACs, that are not exactly shy when it comes to the hefty price tag.

Angel Despotov and his team did their homework more than right and the result is the DAC, that continues the Analog Domain tradition with both aesthetics and sound performance with bold and proud standing. DAC1 combines sleek, contemporary-German stylish looks with a vibrant hearth, that deserves a recognition. For what it represents I'm happily awarding it with the Mono and stereo Upper Echelon Product Award

Matej Isak


- no volume, is €18'450 (including VAT 19%)
- with volume €19'900 ((including VAT 19%)


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.


Analog Domain Audio GmbH
Bergstr. 12
D-82024 Taufkirchen

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