One thousand to twelvehundred dollars seems to be a price that many manufacturers are aiming at with their latest high-performance USBenabled DACs. NuForce’s entry at this hotly contested price point delivers excellent sound combined with a useful feature set, making it one of the products that should be on anyone’s short list if he’s in the market for an under-$1200 USB DAC/pre.
Lindemann USB-DAC 24/192
The Lindeman USB DAC is a small silver-tone box with a single circular push-button on the front. The rear panel contains inputs for USB, TosLink, and SPDIF, and one pair of RCA singleended outputs. With its 1.4-volt maximum output, the Lindemann may lack sufficient gain to drive a system with a passive preamp to full volume levels. But if you use the USB DAC 24/192 with an active preamp its output level won’t be a problem. And if audio quality is your primary criterion you’ll be hardpressed to find a DAC that convincingly beats it.
Wadia 121 DAC
The completely digital Wadia 121 has no analog inputs or built-in ADC to convert analog to digital. It supports up to 192/24 PCM files via its AES/EBU, S/PDIF, and USB inputs. Though SS can’t say that the Wadia “blows away the competition” (these days very few products do), he can state confidently that few, if any, potential purchasers will be disappointed by its sonics or ergonomics. He could happily live with the Wadia 121 for the foreseeable future; it’s simply that good.
M2Tech Young DAC
Priced at $1499 with a wallwart power supply or $2998 with the Palmer battery power supply, the Young DAC falls into the low-to-middle price range for a high-resolution DAC. The Young builds on the advances of the HiFace USB interface, but with additional inputs, greater resolution capabilities, and its own built-in digital-to-analog converter. An ideal digital hub and D/A converter for anyone who already owns a great analog preamp.
Wyred4Sound has combined a rich feature set with remarkable performance at a price that makes the DAC-2 hard to beat. Factor in the DAC-2’s current 192kHz high-resolution capabilities and built-in circuit board upgradability, and you have a DAC that will remain au courant long enough to make it a satisfying purchase, regardless of how much more you can afford to spend.
Benchmark DAC 1 Pre
According to REG, this controversial unit delivers absolutely top-quality performance that belies its small size and modest price. For its amazing sound quality, jitter-suppressing D-to- A conversion, and superb analog linestage, all at a modest price, REG called it “the beginning of a new era in audio”; the reaction of others has been more mixed.
Electrocompaniet Prelude PD-1
Touch-controlled and userfriendly, the PD-1 USB/DAC makes a real sonic improvement in a hard-drive-based music system. Thanks to the processing power of its 24-bit/192kHz upsampling DAC, the PD-1 sounds open, precise, and focused, with a pleasing treble devoid of digital glazing. It also boasts inputs that can be changed on the fly and, since volume can be adjusted as with a preamp, you can run the PD-1 directly into a set of active speakers or an amplifier.