2015 Editors’ Choice: DACs Under $1000

Equipment report
Digital-to-analog converters
Arcam airDAC,
Channel Islands Audio Transient Mk II,
JoLida Glass FX Tube DAC III,
Meridian Direct DAC,
Micromega MyDAC,
Musical Fidelity M1 DAC,
Nuforce DAC-80,
Rotel RDD-1580,
Wadia Digital 151 PowerDAC mini
2015 Editors’ Choice: DACs Under $1000

Micromega MyDAC
Micromega’s MyDAC is entrylevel in price only. The unit looks very much like an Apple AirPort Extreme, but with a front-panel wheel to select between TosLink, coaxial, and asynchronous USB inputs. The Micromega gives you some sonic attributes usually found in much more expensive DACs—qualities like air around instruments, a sense of three-dimensional space, and a laid-back ease. Timbres are remarkably smooth and free from grain. The bass is solid and tight, although the very lowest bass lacks ultimate authority.

JoLida Glass FX Tube DAC III
$525 (wireless version, $599)
Whether matched with its companion Glass FX-10 amp or used with other electronics, the compact JoLida Glass FX Tube DAC is an incredible bargain. The attractively displayed tube output section adds great presence and pure sweetness to acoustic music like combo jazz and folk and chamber ensembles. The unit is also high in resolution and can handle complexity and refinement at once, producing punchy, satisfying, and detailed reproduction of electronic rock and orchestral music. The current DAC III version adds a volume control and headphone jack.

Channel Islands Audio Transient II
Like the other audio components from CIA, the Transient Mark II’s exterior is simple and lacks the cosmetic frills that increase a component’s cost without adding to its sonic performance. If you are contemplating spending $700 or more for a USB to S/PDIF converter or USB DAC, you should definitely consider the Channel Islands Audio Transient II. For a reasonable price it lets you keep up with the current state of USB 2.0-compliant audio, and does it beautifully.

Meridian Direct DAC
Meridian’s Direct could best be described as an Explorer with a larger portfolio. Compact yet designed for the home rather than the street, its mission is digital media—from computer audio via USB to virtually any device with an optical or SPDIF input. However, unlike Explorer, Direct uses a pair of unbalanced RCA output jacks permitting audiophiles to exploit the potential of interconnect options. With included Meridian resolution enhancements such as upsampling and apodising, it’s a sonic knockout in the bargain, recapturing much ofthe realism and dimensionality so often missing from digital images. A cost-effective solution for inoculating a system against digital obsolescence.

Arcam airDAC
Tired of being limited to highres audio only in your listening room? The Arcam airDAC is the perfect solution for those who have second systems in another room, but have no way of connecting it to the main system or home network. Even if a wired Ethernet connection is available, the Arcam airDAC will help stream high-res music to your system. A sleek app for smartphones and the iPad allow control of music. RCA output is great for instant high-res to a system, or optical out allows for connection with a component DAC. Airplay and Ethernet UPnP enabled, the airDAC allows you to harness modern connectivity and bring your system into the twenty-first century.

NuForce DAC-80
One thousand to twelve hundred 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.

Musical Fidelity M1 DAC
The M1 DAC looks to be an exercise in simplicity but its performance will strike fear into the hearts of pricey USB DACs everywhere. It supports every sample rate from 32kHz to 192kHz and has a complete set of inputs including USB (now capable of doing 24/96 asynchronously) and S/PDIF and more. The result is a superior soundstage, palpable images, and fast transient attacks.

Rotel RDD-1580
If you’re in need of a highquality DAC capable of PCM audio up to 192kHz/24-bit at an affordable price (and who isn’t), Rotel has designed a DAC capable of producing audiophile-quality sound at box-store prices. With six digital inputs, including USB, coax, and optical, plus the ability to stream Bluetooth audio from your favorite portable devices, the Rotel RDD-1580 is a DAC that will blow you away without blowing the budget.

Wadia 151 PowerDac
For only slightly more than a 21.5" iMac you can own a device that will form the backbone of a revealing and musical desktop or bedroom system. Coupled with a pair of top-echelon monitor speakers such as the Paradigm S1s, Aerial Acoustics 5Bs, or ATC SCM 7s, the 25Wpc Wadia 151 delivers sonics that should enthrall anyone.