This review addressed two issues: 1) how the exaSound e20 sounds, and 2) how DSD music files sound. For me, listening to DSD files was a new experience, which the e20 made possible. And what an experience it was! Based on the limited number of DSD files I had available, DSD files are quite spectacular. I know lots of readers find it amusing when reviewers rave about new equipment, but for me DSD files made all the PCM files I’ve heard, even the highest-resolution PCM files, sound, well, digital. In a world where the highest accolade for digital gear is how much it sounds like analog, DSD files are off the scale. I’m going to have to think long and hard about whether I’ll ever download another high-resolution PCM file. A listening buddy and hi- fi dealer who has so far been a staunch analog holdout was so thoroughly impressed that he went away planning to implement DSD playback in his store. It’s too early to tell if DSD files will become widely available, but I hope so. Pricing them at the same level as 192/24 files might greatly speed up their acceptance.
For me, the exaSound e20 was a game-changer. It played standard PCM files extremely capably, but its greatest strength was its ability to play DSD files in their native format, which took my system to a new and higher level. The e20 is an attractive, compact, and clearly thoughtfully-designed example of a modern DAC. It produced a rich detailed sonic picture, with solid bass and extended high frequencies. I heartily recommend that if you’re in the market for a new DAC, you consider one with DSD-playback capability, like the exaSound e20.
SPECS & PRICING
Inputs: S/PDIF via RCA and TosLink, USB mini
Sample rates supported: PCM-44.k, 48k, 88.2k, 96k, 176.4k, 192k, 352.8k, 384k up to 32 bits; DSD at 2.82M and 5.64M; TosLink is limited to a maximum 96k, RCA S/PDIF to a maximum 192k
Analog output level: Unbalanced via RCA jacks, 2V RMS; balanced via XLR jacks, 4V RMS
Line output impedance: 200 ohms
Headphone output impedance: 1 ohm
Headphone output current: 250mA peak
Dimensions: 6.5" x 2.2" x 7.9"
Weight: 1.653 lbs.
exaSound Audio Design
3219 Yonge Street, Suite 354
Canada M4N 3S1
Speakers: Affirm Audio Lumination speakers
Amplifier: Audio Research VS 115 stereo amplifier
Preamplifier: Audio Research LS27 linestage
Sources: Hewlett Packard dv7-3188cl laptop computer running 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium and Foobar2000 music server software version 1.1.15, Auraliti PK100 music player, Audio Research DAC8
Interconnects: Clarity Cables Organic interconnects, Audience Au24e balanced interconnects,
Speaker cables: Clarity Cables Organic loudspeaker cables
Power cords: Purist Audio Design Venustas power cords, Clarity Cables Vortex power cords, Audience powerChord e power cords
Digital: Wireworld Gold Starlight 6 S/PDIF cable and Audioquest Diamond USB cable