Magazine article Gramophone

A Highly Competitive Digital-to-Analogue Converter from One of the Bigger Names in Mainstream Audio: No Job's Too Big or Too Small for This Value-for-Money Compact Desktop DAC

Magazine article Gramophone

A Highly Competitive Digital-to-Analogue Converter from One of the Bigger Names in Mainstream Audio: No Job's Too Big or Too Small for This Value-for-Money Compact Desktop DAC

Article excerpt

Now we're well into the Second Age of the DAC, things are shaping up much the same as they did first time round, when we were all being encouraged to upgrade our CD players. Back then, at the end of the 1980s, a trickle of specialist hi-fi companies offering digital-to-analogue converters was soon swollen as just about every accessory and mainstream hi-fi company joined in; more recently, the reinvention of DACs as an add-on for computer-based audio systems has attracted just about every company still standing in audio (and quite a few names either previously unknown or more celebrated in the studio or computer markets) to launch their own converters.

Denon is the latest to launch its own 'desktop DAC', the DA-300USB, hot on the heels of the likes of TEAC's UD-H01 and UD-501, and Sony's neat UDA-1 DAC/amplifier combination.

As the model designation suggests, this is a USB-connectable DAC, and it undercuts its Japanese rivals with a very competitive 329 [pounds sterling] price tag. It's packaged in a compact enclosure--around 17cm square and 5.5cm tall--and is also able to be used standing vertically (with a clip-on stand provided in the box) to reduce the amount of desktop space it occupies, with a clever automatic adjustment of the orientation of its display when so used.

It has a bit-transparent asynchronous USB input able to accept content at up to 24-bit/192kHz as well as DSD 2.8MHz and 5.6Mhz, which it handles using DoP (DSD Audio over PCM frames), and the USB input's interface ground circuit is isolated from the converter's audio section to exclude noise from computers.

Alongside the USB input are three more S/PDIF digital inputs (one coaxial/electrical and two opticals, all capable of handling up to 24/192 files), a high-quality headphone stage with its own volume control and a pair of fixed-level analogue outputs.

The DA-300USB uses Denon's proprietary Advanced AL32 Processing, designed to enhance the 'reproducibility of weak signals ... by expanding 16 bit digital data to 32 bit', feeding 3 2-bit/ 192kHz-compatible digital-to-analogue conversion. Independent master clock crystals for 44.1kHz and 48kHz are used to ensure incoming signals are clocked accurately at any sample frequency.

PERFORMANCE

Used with my MacBook Air laptop, the Denon offered plug and play operation --drivers will be needed for Windows computers--and was soon demonstrating just what it could do, with a smooth, easy-going presentation of a wide range of music. …

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