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Review and Measurements of Digital Amp DAC DAC HS

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of Digital Amplifier Company's DAC DAC HS (high spec) DAC. Yes, it is actually called that! It is on kind loan from a member. Seems like this was a kickstarter project. The unit tested is their first generation product and retailed for USD $1,290 I think. so not cheap.

What is cheap is the box that it comes in. It is basically a DIY project box with hobbyist like LEDs and such:

Digital Amp Company DAC DAC HS Review.jpg


No effort was put in labeling the LEDs or the rear panel.

Disappointing in this price range is lack of USB input. You are limited to a single digital input: S/PDIF.

Output is through balanced XLR connectors which I like. But then again RCA outputs are missing.

An external small and light switching power supply powers the unit.

The owner supplied a HoloAudio XEME2VE USB/SPDIF converter which I tested the DAC DAC with at the end of the review.

Let's get into measurements and see if there is premium performance here to go with the premium price.

Measurements
The dashboard measurements makes a very good first impression:
Digital Amp Company DAC DAC HS Measurements.png


It is a shame one channel comes up a bit short or this would be very near the top of the class. As it is, it is still solidly planted in our tier 1 performance report of SINAD (signal over noise and distortion):
Digital Amp Company DAC DAC HS SINAD Measurements.png


Better yet the measured performance slightly beats the specification at 0.004%. This is also the chip company TI specificies for the PCM1794A used in DAC DAC.

Such is the case with dynamic range just the same:
Digital Amp Company DAC DAC HS Dynamic Range Measurements.png


Linearity is excellent although shy of perfection:
Digital Amp Company DAC DAC HS Linearity Measurements.png


Jitter is a bit bothersome to the "eye" in this price range but not an audible concern:

Digital Amp Company DAC DAC HS jitter Measurements.png


There are clear jitter spikes as indicated by symmetrical spikes on either side of our 12 kHz tone.

Intermodulation distortion and noise story starts very well but then something intervenes to make it less than excellent:

Digital Amp Company DAC DAC HS IMD Measurements.png


I usually see a rise as we see with the Topping DX3 Pro but not this early.

Multitone test shows some anomalies too:
Digital Amp Company DAC DAC HS multi-tone Measurements.png


Don't quite like the modulated noise floor at lower frequencies. The amplitude of the distortion spikes is also high for such a class of DAC, rising to -100 dB or so.

More cracks in the armor showed up when I tested THD+N versus frequency:

Digital Amp Company DAC DAC HS THD vs Frequency Measurements.png


As you see, we have a much elevated THD+N that is frequency independent. Since this test uses 90 kHz of bandwidth (unlike the 22.4 kHz used in the Dashboard), I suspect something is going on in ultrasonics and indeed there was:

Digital Amp Company DAC DAC HS 1 kHz Tone FFT Measurements.png


We see noise shaping in the DAC in the forum of gradually rising noise floor (noise is taken from audible band and pushed here). But we also have a ton of correlated spikes going on for a long ways.

More oddities were waiting for me when I ran the white noise test to see how well the reconstruction filter gets rid of out of band frequencies:
Digital Amp Company DAC DAC HS Filter Measurements.png


This filter is definitely taking its time to attenuate out of band signals. So much so that at the limit, 22.05 kHz, it has only reduced the level by 7 dB! Ideally we would have infinite amount of attenuation. We will have to go to 24 kHz to get there.

Next I ran the squarewave test and got this:
Digital Amp Company DAC DAC HS Square Wave Measurements.png


The graph in blue is what I usually run. It is clear that the tops of the ringing waveform are chopped off/clipped. Dialing it down to -6 dB shows what it is supposed to look like (in red). Going down to -1 dB did not fix the problem and I had to go to -2 dB to essentially eliminate it. This means that on highly compressed music the DAC may clip resulting buzzing/static when it does so. Not acceptable.

Testing with HoloAudio XEME2VE USB to S/PDIF Converter
Since the owner uses these two devices together, I thought I run a couple of tests as a combo this way. Here is the dashboard:
Digital Amp Company DAC DAC HS with HoloAudio XEME2VE USB to SPDIF Converter Measurements.png


There appears to be no impact to using this USB to S/PDIF converter. Performance is fully preserved which is good.

I next tested Jitter and noise:
Digital Amp Company DAC DAC HS with HoloAudio XEME2VE USB to SPDIF Converter jitter Measurements.png


Once again performance remains the same. So either S/PDIF filtering is very good on DAC DAC or the the quality of the S/PDIF out of HoloAudio XEME2VE is similar to what comes out of my Audio Precision analyzer (to the extent that the DAC can utilize it). Either way it is good news.

XEME2VE USB to S/PDIF converter retails for USD $99 by the way. It is a solidly built black little box, powered by USB.

Conclusions
The Digital Amplifier Company's DAC DAC HS starts the show really nice but the story starts to fizzle out some as testing went on. While I admire the distortion and signal to noise ratio performance, other measurements such as square wave clipping are disappointing as is rather high out of band noise and distortion. The enclosure is a real let-down giving the feeling that one has a $50 special from China. If you are going to charge well over $1,000, you better give the owner some sense of pride in looking at the thing on their desk or stereo system.

Overall I can't recommend the DAC DAC. There are far more featured products at the same or (far) lower prices. If you want balanced output, SMSL SU-8 Version 2 is a formidable competitor at 1/6th the price for example. At similar prices SMSL D1 is cheaper and higher performance. RME ADI-2 DAC is also cheaper and full featured.

------------
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#2
Wow... that enclosure though... looking at it then to the price I actually thought it was a joke for a moment. At that price you can get pretty much any number of things that will perform as well and look way better while doing so. @March Audio's Dac1 comes to mind. Granted at $350 the case was apparently too expensive but maybe after seeing whatever this thing is in at $1,290 it's a bargain :D
 

maxxevv

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#3
Wow... that enclosure though... looking at it then to the price I actually thought it was a joke for a moment. At that price you can get pretty much any number of things that will perform as well and look way better while doing so. @March Audio's Dac1 comes to mind. Granted at $350 the case was apparently too expensive but maybe after seeing whatever this thing is in at $1,290 it's a bargain :D
That looks "garage punk" indeed.

I think I can sell the machined case (which I'm doing for myself) for my Khadas Tone Board for a pretty good price comparatively! :D:p:p
 

Jimster480

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#4
I'm not sure what to make of this....
The linearity is what? About 18 bits before it deviates?

There sure are alot of problems with ultrasonics.... its a real shame for a product costing so much $.
 

rajapruk

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#5
Dacs based on TI PCM1794A seems to get very good dynamic range. Is this chip the king-of-the-hill in that regard?

A perfectly implemented dac with PCM1794A would be nice in my system that is depending heavily on large portions of digital volume control.
 
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#6
-The price is ridiculous.
-Undoubtedly a part of "The Beauty and the Beast"
-The DAC has normal TI quality. A little too much distortion. A little bit of asymmetry. AKM is little better.
-I do not understand the rating of the filter. I call that almost perfect (cut off 22kHz). Are there better ones?

Why no photo from the PCB?
 

graz_lag

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#7
Ugly case for ugly case with inside the same high-performance TI PCM1794A DAC chip ... one can get a much better deal with i.e. a Ross Martin Audio ugly-looking DAC ...
This DA DAC DAC HS is a joke ... :facepalm:
 

rajapruk

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#8
Ugly case for ugly case with inside the same high-performance TI PCM1794A DAC chip ... one can get a much better deal with i.e. a Ross Martin Audio ugly-looking DAC ...
This DA DAC DAC HS is a joke ... :facepalm:
Hmmm, Ross Martin Audio dac looks interesting to me. Are they measured somewhere? Are they good performing?
 

graz_lag

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#12
Hmmm, Ross Martin Audio dac looks interesting to me. Are they measured somewhere? Are they good performing?
I have been dropping an eye on Google once in a while since 2013 but did not see any objective reviews so far ...
I was tempted to buy it at that time, but did not on the basis of some poor feedback abt. the delivery time and some inconsistency on the features of the delivered gears over the ordered ones ... So I decided not too take the risk.
The TI PCM1794A DAC chip still offering excellent performances also vs. the most recent chips, I would really like to find out a standalone DAC (not kit) with the said chip from a reputable manufacturer/vendor.
 
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