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Review and Measurements of KORG DS-DAC-100

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the KORG DS-DAC-100 Balanced DAC and headphone amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. It retails for USD $446 with free shipping from Amazon.

If you are not familiar with KORG, they are a Japanese company which has been producing professional audio products for years. They have a respectable reputation. Given that and high price of this unit, my expectations of fidelity was high.

Perhaps the most claim to fame of the KORG DS-DAC-100 is its very unusual industrial design, harkening to the science fiction modern style of 1960s:

KORG DS-DAC-100 DAC and Headphone Amp Review.jpg

In a word: it is adorable! :)

Note the spikes below that act as feet. With the bit of weight the unit has, you better careful in putting it on top of your precious wood desk or other surface that can scratch.

As I noted earlier, this DAC has balanced XLR outputs. But unusually at this price, it has no other inputs than USB. This is fine for me in desktop application but will likely be a concern for some others who may want to connect other devices to the unit.

Also strange is the fact that the unit is USB powered. Getting decent output from XLR connections may be a problem and at any rate, unusual again at this price point.

All of this simplifies the unit though: you just have a volume control for the 1/4 inch headphone jack and that is that. The rear outputs are fixed.

The DS-DAC-100 doesn't appear to be UAC2 compliant so plugging it into my WIndows 10 system did nothing. I had to download a massive package to the tune of 200 Megabytes just to get the drivers. The rest was for their player app which emphasizes DSD playback.

Let's get into the measurements and see how she does. Note: I tested the DS_DAC-100 using ASIO4ALL wrapper around KORG's WDM (windows driver). Attempting to use the native KORG ASIO driver simply crashed the Audio Precision analyzer app.

Measurements
As usual, we start with our dashboard view with RCA outputs:
KORG DS-DAC-100 DAC and Headphone Amp Measurements.png


Output level is fine at 2 volts but distortion is disappointing.

Contributing to that distortion figure is extra spikes that are not harmonically related to the main 1 kHz tone the DAC is being asked to produce. Here is the FFT with higher resolution showing that:

KORG DS-DAC-100 DAC and Headphone Amp 1 kHz Zoomed Measurements.png


That is really strange. Even more strange is the fact that changing the signal tone changes those extra spikes. Here is the output when the DAC is fed 3 kHz tone:

KORG DS-DAC-100 DAC and Headphone Amp 3 kHz Zoomed Measurements.png


Something is really broken here. The problem is in digital domain as balanced output shows the same issue:

KORG DS-DAC-100 DAC and Headphone Amp Balanced Measurements.png


We have a new problem here is the output level does not change at all! We are supposed to get 4 volts, not 2 volts. I wonder if these are dummy XLR connectors that are just tied to RCA outs and there are no balanced drivers.

Needless to say, SINAD (signal relative to noise and distortion) is disappointing compared to previously tested DAC:

KORG DS-DAC-100 DAC and Headphone Amp SINAD Table Measurements.png


It sits in tier three with one being the best, and four the worst.

Intermodulation distortion tests follow the dashboard THD+N figures naturally:
KORG DS-DAC-100 DAC and Headphone Amp IMD Measurements.png


Note how the balanced and unbalanced have identical performance. And at any rate, both are much worse than our reference, $250 Topping DX3 Pro.

Dynamic range is predictably the same for both outputs:

KORG DS-DAC-100 DAC and Headphone Amp DNR Measurements.png


There are some positives here such as jitter:
KORG DS-DAC-100 DAC and Headphone Amp Jitter Measurements.png


This is very nice performance. Linearity likewise is near perfect:
KORG DS-DAC-100 DAC and Headphone Amp Linearity Measurements.png


For the fans of our 32-tone test signal, here is that for both outputs:
KORG DS-DAC-100 DAC and Headphone Amp Multitone Measurements.png


Switching to headphone output performance we see nice, low output impedance of less than 1 ohm:
KORG DS-DAC-100 DAC and Headphone Amp Output Impedance Measurements.png


That good news evaporates though when we measure power versus distortion and noise:
KORG DS-DAC-100 DAC and Headphone Amp Power at 300 Ohm Measurements.png


The KORG DS-DAC-100 gets us coming and going. It has more noise and distortion while producing a fraction of power that our reference Topping DX3 Pro produces.

Story repeats itself at 33 ohm:
KORG DS-DAC-100 DAC and Headphone Amp Power at 33 Ohm Measurements.png


These are just not competitive numbers.

Listening Tests
I played my headphone test tracks using my Sennheiser HD-650. There simply is not enough power here. On the famous "Limbo" track from Yello, I could not get anything close to enough volume or satisfactory bass sensation out of the KORG DS-DAC-100. On other tracks it did OK but OK is not the name of the game in premium desktop DAC and headphone products.

Conclusions
I have been lusting after KORG DS-DAC-100 ever saw its picture and really cute industrial design. Whoever did that work needs to get a raise. Likewise some aspects of the circuit design responsible for good linearity and jitter deserve some praise. But the news gets ugly really fast from there on. Overall distortion and noise metrics are not competitive. We have design flaws with non-harmonic and frequency dependent spurious tones. Maybe those things are not audible but lack of output power certainly is.

This product needs to be redesigned with external power, much beefier headphone amplifier and fixed digital implementation. Then it would be a winner. As it is, I have to give the KORG DS-DAC-100 a failing grade.

-------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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Veri

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#3
I think this device was simply too ambitious. RCA/XLR(balanced 4V??) line-out and/or head-amp all from USB power? Yeah, no, something was going to be disappointing here.. :oops:

Thanks for the review @amirm
 

teej

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#5
It comes with feet for the spikes which I didn't include when I sent it. I've been quite happy with the sound of this one, but I can def. see the power being lacking. Also it's the coolest-looking piece of gear I've ever owned.
 

amirm

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#7
Also it was right around $100 when I bought it a few years ago. It has gone up quite a bit since then as they no longer make this specific model.
Ah, the it is/was a good deal! Did you buy it new for $100?
 

graz_lag

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#8
This latest review is - once again, the pure & simple example of how impressively helpful @amirm 's measurements are for all AUDIOPHILES ... :cool:

I bought this KORG DAC after reviewing the following review from Qobuz : :mad:
https://www.qobuz.com/ch-fr/info/hi-fi-guide/in-english/korg-ds-dac-100-a-qobuz-thumbs-up175690
OK, I paid $180 for it ... fact which alleviates a bit the disappoint ... :rolleyes: (but am not the member who's loaned it to @amirm ...)

Currently, I am using it only on DSD, for which I paste the frequency responses of this KORG DAC vs. the Chord HUGO, using a test signal designed for 192kHz sampling (converted to DSD using the KORG AudioGate software)

1547067829608.png


1547067840739.png
 
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graz_lag

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#9
Yeah, there is some potential in this unit for further development, not so sure however whether KORG has interest in pursuing that.
It looks to me that those "music recording-gears" premium manufacturers try - once in a while, to explore the Hi-Fi market, with more or less some acceptable results, however without a real consistency in terms of gear R&Ds and marketing.
They come as to taste the cake, then they leave.
 

yummy

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#10
another guy bravewashed by schiit

I will tell you once again

either D/S, or R2R

D/S is not acutally 1bit, actually 5bit or 6bit, they call D/S 1bit out of convenience

true 1bit (true DSD 1bit don't you dare exclude DSD here) is just a few resistors, yeah, a few resistors you can rightfully saying DSD1024 capacity (thd+n might be -10db, that doesn't matter)

sbaf is A bad bad place, lobo level
 

confucius_zero

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#13
so it's a Multibit Delta-Sigma ... you can have it both ways?! (like the topping D30...)
 

Jimster480

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#14
so it's a Multibit Delta-Sigma ... you can have it both ways?! (like the topping D30...)
All modern Delta-sigma are multi bit internally and then pass the same samples over sometimes 100 times before it even outputs because the frequency internally is so high it can fundamentally perfect the output using much fewer internal resources (also less power and heat) vs R2R.

Edit:

My friend has one of these and I believe he paid $150 last year. I originally told him to mail it in here, but he has been using it.
For $150 overall the performance is not bad.
I personally tested the unit and didn't find any specific flaws with it and listened to it with a variety of headphones and it did just fine.
Now showing the 0 ohm output impedance it made sense as to why it sounded similar to my JDS O2 rather than the Topping A30.

I can say that it did seem a tad warmer, even through the A30 or JDS O2 vs my Topping DX7 when testing using my various test tracks.
 
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#15
@amirm
You should change the pricing of this unit to around $150-180 because it is a discontinued product.
Is the original retail price around $400ish?
 

Headphonaholic

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#16
Also it was right around $100 when I bought it a few years ago. It has gone up quite a bit since then as they no longer make this specific model.
Thank you for providing this bit of info and for sending it in for measurement! I think at $100 the performance is fine. At the current price it seems like scam centered around the unique design.

I think sometimes these companies try these unique designs to lure people in. Reality is they probably spent more time working on the case design instead of the actual internals.

They probably also should have focused on making a good dac instead of also throwing in headphone functionality as well. Might have been more successful that way.
 

Jimster480

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#18
Thank you for providing this bit of info and for sending it in for measurement! I think at $100 the performance is fine. At the current price it seems like scam centered around the unique design.

I think sometimes these companies try these unique designs to lure people in. Reality is they probably spent more time working on the case design instead of the actual internals.

They probably also should have focused on making a good dac instead of also throwing in headphone functionality as well. Might have been more successful that way.
I think the problem is due to the single power input over USB. There is simply too much going on to get power from USB only.
 

amirm

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#19
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