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Review and Measurements of Sony UDA-1 DAC & Amp

amirm

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#1
This is a review and detailed measurements of the Sony UDA-1 DAC, headphone and power (speaker) amplifier. It is on kind loan from a member. It seems the UDA-1 was released back in 2014 with a retail price of US $799. Depending on the color, I see used ones around $350.

First impressions are positive on UDA-1 with a very hefty box and controls that feel nice:

Sony UDA-1 DAC and Amplifier Audio Reviews.jpg

There is no display but what is there is functional. Here is the back panel:

Sony UDA-1 DAC and Amplifier Back Panel Audio Reviews.jpg

Disappointed to see a fan in there for a box with such modest capabilities (rated at just 23 watts/channel). I had headphones on during testing so don't know how loud it gets.

Nice to see line in/out which makes my testing a lot easier as I can test the DAC and headphone/power amplifiers separately.

Note: I used to work for Sony in early 1990s so I have a soft spot for the company. Keep that in mind as you read this review.

DAC Audio Measurements
I hooked up a USB cable and measured what came out of Line out. I got this at volume set to minimum:
Sony UDA-1 DAC and Amplifier Audio Measurements.png


Ignore the spikes/grass at multiples of 100 Hz. That happens when the ASIO driver interface I use clips to 16 bits. The worry are the tall harmonic spikes which limit the performance to SINAD of 88 dB:

Sony UDA-1 DAC and Amplifier SINAD Audio Measurements.png


This is not the full story though as turning up the volume severely degraded the DAC performance:
Sony UDA-1 DAC and Amplifier Max Volume Audio Measurements.png


The power draw from the amplifier must be impacting the DAC. This is very much unacceptable and cause enough to stop testing the DAC at this point.

Power Amplifier Audio Measurements
Let's get our usual dashboard at 5 watts up using Line In so we are not dealing with limitations of the internal DAC:
Sony UDA-1 DAC and Amplifier 5 Watt Audio Measurements.png


Yuck. There is no place to hide it seems. On top of high distortion, we also have tons of power supply/mains leakage which I could not remedy. This puts the UDA-1 close to the bottom of amplifiers tested:
Best Audio Amplifiers Reviewed 2019.png


Worst news is the anemic amount of power available:
Sony UDA-1 DAC and Amplifier Power into 4 ohm Audio Measurements.png


Just 10 watts? And at such high level of noise and distortion before that?

I think we are done with the power amplifier too.

Headphone Amplifier Audio Measurements
Let's start with our usual 300 ohm load and see how much power and distortion we get:

Sony UDA-1 DAC and Amplifier Headphone Power into 300 Ohm Audio Measurements.png


Hey! That is decent amount of power. Yes noise and distortion are high but there is enough juice to drive a high impedance headphone hard. Maybe we get lucky and same is true of 33 ohm load?

Sony UDA-1 DAC and Amplifier Headphone Power into 33 Ohm Audio Measurements.png


It seems our luck ran out. Only 53 milliwatts of power? The only time I see such massive fall in performance when the load impedance gets smaller is when the output impedance is high. Let's measure that:
Best Headphone Amplifier Output Impedance.png


Double yuck! 332 ohm output impedance? It seems they just used the power amplifier to drive the headphone with a resistor of this value and called it done. This means that the frequency response of many headphones will be changed due to this super high output impedance.

I think we have our answer for the headphone out too.

Conclusions
I had high hopes going into this review that we would see good performance. Instead, we see bottom of the pile, checklist type subsystems. Outside of the solid mechanical design, the rest of the electronics is poorly engineered. It is so bad that I am thinking of wiping my Sony experience from my resume. :(

So do I recommend the Sony? Heck no. Double no.

------------
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#2
Confirms my thoughts about Sony.

I haven’t bought anything Sony since... 1996. Even today’s “Sony ES” is ES by name only...

Like yourself, all the engineers who were working in the hey day of audio for Sony (and other audio companies) in the golden era of hifi eg..60-90s, well... they left hifi/sound reproduction and went or got deployed into other high tech/interesting divisions.

Even for the young graduate engineer in the 21st century, almost everything interesting has been on software, DSP, mechatronics.

https://kenrockwell.com/audio/audiophile.htm
 
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#3
I also worked for Sony at the beginning of this decade. I entered with not much expectations because if you're following the electronics developments since the 00's, Sony was placed as a washed up company. While there, my suspicions were confirmed. All resources went to marketing cellphones and the PS4, and just a few jewels like the home cinema projectors. But for audio? Just a bunch of useless junk, with only the top oh the line ES products had good components and engineering, but they were so expensive that compared with audiophile brands, Sony offered inferior products. A shame.
 
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#5
In the 80s or 90s, buying a Sony was almost a guarantee that you were buying a the best that
money could buy. Whether that be a Sony Trinitron (CRT TV), Walkman or Discman (portable music player; tape or CD respectively) or ES series home disc player eg. SCD-XA777ES.

I remember when plasma and LCDs first came out, Sony were still pushing their CRTs. They just didn’t know what was about to hit them...
Apple with their iPod and iPhone effectively killed their mobile music division...

I wonder, if it wasn’t for the hit that their PlayStation was, I wonder where their electronics division would be today...

Sad really...
 
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#6
What can you tell about the internal build quality of the Apple lightning/USB-C to 3.5mm cable ($10 DAC/amp on a cable)?

Yet it will beat this unit for 99% of all headphones on the wild.

I think part of the problem with audiophilia is still this- too much emphasis placed on things like big heavy transformers, thick chassis and good/careful looking layout.. big iron type amplifiers.

But this is the 21st century, when everything has gone SMT or measured in μm?

And arguably the most interesting developments today in audio/HiFi are DACs. About a decade ago it was poo-pooed because computer audio was just seen as a cheap cousin- it just wasn’t considered as good as a dedicated unit.

Well how do you go about achieving supremacy? You put that computer chip INTO a dedicated unit, and have the established hi-fi names “admit defeat”

If you think I’m joking, I wonder how many are aware that ESS Tech, the company behind the Sabre DACs... well they’re the same ESS Tech behind the Audiodrive chip, which made its way into many cheap and cheerful clones of the ISA 8bit/22Khz SoundBlaster Pro from the early 90s...

Hmm starting to show my age...
 
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restorer-john

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#7
What can you tell about the internal build quality of the Apple lightning/USB-C to 3.5mm cable ($10 DAC/amp on a cable)?

Yet it will beats this unit for 99% of all headphones on the wild.
To be fair, that is an apples and oranges comparison. One is a dongle, the other a desktop product.

Does the Apple lightning USB-C run speakers? No.
Does it do DSD? No
Does it have optical, coaxial and USB inputs? No
Does it take an analogue line input? No
Can it run 24/7 standalone off mains power? No- it needs a phone.

This little Sony is just like an iPhone. Jack of all trades, master of none.

A pity, but it is what it is. I certainly won't be lining up to buy one either.

In the 80s or 90s, buying a Sony was almost a guarantee that you were buying a the best that
money could buy.
Exhibit (A). 1990 Sony ES advertisement text:

sony es (1).jpg
 
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#8
iPhone. Jack of all trades, master of none.
You probably don’t want to know how an iPhone 4/5/6/6S 3.5mm output measures.

Probably better than most. And audible transparent to virtually everybody.
 
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#10
In the 80's and 90's I also thought the big companies have the best audio equipment. But far from it. Yes, you can hear music with it, but technically it's cheap junk. The billion-dollar profits of the corporations must come from somewhere. The only ones who had studio quality for very little money were Swiss and German audio companies. Unfortunately, they are bankrupt today, due to the Asian mass-produced crap.
 
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#11
Fan is deal breaker for me in audiogear. If you can't design passive dead silent 4k-player or amp... no thanks.

Sony and other big names had cheapo (manufacturing) product lines that used top of the line products fame to sell them as "*****"-magazine test winners. After a few disappointments with yamaha/sony etc audiogear i moved on to Marantz and B&W.
 

JJB70

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#12
I think that the problem for audio equipment manufacturers (and great boon for music lovers and consumers) is that most parts of audio reproduction have been commoditised and to some extent killed off. How many people have a dedicated audio source now? I still have a CD player and still give it some use and a dedicated DAP but most music at my home is from tablets or phones. DACs achieved audible transparency years ago and most DACs in regular devices are perfectly fine. Yes, measurement of DACs show improvement and differences but there is a difference between a measurable difference and an audible difference. Many now use headphones more than speakers, if your phone or tablet can drive your headphones to the required volume then in most cases I don't think that you need a separate headphone amp but if you do then JDS Labs have shown that a headphone amp with heaps of power and terrific measured performance can be had for peanuts. Many of the big electronics companies read the market years ago and either withdrew from audio or moved primarily into wireless speakers, soundbars and headphones with perhaps a token traditional range. Bose may not be flavour of the month for many audiophiles but they read the market correctly and developed a range for where the market was going. Audiophiles seem unable to accept this and magazines facing an existential threat have been promoting tweako snake oil and trying to make computer audio into something it isn't by pretending a lot of the tweaks and optimising that made sense for vinyl should be carried over to digital.

I think traditional hifi products are as much about sound as mechanical watches are about telling the time. They are audio jewellery and statements, nothing wrong with that and personally I still like the tactile feel and quality of proper old style hifi but you really don't need it if you just want good sound. In that context I suspect that the audible performance of this Sony amp is probably perfectly adequate for most people and will fulfil the demand for a nice looking hifi product. One of the things I do find odd about a lot of the audio gear made to serve the niche of hifi is that a lot of it does not even appear to be well made.
 

maty

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#13
Off topic

Modern commercial recordings are very bad and you do not need a good/very good audio system to play them. The new generations appreciate much less work well done, they look for immediate satisfaction. Fast food. And let is not say his reluctance to intellectual effort, but that is another subject.

Yesterday, http://archimago.blogspot.com/2019/05/blind-test-results-part-3-do-digital.html
 

JJB70

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#17
To me, Sony's audio products have always been mediocre to bad, honestly.
I would disagree. In their heyday and when they took audio equipment seriously Sony produced some superb equipment. Some of it was state of the art and shamed boutique audio brands. And I do not think that any company can get close to their pedigree as an audio innovator (the closest is probably Phillips, another company which basically abandoned audio).
 

anmpr1

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#18
Confirms my thoughts about Sony.

I haven’t bought anything Sony since... 1996. Even today’s “Sony ES” is ES by name only... Like yourself, all the engineers who were working in the hey day of audio for Sony (and other audio companies) in the golden era of hifi eg..60-90s, well... they left hifi/sound reproduction and went or got deployed into other high tech/interesting divisions.
Back in the day, for reasons now obscure, I bought a new top of the line Sony TAN-77ES amplifier. The front panel featured bottom lit 'power' meters [mostly for show--not in the same category as McIntosh watt meters, which I should have bought instead of the Sony], however the meter bulbs would burn out--frequently. Three times it went to the shop for replacement. Weird thing was, I couldn't find anyone at Sony to talk to. No one. Nada. Zip. Phone calls were never returned. But what did I expect, from a large multinational corporation? Using the 'three strikes and you're out' baseball analogy, I sold it last trip back from the shop. Never bought another Sony product after that experience.

Interestingly, I found the following at an independent review Website:

[the TAN 77ES] amp's weakest point is defective design of the meter bulb power supply. While every American electronics engineer knows never to connect incandescent bulbs in series, Sony did exactly this: connecting three 12V 100mA bulbs in series, connected to 36V DC. This sounds fine in theory, but is never done in practice because any variation between bulbs will divide the voltage unequally, so one or more bulbs will be fed with more than 12V, greatly shortening their life. Worse, as soon as the first bulb goes, all the bulbs for that meter go dark at the same time. Sony also made the mistake of running 12V bulbs at 12V, not a lower voltage which would have let them run much longer.

That said, I have two Panasonic sourced record players from 1977 (SL-1100a) and 2005 (SL-1200) that are still going strong. I guess quality just depends upon what kind of thing one is looking for. Next up, let me tell you about my experiences with VW/Audi products. I still haven't learned my Sony lesson about German cars. LOL
 

anmpr1

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#19
Off topic

Modern commercial recordings are very bad and you do not need a good/very good audio system to play them.
Not necessarily modern recordings. A lot of stuff from the beginning of stereo was recorded badly. And some things are very difficult to record, naturally. I don't think I've ever heard a piano recording on any stereo system that made me think, "that piano is in my living room." Much less a symphony orchestra. In fact, the idea that one is going to get a recording to sound like 'live instruments' in their living room, is kind of ridiculous. Some small combo jazz recordings fair better, for me. Aesthetically, I'd just as soon listen to a Furtwangler mono recording than a lot of modern stuff. For his interpretation, mostly. I view a sound recording as I would a painting. That is, more as a repersentation of something real, than something real in and of itself. Depending upon the microphones, the venue, and the mix down, you can have Bouguereau, Dali, or Duchamp. For better or worse.
 

maty

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#20
I have three Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 directed by the great Direktor. Oldest:

Furtwangler, Berlin PO - Beethoven - Symphony No 9 (1942), CD

https://www.amazon.com/Symphony-No-Wilhelm-Furtwangler-1942/dp/B01K8MCL8I

DR Peak RMS Duration Track
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
DR11 0.00 dB -14.46 dB 17:16 01-Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
DR13 -0.26 dB -17.80 dB 11:22 02-Molto vivace - Presto - Molto vivace
DR14 -0.30 dB -19.44 dB 20:07 03-Adagio molto e cantabile - Andante moderato
DR13 0.00 dB -18.09 dB 2:53 04-Presto
DR14 -0.07 dB -18.21 dB 7:20 05-Allegro assai
DR11 -0.51 dB -15.83 dB 3:44 06-Allegro assai vivace - Alla marcia
DR12 -0.24 dB -15.81 dB 10:24 07-Andante maestoso - Allegro energico - Prestissimo
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Number of tracks: 7
Official DR value: DR12
 
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