A Digital to Analogue Converter or DAC is a necessary tool for anyone who wants to get sound out of digital music. A good DAC can cost a small fortune; if it’s any good, it’s almost never inexpensive. The AudioEngine D1 DAC is an exception.
The AudioEngine D1 DAC is based on the well-known AKM AK4396 24-bit/192kHz DAC, has USB and optical inputs, streams 24/96 kHz audio and is USB powered. Speakers (or other analogue kit) are connected via the stereo RCA output; headphones via a “high performance headphone amplifier” as it says in the user guide (a TI NE5532 low noise op-amp). In view of the AudioEngine DAC’s price of approx. 140.00 Euros, I’m sure I’ll be forgiven to starting this review with a healthy dose of scepticism.
IT Enquirer rating
Price (approx.): €140.00
I connected the D1 to a Mac Mini via optical cable. This requires the USB cable to be either connected to the Mac or to a power converter as it draws its power from the USB port. According to the user guide, USB power is double regulated so that no variations affect the output.
On the front panel of the unit is an On/Off button, a mini jack interface for headphones, and a turning knob that serves as a volume control for both RCA and headphones output.
I used to have a Musical Fidelity X-Can and V-DAC to listen to my collection of classical music. Compared to the D1 DAC the Musical Fidelity kit was a tad better, with a bit more stereo “room” or better positioning of the instruments. But if you take the price into account, the Musical Fidelity stuff is way overpriced. The differences were hardly noticeable, even my Sennheiser HD650 and HD800s were driven by this little box with very small differences in musical enjoyment compared to Musical Fidelity’s equipment.
The sound that I got from the D1 was clear in the highs, both on the AudioEngine A5 as well as the A5+ I just recently reviewed. Bass was better with the headphones than with the speakers, but due to circumstances I cannot listen to speakers at a volume that is high enough to really enjoy bass. The D1’s bass capabilities therefore struck me all the more so when I heard it through the Sennheisers.
Based on what I’ve heard over the past couple of weeks (and after a burn in period of 40 hours) my conclusion is that DACs that cost in the range of the thousands sound not that much better than this small AudioEngine aluminium box, so why spend that kind of money?