Modern Living

DAC to the future

AUDIOFILE - Val A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The analog renaissance has come full circle. Music lovers with huge compact disc (CD) collections must be wondering now what will happen to those rounded plastic discs competing for space in an already cramped listening environment.

Vinyl is definitely back with new releases coming out of various pressing plants which have mushroomed in the last few years. Sound engineers, meanwhile, are deep into unmasking how to replicate vinyl sound in digital formats, coming up with downloadable music with resolution of up to 24-bit/192kHz. They have proclaimed this format as one that offers “uncompromised studio quality.”

Personally, however, I see no point in distributing music in 24-bit/192kHz format. Its playback fidelity, to my ears, is slightly inferior to 16/44.1 or even 16/48, and it takes up to six times the required space.

This is why I’m not about to throw away years of wonderful music memories stored in my CD collections. CDs may be inferior to vinyl, but I nevertheless still get satisfaction listening to them, especially those that are excellently recorded and when their sound signal passes through a remarkably designed Digital Analog Converter (DAC).

Now comes the DAC-R from UK-based Rega. Business partners Stephen Gan and Nick Sy of Rega Philippines graciously lent me this handsomely built gadget over the holidays, and I must admit that I like what I’ve been hearing.

Rega says it incorporated an enhanced version of its designed circuit in DAC-R, so much so that it can offer the highest possible resolution overall inputs, including a fully asynchronous USB.

As soon as I hooked the DAC-R to my system, with my Rega Saturn as its CD player, my favorite CDs sang like they have never done before.

What are external DACs anyway, and what do they really do to recorded music?

A Digital to Analog Converter, or DAC, takes your digital content and transforms it into analog so that your system can amplify and play it through your speakers. If you think you already have DACs in your system, you would be correct. Anything that can accept a digital signal and output sound must include a DAC. This includes your phone, MP3 player, receiver, AV processor, computer, laptop, CD/DVD/Blu-ray player with analog outputs, wireless speakers, clock radios, and more.

You may ask: If all of these devices already have DACs, why would you need an external one? More to the point, could you actually use it and make a difference?

The two main conditions that would require the addition of an external DAC are: noise floor (background noise and hiss) and sound quality issues related to how your player converts digital signal to analog.

The first is pretty easy to spot. If you can hear a hiss during the quiet sections of your music, or if your playback is disordered by noise, you need an external DAC.

To understand the second, one should know that DACs sometimes have either of two modes of operation: synchronous or asynchronous. The easiest way to think of the difference is that, with synchronous, the DAC uses the clock in the source. Asynchronous, on the other hand, uses the clock in the DAC. Most DAC aficionados say that asynchronous is better than synchronous at eliminating jitter. Since CDs have to spin to playback sound, jitters or even minute movements can degrade sound quality. External DACs can manage this problem well.

After about 100 playing hours or so, I immediately noticed the soundstage getting bigger, and everything levelling and sounding fully fleshed out. The sound is spatial, open and detailed. The sound was evenly spread across the band, minus those pesky peaks and gutters.

Bass was outstanding with the well-timed musical fundamentals making all music genre harmonious and engaging. The quality and quantity of the bottom end was perfect, often punctuated with tight bass which is presented when needed and does not overshadow the mix.

I won’t go into a longwinded description of my impressions about how the DAC-R transformed an otherwise dull CD recording into a more vibrant sound. Let me just point out the outstanding thing about the DAC-R: It brings out a distinct and pleasing sound coloration that makes for an enthralling listening experience. Purists may have none of this because, to them, music must be faithful to its original recording. Me? I’d rather enjoy what I’m hearing than be critical. Why take the fun out of listening when I can keep all my beautiful music memories?

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For comments or questions, please e-mail me at [email protected].














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