Some of you may have seen my post about the different DACs that I recommend at various price levels. In that post I listed the Anedio D1 DAC as my choice in the “price unlimited” category. This has raised some questions since there is not a lot of information out there about this new product. Hopefully this review will rectify that situation.
As I already mentioned in that thread, the Anedio D1 is simply the most impressive DAC I have ever heard. In case that doesn’t mean anything to you, I should tell you that I have owned or auditioned literally dozens of excellent DACs in my lifetime, some of which retailed for many thousands of dollars. The fact that this $1270 DAC gets my recommendation should be a clue about where this review is headed.
Anedio Audio (pronounced Anna Dee-Oh) is small family run company based out of Plainsboro New Jersey which offers just 2 products at the moment: the D1 DAC and the A1 power amplifier. Their goal is to deliver what they call “affordable high end audio”. I’ve had a lengthy email conversation going with chief designer James both before and after receiving the product, and was highly impressed with his willingness to spend time explaining things to a non-engineer like myself. James offers a refreshing blend of knowledge (BA and MA in electrical engineering, decades of experience in the field) mixed with a no nonsense approach to audio reproduction. He is also very passionate about audio; his personal setup consists of a music server with a Squeezebox Touch, his own D1 DAC with 2 of his own A1 amps in a bi-amp configuration, his own custom made active analog crossovers, and some high end electrostatic speakers which he modified for bi-amp capability. He also has a reference level set of headphones. I find it refreshing to know that the person behind the gear is a genuine music lover rather than just someone who is out to sell you a product.
Before going any further, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention their excellent website: www.Anedio.com is an absolute wealth of information. You won’t find any fancy animation, just page after page of useful explanation about their design and implementation. I usually don’t care much for manufacturer websites but in this case I feel like it is almost mandatory reading for anyone interested in digital audio.
The Anedio D1 doesn’t initially stand out for its feature set. Unlike some of my other DACs that are practically covered with switches, knobs, and buttons, the D1 is elegantly simple in operation. The front panel features just a single button for selecting a source and a large volume control knob. That’s it as far as user interaction goes. The other main front panel feature is a multi-function LCD that tracks signal lock, volume level, and selected source. A ¼ inch headphone jack rounds things out, as the power switch is located to the rear. My first impression was that the semi-symmetrical front panel design was very aesthetically pleasing but might not be the most functional. Now that I’ve lived with it for a while and gotten used to it I actually find some of my other DACs cumbersome and unrefined.
On the rear panel we find the usual array of ports - USB, toslink optical, BNC, and coaxial digital inputs, and a single set of RCA outputs. There is no balanced option. Optical, BNC, and coaxial inputs accept all types of signals up to 24-bit/192kHz. The USB input is limited to 16-bit/48kHz at the moment. While this may initially seem like a deal breaker for some, there is an interesting story behind it: James admitted that the current USB implementation is a compromise for the moment. His desire was to minimize development cost and time, which helps keep the final selling price of the device lower. He also stated that they looked into options and found a low cost ready made solution (likely the Tenor TE7022 but I didn’t confirm that) that could handle 24-bit/96kHz signals, but did not handle 88.2kHz sample rates. They felt it would not make sense to advertise the product as handling 24/96 over USB when it could not actually handle all the options up to that amount. That’s an interesting take on the subject since many other companies do that very thing, and I understand where he is coming from. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, James expressed a desire for Anedio to develop a high level of in house expertise with respect to USB audio development and implementation. That process takes time but is invaluable when planning new products or upgrading existing products. To this end, he advised that Anedio is currently working on an external USB to SPDIF converter that handles all rates up to 24-bit/192kHz. He explained their commitment to protecting the investment made by D1 owners by offering this as a low cost upgrade. I don’t know when it will be finished but I’ll probably give it a shot if it is indeed a low cost solution. In the meantime the D1 uses the workhorse TI PCM2707 chip, which has been found in such higher end DACs as the Audio Research DAC7, Eastern Electric MiniMax, the Bryston BDA-1, and the Wyred 4 Sound DAC1 before it was upgraded recently. I’ll discuss later how the Anedio performs when using USB compared to the other options.
The D1 is based on the ES9108 Sabre Reference 32-bit DAC chip from ESS Technologies. This is an 8 channel DAC chip being used in a quad differential configuration, which translates to 4 DACs per channel. The ES9018 features some patented processes with regards to filtering which set it apart from the competition. I don’t think I have to remind anyone how much positive press the ESS DAC chips have received, being used in several very highly regarded products including the Eastern Electric MiniMax DAC, Twisted Pear Audio Buffalo32, and Wyred 4 Sound DAC1/DAC2. Lesser grade Sabre DAC chips have made appearances in popular gear from Peachtree Audio as well as the Oppo BDP-83SE. I’ve heard many people opine that the ESS Reference series chips are quite possibly the future of digital audio, and that they have set a new standard for all others to follow. I don’t think I would disagree with that statement.
According to Anedio, one of the most important aspects in achieving excellent digital audio reproduction has to do with jitter reduction. Most audiophiles are aware that jitter is a bad thing, and audio companies employ various methods in an attempt to tame jitter. Anedio’s solution differs slightly in that they believe some jitter reductions methods, while succeeding in reducing jitter, generate other digital artifacts that ultimately degrade the sound. I’m not going to get too technical here because the Anedio website explains this better than I could ever hope to: http://www.anedio.com/index.php/article/multi_stage_jitter_reduction
Once again I suggest that any interested reader spend some time browsing that website as it is a wealth of useful information on this topic.
Inside the case of the D1, we find a simple but well thought out layout. This is not an “Audio-GD looking” DAC that is crammed with huge capacitors, heatsinks, and wiring covering every square inch of the interior (not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that). The Anedio team spent significant effort to optimize the PCB floor layout to minimize low-level non-harmonic tones. James advised me that he owns a very highly regarded competing DAC which he asked me not to name, but I can say it is more expensive than the D1 and is a model that I believe most Audiophiles would know and respect. This is what he advised me about his discoveries from using that product:
“One thing that I've learned from my feeble attempts to correlate listening with measurements is that the presence of low-level non-harmonic tones seems to make audible differences. Some of the commercial DACs perform well in the traditional THD+N measurement, but when you examine their high-resolution FFT plots, you would notice a lot of non-harmonic tones. These tones may be very low in amplitude, below -130 dB or even -135 dB, so they would appear indistinguishable from random noise or quantization noise in low-resolution FFT plots shown in audio magazines. But these tones would be revealed in high-resolution FFT plots (1024K point FFT) if the ADC of the test equipment is sufficiently clean. Some people might wonder about the jitter spectrum of the Anedio D1 DAC shown on the web site, and ask what the point is of getting these non-harmonic tones down to -150 dB. Well, I thought it would make no difference in sonic quality, but sometimes it does. This still amazes me because I don't have anything like the golden ear. But in other cases, it's very difficult to hear any difference. There is still much more to learn about the psychoacoustics of hearing.”
I hope he doesn’t mind being quoted, but I think this shows the level of passion and determination he has as a designer, combined with the humility he has as a person. I feel like I learned a lot from our exchanges.
I’m not going to go into all the specific parts used, because that could take all day and wouldn’t necessarily tell you anything about the sound of the device. I can confirm that they are all suitably high caliber. For example, the power supply uses separate shielded toroidal power transformers for the digital and analog sections, and they appear very similar if not identical to what is used in the Bryston BDA-1. In case you were curious why there is not a bunch of big fancy “audiophile type” capacitors on display inside the case, James of Anedio had this to say:
“Regarding the capacitors in high-end audio, I find many bizarre theories floating around. I believe only what there is scientific evidence for.
There are roughly 150 capacitors in the D1 DAC. All the capacitors are surface-mount devices (SMD) for low inductance. Many of them are tiny, so that’s probably why you didn’t notice that many. Obviously, the number of capacitors has nothing to do with sonic performance. What is important is using the right type of capacitor in the right place, especially paying attention to the current return paths.
I use the highest quality capacitors that do the job for the particular place in the circuit. This includes high-reliability, low ESR (equivalent series resistance) capacitors for the supplies, low-inductance capacitors for critical supply nodes, polyphenylene sulphide (PPS) film capacitors for low dielectric absorption in the signal paths, etc.
Also, for the signal path in general, I believe less is more. So I tend to use the fewest number of capacitors that do the job in the signal path.”
So despite the relatively simply look, this is a very complex and well thought out circuit.
Another area where audiophiles and specifically HeadFi members might be puzzled is the lack of balanced outputs. How can this be a reference level product using only single ended outputs? I have my own opinions about the relative benefits of balanced cables, but I decided once again to go straight to the source, and here is the reply I got:
“For home audio or in a small room, the issue is more subtle than most people realize. I believe that in theory balanced is better, but in actual implementation, unbalanced can be equally good and in some cases better. Since people would be more convinced by the words of well-known experts than mine, here is a quote from Mastering Audio by Bob Katz, p. 255:
Why do many mastering engineers use unbalanced connections between analog gears?
My philosophy is: All other things being equal, unbalanced is better, which boils down to a less is more philosophy.
Here are the caveats: In a small room, where all the power is coming from a central source, and all the analog gear is plugged into that power and no analog audio enters or leaves the room, and you have your signal-to-noise and headroom issues all straightened out, then unbalanced is almost always better-sounding than balanced. Most balanced gear is created out of unbalanced internal connections by adding additional stages of amplification, which often creates a loss of transparency; however, it’s important to study the schematics and determine if this is the case. In those cases, I may remove the extra stages, also being aware of the internal gain structure, headroom, and driving capacity of the internal parts, which are going to be exposed to the outside world.
Exceptions: a) Equipment whose balanced stages are so-well-designed that it is impossible to design the same piece of gear with fewer stages unbalanced than the balanced version. b) Equipment which uses balanced topology throughout, with impeccably-designed internal components in a mirror-image configuration. But I’m not so sure it sounds better because it’s balanced or just because it’s better!
He also referenced this post by Robert Harley of The Absolute Sound:
Obviously I know that some people will remain unconvinced, but this is the best I can do within the scope of this review.
Moving on to usage: one nice feature of the D1 is that the volume control applies to both the headphone amp section and the RCA outputs. So this DAC can be connected directly to a power amp, negating the need for a separate preamp. Anedio feels that eliminating a separate preamp in the signal chain can be a very significant method for improving transparency in a playback system. It can also save money for someone assembling a system from scratch. This option is similarly offered on the Wyred 4 Sound DAC2 but not the cheaper DAC1.
Because the D1 can be used as a DAC and preamp, it handily includes a remote control. The remote is a surprisingly nice Sony universal infrared model. It allows you to adjust volume and select your source from a distance. Anedio specifically included this model because they suspect many customers will already have some type of universal remote. Rather than spend extra time, money, and effort designing a dedicated remote, I think this was a great idea. I was easily able to get my Logitech Harmony to control the D1. And let’s face it: many remotes that come with audiophile equipment are not even worth the solid block of brushed aluminum that they are made out of.
Deceptively simple interior
The heart of the D1: ESS Sabre Reference DAC (protected under the shield)
Headphone amp section
Independant shielded toroidal power transformers for digital and analog sections
Wolfson WM8805 digital receiver
Rear panel connections
Front view. The small green light above the digital display indicates signal lock.
The Anedio D1 is a very well built product. The case has a solid feel to it, and the panel gaps have tight tolerances. The front panel is very attractive in my opinion, which of course is subjective. Having owned plenty of DACs in this price range, I can confirm that the Anedio does live up to the standards of the category. Keep in mind though that although it is not cheap, this is by no means a “cost no object” design. The D1 simply can’t and doesn’t even attempt to match Chord, Levinson, Theta, and the like with regards to casework. That obviously would not fit with Anedio’s stated goal of “affordable high end audio”. The one complaint I can find is that for some, the blue accent lights on the front panel will be a distraction. I like the way they look and it doesn’t bother me at all, but I always understand when it comes to that sort of thing. Perhaps there could have been a dimmer or an off switch.
One of the best parts is the volume knob, which is unbelievably smooth. Since the D1 uses a combination of 32-bit digital attenuators and thin-film resistor dividers, there is no need for the typical potentiometer. You can actually spin the knob indefinitely while the unit is off. It does have small “steps” that you can feel which allow you to easily settle on a desired volume level. Volume can range from 0 to 100 as seen on the display, and each step equals a .5dB adjustment.
The Anedio shipped in a well protected box with custom fitting foam inserts that prevented it from being damaged. Inside the box we find the unit itself, some spare fuses, a thick power cable, a user manual, and a 9 page printout showing the measurement and test results. To be clear, these are not generalized test results of how well the D1 should theoretically perform, or how well another model has tested in the past. These are actual test results for my specific unit as measured by a $10,000 Audio Precision APx525 analyzer. I’ve heard claims of some companies testing their gear before they ship it but this is the first case I can think of where the end user gets so much access to the results.
My son LOVES helping me open new gear. Hopefully there is some bubble wrap in there for popping...
Well protected inside the box
Custom printout from extensive testing with APx525 analyzer
Lots of interesting measurements
I wasn't sure it would even fit on my rack. It did, but I don't trust it so I've since moved things around
This is the associated equipment I used most for evaluating the Anedio D1:
Source: QLS QA350 solid state transport, Rotel RDV-1092, Lexicon RT-20, Theta Miles, Marantz SA-1 with upgrades from Audiomod, Dell Mini streaming lossless files to a Squeezebox Touch
Amplification: Luxman P-1u, Darkvoice 337SE with Tung-Sol 5998 and 6SJ7GT, Matrix M-Stage, Musical Fidelity X-Can v8 with X-PSU
Headphones: Sennheiser HD800 and HD600, Ultrasone Edition 8, Audio Technica L3000 and W2002, Kenwood KH-K1000, Grado PS1000 and RS1, JH Audio JH13pro, Unique Melody Miracle, LiveWires Trips, 1964 Ears 1964-T, Beyerdynamic DT990/600ohm
DACs (for comparison): Wavelength Audio Cosine, MBL 1511E, Esoteric D70, Yulong D100
I also swapped the D1 into several speaker based systems using high end gear. One featured Triad InWall Gold/6 LCR speakers, and the other had the excellent Linkwitz Orion++ speaker system.
Anedio D1 with Unique Melody Miracle, an excellent combination
D1 surrounded by 24 balanced armature drivers, 4 dynamic transducers, and a bunch of aluminum
These are just the impressions of one guy. I do these reviews for fun, not profit, and I don't claim to be any special authority. Many people have agreed with my assessments of other gear but some have also disagreed, and I totally respect that. We all hear differently on a physical level and we all have different preferences as well, so I think it almost impossible for one person’s impressions to apply to every other person. As with all my reviews, I hope you enjoy reading them and I hope they help our hobby to some extent, but I don't pretend that they are anything more than my opinion.
I let the DAC burn in for 100 hours or so, as is my usual custom. Not because I believe anything will change, but because I know that if a product lasts that long it will probably last forever. It also helps avoid people suggesting that my review is invalid because my product was not burned in. After doing that, I decided to dive into my listening sessions.
At first, I figured I’d treat the D1 like a typical DAC in that price range. I’d listen with a range of low, mid, and high end headphones and associated equipment to determine where it stands. I quickly learned that I need not bother with lower or mid range gear, but that the D1 demanded the best that I had and then some.
I don’t usually like to use hyperbole in my reviews and I’m not going to start now. When I listened to the Anedio D1 the clouds didn’t part, nor was I transported to new levels of audio nirvana. What I did find that I was enjoying each amp and headphone that I tried, as much or more than I ever had before. This was an interesting experience because I have gotten used to high end DACs being more expensive than the D1. Usually some character jumps out at me from new equipment. I listen for a bit and think to myself “Ok I get it, this is sort a Benchmark type sound” or whatever the case may be. With the Anedio, I found I was unable to identify a specific sound other than “Wow, this sounds very real!” In this respect the D1 put itself squarely in the company of the Esoteric and MBL products that I have, and leaves the others behind. I won’t say it “blows them away” but to me the differences were clear.
The first aspect that I was drawn to was how open and spacious the D1 sounded. Obviously this varied based on what amp and headphones I was using, but the common thread was that the D1 enabled whatever I paired it with to have as wide and deep of a soundstage as it had ever had. The key to this though was that it retained pinpoint accuracy with regards to imaging. Sometimes you can end up with an artificially wide soundstage or worse, a blurred mess where the performers are spread out suitably wide but you can’t determine their relation to each other. That was never the case with the D1. Everything seemed clearly locked into place, not in an artificial way but as if they were really there in front of you. I know that statement gets thrown around a lot, and I agree that it does happen to a lesser extent with some of my cheaper gear, but the Anedio really brought the music to life for me in a palpable way that only the finest gear ever has. A few memorable examples of this were the albums Minor Tapes by Electronic Noise Controller and the hi-res version of The Slip by NIN. This sort of music is not usually my first choice for demonstrating sound stage. But in both cases I had more than one instance of an “out of head” sound that had me thinking someone was in the room with me. I actually removed my headphones or IEMs and spun around in my chair, only to realize I had been tricked by Trent Reznor’s voice or some ambient noise. I’ve had this experience before, specifically on a certain NIN track, but it was more frequent and more convincing with the D1 than it ever has been with any other DAC, even my more expensive ones. An even more intense experience came when listening to the track “Noticed” by Mutemath, from their self titled album. Early in the song when the vocals first come in, singer Paul Meany starts with the word “Careful….” As he says that word, some type of electronic noise plays in the background that sounds virtually identical to the ringer on my home telephone. One three separate occasions over the last few months the D1 has tricked me into taking off my headphones and walking over to the phone, only to realize that it wasn’t ringing.
The D1 was startlingly good with low frequency reproduction. It had such texture and weight that for a time I thought it was slightly boosted. But after extensive listening, I concluded that it was not actually tipped up but just exceedingly clean. There was so much richness and clarity that lesser DACs sounded flat and lifeless by comparison. I listened to the XRCD release of Unity by Ernie Watts which is one of my favorite recordings for testing new gear. The track “Tricotism” features an intro that has both an electric bass and an upright acoustic bass both jamming together. I’ve heard it reproduced admirably even on a good sub-$200 DAC, but I’ve never heard it sound quite this good. I felt like I could discern each separate instrument as the string was plucked, then the attack prior to the full note being produced, followed by the eventual decay or next note starting up again. It was truly a moving experience, and reminded me of being there during the live performance. At the same time, I didn’t feel like I lost any impact of the performance as a whole. I’ve heard some gear that was strikingly detailed yet somehow failed to capture the full scale and flow of the music. The D1 allowed me to have the best of both worlds.
Mids are where most of the music lives, and again the D1 gets things unbelievably correct. Clarity and realism are stunning, whether listening to a solo piano or a large orchestra. I found that the D1 could handle complex passages that would have caused lesser gear to choke a bit, and it never seemed to struggle with dynamics. When I think of really dynamic music, the first thing that comes to mind is Holst’s The Planets. I’ve got way too many versions of it lying around, my favorite probably being Adrian Boult with the London Philharmonic Orchestra tied with the Telarc release of Andre Previn conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The D1 is able to unleash the fury when it is called for but also captures the finesse and subtleties hiding in other sections. It also really brought out the excellent interplay between the instruments. Another less obvious example is Livingston Taylor covering Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” from The World’s Greatest Audiophile Vocal Recordings. The album from Chesky Records is available in 24/96 FLAC format from HDtracks.com and sounds amazing. I mention this as an example of dynamics because Livingston’s somewhat unique voice and singing style really gives your gear a workout. When he sings “I can’t believe what God has done,” he sings very smoothly but also puts a strong emphasis on the word “what”. It happens again when he sings “I never thought through love we’d be,” with the word “through”. It’s hard to explain but you would know it if you heard it. The D1 allowed a complete delivery of the dynamics of this simple yet complex task. It sounded more real to me than perhaps any other recorded voice I’ve ever heard played back in my system. Similarly great was the whistling section. I applaud the recording studio for using pop filters effectively, because no sibilance comes through at all, yet it sounds like he is sitting in the room with me as I listen. This is one of those tracks that sound pretty darn good on basic equipment, causing you to wonder how it could possibly get any better. It does.
The D1 handled highs just as well as it handled everything else. Extension seemed as good as the program material could deliver, but remained free from glare or harshness. Some DACs have a tendency to give the highs an ever so slight boost in order to create the appearance of more detail. The D1 doesn’t try any tricks but simply gives you everything as it was intended. I also found it free from the slight “etchiness” that plagues many a piece of digital gear, which to my ear is usually only noticed during direct comparison with a high end analog setup. I haven’t been into vinyl in years but I used to own a nice setup and I have also had the pleasure of hearing excellent reel to reel recordings in a local studio setting. Despite their fiddly nature, inferior SNR, potential degradation with use, etc I can still see why some people swear by analog. But in my experience I believe a very good DAC can sound just as good if not better than analog. The Anedio D1 is on my short list of DACs that accomplish this feat. It’s not too dry, not too energetic, doesn’t smooth anything over…. It’s just perfect in my opinion. I’ve never heard my XRCD24 release of Jacintha’s classic album Jacintha Is My Name sound quite so good. As a drummer, I found the percussion on “Light My Fire” to sound particularly breathtaking, like I was sitting a few feet away as it was being played. These types of examples just kept piling up, and I think I had more goose bump inducing, hair on the back of the neck raising experiences than I have had in a long time.
On the other hand it just seems wrong to break down the performance of the D1 into the usual lows/mids/highs categories. It’s the cohesive nature of the entire performance that makes the D1 so special. You might find a DAC that has a strong point in one area or another and in that way might match the performance of the D1. But rare is the DAC that can combine all of these strengths. The ones I’ve had the pleasure of hearing include my Esoteric D70 and MBL 1511E, as well as the excellent Berkeley Alpha DAC and EMM Labs DAC2. My heavily modified Marantz SA-1 player also gives similar results. Notice how the common thread for all of them is that they are much more expensive than the Anedio unit.
Another key area for me was the balance that the D1 was able to achieve between micro and macro dynamics. I touched on this in my review of the Unique Melody Miracle, and I believe running those straight out of the headphone jack of the D1 is perhaps one of the finest examples of this I have ever heard. During really complex music I found myself marveling at the tiniest of details like intricate hi-hat work or subtle background percussion, while remaining totally focused on the large scale performance. This is something that even my Esoteric D70 does not do quite as well as the Anedio D1. The D70 definitely has the micro part of it down, but often seems to slightly distract me from the performance as a whole. Obviously this is something that my brain is doing with regards to interpreting the sound and deciding how to process it. I don’t know exactly what specific attributes it takes to achieve this effect, but the D1 certainly seems to have them.
In all the areas I just mentioned, I thought the D1 sounded excellent, but I don’t think I really felt the full impact of just how good it was until I went back to a different DAC. Often times we get so used to a sound that we have a hard time putting it in context compared to other products. I find that I can often learn more about how something sounds by switching back to a lesser model than I did when I first tried the better piece. Here are my impressions when I compared it to several other DACs. Note that all of these are nice products in their own right, and as I said, you really need to compare directly to find the differences.
The Yulong D100 is an axcellent DAC. It is truly a high end unit for a relatively low price, and I’m very happy with it. In this case I will use it to represent what I’m calling the “entry level high end” category which also includes the Benchmark DAC1, Lavry DA10, and Grace M902. All of these units are in the same league in my opinion, which means they are all very good. But upon back to back comparison with the Anedio, using only the highest quality source, amplification and headphones, I do notice some key differences. The biggest improvement offered by the Anedio is with regards to soundstage. Not limited to just size or width, but overall realism. This is one of those things that seem really difficult to even explain unless you have heard it for yourself. The Anedio just seems to capture the most subtle of nuances of the performance space, carving out a deep three dimensional soundstage that makes the otherwise excellent Yulong sound a bit congested and narrow in comparison. Aside from that there is also the matter of frequency extension, with the Anedio seeming to have a limitless ability to reproduce every last drop of information on the low and high ends of the spectrum. Again, there is no perceived boost in either area, just pure clean sound. The Yulong comes across as a touch dull in comparison. In addition to all this, there remained an unexplainable “realness” to the music when listening through the Anedio which was not quite there with the Yulong. The Anedio made it sound like real instruments were in the room with me, while the Yulong sounded like an excellent electronic reproduction of real instruments. I apologize but that is about the best I can describe it.
This classic DAC is very different in design and execution compared to the D1. It has no upsampling, no oversampling, and no filtering of any kind. As I noted in my review of the Yulong D100, the Cosine has a slightly sweet midrange and a bit of smooth rolloff on the top end. This makes for a more forward presentation, and it is more forgiving of poor recordings. Although this slight coloration was pleasing to listen to, ultimately I found the Anedio to have more realism and thus preferred it. The Anedio certainly did expose more flaws in some music but also highlighted the strengths more accurately. I can understand choosing the Wavelength to correspond with a particular amp or headphones, but when using my most transparent gear I ended up choosing the Anedio every time.
A quick note; I used to have the matching P70 transport which supposedly sounded better when paired with the D70 than any other transport would. I couldn’t hear much of a difference, didn’t find the P70 very special, and frankly didn’t care much for the required 3 cable connection. So when a friend made me a good offer on the P70 I had no problems unloading it. If the P70/D70 combo really worked best together, that would make for an unfair comparison anyway so I don’t think it is an issue. That being said, the D70 is a true high end DAC in every meaning of the word. That includes price, as I believe it was just over $6000 new. It has excellent pace, timing, dynamics, and pretty much everything else you could want from a digital front-end. Compared to the D70, the D1 was very similar. This surprised me due to the price discrepancy, but then again almost 10 years have passed since the D70 was released. Technology marches on. After substantial back to back listening I was able to come to the conclusion that I mentioned earlier. Namely, that the D1 was superior to the D70 when it comes to serving up a focused presentation that allowed me to appreciate both the scale and grandeur of a performance as well as the individual minutiae contained therein. This superiority manifested itself mostly during late night listening sessions when the house was silent, and while using my most detail oriented headphones like the JH13pro, Unique Melody Miracle, and HD800. I also noticed this a bit more clearly when using the big system with the Linkwitz Orion speaker setup. It wasn’t a huge difference, but it was noticeable and it was consistent. I would find myself focused on one specific aspect of the music, perhaps an instrument or vocalist, and would really enjoy it. But as the song ended I would realize that I had not connected as much with the overall performance as I would have liked. An analogy would be missing the forest for the trees. With the D1 I felt an equally intimate connection with the individual parts, but with a more satisfying comprehension of the big picture. This small difference was enough to make me declare the Anedio D1 superior despite its much lower price.
This is an even less fair comparison, with the MBL being a $9000 audiophile monster. How would the “little” Anedio stack up? Surprisingly well in fact. I went back and forth in direct comparison until I was exhausted and was never able to nail down a significant difference between the two of them. Every time I though I heard some minor discrepancy I would set out to focus on it, only to have it vanish under scrutiny. Of course the MBL is much more impressive aesthetically, looking like a sculptured masterpiece next to the somewhat simple Anedio. I don’t know any of the details as far as what DAC chip it uses or anything else really, as I’m not inclined to open it up. All I know is that it has been my reference for the few years that I’ve owned it. It has been living at my brother’s house for a while along with my Linkwitz speakers, which is why I’ve commented above that the Anedio was the best I had heard in my system. Until I did comparisons for this review, I have not had the MBL in my current configuration, and was therefore not as familiar with it compared to my D70. In any case, the general notion being that you have to spend a lot to get a lot, I assumed that this was the end of the road for me as far as DAC upgrades go. In a sense that is true since the D1 is not superior but “merely” a match for the MBL. But if Anedio released a new and improved model (D1+? D10? It seems that we are running out of model names in the DAC world) I am now able to believe that it could possibly supplant the MBL sonically and likely for a significantly lower price. One noteworthy discovery I had during all this listening was that I actually liked the MBL more than the Esoteric unit. Despite owning both concurrently for several years, I had never done enough back to back comparison between the two of them to realize that. This echoes my opinion that despite claims of audiophile magazines and websites, many high end, solidly built, well designed products can sound quite similar. I don’t necessarily find it believable that a reviewer can obtain some new megabuck amp or DAC for the month and immediately notice a bunch of striking differences compared to their reference units. In my experience it just doesn’t work like that with equipment of such a high caliber.
I had a few other DACs that I intended to compare with the Anedio, including the Neko Audio D100 MKII and the PureAudio Lotus. Frankly neither of them seemed in the same league as the D1 so I won’t spend too much time on it. I felt that both products were nice and had something to offer, but neither was really able to transcend their particular price category by much. The Neko had a smooth pleasing sound but seemed way too polite, lacking dynamics and slam. It could probably compete on the level of a Benchmark DAC1, but that’s exactly where it should be according to price so I was not overly impressed. The PureAudio Lotus is only $500 so I didn’t know what to expect. It did have a lot of good qualities but sadly seemed too bright for me, with less authority in the low frequency range than I would have liked. In the end I felt like both of them were unable to compete with the Yulong D100 much less the Anedio D1. Once again, this is just my opinion, and if I get a chance I’d like to revisit my time with both of them to go more in depth.
The built in headphone amp of the D1 is shockingly good. It uses a pair of OPA1611 op amps along with a LME49600 high-current buffer on each channel, and of course gets fed by the same beefy power supply as the DAC section. Anedio says the key design objective was to preserve the transparency and dynamics of the ES9018S DAC chip down the signal path leading to the headphone. I believe that goal has been achieved. Since there is no way to feed the amp section an external signal, I can’t say how it would perform under different circumstances. All I can say is that when it is being fed a pristine signal from the DAC section, the result is breathtaking, and rivals that of my best dedicated amps. It has an absolutely silent background, and stereo separation is about as good as I’ve ever heard. Like the DAC, it seems to have no real sonic signature of its own. When I insert even an excellent amp like the Darkvoice 337SE into the chain, I can tell that there are some subtle colorations going on to sweeten the sound. These manipulations can sometimes be pleasing to the ear, but ultimately are not as natural as what I hear through the internal amp. My Luxman P-1u is my most neutral lifelike amp, and the D1 approaches that level of performance. The only time I could consistently get better results was when using high impedance headphones such as the 600ohm Beyerdynamic DT990 or AKG K240DF. The internal D1 amp was still excellent, but I felt the Luxman had the edge at very high volumes. There came a point at which it almost felt like the D1 ran out of steam and any further volume increases only applied to the mids and highs, leaving the lower frequencies behind and creating a mildly unbalanced sound. This only occurred at volume levels higher than what I prefer to use, so for me it was not an issue. I also don’t have a large collection of high end, high impedance headphones to really test this properly. For owners of expensive high impedance models like the Beyerdynamic T1 who might be interested in the D1, you should probably enter with the assumption that you will also want a nice external amp and go from there.
The question of USB performance has probably been on the mind of some astute readers since I first mentioned the use of the PCM2707. I know it was a question I had. In this application, all the 2707 is doing is decoding the incoming USB signal and delivering it in SPDIF form to the same digital receiver used by the other inputs. The main problem as I understand it is that the 2707 is somewhat high in jitter. But the D1 has taken extreme measures to diminish jitter until it is imperceptible. So how does this play out when it comes to actual listening?
I could perceive no difference when listening to 16-bit/44.1kHz material through any one of the inputs, USB included. I repeatedly tried and failed to notice any hint of harshness, glare, or any of the other issues that are caused by excessive jitter and can make your music sound less natural or even fatiguing. That’s not to say that the USB limitation is without drawbacks. The one issue that I did have was the fact that USB is limited to 16-bit/48kHz resolution or lower. Granted much of my music library is in CD quality but I do have a growing portion of higher resolution tracks. Since these are all stored and played back from my PC, it makes sense that USB would be the most likely connection. But of course over USB the D1 does not handle them at their native rate, and I end up having to use the built in sample rate converter in Foobar to downsample. Anedio’s planned USB to SPDIF converter will alleviate this problem in the future, and my Squeezebox Touch already bypasses the issue for me altogether. But it is still an issue worth talking about. As I mentioned in the intro though, I do understand and agree with the design choices that Anedio made with respect to using this chip.
By the way, I feel like it is worth mentioning that I did hear what I felt was a slight degradation in quality when listening to hi-res music that had been downsampled via software. The difference was not huge, since most hi-res music is generally very well recorded, so it still sounded great. But some of the greatness did seem to be missing. It didn’t quite have that elusive “something” that made it so appealing in the first place. I’m aware of the hotly contested Meyer/Moran AES paper which possibly shows that high resolution audio is indistinguishable from standard resolution audio except at “very elevated” volume levels. I’m on the fence as to how I feel about their methodology, so I can only say what I think I hear. If I failed a few double blind tests on the subject I would have no problem admitting that what I heard must have been placebo. But I do seem to hear it. Perhaps critical listening on headphones somehow approximates what they refer to as “elevated levels”? I don’t know, but I do know that for high resolution playback, I will continue to use something other than the USB option on my D1 to extract the full sound quality that I know to exist.
I’ve basically just said that the $1270 Anedio D1 sounds as good as a $9000 MBL 1511E DAC paired with a $3000 Luxman P-1u headphone amp. I know that strains credibility, but I have to be honest about what I’m hearing. I’ve been around this forum for a while and I hope that my past reviews and interactions with other members would speak to my character. I admit that it is not a completely even match. The P-1u does have a few advantages, as does the MBL if you might be using the balanced option. And of course the more expensive units look like, well, more expensive units. Whether or not that is a good thing is debatable.
What’s not debatable for me is that the D1 is an incredible value. It is up there with the absolute best and most transparent pieces of audio reproduction equipment I have ever heard. I wish I had a Berkeley Alpha DAC available to compare, as that was the last DAC I’ve heard that performed at this high of a level for a somewhat reasonable price. I admit though that the Anedio will not be for everyone. Some people will simply not tolerate a design that contains op amps. Others prefer a NOS implementation, or desire a tube in the circuit somewhere. There are even those who swear by the old R2R DAC chips and refuse to accept that anything can sound better. I’m not here to tell anyone they are wrong. I’m just saying how much enjoyment I’ve personally had with the sound of the Anedio product, and documenting my experiences with it over the last few months.
I’ve spent more time with this DAC than I usually do before posting a review. I wanted to make sure I was really hearing what I thought I was hearing, because honestly it was so much more than what I expected. At $1270 I don’t anticipate dozens of people running out to order this DAC based on my impressions alone, but I wanted to be confident it was really this good in case even one person does.
During my very insightful exchanges with the designer, I asked him what he felt he would improve upon if he had an unlimited budget to work with. Here is his answer:
“As for the cost-no-objective design, our aim is to push the performance until we feel we have reached the point of diminishing returns, where adding more would not yield significant improvements. For the D1 DAC, we believe that we have reached such a point, but it’s more of a subjective judgment.
If we were to put more resources, it would probably be in two areas, but again, we believe that the resulting sonic improvement will be marginal:
— Use two ES9018S chips in dual mono configuration, one for each channel, for lower distortion and noise. In this mode, each channel will have 8 DACs connected in parallel (by comparison, the D1 DAC has 4 DACs in parallel per channel).
— Design a custom oscillator for the master clock for lower phase noise (jitter) and better power supply regulation. The master clock used in the D1 DAC is already of premium quality, a Crystek ultra low phase noise oscillator, so it’s not clear how much this will lower the jitter.
Personally, I know that my design will always remain a work in progress. Even if I’m not limited by resources, there will always be something to improve on. The power supplies are never perfect, the PCB layout is never perfect, and there is always something that escapes my comprehension. So the quest goes on.”
At the risk of repeating myself, I’d once again like to direct everyone to Anedio’s website. Even if you have absolutely no interest in this product, it is still a worthwhile resource for anyone interested in audio reproduction in general. Start with this section, titled “Assumptions in Audio Design”: http://www.anedio.com/index.php/article/assumptions_in_audio_design
This really gets to the heart of where James of Anedio is coming from as a designer, and what his company is all about. As for me, despite all the comparisons I’ve made in this review, I can think of no bigger compliment than this: Since receiving the D1, I’ve spent significantly more time enjoying music in my home. I will go so far as to say the D1 has given me more enjoyment for the price than any other audio component I have ever heard. I apologize for the length of this post and I thank anyone who had the tenacity to read it.
Edited by project86 - 4/18/11 at 7:32am