With all the excitement surrounding the Asus Xonar One DAC, another "Asus-related" DAC seems to have slipped onto the market unnoticed. The company is Kao Audio, formed in 2009 by a group of former Asus engineers and dedicated to high quality audio. Almost all employees came from the Asus R&D department - mainly from the motherboard and notebook divisions. My contact, Ting-Kuo Kao, says he was personally in touch with the project manager and engineers in the Xonar division. They would sometimes approach him for advise regarding the Xonar audio products, though he felt that they were too limited in terms of budget to really implement his ideas. The group of engineers at Kao are all passionate about music, and wanted to form this new company to focus on that pursuit without limitations.
The first offering from Kao is the UD2C-HP - a compact DAC with integrated headphone amp, in a very unique chassis, which sells for just shy of $1,000. Kao employs industrial engineers and it really shows in the design of this unit. Pictures simply don't do it justice. For reference, it is larger than something like a NuForce uDac, but smaller than the Violectric V800 or almost any other serious DAC I've encountered. The finish has a unique texture which they call "sandblasted aluminum". It's a sort of smoke color, with a non-smooth finish. Unfortunately it appears to show smudges and dust in the pictures very easily, but in person it looks stunning.
Internally, the device uses a mix of high-tech design and old-school audiophile wisdom: An advanced switch-mode power supply, extremely short signal paths, separate DACs for the line outs and headphone section, no opamps, no upsampling... it even comes with an "audiophile grade" power cable. It's quite and interesting design philosophy. I'll go into more detail when I have my complete review finished soon.
This post is long overdue. I've had the Kao Audio UD2C-HP in house for a few months, and I have to say I really enjoy it. It isn't perfect, but some of the things it does can only be matched by my reference units. But more about that in due time. For now, enjoy some eye candy.
UPDATE: Full review completed (finally!)
Edited by project86 - 2/17/12 at 11:46am