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Linnenberg Audio u:c:a - Fully discrete Hiface based USB/coax DAC+headamp combo

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

Hi guys, I'm quite surprised to see that there is no discussion thread about this very promising DAC+headamp combo from Linnenberg Audio so I thought I'd create onepopcorn.gif

 

[:yann39]

 

[:yann39]

 

A friend of mine ordered it a few weeks ago, he's been really thrilled by its performance and wanted to hear my opinion. He was kind enough to let me try it for a week-end, he even took care of the burn-in part so all I really had to do was sit back and enjoy...I can do that tongue.gif

 

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Anyway, we're all gear sluts and this DAC doesn't disappoint happy_face1.gif

 

6moons already posted all the internal pics you could possibly think of, this DAC isn't mine and under full warranty so I didn't bother cracking it open: http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/linnenberg2/2.html

 

What's so good about it then?

 

[:yann39] Hiface based USB input, connected via I²S

 

[:yann39] non-USB powered, as explained here: http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/linnenberg2/sidebar.html

 

So that means that 1) you won't have to mess around with USB power kludges 2) your computer stored music won't go through the usual S/PDIF clock recovery mumbo jumbo(I²S doesn't mix the clock) 3) It's fully async using two low jitter clocks that are multiples of 44.1 & 48kHz(no nasty PLL based clock synthesis from a 12Mhz clock) 4) It supports 88.2/176.4 and 192kHz

 

Quite frankly, this seems as good as it gets! Plus, the Hiface is known to play really nice with jplay in hibernation mode which was a mandatory condition for my friend.

 

[:yann39] The coax input is managed by WM8804(up to 192kHz), the famous reclocking chip that has become the market leading solution for S/PDIF. Many companies keep using the utterly obsolete CS8416 because it also supports AES-EBU(and DIR9001 is capped to 96kHz), but quite frankly the only real world difference with S/PDIF is that it'll allow the use of longer cables....when the usual audiophile user will use a one or two meters cable.

 

[:yann39] Small form factor at 55 x 165 x 224 mm, you can easily carry it around.

 

[:yann39] Real 75Ω BNC plug, no out-of-specs RCA here. Every little bit counts, and BNC always sounds better than the 50Ω RCA for coax in many ppl's opinion(it also matches my own experience).

 

[:yann39] Fully discrete I/V stage and headamp, no opamp or IC whatsoever.

 

[:yann39] Linear regulated 15V PSU with high grade voltage regulators.

 

[:yann39] Full Class-A design.

 

[:yann39] Manufactured in EU so should you also live in the EU and require RMA, you woudn't have to go through stellar overseas shipping costs, customs duty taxes or weeks of wait until your reseller would ship it back to his own overseas supplier. It also comes with a 30 days cooling-off period.

 

So that was for the theoritical part normal_smile%20.gif

 

Now to the subjective impressions then:

 

First, the pot feels really really nice! Inertia is perfect, neither too hard or too light. It definitely has a "german" feeling to it, it's like operating a precision machine of some sort. Its shape is also very convenient for über-finetuning.

 

The headamp gain is not ridiculously high, so I can get away with 10:30 o'clock when feeeding my 150Ω orthodynamic Yamaha's. Non-stepped attenuators are known to provide poor stereo tracking <9 o'clock, so all is well here. The drawback of stepped attenuation is that you usually get a maximum of 24 volume steps and some of those attenuators are really hard clicking and create stereo misbalance/static between the steps. So a non-stepped attenuator with a reasonable gain is a perfectly acceptable compromise IMHO, kudos!

You can always use digital attenuation but it will kill dynamics no matter what(http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/resonessence/2.html) so quite frankly, there's a good chance that the pot of the u:c:a would make even the most OCD'ed audiophile happy...I know I was biggrin.gif

 

So it's only a matter of installing the Hiface drivers and firing up your favorite media player, which I much obliged. It's been a while since I had not used fully discrete gear and I have to say that the SQ of the u:c:a clearly doesn't disappoint. When plugging my orthodynamic headphones, I was instantly welcomed by a thick controlled deep bass response, some very neutral sounding mids, soft trebles and an immersive 3D sounding soundstage. Colored, Transparent? Hard to say, as literally everything colors the sound you know, and it's only a matter of finding a sonic color that will permanently leave a big grin on your face(a bit like thisatsmile.gif).

 

All I can say is that PRaT is strong and that the head-bobbing factor is very real when listening to the u:c:a.......you do get to hear where your money went cool.gif

 

Its 192kHz upsampling feature provides very accurate trebles but the surrounding fully discrete design does its best to counterbalance any "over-analytical" character to the sound, striving to provide the best of both worlds: a smooth "analog" sound together with a very clear sounding DAC stage....which would appear to be the very pitfall where many manufacturers seem to have a hard time finding the right balance. Linnenberg Audio have been in the audio business for decades and the u:c:a audibly benefits for their long time experience to my ears, so kudos again!

 

All in all, this is indeed a dead serious external DAC+headamp combo "on the cheap" so to speak: you don't get a line input and you can't disable its upsampling feature....but you do get a top of the line USB input, a nice smooth non-shrill sound signature, a highly enjoyable to operate potentiometer, a small form factor and no tweaking/kludging/OCD triggering possible: no opamp or USB PSU to roll, no need to feed a megabuck S/PDIF transport or use a reclocker, it's all there right here right now! 

 

It's rather impressive to see this kind of uncompromising piece of audio gear without a 3 grand price tag, when a serious USB transport will already pretty much cost you half of its asking price.

 

I was most happy to listen to the u:c:a and share the enjoyment, and I believe this little monster does indeed deserve a thread here on head-fi [:yann39]


Edited by leeperry - 8/4/12 at 5:44am

Gear mentioned in this thread:

post #2 of 9

Cited distortion seems a touch high at -80db, which is substantially worse than say the $350 Marantz CD5004 and that was at -10db which would make me suspect it has a tendency to clip at fullscale like the Udac - but without serious measurements it is hard to judge


Edited by nick_charles - 8/1/12 at 7:57am
post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 

Hi Nick, nice to see you around happy_face1.gif

 

Well, I would guess that the CD player you just mentioned is opamps based so surely its THD figures will show as many zeros as their marketing team saw fit(Thank you Dr Feedback). Neither you or I are EE's so if you feel so concerned about the figures visible on their official website, why don't you ask them for further explanations? Speculating is one thing, getting to the bottom of things another wink_face.gif

 

FWIW, I've heard the u:c:a and it surely didn't sound like a fuzz box.

post #4 of 9

Interesting, more connections and settings would have been nice...


Edited by Deep Funk - 8/11/12 at 6:27am
post #5 of 9

Guys,

 

I've had the pleasure of owning a u:c:a for a few days now and concur with everything that leeperry has so eloquently written. This diminutive units sonic capabilities continue to pleasantly surprise me, as it is an extremely accomplished combination DAC/Headphone Amplifier. The u:c:a resolves music files beautifully, with stellar transparency and no hint of digital glare or harshness. Bass, treble and dynamics are precise and not overblown with a lovely `analogue' feel reminiscent of hybrid amps. I'm extremely pleased with my purchase and know that the u:c:a is a keeper! 

 

Incidentally, if any UK based Head-Fi members want to hear the u:c:a I will be demonstrating it at the 2012 UK Head-Fi Meet on September 15th in Cambridge - http://www.head-fi.org/t/601003/uk-2012-head-fi-meet-september-15th-cambridgeshire

 

Cheers,

 

Andy. 

post #6 of 9
Thread Starter 

Hi Andy, glad to hear you liked it coz my friend who bought it is indeed still very much in honeymoon as well happy_face1.gif

 

The combo of the high grade USB input, reclocked coax and fully discrete analog side hit the nail right on the head IMHO.

post #7 of 9
Thread Starter 

So I thought I would give an update on my friend's feedback together with pics in his home rig:

 

:  :  :   

 

These are german made ADAM A7X active speakers: http://www.adam-audio.com/en/pro-audio/products/a7x/description

 

They even come with planar tweeters, how cool is that: http://www.adam-audio.com/en/technology/x-art-driver

 

Anyway, after a few weeks of listening to the u:c:a, that's his feedback:

Quote:
I'm using JRiver is WASAPI Exclusive mode playing electro, hip-hop, dubstep, roots reggae, dancehall, jazz, pop and rock music in FLAC.
 
To me, its strongs points are:
-Its front panel volume knob comes in very handy because my active speakers both use a discrete built-in amp with its own volume knob so that's a lot more user convenient and I don't have to resort to either dynamics killing digital volume attenuation or my TC Electronic "Level Pilot" analog knob anymore.
-Form factor is very small, a big change from my previous DAC
-Even though it runs in Class A, it doesn't get too warm(big change from my previous DAC again)
-Very nice aluminium finish that looks professional and just nice to look at. It's not yet another ugly big black box sitting on my desk.
-Easy to access hardware switch to change between the USB and coax inputs
-Hiface drivers that are proven to work flawlessly on the two OS I use(Win7/MacOS X)
-Front panel headphones output, which comes in handy at night when I turn off my speakers in order to avoid complains from the neighbors when I'm working on my own tunes at night.
-Extremely revealing sound with a very balanced stereo image and a lot of details I had never heard that clearly before blink.gif
 
= Excellent bang for bucks ratio, couldn't be happier!
 
All in all, I find it far more precise and detailed than my previous discrete DAC(that was using a Tenor USB jellybean chip), SQ is very clean and balanced....just what I was looking for cool.gif

Edited by leeperry - 9/9/12 at 4:34pm
post #8 of 9
Thread Starter 

shameless bump as there finally are Linux drivers for the Hiface: https://github.com/panicking/snd-usb-asyncaudio beerchug.gif


Edited by leeperry - 1/7/13 at 3:43pm
post #9 of 9

u:c:a mk2

 

 

Dear valuable headfi member, due to quite a lot of email enquiries regarding the native USB audio 2.0 support, I would like to take the opportunity to announce the availability of the u:c:a mk2. While enabling a driverless operation for Mac and Linux OS, this USB transceiver is equally well suited for Windows OS from XP up to Win8. The proprietary drivers are downloadable from our website.

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