Audioengine D1 DAC Review
When I am at home I will listen to my music on the computer. This is for a few simple reasons, it has loads of memory and all my music is on there, it is mainly in low compression FLAC and I will be on my computer for whatever I am doing. The earphones I will be using will differ, right now I am using my Heir Audio 4.Ai but I always swap and change. My computer is an iMac from mid 2010 and one thing that always annoys me is that whatever programme I use to listen to music with, be it iTunes or VLC player, it never sounds nearly as good as one of my sources, even with a good amp you can tell it could be better. The reason for this is quite simple and that is that my iMac does not have a good enough sound card or internal DAC. A DAC is something that transfers the 0s and 1s into the music that we hear and love, from digital to analogue. So if you are having the same problem with your computers sound whatever it is, then what you will want is an external DAC and that is what the Audioengine D1 is. This is a relatively cheap unit coming in at roughly £150, especially when compared to some other DACs going straight over a grand! Now obviously you want to know if it is any good, right?
So your greeted with a nice brown box with another box inside and then we have the DAC it self. Everything was presented very nicely.Other than the DAC itself we have everything that you need to get going with it. Obviously you get a set up guide, which simply takes you through how to set it up and all the different uses that can be found for it (there is quite a few) and you also get a product brochure.
Just to keep the DAC safe you also get a really nice little microfiber pouch to carry them around with you.
Lastly you get the magic USB cable the piece of equipment that connects you up to your computer! It is 2 foot long, well built with chunky connectors and the connections are all gold plated which I did not expect but am very pleased with.
This can be used straight of the box by quite simply plugging it in and off you go. There is a lot of ways you can set it up but they are all very simple. You do not need any special software on your computer and as far as I am concerned all computers will be compatible. For the most simple of methods, connect the USB cable into your computers USB port, straight into the D1 DAC and then connect your headphones and that is it. Also you will have to change the output of your computer, which on a Mac is a simple case of going onto system preferences, sound and then changing from speaker out put to the Audioengine D1 DAC option.
This is some were that the D1 really excels and that is because there is so many way you can use it. Other similar priced DACs just do not compare and some simply have a headphone out and a USB in. What we have on this is two input and then two outputs. The two inputs are quite simple but very handy. One is the USB input and the easiest to use as it powers it at the same time. We also have for better sound an optical in which can connect to your computer if it has the right outputs, which my iMac does, or you can us it to connect to a TV. However to power it you will still have to use the USB cable which will have to be connected to a power source such as the mains. As for outputs we have a 3.5mm headphone out and a RCA analogue out. Using the analogue out you can connect to some speakers, an AV receiver or a desktop headphone amplifier that has RCA in so that it can be a pre amp. The headphone out comes very handy also as the D1 also has a built in headphone amplifier so you can plug your headphones straight in. Also unconventionally, you can use the headphone out to connect to a headphone amp that does not have RCA in and this actually sounds great.
It also supports 24/96, which is impressive and has a AK4396 DAC if you know your DACs.
It is unlikely anything will happen to this if in a desktop rig nut you may take it on the move with a laptop as it is small enough and therefore it handily is solid enough to take a few blows. The housing is very well constructed and has two screws on either side holding it together. It is all plastic and has two little rubber stands which prop it up nicely. This will be able to take a few blows with now worries although mine is staying on my desktop.
Obviously the most important factor with this is the sound quality. Now quickly I will say that it does make a clear difference to the sound of just your computer. The sound is also worth its price but sadly that is all. The package and features are way above the price but the sound is not going to exceed the price and it is likely you can get better sounding DACs with less features for as much. The sound however is quite fun. It has a tad of warmth to it and a slight bass emphasis to it. However although it is just generally better than the sound straight from the iMac, it does have its faults. One is that it does sound quite compressed with a smaller soundstage and not the best instrument separation. Another is the detail and clarity is also not to great. However the sound is as I said fun and a vast improvement to just the computer. The bass has a good extension with it adding a bit of rumble and we also have an improvement in the texture of the sound. I also found it makes the treble a bit more laid back and the mids warm.
Use as a Headphone Amplifier
Using a very sensitive IEM such as the Fischer Audio DBA-02 to check for any hiss, I happened to come across none at all, which is very handy as it can be a problem with headphone amplifiers.
If you chose to buy this as a DAC and also to just use its headphone output then you might want to pair it with some high impedance headphones that will need some power to drive. I paired them with the power hungry Sennheiser HD580 with there impedance of 300 ohms to see how they coped.
With low impedance IEMs I can turn the volume knob the slightest bit to get a good volume but with the HD580s you do really have to turn it a fair few times to get a good listening volume but you can keep turning it and get it very loud indeed. There is no problem with volume but it also has to succeed in driving them efficiently and not just loudly. They do not do an awful job but it is far from a thumbs up performance. Now with a more powerful amplifier like my Objective 2, which I actually have, going from the D1 (use it as a pre amp) the sound is so much more full, textured and extended on both ends of the frequency response. So were you could say it does the job I will not recommend this to drive any high impedance headphones. However of course that was never what this was intended to do.
Another problem that I have found with headphone amplifiers is radio interference from mobile phones. Although you will not be using this with a phone, you may have it charging next to the DAC on your desk like I do and that could lead to problems. However Audioengine have made no problems in this department and I can rest my iPhone 4 on top of it and not hear the slightest noise when making a phone call or receiving a text.
I think this could be the best entry level DAC even though I have not tried many. I say this because it sound okay making a clear difference but mainly because the amount of features for the price. You can use it in so many scenarios, which are just crazy, and it is well made and also small and therefore transportable. Quite simply if you want a better sound from your computer and something that will grant you that and have many uses then this will be a very well spent £150.
Edited by Swimsonny - 1/29/13 at 12:03am