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DAC-AH mini review

post #1 of 30
Thread Starter 
DAC-AH impressions.

DISCLAIMER: please take this review as my personal oppinion. I am not a pro reviewer, i do not own megabuck equipment and i don't care about monthly flavors...i will say what i think and just hope i help others to make decisions.

I got interested in this dac mainly because its price ($135 US), for its use of quality components -dacs, receiver, regulated supplys, caps, resistors...- and the atractive concept of a NON-OS with 8 paralleled dacs.

NON-OS seems to be the big thing going on in the DIY world, they are simple and cheap but they still get very good reviews compared to more complex dacs. Simplicity of construction was a main factor in this purchase, as i like attacking almost every piece of equipment i own with a soldering iron. It is just a matter of time...i already have a upgrade plan laid out and ready for this dac. (full schematics were included in the purchase)

I purchased this dac from DIYCLUB a Hong Kong based store for audio components, pcb's, and some already built equipment based in their own designs -like this dac-

Ordering was pretty straight forward, communication was excellent, receiving answers and confirmation e-mail within few hours. The dac got shipped within 2 days and i got a tracking number.

Since it was shipped via surface -at my request- it took almost 2 moths ...my bad...i should have ordered air...oh well...i will order air next time. (air is about 2 weeks)

Packaging: ugly, and simply put....bad. Packaging is very important, why the OIY*&^)( would they save some cents in a mall case and crappy stuffing? Anyway....because the packaging was so tight the selector switch at the back of the unit (optical/coax) arrived broken which upset me very much...but it was just a switch...and i didn't let a switch -which i can easily replaced- ruin my day.

Stetics: smaller than i thought, flat black color, golden allen screws and a simple power switch ...nice..as i said, i like simplicity. The led is blue, but not “anoying blue flashlight” kind... i like the overall looks...very industrial.

Opening the hood...: cool red pcd, clean layout, components seem to be the advertised -oscons, elna audio caps, nichicon golds, sanyo (?), films, and philips at the output, tda1543 dacs, cs8414 receiver, lmXXXX regulators, nice resistors a nice custom r-core transfo and OPA602 opamps....very good overall impression.

After further inspection with a magnifier and a flashlight i found some funny looking solder joints, as if they were suffering from “Friday 4:30 pm sindrome” and some resistors had the lacquer cracked. They are 100% functional but not a nice sight.

Cables are cleanly routed and packed, and the pcb is clean. There is one spot were the pcb is lifted, in a resistor lead, but the point is routed in the bottom part of the board and the top goes to nowhere. While this is another upsetting point, i try to forget about it thinking the bottom part is were the connection is and it doesn't really matter if the top ring is lifted. (It really does not matter....but i do not like it).

So far: good communication, bad packaging, good components and lousy construction.


i am using: NEC-602 transport -> DAC-AH -> HP-100a with sovtek tubes -> JVC HA-DX3 headphones, with really crapy interconnects and a terrible digital interconnect ( what a funky setup !! )

i connected everything and fired it up with no music playing for the amp to warm up. I heard noise with the volume all the way up, this noise was coming from the dac – i know how the amp sounds -. I moved the cables a bit and it got better...so i really need to get some nicer cables. There was also some hiss when i pressed pause - i think it came from the NEC ps -. I am confident i can minimize all of this issues by using good interconnects and just tuning up the system. (remember, this is the first time all this components are together...and the dac needs to burn in). I also think a big part of this noise is caused by the fact that my house does not have ground connection at the power outlets – normal for an almost 100 y/o house-

Music: nice...very nice actually. Compared to the analog out of the 602, my turbo portable, my laptop and a panasonic dvd...the dac-ah is clearly better than any of them...by a big margin. The main characteristic i can hear coming from this dac is a solid and full sound, no weak points. It is pretty smooth but still has the punch to make you blink, it has good bass (not one of my headphones strong points). What pleased me the most, was listening jazz (the JVC are pretty good at it). For the first time i could really tell were the musicians were placed..the instruments are placed in different layers...not coming from just a unique sound source and i can tell how each has its own place..cool!

I have just listened 10cd's or so...and i am still learning how this dac performs...but so far i am really happy. All of this positive facts made me forget about the switch, the lousy solder joints and the need of new interconnects.

Keeping in mind what i paid for the source setup, $135 for the dac and $15 for the transport, i am positive there is nothing in this price range that comes even close.

As you can see, my whole setup is about $350~400...

I wrote the diyclub guys and told them about the solder joints and the switch, they simply said i can send the pcb and i will get a new one...while i will not send the board -as i would have to dessasemble all the components- is good to see they replied and were wiling to work something out.

Interesting pages ..



Higher resolution pics or custom pics upon request.

edit:// added pics and corrected some grammar
edit:// corrected a technical description mistake
post #2 of 30
Thanks a lot for the review, Miguel. Greatly appreciated. Do you think you could add two direct-angle pictures, one of the front panel and one of the back?
post #3 of 30
thank you very much for reviewing an interesting dac, miguel! i really appreciate your work on that, knowing how hard it is if english is not your mother's language...

maybe the dac-ah could rival some of the better soundcards (esp. e-mu 0404)? i hope there will be some sort of comparison by others in the nearer future. one thing is sure: the price is very attractive...
post #4 of 30
This is some budget dac. I have a hunch that it's much, much better than an 0404 or 1212m. It uses the same NOS principles as much more expensive dacs but at a bargain bin price. The main compromise, imo is in the power supply, PCB, and opamp output, but some people don't even necessarily dislike that. I'm more excited than ever to get my NOS dac.
post #5 of 30
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by ooheadsoo
The main compromise, imo is in the power supply, PCB, and opamp output
in my opinion the the main compromise is the lack of reclocking(which i guess would make this already nice dac a different beast), the case size (the transfo is really close to the pcb..), about the opeamp stage, you can upgrade it (socket it and drop your favorite opamps, replace the output caps) or just bypass it.

it is easy to forget, but keep in mind this is a $135 unit, just the parts alone run more than this price, i think to be fair it should be compared to equally priced equipment.

about the sound cards, i own a laptop so i am not familiar with modern sounds cards, so i can not comment on it. plus don't they have the advantage of using better data sources? (they play from the HD, wich could help) again, i dont think it fair to compare different kind of sources.

Bln...i am working on the pics...the camera just run out of batt
post #6 of 30
Yes, it is an absolute steal for $135 just on the numbers. Reclocking is controversial. Just as many proponents as detractors. If I hadn't already dumped half my money into that top shelf ddac1543, this would definitely be a contender for me for a cheap solution that has all the technical things going for it.
post #7 of 30
I have had one of these boards for a few months. I'd say it is the polar opposite of the emu 1212m (or should I say 1820m which is what I use but for all purposes the same). I can't really make a true comparision since I'm running with a toroid and passive I/V so it's not this DAC-AH and my 1820m has a linear power supply and upgraded caps. Short summary, the emu is more detailed. dac-ah has more powerful bass and is richer sounding, the highs are more relaxed which is nice.

Thanks for your review and keep us informed of your adventures. This is definitely a nice cheap and pleasant setup. I don't think you can do better for the $. I have the NEC CDROM also. Have you tried to upgrade it's power supply?
post #8 of 30
Ahh...finally get a chance to hop back on head-fi and I find this thread. This DAC really looks like a terrific bargain!

I'd love to order up one of the boards and then do it with a nice case, good connectors, wire, etc.

How about battery powered? Is it possible to rig one up for this?

post #9 of 30
How much was the cost including shipping to the US? After your ordeal, I'd definitely choose air mail over ground. I'm not qualified to comment on the internals, but on the outside this DAC looks nicer than I had expected. I'm definitely considering one.
post #10 of 30
No kidding, I almost abandoned my plan to get the fancy nos dac and just wuss out and get this el cheapo instead It does have a few compromises but the PRICE!
post #11 of 30
i'd have some issues with the design: aos stated in another thread that those dacs can heat up substantially - but here are no heatsinks attached on them. could you elaborate on that, miguel?
post #12 of 30
Biasing the dac into higher voltage (apparently desirable for the sound) is what causes the dacs to heat up, I think. This dac must not have that high a voltage. Also, it's spread out, not stacked like the dddac1543. An advantage heatwise, but not electrically. I'm just guessing here.

aos, have you tried your super regulator with the dddac1543?
post #13 of 30

You go, M!

Nice review, Miguel! Almost make me want go out and get one.

It's nice to hear you don't have to go broke to get decent 'hi-end' sound.

Can't wait to hear/read about your future mods.

Keep us posted.
post #14 of 30
Thanks a ton for the review. Very tempted to get one of these instead of a Scott Nixon now.
post #15 of 30
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by JDUBS
I'd love to order up one of the boards and then do it with a nice case, good connectors, wire, etc.

How about battery powered? Is it possible to rig one up for this?
i was about to do what you describe, but the difference in price from the board (asembled....i am not sure they sell "kits" ) plus the transfo to the completed one was just $25 so i decided to get it already built (case, rca's...).

not sure about battery as it uses 3 different PS's....in sure it can be done, but if you want a battery setup try this one instead -> $75 dac

Originally Posted by bln
How much was the cost including shipping to the US?
i ordered it from Spain, but it think it cost the same...about $20 surface and twice as much for air...just drop them a mail, prices may differ...

Originally Posted by BrokenEnglish
i'd have some issues with the design: aos stated in another thread that those dacs can heat up substantially - but here are no heatsinks attached on them. could you elaborate on that, miguel?
still to early for me to comment about it (but if AOS says it...it must be true ), the case does get warm..i i guess i will have to get some small heatsinks (as seen in the pics of the page i linked above)

Originally Posted by puppyslugg
Can't wait to hear/read about your future mods.
i plan on doing almost exaclty what is decribed in the linked page (opas, film output caps, heatsinks, nicer ps caps.....and maybe a bigger enclosure)
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