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Acoustic Research UA1

  • Product Description

    USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier

    Bit-perfect HD audio upgrade for Windows & MAC
    Flagship class performance with Acoustic Research M-Class D/A engine
    Audiophile class Gold-plated brass connectors
    Powerful headphone amplifier HEADPHONE TYPE
    POWER (THD < 0.01%)
    32 ohms
    400mW + 400 mW
    300 ohms
    43mW + 43mW
    Host powered, for use as a home or portable DAC
    PC/Mac software for FLAC, DSD64/128, DXD, WAV, AIFF, ALAC playback

    M-Class engine by Acoustic Research
    Portable DAC
    M-Class audio engine based on M1 music player
    Isolated digital and analogue stages
    Burr-Brown PCM1794A Flagship class dierential current output DAC
    Dual Burr-Brown OPA2134 current/voltage converter
    High slew rate TPA6120A2 headphone amplifier

Recent Reviews

  1. dnun8086
    One Beautiful Piece of Equipment
    Written by dnun8086
    Published Feb 18, 2015
    Pros - Great Detailing, Clean Grainless DAC, Deep textured bass
    Cons - Lack of Accessories: RCA cable, 1/4 Adaptor Relaxed Mid range
    Acoustic Research UA1
    Firstly I would like to thank Robert and David at Acoustic research for this review sample. Disclaimer I am not now or ever have been affiliated with Acoustic Research all material written in this review is purely subjective.
    Packaging and contents
    I have uploaded a few pictures below of the contents and packaging. Included in the luxuriously presented box is the UA1 DAC itself, USB cable, instruction manual and installation C.D. The packaging is minimalistic but well-presented, sort of what you’d expect from a high end restaurant a palatable plate of food with a few basil leaves for added effect. As nice as the presentation is, I do feel a little more could have been added for the price; ideally a ¼ inch adaptor and RCA to Jack cable would have been a really nice attribute to sweeten the deal.
    Appearance and Function
    Cased in a silver metal shell sized 82 x 135 x 24mm, Acoustic Research are keeping the look minimalistic and eloquent with a plain gloss black rear and front fascia enclosed in a machined aluminium casing. The company’s logo is engraved on the top of the device. The front fascia of the UA1’s features a headphone jack, a knurled knob which uses analogue controlling for the headphone volume and an additional multicolour led indicator showing the sample rate of the output. I must add the volume control is well implemented you get a nice sense of quality as you feel each click and notch. However one thing I feel slightly annoying is it does take a few notches before any audible sound is actually heard, but in all honesty this is just hair splitting.
    Installation and software
    Acoustic Research have very generously included a Jriver Media Center 19 for free with an installation C.D. I will not comment on Jriver as I am not reviewing the software, but would recommend it to any audio enthusiasts. Installation of this software is not mandatory just an additional extra should you wish to use it, you will not have to pay for licencing for continued use as the disk envelope has the registration code on the back saving you £50, If you wish to do so.
    Installation of the drivers is simplistic and pretty much self-explanatory. Insert the disk and open the application file then follow the step by step process and eureka you’re good to go. Alternatively if you prefer you can install the drivers by downloading them online through Acoustic Research’s website a link is provided in the installation manual.
    The UA1 provides installation for both Windows and Mac OS X.
    ·         An Audiophile oriented asynchronous USB Audio 2.0 interface
    ·         M-Class audio engine with Burr-brown PCM1794A DAC (Based on the Acoustic Research M1 music player)
    ·         Gold plated RCA output connectors
    ·         Windows/Mac OS X music player included for FLAC, DSD 64/128, and DXD playback
    ·         Optical output
    ·         ¼ inch headphone output
    ·         Dual Burr-Brown OPA2134 current/voltage converter
    ·         High slew rate TPA6120A2 Headphone amplifier
    ·         POWER (THD < 0.01%) 32 ohms 400mW + 400 mW 300 ohms 43mW + 43mW
    Sound Impressions
    Firstly I would like to talk about the sound impressions directly from the headphone out. The earphones and headphones used were the Dunu 2000 and Audio Technica ATH-M50 with a Forza Audio Works hybrid cable. I was hoping to get my hands on a pair of Grado SE325e for supplementary testing unfortunately this hasn’t been possible. There is little audible hiss with any earphones although there is a noticeable humming in the background when music isn’t actively playing but nothing to cause too much concern. I will split sound impressions down into four categories for convenience.
    I will say immediately after plugging in both my Dunu and ATH-M50s the bass did strike me and in a very good way. There is a very nice tonal balance with the bass, it is prominent but not overbearing there is a slight bloom which contributes to a really rich and full bodied sound. In comparison the Meridian Explorer almost sounds a little looser and muddier which I didn’t ever really consider until now. There is stacks of detailing and the layering of each kick is very rhythmic, certainly one of the best DACs I have heard for bass detailing and texture.
    Moving on to the midrange I get a sense of open clean space. There is a nice touch of warmth that flows through with the cosy cuddly bass however, I do sense a slight recession in a few songs this occurs more so with male vocals. Vocals come across spotless and grain free but lack the touch of emotion I am consistently drawn to. Thankfully if you have a nice RCA to Jack cable and a good amp changes can be made. After plugging in my trusty Neco V4 amp the vocals soon showed there true colours and life began to flow into my ears again. I won’t add much more but the midrange whilst great could do with a touch of forwardness for added emotion.  
    I am in love with the details this little beauty produces but admittedly it was not love at first sound. After A and B-ing back and forth against my Explorer with some High res files I noticed an immediate lack of timber, stumped by this I allowed more time for burn in and for my ears to adjust. As I was losing hope I decided to play Ed Sheeran’s new album X.  I have listen to most of the songs on that particular album an unsightly amount of times knowing the melodies very well, with this in mind I also most cried upon listening to the strings starting to cascade. No I am not joking it was as if someone had cleaned the dirty window of a prison cell and rays of natural sunlight had broken in. The timber is very different from the way the Explorer presents its music some will prefer the latter, personally both have their own unique taste it will be a matter of preference. The Explorer is certainly a more coloured sound which was built for an epic soundstage, luxurious vocals and lingering sweet treble. The UA1 had me lost discovering the integrated details of each note as the strings played and the whispers of the melody catch and entrance you. I certainly will miss it when it’s gone.
    I am unsure how to word this article, hands down is the most truthful sound I have heard from a source. Not one thing seems out of place the sound-stage is just above average in width and depth just right some may say. Others may disagree here and I am happy for some constructive criticism as others experience this beautiful piece of mastery. I strongly believe this DAC was created for a better more accurate and precise musical experience as a no nonsense source. There is a lovey relaxed quality about the overall sound which is certainly not fatiguing, this in my opinion is a very mature DAC secure in its identity and its place in this world. As much as I adore my Explorer switching back and forth you soon see the dreams and ambitions Meridian were aiming for, and did accomplish which I am not saying didn't work well, but it’s clearly a different approach to the UA1 which emphasises neutrality.
    Harmon Kardon Soundsticks
    For this piece I will share some brief impressions on how I feel the DAC performed solely without the use of its internal amp. Certainly there is an improvement over the standard headphone out. The first thing you will notice is an increased level of clarity; separation of instruments are now a little more apparent creating a cleaner airier space between instruments. Sound staging is now noticeably wider and there is less glare in the treble than usual. The sticks usually like to hurl detail at your face sharply but with the UA1 in place the music and treble are presented in a slightly more laid back way, still with oodles of details, but with a truer sense of stereo space that encompasses the music.
    To sum up this is certainly one awesome DAC with very few shortcoming. There is a lot to like about it particularly the sound even down to the simplistic design. If you haven’t figured it out yet I do like this DAC an awful lot, I would highly recommend the UA1 for anyone looking for a semi portable setup especially for those who will be utilising the DAC for any home audio system. The headphone amp is fairly powerful although I can sense it certainly has its limits but anyone using sensitive iem’s or headphones up to about 300ohms should be fine.   
    If there are any questions you have about the review or DAC I will do my best to answer you as promptly as possible. I hope you have enjoyed the review and a quick heads up I seriously recommend keeping an eye on this company as they will have something very special coming out in the near future :wink:. Check out the Acoustic Research M2 thread for more details. 
      AR-Voice likes this.
    1. View previous replies...
    2. Stephan
      It wasn't there earlier.
      Stephan, Feb 19, 2015
    3. dnun8086
      Hi Stephan just to clarify it was there as it will not let you complete the review without it. I will be updating the price once it is confirmed for the USA as I only have information on the U.K sale price. 
      dnun8086, Feb 21, 2015
    4. AR-Voice
      20% Discount on the USA site, Live Now - www.acousticresearch-hifi.com  
      Acoustic Research 20% CanJam Denver Show Special - See us in Room EV2 - To celebrate attending their first CanJam @ RMAF, Acoustic Research are offering 20% off ALL purchases on their website www.acousticresearch-hifi.com - So their High-Res DAPs and accessories are now even better value. No coupon is necessary - ends 31st October. THIS IS A USA ONLY PROMOTION
      AR-Voice, Oct 4, 2016


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