Musical Fidelity V-DAC II Upsampling Digital-to-Analog Converter with Asynchronous USB Input

General Information

When the original V-DAC was launched three years ago, it was almost universally lauded. The only complaints were about the lack of asynchronous USB input and a somewhat pedestrian styling - both of which have now been rectified with the new V-DAC II.

The new V-DAC II has an asynchronous USB input - exactly the same technology and programming as used in Musical Fidelity's highly successful, enthusiastically reviewed V-Link. The V-DAC II offers 24-bit, 192k upsampling and improves upon the original V-DAC's benchmark performance, with half the distortion (0.002%) and improved stereo separation.

Musical Fidelity also listened closely to what was said about the aesthetics of the V-DAC and made a substantial investment in the extrusion fabrication techniques for the new V-DAC II. The result is that it looks classy and technical at the same time, which is a perfect combination for a DAC. The fine line extrusion with premium finish brushing exudes quality and the front and back end pieces are now made from machined aluminum that's twice as thick as before.

Latest reviews

Pros: It almost cannot dissapoint
Cons: RCA output location
1. Introduction
Let me get straight to the point of why I'm writing my first and possibly only review of an item in the world of amps and dacs. This does not dissapoint in any way at all. That's unique.
In all the 20 amps or/and dacs there always is a bug somewhere. It's either a physical fault like it overheats, looses connection, comes with badly built ports, dodgy over-sensitive volume pot, humming noises, made using cheap exterior materials and so on. Or it sounds and performs on a level of anything between abysmal to (thank god!) quite good. 
Not the musical fidelity vdacII. And it's this lack of problem areas that makes this review easy and short.
2. Setup
2.1 Burn in
Please burn this in for 300hrs. If this is something that turns you away, then that's up to you. Pretty much everyone from the manufacturer to high street sellers to amazon reviewers to professional magazines and to headfi (i.e everyone under the sun) recommends a burn in for the sake of SQ.  
I can only repeat the message. Burn in definitely helps. 
2.2 AC adaptor
It's pretty much the first thing I read about when researching this dac- the provided ac adaptor sucks. It's output at a fixed 12v is 500mah. Of course, that's not going to be good enough and an external PSU from a high street electronics shop, or elsewhere, would be an ideal no fuss replacement. I'm using one outputing at 1700mah, which is ideal for this sort of thing. Heck, even my crappy tiny toyish usb hub comes with a more beefy PSU than the stock vdac one! 
You don't need to freak out when it comes to buying something like this. If you don't want to add bulk to the setup then do what I did and stick to the popular switched mode power supply (output tips of 1.35mm or thereabouts head fits into the vdac). Make sure the polarity is correctly addressed as with setting the voltage to 12v. Better safe then sorry.
Or if you want something bigger, maybe better, then a fat linear power supply is what you will look for. I'm not interested.
2.3 Connections
The input is of digital audio via toslink/optical/usb connections. Output is through a single twin rca (phono) connection. I use it mainly through USB which hasn't been skimped at all in this device. It works perfectly well and the manufacturers are keen to emphasise that this is where it's main quality lies- the asynchronous usb implementation.
A good enough range of connections? Agree??
Oh, and incase your wandering, over usb I've never experienced any technical problems at all.
2.4 Design
A dashing all brushed metal silver casing, nice. There's writing on the top that adds to the 'high class' type of image it seeks to create. Dimension wise its slightly wider than the fiio e9 but its slightly shorter too. Not too big or small.
I have to mention a slight negative here- the rca connection is at one side with the digital input connections all on the other. You find a similar thing going down with the hrt music streamers so it's not a rareity or an issue. But this knocks down a star in the design front.
3. Sound
3.1 In the world of dacs
What's to say other than- brilliant!
I've used it with a host of amps and that's my conclusion.
It's better than both the hrt music streamers II and the II+ in basic areas such as resolution. Individual notes on the vdac are presented with more body, clariy, definition and fullness. The soundstage is slightly bigger on the vdac too, as is the overall presentation. It's definitely more dynamic than either of these hrt's and it bests out all the other dac's I have too in ways similar and further to these. 
Very importantly it manages to never enter the debate of thick vs thin notes, sharp vs tame highs, dark vs bright and so on. It fits into the middle of these things so often that it's uniquely a very commendable performer.
3.2 In the world of headphones
I'm going to stop there with the sound impressions of the vdac as I need to set something straight. The SQ differences that exist in the world of dacs are not that big to be honest In my experience. No, I'm not a believer in if it measures well then it's audibly perfect- and don't any of you dare come up with the 'subjective vs objective' arguments as they have become comical of late!
There are differences, I do volume match, I try to limit my subjection to bias (statistician element in me) and this is what I hear. Sometimes, yep, I've never been able to detect a SQ difference at all between two totally different dacs at two different prices, even with extended listening. But in other cases like here, the difference exists and it makes no effort in hiding itself. 
4. Conclusion
 I'm not a musical fidelity fanboy either- their vcan II sucks. It's got an awefully sensitive volume pot rendering the whole unit almost unfit to use. It sounds good (better than a fiio e9) but nothing special.
I'm not telling you to buy or avoid this dac. I'm neutral of course. But what I am saying is that when there's so much **** out there in the world of dac and amps, something decent sticks out like a shining star and deserves recognition. The musical fidelity vdacII is such an example. 
All that I say is based on my experience, what I have listened to and how I have conducted my tests. Don't take this review personally as the only person to take it personally should be me.... 
Pros: Musical, smooth, good value
Cons: Usb implementation not as good as optical
I recently took delivery of the V-DAC II and put it through the paces.  I have a good feeling for its sound and wanted to share them here.
First, a word about how I review gear.  I don't spend weeks going back and forth doing A/B comparisons.  Rather, I use a certain set of gear for quite some time and really get to know how it works.  I know how my favorite songs sound inside and out.  Then, I put a new component into the chain and listen to my favorite songs.  I'll immediately form an opinion of the changes.  I'll listen for a while to the new configuration and further develop that opinion.  Finally, I do some brief A/B comparisons with my previous setup to really lock in my impressions.  You could say it's a mixture of memory and A/B at work.
My brief summary of the V-DAC II:
-Smooth and musical
-A hint of warmth while preserving good detail retrieval
-Realistic soundstage
-Realistic bass response
-Not much grain in the highs
-Black background
-Has a very analog flavor to it, much like vinyl
Now, for some more in-depth discussions.  I used these components to test:
-Sennheiser HD600
-Trafomatic Experience Head One Amplifier
-Onkyo C-S5VL cd player
-iTunes 10.6, Windows 7 64 bit, Apple lossless files, usb output at 24/96
Compared to the analog out of the Onkyo, the V-DAC is/has:
-Slightly wider soundstage
-Blacker background
-Slightly more refined bass, being tighter and deeper
-Slightly better instrument separation and imaging
-Noticeably less forgiveness for poorly mastered recordings
Compared to the usb/Apple lossless, the opitical out of the Onkyo is/has:
-Slightly wider soundstage
-Slightly better imaging
-Slightly less smearing
-Slightly blacker background
-About the same bass response
Ranking of performance:
1) Onkyo--optical--V-DAC II
2) Usb--V-DAC II
3) Onkyo analog out
The V-DAC II is a nice piece of equipment.  It is musical, smooth, and has good imaging and very black background.  It performed the best when feeding it an optical signal from my cd transport, but usb wasn't too far behind.  The upgrades it brings to my system are subtle, but noticeable.  The biggest difference was the optical signal from the Onkyo vs. the analog signal from the Onkyo.  I always thought the Onkyo had a very good onboard dac and produced very musical sounds, but the V-DAC II makes slight, but detectable upgrades to my ears.  The first thing I noticed was how much more black the background was compared to the Onkyo.  Secondarlily, I noticed that the Onkyo's analog out was considerably more forgiving of poor recordings than the V-DAC II.  This is clearly linked to detail retrieval and imaging.  Next, I noticed the V-DAC's soundstage was ever so slightly wider.  Finally, I wrote a review of the Onkyo some time ago and I concluded that the Onkyo was very analog sounding.  The V-DAC is also very analog sounding.  In fact, I'd say it is just a hint smoother and more musical because it preserves details while still being smooth.  I think for the price, it is a very good dac and will provide slight upgrades to certain peoples' systems.  I'm happy with it, especially considering its modest price. 
Perhaps the biggest thing I can say about it is I finally have no problem using iTunes.  I might get addicted to the genius playlists. Of course, those poor recordings might get skipped over though!
I have a few questions. Does your V-DAC II perform well using the usb connection to your computer? I bought a ASUS Xonar Essence One and have been listening to it a few days now. The USB connection is awful with screeching usually near the end of each song. I want a DAC that works with my computer (not my CD player) so I can program in a playlist and just listen. My desk top has a coaxial connection. Can it be used to connect the V-DAC II or is it connected only by USB?


Just taken delivery of one of these superb little DACs, second hand market paid not much over £70 and iam very impressed. Fed optically via my Pioneer DV 939A flagship player (back in the day) sounds mighty impressive, smooth, large soundstage but also detailed, analogue like i guess you'd say. This is all through the stock power supply, i might tinker with the idea of uprating the power unit as suggested elsewhere on forums but atm see no real need to. Iam a happy bunny :)