- Oct 18, 2009
To start, here are the features/specs from the website:
- 24-bit/384kHz and native DSD 256 support
- Discrete USB audio receiver and D/A converter, with coaxial S/PDIF (24bit/192kHz) output
- Coaxial output can also stream DoP (DSD64) for long distance transmission of DSD from computer
- Asynchronous transfer mode for doubled jitter-reduction at data input and over-sampling filter stages
- High-performance headphone amplifier (balanced design)
- High voltage 2V analog output (fixed volume direct DAC output)
- Coaxial S/PDIF output
- High-quality analog volume control
- Diminutive size
- USB powered, no external power supply required
- Works with Windows 7/8 and Mac OS.
- USB 1.1, 2.0, compatible.
- Analog Stereo RCA Out.
- Digital Coaxial Out.
- Headphone Amplifier Out (3.5 mm-jack socket).
- USB sampling rates: 44.1,48,88.2,96,176.4,192,352.8,384KHz and DSD 2.8,5.6,11.2MHz.
- Bit resolution: 16-24-bits.
- Output: Analog RCA 2V rms (DAC out).
- Headphone output: max 140mW x 2 @ 32 ohm.
- Dynamic range: 98dB.
- S/N ratio: 112 dB.
- THD+N < 0.01%.
- Power: USB-Bus powered, 150mA/5V.
I'm adding these since they weren't on the site:
- Dimensions: 23x57x101mm
- weight: 150g
For comparison/reference, here's my review of the NuForce uDAC-3 from only a year and half ago. My how time and technology flies eh?
A bit of background
Those of you who've been observant may have noticed that there's a guy on the forums by the name of @jasonl who's been promoting a few different products from different companies, yet the title under his name doesn't match any of them. So what gives? Well to get there, I'll tell everyone a short story.
Once upon a time there was a company called NuForce. They mostly played around in the hifi world and made a pretty good name for themselves, particularly with their patented class-D amps which were derived from their own R&D and not licensed/built from OEM modules like most others on the market. They eventually branched into desktop gear with the Icon family of amps, and their Icon Mobile was an early player in the portable battery powered usb dac/amp scene. This was their start into the head-fi world, along with some iems, but it was the uDAC which really put Nuforce into the headphone spotlight. There was hype, there was anti-hype, but hey no such thing as bad publicity right?
Looking back it almost seems comical that there'd be so much fuss, but you have to realize that there weren't nearly as many options even just a scant few years ago. Anyhow, the uDAC eventually gave way to the uDAC-2, and later again eventually the uDAC-3. Meanwhile, Nuforce also expanded into more headphone specific desktop gear with more Icon family gear and then the larger “100” series.
And then Nuforce was bought by Optoma, a projector company. Weird right?
So anyhow, Jasom Lim (co-founder and former CEO of NuForce) left and created Heap Venture. What is that exactly? I emailed Jason and this is straight from the horse's mouth:
Heap Venture manages brand, product strategy, global sales and marketing on behalf of its strategic partners. Heap Venture’s partners can be an OEM factory, a startup or a retailer who prefers to have someone manages the business for them.
NuPrime, Encore and Celsus Sound are all different companies who formed long term partnership with Heap Venture.
NuPrime is becoming a full fledged consumer electronics company with new products coming out literally every month. Celsus will focus more on portable products and wireless speakers. Encore will be transforming into a brand with extreme value for the money.
So NuPrime is not a rebadged NuForce. However, just to add slightly to the confusion, NuPrime did acquire the rights to the high end product line from NuForce (nothing headphone related). Beyond that though, they are not affiliated.
That now brings us to the uDSD, which in effect is a direct competitor to the uDAC-3. I feel as though this is perhaps Jason's subtle somersaulting avian to NuForce, but those are my words, not his.
Anyhow, storytime's done. Let's move on.
Nice and solid build. Roughly twice the size of the uDac3 and much heavier (150g vs 81g). It's still small, but isn't nearly as pocketable as the uDac3.
Brushed/stylized surface finish that doesn't seem to show scratches and doesn't smudge easily. High quality rca jacks on the back. All in all it feels like a premium little component.
I like the use of a usb-B jack. I have a million usb printer cables lying around, and it allows for the use of boutique cables as well. It's a bit odd that the usb jack is on the side though. I suppose this was a consequence to styling the case longer rather than wide. This could potentially make it slightly awkward to fit all your cables in if you are planning on having the uDSD tucked into a small rack, but that's not really the purpose of having the uDSD now is it?
I didn't open it.
But really, I asked and they said their policy is to not mention the specific components as they wish their product to be judged based on the implementation not what yaddayadda chip is inside.
But really, I poked a bit and they did tell that it is an XMOS based usb receiver and the dac is Sabre based. People who really want to know can dig and probably find it mentioned online somewhere.
Driver installation (Windows) was relatively straight forward. Install the driver, plug in the device, bippity boop it does the rest from there. I did find this new driver a big improvement over the older Nuforce drivers because it would auto detect/output the source bitrate, whereas the old one required manually choosing.
I did have some inconsistent behaviour when using the uDSD with the Wyrd. First was that I had to install the driver twice (once with, and once without the Wyrd in the path). Second is that early on the headphone output wouldn't work when connected through the Wyrd, but lately it's been fine. Anyhow, that's just something random to note. Everything is fine otherwise.
The uDSD powers on simply by turning the volume pot. Self-explanatory.
The coax output operates even if the uDSD isn't turned on. Apparently it can do DSD from the coax using something called DoP streaming... but I don't currently have the appropriate gear on hand to test that (I'm not really a fan of dsd either, but that's a discussion for another day).
Analog RCA outputs are 2V line level (not volume controlled, unlike the uDAC-3) and auto-mute when headphones are plugged in. The analog outputs do not function unless the uDSD is turned on.
There's no turn on/off thump at all from either the RCA or headphone outputs.
Performance as a DAC
vs HDP (fed coax from uDSD) - because this was the easiest one to compare against
- uDSD is smoother, HDP is more aggressive and seems to pull out those microdetails a tiny bit better, but at the cost of being a tiny bit hard at the edges in the treble range
- add the Wyrd into the chain and the uDSD detailing gets just a bit better than the HDP
- but the HDP renders bass textures slightly better and makes it feel more immersive and impactful
- uDac3 is flabby in comparison, weak subbase from lineouts
- mids and upper are better than the bass, but not as clear as the uDSD or HDP
- nitpicking: the uDSD is a tiny tiny smidge edgier
Performance as a SPDIF bridge
- I like it better than the Peachtree X1, which seems to add a hard edge to everything
- better clarity than the uDAC-3; it's close but the uDAC-3 is still a bit flabby
Performance as Headamp
It took me a bit of head scratching to wrap my head around this one. I've been playing with ridiculously high powered amps hooked up to an HE-6 for so long that it took me a while to scale my ears back down to the realm of portable gear. Even then, I couldn't quite figure it out. It's not super resolving, nor punchy, nor anything, but I kinda forget about it. It is quite clean though. Nice plucking on guitar strings. I hate using the word “neutral”, but it's apt here.
Headphones used: Hifiman HE-6, Sennheiser HD598 & HD25-13, Oppo PM-3, Fostex T50rp (modded), Celsus Gramo One, Vsonic GR07, V-Moda XS, whatever else I could find really
- can immediately tell the uDSD is stronger and a cleaner through the whole range
- it's not a matter of energy or detail, just a sense of a haze that is lifted
- almost on par with the HDP headphone out on technical ability
- HDP has more power overall, better subbass presence because of that
- with the Wyrd I would say uDSD has slightly better detail across the board
vs FiiO e10 (not the e10k version)
- The FiiO is a groovy little number that happily and unabashedly sits in low/mid-fi land. It doesn't try to be more, and you don't really care either. It's a bit mushy, but thumpy and fun.
- The uDSD on the other hand strives to be more, and thus begins to suffer from the hifisnobbery effect. It's like my brain recognized that and goes “hey this is pretty good... I better start nitpicking at it”. Like it's pretentious and I want to find fault somewhere. Except I can't really.
vs Schiit Vali
- Vali has more gain and power
- but Vali adds a lot of energy and its own flavour into the sound
It's a really fantastic multi-tool. It was great when auditioning new gear and I didn't want to install drivers. Took it to a local shop and just fed the Moon Neo 430HA from the coax. I had an Oppo HA-1 on loan and I fed it coax and RCA simultaneously so I could evaluate and switch inputs directly. I could plug in a headphone directly then jump to another amp which was being fed from the lineouts. So many options!
When I went from uDAC2 to the uDAC3, I felt there was a smidge of an improvement but not really worth spending the money on if you already had the uDAC2. Going from the uDAC3 to the uDSD is a more noticeable step than going from the 2 to 3. Worth the expenditure? Well that's always a tricky matter when one is making small incremental upgrades. I'd give a hesitant yes here. If the only dac/amps you have are in the sub-$100 range, the uDSD is a great piece of kit and I'd highly recommend it as your next step. If you already have toys in the ~$200-300 range, I think the uDSD is strongly competitive but not quite groundbreaking on (ie: it's good, but you already have something in this bracket, save up for the next tier).
Except waitaminnit, NuPrime is offering a trade-in program to knock $50 off the price of the uDSD, bringing it down to a very nice $129 price point. That's pretty darned tootin' sweet! See here for details:
At that price it's the same as the uDAC-3 and kicks it squarely in the spongebob squarepants. Absolutely worth it if you're budgeting for the $200 range.