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Audiolab M-Dac Blk
|Price:||£524.00 FREE UK delivery.|
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- Award Winning DAC
- Headphone Socket
- XLR Balanced Outputs
- Optical Digital Output
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Every aspect of the M-DAC's design has been optimised for the finest sound quality. At its heart is a 32-bit DAC from ESS Technology. This extremely high resolution DAC ensures outstanding levels of detail and note definition. With extremely low loss, polypropylene film/foil capacitors, ultra stable resistors and a 4-layer PCB board there's minimal signal loss, so you hear more subtle detail. Ultra low noise and highly regulated power supplies ensure a clean and dynamic sound quality. In addition to coaxial and optical digital inputs, the M-DAC also has a USB interface. This asynchronous device controls your computer's audio output stage for lower levels of jitter and a purer sound. Supporting up to 24-bit/96kHz streaming, you can listen to songs in 'better than CD' quality stored on your hard drive. Featuring J-FET Class A output stages, the M-DAC also makes an excellent digital pre-amp or headphone stage. If you've active speakers or a power amp and no analogue sources, such as a record deck, then simply plug the M-DAC straight in and adjust the input and volume remotely. Similarly, the headphone stage is higher quality than most built into integrated amps. As we all prefer slightly different nuances of sound quality, the M-DAC comes with Audiolab's selectable filter system. Select from seven different filters to find your ideal sound. What's more, the filters' software is fully upgradable via the USB port. Unlike most other stand-alone DACs, the M-DAC boasts a high quality OLED display. Informative and clear enough to be able to read from some distance away, the high contrast display lets you keep an eye on the input source being used, volume, sampling rate, DAC mode and even displays digital level meters in dB with peak hold. A full remote control makes it simple to control from your armchair.
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Last, I really hate not being able to switch off the display. Seriously, this is HiFi-grade equipment, why isn't this an option? But of course, compared to the previous two issues, this is nothing. (Oh, and those different DAC modes, they all sound the same to me. But maybe some of you will find very subtle differences. I just cannot hear any. Sorry.)
Update: time has passed and I'm taking away yet another star. Let me explain why: first of all, external volume control for the USB mode has failed. I can not change the volume if headphones are plugged in, but if they are not, the volume control (even the indicator!) has magically disappeared from the panel :( What's more annoying, though, is I've searched on the net and it seems Audiolab has totally dropped the ball when it comes to supporting this product and issuing new updates. As a result, I am left with a DAC that's fixed on an obnoxiously loud setting. It still works for me in terms of listening to music in headphones, but all these accumulating flaws basically indicate that the product wasn't as well-designed as originally thought.
Well, I've had it for ~2 years, and some things did break. First, the volume wheel (quite finicky, kind of like those pop-out wheels in modern electric ovens) totally went after a few months of use. Now I turn it and it just changes volume up/down randomly. I guess I should be happy that I've got a remote, eh?
Second problem is the 'manual' switch when plugging in headphones. It's literally a mechanical click inside the device. It's bad, bad design on many levels. First, you cannot listen to your amp while the headphones are plugged in. I have to physically unplug them to have output from the back, rather than the preamp. But the worst is that the headphone input is glitchy: sometimes I plug in headphones, and it clicks TWICE, switching them on and off. So I have to twist the headphone in that hole to get the 'click' . But sometimes I get it to click and I only get the right channel! So I've now learned the dark arts of twisting it the right way so I actually get both outputs and both channels. Needless to say, this shouldn't happen.
Finally, just a few days ago, the unit failed completely with a "No Comms" message. I went online only to find hundreds of posts detailing the same error. Since I've had the unit for about 3 years, it's out of warranty, and Audiolab charges 48 GBP per hour + parts + Shipping & VAT for repairs.
UPDATE: Audiolab have repaired my device, with the total bill just over 100 quid and a total repair time of about 6 WEEKS. Everything seems to be working, but I get a strange feeling that the entire unit has been replaced. Go figure :)
Seriously, the device is great when it works. But I would not recommend getting one, seeing how this has failed for so many people, myself included. I strongly recommend that you shop around, read discussions and reviews on HeadFi before dropping this kind of money on a DAC.
However, poor recordings will sound poor - no edges are rounded off as with some stereo equipment so this DAC may well reveal failings in the rest of any system it is partnered with.
The DAC is well made, quite heavy with a fairly substantial external PSU that has flying leads at both ends. It's supplied with a small & narrow IR remote - plastic with a tactile feel but of reasonable quality. This remote controls the volume digitally, selects from USB, 2 optical & 2 coax inputs. The DAC has a low jitter output & masterclock output - both optical. It can be operated entirely from its front panel, including volume. The headphone output is reputedly excellent but does mute the outputs which are both phono or XLR. The remote can either mute the sound completely or if pressed in for a couple of seconds, will reduce the output level by 10dB. The volume is controlled digitally in 1dB steps & goes from -80 to +3dB or be set to have a fixed 0dB output where the volume control only affects the headphone output. Channel balance can be controlled in 0.5dB steps.
Because all my sources are digital, I've connected the output straight into a power amplifier where the XLR outputs sound marginally better than through phono. I didn't buy through Amazon but a HiFi chain for a good price but even at £599, the M-DAC is a bargain, even more so if connected straight into a power amp with XLR inputs!
I have now used the USB input with my Sony Vaio laptop playing back iTunes. Unfortunately, I need to run on the Sony's battery otherwise I get audible grunge because the laptop's external PSU is very noisy. Not all laptops suffer this way & USB galvantic isolator will stop the noise. Many people will use this DAC from a MAC or PC & will delighted that the DAC's remote will control software such as iTunes, Foobar2000, WMP etc. The sound from the USB input may even be slightly better than from the others.
My congratulations to John Westlake & Dominic who did the design work for audiolab.
Mine is black but silver is also avilable - both have a rather nice matt finish.
Recommended! The only issue I've encountered is that the optical output from two AppleTV 3s kept cutting out but is fine with my AppleTV 2. This is a known issue with the ATV3 when combined with the DAC IC that this one uses.
The designer is very active on the PFM forums & gives a great deal of support that includes updated firmware versions not available from audiolab. These update include display dimming, the ability to exlude filters from the scroll list, selectable lock bandwidth on the SPDIF inputs, pressing Mute pauses playback over USB etc. The update exes now work on MACs as well as Windows & is a very simple process.
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