Home | Audio Reviews |Audiophile Shows | Partner Mags News

 

April 2020
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine

World Premiere Review!
Audio Analogue aaDAC Hi-Res Audio Digital-To-Analog Converter
The converter to beat within this price range.
Review By Tom Lyle

 

Audio Analogue aaDAC Hi-Res Audio DAC Review

 

  Audio Analogue's aaDAC digital-to-analog converter is the latest high-end audio component from their PureAA line, which also includes their AAcento integrated amplifier and AAphono phono preamplifier. Audio Analogue says on their website "the aaDAC is a product that perfectly fits in the Audio Analogue philosophy: its simple design, its remarkable sound performances and its great care for the finish and the materials and parts selection, make it a perfect partner for your digital sources".

At first glance, this statement might seem like typical audio manufacturer's advertisement hyperbole, but since reviewing Audio Analogue's Maestro Anniversary integrated amplifier in October of 2019, I can say with absolute certainty that if this digital-to-analog converter shares any of the sonic and appearance qualities of this integrated amp, then their description of this component is spot on.

Audio Analogue's aaDAC converter and the Maestro Anniversary integrated are very good-looking components. I've found that more often than not, an audio component that has been designed in Italy is going to appear as if the designer paid as much attention to the appearance of the component as much as its sound quality. Of course, I consider the sound quality to be much more important than a component's appearance, but there is certainly nothing wrong with a component looking good, too.

Audio Analogue's aaDAC features are plentiful, and it seems to have more to offer than many other converters within its price range, including, but is not limited to, a remote, a headphone output, the intensity of its front panel LEDs can be regulated, it has a Bluetooth receiver, one can change its channels balance, has seven different digital filters, and if this DAC is set to volume regulated mode it enables it to also work as a preamplifier.

Some audiophiles might put the Audio Analogue's $4300 price tag either in the "affordable" or "mid-priced" category. Either of these terms will seem laughably naďve, or even patronizing to non-audiophiles, although those who might even shyly admit to being audiophiles know all too well that this price is nowhere near one that we would consider outrageous. Regardless of all its features, the sound of the aaDAC is what is most important to any audiophile worth their salt, and although all converters are getting better as time goes on, and spoiler alert: the sound quality of the Audio Analogue aaDAC has more to offer than any other DAC within its price class than many other converters I've heard within its price range.

 

Friends
The aaDAC is what some of my audiophile friends call "shoebox" sized. In other words, the cabinet's height and width are shorter than its depth. The dimensions of this DAC are 4" high, 8.5 " wide, but 15.25 " deep! It weighs a hefty 12 pounds, likely owing to its power supply and its thick aluminum cabinet. For this review, I used the Audio Analogue in two different systems using a variety of speakers, including models as small as the EgglestonWorks Isabel Signature two-way floor-standing speakers and a large as my reference speaker set-up in my main listening room, the Sound Lab Majestic 545 full-range electrostatic speakers augmented by a pair of SVSound SB16-Ultra subwoofers.

The amplifier I used most often with the aaDAC was its matching solid-state Audio Analogue Maestro Anniversary integrated amplifier, but it also spent time connected to a pair of PrimaLuna Dialogue 6 tube-powered monoblock power amplifiers, or the Pass Laboratories X250.8 solid-state amp used in my main system. Preamps included the vacuum-tubed Nagra Classic Preamp, Mark Levinson's solid-state No 523, and also used the Audio Analogue aaDAC as a preamplifier by setting it to volume regulated mode and connecting the DAC's outputs directly to the power amplifier.

The digital sources I used for this review that was connected to the Audio Analogue aaDAC included a network-based streamer, computer-based music server with hard-wired and network-attached hard-drives, and a couple of OPPO universal disc players, the UDP-203, and the BDP-83 Special Edition to play the occasional silver disc. The OPPO players spun selections from a relatively large SACD collection, as I accumulated quite a few physical discs during the format's heyday. But I have many, many more DSD files on my hard-drives, which are my usual method of listening to this high-resolution format.

 

Audio Analogue aaDAC Hi-Res Audio DAC Review

 

Surprise
It was quite a surprise to discover that this DAC included an aptX Bluetooth receiver, although it is appearing in more and more source components lately. I won't attempt to claim that Bluetooth should be considered "high-end" audio, but it is very convenient. I sent the aaDAC's Bluetooth signals from an iPhone 11, using the TIDAL streaming service as its main source.  TIDAL streams mostly "CD quality" files, but also what they term "master quality" selections, which are typically 24-bit/96kHz files.

Although a Bluetooth signal does not possess the ultimate in sound quality, Audio Analogue's managing director Giuseppe Blanda told me that the Bluetooth included on the aaDAC was hardly an afterthought. They took great care in constructing the Bluetooth's circuit as much as any other in the aaDAC. In nearly every other instance a Bluetooth receiver converts the digital signal it receives within its' circuit. In the aaDAC the Bluetooth signal it receives is sent to the aaDAC's ESS Sabre converter that has among other virtues, a fine signal-to-noise ratio, and very low distortion. This converted signal's characteristics are kept at a high level due to the aaDAC's output stage.

I'm no stranger to Bluetooth in my home (and my car) but as far as comparing it to other Bluetooth receivers, this comparison wasn't a fair one. The Bluetooth in the aaDAC performed much, much better than I was expecting it to, both sonically and otherwise, as I was able to bring my iPhone quite a distance away from the converter before the signal began to sputter. And when listening off-axis I would forget I was listening to Bluetooth, and simply enjoy the music (sorry).

 

Audio Analogue aaDAC Hi-Res Audio DAC Review

 

Bonus
Because I am a huge fan of at-home headphone listening, the Audio Analogue's headphone output was also a nice bonus. I listened to it with two different pairs of headphones. Both the OPPO PM-1 planar magnetic. and the Grado SB-2000e were connected to the aaDAC's front headphone jack not too often, but often enough to get a good sonic picture of what came forth from this headphone jack to my reference, a Pass Laboratories HPA-1 headphone amplifier. I listen to this Pass Labs headphone amp almost daily.

I realize that comparing my reference headphone amp to the aaDAC's onboard headphone amp might not be a very good comparison. But this comparison was further proof that Audio Analogue didn't just slap it on for decoration, that's for sure. It is a very capable headphone amplifier.

 

Daily
I listened to the aaDAC almost daily and found that I might have to amend my thinking as far as what is possible from a DAC at this price. In my main system, I use a converter that is about six times the price of the aaDAC, and therefore not going to bother comparing the two, other than using my mine as a benchmark as to what's sonically possible. But one that the aaDAC does have going for it is what it has in the features department. Besides using the aaDAC as a converter, on occasion I also used it as a preamplifier. If one's system relies only on digital sources, one is going to have to spend lots of money on a dedicated preamplifier to be able to out-perform this converter's sound quality. It is as transparent as any solid-state preamplifier I've heard at this price. Not only that, the aaDAC also has an onboard analog-to-digital converter and a headphone amplifier.

 

Audio Analogue aaDAC Hi-Res Audio DAC Review

 

Living
After living with this converter and listening to it daily, I found that its major sonic feature of the aaDAC converter was its level of transparency to the source. Depending on which system it was used in, there were times when it was practically aurally invisible, inviting me to listen to any genre of music I chose. All other things being equal, SACD files sounded the best through the aaDAC because those files are inherently better, to begin with. But – it all depends on the original recording, regardless of the format. I'll stop telling you things you already know now and get on with the review. The recording I used is one of the best high-resolution recordings in my collection, the Rolling Stones Beggars Banquet on a single-layer SACD made in Japan.

I try not to drive myself crazy with wondering how a recording was made, whether an analog tape was converted to digital, or it was a digital recording that doesn't bother me. I've heard countless SACD files that were originally analog recordings, and digital recordings that were originally captured with a high-resolution digital recorder. Both of these techniques yielded recordings ranging from just decent to spectacular.

 

Audio Analogue aaDAC Hi-Res Audio DAC Review

 

I consider this SACD to be one of the best sounding rock recordings in my collection, whether recorded digitally or not. It also helps that the music on this disc is good. When this album was made in 1968 the 'Stones were at the top of their game and near the top in popularity, and in my opinion, the material was the best they have ever done before. Through the Audio Analogue aaDAC the sounds of every instrument and voice were made as separate as possible depending on the track and also spread out in a huge soundstage. Whether I was playing the physical SACD or the file on my music server, the sound was just as good, letting me close my eyes and imagine I was a fly on the wall in that London studio.

Despite band member Brian Jones erratic behavior at this point in his career, his contribution to the album was very important to its final sound, with him playing Sitar, Mellotron, tambura, slide-guitar, and harmonica. All are heard on some of the best songs the band ever recorded. There is some unevenness on the recording, as they used a cassette recorder for some of the Keith Richard's lead guitar on some of the tracks, including almost all of "Street Fighting Man". But still, the albums changing moods and their version of the blues mixed with down and dirty rock 'n' roll have an energy that is rarely present on many albums.

On this album, there are plenty of instruments that have an extremely lifelike sound regardless of which converter I listened to over the years. But when playing an album such as this through a component with the sonic prowess of the Audio Analogue aaDAC, I practically have an epiphany due to the contrast of hearing it on crummy car stereos and other portable devices, and then to finally hearing what was recorded on this album. The aaDAC was a perfect tool for an activity like this.

 

Audio Analogue aaDAC Hi-Res Audio DAC Review

 

I could easily take up half Enjoy the Music.com's server space talking about all the audiophile characteristics that this converter possessed, its infinitesimally small microdynamic shifts and explosive macrodynamic changes, it's delicate and extensive treble that possessed absolutely no digital artifacts I could hear, even on the crappiest 16-bit/44.1kHz CDs in my collection, and its' powerful, pitch specific, clean, and extensive base response.

With the Audio Analogue aaDAC in the system, what I noticed most of the time when paying full time and attention to the program material, attempting to ignore the artistic but instead focus on the recording's objective sound quality, was the extremely transparent midrange. This wasn't too difficult to notice on just about every single recording I played, so ignore the "attempting to ignore" part. The transparent midrange made the musical material much more difficult to ignore. The midrange was so transparent that it often made me feel as if in the audio chain there was no converter at all, and all I was left with was the music. But I don't think that should have to be discussed in the year 2020. Audio engineers should certainly have this part of the digital playback thing perfected by now, shouldn't they? Well, they don't.

When playing the SACD files of the London Symphony Orchestra with Sir Colin Davis conducting the London Symphony Orchestra Symphony No. 7 this music let me know how this Audio Analogue converter's sonic personality compared to other converters I've heard ever since I've been privileged enough to hear the very best converters, not only within the aaDAC's price range but well above it.

 

Audio Analogue aaDAC Hi-Res Audio DAC Review

 

First, I'll let you know that along with Sibelius' Fourth Symphony, his Seventh is my favorite. Yes, I like his work when it gets creepy when he symphonically describes the barren, windswept Lapland (those who live here, the Sami people, call this region Sápmi) just north of the Arctic Circle. At least that's what I assume he's describing, I don't read much of other's opinions about his works, other than the occasional liner-notes. But I am certainly familiar with his music, hearing it live countless times, and via my music collection ever since I was a young man. And I've always have been drawn to his darker material. There's plenty of this in his one movement, almost paradigmatic Sibelius-ian Seventh, and made it a very good musical selection to judge the aaDAC.

Through the Audio Analogue aaDAC it's was as I was hanging above the orchestra listening to this Sibelius piece along with the microphones at the Barbican. During at least one section I'd hear the orchestra "do the wave" as the Northern Finnish winds swept through the barren landscape, Sibelius's scoring calling for the strings and woodwinds to travel across the orchestra right to left, left to right. Again, it was the mega-transparency of this converter, its midrange letting me hear not only what has been recorded, but somehow transposed into the real thing coming through my speakers and into my listening room. At one point during my listening session to this symphony, I think I could smell lichen.

 

Audio Analogue aaDAC Hi-Res Audio DAC Review

 

Admirable
One of the most admirable qualities of the Audio Analogue aaDAC is that an audiophile can purchase this converter with no fear that until he or she seriously upgrade their system to one that is entirely and unequivocally Class A, will they be able to hear the nuances that, let's say, a top-flight the $25,000 converter will reveal. Some audiophiles can skip the entry and mid-price level gear, and go right for that top-flight converter they want. But again, the Audio Analogue aaDAC is a top-flight converter. The very last bit of frequency extension and slight midrange forwardness that can be heard when listening to the aaDAC through very, very pricey speakers and a system to match will not be of concern to most audiophiles.

The Audio Analogue aaDAC is the converter to beat in this price range. Any audiophile that is smart enough to at least audition this converter and then follow my recommendation of not spending more than its asking price until they can hear it will discover that they don't need to spend more to be able to hear the outstanding performance in a DAC. I'm sure of it. The addition of some very nice features including a very capable headphone jack and the convenience of Bluetooth are icing on the cake. This is a beautiful digital-to-analog converter, inside and out.

 

 

Tonality

Sub–bass (10Hz – 60Hz)

Mid–bass (80Hz – 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz – 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise

Value For The Money

 

 

Specifications
Type: Stereo Hi-Res Audio DAC
Output Level: 2.9V (22 Hz to 20 kHz
Output Level: 2.1V (A weighted)
Output Voltage: XLR balanced is 3.35 VRMS
Output Voltage: RCA unbalanced 3.35 VRMS
Dynamic Range: 124dB (A weighted)
THD+N: -108 dB
Dimensions: 100 x 220 x 390mm (HxWxD)
Weight: 12.1 lbs.
Price: $4300

 

 

Company Information
Audio Analogue
AF Group SRL
Via Cesare Battisti 126G
51015 Monsummano Terme (PT)
Italy

Voice: +39 (0)572-030964
E-mail: info@audioanalogue.com 
Website: www.AudioAnalogue.com

 

United States Of America Distributor: 
TMH Audio
Voice: (937) 439-2667
E-mail: jim@tmhaudio.com
Website: www.TMHAudio.com 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

Quick Links


Audiophile Review Magazine
High-End Audio Equipment Reviews

 

Equipment Review Archives
Turntables, Cartridges, Etc
Digital Source
Do It Yourself (DIY)
Preamplifiers
Amplifiers
Cables, Wires, Etc
Loudspeakers/ Monitors
Headphones, IEMs, Tweaks, Etc
Ultra High-End Audio Reviews

 

Videos
Enjoy the Music.TV

 

Columns
Editorials By Tom Lyle
Viewpoint By Roger Skoff
Viewpoint By Steven R. Rochlin
Various Think Pieces
Manufacturer Articles


Show Reports
The HiFi Summit Q2 2020
AXPONA 2020 Show Report
Bristol Hi-Fi Show Report 2020
Florida Audio Expo 2020 Show Report
New York Audio Show 2019 Report
Capital Audiofest 2019 Show Report
Rocky Mountain Audio Fest (RMAF) 2019
High End Munich 2019 Show Report
AXPONA 2019 Show Report
Zagreb AV Show Report 2019
CanJam Singapore 2019 Show Report
Salon Audio Montreal Audio Fest 2019
Click here for previous shows.

 

Other
Audiophile Contests
Cool Free Stuff For You
Tweaks For Your System
Vinyl Logos For LP Lovers
Lust Pages Visual Beauty

 

Resources & Information
Music Definitions
Hi-Fi Definitions

 


Daily Industry News

High-End Audio News & Information

 

Partner Print Magazines
audioXpress
Australian Hi-Fi Magazine
hi-fi+ Magazine
HIFICRITIC
HiFi Media
Hi-Fi World
Sound Practices
VALVE Magazine

 

For The Press & Industry
About Us
Press Releases
Official Site Graphics

 

Contests & Our Mailing List

Our free newsletter for monthly updates & enter our contests!

 

 

    

Home   |   Industry News   |   Equipment Reviews   |   Press Releases   |   About Us   |   Contact Us

 

All contents copyright©  1995 - 2020  HighEndAudio.com and Enjoy the Music.com®
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.  All rights reserved.