|Danish Audio Design DAC 05 and DAC 10 Review|
|Home Theater Accessories Acoustics, EQ & Room Tuning|
|Written by Todd Whitesel|
|Wednesday, 18 May 2011|
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My off-an-on trek through the world of Scandinavian audio components brought me most recently to Aalborg, Denmark, and Danish Audio Design. The company, led by music lover and designer Ole Nielsen, is a bit unusual in that it focuses primarily on producing Digital-to-Analog converters. As more music lovers discover the benefits of pairing a digital player with an external DAC – improved sound quality, most importantly – the market for Digital-to-Analog converters has certainly broadened and expanded. Danish Audio offers three DACs: the entry-level DAC 05, bigger brother DAC 10 and flagship model, the DAC 20. Nielsen sent the DAC 05 and DAC 10 for audition. The DAC 05 retails for approximately $1,715, while the DAC 10 sells for around $3,180.
The DAC 05 and DAC 10 (along with the DAC 20) are handmade and built according to Nielsen’s blueprints using many custom parts, including a specially designed circuit board and different solders and tins for the analog and digital sections. Both DACs reflect the Scandinavian ethos of elegance and simplicity - there are no lights, buttons or other controls on the front panels. All the business takes place inside the chassis and via the rear-panel connections, and even there simple triumphs over complex. “The DACs are very simple in design. I try to keep the components in the signal path to an absolute minimum,” Nielsen said.
The DAC 05 sports one pair of RCA digital coax inputs and one pair of RCA analog outputs. Two digital devices can be connected to the DAC 05 and selected via the single switch on the DAC’s back panel. The DAC 10 is slightly larger than the 05 and comes with a separate Power Supply Unit (PSU) and Capacitor Box. The three-way connection starts with the DAC connecting to the Capacitor Box, which finally connects to the PSU. Inputs and outputs are the same as the 05. Both DACs rest on a trio of padded feet arranged in a triangular pattern. Detachable IEC connectors make it easy to use any after-market AC power cable as desired.
If Danish Audio Design DACs have a musical personality, it comes from Nielsen and his against-the-grain ideas about what Digital-to-Analog converters (and audio components in general) should and shouldn’t do. “… the DACs play the way [how] I see music should be played. I have listened to a lot of concerts and try to have my DACs play [music] the same way. While many DAC designers crusade to defeat digital jitter, Nielsen takes a different view: “My opinion on jitter is that a little jitter is good for the music… I am also against asynchronous up-sampling. I have tried Analog Devices, Burr Brown, NPC and Crystal up-sampling circuits. I think they all give wrong timing in the music. At first the music sounds very smooth and polite, but after some hours of listening you get the feeling that something is wrong. I'm using a HTPC computer for playback, and it is very easy for me to change sample rate and bit depth. And I always end up using 44.1kHz and 16-bit for the most correct playback. Yes it sounds smother and more polite using 192kHz and 24-bit, but I am listening to music and not to specification. I hate to listen to a mega-dollar setup with silver cables, ceramic speakers, Class D amplifiers. After just a few minutes of listening, you feel your ears trying to move to the back of your head.”
Although Danish Audio DACs don’t up-sample, they do accept sample rates up to 24-bit/192kHz, so if you have high-res files stored on a computer system they can still be played and enjoyed with no fidelity loss. Nielsen, however, would rather potential customers look past the specs and focus on how his components sound. He told me, “I make DACs that make the small hair in the back of your neck stand up and make your feet stomp on the floor. I don't make DACs that are 100% correct; I make DACs that give you pleasure listening to music, which I feel is the most important thing.”