Rein Audio, out of Germany, was unknown to me until I received an email from Rein’s Jason Tornald asking if I was interested in reviewing their new X-DAC. Since I have done a slew of budget, or better put, reasonably priced DAC units in the past year, including those from Channel Islands Audio, Arcam, and Musical Fidelity, I was more than willing to see how it stacked up.
Rein Audio is a pretty new company but has quickly become known for a full line of audio and AC cables. They also plan on bringing an amplifier to market, the X-Amp. Even after spending a bunch of time on the Rein website, I still do not know too much about the company. I was able to conclude that Rein probably means “pure” in German. I also noted that chief designer Tomasz Wilczak had a ten-year history working for “well known” German audio companies. It also seems their products are currently available only via the Rein Audio website online store (I believe they are currently seeking US distributorship).
The compact X-DAC retails for $780 and is a very attractive component. Out of the box, it impressed me with its build quality. It is very well made and inspires confidence when you pick it up out of the packaging to install. According to the Rein website, high end DAC chips from the British company Wolfson are used. There are four digital inputs: two SPDIF Coaxial, one SPDIF TosLink, and one USB. The digital inputs are selectable via a large silver knob on the front, and handle 192 Khz, 24 bit data via SPDIF, and 96 Khz, 24 bit via USB. There is also an IEC jack for connecting a detachable power cord, and another large silver knob for powering on and off. There are two green LED lights on the front panel, one to indicate power, and one to indicate a USB connection.
Set Up & Listening:
I set up the X-DAC using a Shunyata Venom AC cable, a Kimber OPT1 TosLink cable, and a DH Labs D-75 coaxial cable. For audio sources, I chose my Squeezebox Touch streamer and a Marantz CD5003 CD player. I used only the single ended outputs, running Kimber KCTG interconnects into a Densen B-200 preamp. There is a set of balanced XLR outputs as well, but the Densen accepts only RCA inputs. It only took a few days to get a handle on what the X-DAC was doing, and that was letting the music pass through with a bold, full bodied, and lifelike quality. I certainly had never heard of Rein Audio before, but now they had my attention.
The X-DAC leans toward the slightly warm side of things, with a richness of tone and I find immensely appealing. A current obsession of mine, Dengue Fever, out of Los Angeles has hit it out of the park on their most recent CD, Cannibal Courtship, from mid 2011. FLAC files streamed through the Squeezebox Touch come alive with excitement, taught bass, and tons of clarity. Lead singer Chhom Nimol’s siren call is seductive and lifelike.
I recently rediscovered an album deep in my collection, Eye of the Hunter, by Brendan Perry, one half of the classic, hard to define, Dead Can Dance. Perry’s deep, well-recorded voice comes through with majesty. The songs on this album are melancholy ruminations that sound like a long lost soundtrack to a futuristic thriller. I found myself melting into the music, not the least bit concerned about “evaluating” the X-DAC. This, to me, is proof the X-DAC is doing everything very right. Of all the sub $1000 DAC models from various manufactures that have passed through my listening room, the Rein unit is the most natural sounding. I do not mean there was any loss of detail, or smoothing over. Not at all. I think the X-DAC pulls this off because it is so balanced sonically.