Rein Audio impressed me when I had the opportunity to review their very fine sounding X-DAC last year. The German based company, just a few years old, has since developed a few more products, including a headphone amplifier and a series of high performance cables. They also decided to design, from scratch, a higher end DAC with a few more options at a slightly higher price point. This could be seen as a risky move, since the DAC market is pretty crowded and, needless to say, very competitive.
Rein Audio developed the new X3-DAC, priced at $1280, to offer users a higher end experience, with several new features and upgrades over the X-DAC. First, the TosLink, Coaxial, AES/EBU, and USB inputs all handle 192 Khz, 24 bit data, and there is a pretty decent front panel LED display. There is optional upsampling to 192 Khz, and five user-selectable digital filters. As with the X-DAC, there are both XLR and RCA analog outputs, and the casework is impressive, as is the overall feel and build quality. Internally, the X3-DAC sports "twin Wolfson WM8741 converter chips preceded by a CS8416 digital receiver."
Set Up and Listening
I initially used the X3-DAC with a Squeezebox Touch, connected via Kimber Opt-1 TosLink cable into the units optical input, then both Darwin Cable silver and Kimber KTCG interconnects. I went the modest supplied stock AC cable for the first half of the review period, and later a Shunyata Venom. No other special tweaking was applied. The Shunyata definitely elevated the performance of the X3-DAC.
Let me say right off the bat the X3-DAC is an excellent sounding component. Having had a parade of superb budget DAC models come through my listening room -- from the likes of PS Audio, Lindemann, Musical Fidelity, Mytek, and others -- there has been stiff competition. The X3-DAC held its own and then some. As a matter of fact, it may be in my top three DACs under or around $1500. It even gives my Bryston BDA-1, which costs $2200, a very good run.
Specifically, there was sense of organic ease that analog lovers crave, yet with the precision and coherence digital-done-right offers. I kept looking for holes to punch into the X3-DAC’s sonic palette to no avail. It was not bright, edgy, etched, veiled, or smoothed over. It was just right. There is no doubt it is a sonic step up from the X-DAC. While they are cut from the same cloth, at roughly $500 more, the X3-DAC offers more nuance, grip on the bass, and a more luxurious midrange.
I experimented with the upsampling feature, and then ultimately left it engaged. It brought added dimension to most recordings. I very much like having the option to engage or disengage. Most DAC models in this price range upsample by default unless they are of the “NOS” variety. I used both the RCA and XLR analog outputs, but preferred the RCA in the end.
I streamed a large and varied amount of music via my Ethernet connected Squeezebox Touch for X3-DAC to convert to analog; maybe more music than for any other DAC review. This is partly because I was enjoying my time with the X3-DAC very much, and partly because I was trying to see if it leaned one way or another sonically. I started off with a two-disc classic salsa collection, La Voz, by legendary singer Hector Lavoe. The music is a complex stew of percolating rhythms, horn lines, and Lavoe’s soaring vocals. The X3-DAC handled these recordings beautifully and allowed all mix elements mix to gel.