Denon DA-300USB DAC Review 
Home Theater Preamplifiers Stereo Preamps
Written by Andre Marc   
Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Denon has introduced a number of notable new products in the last year or so, including streamers, AV receivers, Blu-ray players, HiFi components, and headphones. I recently reviewed their very nice DHT-S514 Soundbar. Add to the list of hot new items: the Denon DA-300USB DSD DAC and headphone amplifier. It retails for $499.

With the DA-300USB, Denon has entered the exciting and fiercely competitive market of sub-$1000 multi-function digital decoders. Denon has a long history with digital, and there is a lot of engineering muscle to call on. Their universal disc players were coveted in the time that SACD and DVD-A were making a push, and their AV Receivers have been top performers.

Fast forward to 2014 and computer audio has now gone mainstream. Disc players have clearly taken a back seat, although they are still being produced, albeit with digital inputs. Denon also clearly understands that audiophiles want flexibility, with the ability to use products on a desktop, in a high quality home stereo, or with headphones. The DA-300USB is just the ticket.

The DA-300USB is about the size of a cigar box, and it can be set up vertically or horizontally.  It is sturdily made and feels solid when you pick it up. The unit is powered via an external 15V wal wart power supply. Denon has provided all common digital connections, including two TosLink, one Coaxial, and one USB input. You can run a fixed output via RCA interconnects into a preamp or integrated amp, or plug headphones into the front jack, with a variable output controlled by a very nice volume knob. As I said, versatility is the theme here.

The front panel has a very clear and easy to read display, showing sample rate and selected input. Switching inputs is done via touch screen, and the feel and response time is excellent. The DA-300USB covers all bases on resolution. It does up to 192 Khz PCM on all inputs, and DSD64 and DSD128 on the USB input.



Under the hood, Denon has a lot going on. Denon states that "at the heart of the DA-300USB is the high resolution PCM1795 D/A converter, which features advanced segment 32 bit architecture along with the ability to handle up to 192kHz PCM sample rates as well as the ability to decode high resolution DSD files (either natively decoded or via DoP - DSD over PCM). Via the USB-B port, the DA-300USB communicates with the PC or Mac via asynchronous data transfer mode, which ensures smooth, jitter-free digital communication, which is especially vital with very high bandwidth digital audio data streams. For optimum compatibility with the broadest range of sampling frequencies, the DA-300USB is equipped with two master clock crystals, instead of the usual one.

For the widest dynamic range and lowest distortion, the DA-300USB features sophisticated digital signal processing, including Denon's exclusive Advanced AL32 processor. The DA-300USB features no less than 7 separate printed circuit boards, to ensure the highest isolation between circuit blocks. Powered by a 15V/1A AC adapter, the DA-300USB features sophisticated DC power conversion technology with a power block that delivers separate DC voltage sources to power the various stages.

To ensure the most stable and accurate digital audio and timing data at the critical D/A converter stage, the DA-300USB also features advanced isolator chips that combine high speed CMOS technology with unique on-chip micro air-core transformers. A total of 9 isolator chips are employed, with 18 channels of isolation, delivering superior common mode noise rejection and maximum protection against digital noise transfer between critical stages, compared to conventional optoisolators
."

As you can see, Denon is touting some pretty advanced technologies and implementations for a product at this price point. That is what economies of scale can do. That is all great, right? So how does it sound...?

Denon DA-300USB

Set Up & Listening

I was able to put the DA-300USB through its paces with a quite a variety of music and associated gear. I used it with both McIntosh and Roksan integrated amplifiers, a Squeezebox Touch, a Simaudio MiND streamer, and a Mac Mini desktop computer. I also had the good fortune to have in for review a terrific, highly resolving Gallo Acoustics 2.1 system. I used Kimber, Audioquest, and DH Labs digital cables.

My first source was the Squeezebox Touch connected via optical, coaxial, and USB. First impressions, across all inputs, were of an amazing resolution, deep bass, and a wide soundstage. All inputs were able to decode PCM up to 192 Khz with no issues. I found it pleasing to use the front panel touch screen to change inputs.

Next up was the Simaudio MiND 180 streamer, via coaxial. The MiND, a step up from the Squeezebox, brought the DA-300USB to a new level with more nuance, tighter bass, and an even wider soundstage. The great Tim Hardin’s masterful Suite For Susan Moore And Damien, in 96/24 quality, was absolutely sublime through the Denon. It is a melancholy album with intricate arrangements, with Hardin’s other worldly voice anchoring the shop. Listening to this album was a real pinch me moment.



The late Terry Callier’s 1968 debut, The New Folk Sounds Of Terry Callier is a stunning recording, with Callier’s voice reaching impossible heights. Through the DA-300USB, I was really taken aback by the delicacy the high frequencies, and the smooth and transparent midrange. This album has a lot of open space and dynamic range; to my ears, the Denon rendered these qualities immaculately. The track "Oh Dear, What Can The Matter Be" simply left me amazed at how even the smallest performance nuances came through.

Denon DA300USBThe DA-300USB’s sonic performance set new benchmarks, for me, in the $500 to $1000 DAC price range. First, the bass was the most articulate and precise I have heard. Second, the soundstage was the widest I have experienced. The highs were delicate, and equal of units costing much more. The DA-300USB offered up a finesse and nimble quality I was not used to hearing at this price point. A track that crystallized this for me was Tim Buckley’s "I Must Have Been Blind" from his Blue Afternoon album.

DSD Performance & Headphone Amplifier

I moved the DA-300USB from my system to my desktop, connecting it to my Mac Mini with an Audioquest Forest USB cable, and a pair of Audioengine A+ (review forthcoming) powered monitors. I fed the DAC all PCM resolutions using Audirvana Plus playback software as well as DSD files, from various sampler collections, and from my own recordings done with a Korg MR2. The DA-300USB successfully locked on to all incoming sample rates. DSD is more organic and analog sounding than PCM; it sounded wonderful through this unit.

Using the headphone amplifier with my Grado SR-60 cans, I was treated to excellent, full bodied, and precise sound. I could really hear the difference between various resolutions. The front panel volume control provided lots of usable range. I also liked how the Denon ran pretty cool, as I have had other units literally heat up my desk. Ergonomically, the DA-300USB proved to be hassle free and a pleasure to use.

Conclusion

The DAC market, across all price points, is incredibly competitive. With so many marketing buzzwords and technical jargon to wade through, consumers may find it daunting. Denon's DA-300USB is a very attractive package that allows you to decode digital files of every known resolution, listen with headphones, or place in a high quality dedicated listening room. All for $499.

Looking for a place to punch holes in the DA-300USB’s performance was a fruitless task. It really does paint a complete musical picture. You get the added benefit of having a future-proof decoder that will allow you to enjoy your digital music library regardless of what flavor you enjoy, from standard CD quality, high resolution PCM downloads, or Direct Stream Digital.

Very highly recommended; maybe one of the highest value products of the year.


Specifications



Denon DA-300USB: $499

Inputs:
●    USB (Type B) input for connection to a computer
●    two optical digital audio
●    one RCA coaxial digital audio

Outputs:
●    fixed, line-level stereo RCA audio output
●    full-size 1/4" (6.3mm) headphone jack

Other info & specs:
●    supported sample rates for USB input: 32/44.1/48/88.2/96/172.4/192kHz Linear PCM; 2.8MHz (DSD64) and 5.6MHz (DSD128)
●    supported sample rates for coaxial and optical inputs: 32/44.1/48/88.2/96/172.4/192kHz Linear PCM
●    operating system requirements: Windows® XP (Service Pack 3), Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, and Mac® OS X® 10.6.3 (Snow Leopard) or later
●    USB 2.0 driver required for playback on Windows computers (free USB driver download available from Denon's website)
●    Mac OS X 10.6.3 or later supports plug-and-play operation, so no dedicated driver is required
●    external AC power supply included
●    vertical and horizontal mounting capability with 4 self-adhesive rubber feet and vertical-mount stand included
●    6-3/4"W x 2-3/16"H x 8-1/16"D (horizontal orientation)
●    weight: 3.3 lbs.

Review System 1


CD Transport: Musical Fidelity M1 CDT
Server: Squeezebox Touch
DAC/Server:  SIM Neo 308D
Headphone Amp: Pro-Ject Head Box II
Headphones: Grado SR60
Preamp: Channel Islands Audio PLC-1 MkII
Amplifier: Audio Research VS 55. Bob Carver Black Magic, CLONES Audio 25p
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4
Cables:  Stager Silver Solids, Darwin Truth (IC), Transparent  MM2 Super (IC), Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Shunyata Venom (AC) Element Cable Red Storm (Digital AC), DH Labs TosLink, DH Labs AES/EBU, Audioquest, Forest, WireWorld Ultraviolet, DH Labs USB(USB) DH Labs (USB)
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner, Salamander rack

Review System 2


CD Player: Marantz CD5003
Music Server: Simaudio MiND 180, Squeezebox Touch via Ethernet to
MAC Mini w/ Western Digital & Seagate external drives.
DAC: Musical Fidelity A90, CLONES Audio Sheva DAC, MyTek Stereo 192
Integrated Amplifier: McIntosh  MA6600, Roksan Kandy A2 B2
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3, Anthony Gallo Acoustics A’Diva SE
Cables: Darwin Cables Silver IC, Kimber Hero HB,  DH Labs White Lightning (IC),QED Transparent MusicWave (Speaker),PS Audio (AC), Mojo Audio (AC), DH Labs TosLink, Audioquest Forest USB, Wireworld Ultraviolet USB
Accessories:Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Sound Anchors Stands, Wiremold, KECES XPS

















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