The audio world is awash with DACs, streamers and servers these days, all vying to give the end user access to the world of computer audio, be it, Red Book 16 bit 44.1, Hi resolution files 24 bit, 88/96/192, streamed or the hot new kid (actually an older kid Mr SACD) in town DSD
I am an old fashioned kind of audiophile, I still prefer the tactile pleasure of selecting real media to play, be it CD, vinyl or tape and its only relatively recently I have embarked on computer based audio adventures. This hasn’t been an easy road, its been challenging both in regards of optimising the tech, but also in learning more about computers and using them as audio sources. If I am honest this hasn’t always been a joy, with much hair pulling, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth and the odd thought of hurling a laptop out the front door – to watch it smash gloriously in pieces. Its fair to say this learning curve has given me many virtual grey hairs and even possibly a few real ones.
Its also a fact that I had a few of these moments during this review, mainly down to the frustration of trying to work a Windows 8 HP laptop, with this DAC – not compatibility issues I hasten to add but purely operator errors – and the death of my lovely ACER notebook – a favourite for its spdif output – towards the end of the process have conspired to frustrate what should have been a fairly straightforward review.
Anyway onward and upward – here are my thoughts and findings regarding the Luxman DA100.
Description, Technology and Specifications.
Great things can come in small packages, or so they say and the Luxman DA 100 digital to analogue converter is most certainly a very compact piece of equipment at one and three quarters CD jewel cases in length and one CD case in width and half high. Its compact and yet has enough weight to not easily be dragged of an equipment shelf if one chooses to use heavy audiophile interconnects and mains cable – something I do myself.
The unit is supplied with stick on footers that can be used under the width or if side on mounting is required one can place them there, however stability may be compromised if one chooses that option, particularly if bulky, inflexible cabling is used – something to keep in mind.
The DA100 is nicely made with a brushed aluminium front panel populated with three controls, a filter selecting button, a volume control, input selector and a standard gold plated headphone jack. The rear panel is more heavily populated with USB input, Fibre optic and coaxial digital inputs, fibre-optic and coax digital output, IEC mains input and two RCA out put jacks.
This particular DAC is a bit of an oddity in that its not driver driven (unlike most others requiring one to be downloaded if one uses a Windows PC, MAC owners not having to normally), which is a blessing to those of us less well versed in computer operation, I have spent a few wasted hours trying to unpack drivers in the past to run them – again down to operator ignorance than badly designed software. However I can’t help but wonder if this is a weakness too, as certain incompatibilities exist with this DAC.
Something less commonly found with this design, that is a big plus is the fibre-optic digital input will accept 24 bit 192 data rates, so those with computers sporting an spdif output (usually fibre optic) can by pass the USB input to obtain higher data rates – as one can also do with the coaxial input. However while that is a blessing the DA100 oddly in these days one finds that the USB input will only accept up to 96 natively before converting. So no 192 via USB which is a potential issue and DSD can go climb, a much less serious issue in my view.
The DACs compatibility with various computer sound card driver protocols for digital audio is somewhat limited compared to other DACs on the market at a similar price. There is no ASIO, Wasapi Event Style for instance. Frankly the omission of ASIO compatibility is in my opinion a serious failing.
The DA100 features 32bit processing and is equipped with the latest high quality Burr-Brown PCM5102 DAC. There are selectable Digital filters to switch between FIR and IIR mode and the DA100 supports 32kHz~192kHz,16 bit,20 bit,24bit digital input (max 96kHz, 24bit for USB input) via its coaxial and fibre optic inputs.
The DA100 has a high quality low phase noise clock module to reduce the noise level of any digital signal and those signals are fed through a high-accuracy built-in DAIR crystal to minimize the jitter of asynchronous processing.
The DA100 like so many digital to analogue converters these days is also a high quality headphone amplifier and in this case the built-in headphone AMP circuit, is very similar to that in the up stream DA-200.
Internally Luxman claim the use of traditional Luxman round pattern PCBs, with spiral Wrap shielded cabling, and special-made components.
The front panel has a nice clear display which uses a high visibility 3 digit 7 segment LED display.
All in all a mixed bag of the good and the potentially not so good, but specifications are not the be all and end all – only listening will really tell the tale.
The system used was a Balanced Audio Technology VK300 SE integrated amplifier, Anthony Gallo Reference 3.1 speakers, Acer 1810TZ Notebook, HP laptop, Freecom 2TB HD, Precious Metals fibre optic cable, Wire World Red USB and Wireworld Ultraviolet USB cables. A HifFace Two USB to Coax converter was also used with a QED SR75 and XLO Reference Coax digital cable. Analogue interconnects used were Atlas Mavros and speakercable was QED Genesis silver spiral. The equipment tables were a Target B5 and BASE equipment table and Bright Star Isonodes were also used. Mainscables were Audience AU24, TCI Boa constrictors, Mark Grant 2.5 with a Mark Grant distribution block. No mains filtering was used but all equipment was run of a dedicated spur and an Ifi Audio USB power was used – to great effect – with the HiFace Two
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (16bit 44.1)
Dead Can Dance – Into The Labyrinth (24bit 88.2)
Stanley Clarke – 1, 2 to The Bass. (16bit 44.1)
Casino Royale – Soundtrack (Burt Bacharach) (24bit 192)
Once the set up was sorted out and the DAC run in – it requires quiet a bit of run in – I sat down to listen via USB (a Wireworld Ultraviolet) and I was a little frustrated re not being able to access 192 via the USB input so opted to try the ACERs fibre-optic digital out to get around the DA100s limitation re not accepting 192 except via the CoAxial and Fibre Optic inputs.
However I still hit a snag re doing this in that the DA100 would not accept 88.2 via the ACERs spdif output, it showed up as 48 (via the HP and HiFace 2 interface 88.2 worked fine), no matter how I configured the PC or JRiver, however all others worked fine, 44.1, 96 and 192 and as the majority of tracks I auditioned are in these sampling rates I sat back to enjoy the music. However later on in the review a moment of inspiration had me back fiddling with the setting and I finally managed to obtain 88.2 re all the fibre optic and coaxial inputs.
Fully run in the DA100 has a nicely balanced sound with extended treble, rich mid range and extended but articulate bass. The frequencies were coherent and well integrated but its important to note that from new there is a leanness and forwardness that a fully run in DA100 does not possess, especially using the fibre optic and coaxial inputs. In saying that there is a very slightly more forward and lively presentation via the USB input over the other inputs.
Fairly pleased with the sound via fibre optic I decided to install an M2Tech HiFace 2 and settled down to listen to the same tracks again via the coax input (I used a QED SR75 and then a XLO Reference coax cable from the HiFace to the DA100) and the music was more open, more nuanced, with better soundstaging, instrument placement depth layering and a more convincing natural sound. This improvement was right across the frequencies. Swapping to the XLO also brought about improvements as one expected to hear, knowing the XLO is the better of the two cables.
Daft Punks – Random Access Memories first three tracks, in particular track 2 The Game of Love and track 3 Giorgio by Moroder showed this up very clearly, with better separation of the instruments and clearer depth layering. The cymbal work on The Game of Love had more presence, its own space and shimmer and decay compared to the slightly more homogenised sound while using the fibre-optic cable.
On Giorgio, Mr Moroder’s narration, was much more three dimensional and in its own space, compared to how it had been with the optical connection.
The same was also true for Dead Can Dances – Into The Labyrinth, Stanley Clarke’s – 1, 2 to the Bass, Casino Royale (1967) soundtrack album and the other music I listened to.
I am certainly increasingly warming to the idea that where possible coaxial digital use for Computer Audio more often than not sounds better than USB, however in saying that implementation and hard/software support may well make that a moot point as some designs on the market are only available with a USB input but if the DAC has a Coax input and it supports all the sound options via this input and you can try it, then I would urge you to give coaxial ago – like me you may well end up feeling that coax is the way to go re Computer Audio.
Compared to the IFi iDac the DA100 was more open, detailed and had better lower mid and bass articulation, weight and scale but the AMR DP777 was considerably better in every way more than justifying the extra expense.
This is a bit of an odd fish in the current DAC market, USB input limited in that it won’t go above 96 natively, without converting, several playback options including Null, Wasapi Event Style not supported, and not compatible with ASIO which is a big deal in my book, but no DSD, is in reality still not a big deal.
Pluses are it supports all sampling rates via the coaxial input, and maybe a first, this also includes fibre-optic, thus allowing folks with computers equipped with a mini spdif (usually a mini optic) output to hook directly to the DA100 from their computer, thus bypassing USB, which generally is still regarded as a good thing if the entire data chain from external HD to DAC is via USBs.
Sound quality is very good indeed, ticking all the right boxes for me personally, in that it manages to be open and detailed but not hifi sounding – or at least not in my book.
Alas with no other DACs to compare the DA100 to, at or around its price point I can’t say how it sits performance wise in its price bracket, among its direct peers but I very much enjoyed my time with it a great deal and enjoyed the way it made music – that is once it was fully run in.
Manufacturer – Luxman http://www.luxman.com/index.php
Source of Loan – Distributor/Dealer.
UK Distributor – Select Audio http://www.selectaudio.co.uk/
Retail Price £995
Portable A5-sized 2 channel PCM D/A converter
– 32bit processing and equipped with the latest high quality Burr-Brown PCM5102 DAC
– Selectable Digital filters to switch between FIR and IIR mode
– B-type USB interface to connect USB digital audio input from PC or Mac
– Supports 32kHz~192kHz,16 bit,20 bit,24bit digital input (max 96kHz, 24bit for USB input)
– Available D/D converter function while connecting digital inputs including USB input
– Built-in headphone AMP circuit ,similar to DA-200
– Low phase noise clock module to reduce the noise level of any digital signal
– High-accuracy built-in DAIR crystal to minimize the jitter of asynchronous processing.
– High visibility 3 digit 7 segment LED display.
– LUXMAN traditional round pattern PCBs, Spiral Wrap shielded wiring, and special-made components.
– Gold plated RCA output terminal with a pitch of 18mm, allowing large type connectors.
– Compatible with various standard OS driver from Windows XP/Mac OSX onwards
– Supplied optional feet are available to be attached at the sides of the case to allow it stand upright
2–channel D/A converter
– COAX/OPT input: 32kHz, 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192 kHz
– USB input: 32kHz, 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 96kHz
Digital inputs: USB(B type), OPT, COAX
Digital outputs: COAX , OPT
Analog outputs: RCA unbalanced, 1 pr., headphone
LINE output voltage/ competance: 2.1V/300Ω
Headphone output: 130Mw+130Mw(600Ω), 80Mw+80Mw(32Ω), 40Mw+40Mw(16Ω)
Frequency response: 2Hz ~60kHz(+0, -3.0dB)
THD, S/N Ratio: 0.004%, 112dB
Power consumption: 7W(Electrical Appliances and Materials Safety Act)
Dimension: 149(W)x70(H)x232(including front panel knob:14mm, rear panel connectors 8mm)(D)mm
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