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Positive Feedback ISSUE 53
as reviewed by Michael Wechsberg
I recently reviewed the very good power amplifier from Anedio (see issue 53), a small company in New Jersey, and now it's time to look at their matching D1 DAC with volume control. Both components provide excellent value by using cost effective core technologies and surrounding them with excellent electrical design, sturdy packaging and key top-line components. The D1 DAC is built around the ES9018 Sabre Reference 32-bit DAC, which it is said "excels at reducing jitter and resolving lowermost signals." Indeed this and earlier versions of Sabre DACs have been used by other notable DAC manufacturers including Krell, Mcintosh and Oppo among others. The DAC chip, however, is not the sole factor in determining the quality of sound from a standalone converter; the surrounding circuits, layout, components, mechanical structure all contribute as much or more to the sound, which is why the units from different manufacturers sound different. It is also why the price range can vary over large ranges as well. Anedio tries to pack a lot of punch into their equipment without driving up the price to stratospheric levels by using insightful and cost effective design techniques. They use several stages of jitter reduction (see their discussion at http://www.anedio.com/index.php/article/multi_stage_jitter_reduction), and pay particular attention to grounding schemes. Anedio sells its equipment through its web site and offers a 30 day home trial.
Victor Chavira gives his views of this DAC together with the A1 amplifier in a composite review, but I wanted to focus more attention on the DAC alone so decided to write about it separately. The Anedio D1 DAC is one of a new class of components designed to appeal to the modern, all-digital audiophile. It sports four digital inputs: USB (16 bits, 44.1KHz, 48kHz), SPDIF, 75-ohm BNC (24 bits, 44.1KHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz), SPDIF 75-ohm RCA (24 bits, 44.1KHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz, 176.4kHz, 192kHz), and Toslink (24 bits, 44.1KHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz). So, one could hook up four different digital sources and handle almost (but not all) sampling situations. It also has a very high quality volume control using a combination of 32-bit digital attenuators and thin-film resistor dividers to provide 0.5dB attenuation steps over a 50 dB range. This allows the user to bypass a separate line amplifier and to connect directly to a power amplifier over single-ended RCA outputs. Avoiding the cost and potential sonic degradation of the line amplifier and its cables should be a good thing and I believe more and more systems will be configured this way. The Anedio is also supplied with a handy remote control (actually sourced from Sony) that allows input selection, volume control and mute. Victor said he did not use the remote but I found it functionally very useful as well as easy to use.
The Anedio is contained in the same 9 x 13.4 x 13 inch aluminum chassis with integral cone feet as the A1 amplifier with end panels that glow softly in blue when the unit is switched on. A large display on the front panel shows the input for a few seconds when it is changed and displays the volume level on a scale of 0 to 99. There is also a small LED that changes from red to green when the DAC locks onto a signal. The display is always on. The power switch is on the rear panel, but it won't cost much to keep the D1 on all the time as it consumes only 8W. There is also a push button used to select among the four inputs, and a headphone jack as well. Anedio says it provides a high-current buffer for headphones to enable low distortion into a wide range of headphone impedance variation, but I did not try the headphone output. As is the case for the amplifier, the D1 looks like a high end component costing well beyond its price level while at the same time using a minimum of shelf space. It also comes with a set of measurements and test results for the specific unit you buy. These are similar to the plots you see in Stereophile and the data for my device are exceptionally impressive.
Although the D1 came to me already broken in, I left it on for about 48 hours before beginning my listening. The DAC comes with an AC cord, but I used an XLO Signature 3 power cable plugged into my PS Audio Power Plant Premier conditioner. Anedio makes a case that, as long as they are short, elaborately designed cables are not necessary with its equipment. I don't happen to agree with this philosophy so I ignored it. I installed the D1 in my system with the E.A.R. Acute CD player as a source using a Straightwire I-link digital coax cable (a fairly low-end but decent cable by audiophile standards), which is the only digital cable I had in the house. I used a pair of XLO Signature 3 RCA interconnects to play the D1 into my E.A.R. 868 preamp. I decided to use the preamp even though Anedio says it is not necessary because it allowed me to compare the sound of the internal E.A.R. DAC to the D1 by switching inputs. I played the Acute directly into the balanced input of the preamp. Amplifiers were a pair of Anedio A1 amplifiers playing the Marten Miles II speakers in the passive bi-amplification mode. In my review of the amplifiers I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the sound using these amps in the bi-amp mode and had grown accustomed to their sound over a couple of weeks or more of listening.
Using this configuration I played a range of demonstration CDs while periodically switching between the direct CD signal versus the D1 signal. The D1 came off very well in this comparison. The most significant sonic characteristics of the Anedio are a very clean and clear sound with excellent bass, a detailed midrange and pristine highs. The D1 is particularly adept at getting the critical timing information in recordings correct. I feel transients are rendered extremely well and music of all types is most engaging and involving. Vocalists both male and female come off extremely well. I feel the DAC is better at portraying less complex music than it is portraying larger scale works where it's a little more difficult following individual instrument lines. On the other hand the D1 casts a very wide soundstage when the recording allows and presentation of depth is accurate. The sonic perspective does not recede or jump forward when I switch to the D1 from the direct signal from the Acute as is often the case with other DACs or CD players I have tried. I enjoyed just about everything I played through the Anedio. If I have to pick nits I would say the midrange does not have the fullness of some other players, whereas the highs are a bit analytical for my taste while never becoming harsh. The Acute on its own has better transparency and low-level detail, and on orchestral music, does a better job of sorting out the sonic picture. But the Acute costs five or six times more than the Anedio so this is not surprising.
The next thing I tried was to play the D1 DAC directly into the Anedio A1 amplifiers, bypassing the preamp altogether. I used the same XLO Signature 3 interconnect between the DAC and the amplifiers. The sound did not change much, which is a testament to the transparency of the E.A.R. 868 preamp. The midrange became a little thinner and some vocalists, especially male vocalists, lost some fullness. I thought hard-to-reproduce piano music was a bit less engaging. On the other hand the bass range was more detailed, highs were cleaner and the timing and pace of the music was a hair better. I bet all of this assessment might change using different cables as the differences were small.
I operated the D1 near the top of the range of the volume control, between 80 and 90 on the readout in order to fill the room with sound when driving the A1 amps directly. There were times when I wanted to go louder. This surprised me as I thought the specified 2.0 vrms output would push the amps harder. As I discussed in my Anedio A1 amplifier review, the 70W output of the amplifiers is on the low side for the efficiency of my speakers and the size of my room.
The Anedio D1 is the first DAC I've had the opportunity to sample that has a USB input. I'm still in the dark ages with respect to computer audio and I've been lazy about getting on-board this new freight train. Truth is I've been buying a lot of vinyl and spending most of my spare time listening to all the new records so I just haven't had the time (or motivation) to set up my MacBook Pro to play back through my audio system. So, for the first time I entered the abyss of computer audio using the Anedio.
Oh my, what a mess. Anedio says the presence of the USB input provides a plug-and-play interface that is easy as pie. Not!!I won't go into the trials and tribulations I ran into, but I eventually did get the computer and the DAC to play together and the sound I got out was not bad using recordings imported from CDs using Apple Lossless encoding. But it was not nearly as good as the sound of CDs played through the D1. I don't consider my test of the Anedio USB input to be a valid test so I refer you to Victor Chavira's review as he has more experience than I in this world. He really liked it. I do want to note that the Anedio can play high-resolution files through the SPDIF inputs (up to 24 bits, 192kHz) but only 16 bits and 44.1kHz (or 48kHz) through the USB input.
In summary, Anedio has achieved its goals of providing the most realistic and faithful reproduction of music in an affordable way so it can be enjoyed by almost everyone. The D1 DAC is a truly modern, state-of-the-art component that is smartly designed, looks good and will provide joyous sounds for many years to come. By eliminating the need for a preamp and a set of cables it brings you closer to the music and gives you more dough to buy recordings, real or virtual. It provides a very low distortion, clean, crisp and transparent sound that is especially accurate in timing relationships so that music has drive and pace. For the reasonable price of $1270 the Anedio D1 will handle all of your digital music with aplomb. If in the market for a DAC I strongly suggest you give the D1 a try. Michael Wechsberg