DACs

Rein Audio X-DAC with USB Input

ARTICLE INDEX

The Rein Audio X-DAC In Use

I used the X-DAC with an OPPO-BDP-95 as a transport, Pass XP-20 preamplifier (XLR inputs), Classé CA-M600 monoblock power amplifiers, and Carver Mark IV ribbon speakers. Cables were Wireworld.

Beginning the tests, I listened to CDs and two-channel SACDs using one of the digital coax inputs. The sound was neutral, with a hint of warmth. It was smooth and mellow, without any harshness or grit. I was really kind of surprised at the quality of the sound, considering it is less than $800 (probably an additional $50 to ship it to North America from Europe). I have to give Rein Audio credit for designing a DAC that produced a level of sound purity that just a few years ago, would have cost thousands. Of course, DAC chipsets and op-amps for the output stage have improved greatly during that time as well. But, you could take a sack full of the best quality parts in the world and design junk. It definitly takes engineering prowess to put them all together to produce audiophile-quality sound.

Now for the USB. I have never used a USB DAC interface before, so I was a bit apprehensive about whether it was going to be plug-n-play, or unmentionable language and frustration.

It turned out to be plug-n-play. I simply connected the included USB cable to my computer, the computer said, "Your device is installed and ready for use," and I selected "USB Audio" as the output in my audio device menu, clicked on some of my favorite albums that I have stored on my computer, and out came the music. Simple, simple, simple.

So . . . . to my astonishment, the sound coming from my computer sounded at least as good as playing a CD on the transport. In a double-blind test, I might very well have thought the USB sound was a tinge better. But, that was for CDs. I can't put my SACD soundtracks on my computer. I can put 24/88.2 DVD-A music, such as tracks downloaded from HDTracks, and they worked fine as well through the USB input.

The output voltage when using the S/PDIF inputs as well as the USB input is sufficient for most preamplifiers, and in fact, the very low distortion from the Rein X-DAC makes it a good contender for a high end audio system, using these inputs. The distortion from the USB input is a bit higher than with the standard S/PDIF inputs, but it is still low enough to be considered good quality.

This is my favorite jazz album, partly because it just swings, but also because of its prodigy drummer, Buddy Rich. I heard him live in Seattle many years ago, and my soon-to-be-wife Susan was with me at the table, which was about 10 feet from his kit. Sue was sleepy, and began to doze during the music, and Rich commented that the audience was falling asleep. He was referring to Susan. I played it with the transport using the coax input and also directly from the computer to the DAC with the USB input. This album is so old, the recording quality is not really up to 21st century standards, and I couldn't really hear any difference. The album sounded as good as it could, with either source. Buddy's cymbals were clear and crisp, without harshness or being overly sibilant. I would sure love it if the producers could find the original tapes and convert them to 24/88.2 or 24/192 PCM high rez downloads.

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For classical music, I chose this Brahms Early Piano Works album that I had downloaded from HDTracks. Its format is 24/88.2 PCM. Played from the computer through the USB connection, it sounded terrific, with high notes not having any glare that they do when there is significant distortion. My overall impression is that the X-DAC sounded a bit towards analog rather than being totally digital. Warm and smooth. To most audiophiles, that is a good thing. The detail was better than typical tube products, courtesy of the low IM distortion. There was no rolloff at either end of the spectrum. Violins and string bass sounded completely natural.

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