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Audio Note UK DAC 0.1x Review

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The Audio Note UK DAC 0.1x is part of Audio Note UK’s entry level zero system. At first glance, the DAC 0.1x can seem to be a tough sell in a 2018 marketplace with far more modern DA converters competitively priced, most of them having half a dozen inputs and outputs and impressive techno babble about their processing power and feature sets. The DAC 0.1x, on the other hand, seems to be steadfastly from a prior era.

Opening the box and taking out the smart looking DAC 0.1x, one does not exactly see a product that screams robust. It is a half sized component and weighs 3kg. Audiophiles who like big beefy components will scratch their heads. On the front is one button, which selects either a USB input or a Coax input and one light that tells you the DAC is on. On the back of the unit, there is a power switch, the two inputs, and a removable power cord inlet.

Why is the power switch on the back? This is because Audio Note UK prefers that you leave the DAC on 24/7.  Not to worry as the 6111WA tube used in the DAC has an expected life of 100,000 hours or 11 plus years of continuous operation.

As a feature machine you will not be impressed by the DAC 0.1x in comparison with other mainstream audiophile DA Converters. The DAC 0.1x is a one times oversampling DA Converter and, like all other AN UK DACs, it won’t natively read SACD, DSD, 24/192khz recordings,MQA, or whatever else comes down the digital highway after this review is published. This DAC is clearly designed for people who buy and play CDs; it will play Hi Res files but it will down convert those files to the CD Redbook standard.

As you can see, in 2018 this would seem to be tough sell with the lack of very high quality CD transports and with an audiophile consumer base leaving disc spinners behind. For those readers familiar with Audio Note UK’s CD replay technology, you know that they do things differently from a design perspective than most, if not all, other companies making digital. For those unfamiliar, a brief explanation is in order. Audio Note UK takes the view that digital replay is somewhat analogous to negative feedback in amplifiers. It believes that it is better to avoid errors in the first place than try to correct errors after the fact. Indeed, they believe that the CD replay should read the disc properly the first time and convert properly in real time, rather than applying band aids that ruin the critical time domain.

The Audio Note UK DAC 0.1x uses the classic Philips TDA 1543 chip, which Peter Qvortrup likes very much, although he noted to me that he would have preferred to use the TDA 1541 but that there simply were no more TDA 1541s available in enough numbers anymore to be used in a production product. Peter did note to me that he purchased some 20,000 TDA 1543 chips so availability into the future will not be an issue. Of course there is more to the sound quality of a DAC than just the chip being selected, such as the quality of other parts and the design of the output stage. While there have been many companies that have copied Audio Note UK’s non oversampling DA converters over the years (imitation is the highest form of flattery), Audio Note UK is still unique in design with no digital or analogue filters and manufacturing much of their own internal parts, such as the Audio Note UK Tin Foil capacitors found in the DAC 0.1x.

You can see that Audio Note UK follows this approach through all their products. Their amplifiers are almost all Single Ended designs with no global feedback. Their speakers and turntables are designed not to store energy but to release it as quickly as possible. With their CD players and DACs, Audio Note UK makes no attempt to reduce distortion or jitter or add error correction processes. They want the disc to be read one time, the digital information to the DAC to be processed one time, hence the 0.1x designation. Audio Note UK feels that the less repair processing attempted on the source disc, the less damage will be done to the original signal.

Audio Note UK’s CD playback methodology has been well established since the mid 1990s and is often considered to be the best CD replay in the business in spite of an approach that runs counter to what most everyone else in the industry is doing.

For me, as an end user, I am more interested in the sound quality of the piece of gear over technological talking points. I mention this because over the last several years it seems to me that the talking points have come first and the audio industry forums have turned into an extension of computer forums. Have you bought the DAC with the latest DSD chip?  Does your DAC do MQA?  No? Well then mate, you are three months behind the times and therefore you own a relic! It is truly sad when chasing better music reproduction has been changed to chasing the latest feature or DA conversion chip. I understand that to a degree because a better, faster chip in a computer can make for a better computer, but in audio it has not necessarily been the case. I observe that many reviewers and audiophiles are moving to SET amplifiers and looking back many decades for speaker design inspiration. Even the LP has come back. Thus, for those readers who own valve amplifiers and turntables – Audio Note CD replay should be at the forefront of your audition list.

For the Audio Note UK DACs to survive today they have to do so based purely on their sound quality. The DAC 0.1X has to make up for the lack of features and cool aesthetics by being a rather sizeable sonic cut above other products for similar dollars.

I noted in the late 1990s that for something to improve sonically in any given product area, a company would have to design things differently to what everyone else was doing. Many audiophiles would complain about digital using such words as lean, thin, bright, etched, fatiguing, and grating. Indeed, even today some of those terms are still being used as well as flat, dull, banal, lifeless, and just plain boring. I like to note that when I listen to very good vinyl replay there is a sense of a breath of life pulsing through my system. For all the warts of vinyl – when good vinyl hits a good turntable it engages my senses like little else.

With digital, I always get the sense I am listening to something the analogue of “airbrushing.” It has a kind of perfect sound that is vacuous, like a sociopath who has physical perfection and immense charm but no empathy or soul.

3 Responses to Audio Note UK DAC 0.1x Review

  1. Juan says:

    Can be better buy the CD Zero, use the same DAC and we also have an Audio Note transport:
    As a system suggestion this SE and these Open-Baffle:
    Maybe you could do a review of that system in the future.

  2. John Callaway says:

    I currently have a Wavelength V2 (NOS) Dac in my computer audio system. I enjoyed your review. I’ll go down to my friendly, local dealer, Audio Consult, bring one of these home and compare it with my Wavelength Dac. I happen to have a Donald North Audio (DNA) Stellaris headphone amp connected to my Dac, which is very good at picking up nuances in the equipment feeding it.

  3. Viral Jasubhai says:

    i am using the audionote with a nagra integrated driving jospeh audio speakers and the sound is superb, i am now going to try the dac 3 to see how much better the sound gets.

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