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Audio Note UK DAC 0.1x Review

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To provide an example I must use my Line Magnetic 502CA DAC. This DAC is highly regarded and uses a modern ESS Sabre DAC chip and has both a Solid State mode and a Tube mode with independent output transformers each for the solid state and tube sections. The 502CA is a 32 bit/192kHz capable computer audio DA converter. The US list price was $1,800 and my understanding is that it has now been discontinued in the US and Canada, to be replaced by a DAC that is capable of DSD and likely MQA.

First, let me say that I quite liked the sound of the LM DAC. At the press of a button, you can select tube or solid-state replay. The Tube mode has nice, big body, richness and ambiance. The Solid State mode is mostly unlistenable. What makes it a fun DAC is that you can bring your friends over and let them hear what the tube output sounds like versus the solid state output. However, this would likely be the only time you would ever select the solid-state setting, so it would be best if Line Magnetic just dumped the entire solid state section and reduced the price of the DAC.

The LM 502CA in tube operation never sounds thin or fatiguing. Indeed, it has a nice, stereotypically fat sound, similar to using a tube buffer. It provides a nice sense of ambiance that is lacking in many other DACs. Indeed, I had little to quibble with it for $1,800. But then came the Audio Note UK DAC 0.1x.

After a week of going back and forth I found that the LM 502CA DAC sounded safe. Indeed, it was never bright or edgy, and it always sounds full and rich. Still, you get the sense it is somehow paint by numbers. It ticks the boxes of what digital should not sound like more than having the “breath of life” thrill. The 502CA lacked the extension and bite on albums that should have them. Ultimately, the 502CA makes most everything sound alike. That is what a “tube buffer” tends to do – it adds a topping of pleasing distortion that never really goes away. This is not always recognizable – until you listen longer and make comparisons to something better, like the Audio Note UK DAC 0.1x.

Essentially, the Audio Note DAC 0.1x differentiates recordings better so that you get more variety in the sound you are hearing. There is more bounce with leading edges and you get more tonal colouration.  Listening to acoustic instruments like cello and piano are exhilarating, drawing me to play not only more of my collection but the same track three times and causing me to shake my head that a DAC at this price could render this level of sound quality. The veil lifts and the energy and the dynamics come through. Everything has more life and more toe-tapping involvement.

The DAC 0.1x is articulate and clear and has no audible self noise or hum. Cellos weep, pianos sound full bodied and textured. Playing AC/DC was appropriately powerful though I felt the bass was considerably richer and more powerful with Audio Note’s CD Two/II Transport than with my Line Magnetic 215 CD player used as a transport. So as much I like the DAC 0.1x presently, I feel considerable gains can be made with a superior, dedicated CD transport.

In my experience, most lower level Audio Note UK products lie by omission. After all, there are 6 levels of Audio Note DACs (at the time of this review) not to mention various stepped up signature versions as sort of a half way product between a level 1 and a level 2 DAC that incorporate better sounding and costlier parts. And yes, you will hear the sonic improvement. I have mainly compared the DAC 0.1x (level zero) with the DAC 3.1x Balanced DAC (level 3). The jump in price is roughly five fold. The immediate gain is a tremendous level of sophistication across the spectrum as well as considerable bass depth and drive. Nevertheless, the DAC 0.1x is superb at the business of music replay for the money whether from CD transport or from computer. What is interesting is that I prefer hi-res music on my computer through the DAC 0.1x than via my Line Magnetic 502CA even though the latter plays those files natively. The 0.1x DAC has been selling for 13 years and I can hear why. You will be hard pressed to find a more satisfying DAC for music playback for the money. Combined with the glorious Audio Note UK I-Zero integrated amplifier reviewed here ( https://www.dagogo.com/audio-note-uk-izero-integrated-amplifier-tube-amplifier-review/ ) and the criminally underrated AX Two loudspeakers reviewed here ( https://www.dagogo.com/audio-note-uk-ax-two-loudspeaker-review/ ) there is the added bonus of system and aesthetic synergy.

Notes on Computer Set-Up:

  1. This DAC is easy to set-up. No formatting discs are required – simply plug the USB cable into a port on your computer, go to the volume control and select USB audio DAC and you are done. If you wish to enhance your experience and you will not use a CD transport, Audio Note has recommended a USB to Coaxial converter (such as those from M2Tech) so that you can connect your computer via the Coaxial input.
  2. It is recommended that the preamp input of your amplifier be 47K Ohms or higher.
  3. It is recommended that you use quality interconnect cables – I found a marked improvement in bass and richness of tone halfway through my review by using Audio Note Lexus Interconnects (50 strand 99.99% Copper Litz) from DAC to Preamp and another set from Preamp to Power amp.

System used for this review:

Audio Note E/Spx Alnico Hemp loudspeakers

Audio Note M3 MKIII Phono Balanced preamp

Kingko KA 101 used as power amplifier

Line Magnetic CD 215 used as transport

Audio Note AN V Silver Interconnects

Audio Note AN Lexus Copper Interconnects

Audio Note SPE Silver Speaker Cables.

 

Copy editor: Dan Rubin

3 Responses to Audio Note UK DAC 0.1x Review


  1. Juan says:

    Hello,
    Can be better buy the CD Zero, use the same DAC and we also have an Audio Note transport:
    http://www.audionote.co.uk/products/digital/cd_zero.shtml
    As a system suggestion this SE and these Open-Baffle:
    http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews2/caintuck/1.html
    Maybe you could do a review of that system in the future.
    Sincerely

  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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