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Teac UD-501 USB D/A Converter Review

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The round mound of sound

Associated equipment used for this review include my Rogue Audio 99 Super Magnum tube preamplifier, AAD 2001 loudspeakers, Asus laptop (fitted with JRiver 19 media player), Sony MDR-7506 studio monitor headphones, Audio Sensibility RCA interconnect and speaker cables, iFi-audio Mercury USB cable, and a brand new just-off-the-boat Prima Luna Dialogue Premium HP tube amplifier (review in progress).

Overall, the UD-501 delivers a fairly full-bodied warmish quality, though not as warm sounding as my modified ART DI/O with the same tube equipment, but further away from neutral than the B.M.C. PureDAC I reviewed. This result is particularly to my liking, since I prefer some warmth for my personal listening. The UD-501 also produces a nice smooth and round sound. Musical notes begin and end close to what I hear at live concerts. Proponents for sharp note attack and decay may not find this DAC to their liking.

Transparency and resolution are two strong points of this DAC, delivering very good detail (though not the best I’ve heard) that flows within the music in both PCM and DSD formats. It delivers a greater degree of transparency than the iFi-audio Nano iDSD, but I expected as much, given the price difference between the two DACs. The UD-501 is also more transparent than the B.M.C. PureDAC, which I did not expect. Surprise, surprise! The amount of transparency and resolution though doesn’t interfere with my listening enjoyment by not highlighting any part of the frequency range. Playing DSD files produces a more natural and organic presentation than with PCM files, almost approaching the amount of “presence” of an excellent vinyl setup.

With PCM files, the two selectable digital filters differ by either having a slow or gradual roll-off, or a sharp roll-off, while the third option is filter off. Playing the 44.1 kHz version of “Rain” on Patty Griffin’s 1,000 Kisses with no filter I heard a slight grittiness with Griffin’s voice. I like the presentation with the filter set for slow roll-off in which her voice is produced more naturally and smoothly. I also prefer the sharp roll-off filter more than no filter, the former producing more air and ambience in the recording. For my taste, either filter setting is preferable than no filter on this recording. I also tried the up-sampling feature with both the slow and sharp filters on this track. I’m not sure if I heard any sound differences using up-sampling with either filter, at least not enough of a difference to make a definitive statement.

On more complex music, such as Istvan Kertesz conducting the London Symphony Orchestra of Dvorak’s New World Symphony, I repeatedly prefer the slow roll-off setting more than the other two options. My perception tells me the slow setting sounds more realistic, as if I’m in the audience of a concert hall. Again, I tried the up-sampling feature and this time, it resulted in a fuller or denser presentation of the music. I could sense more ambience of the concert hall, thus delivering further realism of the recording. It seems that up-sampling is dependent on the recording.

On most recordings I like the slow filter the best, though on a few albums I actually prefer the sharp filter. This is, of course, personal taste and each listener will have to decide which filter, or no filter he/she prefers.

Switching to DSD, the improvement in sound was noticeable after the first couple of notes. In fact, the sense of realism took a large step forward. After trying the four different analog filters, I ended up choosing FIR2 as sounding the most natural and used that setting for all subsequent playbacks. Tune after tune the performers made their way into my listening room to give me a private concert.

Playing a downloaded DSD 5.6 MHz performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 demonstrates the tremendous dynamics captured in the recording, and couple with the natural timbres and very good spatial information made for a very satisfying emotional listening experience.

The John Moriarty Trio, featuring Bonet on vocals, covers a Broadway standard “Almost Like Being In Love” on the So Many Stars album. The reproduction of the upright bass on this recording sounds uncannily real, with proper articulation of each note being plucked. Also, the piano sounds like the percussive instrument it should be, as I hear clearly the hammers hitting the strings.

I compared the 44.1 kHz Redbook, 96 kHz high-resolution and DSD 2.8 MHz versions of the same song: Keith Greeninger’s cover of an old Bahamian standard, “I Bid You Goodnight.” Yes, it is the same song Aaron Neville made famous. With the 44.1 kHz version, there is some coarseness in Keith’s voice throughout the song and his guitar playing is slightly amorphous and flat sounding. The 96 kHz version ameliorates the coarseness somewhat and the guitar notes are slightly more distinctive. The most realistic sounding rendition is the single DSD 2.8 MHz version, where Keith’s coarseness is almost completely gone-what coarseness remains sounds natural-and his guitar playing is distinct and harmonically correct. I am able to hear the nuances of each note. It almost sounds like a real singer in my room playing a real guitar.


I can, you can / Finale

The UD-501’s headphone amp delivers the same warmish quality as its line output, making it relaxing and easy to listen with all formats. Other than the dynamic range noted below, this is exactly the type of sound I enjoy most when listening with cans. I want to relax and be lost in the music, with reviewer’s cap removed. It is however, not the last word in transparency and bite for those listeners who value these qualities as important. Except for a slight loss of air and ambience, PCM and DSD music heard with headphones is pretty much what I hear from my AAD 2001 speakers. The headphone amp has enough gain to provide good dynamic swings, but the Mahler symphony doesn’t quite replicate the same dynamic-wide range of my stereo system. On “I Bid You Goodnight,” all the differences I heard from the speakers I hear on the Sony MDR-7506 headphones as well.

What I presently see as the major drawback with DSD is not the quality of sound, but the small amount of music available. For a number of reasons, the PCM catalog is tremendously large in just about every musical genre. As each week passes though, more DSD titles are becoming available and on more music websites. When titles become sufficiently abundant, then the Teac UD-501 will be there to serve the newly inducted DSD devotees at an attractive price. In the meantime, anyone can take advantage of the UD-501’s PCM capabilities.

The Teac UD-501 USB DAC has the ability to deliver an emotional impact and draw me into the musical performance. I have heard other DACs that can do one aspect or another better, but the UD-501’s overall performance is great at achieving the reason why I listen to an audio system in the first place: emotional satisfaction. All features of the unit performed flawlessly during the duration of the review. Based on the reasons I stated, this is an excellent sounding DAC for the price, especially with the DSD format and I heartily recommend auditioning this fine unit to see if it meets your needs. Untl next time, I wish you happy listening.

Teac UD-501 Features at a glance:

  • Supports DSD 2.8/5.6MHz playback (via USB)
  • Supports PCM 32bit/384kHz playback (via USB)
  • Supports PCM 24bit/192kHz playback (Coaxial)
  • Supports up to 24bit/96kHz playback (Optical)
  • Supports DSD native playback by ASIO2.1 or DoP method
  • Exclusive driver software for Windows
  • Standard driver software for Mac
  • Asynchronous transfer mode
  • 4 selectable analog filters (playback USB, DSD)
  • 3 selectable digital filters (playback USB, PCM)
  • Non-integral up-conversion to 192kHz, when input signal is less than 192kHz (On/Off selectable)
  • Throughout dual monaural design from power transformer to output section
  • Two toroidal-core power transformers
  • Two BurrBrown PCM1795
  • Four MUSES8920 operational amplifier
  • Parallel buffer for RCA output
  • Power supply to USB circuit is switchable
  • Lineout circuit can be disabled when headphone is used.
  • Low power consumption (MAX 13W)
  • Auto power saving mode (On/Off switchable)
  • Display mode switchable (Show Up-conversion mode and selected filter)
  • Line out switchable (XLR or RCA)
  • Polarity change on XLR (2=HOT or 3=Hot)
  • Full metal body
  • Organic EL Display with Dimmer
  • 1 USB audio input
  • 2 Optical Inputs
  • 2 Coaxial Inputs
  • 1 Stereo RCA/XLR
  • 3-polar AC socket with a detachable AC cable

2 Responses to Teac UD-501 USB D/A Converter Review

  1. William Borrero says:

    The rack handles are more than just decorative, they help to protect the front panel in case the unit is droped.

  2. David says:

    I still have mine after almost 2 years, which is probably a record as far as keeping a piece of gear is concerned. I wrote a review of my experience with the UD-501 here:

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