Different people tend to listen to different genre of music with different gears altogether; some do so with computers, some with DVD or Blu-ray players they watch movies with, some with iPods / squeezebox / multimedia hardisks whereas some to conventional hifi systems. The only aspect most listeners share being medium is inevitably digital and it requires a digital-analogue-converter to convert the digital bits into analogue sound waves which are audible by our ears. Most of the gears mentioned above come fitted with an inbuilt DAC but their sonic quality could always be bettered by addition of a good external unit.
The Musical Fidelity V-DAC is one of such external DAC and is highly affordable, small in size and offers a true 24bits/192kHz upsampling via coax, optical and USB inputs. It is part of Musical Fidelity's recently launched V-series products ("V" stands for VALUE) offering superb performance at modest prices by slashing costs of non-functional parts (fancy metalwork, thick face plates and lavish packaging) and concentrates on functional electronics beneath the modest package. The V-DAC uses a Burr Brown 1792 chip, a SRC4392 upsampling chip and a Texas Instruments TI2706 chip for USB users, all relatively decent chips. The V-DAC does not have any front panel but inputs at one end and outputs at the other which has the profound effect on cost saving and attains a shorter signal path in the internal layout of PCB. It is also claimed to be a technically accurate and has virtually perfect frequency responses (+0.3dB 20Hz – 20 kHz) which translates to excellent sonics.
The V-DAC is claimed to uplift the performance of entry level CD players into high-end territory although it should not be expected to work miracles and improve upon digital signals that are already poor to begin with but it should render them more tolerable to our ears. Music files such as WAV, AIFF or FLAC formats in computers passing through the V-DAC are claimed to sound better than the original CDs these files are ripped from whereas MP3 files done at bit rate of 320kbps were found not too bad sounding altogether. How interesting! I must buy an unit to try out myself and I actually did just that before the last weekend (This is my second V-series component, my first being the V-LPS which I like a lot). My initial impression of the V-DAC after connecting it with a 2.0m unbranded optical cable to my bedroom system comprising of Sansui CD-X310 cdp, TA2024 T-amp and Pioneer Pure-malts loudspeakers is a slightly thicker, meatier and weightier sound. I shall post further update on its sonics in due course. The main competitor of the V-DAC is Cambridge Audio DacMagic which I personally find its sonics a mite too clean and clinical. A review on the V-DAC plus comments by readers could accessed here: http://www.avguide.com/blog/the-little-dac-could. Forum with balanced comments by owners of the V-DAC: http://www.head-fi.org/forums/f7/musical-fidelity-v-dac-owners-391721/
A downloaded picture showing internal of the V-DAC
I favour simplicity and having minimal box count in my system; my newly acquired V-DAC is an antithesis of such belief, though. I had already in the past taken the route of dedicated CD transport-external DAC and am against trotting the same path again (I owned the Enlightened Audio Designs T-1000 CD transport, Theta Progeny-A DAC, Theta TLC anti-jitter box and Theta dedicated PSU for Theta TLC previously). Until now, of course! The V-DAC is not immediately meant for my main system for I definitely am in need of a dedicated CD transport for it to better and eventually replace my Roksan m-series1 cdp. On the other hand, I do look forward to having it in my main system so that I could build a common 12V DC PSU to power it and my V-LPS phono stage together and thus saving the costs of duplication.
It is quite apparent to those who follow my blog that I personally prefer the sound of vinyl LP playback to that of CDs. A personal friend and former colleague (GM of company that I was the Accountant) who visited me last Saturday had listened to both mediums in my system concurs with me. He is a keen music lover but was never into vinyl LP playback confided in me later that LPs "sound very alive, direct and exhibit a high level of realism as opposed to the ever cautious and trying-to-be-perfect sound of CDs". He also pointed out that he did not detect any of the surface noises usually associated with LP playback in my system. I beamed in pride and explained what I already knew to him. I would surely procure more LPs but not CDs and envisage LPs to be my main source of music. The music I already owned in CDs may be ripped into lossless compression formats stored in either a multimedia hardisk, squeezebox or perhaps even an iPod matched with the highly acclaimed Wadia 170 iTransport (iPod dock). See excerpt of the latter's rave reviews here: http://www.musicdirect.com/product/82178. And perhaps this is how V-DAC could justify its existence in my main system later. If the plan does not materialize, I could always fall back to acquiring a dedicated CD transport from 47Labs or its likes. Or back it goes to my bedroom system again. The V-DAC is really that versatile!
For those who are keen in acquiring the Musical Fidelity V-DAC, please contact Mr Tony Lee of LTB Enterprise (local distributor) at 019-338 8577.
Addendum on 10.08.2009:My Musical Fidelity V-DAC is a brand new unit. Fresh out of its blister pack, it already sounds quite impressive although absolute airiness was slightly lacking. The review on its sonics detailed here is after some 16 hours of playing music. First of all, I dispel notion that its PRaT capability is poor in the review by UK's What Hifi. Far from it, I thought it sounds extremely rhythmic (I could no longer tolerate slow-sounding equipments lacking in PRaT no matter how well they sound in other areas nowadays. The driving force and rhythmic thrust propelling music forward and thus attracting us to keep on listening and tap our toes is of utmost importance to me). My V-DAC is being powered by the 500mA 12V DC wall-wart PSU bundled. It fills more flesh to bones of music than the inbuilt DAC in my NOS Sansui CD-X310 cdp and sounds slightly fuller yet tonally rich, and less lean than before. There are more extensions to both the top and bottom frequencies with the V-DAC, more so for the latter. It also lent a powerful bass weight to the overall sound. The top of V-DAC metal casing feels warm to touch, although not overly so which leads me to think that it actually requires more current than that provided by the 500mA 12V DC wall-wart PSU. A dedicated regulated PSU unit from a toroidal transformer capable of at least 3A plus a more decent 75Ω coax cable should bring about some further improvement to its sound. My initial impression on the looks factor of the V-DAC which has no front panel but only inputs at one end and outputs at the other is that it is a plain old Jane but it later endeared to me as being more practical and really more functional than having form, especially if we were to connect it to our computers. The sound emanated through the DAC has a certain rightness which will grow on us. It certainly did so to me. Verdict: A truly musical sounding equipment yet so affordable from Musical Fidelity!