Audiolab M-DAC Digital to Analog Converter


Design of the Audiolab M-DAC Digital to Analog Converter

Like many DACs these days, the M-DAC is physically compact and lightweight. The outside casework, available in silver or black, features what feels like a thin, rubber-like coating. The M-DAC also includes a full function, wand-like remote control, which I found to work from a variety of room positions from which other remotes often struggle. The remote also wears the rubber-like coating and features unusually springy buttons. Also of note is the M-DAC's OLED display, which is large enough to display a wealth of information and clear enough to be read from across the room. The front panel also features a Class-A headphone amplifier and a large multi-function knob (it turns as well as clicks). Because the M-DAC has two modes, DAC and digital preamplifier, the knob functions as a volume control as well as menu navigation.

The M-DAC includes the standard connections around back, two coaxial and two optical inputs, one of each of those for output, and a USB input. The USB input is the audiophile-approved asynchronous type, which basically just means the DAC's master clock isn't synchronized directly to the computer's clock, but instead, is controlled by the DAC's clock, which pulls the data as needed, thus eliminating jitter. The M-DAC, like many of its similarly-priced competitors, limits the USB input to 24/96kHz, which means it seemingly cannot take full advantage of the highest resolution material currently available such as HD Tracks' 176.4kHz/24-bit version of Michael Jackson's 1982 magnum opus, Thriller. The optical inputs are also limited to 24/96kHz. Through USB or optical, the M-DAC decodes 176.4KHz or 192KHz material at exactly half the frequency, 88.2kHz or 96kHz respectively. As usual, however, you do get full 24/192kHz through the coaxial inputs. The M-DAC's Class-A output stage offers a choice between fully balanced or single-ended. For purposes of my evaluation, only the singled-ended outputs were used.