Everywhere you look established specialist audio companies are getting into the headphone and lifestyle market. These products are smaller, more affordable, and easier to use than traditional hi-fi. They appeal to a new generation of music lovers looking for products that fit their more mobile and computer centric lifestyles. I'm the ideal case study. I spend hours throughout my day listening to music on headphones at my desk. Streaming RDIO, watching videos on YouTube, editing videos, etc. While the built in headphone output on my Mac book Air is good. I've been using external USB Dacs for some time to drive bigger less sensitive headphones. Arcam sent us two of their R series boxes to check out, the rPac USB headphone DAC/amp and the rBlink Bluetooth DAC.
Introduction to DAC Reviews
External DACS (digital-to-analog converters) first came into vogue a number of years ago as a way to enhance the playback quality of the humble CD player. The rationale being that if you separated the components that converted all those “ones and zeros” into music, lavished some additional resources and attention to its design, you could tangibly improve the ultimate sound quality of your digital source player.
Today the “digital source” has broadened to include home computers, laptops, cell phones, networked digital media players, and more. Also storage space on modern devices, being as plentiful as it is, no longer limits us to lossy music file formats like MP3. Bit-perfect digital music reproduction can be had virtually anywhere and, to achieve that end, there are a plethora of modern DACs available. Most DACS are still strictly two-channel affairs but there are a few multi-channel units on the market geared for home theater use as well. They truly do come in all manner of sizes and price points, with interfaces like SPDIF, Toslink, AES, USB and even HDMI that suit most conceivable applications. Some DACs even have room and speaker correction capabilities as well as volume controls, so they can act as preamplifiers too.
Through listening and measurements, our reviews can help you sort through the best of what’s available in DACs and, hopefully, guide you to a choice that will fit your needs and be musically satisfying.