• Devilsound DAC Product Review

    The DAC by Devilsound is a one of a kind product. It's a USB cable, digital / analog converter, and an analog RCA cable all in one piece. Excellent sound quality, reasonable price, and absolutely simple to use. If you're looking for a DAC with these specs and qualities the Devilsound Digital Audio Cable is just the product for you. This DAC simultaneously brings you into the future of audio playback while taking you back to simpler times when a couple pairs of RCA cables were all you needed. If you have an open USB port and an open set of RCA inputs in your audio system you owe it to yourself to take a serious look at the Devilsound DAC.
    USB Cable



    One end of the Devilsound DAC has a USB termination. Why USB? When implemented correctly USB can deliver superior audio quality compared S/PDIF. In addition, every computer manufactured since 2000 has at least one USB port. The same cannot be said for S/PDIF. Mac users have been spoiled by the mini-TOSlink output but that is not standard on most PCs. Thus, it was a no-brainer for Devilsound to terminate their DAC with USB that is compatible with PC, Mac, and Linux.



    D/A Converter



    On to the most critical part in my opinion, the D/A converter. Far from the USB end of the cable is the all aluminum DAC enclosure. I mention the this because Devilsound has limited the distance that the analog signal must travel by locating the DAC closer to the RCA terminations. The DAC enclosure is very well built and feels quite substantial. Devilsound did some serious homework during the design process of this DAC. They looked at many of the DACs currently in production as well as those not currently produced. No stone was left unturned and all the technical options were carefully considered. Devilsound is not a huge corporation and was smart to not reinvent the wheel. They went with a D/A converter that suits their DAC perfectly. I will tell you these guys did not just grab a DAC, slap it into a box, and connect a couple cables. The DAC uses a nonoversampled output stage. This means the absolute minimum is done to the data before it arrives at your ears as music. Along with the DAC I received very detailed information from Devilsound describing every inch of the product. I'm not at liberty to discuss everything, but believe me this is an audiophile quality product from end to end.

    I must admit one of the things that had me skeptical of the DAC at first was the fact that it is USB Bus powered. In the audiophile world this just screams Nooooooooo! If a manufacturer is not careful and smart about this type of implementation your audio system will reproduce hard drive noise pretty loud, but at audiophile quality nonetheless. Fortunately Devilsound solved this potential problem. Within the tiny aluminum enclosure the Digital Audio Cable regenerates very clean power. This keeps the noise floor silent and feeds the D/A converter the clean power it requires.



    RCA Cables



    Devilsound completed this cable with the same high quality it began with. The cable features Eichmann Silver Bullet RCA terminations. Between the D/A converter and the RCA terminations is pure silver twisted pair wiring. Devilsound considered other options but stuck with silver because it is highly regarded in the audiophile community as a superior sounding conductor. Why mess with the best?

    Sound

    This review is definitely not in chronological order. Everything discussed up to this point was learned after the fact. As soon as the DAC arrived I had to start listening. I figured I would get the details later. This was a benefit because I had no idea what went into this DAC before I made up my mind about the sound.

    In a very recent Computer Audiophile article I discussed problems encountered while listening to a new DAC in for review. I held back the name because I didn't want the DAC linked to the problem in any way. The Devilsound DAC was what I was listening through when I first experienced the audio cutting out. After trying many things I contacted Jonathan from Devilsound for advise because I thought this had something to do with the DAC. Jonathan quickly reproduced the problem and informed me of the cause and the resolution. I was very happy to hear the problem had nothing to to with the Devilsound DAC. Rather it was an Apple design issue. Jonathan had me test a Benchmark DAC1 PRE in the same USB port and what do you know, the same audio dropout problem occurred. Anyway, vindication for the Devilsound DAC.

    I was soon off and running with the Devilsound DAC. My initial impressions were very good. I hate to say it but I was surprised that such good sound could come from this little device. I dove right in to a few albums that I am very familiar with. The sound quality of the recording is less important than my familiarity with the material. Without this I would have no baseline to compare the DAC's sound to. First up was Christina Aguilera's Back to Basics album. She has one of the best voices in music today and sings 100% of her vocals. I highly recommend seeing her in concert. Her singing will blow you away. When I got to track eight on the second "disc" I really cranked the volume. Save Me from Myself is virtually all vocal and nothing else gets in the way of Christina's voice. The Devilsound DAC reproduced this track very well. Along with the perfect pitch of her voice I could clearly hear Christina's mouth movements and breathing. The DAC was spot on during the X-Tina sessions.

    Later I popped in Tigerlily from Natalie Merchant. From the first note of San Andreas Fault I was very pleased with the sound. This is one of my favorite albums. Once I start listening to it I seldom stop until it's finished. This session was no exception. The DAC allowed me to keep listening without thinking about the review I would need to write. I consider this a very good thing. Tigerlily is also an album that has fabulous tracks that never became hits. If you have a copy or want to listen to something new tonight, I suggest the track River. It is about River Phoenix and his death outside the Viper Room in Hollywood.

    What review would be complete without mentioning a couple shortcomings. I must say these shortcomings may not even be shortcomings to you. As I always say, "If it sounds good to you, then it sounds good." While listening to Stanley Clarke's new album The Toys of Men I noticed a little softness in the bass. This was really evident on track seven, Bad Asses. Stanley really hammers out some serious bass licks on this track. The softness in the bass is something that would not be very noticeable without another DAC readily available for comparison. This is one area where the Benchmark DAC1 PRE outshines the Devilsound DAC. This statement would be worthless if I failed to mention that the Benchmark unit is over $1000 more than the Devilsound DAC! The Benchmark unit is also not under size constraints anywhere near the Devilsound DAC. They are really apples and oranges. The other area where the Devilsound DAC could use some refinement is soundstage. On some tracks I thought the soundstage was a little too wide for my taste. Particularly on Pearl Jam's Spin the Black Circle, a little known song for which they received a Grammy. When the drums kick in I felt like there was this extra wide wall of sound. Don't get me wrong though, it still sounded very good! In fact some readers will surely enjoy this quality.

    Wrap Up

    The Devilsound DAC is certainly a must hear for many audiophiles. Sound quality and simplicity are surely strong points of this DAC. Only you will be able to answer if the price is reasonable. At $249 USD I know this is an incredible value! I've spent time with more than a few DACs below and well above this price. I think you'd be foolish not to consider the Devilsound when looking for a DAC under $1k. I promise you won't be disappointed and you'll end up with over $750 to spend on new high resolution downloads!


     

    More information on the Devilsound DAC at www.devilsound.com.
    Comments 36 Comments
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hey barrydmd - You'll be very pleased with the Audioengine & Devilsound combo. Please let us know how it sounds.<br />
      <br />
      I'd love to help you out on your other system when the time comes. <br />
      <br />
      Thanks for the post!
    1. VincentH's Avatar
      VincentH -
      Great site, Chris! I was just looking for a notebook PCMCIA soundcard with good output quality to connect to my Grado RA 1 + RS 1 combo, when I stumbled upon your site. You seem to be a pioneer of audiophile music reproduction in the computer age. Great combination!<br />
      <br />
      I am now considering using and external USB DAC from my (Windows Vista) notebook, and I really would like to explore high-resolution music (another thing your site brought to my attention).<br />
      <br />
      However, the devilsound site does not offer any detailed info on the DevilSound DAC capabilities.<br />
      <br />
      Could you tell me whether this DAC is suitable for high-resolution music? What is the best quality that it can handle? And would you recommend this DAC or another one in the sub-$1k range for this purpose?<br />
      <br />
      Thx!
    1. barrydmd's Avatar
      barrydmd -
      Vincent,<br />
      You get what you pay for. I've looked for years for a $40,000 car which costs $20,000 - it does not exist.<br />
      For $250 the Devilsound DAC is quite nice. I bought the AudioEngine2 speakers and connected them to my Mac Mini via the Devilsound. The result was very nice.<br />
      <br />
      Of course now I'm thinking how much better would it be with the AudioEngine5's and the Apogee Duet DAC . What I bought is what I could afford at the time, but I'm afraid I am smitten with that dreaded audiophile sickness - UPGRADE!<br />
      <br />
      Barry<br />
      <br />
      <br />
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Vincent - Thanks for the kind words about the site! The Devilsound DAC will not do high resolution audio like 24/96. As Barry said, you get what you pay for most of the time. This DAC is a great product for less than $250 and has a design like none other right now. We have a thread going that lists some really good high resolution DACs. If you are looking for 24/96 output via USB your choices are much more limited than using TOSlink from your computer. However, the higher number will not equate to better sound automatically. <br />
      <br />
      I think you should check out the Proton made by <a href="http://www.usbdacs.com">Wavelength Audio</a>. Wavelength makes some great products at all prices.<br />
      <br />
      Let me know what you think or what other things you want to chat about.
    1. curious_george's Avatar
      curious_george -
      Curious to know how you control volume? Volume control on the AudioEngine2? Volume control in iTunes?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Either will work. I recommend the iTunes volume control. So much easier than reaching behind the Audioengines.
    1. Dale's Avatar
      Dale -
      I read a review on the USB Thingee in UHF Magazine. They said "The Thingee can compare advantageously with moderately-priced standalone CD players, perhaps anything costing less than possibly $2000."<br />
      http://www.bluecircle.com/index.php?menu_id=5002 <br />
      <br />
      Might be worth checking out.
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      I looked at this one a little while ago, but still haven't heard it.<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      I must say the name is appropriate!
    1. VincentH's Avatar
      VincentH -
      Thanks Chris, the Proton sure looks interesting! Can't find any online reviews though, but I sure would like to audition one myself. <br />
      <br />
      Any idea who could carry the Proton in the Netherlands (again, I found nothing online)?<br />
      <br />
      My laptop (a Toshiba M700 tablet) does not have a TOSLink interface (oddly enough since it is originally a Toshiba standard), so I think it'll have to be USB.<br />
      <br />
      I'm considering replacing my Arcam Diva CD72 CD Player (mine is from the good old days when they were still manufactured in the UK) with a high-resolution capable USB DAC in my headphone setup (Grado RA 1 + RS 1).<br />
      <br />
      Let me try to describe what musical qualities I'm looking for:<br />
      <br />
      I really like the amount of detail the Grado's reveal, especially in the highs but also good resolution in the lows (I know these phones are considered colored by some, but it's a color I really like), and I'm looking towards hi-res music for enjoying even more detail.<br />
      <br />
      Things that make me smile when experiencing music:<br />
      <ul><br />
      <li>hearing hi-hats be real hi-hats, hear the wood when the stick hits metal, really hear the metal shimmer (not some white noise-like sssh sound)</li><br />
      <li>hearing the "edge" on a deep bass-guitar note, hear the string move in the air.</li><br />
      <li>hear a female singer's voice convey real warmth and intimacy</li><br />
      </ul><br />
      <br />
      Things that make me cringe: rolled-off highs, sloppy/woolen bass.<br />
      <br />
      Well, you get the idea :-). So based on this, could you recommend any other DACs besides the Proton? Also (not based on experience) I suspect tubes may not be for me, since I crave detail, speed and resolution (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tube_sound ). Does that make sense to you?<br />
      <br />
      Thx again, Vincent
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Vincent - I'll see if I can get Gordon Rankin from Wavelength to jump in and answer your questions about the Proton. <br />
      <br />
      Another option that I have no experience with is the E-MU 0404 USB 2.0. Since I haven't used it I can't gaurantee it has native 24/96 USB support. Users of the DAC suggest it does support full 24/96 via USB.<br />
      <br />
      I have a pair of RS-1s as well and I really like them. As we say around here, "If it sounds good to you then it's good." I am really considering a pair of Grado GS1000s because they appear to be more comfortable than the RS series.<br />
      <br />
      I think your assumptions about tubed electronics are based on research, not experience. Is that correct? This is certainly not a knock on you but it sounds like you haven't heard a real good tube component. Good tubed stuff sounds spectacular and satisfies all your requirements above. In fact I also look for those same things that you mentioned and tubed components are my choice. You should try the new Musical Fidelity X-CANv8. It has a built-in DAC and an ECC88 (69922) Dual Triode Tube Amplifier. If it is anything like the tube X-CANv3 the sound will be superb!<br />
      <br />
      You can also checkout the Benchmark units. They are all solid state support native USB 24/96. They sound clinical to some listeners though. New ones may be a little pricey, but used ones can be found all over.
    1. VincentH's Avatar
      VincentH -
      Hi Chris, info about the Proton would be great! I'll be watching this thread...<br />
      <br />
      You are absolutely right about my tube question, I've never heard any. I was just trying to establish whether it was worth the effort to also audition tube USB-DACs, since in the Netherlands they seem hard to locate. Based on your advice, I'll be sure to check some out, though.<br />
      <br />
      The <a href="http://www.musicalfidelity.com/products/smlx/xcanv8_specs.html">Musical Fidelity X-CANv8 specs</a> say <cite>"1 USB 1.1 [32, 44.1, 48 kHz sample rates] connection for computer only"</cite>, so it looks like it is not 24/96 capable over USB.<br />
      <br />
      The EMU 404 requires custom USB drivers (something the Proton does not, Wavelength specifically mentions that this prevents stability problems) and users report stability issues on Vista (no official Vista driver is available, just beta). Sounds risky.<br />
      <br />
      I'll be sure to audition the Benchmarks, though. They have a solid reputation.<br />
    1. Wavelength's Avatar
      Wavelength -
      Vincent,<br />
      <br />
      The Proton is still not complete as of yet. I am trying to release the new Cosecant and Crimson 24 bit modules first before getting into the final version of the Proton.<br />
      <br />
      You can be assured of good cymbal work as I am a percussionist (37 years) who has been taking guitar lesson for the last 4 years.<br />
      <br />
      The output Volume is NOT controlled by iTunes volume control as this would end up losing resolution. Instead the enumeration of the Proton will tell the Operating System to enable another volume control on the desktop. This volume control and the software in the Proton will work an internal analog volume control that works the headphone output level.<br />
      <br />
      You can email me if you have questions.<br />
      <br />
      Thanks<br />
      Gordon
    1. barrydmd's Avatar
      barrydmd -
      As posted previously, I recently purchased the AudioEngine2 speakers and the DevilSound DAC to use with my Mac Mini. I am enjoying the sound, and it has prompted me to get into ripping my Jazz CD's and downloading songs from ITunes.<br />
      <br />
      However, when ripping a song from CD to ITunes, I am unable to discern a difference in quality of sound between AAC, Apple Lossless and WAV.<br />
      Is this a factor of the quality of the DAC, the speakers, my ears or all of the above?<br />
      <br />
      Barry<br />
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Hi Barry - This is a combination of everything in the musical chain. Everything matters and upgrading each component one at a time will bring improvements. Since I am very familiar with the Devilsound DAC I suggest upgrading this last in your system if you need to. <br />
      <br />
      You must equally consider the music you are listening to, and maybe you already have. Use some recordings that you know like the back of your hand and some that are mastered very well when you are trying to descern a difference.<br />
      <br />
      I kind of rambled on this one, so let me know if I just created more questions :-) <br />
      <br />
    1. barrydmd's Avatar
      barrydmd -
      Chris:<br />
      <br />
      If the DevilSound is adequate for now, and I can't upgrade my ears, and a Mini upgrade probably wouldn't help, this only leaves the speakers.<br />
      I am using some pretty good CD's to compare Apple Lossless and WAV, etc.<br />
      I don't know how much difference there would be with the AudioEngine5's.<br />
      My main system is roughly an $8,000 set-up, and I know that component matching in terms of cost/component is somewhat important. You wouldn't put $200 speakers with a $4,000 amp/pre-amp. But I would hate to invest close to $1,000 for something like the NHT MOO's only to find only a slight sound upgrade.<br />
      Another consideration is that I like the size of the AudioEngine2's. They fit in nicely on my computer desk. Bigger speakers like the 5's and the MOO's would be a bit overwhelming sizewise. I don't really need more bass, so I don't think that going to a 2.1 system would be neccessary.<br />
      <br />
      What to do?<br />
      <br />
      Barry<br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
      <br />
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Ah yes, nothing is ever easy is it. If I were you I would connect the Mini to your main system and run some listening tests. Find the file type you like best and go with it. That way as you Wang to upgrade your desktop system you won't have to rerip anything. <br />
      <br />
      Unfortunately the next step in your desktop system will likely cost the equivalent of the whole system because the performance you are getting now should be pretty good for the money. Something like the Dynaudio MC15 speakers or even separating the amp from speakers would be my next move in your system
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      One more thought, just rip to wav or aiff and never worry about anything again. As you upgrade you know your music is as good as it gets.
    1. Al's Avatar
      Al -
      the devilsound compared to the beresford...?
    1. Idle's Avatar
      Idle -
      I'm going to setup my CAS using Mac Mini and a USB DAC. The mostly likely option is CA DacMagic & this DevilSound DAC. I really want to know how would you compare this products? Thanks Chris
    1. xenophilic's Avatar
      xenophilic -
      Dear Computer Audiophile,<br />
      <br />
      Can you update the review with impressions of the new v.2 of the Devilsound DAC? They apparently tightened the bass and improved the clarity. I wonder how close it would be to the Benchmark now. I used to have a Benchmark and it was technically very good but overall quite clinical in sound; it ended up being too fatiguing in my system. I would expect the Devilsound to be much less fatiguing since it's NOS. I have one on order, so I'll see (although I no longer own the Benchmark for direct comparison).