Audiolab Q

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Sounds inoffensive – khổng lồ such an extent that it becomes uninterestingTested at £400

ByWhat Hi-Fi?published 27 June 13


*

Cons-

Lacks the fluidity & insight of the best at this price level

-

Finish could be better

-

Menu system could be easier lớn use


The Audiolab Q-DAC press release makes for an interesting read. Most notably, you’ll discover Audiolab thinks this new DAC delivers 98 per cent of the mighty Audiolab M-DAC"s performance for two thirds of the price. If that’s right, this new Q-DAC could well flatten everything else at this price cấp độ.

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Audiolab’s kiến thiết approach for the Q-DAC makes sense. Take the M-DAC, forego its remote control and large display, & simplify the specification – then sell what’s left for a hefty price reduction.

Q-DAC vs M-DAC

The hard bit is not compromising the M-DAC’s terrific performance too much while cutting costs. Technically, the most obvious changes are a simplified power-supply arrangement and the use of a different ESS Sabre32 DAC chip. For those interested in such technicalities, the M-DAC uses the 9018 & the Q-DAC the 9016.


It"s easy khổng lồ find other areas in which the company has saved the pennies. The casework may look similar, but if the finish on our nhận xét sample is anything to go by, there’s less care taken: the rear edge on our sample was poorly machined. In comparison we’ve sầu always thought the M-DAC immaculately made for the money.


Inputs

The range of inputs has been reduced too: the new DAC has just single optical & coaxial connections rather than a pair of each.


Thankfully, the USB remains an asynchronous design, which puts the DAC’s high-chất lượng internal clock in charge of data flow rather than the computer. This kind of arrangement is almost always a good thing.

Both the USB và coaxial inputs can accept a full-fat 24-bit/192kHz data stream while the optical – as usual – is restricted to lớn 24-bit/96kHz material.



Audiolab Q-DAC

The Q-DAC also loses its pricier relative’s balanced XLR analogue outputs. This is a bit of a shame, considering the partnering power amplifier (the £500 M-PWR) has them, but an understandable economy considering the price màn chơi.

While all this talk of cost-cutting measures might sound negative sầu, it shouldn’t be seen that way, as they are typical of what we’d expect any manufacturer lớn bởi vì.

Audiolab should be applauded for keeping the Q-DAC as useful an audio tool as its pricier sibling. Despite what the name implies this isn’t only a digital-to-analogue converter. It has a volume control, & so can be connected directly khổng lồ a power amplifier or pair of active speakers khổng lồ khung the heart of a digital-based system.

The Audiolab Q-DAC can also khung the core of a high-unique desktop system, once connected to a computer & driving a pair of headphones. This little box is well suited khổng lồ both roles.



Audiolab Q-DAC

So, what’s it lượt thích in use? The simplified control arrangement – there’s no large control knob lớn help scrolling or to enable entering a particular option – means working our way through the menu isn’t quite a pleasant as it could be. Compare it khổng lồ the Arcam irDAC"s remote & it"s all a bit fussy.

As is Audiolab’s way there are plenty of digital filter options – seven, khổng lồ be precise. The differences between them are subtle and the choice comes as much down khổng lồ taste as anything else.

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After playing around with all the options we formed a distinct preference for the Optimal Transient settings, particularly the XD option. It just sounded more vibrant and rhythmically surefooted through our reference Bryston BP26/4B SST2/ATC SCM50 set-up

Sound quality

Once given time to lớn warm up thoroughly, the Q-DAC turns in a good performance. It deals fairly with all the inputs, though as usual we find ourselves preferring the sound through the coaxial và USB connections khổng lồ that of optical.

The differences aren’t massive sầu, but the extra smoothness of optical doesn’t outweigh the slight loss of punch & precision it exhibits.

Best Buys: DACs

Play a WAV file of Paloma Faith"s Never Tear Us Apart though the coaxial đầu vào, và the traông chồng sounds controlled và balanced. The Audiolab laps up Paloma"s striking vocal, but doesn"t detract from what"s going on elsewhere in the traông chồng. All the various elements are packaged và presented in a way that sounds completely inoffensive sầu.

Trying a 16-Bit/44.1kHz rip of Dvořák’s "New World" Symphony (through USB from a MacBook) shows a good màn chơi of insight and a precise way with stereo imaging.



Audiolab Q-DAC

Tonally, things are relatively neutral, but perhaps more importantly the balance between the bass, midrange and treble is nicely judged, with no one part of the frequency spectrum gaining undue prominence.

Switch to the Q-DAC"s tai nghe socket and the pleasantness continues. Play a spot of Adele"s Rolling in The Deep và Audiolab"s impartial, innocuous tone is clearly there.

But the Q-DAC just doesn"t quite have the resolution of the very best, nor does it communicate dynamic shifts and the rhythm of a trachồng as convincingly as some.

Play a 24-bit/192kHz version of Beethoven"s Piano Concerto No. 5 by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra & rival DACs lead the way in terms of detail and dynamics. The Audiolab insists on sounding so inoffensive lớn the point where it becomes just a touch dull.

Verdict

So there’s talent here, but we"re not bowled over. While we think the Q-DAC is a decent option, it lacks the talent to lớn be considered an ‘M-DAC lite’.

The Q-DAC also falls short of matching the sound of similarly priced rivals such as the Musical Fidelity M1 DAC, or bettering cheaper alternatives such as the Arcam rDAC by a convincing margin. Sure, the Audiolab is a more flexible unit than either, but that doesn’t count for much unless the sound is similarly svào.

We weren"t blown away by the Audiolab the first time round, & another look at it has confirmed it. Against its newer peers the Q-DAC sounds a little out of its depth.

MORE: Audiolab M-PWR review

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