AudioStream Goes Point-to-Point with DAC 1
December 1, 2011
DAC Reviews: NAD DAC 1 Wireless USB Digital-to-Analogue Converter
By Michael Lavorgna
Let's get the not so good technical news out of the way up front–the DAC 1 Wireless USB Digital-to-Analogue Converter transmits and receives at 16 bit/44kHz max. We're talking CD quality sound (actually potentially better since we're also talking about computer-based audio). The good news is the DAC 1 creates its own point-to-point 2.4 GHz wireless network meaning you don't need to have an existing wireless network to plug and play.
The DAC 1 uses a Burr-Brown TI PCM1781 DAC for your digital to analog conversion or you can opt to bypass the internal DAC and use your own via that Coax output. Other than that, the DAC 1 is a fairly simple and straight forward pair of devices–a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter plugs into your computer's USB port and if you've already connected the receiver to your hi-fi via RCA or Coax and plugged it in, you'll hear a slight click from the receiver letting you know they've synched up. The transmitter and receiver also have an LED each that turns from red (not connected) to blue (connected). NAD specifies the range of the DAC 1 as 40 Meters (line of sight) but we'll see how well we do in a house measured in feet. The DAC 1 offers 3 RF channels selectable via a 3-position switch on each device and NAD specifies a time delay of <18ms.
Wireless 16/44 Fun
I can vouch for two things regarding the NAD DAC 1 Wireless USB Digital-to-Analogue Converter; first off its a true no-brainer to use, literally plug it in and play through it. Secondly, with 16/44 material it sounds fine if a bit on the dark side. Cymbals don't cause as much splash and shimmer as they should, bass response is a bit fat and the overall presentation is a bit flat–tone colors are somewhat grayed and the space within which the musicians do their thing is condensed. All that said, clearly NAD is targeting the wireless-hungry Plug and Player more than the Audiophile which makes perfect sense to me. And for a wireless device plus DAC for $300 I would have been pleasantly surprised by better sonic performance. Besides, the DAC 1 is fun to listen to if we're not listening in for sonic minutiae.
There a number of options out there to get your music from your computer to your hi-fi without wires. You can create your own wireless network/music server with a wireless router and Network Attached Storage (prices vary depending on specifics but start at around $250 for both). On the plug and play side, the W-1 from AudioEngine also uses its own network, is very much a plug and play affair and costs $99. It's important to note that the W-1 does not include a DAC like the NAD DAC 1 so it just sends along what your computer feeds it. I happen to own one which I bought years ago so I did quick comparison and in brief the W-1 does not sound as good as the NAD DAC 1. I doubt that comes as news to anyone since computers are not, without help, quality music-making devices. Another wireless option worth mentioning for the audiophile-at-heart is the new AudioEngine D2 ($599) which is a 24/96 capable wireless DAC.
So we go from $99 to $300 to $599 - good, better, best? I have not heard the AudioEngine D2 so I cannot offer a comparison. And I certainly would be remiss to leave out the popular Logitech Squeezebox Touch that offers wireless and wired connectivity plus a DAC and a heck of a lot more for $299. Some people might not want that heck of a lot more as it could represent unwanted complications. I just think its important to know at least some of your options when considering a wireless solution. But if you couple the NAD DAC 1's wireless plug and play convenience with its better-than-naked-computer sound, I can see the appeal and logic behind its release.
I also connected the transmitter to my MacBook Pro and went roaming around our home to see how far I could travel before losing my NAD DAC 1 connection. Everywhere on the same floor was within bounds with no dropout and about 2/3 of our downstairs remained in range. Once I travelled to the far side of our downstairs the signal began to cut out. Based on my not-so-precise calculations, that means in our home about 60 feet delineated the DAC 1's effective range. Your mileage will certainly vary and is dependent on any number of things like walls, floors, and ceilings.
My feeling is 24/96 wireless will become more commonplace in the not so distant future which makes buying into the NAD DAC 1 a tough call. I'd say if you're happy with your existing mostly 16/44 music library and love to stream Internet radio or from services like MOG or Spotify and are just dying to send your music from a computer that exists in one place to your hi-fi that sits in some other place (that's less than about 60 feet away more or less) and you just hate wires and networks, the NAD DAC 1 may be just what you're looking for.
For the full online review, click here.
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