The E-DAC is a very small, well made and solid, brushed aluminium boxed unit and is not at all unattractive – it’s a little black box and for all its minimal qualities I find it quite attractive in the utilitarian sense of the word. Input and power is supplied via a mini USB input on the rear of the unit and line level analogue output is via a 3.5mm jack.
The unit is based on the TE7022L UAC1 engine, ES9023 24 bit DAC chip and it supports 16 bit and 24 bit at sample rates of 44.1kHz, 48kHz and 96kHz. There is an on-board filtered power-supply which Epiphany claim should make noise practically non-existent. The DAC is not clocked by the USB port/computer but by an on board crystal controlled oscillator and is compatible with Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems.
The diminutive little unit, for the purposes of this review, will be used with my desktop system: Windows PC, Sonic Impact T-amp Mark 2 and a pair of Linn Index Mk 1 loudspeakers.
First of all let me just emphasise how small this unit actually is – it’s tiny and measures just 6.5 cm x 5cm x 2 (wld). In the box you get the DAC, a short USB to mini-USB cable and four adhesive rubber feet.
Installation is a doddle as it’s plug and play pretty much with no drivers to load. Basically you wire the E DAC up and select it as the output device in the operating system’s audio set up and your away. I did have a small problem after a day or so when the loudspeakers started to make a static kind of noise. A quick e-mail message to Epiphany and a reset of my computers audio settings to “24 bit 96000hz Studio Quality” in the advanced tab of the speaker settings immediately sorted this problem. Oliver at Epiphany said that he had never had any issue that had not been solved by using these settings. Power for the E-DAC is via the USB so no need for batteries or an external power supply.
One feature that some people may find fault with is the fact that the unit has 3.5mm stereo-minijack outputs rather than RCA sockets, but I tend to have a cable for all occasions and found myself a suitable bit of wire. I completely understand using the minijack option, as the use of RCAs would increase the size of the unit quite considerably and no doubt this would impact on the price. I understand that there may be an RCA version in the offing, but to be honest it’s no great hardship using the minijack. Epiphany have also started selling a small range of cables including a short minijack to minijack that makes connecting the DAC to their EHP-O2 headphone amplifier nice and simple.
So what does it sound like? Well it’s quiet for one thing – in fact it’s silent as far as I can tell over the desktop system – listening on headphones (They plug straight into the minijack socket) confirms this. Most of the music I listen to on the desktop tends to be via Radio 6 or, when I fancy, one of the CDs I have ripped to FLAC…I also use the desktop for Djing, just by way of keeping my ear in, using virtual DJ.
Using the E-DAC with Viirtual DJ the first thing that jumped out at me was the huge improvement of the stereo image and the much improved clarity. Of course this was to be expected over and above the standard sound card and when DJing you aren’t really listening to the music in any great detail, but if this is what you do and you want a relatively inexpensive way of improving the sound then this is a good option!
Using FLAC and listening properly, it is clear that the little E-DAC is quite clinical in the way it delivers the music – it appears to neither add a great deal nor take anything away and this is a good thing for me. On Bobby Womack’s new album ‘The Bravest Man in The Universe’ (if you haven’t got it, then go and buy it) individual instruments were easy to pick out from the mix, there was plenty of background detail and vocals in particular were portrayed very nicely indeed. Bass was pleasant, tuneful and satisfactorily deep. On more complex music the results were the same, with the E-DAC being accurate and well defined across the frequencies. With Fleetwood Mac’s Songbird (you’ll know this is a favourite by now) the ambience of the large and empty room was clearly definable and the vocal was portrayed beautifully with the emotion in the singers voice being palpable.
I have said that the E-DAC is clinical in its presentation and by this I mean that it appears to add very little of its own sonic signature to the mix and the sound is neither harsh nor wearing. This is a very transparent little box of tricks and for the asking price (£99) represents very good value for money indeed. If you are in the market for an inexpensive USB DAC then you certainly should consider the E-DAC and if possible get an audition for yourself.
Author – Stuart