I’d really enjoyed my time with Human Audio’s Muto Dac and, as luck would have it, it wasn’t the only battery powered treat that I’d been sent for review. Time to spend some time with the Tabla, the Hungarian company’s take on USB to SP/dif conversion. Will it make as positive an impact as the compact hi res Dac I was so reluctant to re box for the collecting courier?
The two products are obviously designed to complement each other. The tabla shares the unconventional 100 x 55 x 30mm dimensions, black casework and stylish logo detail with the digital to analogue converter and the two look well sat together. The unit is solidly made – I doubt aesthetic design is the number one priority when designing a component that might well sit towards the back of the average audiophile’s trophy cabinet of kit but a quick google of some competing products confirms that the Tabla is one of the more dapper converters on the market. It’s certainly better finished than the Audio GD digital interface I use on a daily basis which luckily is very much a triumph of substance over style.
The big sell here is bit perfect listening up to 24/192kHz and, as with the dac, battery power. Human Audio are convinced that getting off the grid is the key to great sound and the entire range is built around this philosophy. To this end the Tabla is specced with two, power supply independent batteries.
“Tabla provides ultimate audio performance using these TWO built in batteries of the highest grade for the lowest ripple and the least noise in the output performance, a very advanced ripple smoothing technology is incorporated when using the USB power while the battery is being silently reloaded, ultra-low jitter discrete onboard clocks for 44.1kHz and 48kHz multiples, a specialized pulse transformer on its real 75 Ohm BNC output and of course one of the best USB-Audio algorithm available on the market (developed by M2Tech)”
The BNC output had me reaching into my kit box for a BNC to RCA adaptor – not really an issue. A modded Samsung solid state netbook would feed the converter with lossless redbook and 24/192 files from iTunes, Jriver software and Spotify premium. The Human Audio Muto dac was still in the hot seat and, assuming synergy between the stablemates, it stayed there. A pretty neat front end, feeding Audio Note’s Oto and WLM’s La Scala speakers. The netbook was already loaded with M2tech drivers from time spent with a Young dac and immediately recognised the Tabla.
I’d become quite accustomed to the sound of the Muto dac over the last couple of weeks. I’d used it almost exclusively with the Audio GD Digital interface with either the netbook or an Audiocom modded Sonos through the handy SP/dif in. I spent a few hours listening to this set up again for an hours before switching converters.
There was certainly a difference. Whilst reviewing the the Muto I’d noted a natural, undigital voicing that was reminiscent of some valve sources I’d heard. This house sound was present again – the Tabla offered a slightly smoother rendition of Blood Oranges fantastic ‘Coastlines’ Lp than the Audio GD. Vocal reproduction was a degree less scratchy without sacrificing any of the detail that the Chinese convertor conveyed. Digital playback is obviously exactly that, but the Tabla seemed to move the resulting sound a nudge further towards the rounder, fuller sound that one might expect to hear when listening to a competent analogue set up. Extending listening confirmed that the Tabla does a good job of toeing the line between a smooth, non fatiguing, undigital listen whilst still portraying the essence, dynamic and rhythm of the music.
We aren’t talking about the oft mentioned, oft ridiculed ‘night and day’ difference here though. The differences listed are comparatively small in the context of the entire system. For perspective I refer to my original review of the Audio GD Digital Interface. I found that I clearly preferred that to the Hiface converter in my system and, whilst certainly an improvement, gains this time around weren’t quite so obvious.The Audio GD unit retails in the UK at £250 with both the clock upgrade and the separate class A PSU and, as things stand, the Humans Audio’s Tabla retails for nearly double that. This makes it one of the more expensive options available currently in a burgeoning market that also counts the well reviewed John Kenny modified Hiface and Audiophilio 1 and 2 products as competition. Although I’d certainly choose the Tabla over the DI in terms of sound quality I’m not sure I’d pay nearly 100% for the marginal gains it brings. Factor in the second switchable RCA input, useful for Sonos/Squeezebox users and configurable sampling rate of King Wa’s device and either the Tabla starts to look a bit expensive or the DI cheap, although it’s important to stress that the latter can’t offer full 24/192 decoding, with current model needing to up sample from 24/96.
Human Audio’s Tabla is a very well realised product. Not all of the competition can offer great sounding, full fat, battery powered 24/192 file transfer in such a neat, easy to use box. There’s better value options out there and as such it’s a qualified success but it’s certainly well worthy of your short list and subsequent audition if your number one priority is getting the best sound from your PC.
I’d imagine that’s quite a few of you!
Author – Jake