POLYVECTION DAC 32 REVIEW

The PolyVection DAC 32 is a wireless network streamer that brings Squeezelite functionality to the masses with DAC that costs £65. Stuart Smith checks it out…and then checks the price again!

DAC 32 is a wireless network streamer by the German-based company PolyVection. The company is headed up by Philip Voigt and Bob Abraham. Voigt PolyVection in 2013 after working for a well-known Danish HiFi brand. The company originally started out developing software but then moved quickly towards being more hardware-centric. Abraham’s name will be known to many, I’m sure. He co-founded QED back in 1973, Systemline in 1988, and was one of the three-strong team that launched the popular Q Acoustics brand. The company does contract design and engineering but the reason we are talking about them today is the DAC32, a high-resolution streaming DAC that supports AirPlay, Bluetooth, and Squeezelite for use with a Squeezebox or Roon server. They also make a product called Core32 which is designed to be a hub for locally sored files and online music streaming services.

DAC 32

The DAC 32 is a tiny plastic box with a definite no-frills vibe about it.

WHAT IS IT?

DAC32 is a wireless streaming network player with an onboard DAC that is based around the ESP32 microcontroller – hence the name. It uses the open source software Squeezelite-ESP32 and the software, being open-source, is continually being updated and peer-reviewed. Essentially Squeezelite allows the DAC32 to behave as it were a Squeezebox – remember them?

For those that don’t remember the Squeezebox, let me explain a little. Not that long ago, though it seems like an age away given the speed of progress in the streaming world, Logitech created a series of streaming boxes called Squeezebox – I had several and loved them. Squeezebox was an early and very accomplished early streaming box that cost not a lot. This to me was revolutionary as it did away with the need for a computer being attached to the HiFi all the time and allowed me to access files elsewhere on our network. It was simple but it worked. However, since then the streaming world has moved on and Squeezebox, to me at least, seems like one of those landmark products that spawned a whole revolution in how we access and listen to music. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of folk reading this for whom Squeezebox was their first foray into streaming.

The DAC 32 deals with files of 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 ( with automatic resampling to 96 kHz), 192 kHz ( with automatic resampling to 96 kHz) at 16 or 24 bit. Impressive stuff.

BUILD AND FEATURES

DAC32 is designed to be connected directly to your amp, active speakers or soundbar and is absolutely tiny – about 7cm square and 2.5cm deep. It doesn’t come with its own power supply just a jack to USB-A cable so you can use whatever power supply you fancy, with the caveat being that it should have a minimum power rating of 500MV and be 5V – I’ll be using the USB out on the linear PSU for the Raspberry Pi I use for streaming in the smaller of our systems. It’s not a fancy box by any stretch of the imagination and it’s not trying to be anything it’s not. The box is lightweight and plastic with a red sticker on it that tells you what it is and it has four little plastic feet. The only outputs are a set of two RCAs (left and right) and the power input. That’s it! I like this approach and it will appeal to many, I think. The box the DAC32 comes in is likewise a brown card box with a sticker on it. It all screams back to basics simplicity and I really like it. It’s small enough to hide away from view should you want to but it’s also not so unattractive that you wouldn’t be happy to have it out and on display. To be fair, it’s that small you aren’t going to notice it whatever you do. I do see a problem for people that use massively heavy RCA cables in that they may well topple the unit backward, but a blob of Blutak would sort that issue out cheaply and effectively.

I’m going to mention the price again here because it’s hard to think that this kind of thing is available for this kind of money. It’s back to basics packaging-wise but that’s no bad thing in my opinion. The question has to be asked that whatever the DAC 32s performance, and that has yet to be seen as I write, will people be put off by the ludicrously low price and will they think of it as a bit of a toy?

DAC 32 Back view

A pair of RCAs for connecting to your amp or powered speakers and a power connector (cable supplied)

SETUP

I hate setting this kind of thing up – anything that involves setting up stuff on a network invariable causes headaches and I always seem to run into issues. The DAC 32 was no different, though this seems not to be the fault of the manufacturers.

Setting up the DAC32 itself is simple enough; Plug it in, open it on your WiFi settings as a hotspot, enter the supplied password (Squeezelite), follow the onscreen instructions, and then enter your home network’s password. All simple so far and I did all that on a tablet. You then need to install Logitech Media Server on your computer. However, going to the logical source for the program (mysqueezebox.com) results in you not being able to download it (not on Windows 10 anyway). Basically, clicking on the relevant download results in nothing happening and I did try this several times. A quick google search later I found myself at downloads/slimdevices.com where I was able to download and install the relevant version of LMS. Whether this is a problem peculiar to me, Windows 10 or what, I don’t have the answer to, but it is a bit of a pain – perhaps a link in the set up instructions would be useful? Once installed you need to add your library and tell LMS where to look – in my case our NAS drive. All simple enough but you do need to make sure you are running LMS as an administrator. LMS then scans your library and you are ready to go – this took a good half hour to scan the full library.  You then set LMS to open the player interface and it opens in a browser with all your tunes there ready to play. My last words as I went to turn power on the system and waited for the preamp to go through its warm up procedure were “If this works I’ll be gobsmacked”.

Colour me gobsmacked! There was music!

Installing XSqueezeIt on the tablet now allowed me to control LMS remotely from the tablet, though LMS does need to be running on your main computer. It’s a tad clunkier than I’m used to with running Roon installed on a NUC and controlling it through the Roon app but it does work.

Now all this is clunky and it’s a bit of a pain to set up -though if you got through the procedures methodically you get there with minimal fuss. However, at the end of July, there will be a new product from PolyVection called CORE 32 that will have all the above done for you and so the setup experience should be all but plug and play.

There is Roon support for the DAC 32 and the setup is pretty simple if you follow stuff through logically. As a dedicated user of Roon this is pretty much must-have functionality for any streaming product. First of all you need to enable “Squeezebox Support” in the Roon app’s Set up tab. Then find the DAC 32 in your Roon app and set it as the player as you would do normally. All done and no music, though I could see the DAC 32 playing as the source. Turning the DAC 32 on and off cured this and I now have Roon and all the associated services it offers running through this tiny box of tricks.

Having something that is you can use Roon with for 65 quid seems a bit mental to my mind, particularly given that it’s got an onboard DAC! Yes, you can go the Raspberry Pi route with similar but more expensive features. In fact, in the second system I’m playing the DAC 32 in I do exactly that and have the Pi running into a LAB 12 DAC – and I do wish that the DAC 32 allowed for connecting an external DAC!

So it all works, but how does it sound?

SOUND

From the off, I wasn’t expecting much at all from the DAC 32. I fully expected set up to be a pain in the arse of epic proportions – it wasn’t. I was also not expecting it to play with Roon… at all – it does. So it’s gonna sound crap, that’s got to be a given.

Let’s see.

I’ve got this set up in the second system with it directly into our LAB12 pre1 that is plugged into a Krell KST100, and for the duration of this review I hooked up our Falcon LS35/As. The ancillary kit is wholly out of proportion with regards to the price of the DAC 32 but it is what it is and it’s what we use. Linette is midway through a review of some powered speakers and as I understand it she’s going to plug the DAC 32 into the back of them which, if it works well makes for a very compact and cost-effective system – review coming next week.

I listen to a good few records that demand gapless playback and the first album I went to was the Deep Dish Yoshiesque Two mix album… and blow me down with a feather the DAC 32 does gapless. This may not seem like a big deal but I’ve got a couple of cheap (not this cheap) players lying around that have been confined to their boxes because they don’t have this functionality. For anyone that listens to classical music this will be a major plus point and will increase the marketplace for this little box immediately!

The setup I have here allows me to switch between the DAC 32 going straight into the Preamp and our little Pi running Roipee into the LAB 12 DAC. The Pi/LAB 12 is better sounding immediately, it has to be said, with a much more detailed and organic presentation across the board – but then it’s in the order of fifty times more expensive than the whole of this streamer/DAC. Yep, that’s an unfair comparison but that’s what we run as our reference in this room.

Now, the above statement may suggest that the DAC 32 sounds a bit crap, but that’s just not the case. Yes it is flatter and less three-dimensional in the soundstaging department and it’s not got the finesse and overall fine fidelity of the Pi/Lab 12, but then the latter is using what is to my mind a very accomplished DAC. Mid-bass sounds a little muddied and less defined and the vocal seems to sit further back in the mix, but it’s pretty astounding sounding considering we are talking about a box that costs the same as three records – personally, I think that is nuts!

As it does, Roon read my mind and threw up Hilarion Alfeyev: De profundis with the Russian National Orchestra and Moscow Synodal Choir. This is a big sounding record and with the DAC32 there isn’t the same feeling of scale or majesty you get with the more expensive setup, but again it’s far from unacceptable and had I not had the two to compare I’d have been well chuffed with the DAC 32’s performance. There’s a slight sense of digitalness to the top-end and things are a little recessed, but decays at the end of the tune where you can hear the space is certainly there, but so is a very slight sound of digital hash – very quiet, but there none the less. I guessed the latter was something to do with interference on the network but it turns out to be the fact I’ve got the Pi and the DAC 32 plugged into the same PSU – removing the Pi’s cable immediately removed the hash during silent passages. I really am trying hard to find fault here!

Streaming Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours from Qobuz showed there to be lots of detail present with the DAC 32 and it was easy to hear individual bits of the mix, particularly steely guitar bits that come and go throughout Second Hand News, though there is definitely a little muddying of the mids that manifests in an ever so slightly muffled vocal on this track. But then Dreams sounds fab! Bass guitar on Dreams walks on in its distinctive style and underpins the whole, and again is easy to follow. If you give yourself a break and stop trying to find fault, it’s dead easy to just get on and enjoy the music – which is a good thing, and so I do just that and listen to the rest of the album quite contentedly. The same thing happens with Zappa’s 88 The Last U.S Show – it pops up and I end up listening to it all without really thinking about the sound too much and just get into the record – which I then nipped out to the shops to buy and it cost pretty much exactly what this whole streamer/DAC costs!!!

As I’m writing up my notes on this I have the product playing in the background as I often do. A techno album called 313 Detroit comes on with Dark Comedy’s War Of The Worlds and I find myself looking up, taking notice, and turning it up to listen properly. It strikes me that there is a lot going in the record that the DAC 32 presents really well. There are lots of effects and spacey sounds that sound right, and little electronic noises that come and go sound very convincing and very enjoyable. Bass is certainly low and controlled. Then Porn Sword Tobacco (new to me) comes on and I put off nipping out for yet another album’s worth of tuneage!

DAC 32 Top

The size of the DAC 32 makes it simple to hideaway should you feel the need

CONCLUSION

The DAC 32 has so much going for it that it is hard not to love it from the off. It’s a cinch to set up and the fact it does Roon is just the icing on the cake. Not only does it do Roon but it also does gapless payback – two things that are pretty much vital for me in a streaming product nowadays.

Is it the very last word in fidelity? No, it isn’t and it falls a little way behind what I’m used to in this regard, but then it is easy just to forget about all that and get on with listening to the tune that is playing without getting hung up on this or that not being the very highest fidelity. I did that a fair old bit with the DAC 32. This is not to suggest that the DAC 32 isn’t very accomplished sonically, it is!

Some may want to have it in a nicer box and I’d be willing to pay a few quid extra for a better box in metal and I reckon that PolyVection could well do with offering this as an option.

My only real complaint about this unit is that it doesn’t have a facility to spit the digital signal out to our DAC. Had it this option then the unit would have got the Editor’s Choice award for certain!

I only have a linear PSU to use and so cannot comment on its use with a normal PSU option – the PSU was about £60.

Frankly, this is a mental product for €65, and had it the digital out I’d have given it our highest award – I very nearly gave it the award anyway!

Forget the price. Forget over-analysing stuff and just listen to your tunes is the suggestion here, I think!

AT A GLANCE

Build Quality:

It is what it is – a cheap but adequate plastic box with a sticker on it

Being light, heavy cables may tip it backward

Sound Quality:

A little muddled through the mids

Good and controlled bass registers

Overall, a good level of detail

Value For Money:

Stupid value for money

We Loved:

Gapless playback

Does the Roon thing

Easy setup

No-frills design

Basic packaging and instructions

We Didn’t Love So Much:

No digital out

Slightly muddled in the mids when compared to our reference costing 50 times more

The non-Roon interface is a bit more clunky than I’m used to but it does Roon too

Box is a bit no-frills – I’m really grasping at straws here!

Price: *€65 (The same as I’m about to go and spend on that Zappa record I mentioned on vinyl)

*Within the EU DAC32 is available directly from PolyVection for 65€ + shipping cost. Outside of the EU, Audiostore can supply UK customers for £65 + shipping cost

Elevator Pitch Review: A no-frills Squeezebox-based streamer and DAC in one tiny box that can be used as a gapless playback Roon endpoint and that manages to sound a whole lot better than anyone could expect for the money. I can’t wait to try CORE 32!!

Stuart Smith

Supplied By PolyVection

Review Equipment: LAB 12 Pre1, Krell KST 100, Falcon LS3/5a speakers. Cheap Linear PSU. Chord speaker and interconnect cables. Tellurium Q interconnects. Altas Power cables and power distribution block.

Specifications

Power Input Connector2.1/5.5 mm barrel connector
Power Input5 V DC @ 500 mA
Analogue Output Connector2x gold plated RCA
Analogue Outputup to 2.1 V RMS
THD+Nbetter than 0.005 %
WLANb/g/n 2.4 GHz
Bluetooth5.0
Supported Sample Rates44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 (automatic resampling to 96 kHz), 192 kHz (automatic resampling to 96 kHz) @ 16 or 24 bit
Packaging ContainsDAC32, USB-A to 2.1 mm power cable, Quick Start Guide, leaflet
Dimensions72 x 67 x 28 mm
Weight80 g

Read More Posts Like This

  • MOON 280D STREAMING DAC IS UPGRADED AND UPDATED The Canadian MOON 280D Streaming DAC has been upgraded and updated to increase its connectivity options. MIND2 STREAMING MODULE At the heart of the MOON 280D is the MiND2 streaming module (MOON intelligent Network Device), now featuring Spotify Connect and AirPlay 2, plus Tidal Masters, Deezer Hi-Fi, HIGHRESAUDIO (where available) and Qobuz…

  • Spotify HiFi Announced

    Streaming service Spotify has said that both artists and fans have told them that sound quality is important to them. For that reason, they have announced Spotify HiFi. Beginning later this year, Premium subscribers in ‘select markets’, we don’t know where yet,  will be able to upgrade their sound quality to Spotify HiFi Spotify HiFi Spotify says that high-quality music…

  • McIntosh MB20 Bluetooth Transceiver

    MCINTOSH MB20 BLUETOOTH TRANSCEIVER ADDS WIRELESS BLUETOOTH ALL HIFI SYSTEMS The McIntosh MB20 Bluetooth Transceiver is an easy way to add wireless Bluetooth® streaming to virtually any McIntosh (or non-McIntosh) home audio system, from any era. The MB20 Transceiver modernises legacy home audio systems, enabling them to go wireless via Bluetooth. SEND AND RECEIVE BY BLUETOOTH Used in receiver mode,…

Comments closed.