Audiolab M-DAC Mini Announced
Smaller & cheaper but promises to be another great performer
The last Audiolab product we had in for review – the M-One – was certainly highly impressive so we’ll be interested to see how a more scaled down version of their DAC technology fares with the new M-DAC Mini.
As the name suggests, the M-DAC Mini is the smallest hi-res DAC/headphone amp in Audiolab’s range and, at less than £300, it is also the most affordable. Despite the size and price-tag, the M-DAC Mini still contains the same core technologies with the ES9018 Sabre32 Reference DAC at its heart. It is designed to be flexible, with wired and wireless connectivity options to boost sound quality from all manner of digital devices, from phones and computers to TVs and games consoles. It is also the first M-DAC product to cut ties with the mains supply with its built-in rechargeable battery.
The M-DAC Mini’s design deliberately blurs the lines between home hi-fi DACs and pocket-size portable units, says Audiolab. It is sized to sit discretely on a desk or table, with accessible, easy-to-use controls and a traditional analogue volume knob which incorporates a high-quality Alps potentiometer of the kind more commonly found in full-size hi-fi components. There is sufficient room inside to enable in the inclusion of discreet audiophile-grade components in key circuits, eschewing the space-saving compromise often inherent in portable DAC designs claims the manufacturer.
There are optical and coaxial digital inputs and outputs, Type-A and Mini-B USB inputs (these are asynchronous with two dedicated master clocks to eliminate jitter), stereo RCA hi-fi outputs and a ‘high-quality’ 6.3mm headphone socket. Wireless connectivity via Bluetooth, with support for the sonically superior aptX codec, adds more flexibility.
Like the M-DAC and M-DAC+, the M-DAC Mini combines digital-to-analogue conversion with a high-performance Class A JFET output stage and dedicated headphone amp section, to deliver sound whether connected to an amp and speakers, or feeding active speakers, or driving a pair of headphones.
The M-DAC Mini’s DAC circuitry shares much with its big brother, the £800 M-DAC+. It similarly benefits from ESS Technology’s patented 32-bit HyperStream DAC architecture and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator, unique to the Sabre32 Reference family, surrounded by Audiolab’s signature circuitry to make the most of this DAC chip’s performance.
Like the M-DAC+, the M-DAC Mini is equipped to process PCM audio data up to 32-bit/384kHz via USB, to take full advantage of hi-res digital sound both now and in the future. The USB input also supports DSD64, DSD128 and DSD256 .
Another point of difference is the proprietary analogue output stage which benefits both the headphone and stereo RCA outputs, incorporating discrete JFET amplification using transistors that are individually measured and matched to minimise distortion and DC offset. This ensures that the M-DAC Mini is just as capable when operating as a hi-fi preamp as it is when powering a pair of headphones through its dedicated headphone amp circuit.
The use of high-quality internal components extends to the low pass filter design on the DAC output stage, which uses EVOX and Panasonic low-ESR capacitors for a more stable performance and increased reliability. This also facilitates improved noise isolation of the power supply
The inclusion of battery power for the first time in an M-DAC component is not simply about portability, says Audiolab, it also benefits performance by supplying clean and stable DC power – free from the distortion introduced by common switch-mode power supplies, yet without the need for a bulky, costly audiophilegrade mains PSU. A mains charger is included in the package, and iOS devices can be charged from the M-DAC Mini whether the unit is connected to the mains or not.
The M-DAC Mini will be available from June at an RRP of £299.95.
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