Epiphany Acoustics E-DAC 24-bit USB DAC Review

Steve Withers gives his computer an audio upgrade with the E-DAC

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Epiphany Acoustics E-DAC 24-bit USB DAC Review
SRP: £99.00

These days we all listen to music on our computers, in fact with the ability to rips your CDs and the growing popularity of downloading, you’re more likely to be listening to music on your computer than you are on your CD player. The problem is that even if the music files you listen to are uncompressed in nature, the weak link in the audio chain is most likely to be the digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) in your computer. That isn’t a criticism of the manufacturers but with the multitude of tasks that a modern PC or laptop has to perform these days, you can’t expect it to be a master of everything. So what can you do to beef up the quality of the audio from your PC or laptop?

Well the easiest method is to use an outboard DAC to convert the digital feed from your computer into an analogue signal for your amplifier or speakers. Epiphany Acoustics have developed just such a device, which they call the E-DAC. It is a small, simple to install device that runs off the USB output from your computer or laptop. Once connected to the computer you simply connect the E-DAC to your speakers or amplifier using it’s line level analogue output. In addition to size and simplicity, it also promises a high standard of audio thanks to its 24-bit DAC chip, so let’s plug it in and see how it performs.

Design and Setup

In terms of looks there really isn’t much to the E-DAC, it is a true example of function over form and is designed to do just one thing well. In fact it is quite literally a black box, composed of brushed aluminium and held together with screws at the front and back. It is also quite small and light, measuring just 64mm wide, 20mm high and 54mm deep and weighing a mere 74g. However it does have a solid and well-built feel and its diminutive size makes it easy to use with either a laptop or a desk top. The E-DAC comes with four self-adhesive feet, so you can stand it on a desk or shelf if you wanted to.

Epiphany Acoustics E-DAC

In terms of connections there are only the bare minimum for a DAC to actually be able to do its job, there’s a digital in and an analogue out. The digital signal is fed to the E-DAC via a USB-Mini-B Audio Class 1 connector and this is also how it is powered. By powering the E-DAC via USB, it makes it far more portable and ideal for use with headphones. The line level analogue output is via a 3.5mm jack and that’s it, as far as connections are concerned. Whilst the E-DAC might seem to be somewhat lacking in the connections department, it has everything you really need and any other connections would just make the chassis bigger and the price higher.

Epiphany Acoustics E-DAC

Setting up the E-DAC couldn’t be easier, all you need to do is connect its USB-Mini-B port to the USB port on your computer; Epiphany Acoustics even include a 0.5m cable for this purpose. Once connected, you then select the E-DAC as the device for output via USB in your computer’s audio options. It will be identified as ODAC in the audio options, which is the name given by the developers to the digital-to-analogue converter used by Epiphany Acoustics. The E-DAC is compatible with Windows XP and later, OS X and Linux operating systems. Once you have connected the E-DAC to your computer, you then connect the line level analogue output to your amp, speakers or headphones. That’s it and you’re now ready to start listening to music.

Audio Performance

The E-DAC uses a new high end digital-to-analogue converter called the ODAC, that was developed by a blogger named NwAvGuy, and which Epiphany Acoustics have put into a special standalone chassis. The ODAC is based on the TE7022L UAC1 engine ES9023 24 bit DAC chipset and it supports 16-bit and 24-bit at sample rates of 44.1kHz, 48kHz and 96kHz. The use of a USB power supply has obvious advantages but the use of this approach often degrades performance due to noise. To get around this, the ODAC uses split digital and analogue power supplies each with their own filtering and regulator. The analogue supply has additional filtering, whilst the critical reference voltages and negative supply for the DAC chip are further optimized. The on-board filtered power supply is designed to ensure that noise is practically non-existent.

In addition, the ODAC is not clocked by either the USB port or your computer itself, so the quality of the audio clock, and any resulting jitter, is largely independent of the computer's USB timing. Instead it uses a high quality on-board crystal controlled oscillator which is designed to further improve overall performance. Other technical features of the ODAC include a claimed distortion of less than 0.005% and a dynamic range of greater than 110dB.

All these technical specifications sound impressive but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, or listening in this case, and thanks to the development put into the ODAC the resulting audio was excellent. There was a genuine transparency to the sound produced by the E-DAC, which is the sign of a good digital-to-analogue converter. Ultimately you want the DAC to convert the digital input into an analogue output cleanly without adding any of its own colour to the audio.

When it came to the actual listening tests the E-DAC performed admirably with a neutral tone and detailed reproduction, regardless of what we chose to listen to. The dynamic range was excellent, with a clean delivery at both extremes and a well-composed midrange. The soundtrack to 'The Fellowship of the Ring, with its complex mix of orchestral instruments and choral arrangements, was delivered with a precise clarity. The E-DAC was also capable of delivering an impressive stereo soundstage, with clarity and precise imaging. The beginning of 'Limehouse Blues' from 'Jazz at the Pawnshop' is a great test of envelopment, offering plenty of detail and localised sounds.

However, where the E-DAC really excelled was with complex musical arrangements, allowing individual instruments or voices to be identified without being lost amongst each other. Female vocals are always a good test and the E-DAC handled Rickie Lee Jones' 'Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo' without sounding strident or brittle. However it took male vocals in its stride just as well, delivering Dave Gilmour's performance on Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here' with clarity and ease. The overall result was a pleasing audio experience that delivered a very convincing performance that was hard to fault.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Great sound
  • Easy to setup
  • Good build quality

The Bad

  • Minimal connections
  • Limited features

Epiphany Acoustics E-DAC 24-bit USB DAC Review

In terms of design there really isn’t much to the E-DAC, it is quite literally a black box, composed of brushed aluminium. It is also quite small and light but does have a solid and well built feel and its diminutive size makes it easy to use with either a laptop or a desk top. The E-DAC comes with four self-adhesive feet, so you can stand it on a desk or shelf if you wanted to. In terms of connections there is a USB-Mini-B for the digital input and a 3.5mm jack for the analogue output.

We found that setting up the E-DAC couldn’t be easier, all you need to do is connect its USB-Mini-B port to the USB port on your computer; Epiphany Acoustics even include a 0.5m cable for this purpose. Once connected, you then select the E-DAC as the device for output via USB in your computer’s audio options and then connect the line level analogue output to your amp, speakers or headphones. The E-DAC uses a new high end digital-to-analogue converter that supports 16-bit and 24-bit at sample rates of 44.1kHz, 48kHz and 96kHz.

As far as the audio performance was concerned, the E-DAC sounded excellent with a genuine transparency to the sound, which is the sign of a good digital-to-analogue converter. Ultimately you want the DAC to convert the digital input into an analogue output cleanly without adding any of its own colour to the audio. In listening tests the E-DAC performed admirably with a neutral tone and detailed reproduction. The dynamic range was also impressive, with a clean delivery at both extremes and a well-composed midrange. The E-DAC really excelled with complex musical arrangements, allowing individual instruments or voices to be identified without being lost amongst each other

Ultimately, the overall result was a pleasing audio experience that delivered a very convincing performance that was hard to fault. The E-DAC from Epiphany Acoustics is a great little digital-to-analogue converter that punches well above its weight and offers great performance and value for anyone wishing to get better sound out of their computer.

Recommended

Scores

Build Quality

.
.
8

Connectivity

.
.
.
.
.
5

Ease of Use

.
.
8

Features

.
.
.
.
.
5

Audio Performance

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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