Audioengine D1 DAC/ Headphone Amp (Playback 54)

Digital-to-analog converters,
Headphone amps and amp/DACs
Audioengine D1

Imaging specificity and overall soundstage size through the D1 were among its best characteristics. Soundstage width equaled more expensive DACs, including the Musical Fidelity V-DAC II ($379), while the D1’s depth and three-dimensionality were only slightly truncated in comparison. Lateral image specificity was also excellent, surrendering only a wee bit of edge definition compared to the Eximus PD1 DAC/pre. When listened to by itself, it was hard to fault the D1’s dimensional rendition. Only in direct matched level A/B comparisons were the D1’s shortcomings noticeable.

The D1’s excellent lateral width and image specificity carried over to its headphone section. Imaging through both the AKG 701 and Grado RS-1 headphones was both spacious and precise. On densely populated pop recordings, such as George Harrison’s “Cloud Nine” title cut from his 1987 solo effort [Cloud Nine, Capitol], each instrument maintained its locational identity regardless of how busy the mix became.

The D1’s dynamics were impressive, but not in the ordinary way—that is, with wide volume swings and crushing crescendos. No, the D1 excels at the subtle micro stuff, which isn’t usually a budget-priced DAC’s forte. On big contrast swings the D1 is Okay, nothing that will make you spill your drink. But if you listen into the mix, the D1 has the ability to allow each instrument to dynamically breath. Vocalists especially benefit from the D1’s ability to retain and transmit even the smallest changes in their delivery’s intensity.

The D1’s special dynamic capabilities were readily apparent during headphone listening. Especially when I listened through the Pure Music or Amarra playback software, every instrument in a mix seemed to have its own independent dynamic energy. On the George Harrison cut I mentioned earlier, each electric guitar, and I counted at least four, remained independent and dynamically unique as they moved, from the front to the back of the mix, with an almost human breathing motion.

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