Small is Beautiful was EF Schumacher’s advice to the world in 1973 and it seems that many of us have taken up the idea and started to make artisan gin among other things, some of them for the purposes of enhancing the enjoyment of reproduced music. DiDiT (Different in Design Different in Technology) is one such company, founded in 2007 by four Dutchmen with engineering backgrounds and a love of music. It started out with the first incarnation of the DAC212, which is a small but solidly formed converter that contains more ideas than usual and sounds better to boot. DiDiT is run by Rients Steenbeek who started out as a DIYer and went on to become a parts supplier for high-quality audio components, which proved to be a good way of getting to know the rest of what would become the DiDiT team.
The DAC212SEII is a compact converter that’s just over eight inches wide and two inches high, yet it crams in a broad range of inputs onto a back panel that is hidden by a deep overhang. This makes it a pain to connect up but improves the appearance the rest of the time, which for most users will be a more significant consideration. Inputs run the gamut from coax through USB, network connection via RJ45 and even I2S on an HDMI connector, but this DAC was built for the computer age and therefore USB is the key input. Indeed, this DAC is built around a computer, a Raspberry Pi CM3 module that DiDiT programmes to extract maximum performance from a 32-bit ESS ES9038 Pro Sabre DAC chipset. But as Rients points out the actual converter is only a small part of the story within a modern DAC (it ain’t what you use, it’s the way that you use it, as someone once said). There are two versions of the 212, a single-ended one and this, the balanced output model. Both are fully balanced from input to output with conversion to single-ended output occurring at the last stage. In the XLR version, they balance this already balanced circuit again and added Class A buffers before and after the analogue output stage. According to Rients these add nothing in terms of amplification but “they add a huge amount of authority”. Apparently, they “noticed that in order to achieve the best results eight buffers are really required. Beside the more authoritative sound, it also enhanced the sound stage. It becomes deeper and wider while individual instruments can be easier placed. Something we did not quite expect.” My experience certainly mirrors this.
The XLR version uses more than twice as many components compared to the RCA version and the PCB is so full that they had to place the op-amps for buffers on the bottom of the PCB. They also adjusted the case design so that these are cooled via the bottom plate. The DAC212SEII does get very hot and in some respects, you have to wonder why it was made in such a compact form. Part of the reason is that using a machined from solid casing gets significantly more expensive with size but I’m told they “wanted to make a design statement”. Apparently regular width versions of the DAC and AMP are on the drawing board which provide the opportunity to go further with each design.