Saturday, May 3, 2008

Devilsound DAC Product Review

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The DAC by Devilsound is a one of a kind product. It's a USB cable, digital / analog converter, and an analog RCA cable all in one piece. Excellent sound quality, reasonable price, and absolutely simple to use. If you're looking for a DAC with these specs and qualities the Devilsound Digital Audio Cable is just the product for you. This DAC simultaneously brings you into the future of audio playback while taking you back to simpler times when a couple pairs of RCA cables were all you needed. If you have an open USB port and an open set of RCA inputs in your audio system you owe it to yourself to take a serious look at the Devilsound DAC.

USB Cable

One end of the Devilsound DAC has a USB termination. Why USB? When implemented correctly USB can deliver superior audio quality compared S/PDIF. In addition, every computer manufactured since 2000 has at least one USB port. The same cannot be said for S/PDIF. Mac users have been spoiled by the mini-TOSlink output but that is not standard on most PCs. Thus, it was a no-brainer for Devilsound to terminate their DAC with USB that is compatible with PC, Mac, and Linux.

D/A Converter

On to the most critical part in my opinion, the D/A converter. Far from the USB end of the cable is the all aluminum DAC enclosure. I mention the this because Devilsound has limited the distance that the analog signal must travel by locating the DAC closer to the RCA terminations. The DAC enclosure is very well built and feels quite substantial. Devilsound did some serious homework during the design process of this DAC. They looked at many of the DACs currently in production as well as those not currently produced. No stone was left unturned and all the technical options were carefully considered. Devilsound is not a huge corporation and was smart to not reinvent the wheel. They went with a D/A converter that suits their DAC perfectly. I will tell you these guys did not just grab a DAC, slap it into a box, and connect a couple cables. The DAC uses a nonoversampled output stage. This means the absolute minimum is done to the data before it arrives at your ears as music. Along with the DAC I received very detailed information from Devilsound describing every inch of the product. I'm not at liberty to discuss everything, but believe me this is an audiophile quality product from end to end.

I must admit one of the things that had me skeptical of the DAC at first was the fact that it is USB Bus powered. In the audiophile world this just screams Nooooooooo! If a manufacturer is not careful and smart about this type of implementation your audio system will reproduce hard drive noise pretty loud, but at audiophile quality nonetheless. Fortunately Devilsound solved this potential problem. Within the tiny aluminum enclosure the Digital Audio Cable regenerates very clean power. This keeps the noise floor silent and feeds the D/A converter the clean power it requires.

RCA Cables

Devilsound completed this cable with the same high quality it began with. The cable features Eichmann Silver Bullet RCA terminations. Between the D/A converter and the RCA terminations is pure silver twisted pair wiring. Devilsound considered other options but stuck with silver because it is highly regarded in the audiophile community as a superior sounding conductor. Why mess with the best?


This review is definitely not in chronological order. Everything discussed up to this point was learned after the fact. As soon as the DAC arrived I had to start listening. I figured I would get the details later. This was a benefit because I had no idea what went into this DAC before I made up my mind about the sound.

In a very recent Computer Audiophile article I discussed problems encountered while listening to a new DAC in for review. I held back the name because I didn't want the DAC linked to the problem in any way. The Devilsound DAC was what I was listening through when I first experienced the audio cutting out. After trying many things I contacted Jonathan from Devilsound for advise because I thought this had something to do with the DAC. Jonathan quickly reproduced the problem and informed me of the cause and the resolution. I was very happy to hear the problem had nothing to to with the Devilsound DAC. Rather it was an Apple design issue. Jonathan had me test a Benchmark DAC1 PRE in the same USB port and what do you know, the same audio dropout problem occurred. Anyway, vindication for the Devilsound DAC.

I was soon off and running with the Devilsound DAC. My initial impressions were very good. I hate to say it but I was surprised that such good sound could come from this little device. I dove right in to a few albums that I am very familiar with. The sound quality of the recording is less important than my familiarity with the material. Without this I would have no baseline to compare the DAC's sound to. First up was Christina Aguilera's Back to Basics album. She has one of the best voices in music today and sings 100% of her vocals. I highly recommend seeing her in concert. Her singing will blow you away. When I got to track eight on the second "disc" I really cranked the volume. Save Me from Myself is virtually all vocal and nothing else gets in the way of Christina's voice. The Devilsound DAC reproduced this track very well. Along with the perfect pitch of her voice I could clearly hear Christina's mouth movements and breathing. The DAC was spot on during the X-Tina sessions.

Later I popped in Tigerlily from Natalie Merchant. From the first note of San Andreas Fault I was very pleased with the sound. This is one of my favorite albums. Once I start listening to it I seldom stop until it's finished. This session was no exception. The DAC allowed me to keep listening without thinking about the review I would need to write. I consider this a very good thing. Tigerlily is also an album that has fabulous tracks that never became hits. If you have a copy or want to listen to something new tonight, I suggest the track River. It is about River Phoenix and his death outside the Viper Room in Hollywood.

What review would be complete without mentioning a couple shortcomings. I must say these shortcomings may not even be shortcomings to you. As I always say, "If it sounds good to you, then it sounds good." While listening to Stanley Clarke's new album The Toys of Men I noticed a little softness in the bass. This was really evident on track seven, Bad Asses. Stanley really hammers out some serious bass licks on this track. The softness in the bass is something that would not be very noticeable without another DAC readily available for comparison. This is one area where the Benchmark DAC1 PRE outshines the Devilsound DAC. This statement would be worthless if I failed to mention that the Benchmark unit is over $1000 more than the Devilsound DAC! The Benchmark unit is also not under size constraints anywhere near the Devilsound DAC. They are really apples and oranges. The other area where the Devilsound DAC could use some refinement is soundstage. On some tracks I thought the soundstage was a little too wide for my taste. Particularly on Pearl Jam's Spin the Black Circle, a little known song for which they received a Grammy. When the drums kick in I felt like there was this extra wide wall of sound. Don't get me wrong though, it still sounded very good! In fact some readers will surely enjoy this quality.

Wrap Up

The Devilsound DAC is certainly a must hear for many audiophiles. Sound quality and simplicity are surely strong points of this DAC. Only you will be able to answer if the price is reasonable. At $249 USD I know this is an incredible value! I've spent time with more than a few DACs below and well above this price. I think you'd be foolish not to consider the Devilsound when looking for a DAC under $1k. I promise you won't be disappointed and you'll end up with over $750 to spend on new high resolution downloads!


More information on the Devilsound DAC at

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