D1 24-Bit DAC/Headphone Amp
Two-in-one audio accessory creates a great computer audio experience at an incredible price.
Company & Product Overview
Audioengine founders aligned after time at some of the giant music and tech companies including Gibson Guitar, Apple Computer, and Harman/Kardon. While they originally set out to create speakers for recording studio use, in 2005 their area of expertise shifted to creating exceptional products for the home. Audioengine was also one of the first companies to break into computer audio.
While most of their products are speakers, today we are reviewing their D1 DAC/Headphone Amp which can be used to improve the sound of not only their speakers, but many other parts of your audio system.
Packaging, Design & Build Quality
Like all Audioengine products, the D1 comes in a fairly plain box, practically designed to protect its contents. The microfiber bag is a standard at Audioengine, and one that we like. A 2’ USB cable and comprehensive setup guide are included in the box.
Keeping products simple while maintaining a high standard of excellence seems to be the overarching goal at Audioengine, and the D1 is no exception.
The D1’s compact and clean design hardly uses any desk space, and includes a small volume knob that is really smooth for it’s price point. While you usually don’t expect to encounter the same type of jacks found on a $5,000 component in the D1’s price range, Audioengine defies the norm in exchange for a superior connection.
The D1 is designed to improve the sound of your audio system by utilizing higher quality DACs. A DAC converts a digital signal to analog so your ears can process the signal as sound.
Two things affect this:
- how well the DAC makes their computations to change the signal from digital to analog
- how well it is pieced back together from a timing perspective (consider timing as rhythm)
The DACs in the D1 are asynchronous and capable of reproducing high-resolution audio. While this may sound like a mouthful, it actually makes a lot of sense. The clock within your source, or computer in most cases, was not designed to care about the timing of music. The asynchronous part means the DACs inside the D1 take over and do the work of telling the source how to send the signal, rather than the source doing the timing/rhythmic portion.
If you listen to music with a set of headphones plugged into your computer, the D1 offers an immediate upgrade over the DACs, headphone amp, and clock in your computer. Start by connecting the included USB cable from your computer to the D1. Mac users then go to sound and select the D1 (Windows is automatic), plug into the D1 headphone jack, and viola!
For those with upgraded computer speakers, you have access to higher quality headphone audio and a smarter way to push sound to your computer speakers. Connect the same way with USB, then connect up an RCA cable from the D1 to your computer speakers. When you plug in your headphones, the D1 automatically mutes the output to your speakers, which is a nice feature. If you’ve upgraded to the Audioengine computer speakers, you will certainly reap the rewards.
Further, since the D1 uses Toslink digital input, it’s compatible with the digital output of an Apple TV, Roku, or other music players with Toslink available in a simple stereo system. To take advantage of this, you will need a USB power cord, but we believe the added improvement to be worthwhile.
The first test we conducted with the D1 was simple enough as it was part of our Audioengine A5+ speaker test. We had a USB going from our Windows desktop computer to the D1, then out to the A5+. We listened for a couple of weeks to numerous tracks on both Tidal and our music library as we broke in both the A5+ and D1.
We quickly found out that sometimes removing a component is the best test of all. We took the D1 out of the loop and went straight from the computer to the A5+ speakers. What a letdown! The sound was not as full or rich, and by far less musically interesting.
We also tested the D1 with a variety of headphones and played everything at high levels without a hint of distortion. The headphone amp is designed to drive headphones from 10 ohms and up, and performed far better than the headphone amp in the computer.
If you are starting to enjoy music while working at a computer with headphones or speakers, the D1 offers a huge improvement for the modest price of $169. For the DAC alone, it’s a steal. As a stand-alone headphone amp it also holds its own against models costing twice as much. In fact, we had to move up to the Audeze Deckard ($699) before we felt it was outclassed.
As a whole, Audioengine’s D1 24-Bit DAC/Headphone Amp easily belongs in every audiophile’s musical repertoire.
HIGH NOTES UNPACKED
The D1 is a flexible interface to go between your computer and speakers, headphones or both.
Since the D1 is powered off the USB cable from your computer, it is a perfect example of “plug and play.”
It’s hard to find a $169 headphone amp that sounds anywhere close to as good. Add in the great USB DACs in the D1 and you have a huge value.