A DAC Deep Dive
The T+A DAC 200 offers features with no loss to sonics
Engineering meets emotion in this must-have German DAC/preamp.
Some hi-fi enthusiasts see a faceplate loaded with buttons, meters, displays, and knobs and become excited about all the features they can play with. Others think, "These are bells and whistles that just get in the way of good sound."
T+A promises the world to both parties. It's built into the name: "Theory plus application" is about scientists meeting artists, engineering meeting emotion. With the DAC 200, you get the features but not at the expense of incredible sound. This is an "engineering first, music first" focus that results in a house sound that is scientifically neutral yet emotionally warm, mathematically clean and detailed yet immersive and moving, high-slew fast yet rich and dense.
The T+A Touch
The DAC 200 is packed with great examples of this ethos, but here are some standout uses of excellent engineering to produce great sound.
Galvanic isolation helps keep noise out of systems and is usually seen in DACs in the form of optocouplers on the Ethernet or USB circuits—the two noisier inputs. The DAC 200 uses isolation transformers to separate the entire digital and analog stages, thus benefitting all digital inputs. Isolation transformers are more expensive but don't have the high jitter of optocouplers.
The volume control uses a discrete resistor ladder but not the usual bank of surface-mount resistors. These are precision non-magnetic thru-hole resistors that are put in play by latching relays, which means that once the volume is selected, there is no need for (potentially noisy) power to keep the relay closed.
All the analog circuitry is discrete and class A and based on T+A's HV technology, which uses special (more costly) discrete transistors that run at a far higher voltage than usual, allowing them to operate with linearity and lower distortion. Constant thermal monitoring raises or lowers the bias current levels so that each circuit remains operating at the optimum temperature for best results, regardless of ambient temperature.
Non-magnetic parts are used throughout the DAC 200, including in the chassis, ensuring that energy is not stored and rereleased in ways that can distort the signal. Says David Nauber, CEO T+A North America, "It’s just yet another detail that adds cost but also contributes to some pretty terrific performance."
The T+A DAC 200 sports a wonderful analog look with its multifunction meters. Match your other components by customizing the meter lighting color using RBG settings.
The Digital Front
The T+A DAC 200 faceplate looks complex (at least these days) but simply affords access to regularly used features instead of burying them in menu options.
The DAC 200 is a delta-sigma design, and, unusually for this architecture, offers a NOS (no oversampling) option. This is a welcome addition if you're using streaming software such as HQPlayer with its own upsampling or DSP.
When you do pick one of the oversampling filters, note that T+A is one of the first companies to offer off-chip oversampling, using an entirely separate dedicated high-speed oversampling processor. "This offers superior performance to any oversampling generated within the DAC chip," says David.
Perhaps most important for many audiophiles is that the DAC 200 offers separate PCM and DSD architectures, allowing total optimization for both formats. It is impossible to create a single architecture that is fully optimized for both DSD and PCM, says David. "So most companies (even in very high-cost products) take the cheaper and easier route of making a single decoding section for all digital signals."
T+A's Bézier filters are a refinement of designs the company pioneered over 30 years ago. T+A was among the first DAC manufacturers to recognize the need for phase- and time-correct filtering, and these custom filters also eliminate the pre and post-echoes found in FIR filters. "This means that all of the dynamic energy of the performance is delivered without compromise," says David. "These impulses [the echoes] steal dynamic energy from the audio output, so the result of our Bézier filter is not only pure harmonic accuracy but greater dynamic realism."
Femtoclocks are all the rage now, featuring in marketing speak everywhere, but T+A has long known the need to use such high precision. This isn't to suggest that we can hear differences measured in femtoseconds but that there is plenty of "time headroom" for powerful filters. It is similar to loudspeakers that extend to well above our top-end hearing of 20 kHz; this level of bandwidth allows for much more accurate and linear operation in the audible range.
"While on the subject of clocking," adds David, "the only proper location for the master clocks in any digital product is as physically close as possible to the actual D/A conversion process. Any distance between the clock and the D/A converter adds noise and jitter to the system. T+A will always place the highest accuracy clocks as close as possible to the DAC functions in every T+A digital product."
The DAC 200 has an analog input as well, allowing you to take advantage of that stellar volume control by connecting the DAC directly to your power amp and still being able to have, say, a turntable in the system.
T+A Elektroakustik DAC 200 Preamplifier / DAC
Enough Tech Stuff, How Does the T+A DAC 200 Sound?
We did some close listening in a number of different systems. One featured T+A loudspeakers and big solid-state power amps. Another had K-horns with some choice hybrid amplification.
The first impressions were of a clean, weighty sound with lots of detail but not to the point of being distracting and overly pointillistic. "Great bass" is something you'll hear with T+A over and over. Mid and upper bass is notably bloat-free and manages to combine speed with excellent "note density." The result is a rhythmic and immediately attractive sound. The soundstage is focused and matter-of-fact; it doesn't have that airy shimmer that some DACs exhibit to the point of feeling almost as if they're playing around with phase.
There are DACs in the same playing field that sound cleaner but leaner; others have more bloom but are grainier. The DAC 200 is the "just right" bowl of porridge for listeners whose dream sound is described by the words such as neutral, accurate, propulsive, engaging, and clean, but not squeaky clean.
Waiting for You at CanJam NYC
The Feliks Audio Euforia EVO, new from Feliks Audio, will be set up for listening at the Feliks Audio booth and the Upscale Audio booth at this year's CanJam NYC.
It's nearly here! Next weekend, we'll be at CanJam NYC with tables groaning with goodies. The shipment is already on its way, and here are the products you'll get to see, feel, and of course, listen to.
We have such a great variety of styles, technologies, and sonics that you are sure to find a headphone that speaks to you.
- Audeze MM-500
- Dan Clark Expanse
- Dan Clark Stealth
- Focal Bathys
- Focal Clear MG
- Focal Stellia
- Focal Utopia 2022
- HiFiMan Susvara
- Meze Audio 109 Pro
- Meze Audio Elite
- Meze Audio Liric
- Sennheiser HD650
- Sennheiser HD800S
Our mix of tube, hybrid, and solid-state amplification, covers nearly every sonic preference.
- Chord Hugo TT 2
- Feliks Audio Echo Mk II
- Feliks Audio Envy
- Feliks Audio Euforia EVO (New, Spring 2023)
- Ferrum OOR + Hypsos PSU
- Naim Atom Headphone Edition
- Pathos InPol Ear
- PrimaLuna EVO 100 Integrated
We will have a Roon Nucleus+ and the following digital sources.
- AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt
- Auralic Altair G2.1
- Aurender A20
- Cambridge Audio CXN (V2)
- HiFi Rose RS150B
- Lumin D2
Cables and Accessories
- We will be proudly featuring Cardas headphone cables
- AudioQuest Cinnamon Ethernet cables
- AudioQuest DragonTail Carbon
- Audioquest Earth, Water, and Yosemite interconnects
- AudioQuest NRG Y3 and Z3 power cords
- Naim Power-Line power cord
CanJam NYC 2023 is on February 25 and 26 at the New York Marriott Marquis in Times Square.
This Sale Is the Only Time We Want Kevlar to Save the Day
We know many of you are motorcyclists (a few of us at Upscale ride, too), and we hope you never have to rely on the protective Kevlar layers in your riding trousers and jackets. The only way we want you to experience the properties of this magic fabric is safely at home with the Focal Aria K2 series.
The yellow drivers indicate that Focal has replaced the flax cone with the Aramid K2 Power cones for a big, bold, dynamic sound with a deep, chewy bass. Aramid fibers (Kevlar is the brand name) form a light, extremely strong weave that becomes a rigid, non-resonant structure when braced.
Compared with the speedier flax cone, the K2 driver brings more woof to woofers and is a different, but equally enjoyable, complement to the Al/Mg tweeter. At Upscale, bassheads, tapeheads, tubeheads, grime fans, and analog fiends all responded extremely positively to the kick that the K2 woofers deliver. With so much "fast, lean, agile" bass these days, it's easy to forget how much fun it is to have your chest thump as you listen... not from boom or resonance, but sheer bass-wave force.
Imagine the Aria, you know, but dial the "analog saturation" knob up, and you'll land on the sound of the amazing 936 K2. If you love the idea of the "rock and roll' speaker but don't want something too wooden and retro, nor do you want anything rolled off on top, this is it; this is your speaker, and it's on sale. Drop a gear and, well, don't disappear... call us!
Focal Aria 936 K2 Limited Edition (each) $2,599 (while sale is on)
Don't Forget, We're Open Again on Saturdays!
The Upscale Audio store at 2058 Wright Avenue in La Verne is partying again on Saturdays from 9 to 5. We will be running with a smaller crew, and there are a couple of important things to note:
1) As with all other days, you'll need to call ahead and set up an appointment for a specific demo. If you decide to drop by, you won't be turned away, but your auditions will be limited to our headphone station and—only if the rooms are free—whatever systems we already have set up.
2) The warehouse will be closed, so if you need to pick up something, please call ahead, and we'll ensure we bring it over by Friday. If you buy something while you're here, it might be cheaper to ship it! After all, shipping is free above $49, and you'll save a little on La Verne city tax. Unless you live in La Verne...
Please call 909.931.9686 to make a demo appointment.