The rising trend of computers as transports makes all-in-one standalone external audio devices a very lucrative market. The Dr. DAC Prime amplifier and DAC combo unit is a new offering from ESI with 192 kHz upsampling and 24/96 native USB input. ESI is probably not a widely known name in the casual consumer market at least for now but this German manufacturer has been producing professional audio gears and soundcards for quite some time. Now let us find out in this review whether their new excursion is successful or not.
The Dr. DAC Prime is surprisingly quite tiny for all the features it packs. Sporting a dimension of 10cm in length, 15cm in width and 4cm in height it makes a perfect transportable unit. The entire unit is adorned with a rough-hewn grey matte finishing which makes it perfect as it does not attract dusts and fingerprints while looking classy in its presentation. The Dr. DAC’s roundish shape as opposed to the traditional blocky form also helps in this respect. All in all, the whole package is classy with obvious homage to Mac products.
The I/Os and switches options of the Dr. DAC Prime are arranged in a logical fashion with the switches and headphone outs adorning the faceplate and the input jacks at the backplate. The Dr. DAC accepts USB digital input, Coaxial S/PDIF digital input and output and RCA input and output. One slight inconvenience is that the potentiometer has no marker in it which is a bit perplexing given the attention of details that ESI has given to the unit.
It is also worth mentioning that the Dr. DAC Prime can do multiple outputs simultaneously. For example, one can use the Prime’s headphone outs and the RCA lineout together at the same time. This feature is very convenient as one can connect the output connections of the Dr. DAC to multiple units. There is also a switch near the DC jack to set the line output level to a fixed or variable position. The fixed position is used when one uses an external amplifier as it will disable the Dr. DAC’s potentiometer and ensures that the signal is at its highest volume. The variable position is otherwise used when one uses the Dr. DAC’s internal headphone amplifier unit. I am impressed with this simple and yet ingenious feature as ESI obviously pays attention to the smallest details that makes the Dr. DAC Prime a Swiss Army Knife of DACs.
Perhaps the most impressive of the Dr. DAC’s numerous features is it is able to accept 24-bit/96kHz native USB signal which is achieved via the Tenor TE7022L USB controller and the option to upsample the audio signal to 192kHz with the Texas Instrument SRC4382 upsampling chip. These features could theoretically reduce jitter in the audio signal to ensure that we get a cleaner audio signal which will result in a better overall sound. This nifty feature will come useful if you possess 24/96 recordings which will not have to be down-sampled if you use USB straight from your computer.