ESI Dr. DAC Nano: Entry Level 24/96

The Dr. DAC Nano is a simple DAC that takes USB input and outputs a maximum of 24/96 output either in analog (through a 3.5mm connection) or digital format (through a 3.5mm optical toslink connection). It’s a very simple and foolproof device, since there is only a USB connector at one end, and a 3.5mm connector at the other that serves as an analog or digital out, depending on the cable that you use.

USB on one side, 3.5mm analog & digital out on the other.

 

Build quality is very high, though it largely borrows from the Mac’s white and silver scheme, overall it’s still a very classy looking device. It utilizes an Asahi Kasei Microdevices AK4421 DAC chip, which is capable of 24/192 output, although the Dr. DAC Nano is only capable of 24/96 due to the limitations of the USB controller. Nothing too shabby though, as its closest competitor, the similarly priced, $99 Nuforce uDAC is only capable of 16/48, and seeing that the majority of USB DACs, even higher priced ones are still doing 24/96.

At the analog output side, the Dr. DAC Nano is equipped with the AD8397 high current amplifier, enabling you to plug in a headphone or IEM directly to the 3.5mm connector. The Dr. DAC Nano is also rebranded as the JAVS Nano S, which you can find on eBay for $99.

JAVS Nano S. Looking at the specs, everything seems identical to the Dr. DAC Nano.

 

For the DAC comparison, the set up is the same as the one that I’ve been using for the other DAC comparisons. 16/44.1 WAV files, Itunes, with the MacPro as the transport, and out to the TPA6120 Balanced Amp.

I’ve been comparing a few entry level DACs lately, and the ranking that I derived from my comparison was as such: (DAC section only)
1. Audinst HUD-MX1
2. Styleaudio UD-1
3. Nuforce uDAC
4. Ibasso D10

Left to right: Styleaudio UD-1, ESI Dr. DAC Nano, Nuforce uDAC

 

If you want to know where the Dr. DAC Nano stands, I’d say that it falls just between the Styleaudio UD-1, and the uDAC. If I want to be really precise, I can say that the Nano is closer to the uDAC than it is to the UD-1, as the UD-1 gives quite a significant jump (when viewed from the context of these five DACs) from the D10, uDAC, and the ESI Dr. DAC Nano. Hence, the new ranking would be: (DAC section only)

1. Audinst HUD-MX1
2. Styleaudio UD-1
3. ESI Dr. DAC Nano
4. Nuforce uDAC
5. Ibasso D10

But let’s talk about the sound more, as well as the other features of the Dr. DAC Nano.


  • thuantran

    Hi, thanks for this review. Do you get any hiss with your IEM, I wonder?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Hi thuantran, yes, I did get some hiss. Since there is no pot, the hiss is constant throughout the volume setting. It's slightly higher than the uDAC on the normal listening level, but nothing too bothersome. PS: I was using the UM Mage, and there is almost no amp that sound hiss free with this IEM, even all the big high end amps. So yes, there is hiss, but nothing to worry about.

      • thuantran

        Thanks, for your answer, what about hiss through the nano then the TPA6120 Amplifier to your HD800 then? I tried a simple USB DAC using PCM2702 on my active speakers (Creative Gigaworks T20) once and it hisses somewhat annoyingly at my normal listening level. So I wanna know if this config has no hiss, too? Sometimes I wanna try this with my active speakers too, if I ever buy this.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Hmmm… I can't give a definite answer right now, but let me check on that and I'll get back to you.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Finally tested the hiss level. Macpro > Dr. DAC Nano > TPA6120 Amp > HD800. Very small hiss at max volume on the TPA6120 Amp. Completely quiet on normal listening volume.

          I also tried plugging in a Superlux HD831B (16 ohms, 103dB SPL/mW) directly to the Nano, and found no hiss at max volume on the Itunes.

          By the way, if you can afford the Dr. DAC Prime, go for that one instead. The difference is pretty big. ;) Oh, btw I'm trying to do a review of the Dr. DAC Prime vs. Dr. DAC DX2. :D

          • thuantran

            Thanks for your answer. Money is not a problem for me really, but it's the problem of convenience. The solution I come up is to sit at my home country and buying through my card and ship it to my friend in Korea (going to buy the Korean JAVS DAC-1 Overture version, only around 260USD :D). My friend is kinda short on money as he has been buying a bunch of stuffs for himself lately. My country has pretty strict policy when I'm sending money oversea to another person, and it also has history of shady postal shipping (damage or lost item).

            I hope it all ends well though, as I'm pretty much set on the Overture (ESI Prime). Some pic of its internal http://www.cherryaudio.co.kr/Front/Product/?url=P… here.

            • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

              Wow, talk about a price difference! :D

              Good luck with the purchase and let me know how it is. :D Or if you want to wait a few more days, I'm writing a review of the Pico DAC, probably including some comparison with the Dr. DAC Prime.

              • thuantran

                Well I can wait for some time really, my friend won't be coming anytime soon like in days :D. I'm listening to the HD595 that I have waited for two months now, just got it. It's simply wow, just wow, the portapro I have been using is nothing compared to what I'm hearing now, and it's not even burnt it.

                • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

                  HD595 should be a pretty big jump to the portapro.

                  I'm finishing up the Pico and Gamma2 DAC comparison, with a bit of comparison to the Audinst and Dr. DAC Prime.

  • fiery

    This was a very helpful review which I looked for.

    Is it possible to put Fiio E7 in the comparison? It's in the same price range as ESI Dr. DAC Nano and I would like to see how both compares as sound quality as well as is hiss more or less using the Fiio DAC. I use 16 Ohms ATH-CM700Ti.

    Thanks,

  • Mike

    Hmmmm…. that would make a good comparison won't it? Let me consider it. :)

  • Iggy

    One question.. I was wondering… Can I plug the Dr.DAC Nano to my laptop and then from the DAC to the proper headphone amplifier? Would that work? I bought V-CAN musical fidelity amp, but its for analog and I like to listen to the music through my computer so im looking for a DAC of some kind… btw, I'm using my brand new AKG k702's as well. What kind of DAC would you recommend? It'll help me so much, since I dont know much in this field…
    Really appreciate the help!
    Thank you!

  • SoulSyde

    Mike, I just got my Dr DAC Nano and I think it sounds very good. A tad warm compared to my NuForce Icon HDP, but very-very good for $99.

    My setup is actually pretty cool: Netbook > J River Media Center (streaming my library from my home server) > Dr DAC Nano > Headstage Arrow 12HE 3G > [Various Headphones]

    It's a lot of fun and quasi-portable! : )

    Thanks for the review, you have me the heads-up that this DAC exists.

    Cheers,
    Phil (SoulSyde on Head-Fi)

    • Mike

      Thanks Phil. Good to hear that. I'm quite suprised that the Dr. DAC Nano is mentioned on the same line as the HDP. :)

      • SoulSyde

        It’s the only other DAC in my current arsenal. They are worlds apart in terms of SQ though.

        • Mike

          That sounds more correct. :)

  • Zappa

    nice, will this work with audiostation powered synology (eg DS 111) ? Does anybody try?

    • Anonymous

      Sorry, I have no idea. Haven’t tried with anything like that.

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  • Mistalava

    For the record, it is actually the other way around.  JAVS designs and manufactures this and related products in Korea.  Dr. DAC is the re-branded product.  JAVS is the OEM.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Mistalava for the clarification.

  • Nathan Lee

    Any idea how the the Dr Dac Nano (aka Javs NanoS) compares against the Javs NanoV?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Sorry Nathan, never compared the two.

      • Nathan Lee

        Hmm too bad. They seem fairly similar spec wise except for a different opamp and volume control. Information is very sparse (or all in Korean); I’m not even sure if the V is still in active production.

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Yea, I’m sorry Nathan. If I have both, I would compare them in a heartbeat.

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  • Nick Knutov

    Hi! Do you know where to get ASIO drivers for JAVS Nano S?
    Dr. DAC nano has ASIO drivers, but its installer don’t see JAVS Nano S

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      Sorry Nick, I didn’t use Windows with the Nano..

      Maybe somebody else can help?

  • Papoom Vibhatasilpin

    How is Nano S Compare to E17?

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      I can’t do a direct comparison sorry