Disclaimer: Rein Audio sent me both units as temporary review samples and the units will be sent to back to them
A little over a year ago I had never heard from the German Rein Audio. We contacted Rein Audio and luckily for us they agreed to let us review their first Digital to Analog Convertor, the X-DAC. Rein Audio hasn’t been sitting still and in the meantime besides their cable business they released a speaker amplifier, a new DAC and a Headphone amplifier. These last two are what we’re reviewing today: The X3-DAC and the X-Amp headphone amp.
I won’t be going back into detail about the company, their Asian assembly and their philosophy. I recommend those who don’t know Rein to read the X-DAC review from February last year and get acquainted with the company and what they stand for. I will on the other hand go back to my X-DAC review because this new X3-DAC is the successor of that first DAC. I returned the X-DAC to Rein audio after the review but I still vividly remember its sound. Back then I wrote this:
“It works great with both tube as solid state amps, but the best match to my ears is with the Violectric V100 and the LCD-2. I’ve never enjoyed my rock music as much as I have with this combination, especially the guitars are wonderful. I love it that much at the moment that I even refused to let Mike borrow my LCD-2 for the Dark Star review…sorry Mike ”
I’ll be honest with you and admit that I’m in a serious love-hate relationship with my Audez’e LCD-2 Rev 1. I really enjoyed the LCD-2 with the X-DAC as mentioned but as soon as the X-Dac left my office in a box with a stamp on it, the LCD-2 got very little head time and I was seriously thinking of selling it. Getting the X3-DAC now got me excited again like a little kid that’s about to get candy from a stranger. Wait, that’s a terrible and wrong comparison to make, but you get my point.
The DAC Part – The Looks
The X3, which clearly is a higher end DAC, came in a nice and classy nontraditional box with an Asian power cable and a cool storage bag. It measures 190x70x331 (mm), weighs about 2.5kg and has a small blue front screen showing the input type, input bit-rate and Digital Filter used. The first DAC was very well built as well but they have clearly even upgraded the build quality and the Dual Channel Design X3 now comes in an even sturdier case than before. It also has Rhodium Plated Connectors for the RCA connections. It overall looks great, at least to me it does. As inputs it has a Toslink optical input, one SPDIF coaxial input, one USB Type B input and one AES/EBU. The X3 has a balanced XLR output and an unbalanced RCA output that can be used at the same time if you would want that.
The X3 DAC has 5 different digital filters and offers up-sampling to 192 Khz and has two Wolfson WM8741 chips as decoders. The dual digital receiver chips are CS8416 that support 24/192 no matter what input you use. You can check out more specs at the end of this page (link). Before the X3 was launched, Jason T. from Rein told me: “First release will be our new X3-DAC which has up-sampling to 192kHz, 2 pair of Power Supply, 2 pairs of chip of WM8741, 2 pieces of AD797 and OPA2604 for each channel”, that got me excited. Together with the X3 you will receive a CD to manually install the USB 2.0 High Speed True HD Audio driver, do not let Windows install another driver automatically. Configuration of the driver took some time in Foobar but it wasn’t that hard at all in the end.
The DAC Part - The Sound
Did Rein Audio do an even better job as they did on the X-DAC? Is this new double chip DAC worth its higher-end price? I could keep you all waiting but I’m just going to say it: Yes, to me it is worth every cent.
All of the X3 inputs can handle 24/192 and the X3 translates it into wonderful sounding music. It is a perfect mix of, well of everything. Where the first X-DAC was very detailed but at the same time analytical and less musical sounding, this X3-DAC is detailed and analytical yet it also is very musical sounding and that is very important to me. I couldn’t find anything “wrong” with the DAC actually: it’s not bright or veiled or thin or dark or forward or bass heavy/light or rolled off, it’s just how it should be. All layers of your music are detailed, it is very extended with a big sound stage and just the right amount of air to it.
The bass and treble on this DAC are detailed and extended and very good but even better are the absolutely gorgeous mids it produces. This really is the best sounding DAC I have had the joy to listen to up to now. It is fast, has great dynamics and bass and most importantly it doesn’t color the sound in any way. It’s a detailed and clear sounding very musical DAC without it getting too analytical or cold/dry sounding. I haven’t found any flaws yet.
At first I was convinced the balanced out from the X3 sounded better than the RCA out but after having used both more thoroughly I wouldn’t dare say there’s a lot of difference between both. I’ve been playing albums with different bit-rates and the X3’s screen perfectly displays the rate it is receiving (as all dacs in this price range should do). When playing with the optional “up-sampling to 192Khz function” I quickly decided to leave it on permanently as it just sounded better.
The X3 also has five pre-configured Digital Filters built in and with one click you can easily jump from setting 1 to 5. I tried getting more info about the different settings but I unfortunately did not get that info from Rein. I personally enjoyed setting 1 and 4 most where the first setting is the most natural sounding and the fourth one is the smoothest sounding with my gear.
The DAC Part - The End
This DAC matched great will all of my amplifiers and headphones and together with the Violectric V200 it especially made the LCD-2 sound like it never sounded before. Gone are the plans of selling the Audez’e, for now anyway as this X3-DAC is going back to Rein Audio after this review. I definitely have got to start saving up to get one of these units to replace my Audio-GD DAC.
The X3 performs great, looks great and I honestly think the (higher) price for this unit is justified. You can buy it from Rein Audio directly on their website. The “Launch Price” for this exceptional unit is $1.280USD, later it will increase to $1.680USD. If you’re in the market for a new DAC I would not hesitate and get it at the discounted price, you won’t regret it.
If you’re interested in getting all the specs of this X3, click here and they will magically appear (scroll down).
So how about Rein Audio’s X-AMP then? Click and read the review on the next page.