Rein Audio’s New Toys: X3 DAC & X-Amp

Img_3219 - Copy

Disclaimer: Rein Audio sent me both units as temporary review samples and the units will be sent to back to them

The Start

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.

Lieven is living in Europe and is a full time Headfonia writer and the leader of the gang. Coming from a musical family he's always been interested in good sound. Unlike his family members the only musical instruments he plays are amps and DACs. He loves playing with old tubes and discovering new products while staying faithful to the good old Sennheiser HD650. Taking pictures is a real challenge but seeing happy readers in the end is what it's all about for him.

  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

    Nice review, L. Enjoyed reading it.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Thanks Mike. Means a lot coming from you :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/tomscy2000 Thomas Tsai

    DId you get to take a look inside the X3? I’m curious what the circuit board layout looks like….

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      There are some specially selected pictures of the inside with partial blur on Rein’s Facebook page but we couldn’t take pictures of the inside, sorry

  • http://www.facebook.com/ray.lucas.9235 Ray Lucas

    Great review…Interesting that it sounded so good with the HD650. I wonder if companies regularly use the popular HD650 to voice their equipment. Looks like the price on the DAC is already at full price on their website. Still sounds like a great deal at the higher price.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Hi Ray, thank you. Yes, too bad about the price. I’m going to check with Rein if they can extend the launch period. I actually do think they used higher impedance headphones to develop the amp. Since the beginning they were asking me how it was with the Sennheiser, so I’m sure they had a feeling it was a good match.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      I mailed Rein and now the Introduction Discount period is extended to May!

      • George Lai

        Hi Lieven, can you email Hifiman and Audeze for me too? Ha Ha

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          sure, let me get on to that ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Lewis/1287090929 Brian Lewis

    Great review, Lieven.

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Thanks Brian. appreciate it!

  • dalethorn

    Excellent review – gives me a clear picture of where these fit. Any preferences for headphone amp for X3?

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Thank you Dale. I’d say Violectric V200. Without doubt

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.hein.7 Jeff Hein

    I am guessing we have already missed out on the launch pricing of $1280. It is currently at $1680 already…

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Ah that’s too bad. It still had the discount when I checked. X3 is still worth the money though

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      I mailed Rein and now the Introduction Discount period is extended to May!

  • Michael

    100Ω output impedance??????????? ?????

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Yes, that’s correct :)

      • Michael

        I guess this is a reason that this:
        “The Beyerdynamic DT770 AE which a lot of you love didn’t turn out to be such a good headphone for the X-Amp. Bass just isn’t how it’s supposed to be on this headphone (looser) and especially the mids didn’t sound how we all love them. Of course if you feel the AE has too much bass and too thick mids, this probably is excellent to you.”
        is happening….

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          Could be yet the even lower impedance COP does great

    • http://headfonia.com/ Valentin

      That’s just pure moronic…

      Not being able to switch between low output impedance and high output impedance…

      Soo much power just goes wasted.

      There are advantages with high output impedance. Some might prefer the sound on high impedance cans with varying impedance, e.g. increase the bass in HD800 and HD650.

      Planars with an even impedance will not be affected (except for the wasted power, but if I “waste” power I’d rather do it in Class A on a couple of good JFETs/MOSFETs/Tubes than weird engineering.

      And running multi-armature-IEMs… Don’t even get me started.

      Why not an output impedance switch?

      Without sounding like a NwAvGuy-minion (too much). Do over, do right.

      • http://www.facebook.com/dave.ulrich.7 Dave Ulrich

        I don’t believe that NwAvGuy has been heard from in a while. Maybe you are making a play for his spot!

        • http://headfonia.com/ Valentin

          Then I will start building a 100 USD-amp that measures better than anything you’ve ever seen (and therefore teh best) and a USB-DAC with unregulated PS that measures equal and sounds unbiased (because all listening tests are biased except mine) equal to a quite boring voiced DAC.

          Wait… I’m sensing a two years latency in my plans.

          • http://www.facebook.com/dave.ulrich.7 Dave Ulrich

            I found my string quartets sounded a little metallic with the ODAC. I didn’t love it.

            • http://headfonia.com/ Valentin

              Sarcasm ain’t always the easiest in the written.

              Not to derail the discussion even more, but O2 and Odac. Good bang/buck. Not end-game in any shape or form.

              However. Ridiculously high output impedance by default (without ay possibility to turn off). Now that’s a one-trick pony.

              • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

                Lets keep this discussion out of here, ok? Thanks

                • http://www.facebook.com/dave.ulrich.7 Dave Ulrich

                  Sorry

                  • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

                    No worries. Just not here ;) thank you

                • http://headfonia.com/ Valentin

                  Sorry mate!

                  • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

                    No worries. Just not here ;) thanks.

  • Sam

    It would be interesting to know how this compares to the V800. Any chance you could get your hands on the V800 for comparison?

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      Not immediately but I’ll try. good idea

  • http://www.facebook.com/Meoow.TheCat Minh Duc Nguyen

    you guys have got to do a review on the V800 DAC. It would give me a complete picture comparing these to my recently received Fostex HPA8. I have got to say that the HPA8 clearly set a great benchmark DAC performance for the price. Also it is a great match with my WA6 :)

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      It’s on my list but I won’t have the Fostex…

  • Pingback: Digitale avspillere Valab DAC WM8741 - en kjærlighetshistorie - Side 3

  • Drake

    Late in posting here but I was surprised to read what’s been said about the X-3 DAC on Head-Fi, they’re saying it’s a knock-off of a much cheaper model sold on E-Bay. Check it out here, the posts about it start at post #20 …

    http://www.head-fi.org/t/658236/rein-audio-x3-dac-review/15

    • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

      I know. different components. cheap knock off. never the same quality. but thanks for the link

      • Drake

        That’s what I thought at first. But reading through the thread, they’re saying that the knock-off is actually the X-3, as the cheaper one being sold on E-Bay predates it and has very similar components.

        I won’t dwell on it further, but this is a serious claim that warrants definitive confirmation or refutal.

        • http://www.headfonia.com/ L.

          Violectric had the same issue with their V800 DAC