Shortly after we released the review for the Dr. DAC Prime, there was some questions asking if the Dr. DAC Prime is indeed a repackaged version of the Dr. DAC2 DX. They both carry the Audiotrak brand name, and both use the Dr. DAC Brand Name. If you go to the Korean website of Audiotrak (http://www.audiotrak.co.kr/) and the Japanese website (http://www.audiotrak.jp/), you’ll find the Dr. DAC2 DX listed on both sites, but not the Dr. DAC Prime. The Prime, on the other hand, is listed on Audiotrak Germany’s website (http://www.audiotrak.de/), but there is no mention of the Dr. DAC2 DX on that site. Other than aesthetic differences, both DACs are quite similar in dimension and features.
Looking at the spec sheets, the two products are similar in the DAC chip that they use (PCM1796 for the Prime, and PCM1798 for the Dr. DAC2 DX), but that’s where the similarity ends. Everything else such as the components, circuitry, opamps, inputs and outputs are totally different, and it’s quite clear that although they share a similar name, the similarity ends there. It’s also interesting to note that the Prime does a 192kHz upsample, a feature that’s not available in the Dr. DAC2. It seems that the two are quite a different product developed with different specifications to cater to the needs of two different markets.
The Dr. DAC2 comes with two 1/4″ phone jacks, which is different than the Prime which comes with a 1/4″ and a 1/8″. In my opinion, the Prime is better in this case, because I don’t need to use converters for 1/8″ terminated headphones. The Prime also has other features that I think make it slightly better in functionality when compared to the Dr. DAC2.
– Digital out operational regardless of the type of digital input being used.
– Variable or Fixed line out level.
– 192kHz upsampling with toggle switch.
– Mute switch.
– Simultaneous output on the line out and headphone out.
Before we continue to the comparison on sonic performance, this is the system used for the comparison. MacPro & Itunes for the transport, playing WAV files with 24/96 at the Midi settings. The signal from the line out then routed to an Audiotrak ImAmp amplifier via my DIY input selector and the headphone used was the Sennheiser HD800 single ended. Although I did listen to quite a lot of music during the comparison, some of the albums that I want to highlight are: Beethoven No. 9 by Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic, Beatles Past Masters (remastered), Van Clipburn: My Favorite Debussy, Mendelssohn’s Elijah by Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Frieder Bernius A Capella with the Kammerchor, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand, and David Foster’s You’re the Inspiration.
The Dr. DAC2 is a very pleasing balance of warm and detail. As a DAC, it’s prefferable to be neutral sounding, and the Dr. DAC2 DX indeed falls nicely in the neutral range, albeit with a slight tilt to the warm direction. The result is a sound that’s very easy to like with a wide majority of music. It’s similar to the AMB Gamma2 in the sense that they both share a warm yet detailed sound, and in fact, I do find the Gamma2 more similar to the Dr. DAC2 than the Dr. DAC Prime is.
The sound coming from the Dr. DAC2 couldn’t be more different than the sound coming from the Dr. DAC Prime. It’s not even close, and it’s really surprising, because coming from the same company, you would think that there would be similarities in the sound. The Prime is quite superior in detail retrieval. Detail jumps out easily from the Prime, where from the DAC2 DX and the Gamma2, they are more subtle and would be more evident after a long listening period. The Prime also has an airier sound and an overall bigger soundstage, although instrument separation is quite equal on them both. Brian wrote that the Prime’s sound tend to fall on the bright side, and I do have to agree with him. The DAC2 DX, on the other hand, is quite neutral sounding. You can’t call it dark, and it falls neither to the agressive side (like the Nuforce uDAC), or laid back (like the Pico DAC).
Detail retrieval is a big thing in DACs, but what the DAC2 loses to the Prime, it makes up in musicality and midrange body. From the first moment that I’m doing the comparison, the DAC2 DX have always sounded more musical than the Prime. The biggest difference is in the midrange. The DAC2 has a full sounding midrange, where the Prime is a little thin and recessed in that area. Although the thinner midrange results in a better midrange clarity for the Prime, ultimately the fuller midrange of the DAC2 DX will be prefferable for music listening. In this case the Prime’s sound character makes me think that it was designed more for monitoring and production work. On top of the superior detail, the Prime’s slightly thin, yet clear midrange, reminds me of monitoring headphones like the Beyer DT880s, the DT250, the Sony CD900ST, the Superluxes, and others.
So, between the Dr. DAC2 DX and the Dr. DAC Prime, I personally would go for the DAC2 DX for music listening. But if you’re crazy about detail, then the Prime would be a better choice for you.