Today we look at the $99 USD Donald DAC by EarMen, a still new company on the market.
Disclaimer: The EarMen Donald DAC was sent to us directly by EarMen for the purpose of this review.
If EarMen doesn’t ring a bell yet, then then the Serbian “Auris Audio” just might. In fact, if you’ve been following Headfonia you will know that we’re quite the Auris tube amp fans here. Their amps have won multiple of our awards, and models like the Euterpe, HA2-SE and Nirvana get praised all over the world.
We already reviewed their TR-Amp a few weeks ago, so if you’ve read that article already (thumbs up!), you’ll find that some parts of this article about the EarMen company are the same as before.
A while ago Auris Audio decided to enter the portable market and to do so they came up with new brand name: EarMen. EarMen is registered in the US but all of their products are built and assembled in Europe to ensure the highest standards in production quality.
EarMen is all about delivering the best possible value for money and their new product line-up consists out of 3 models:
- The Donald DAC – A USB-DAC only with an RCA output to hook up to your dedicated amplifier
- The TR-Amp – A portable DAC/AMP solution
- The Sparrow – A USB DAC/AMP dongle and DragonFly Cobalt competitor.
When Jason Stoddard launched Schiit Audio they quickly became famous because of the particular name. EarMen is now doing something similar with unit names such as the TR-Amp and Donald Dac. The Sparrow name? Now that one is a bit different, but I’ll explain that once we feature it here on the site.
The goal of EarMen is to make powerful audio components elegantly designed for simple plug & play use (no driver installation needed). All of EarMen’s products are designed and engineered by Miki Trosic, renowned throughout the audio industry as the founder of Auris Audio. If you want to find out more about EarMen, you can do so here: https://earmen-shop.com/pages/about-us .
10 years ago, in the pre-dap time, we were all carrying double and triple stacks around to get the best possible sound quality. You had a source, a portable DAC and then a portable amp. It was the beginning of high end portable audio and it was an interesting time.
Since then portable players aka DAPs, have become better and more powerful and as such the portable amps and DACs have moved more to the background. Companies that ruled the market once, like CypherLabs, don’t even exist anymore.
DAC only units for portable use probably still exist but nowadays it are portable AMP/DACs that are most popular, especially in USB-dongle size or with a small cable. Companies such as AudioQuest, iFi, NuPrime and Fiio have produced great portable AMP/DACs over the years. Lately it seems that the slightly larger portable DAC/AMPs like the TR-AMP and the xDSD are getting more popular again, which I think is a good thing as they can elevate your phone’s sound by a whole lot.
To make a long story short, there never was much talk about small transportable DAC only units like the Donald DAC. It does make sense however, especially if you are on the move a lot and have desktop sized amps spread over different offices or houses. A unit like the Donald DAC, allows you to have great digital to analogue conversion for all your setups and on top of that it’s small to carry around and it’s not expensive. The Donald DAC isn’t just a basic DAC either, so let’s check it out more in detail.
The DAC chip inside the Donald DAC is the CS43198 from Cirrus Logic, a surprising but refreshing choice. Finally something different than ESS Sabre and AKM, though those of course are great DACs.
The Donald DAC accepts a full suite of supported digital audio formats, including PCM resolutions up to 384 kHz and 32 bits, DXD (352.8 kHz / 24-bit), and the increasingly popular MQA codec. That should come to no surprise knowing that the designer of the unit is a big MQA streaming fan. Donald DAC features an XMOS 200 series USB controller.
Like with the TR-AMP we again see a separated power circuit here, which makes sure the power noise doesn’t pollute your sound. That being said, you’re not obliged to use external power and if you Only have one USB-connection and no power outlet available, you can use the data “channel” for both data and power. According to EarMen, you by using an external power source will get an even better sound quality, with better definition and more vivid & sparkling tones present throughout the range. The color and discreet overlays between the tones will become more pronounced, and the feel of the sound will become more powerful and energetic. Another advantage of course it that you won’t deplete your source’s battery.
The device features an indicator light on the front panel to quickly reference which power source is being utilized, illuminating blue for computer/device power and red for the presence of external power.
Like with the TR-Amp, the Donald DAC is plug & play. No Windows drivers are required for the unit to work and handle bit perfect data transmission.
We’ll just highlight a few of the specs in this chapter, but you can find the full list of specifications on EarMen’s website right here: https://earmen-shop.com/products/donald-dac.
Supported formats: PCM 384kHz/32bit, DXD, MQA Rendering
DAC: 32 bit Cirrus Logic CS 43198
USB: XMos 2XX
Input: USB-C – DATA/Power Supply
USB-C – External Power Supply
Dimensions: L * H * W (mm) 114 x 80 x59
The review continues on the second page of this article. You can click here or use the jumps below