ESI Dr. DAC Nano: Entry Level 24/96

I’d really like to get the Ibasso D10 out of the way. For those of you who haven’t read the previous DAC comparisons, I’m going to quote what I said about the Ibasso D10, from the Styleaudio UD-1 review:

At times I felt that the Ibasso D10 is a little more detailed, but it really isn’t. The Ibasso D10 does present the treble a little “hot”, hence it may sound more detailed when it’s not. The difference is very obvious in the treble. The UD-1 is much smoother and less agressive than the D10. The soundstage is also slightly bigger with the UD-1, but what I really like is how the UD-1 has a more natural soundstage presentation, when compared to the D10’s soundstage. The bass gained better presence with the UD-1 as well.

You know, it’s weird that once I realize what a simplistic design the UD-1 is you feel much less confident on how it was able to match the Ibasso D10 that comes with the WM8704 chip. But apparently the circuitry of the Ibasso was just not refined enough, and at the end I find that the UD-1 makes for a better DAC than the D10.

And from the uDAC Review:

I’m going to elaborate a little bit on the D10’s sound signature here. When compared to the others, I found the D10 to have recessed mids and boosted highs. Boosted highs often sounds more detailed, but it’s actually not (I’ve said this many times now). Recessed mids also doesn’t play well with the majority of music out there.  What’s more, the D10’s treble is a little harsh compared to the other three DACs here. As a matter of fact, this sound signature translates directly to the headphone out of the D10. Making the headphone amp not very favorable either.

Now that the Ibasso D10 is out of the way, I’m going to talk about how the uDAC compares with the Dr. DAC Nano. On the Nuforce uDAC review, I wrote that the uDAC, while very good sounding, does sound less open when compared to the UD-1 and the HUD-MX1:

I’m  not  counting the lower midrange bump in this ranking, as some people may actually like it, but going from the Nuforce to the Styleaudio, and to the Audinst, the most noticeable difference was in the soundstage, ambience, and the air between instruments. The uDAC was the most closed sounding of the three. Decay on the uDAC was also a little short from what I consider a natural decay. The  Styleaudio UD-1 was better in giving a more open soundstage and separation, and the Audinst HUD-MX1 was the best of the bunch.

Top to bottom: ESI Dr. DAC Nano, Nuforce uDAC, Styleaudio UD-1. The absence of volume control can be good or bad, depending on your preferences.

 

Compared to the uDAC, I find that the Dr. DAC Nano was able to portray the music better, in that the soundstage is bigger, the music sounds more open, ambience more real, and overall a more “real” sound. The Dr. DAC Nano is also more relaxed sounding, where the uDAC is more upfront in its presentation. There is also more low-end frequency presence on the Dr. DAC Nano, which adds a nice low-end body on the music without being bassy at all (I don’t think I’ve ever auditioned a bassy DAC).

Side by side with the uDAC.

When I say that the Nano can portray music better than the uDAC, I’m trying my best to keep personal preferences out of the discussion. Because things like soundstage, ambience, instrument separation, can be considered quite an objective measure, as they ultimately provide a more “real” experience of the music. In the same way, the UD-1 is superior sounding than the Nano, and the Audinst HUD-MX1 remains the best of the five.


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32 Comments

  • Reply April 22, 2010

    thuantran

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

    • Reply April 23, 2010

      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.

      • Reply April 23, 2010

        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.

        • Reply April 23, 2010

          Mike

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

        • Reply April 27, 2010

          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. 😀

          • Reply April 27, 2010

            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.

            • Reply April 27, 2010

              Mike

              Wow, talk about a price difference! 😀

              Good luck with the purchase and let me know how it is. 😀 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.

              • Reply April 28, 2010

                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.

                • Reply April 28, 2010

                  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.

  • Reply November 27, 2010

    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,

  • Reply November 27, 2010

    Mike

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

  • Reply December 24, 2010

    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!

  • Reply January 4, 2011

    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)

    • Reply January 4, 2011

      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. 🙂

      • Reply January 4, 2011

        SoulSyde

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

        • Reply January 4, 2011

          Mike

          That sounds more correct. 🙂

  • Reply February 28, 2011

    Zappa

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

    • Reply February 28, 2011

      Anonymous

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

  • Reply October 6, 2011

    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.

    • Reply October 6, 2011

      Anonymous

      Thanks, Mistalava for the clarification.

  • Reply June 15, 2012

    Nathan Lee

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

    • Reply June 15, 2012

      Mike

      Sorry Nathan, never compared the two.

      • Reply June 16, 2012

        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.

        • Reply June 16, 2012

          Mike

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

  • Reply September 7, 2013

    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

    • Reply September 9, 2013

      Mike

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

      Maybe somebody else can help?

  • Reply December 2, 2013

    Papoom Vibhatasilpin

    How is Nano S Compare to E17?

    • Reply December 2, 2013

      Mike

      I can’t do a direct comparison sorry

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