Disclaimer: Essence directly supplied the Essence HDACC for the purposes of this review. HDACC goes for just 499$ USD. for You can find all about the HDACC here: HDACC For Hi Res Audio.
Let me make introductions. Essence products and distribution are the lovechild of Bob Rapoport. Bob sells seriously esoteric stuff: electrostatic speakers, coaxial oBravo headphones and earphones, passive and active speakers of all shapes and sizes, DACs, and more. What’s shaking things up more than anything else at least on the blog front are his affordable DPA-440 Class D Amp and the title item of this review, the HDACC DAC.
24/192 DAC (ESS9012)
Digital pre-amp with discrete volume control
digital inputs: USB 2, coaxial, optical, HDMI (v1,3)
analogue inputs: 3,5mm stereo, RCA
digital outputs: coax, optical, HDMI (v1,3)
analogue outputs: XLR, RCA, 6,3mm stereo
Emblazoned across its glossy fascia is the HDMI logo. HDMI is hard to find among audiophile DACs. HDACC’s main competition comes from NAD, among others, costing many times its price. The HDACC’s HDMI can also pass-thru digital signals to TVs and outboard DACs, which redeems sources like the new Apple TV, or cruddy TVs and monitors whose singular outputs are HDMI. All of HDACC’s inputs (RCA, 3,5mm, coaxial, toslink) pass their signals to internal ADC/DAC hardware to be spat out in any format, analogue or digital, through any port.
While it shows up as a “USB Audio 2.0” line input in Mac OS’s preference panel, it can’t digitise analogue inputs for archival to your computer. For that, you’ll need a Lynx Hilo, and Edirol, or most any mixing card. That’s the job of a Lynx HILO.
HDMI is HDACC’s biggest commercial feature. Type DAC and HDMI into Google and I’ll be damned if you won’t find something Bob sells in the first non-advertised spot. The same brute force methods apply to HDACC’s branding.
As to branding, HDACC is plagued by self-congratulatory chintz. HDMI! If you own HDACC, you sure as hell know it does HDMI. No need to remind. And seriously, Essence™?
Whatever. At most do-it-all mass-market audio gear priced around 500$ is festooned with unnecessary and chintzy labels and logos. I should mention that originally, HDACC went for 699$. 700$ is the absolute upper limit for chintzily designed audio gear. Re-pricing it was a good idea.
500$ is HDACC’s spiritual sweet spot.
The HDACC’s got this sausage thing going on. It’s a look you see more often among external sound cards. It’s a bit more solid than many external sound cards, though. It doesn’t flex in the middle and doesn’t go noodley when you try to twist it. Solid. Its RCA pillar-like, as solid as those found on a number of quality mid and high-end DACs and amps. Around the back, its XLR jacks lock with the correct cables, and are ringed in impact absorbent plastic. Only HDACC’s coaxial ins and outs wobble ever so slightly.
The 6,3mm stereo headphone jack in my unit sits behind an off-centre fascia, which is shifted about 1,5mm from perfect alignment. This cateyes most input-indication LED lamps. I’m a bit surprised that an off-centre unit made it to a reviewer of one of the world’s most-read headphone review sites. It’s happened before: AudioEngine’s D1 was all finger-printed up, and a few earphones press samples arrived in such poor condition that I refused to touch them.
HDACC’s attenuator wobblies a lot and when quickly rotating it, grinds against its chassis. While that isn’t uncommon, it is uncommon for a device whose navigation system relies almost fully on the attenuator.
So, while not attractive, nor plumbing for the small things, HDACC is solid and respectably built, especially considering its price and feature set.
Largely, its tackiness is forgiven because of its feature set. XLR, RCA, and headphone outputs. 24/192. USB, coaxial, toslink, HDMI inputs. Pass-thrus for everything. Analogue to digital and vice versa. Bingo.
Because the options are many, HDACC relies on a many-level GUI. Fortunately, it is simple. A short press of the attenuator brings up the menu, in which the following options: Source In, Line out Set, HP impedance, Display Set, HDMI TX Set, SRC Set, Return, and Reset to default are options. Rotate the attenuator to cycle through every function. Pressing the attenuator again will dig into the selected menu and open up a new set of options specific to that menu item. HDACC uses simple language, and a straightforward hierarchy. Without reading the manual, you can figure it out.
Audiophiles are going to love HDACC’s XLR line outs. They are great. High quality stuff that should stand up well in most hi-end audio systems. You’ll see me gush more about them later. The headphone output is par for the course. It’s best suited to non-sensitive headphones. We’ll get more into this later.
HDMI. Plug it in and get SPDIF out, analogue out, and even a pass-thru HDMI for downstream devices. This functionality in conjunction with a good power amplifier and you are good to go for most anything.
Read all about its Performance and Sound on the next page after the click HERE or below