Nuforce’s earliest claim to fame was its excellent price/performance ratio. While the brand has moved on and up, gathering from a larger pool of HiFi consumer, their roots remain firmly intact. DAC-80 is a fine-performing DAC in every way possible.
Of particular note is its incredibly low noise floor. Assuming you have an amp that’s up to snuff, DAC-80 transfers clean signal and not much else. Signal quality is unadulterated by all but the slightest of distortion. No matter where you have set the attenuator, and assuming that the amp paired to the 80 has a high enough quality input, your ears will receive your favourite tunes in incredibly clear, distinct terms.
DACs that deliver cleaner signals do exist, but very few reside at this price point.
Headphone listeners will benefit most from this. Most headphone amps suffer imbalance at low volumes, and rare few can sustain good balance to both sensitive and insensitive headphones. Not when fed by DAC-80’s excellent output. It boasts power for amps that can suck in and spit out heaps of the stuff. And it boasts finesse at lower voltage settings. The result is a versatile DAC that plays nice with nearly every outboard amp out there.
Dynamic range is similarly excellent, serving stark contrast from end to end. The greatest stereo detail exists from the lowest bass to around 4k, where very slightly, the signal pulls in. There is also a small roll off in the very high frequencies, but it is minute. I would argue that it is next to inaudible. What is slightly audible is a slight drawing in of stereo detail and width after 3K. Again it is minute.
Detail, contrast, and stereo imaging combined make for an incredibly 3D stage. Eery music will be eerier. Cutting music, more cutting. Details from DAC-80 are wonderful.
That’s not to say that DAC-80 is shrill. On the contrary, details, while hard-edged, are never subject to bloom or tizz. It is a detail-oriented DAC, but retains a pleasant, full sound. Sound is staged wide and deep, and if your amp is up to it, capable of a very 3D-like effect. Love trance, IDM, space? DAC-80 serves each in the most apt of spaces with perfect detail.
If you want to add a downstream effect, you can. Ditto distortion. Just slip a valve amp behind DAC-80. Or perhaps an equaliser. There is so much you can do to tailor this DAC to your favourite music.
It is an engaging piece of kit, which immediately captures the senses. While I would hesitate to call it rich, DAC-80 offers sumptuously detailed and full bass. It doesn’t hone in on the cutting edge of strings or cymbals, but it renders them in stunning contrast to the air, and to the instruments next to them.
My favourite headphone amp to slave to DAC-80 is the Graham Slee Solo Ultra Linear. DAC-80’s details, softened slightly by the Ultra Linear’s slight softening bias. The pair also look absolutely fab together.
I have no complaints at all regarding sound. At this price, you couldn’t ask for more from a pre-amp. Ditto a DAC. While I wish Nuforce paid more attention to the quality and legibility of their chassis, I have a feeling that the ostensible customer for DAC-80 doesn’t give a hoot. And while that saddens me, I’ve gotten used to it. As Nuforce aim for higher market perches, they will have to consider the small things that geeks would miss.
What you get in the DAC-80 for less than 800$ is pretty damn good. Performance is excellent, connection quality and quantity are right on. It is a DAC to build a system around and, apart from a few hardware/legibility issues, it gets my full recommendation.