NuPrime Hi-mDAC Review

NuPrime-Hi-mDAC

Sound performance

 

For the purpose of this review, I used a different set as usual : The Audeze LCD-3, my Onyko IE-C3 and Meze 99 Classics, for good measure. All files were played from a computer in USB DAC mode.

Overall signature

So, hit or miss ?

Straight out of the box, I plugged the NuPrime Hi-mDAC to my Audeze LCD-3 and played “More of just the Same” from Infected Mushroom. The perfect combo to test-proof the DAC, and check if the little box can push enough juice to move my good old planar.

Obviously, I didn’t expect the same level of performance found in the DAC-9H or my usual Chord Mojo, but since NuPrime had the habit of beating the odds, I couldn’t say that my expectations were low.

Thankfully, the Hi-mDAC achieved something quite remarkable. First and foremost, it drives my Audeze LCD-3 and gives me “commanding bass” as stated on the website. Where the Sennheiser HD-800S felt a little cramped last time, the Audeze sounds quite the opposite with a wide sound-stage and delightful lows

Next to that, the Hi-mDAC surprised me a second time by giving me one of the cleanest mids I heard in this price range. Compared to the Cowon Plenue D2, who’s enjoying the same DAC (twice), the Nuprime doesn’t sound as wide of course but doesn’t fall short in terms of resolution.
The Hi-mDAC is fast and precise, at any level of volume. The layering is impressive, the sound feels natural, effortless and I think NuPrime really did a good job in term of tuning. This isn’t a DAC that’ll wow you right off the batch, on the contrary, the more you’ll listen to it the more you’ll get to love it.

It doesn’t retrieve as many details as the Chord Mojo, but the soundstage feels much more natural on the Hi-mDAC. Pan effects are delightful, and if you think a headphone cannot match a speaker in terms of spaciousness, in 2020, I think you should put this one to the test. Sure, the big Audeze headphone helps, but that’s only half of the truth.

When I downgraded from the LCD-3 to the Meze 99 Classics, all the features I previously loved, were still there. Just tone down. Micro-details, balanced signature, precise timbre, all the usual audiophile jargon, it’s all there.

I’m mostly listening “hard” tracks when I’m at work, like “Badamba” by Boris Brejcha. It’s the kind of music that might sound a bit crude at first, but the better gear you get, the more you’ll enjoy it, or at least the little details.

And the NuPrime Hi-mDAC is very keen to show you all those little minutiae. Honestly, to get this level of detail, out of a box this small, is like witchcraft to me. Thankfully, or not, the DAC isn’t powerful enough to drive epic can properly, but one day, it’ll happen.

Tonality

Highs : clean and transparent. The Nuprime achieves a good job there, with a good amount of air. Trebles are precise, never harsh and with the right headphone, you’ll get a level of comfort that I wouldn’t believe possible a few years ago. It’s never dry, never sibilant, never boring. Very impressive!

Track : Believe in Me – Jamie Lidell

Mids : excellent layering and great spaciousness. The mids blends perfectly with the rest of the spectrum. The soundstage is excellent, sometimes astounding until you reach the highest level of volume. If so, the mids tend to fall behind the highs and lows, giving us an odd V-Shap signature. Still, this is only if you really push the DAC to its limit.

Track : Nobody Speak – DJ Shadow

Lows : fast and powerful. Bass is impressive, very impressive. Usually, this is where small DAC falls short, but this is never the case with the m-DAC. It’s fast, powerful and with a good headphone, you’ll be rewarded by deep, tight, toe-tapping bass. Plus side, it never oversteps on the other frequencies.

Track : The Chasm – Dan Terminus

Nuprime Hi-mDAC

Nuprime Hi-mDAC

Comparisons

Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt : the mighty Dragonfly won’t leave without a good fight. Compared head to head, each DAC displays a very different behavior. On paper, the Cobalt is supposed to offer more headroom, with an higher SNR, but in my ears, the Hi-mDAC takes the crown 99% of the time. On the other hand, I prefer Audioquest mids, so it’s more a question of apple vs pears. That said, the Cobalt is almost three time more expansive, and for that price, I think the Nuprime put more than a fair fight.

FiiO K3 : FiiO’s little USB DAC never outshone the E10K in listeners’ hearts. Too sad, as it remains one of the hidden gems of FiiO’s catalog. If you stick with the single-end outputs, the Hi-mDAC gets the upper hand, every time. But, in balanced more, the K3 exhibits a very different behavior and seems to outmatch the NuPrime, in terms of soundstage. I prefer the Hi-mDAC though, it’s even tinier!

iBasso DC01 : this is, the tiniest of the tiny USB DAC. It’s less powerful than the Hi-mDAC, even though the brands gave him a balanced output, but the soundstage is quite wider. On everything else, the mDAC does a better job, in my opinion, but if you mainly use IEM’s, the difference will be more subtle than with a headphone.

Conclusion

Sometimes, I don’t want to bother carrying my DAP, no matter how good it is. But, as soon as I leave, I’m hit by the low level of performance shown by my iPhone. Okay, it’s not “Fisher price-quality” as Neil Young would say, but it’s enough for me to regret.

And, this is where the Nuprime Hi-mDAC really comes to shine. It’s better than most of my entry-level DAP, small enough to fit my phone and most of all: it makes a REAL upgrade, sound-wise. I’m sure that 90% of our readers have already tried a USB-DAC, but for those of you who didn’t, this may be the time.

Paired with a good pair of IEM’s, like the Fearless S8F, or even the BGVP DM6, I’m pretty sure that most of you will be blown away and realize how far we have come ! A recommended buy!

 

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A nerdy guy with a passion for audio and gadgets, he likes to combine his DAC and his swiss knife. Even after more than 10 years of experience, Nanotechnos still collects all gear he gets, even his first MPMAN MP3 player. He likes spreadsheets, technical specs and all this amazing(ly boring) numbers. But most of all, he loves music: electro, classical, dubstep, Debussy : the daily playlist.

    10 Comments

    • Reply April 2, 2020

      New Eve

      Any chance you can compare it to the following:

      – Cozoy Takt C 102 / USD 150
      – Ikko Zerda / USD 80

      I have all three and I *really* struggle to justify the costs of most portable DAC/Amp compared to Apple’s Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter… whether with my Campfire Audio Andromeda Gold, Jomo Audio Haka or A&K T5p 2nd gen.

    • Reply April 3, 2020

      Doktor Trychtyr

      Does it hiss with sensitive IEMs? This is my issue with iBasso DC01.

    • Reply April 3, 2020

      Seventy seven

    • Reply April 3, 2020

      ZolaIII

      Well it looks like they at least didn’t exaggerated in published specs regarding SNR, it probably goes higher than specified (more than 100 dB SINAD). When someone tells how mids are elevated & crisp and clear that only means one thing, the interference shilling isn’t good but it’s pretty much the same old story for most small one’s. Aluminium ain’t good for lo frequency interference, graphite is good, silver even better. So far we didn’t see flowles CS43131 implementation, this IC is prone in picking up interference noise pretty similar to ESS one’s, but there are better ones than this with same CS43131 DAC that literally cost one third of the price. Meizu HiFi Pro DAC dongle is the best regarding power consumption, TempoTec Sonata HD Pro has better SINAD & will work with i things, both are around 45$. For a bit more money you can get a USB audio card such as Sound BlasterX G6 which does have lot of additional futures & series amplifier for portable one’s but it won’t work with mobile phones (not enough power to feed it) & suprise DAC is the same one. E1DA9038 is still among most powerful (mV) dongle sized DAC’s thanks to balanced out only & still cheaper than this. DragonFly’s are utter garbage! In the end buy something with battery and easy to fix & disassemble & put a graphite layer coating to it as you will need it.

    • Reply April 4, 2020

      Felipe Luco Navarro

      Excellent review. Thank you very much.

      Have you ever tested the Fiio BTR5?

      I’m going to buy a Sennheiser HD-600 and I would like to know if this device has enough power and sound quality for this headset!

      • Reply August 20, 2020

        james wilson

        The BTR5 has plenty of power for the HD-600. Even the Hifiman Sundaras can be driven to ear bleeding levels with the BTR5 using 2.5mm balanced. After hearing how much power it has, I now assume all modern DACs with a battery have plenty of power. Thats how shocked I was at power output. Bluetooth sound quality is best in class, but nothing like a wired DAC.

        Still love my Tempotec Sonata HD Pro though for anything except Sundaras (with a *little* bit more power, it would be my favorite for everything).

    • Reply April 9, 2020

      Sp12er

      cna it output line level output to an external amp? sometimes I’m interested with usb dingle sized dacs but they just don’t have the proper volume know I know I need.

      • Reply August 20, 2020

        james wilson

        Yes, it has line-out.

        It was very confusing in the article… to the point the author is kinda sus. Maybe English is a 2nd language. At least I hope thats why they call it a “pass thru” or say “to pass the audio to a DAC”.

    • Reply May 24, 2020

      Asta Mahendra

      Is it compatible with Samsung Galaxy S10?

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