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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.