It may not look like it, but the Korg DS-DAC-100’s attenuator appears to be digital. That means: channels are evenly matched even at the lowest setting. Jumps between volume settings are small, but sudden, and tick-less. Unfortunately, the lowest volume setting outputs a bit too much volume for a quiet bedside rig.
When turned all the way to the left, the volume is 100% off. Background hiss is grainless and even, and about as loud as a Lynx HILO, but less noisome than an original AK100. You will hear it through sensitive earphones, and barely through sensitive headphones like Grado’s PS2000e and GH-2.
Those niggles aside, there is little about which to complain. The KORG DS-DAC-100 really kicks it. It is free of major distortion at volumes as loud as an Astell&Kern AK70 which gets noticeably louder than a lynx HILO. That means the DS-DAC-100 can push 600Ω cans to above-average listening levels. It won’t get your ears to bleed though, although there is more to that story. At any volume, and under any load I’ve sent its way, it just rides on. There is no place it takes a notable hit.
KORG appear to have tuned its amp stage for pretty pedestrian stereo crosstalk. Load or no load, it bottoms out at about -70dB, or what the iPhone SE falls to under load. I’ve discussed benefits and pitfalls to this sort of tuning before. Essentially, its closes in the stereo spectrum, which can sound more natural to the ear. Some people prefer higher crosstalk. I fall both into and out of that camp. One of the reasons I love certain valve amps is that they bleed so much between channels that they practically evoke naked two channel audio. And yet, high crosstalk also tends to blur sharper stereo details. It’s a two edged sword. And the KORG DS-DAC-100’s 70dB straddles between blur and sharp. It’s the hardware version of the god-damned political centrist.
Everything else is exemplary. Neither frequency dips nor rises mar any audible surface. There’s hardly any jitter; and even under harsh loads, IMD and THD rise imperceptibly. You won’t get 120dB out of this thing in any metric, but you will artefact-free 107dB, which is a hell of a lot better than 99% of amps out there.
As long as you have a compatible KORG device plugged in, you can register Audio Gate. With this software, you can upsample any OS-compatible file to anything, from 44,1kHz all the way to DSD 5,6MHz. Audio Gate also gets music a good 6dB or more louder than iTunes or Quicktime, extending the DS-DAC-100’s utility to less sensitive headphones. That’s when the anomalies begin to show: obvious IMD rips and bubbles and ramping THD. Still, this an amazing value add. And if you really like your songs up-sampled, Audio Gate will record anything in its library at any upsampled option you’ve selected. Hell, you can take a 128kbps 16-bit MP3 and make a DSD file out of it. Cool beans I guess. I don’t hear anything different, but then again, I’ve already murdered an entire language.
This KORG is a touch warm-sounding, kind of like an iPhone 4s, but with a deeper z-axis feel to the mids and bass. If you like that sort of sound, but with no load effect, and all the crazy software features that come with Audio Gate, you should love what you hear.
The KORG DS-DAC-100 is a crazy good buy. It goes for peanuts. Its load agnostic performance has me reverent. It sounds good. It is bus powered, and its included software converts anything to DSD on the fly. It’s got the right connections, and each perform as well as they can. As far as I can tell, nothing in KORG’s engineering holds this thing back. Except those damn feet.
What Hi Fi have no idea what they are talking about. Amazon owners do. And, I am pretty sure that I do, too. This thing is freaking incredible. KORG DS-DAC-100!