Review: KORG DS-DAC-100 – chop chop

Sound

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.

Phenomenal.

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.

End words

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!

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Back before he became the main photographer for bunches of audio magazines and stuff, Nathan was fiddling with pretty cool audio gear all day long at TouchMyApps. He loves Depeche Mode, trance, colonial hip-hop, and raisins. Sometimes, he gets to listening. Sometimes, he gets to shooting. Usually he's got a smile on his face. Always, he's got a whisky in his prehensile grip.

17 Comments

  • Reply June 13, 2017

    BigC

    Forget the naysayers, Nathan, keep up the great reviews. This Korg beast is a very interesting product, indeed. Can you run it from an android phone or a Chromebook or does it only mate with Windows and Mac OS?

    • Reply June 14, 2017

      ohm image

      As far as I understand, if you can power the unit from a USB splitter (mains), you can run it from iOS. I don’t have such a device, so I can’t say for sure. The DS-DAC-100m version runs straight from portable devices.

  • Reply June 13, 2017

    Minitt

    WhatHiFI and some major sites are just scam with no concern on consumer rights but only care about receiving fees from advertisers.

    Thanks for bringing this up to reveal some hidden cool budget device for the music-lovers.

    • Reply June 14, 2017

      ohm image

      This is one of the biggest hits among budget DACs I’ve ever encountered.

  • Reply June 14, 2017

    dale thorn

    Someone beat up on you for less-than-perfect English? Wow! I’m sure glad that nobody in this business ever criticizes me.
    /jk

    • Reply June 15, 2017

      ohm image

      It’s not the ‘beat up’ that bothers me- it’s that they didn’t point to a single thing. If you’re going to rant and rave about the murder of the English language, at least get together some examples of what specifically was murdered and why it hurts you so.

      I sent back a nice email.

  • Reply June 15, 2017

    Matti

    Hi Nathan,

    Seldom post here, nor do I even read that much audiosnob related stuff these days, but I’m a fan of your Ohm-Porridge blog, your vitriolic tweetstorms, and your comments that put em halfwits in their place over at DiaperReview…. oh, and also liked your Fauxtaku iMovie vids of that Cambo+GFX rig. Always dreamed of owning a technical camera to take ultra high-res stitched close-up images of driftwood. Reckon I could sell giga-prints of the most mundane textures for big wads of cash and call myself a fine-fart photog one day after I retire (or get retrenched, whichever comes first). The gullibility of the average Audeze or Focal Utopia buyer gives me hope.

    Just clicked the Headfonia bookmark today on a whim, and was surprised to see KORG stuff mentioned. I have the “mobile” version of this baby, the DS-DAC-100m along with the Phonon headphones they get recommended with (check the Korg website). Great combo. Punch well above their price-level to my ears. I don’t even use the Audiogate software for upsampling. Just straight up listening to files at their native resolution; usually either lossless redbook for my bandcamp purchases, or 320/mp3 for whatever mixes I get from SoundCloud.

    In terms of value, I reckon the KORG offerings are the audio equivalent of your command of the English language – Genre Busting.

    • Reply June 15, 2017

      ohm image

      Matti,

      I had no idea that anyone at all read my Twitter. Finding out that someone does, and that he sees my interchanges there as vitriolic, I’m flattered. That’s a word I strove to personify.

      The GFX and Cambo combo is good. Both are a little less good than what I previously used, but they work, and are much lighter. I think you’d have heaps of fun there.

      You have the KORG that I’m super interested in now. The non-m is amazing. But as you read, its feet suck. I will have to check out the m version as I think you’re onto something. Enjoy.

      • Reply June 10, 2019

        Pal

        You must check the box that the DAC came in because there are 3 disc-shaped pads to go under the spikes just like the spikes and pads designed for speakers. The pads are heavy so they prevent the DAC from sliding and scratching the surface when you touch it. You are using your KORG without those pads that is why are annoyed with those feet.

  • Reply June 15, 2017

    phantomrunner9999

    Given you are a photographer, some professional criticism, your DOF is terrible on your photos. Nice technical shots, but you would be better taking photos further away with a longer lense, you can then get more of the device in focus. Your review is ok, but not a audiphreak review. Thanks for the try anyhow.

    • Reply June 15, 2017

      ohm image

      Phantomrunner9999

      Just so you know, I rarely, if ever take photos for reviews that are anything other than snapshots. All I do is get them in focus and shoot, like a normal person. It isn’t my design to get more of anything into focus. I just want to snap it. Now if you think that your advice is new or helpful, you need to try harder.

      You’re right about this: I’m not an audiophreak and try not to write for or to audiophreaks.

  • Reply July 12, 2017

    Michael

    A very nice write-up! But, do you think it is a fair comparison to iPhone… How about budget DACs like Dragonfly, mDSD, HRT microstreamer etc? I’d simply like to get the idea of this product’s class/league.

  • Reply April 30, 2018

    Graziano Lagori

    Hi there from France ! I purchased this DAC on Amazon.com for abt. $200 including shipping and taxes to my location in France, on July-2017.
    Primarily, I was attracted by the idea to get – within the same package : “one piece of hardware – the DAC, with it’s dedicated audio player – the AudioGate player”. All from a manufacturer with a solid reputation in the music gear businesses.
    I am not aware of any other manufacturer who’s offering the same package, at least within a reasonable budget …
    It is a mistake to consider this Korg DS-DAC-100 as a stand-alone D/A converter, it makes much more sense to consider the whole package with the dedicated AudioGate player, as Korg designed it with that very specific goal.
    If you are – as I am, a Linux user, the only drawback of this product is that you’re forced to use it on a Windows or on a MAC OS machine. It is not seen by any of the Linux distribution neither by head-less Daphile distribution. Unfortunately, Korg does not offer the Linux driver package for this DAC.
    However, I was delighted by the overall performance after testing the package Korg DS-DAC-100 + AudioGate in comparison with my other system Nuprime DAC-9 + Linux/alsa, so I decided to keep this little Korg, installing it in parallel to the Linux/Nuprime route onto my dual-boot machine. (W7 Pro/Linux)
    Ultimately, the Korg AudioGate player offers you the peace of mind your digital stream is solidly and consistently a bit-perfect one, I do not have the same feeling with other players …
    The value for money is terrific for the invested budget of $200 !!!

  • Reply September 17, 2018

    Alberto Alfieri

    Why only three stars if you love this DAC?Just wondering..

    • Reply September 18, 2018

      ohm image

      We don’t give stars here. That’s the rating of this review, which, I think is a bad system, but which we are wedded to.

      • Reply September 18, 2018

        Lieven

        Yes, I’m against giving gear scores. Sorry

  • Reply December 27, 2019

    Brian H.

    Great write up- I truly enjoyed it. I’ve owned my Korg DS-DAC-100 for nearly 3 years now and love it more and more, everyday. It was one of the best audio purchases I’ve ever made when it was in the ~$130 range on Amazon, back in 2017 (see my review, there). It’s a great value.

    P.S. I echo the previous mention about looking in the box for the small brass discs which help prevent the sharp brass cone feet from traveling across your tabletop. They work great and add to the overall look.

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