Disclaimer: The Massdrop X Grace Design SDAC is a Massdrop X product and it was sent to us for this review. The unit doesn’t need to be returned.
I have said it many times before, but it always bears repeating. The only thing better than good sounding gear, is inexpensive, good sounding gear. I love a good deal, and so should you. Someone else who loves a good deal is Christian Tanimoto of Massdrop. You may have noticed some Alex Cavalli designed amps on Massdrop as of late, going for a fraction of what Cavalli amps usually go for. He put that together (and I can guarantee a review on one of them, likely both). The strategy seems to be to get well-known companies to design products for the audiophile community, and then send the designs off to the Massdrop factories, where they can be made cheaper, and in only the quantities that have been ordered. That keeps the prices way down. He has other goodies coming down the pipeline. All budget based audiophiles should keep your eyes on Massdrop.
Massdrop X Grace Design SDAC
Today, we are looking at the Massdrop X Grace Design Standard DAC (we will just call it the SDAC for short). As the name implies, it was designed by Grace Design, makers of the M920 DAC/amp (and the similar M9xx also a Massdrop exclusive, reviewed here. The SDAC drops for the price of $79.99 (remember that price). This is as simple a product as you are likely to come across. This is straight forward, plug and play USB DAC; and that is plug and play on any system, even PC. Of course, that means it will only decode up to 96/24. If DSD is your thing, you will need to make other arrangements. For folks like us, however, who do not belong to the church of DSD, this possess no real issue.
The build and look are as simple as the setup (and I love simple, btw). In look and form, it bears some resemblance to the Resonessence Labs Concero HD, and that is not bad company to keep. Like the Concero, the Grace Design SDAC is a little black box made out of aluminum, although, unlike the Concero, which is machined out of a solid block, the SDAC is made in parts and screwed together (the screws are visible). The Concero is also built thicker and is much heavier. Of course, the Concero HD is more than 10x the cost of the SDAC. On its own terms, the build of the DAC is quite admirable for its asking price
As I am sure you have noticed, the SDAC is not much to look at. It isn’t sleek, or masculine or sexy. It’s plan. Some may say it looks boring. I would say I don’t care. How the box looks doesn’t matter one bit, so long as the build is solid. It is what the box does that matters. Honestly, when squeezing a DAC in at a very low price point, something has to give; and, in choosing to forgo a flashy appearance, they chose right.
Turning the SDAC to the back, we find a USB micro input, a 3.5mm output and an RCA output. I admit I would prefer a regular sized USB port, but micro it is here, and it will be coming with its own cable, so, if you are like me and don’t have USB micro cables lying around everywhere, you are covered. The 3.5mm output is there, specifically, so the SDAC can be stacked with Massdrop’s own O2 amp. The SDAC is actually intended to be Massdrop’s replacement for their ODAC, which recently had some parts go extinct. Of course, the 3.5mm out can be used to connect the SDAC to any amp that uses that size for an input, but it was designed with the O2 in mind. I am sure you all remember what big O2 fans we were around Headfonia… The RCA outs are just that. Not sure what else you would expect me to say. Like everything else on the SDAC, everything feels solid, simple and well designed.
So now, plug the USB cable into the DAC and the USB port on your computer, and you are good to go. Now, we get to the make it or break it point of any audio equipment, the sound quality.
Design & Value
I am also including a link to where designer Michael Grace goes into greater detail about the design of the SDAC. I thought about including it all in this review, but it would have made it too unwieldly. https://www.massdrop.com/buy/massdrop-x-grace-design-standard-dac/talk/1862815
This is where budget items really have it difficult. We can easily get past it if an inexpensive DAC isn’t all that good looking, or if it doesn’t have the extra features of the thousand dollar DACs, but no such leeway can be given with the sound quality. If it doesn’t sound good, who cares how inexpensive it is? Even if we apply that “decent for the price” filter, it can be hard to get excited. “Oh sure,” you say, “the SDAC sounds good for the price,” but is that something we are really going to jump at? Features and build can be only “good enough”, but why put money toward something if the sound is only “ehhhh”? That will not be an issue here, as the SDAC sounds good. Really good. Really really good. In fact, if you want to apply the “for the money” sound quality standard, it goes from really good, to beyond classification.
Curious to how it sounds? Then click HERE or use the jump below to switch to the next page