There simply isn’t anything that the SDAC doesn’t do well. The bass is tight. There is no bloat. There is a good amount of texture to it. The transition to the midrange is smooth; there are no broken toes here. Midrange is clean with enough body to stake out its claim, but not enough to stick out over the bass or treble. The treble is well extended, but without any harshness or tininess that can sometimes affect budget gear. It throws out a pretty nice sound stage; there is nothing claustrophobic here. Micro detail is very respectable. Voices really popped on this thing. There were moments that took my breath away, in spite of myself. I can imagine L yelling at me for not talking more about the sound here, but there isn’t much to say. The SDAC simply offers a clean window into the music. No muss. Little fuss. The SDAC is the real deal.
Switching over to the Matrix X-Sabre Pro ($1700 or 21x the price of the SDAC), you do notice an uptick in the sound. There is more body, especially in the treble. Micro detail is improved (this is probably the one area where the SDAC gives ground to its much more expensive counterparts, although it is quite good), and the sound as a whole is just bigger, more grand. The really telling part, however, is not that the SDAC does sound quite as good as the X-Sabre. It is that the emphasis should be on the word “quite”. When switching back to the SDAC, it takes the ear very little time to adjust back and, before you know it, you are simply enjoying your music. It really is something to hear. I will actually say that, with certain vocal music, my eternal muse Shirley Manson, per instance, I actually prefer the smooth, almost ethereal sound her voice takes with the SDAC over the presentation of the X-Sabre. The difference is subtle, but it is there.
When comparing the SDAC to the JDS Labs EL DAC (also very good), it comes down to apples and oranges. The EL DAC is a bit warmer, while the SDAC is more linear. The EL DAC has USB, Coaxial and optical inputs, while the SDAC is solely USB. The EL DAC is $249 while the SDAC is $79.99. It depends on what you are looking for, but if your bottom line is your pocket book…
I was talking with someone in the industry the other day on the topic of DACs. He mentioned that, with digital technology like it is, the difference between DACs is becoming vanishingly small. When dealing with DACs made by people who know what they are doing (Matrix, JDS Labs, and Grace Design certainly know their trade), the biggest difference is starting to be features, and not the sound quality itself. The fact that the SDAC can going 15 rounds with the X-Sabre Pro certainly bears that out.
Conclusion & Recommendation
So, now, to whom do I recommend the SDAC? Well, if you are on a tight budget and you need a USB DAC, this is beyond a no brainer. If you are looking for a second setup for work, or what have you, and you need something small, this is a great DAC for you. Just want to see what 80 bucks can do these days? Here you go. In fact, there are only two people who should not look at the SDAC: those who don’t use their computer for music, so have no need for a USB DAC. The other is those who already own a crazy expensive DAC, and don’t want to find out how close a DAC selling for peanuts can get to their high powered Schiit (that is intended as a pun, and not a comment about any of Schiit’s DACs, which I have not heard).
According to Christian, the next SDAC drop should be around mid to late December. So, keep your eyes on Massdrop. That’s what I call a Merry Christmas. Or Happy Chanukah as I am actually Jewish.
Chassis material: Anodized aluminum
DAC chip: AKM AK4452
Audio formats: Up to 24 bit/96 kHz
Frequency response, 20Hz–20 kHz: +/-0.02 dB
- THD+N at 20 Hz -0.15 dBFS: 0.0013%
- THD+N at 100 Hz, -0.15 dBFS: 0.0013%
- THD+N at 10 kHz, -0.15 dBFS: 0.0024%
IMD CCIF, -6.03 dBFS, 19/20kHz, 24/96k: 0.0005%
IMD SMPTE -6 dBFS, 24/96k: 0.0015%
Noise, A-weighted: -105 dBu
Dynamic range, A-weighted: >114 dB
Linearity, -90 dBFS: -0.07 dB
Crosstalk at 1 kHz, -10 dBFS (3.5mm jack): -102 dB
Sum of jitter components at 11,025 Hz, -1 dBFS: -133 dB
Maximum output: 2.15VRMS
USB controller: XMOS XU208-128-TQ64
Inputs: USB micro
Output: ⅛ in (3.5 mm) TRS, RCA
Power: USB Class 1 (no drivers required for Windows, Mac, or Linux)
Dimensions, L x W x H: 3.9 x 4.1 x 1.2 in (100 x 104 x 30 mm)
Length with RCA port: 4.2 in (105.5 mm)
Height with rubber feet: 1.4 in (34 mm)
Weight: 7.44 oz (210.8 g)