Review: Massdrop X Grace Design SDAC

Sound

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.

Specifications

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)

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8 Comments

  • Reply November 9, 2017

    dale thorn

    I used to buy from Massdrop, but they allowed or encouraged abusive trolling to the point that I don’t trust them anymore. If they had moderated their trolls properly, they could have had a Net Promoter instead of a lost customer.

  • Reply November 10, 2017

    Chris O'Brien

    So annoying that Massrop is just a US thing.

    • Reply November 10, 2017

      Dave

      They do offer international shipping, on some things at least. Although, not free.

  • Reply November 10, 2017

    Alan Kirschbaum

    Can’t wait for mine to arrive, in time for Chanukah!! I’m using a dragonfly black, that doesn’t appear to like being put in a coat pocket. So having a permanent desktop DAC will be nice.

    Yes trolls abound on Massdrop. That said I’ve received some excellent advice from the community.

    • Reply November 10, 2017

      Dave

      You will have to stop by after you get it and let us know what you think. What other gear will you be using it with?

      • Reply November 11, 2017

        Alan Kirschbaum

        I’m enjoying my HD 6XXs with the DFB as my DAC, a jitterbug and a littledot 1+ with Voskhod tubes and a burson V5i opamp. I’ve listened to the 6XXs with the DFB alone and with the littledot. The littldot has a wonderful warm sound and is more transparent since adding the burson opamp. It will be interesting to hear the difference between the DACs as they are pretty close in price. The DFB hasalso been a constant companion on the go with my amperiors and of late with my massdrop x nuforce EDCs (nice). It was and continues to be money well spent.

        • Reply November 11, 2017

          Dave

          Like I said, the difference in DACs is shrinking. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

          Your mention of Chanukah got me thinking of a Menorah that uses vacuum tubes. What do you get the Jewish audiophile who has everything? It’s the only way to enjoy the festival of lights!

          • Reply December 17, 2017

            Alan Kirschbaum

            It’s been a good Chanukah. I got my Magni 3 and SDAC this week. I’ve been a good boy. I was enjoying the Magni 3 with my DFB very much. Very different from the littledot1+, more detail, more punch, bass was a bit deeper. But I found that I was jumping around and not really listening to one song. While I’m just listening to the SDAC for the first time, I find it to be more natural and engaging than the DFB. Great combination with my HD 6XXs. I anticipate a lot of listening over the holidays, so more thoughts to come.

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