Stoner Acoustics UD120: The Mini DAC

Sound

 

Don’t be expecting miracles of a unit this size and price but do not underestimate the power and sound quality of the Stoner Accoustics UD120.

The UD120 is quite the improvement over the UD100. That last one didn’t do anything wrong but the music wasn’t the most exciting to listen to. With the UD120 you get a bigger sound stage, more detail, more musicality, better imaging and better dynamics.

The sound stage still isn’t the biggest but it has no problems competing with the Fiio E10K in that area. It’s sounding les aggressive as the UD100 as well, hence me calling it more musical and smooth sounding. Overall the UD120 is pretty neutral and clear sounding with a touch of smooth. It’s not the most neutral and analytical DAC implementation and everything stays musical and easy to listen to.

There’s no real focus on the bass or treble and I find it to be a good linear DAC. Some have reported the mids to be a bit withdrawn but I can’t really agree to that. Mids have good body just like the bass section. Another big point of improvement over the UD100 is the treble. With the latest version it’s nice and soft and a lot less aggressive than on the UD100. At the same time it’s not the most extended and detailed and I don’t think the real treble fans will love this mini DAC. You just can’t please everyone.

Comparisons

You might have realized the UD120 scores incredibly well for its price and size but it is no giant killer. No one expects it to be one either. It does sound better than the outdated (?) UD100 and it certainly sounds as good as the Fiio E10K. The big advantage the E10K has is that it has a built in amplifier with a gain setting and a bass boost switch. And that for only $6 USD more than the UD120. Again, that doesn’t say anything bad about the UD120, that says more about Fiio’s incredibly price/quality ratio, it’s almost too good to be true.

As I explained in the sound part, the UD100 can’t touch the UD120. The new unit beats it on all fronts with more detail, a bigger sound stage, more clarity less aggressivity and especially more musicality.

Compared to my favorite on the go DAC, the Resonessence Labs Herus it still is quite a bit behind. Sound stage, detail retrieval and musicality are so much more better but at 7 times the price of the UD120 it would be a shame if it wasn’t.

The Geek Out 450 I have here is on loan from Headsound.de. I won’t be doing a full review of it (I should have sent it back already) but I have to say this little thing is pretty neat! It’s tiny, it’s an amp/dac combo and it produces good sound. Technically this unit is way ahead of the UD120 and it does a lot more sampling rates, DSD included. I do think the 450 sounds even more neutral and I’m missing the musicality in the end. It’s a very tight and fast sounding unit. Personally I’m not the biggest fan of the sound signature though. Oh, and it gets even warmer than the UD120.

The way more expensive CypherLabs Picollo, like the Herus, is playing in another league. Of all the smaller sized DACs I have, the Herus and the Picollo are my favorite ones. Superb clarity, detail and a wide and deep sound stage while remaining musical and dynamic. The UD120 isn’t there yet but who knows…maybe a future UD1X0 will really put these units to the test.

Conclusion

To get the UD120 working you need to install a driver if you’re on a Windows PC. Once that’s done you’re ready to go. Remember to not plug in your headphones to the 3.5mm plug directly, unless you have a desire to go deaf quickly.

The tiny UD120 does a really good job and for the minimal price of $69 you will always get better sound than the onboard sound card of your laptop or desktop. I can quite enjoy using the UD120 on a daily basis at the office but each time I switch back to the Herus in example, I do hear the lift in sound quality immediately. The UD120 sounds really good however and to me the biggest contender is the Fiio E10K, and you all know how much we love that little unit.

Because I have a lot of DACs I don’t tend to use the UD100/120 in my setups unless I’m testing something specific. To me it however is very useful to let people who are not occupied with personal audio, experience the difference such a little device in their setup can make. Each and every one I borrowed my UDs to admits their sound got lifted to a higher level and that is exactly why Stoner Acoustics, and the UD120 specifically, is a success.

More info on the UD120 can be found on the Stoner website and their Facebook page. To order a unit you will have to get in touch by email but their customer service is excellent. I tried.

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

19 Comments

  • Reply November 18, 2014

    Erik Wijnands

    Nice comparison! I have both in use as well. I really like the UD120 because of the more “professional” build quality and the included 3.5mm connector. I can’t say the sound differences are night and day though. It really depends on the headphone I’m using. I’m still trying to make it work on my phone, but I’m running a custom Android rom so it still needs some tinkering. Would make a great portable DAP if I get the UD120 working flawlessly. 🙂

    • Reply December 3, 2014

      ktan90

      Hi Erik,

      Just got my hands on a UD120. My first DAC ever, but the sound is simply amazing! What phone & custom ROM are you using? I have a spare rootable phone lying around so I’d love to get this onto a portable device.

  • Reply November 18, 2014

    hansi91

    very interesting! I am mostly listening to music on a macbook air going into a harman/kardon amp with two nice canton speakers. Would a DAC even increase the soundquality between the laptop and the amp and and how does my amp deal with the much higher input from the DAC then? sorry for this very unprofessional question but maybe you can help me out…

    • Reply November 19, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      A DAC will always improve the SQ. Don’t worry about the power. Didn’t Dale reply to this or did I dream he replied?

      • Reply November 19, 2014

        hansi91

        then you were dreaming 😉 you think in this case which is like a classic setup – will the improvement be worth the 70 bugs?

        • Reply November 19, 2014

          dalethorn

          A small USB-powered DAC that drives headphones might not make a worthwhile improvement over a Macbook Air – hard to tell. Even harder to tell through speakers. If the speakers have their own amps with volume control and use the Line Out of the DAC, then most of the improvement would be lost in the cables and the lower quality speaker amps. If you use the DAC to output to a good speaker amp which powers non-powered speakers, you have a chance of improving quality, but keep the USB cable very short, and the DAC-to-amp interconnect very short also. Then there’s the speaker cables – much loss potential there.

          • Reply November 20, 2014

            hansi91

            ok thanks! i a have a really really nice old harman/kardon HK1200 and two non powered 70s speakers. when reading what you say I am wondering for which setups the UD120 is actually the real deal…?

            • Reply November 20, 2014

              dalethorn

              Trial and error. But whatever the case, you’ll find that the cables from source to DAC, cables from DAC to amp, and cables from amp to speakers, will have 10 times more effect on the sound than any improvement from the DAC. In my system I set the laptop, the Microstreamer DAC, and the amp all together, so the cable to the DAC is about 6 inches long, and the cable from the DAC’s Line Out to the amp is also 6 inches long (and very high quality), so there’s an absolute minimum of quality lost between the computer and the amp. I’m not sure if the UD120 has a true Line Out, or whether it’s simulated in software.

              • Reply November 20, 2014

                hansi91

                thanks for your detailed reply!
                then probably the E10k makes more sense with a true line out…

                • Reply November 20, 2014

                  dalethorn

                  The E10k is good if you like that style of box and volume control. A good flat box with digital control is the E07k.

                  • Reply November 20, 2014

                    hansi91

                    I am just really wondering if the SQ of a macbook air (2014) can be increased substantially by a USB powered DAC but if you don’t have a macbook air you probably can hardly tell…

                    • November 20, 2014

                      dalethorn

                      I have a Macbook Pro Retina, and I did have 2 of the Air’s. The sound can be improved slightly, but it can be subtle if you’re not experienced in finding the differences. The Macbooks have a big, spacious sound – very unlike the narrow and more constricted (by comparison) sound of their i-devices. But part of that big spacious sound is the “enhancements” made by iTunes. Some of the better more expensive players get a more accurate sound, where the DAC does the most good.

  • Reply November 19, 2014

    Vaibhav Pisal

    can you tell me where audinst hud mini dac stand compared to ud120?

    can I use it in future if I make a better setup like crack or other good SS amp?

    • Reply November 19, 2014

      Headfonia_L.

      Couldn’t tell sorry

    • Reply November 19, 2014

      dalethorn

      With a choice of op-amps, you could probably do better with the Hud Mini.

      • Reply November 20, 2014

        Vaibhav Pisal

        i switched to BB 2134. Its improvements across the board. but I think its for amp stage.

        I want to know about dac.

        • Reply November 20, 2014

          dalethorn

          I really like the Audioengine D3 and the HRT Microstreamer as DACs, especially the Microstreamer since the headphone jack is separate from the Line Out. These are less than $200, and have good electronics.

          • Reply November 20, 2014

            Vaibhav Pisal

            ok cool.

            by the way if anyone prefers dark sound (by that i mean pitch black) and on a budget, i recommend hud mini with bb2134

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