Bigger Sound

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As a tinkerer and gadget lover, I couldn’t not be an aspiring audiophile too. Though, when the term ‘audiophile’ is thrown around, it conjures up some lofty, expensive, snobby impressions sometimes. (BTW, someone had a JBL Paragon on Portland Craigslist the other day, listed for $20,000.) I’m all for clean, beautiful sound, but I tend to look at these things differently – as part aesthetics-loving designer, part bargain hunter. I think the best deals in audio equipment should be attainably priced, and deliver a noticeable improvement in listening quality. That’s what we all want, right? When you’ve spend hard-earned money on something, you want to seriously notice an improvement.

Anyway, all of this brings me to a couple reviews of some inexpensive, yet high quality audio goods. This post is about the NuForce uDAC-2, and later on – I have one planned for my Cambridge phono pre-amp.

So, what is a DAC? DAC stands for digital audio converter. When you have music files on your computer, they are probably MP3 or similar format. MP3s are compressed, so you lose quality of the recording to get a much smaller file – so you can fit more of them on your portable devices. Which is fine… but when you have decent headphones, you’re going to hear a difference in quality. As your computer plays digital files, before coming out of your headphone jack, it has to convert them to an analog signal. Inside your computer is a tiny, and not terribly accurate, DAC. What an external DAC gives you is much cleaner, more accurate representation of the music, and even makes low-quality files sound much better.

Why do I need a DAC? Well, no one really NEEDS this crap, right? But, if you’re inclined to pay for better sound, this makes sense if you listen to a lot of music from your computer and have a quality set of headphones. (Mine are Grado SR60s, by the way.) Most of my audio files are MPEGs and AAC files from the iTunes store, and when I’m working, they are playing from my MacBook Pro. The NuForce DAC also has RCA outs, so you can easily plug it into your home stereo input as well. They do make a cheaper version with just a headphone mini-jack out, but I thought RCAs would give more versatility.

Well, what’s the result? Upon purchasing, I was still slightly skeptical, but was really hoping it would live up to the good reviews. When I got it, I plugged it in and started listening. Immediately I could tell a difference. Recordings sounded more detailed, cleaner, with a bigger soundstage than before. (‘bigger soundstage?‘ That sounds pompous.) What I mean, is that there seems to be more definition in the instruments… a analogy would be to think of how your favorite band would sound crammed together in your bathroom – and then think about how they would sound while playing in Nigel Godrich’s basement*.

What is the lesson here? You obviously don’t NEED this item, but if you like gadgets and crave good sounding music, it’s definitely worthy. Comparing its $129 price tag to the amount of time spent listening to music at my desk, I don’t regret it one bit.

*yes, I know it’s not his personal basement.

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8 Responses to “Bigger Sound”

  1. Dusty says:

    This looks like an amazing blog! Unfortunately, I can’t read the text at all. It looks like you’re using some CSS to try to show adelle-1, but it’s just really choppy and broken on my screen. I thought I would give you a heads up about this, because I’m probably not the only one having a hard time reading your blog.

    Thanks, and I look forward to being able to read your posts!

    -Dusty

  2. MMP says:

    Dusty, really appreciate your comment. I’ve heard of this problem with another friend’s computer… which was nearly the same setup as mine… so I’m not sure what is exactly happening, but thanks for bringing it up. Do you mind letting me know what your setup/OS/browser is? Are you behind a company firewall maybe? Thanks!

  3. Dusty says:

    Windows XP, Firefox 3.6, 1920×1200 LCD monitor, behind company firewall but have never experienced this problem on any other website.

    I’m a web developer too, so just let me know if you need any help. You might just want to try a different font. You have my email address via this post.

    -Dusty

  4. Oni says:

    Great and informative post. Also, your website is awesome! Looking forward to delving more into it. Cheers and best!
    ps- I had a NuForce Icon for about 1.5yrs and loved it- then recently, it suddenly failed! Just ordered an Audioengine N22 to replace it.

  5. dan says:

    nice site… I too am having the same issue with type on your site… Windows 7, Chrome 8.0.552.237, 1920 x 1200 resolution.

    Dan

  6. i too am at 1920 x 1200 so that might be something to do with the issue
    its still legible.. just a bit difficult to read and hard on the eyes
    it looks like i took an image with writing on it into photoshop and shrunk it down a little too far and thus some parts of the letters disappear

    aside from that… very cool blog
    i hit this page first, but have perused some of the rest
    some very cool / interesting stuff

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