Over the past several years there has been a quite explosive proliferation of good, small, affordable DACs, many offering USB connections so that they could serve as playback vehicles for digital audio files stored on computers. I’ve heard a fair number of products of this kind, and felt that many seemed worthy and offered decent value. Even so, my take on most super-budget-DACs has been that while many offered sonic goodness (a fine thing in its own right), few managed—how shall I put this?—to reach out and seize the brass ring of sonic greatness. But that was before I met Musical Fidelity’s $299 V-DAC: the little DAC that could.
Let me perfectly honest with you. The V-DAC looks a fair amount like one of those well intended but cheesy science kits you might find at a Radio Shack store. We’re talking about a product that arrives in a plastic blister-pack and that is housed in a matte black metal can with no faceplate, no trim, no adornments except for a silkscreened logo and a few labels, and just two skinny rubber strips stuck on the bottom to serve as feet. Pretty, it is not, unless you happen to be into minimalist chic. But if, like me, you feel that beauty is as beauty does, then the V-DAC is quite lovely indeed, thank you very much. As one Musical Fidelity spokesperson put it, “Isn’t it nice to know you’re buying a product where all the money goes into components inside the chassis?”
A Frame of Reference
I’ve used Musical Fidelity’s multi-thousand dollar kW SACD player as my digital reference for the past several years, and it has served me well. The player has a lavishly detailed and neutrally balanced sound that is dynamically alive, and it offers both tube and solid-state output stages. Although I haven’t heard everything out there, I’ve always felt my kW SACD player was one of the best options available in its class; to beat it, I reckoned, I would need to look at players from Meitner/EMM Labs, Wadia, or (cha-ching!) from dCS—all of which are way out of my price league. So, I’ve stuck with my trusty kW and used it as a frame of reference in evaluating various DACs and high-end disk players. And while I have, over the course of doing many product reviews, encountered a number of very good digital sources, I’ve also found that few if any of them offered the kW much serious sonic competition—until now.
Modest Looks, Great Sound
The Musical Fidelity V-DAC will be reviewed in Playback issue 20, and since I hope you’ll read that review I’d rather not give away all the secrets just now. But let me give you this hint: the V-DAC comes closer to equaling the sound of the big kW SACD player than any other digital source component I’ve tried (including other, more costly Musical Fidelity DACs). That’s pretty amazing given that the V-DAC is also the least expensive DAC I’ve ever connected to my system.
What’s really neat is that the V-DAC is not only affordable but also versatile (it provides TOSLINK, Coax, and USB inputs with a USB/Coax selector switch), and is a 24-bit/192kHz upsampler that cites very strong signal/noise specs. If you’ve craved the sound of a multi-thousand dollar CD player but couldn’t come up with the scratch, Musical Fidelity’s $299 V-DAC just might be your ticket to ride.