The Digital and Analog Company, Limited hails from Korea. They began to make products for the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) market in 1999. In 2008 D&A began to branch out by making products under the brand name Calyx. The Coffee USB Dac represents D&A’s latest thinking on what should go into a high-value, under $200, stand-alone DAC. Is it an industry leader for the under $200 price-range? Almost…
• High-quality one-piece compact DAC
• ESS Technology ES9023 24-bit, 96 kHz-capable stereo DAC chipset
• Asynchronous USB input
• Unit is USB-powered (meaning no other outboard power supply is required)
• Includes a headphone amp through mini-plug jack
• Has a variable line-level preamp with one pair of RCA analog outputs
• Function buttons: VOLUME, MUTE, PLAY, PREVIOUS, NEXT
• Solid aluminum billet chassis
The Coffee claims to be plug and play, and both my ancient Dell D-620 laptop and Mac Pro Desktop computers recognized the Coffee instantly. The Apple Midi Control showed the Coffee supports 8, 16, 32, 44.1, 48, and 96 kHz sampling rates with bit depths of either 16 or 24 bits. All the playback programs I regularly use—iTunes, Amarra, Pure Music, AudioGate, and Audirvana, worked without any glitches or issues.
The Audirvana Plus playback software ($50) offered several unique features that enhanced Coffee’s overall performance. These features included the option for disabling Apple’s Spotlight indexing, Time Machine back-ups, and USB device detection while Audirvana is playing music. I noticed an immediate reduction in low-level background noise and electronic texture when these background processes were turned off. Much of my critical listening was done through Audirvana Plus because of the performance boost when mated with the Coffee.
Unlike the Audioengine D1, which uses its own internal driver, the Coffee relies on a standard operating system driver (but labeled Coffee in the audio devices list) and unlike the Audioengine D1, which occasionally was not recognized upon wake-up from sleep mode, the Coffee was rock-solid throughout the review period with no glitches, odd sounds, or other “magic moments.”
The Coffee can control the playback volume via a + and – buttons on its top panel. The top also has buttons for mute, fast-forward and reverse, and skip forward and backward. Unlike DACs, which have internal circuits to perform these functions, the Coffee accesses a playback program’s computer-based controls. The buttons worked successfully with all the playback programs I normally use. Since volume reduction is done in software, I did notice some reduction in detail and dynamics when the levels were reduced by more than four steps (50% level approximately) via the system volume level slider.
The Coffee’s case is made of a solid piece of aluminum billet, so it weighs substantially more than most cigarette pack-sized DACs I’ve held. The added weight makes it less likely to be pushed and pulled around your desktop by large interconnects. But the disadvantage is that if you pack it with your portable, you may notice its extra weight. I originally planned to take the Coffee on a recent trip, lifted it, and went traveling with a lighter-weight DAC.
The Coffee has two choices for outputs—a pair of single-ended RCA connections and a mini-jack headphone connection. The RCA outputs are spaced far enough apart that all the larger diameter cables in my collection, including even the Synergistic Galileo interconnects, fit without any problems. The mini-jack headphone connection is located between the two RCA connectors. If you use large diameter interconnects you may find it difficult, or in extreme cases, impossible, to connect headphones that require an adapter from mini-jack to 1/4 “ phone jack in the space left between the two interconnect cables.
When you plug in a headphone to the Coffee it automatically mutes the RCA outputs. For most computer audio set-ups this is a desirable feature. But if you want to use a subwoofer or second set of speakers with the Coffee, you will have to use an external preamp with multiple outputs since the Coffee will only deliver one pair of outputs at a time.
The Coffee’s headphone amp delivered adequate output to drive all the headphones and earbuds I tried to more than satisfying volume levels. With high-sensitivity earbuds, such as the Ultimate Ears In Ear Reference Monitors, the ideal volume level required turning down the volume to a point where some attenuation of source resolution could occur. The AKG K701 mated with the Coffee especially well, with normal listening levels set at a high enough level to insure no resolution losses.