When you move or shake the Coffee you will hear faint rattles. Nothing vital is loose, but the small button-type controls all make high-pitched clicky noises in their housings when the Coffee moves. I would prefer they were silent.
Timing is everything, both as it relates to clock jitter and product introductions. If I had reviewed the Coffee before the Audioengine D1, I would have undoubtedly named it my premier best-buy DAC for under $200, but after living with and reviewing the D1 I have to call the Coffee the second-best DAC I’ve heard in this price range.
Although the sonic differences between the Audioengine D1 and the Coffee were minor, with every playback software program except Audirvana Plus the Audioengine delivered better depth, dimensionality, and dynamic contrast than the Coffee. Only when I used Audirvana Plus with the Coffee were the differences between the two Dacs reduced to the point where in matched-level A/B test I could not hear any differences between them.
Using iTunes playback software the Coffee is pleasant, but not as dynamic as my reference DACs. I would describe the Coffee’s dynamics as grayish, lacking in both the macro-contrasts and the micro-subtleties. And while depth wasn’t completely absent, the spaces between instruments and the instruments themselves weren’t as well defined as through the Wyred4Sound DAC2 and my other reference DACs.
In my Mac-based system, I found Pure Music and Amarra software packages both improved the Coffee’s sonic performance by several magnitudes. While still not quite equal to my references, much of the haze between instruments vanished along with some of the grayish character to the dynamics. The Coffee did a first-rate job of preserving all the subtle phase cues on the Grateful Dead’s “Doin’ That Rag” from Aoxomoxoa [Rhino} that put Jerry’s vocals in three places at once.
I obtained the best sound from the Coffee DAC when it was coupled with Audirvana Plus playing 96/24 tracks. On my live recording of The Boulder Philharmonic performing Hansen’s 2nd Symphony the Coffee’s soundstage width and depth were nearly the equal of the Wyred4Sound DAC2, and identical to the Audioengine D1. Micro-dynamics were also equal the Audioengine D1 and Wyred4Sound DAC2.
The Coffee’s harmonic balance was very similar to my reference DACs. Bass extension was full and tight with excellent definition up into the lower midrange. The midrange was clean with no signs of grunge or added electronic grain. Treble renditions were relaxingly natural with no over emphasis or artificiality.
Listening through the Coffee’s built-in headphone amplifier I heard the same sonic personality as through the line outputs. As I mentioned earlier, the best volume match was with the AKG K701 headphones, which allowed the volume settings to stay above the point where resolution attenuation could occur. Imaging was almost as well delineated as through the April Music Eximus DP1’s headphone amplifier. The DP1 created a slightly larger soundstage with better dimensionality and focus than the Coffee, but the Coffee was equally grain-free and low-noise.
Listening to the new Punch Brothers album, Who’s Feeling Young Now [Nonesuch], with Audirvana Plus through the Coffee I was immediately impressed by its ability to retain detail regardless of the dynamic level. The first song, “Movement and Location” features a staccato pattern from the banjo that combines with the bass, fiddle, guitar and mandolin to form a pulsing rhythm not unlike trance music, but instead of electronica it’s orchestrated with well-recorded acoustic instruments. The Coffee preserves the pace and delicacy of the music and, except for some loss of depth and dynamics when compared directly to the Empirical Off-Ramp 4 and April Music Eximus DP1 DAC/pre combo, does a very musically convincing job decoding digits.
On my own recordings, especially the most recent live concert Boulder Philharmonic recordings, the Coffee sounded best with the 96/24 files that were created by AudioGate from the original DSD files. On Schubert’s 9th the opening horns have the same depth and brassy resonance through the Coffee as with the Empirical/April Music rig. At the beginning of the second movement, right before the music was set to begin, a motorcycle can be heard loudly shifting gears as it accelerates in the distance. The crowd chortled, and the music began. The Coffee doesn’t have quite as black a background as the Empirical/April music rig, so the motorcycle isn’t as easy to place or track as it moves away. Still, that it comes so close to such a good USB decoding engine and DAC is a tribute to the Coffee’s value.