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Small and perfectly formed, Paul Rigby takes a look at the diminutive E-DAC from Epiphany.
The specialised, independent Digital-to-Analogue convertor (DAC) has become one of the most popular hi-fi components on the market over the past few years. With the increase in popularity of digital music, DACs cater for those who appreciate that a better DAC can result in improved sound from CD for their main hi-fi. Others use external hi-fi DACs to improve their computer-sourced music.
Like any product that has infiltrated the market on a broad level, however, the DAC is starting to reach into niche areas. The Epiphany E-DAC has been created to fill one such niche, the mobile market. Well, luggable market. For music fans on the move, a laptop weighing them down, the E-DAC is intended to free them from ‘default’ headphone output misery.
Connecting to a laptop via the USB port, the E-DAC takes a “...bit-perfect output which has not been interfered with in any way by the computer or any cheap internal electronics. This gives you an ultimate starting point for the signal in the chain”, said Oliver Freeborn, proprietor of Epiphany Acoustics.
Freeborn is also happy that enough anti-jitter design has been integrated within the DAC so that, no matter what the quality of the USB is on the laptop, final sound quality will be high. The box, which spans a tiny 62x65x20mm, weighs in at a meagre 75g and arrives in any colour as long as its black. It has a mini-USB input socket which supplies power from its 5V internal line, plus a 3.5mm Line Out port. Made from brushed aluminium “it keeps the whole form factor small and light” said Freeborn.
The E-DAC is based upon the Tenor TE7022L USB receiver chip, supporting 24bit/96kHz and the ES9022 24bit DAC chip. “The DAC is one of the few that can get 24bits out of a USB, which is quite important because, when it comes to the computer and the USB output, if you’re playing around with the software volume control, you will lose bits. So, if you’ve got a 16bit DAC, you’re reducing the quality immediately. With this particular chip, you can afford to play around with the software volume control because you will still have an awful lot of bits left, feeding into the DAC and downwards into the system”.
As with the EHP-O2 portable headphone amplifier, the E-DAC has been designed by the anonymous NwAvGuy, whose full job is an electrical engineer. The relationship between this mysterious character and Epiphany is intriguing. “It’s a mutually agreeable arrangement. He designs it and I ship it. He has no commercial interest in it. He does not get anything from it; I don’t pay him any royalties,” said Freeborn.
NwAvGuy is quite an opinionated chap whose forceful views spark many a forum debate online. “I think the general impression that NwAvGuy has is that he’s not too thrilled with the current quality of hi-fi and the price at which it fetches. I don’t think that he is happy at how expensive it is, so he wants to shake things up a bit and show that here is something, for £100, that offers value and top sound quality. Why buy something similar for £2,000 or more?”
During the design, NwAvGuy was quite meticulous in his component selection. “He spent a lot of time looking at every single component on the board, measuring the performance and comparing nearly every single component with other brands, sizes and values. He refined the component choice very carefully, which is why it took so long to develop. He literally sat there, with the audio analyser, changing tiny things to see if the DAC sounded better for it. Moving a capacitor 2mm this or that way to see if it affected the sound”, said Freeborn.
Freeborn is already working on enhancements and accessories to and for the DAC. “What I am considering doing, if I can source the right adapters and cables, is to produce a USB cable where you can inject an alternative power supply”.
This future modification, possibly out by the end of the year, would include a split cable to allow the connection of an external transformer and would provide all power.
Another, more certain, future release is a 3.5mm to stereo RCA convertor cable to enable you to connect the DAC to a hi-fi, resident within your listening room. In the meantime you can get a 3.5mm to RCA phono output adaptor at Maplins that does this job.