Hot: No holding back on detail here, and add to this, an agile presentation with decent slam and weight. Neutral in tone and timbre, but unlike its ancestors, cannot be accused of being sterile. Yes, it can be captivating within the right system, while the filter choices allow fine tuning of certain nuances. With computer sourced music, the results are detailed, even pristine, well ahead of the mass-market USB DACs. The preamp is as fabulous, showing no fear with demanding speaker loads. In all, a resolute and competent performer, punching above its class. The flexibility factor is great on this one. Excellent display, to boot, that tells you what’s happening in the decoding process.
Cold: Filter options are excessive – too many choices will give indecisive users a headache. And outboard power supplies are so not cool.
Encore: The replacement for the legendary 8000DAC takes on desk-top dimensions and is obviously targeted at audiophiles dabbling seriously in computer audio shenanigans. It allows them to squeeze maximum performance – as far as possible at the price, perhaps a bit more – from their music files, without trying too hard. The onboard preamp means one more component less in the chain, so one or two cables less, which is always good news. A fine all-rounder.
Specs: 24/192 DAC with 32-bit ESS Sabre32 9018 chip / seven digital filters, onboard digital preamp, asynchronous USB input (which can be used to update software) / 4 digital inputs (2 coaxial/2 optical), 2 digital outputs (coaxial/optical) / 1 pair each of balanced and single-ended analogue outputs / half-sized chassis / outboard power supply, remote control / Dimensions: 59 x 250 x252mm (h/w/d), 5kg / Finish options: Black, silver