Pro-Ject DacBox E D/A converter

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In the Summer of 2016, maybe because I needed to listen to a higher quantity of different tracks since I resumed playing guitar in a band, I started to use liquid music more. The main source was – brace yourself – YouTube! I already had an Apple TV 3 mainly for watching Netflix or iTunes movies. But the audio that went out from the HDMI interface entered my Philips TV set, which converted it to analog for my Unison Research Moood‘s line input. Well, not much HiFi there…

So I thought about a DAC unit where to hook up both the optical digital out of the Appe TV and the spdif from the Oppo player. The TV set has a spdif digital out that would also come handy at times. Furthermore, I would have started to try some streaming audio offers like Spotify, of which I was a free subscriber. I used it mainly to understand if I was really interested in buying a CD or vinyl record. But if you need this, you can find anything on YouTube. And the audio quality sometimes is more than I expected. This got me thinking…

We in the band exchange Youtube links on Whatsapp in order to evaluate which tracks to cover. We can create useful payilists for that. Very handy. With a D/A Converter I could have improved even this mode of listening, which I was increasingly using. Maybe even the CD playback would have enjoyed a more modern DAC, not just the streaming from Spotify or from my old iPhone through the Apple TV…

pro-ject-dac-boxSFLRearA guy like me, who makes a point about how it is better to listen to vinyl records, is now thinking about streaming compressed audio from a smartphone? Come on! Actually, the idea to have all the available music at my fingertips for 10 euros a month was enticing. I could have saved money on the DAC’s wifi feature since I don’t need one, having an Appe TV. How bad could its optical out be?

I opted for something from Europe or USA, leaving out a USB input too, since as of now I only need to improve the audio from the Apple TV. But I also have an Apple MacBook, which has a digital optical output for my first real liquid music attempts. A spdif/USB adaptor can be purchased later. I went for the cheapest unit possible with those characteristics and I found the Pro-Ject DacBox E – just a toslink and a spdif input. That’s all I need. The ony annoying fact is that the default input is the optical one. Once it is engaged, it is impossible to switch to the coaxial input. You need to restart the DAC (unplug and plug back) or disconnect the optical input. I’ve told you, the cheapest DAC with a pedigree: no switches, nor indicators, not even on/off ones!

The conversion is carried out by a Texas Instruments unit with Cirrus Logic chips allowing to handle files up to 24 bit/192 KHz (only from the coaxial spdif input). The “low-noise” circuitry,  the SMD components and the internal metal screening, all concur to achieving an enjoyable sound. Bought on Mediaword for just 85 euros…

Comparing the audio streaming from iPhone with Apple Music or Spotify to the Oppo player all hooked to the DAC unit did not alow me to perceive many differences. Spotify uses 320 Kbps Ogg Vobis conversion and I think that the DacBox upsamples by default to 96 KHz, while the Apple TV is said to force it to 48 KHz. At the end of the day I can’t tell much between Spotify or a CD! I am pretty amazed and as of now I don’t see the reason of spending money for CDs! Crazy! The point is finding out the best sounding system between Spotify and Apple Music.  I figure that with a better DAC and streaming from the MacBook – avoiding the Apple TV -would give me more insights. But the point is not the actual high fideilty listening here; we’re talking about casual, occasional listening: once back home, just send the audio from the iPhone to the Apple TV. The DAC will do the rest. Easy and handy. It depends on what you want to do or what you can afford. I actually prefer objects I can touch. CDs cost less every day, but vinyl records of the same album can have an insane double price or even more. Downloading HD audio files may cost like a CD or more. If you buy more than 120 quid of albums each year, you should consider a streaming service. Double that and you can consider Tidal or Qobuz, who offer HD streaming (or at least at plain CD specs). With more than 3 million tracks instantly available, it should be easier to discover new music every day. Or is it….?

Next buy: a Network Player?