Sony UDA1S USB DAC Amplifier REVIEW

$899.95

4.5 Stars

Sony’s wee ‘high resolution’ amplifier punches well above its bantamweight, according to Steel.

DACSONY HASN’T EXACTLY concentrated its energies on developing or marketing audiophile products, but I’m still surprised at the lazy yawn that seems to have greeted its new line of ‘high resolution’ gear.

Nominally introduced late last year, the UDA1S USB DAC Amplifier – Sony really do need some creative minds to come up with some catchy names – got a resounding thumbs down when I put up a photo on Facebook. Commenters seemed to think it was merely a cheap desktop system, and it has indeed been harnessed by many (with matching speakers) for that very job.

But the thing is, despite its fairly ordinary looks (although, ‘in the flesh’ as it were, the DAC amp does look shinier and more svelte and attractive than it does in photographs) the UDA1S actually has a few sonic surprises up its metaphorical sleeves.

Despite its small form factor (225 x 74 x 262 mm), the DAC amp weighs in at a reasonably solid 4kg, and the finish (including very solid speaker terminals – banana plugs!) is further indication that with this device is pitched at a market populated by tech-spec’d apartment-dwellers with aspirant audio intentions.

Sony supplied me with a pair of its SSHA3S Hi-Res Speakers ($599), which don’t look like much, but when matched with the DAC amp, sing a sweet symphony. These speakers have WD super tweeters and a Mica Reinforced Cellular (MRC) 100mm woofer. They look far better without the rather flimsy grill, but with the protruding tweeters, they’re best kept away from young children and curious cats.

The DAC amp puts out only 23 watts of power (into 4 Ohm) so it needs an efficient speaker, and with the SSHA3S, I never had to jack up the volume knob too high to get to the required volume. That said, this is hardly the system if you want screeds of power, or if your preferred style of music is dubstep.

2_UDA1SI mostly had the Sony set up in my medium-size bedroom, and I loved its musicality, and its ability to take the elements of a song and render them in such a way that it felt right. I’m not making any great claims for its accuracy, or detail, but music always sounded like music through the Sony amp and speakers, whether I was playing hi-res, FLAC, Apple Lossless or compromised internet radio files: Sony has come up with something called DSEE to make low-bitrate files sound okay, and I’d say they’ve come up with a winner.

What I noticed on song after song was that the rhythms were tight and controlled, that there was a sense of clarity often missing from similar-sized systems, and that there was a certain spaciousness in the overall sound dispersion.

But what can it do? The DAC amp is promoted as having ‘enhanced audio technology and user-friendly connectivity options,” and that’s hard to argue with, although of course there are plenty of other contenders snapping at its heels.

At this point, I have to concede a point to those Facebook debunkers, because the DAC amp is, in fact, perfect for PC or Mac. While several reviewers have criticised the quality of its USB inputs, other options include coaxial and optical. The fact that it’s a DAC with a headphone jack makes it a very reasonable headphone amp as well. It’ll decode a wide range of file formats, and deal with a bunch of different music players (including iTunes and Windows Media player, of course).

Clearly, the Sony DAC amp is an entry-level audiophile device, but it’s a very good one, and the fact that it does so many things quite well (pre-and power, DAC, headphone, feature-set, musicality) makes it exceptionally good value.

The only real downside is the lack of Wireless ability. Meanwhile, those who want to take full advantage of its hi-res potential must remember to download a suitable driver – it defaults to showing a Windows driver, but Mac owners have to go on a little search for their version. GARY STEEL

www.sony.co.nz

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