March Audio Dac1


#1

Hitting the bench this week is the DAC1 from March Audio. At it’s core is the latest ES9038 DAC and leading Khadas technology an It’s priced at an introductory price of $350, featuring USB C Exclusive input and a pair of RCA Line Level Outs!

I have received this unit on loan direct from the Manufacturer for the purpose of creating an honest and un-biased review.

I’ll be doing mostly preliminary listening through the weekend but thus far I have to say I’m quite impressed! It’s got a nice black background and a nice smooth clean tone, my current back end system for it consists of a Shanling M2S feeding Digitally into the Unit with a USB Disruptor in-between the Source and DAC.

On the front end I’ve a pair of JBL 305P MKii speakers on ProJax Feet atop generic Metal stands.

That said, I’ll update the thread as I start comparisons and hopefully once I have a full review ready for it we can get an “Offical” thread up and running! For now though I’m enjoying some Led Zeppelin IV! I prefer listening to a 24bit Vinyl Rip of IV from a friends whose lineage I trust.

An right off the bat the first comparison I’ve done is between it and my JDS Labs EL Dac, my EL Dac is fed Coax via the very same Shanling M2S fed into a Singxer F1. Since I run my EL Dac exclusively on Coax with my F1 I did feel the use of the simmilary Priced USB Disruptor into the DAC1 was fair give that the benefits of each to their respective systems are similar. An I of course listened with the very same speaker system and did do Level Matching with Pink Noise in Mono

That said even with a short listen through Led Zeppelin IV it was pretty apparent that the DAC 1 brings a slight smoothness to the sound that really plays nicely with my 305P MKii. In contrast to the EL Dac which sounds slightly “harsh” out of the very same speakers. Yet having lived with the EL Dac and my 305P MKii I can say any harshness in this system is a trait of the speakers them selves.

Non the less as you all know Led Zeppelin IV isn’t the best album to do critical reviews with but I enjoy it and find my self familiar enough with it to make some very basic or rudimentary judgments on performance. Still again, I will report my findings as I come across them and answer what ever questions you guys have! Plus if you’ve got some input or want to know how it pairs with any of the Amps or Headphones in my collection please feel free to ask! Even better if your also enjoying a DAC 1 in your own system do chime in with your thoughts of it!


#2

For the DIY-inclined, the guts of this unit are essentially a Khadas “Tone Board”, so if you don’t need support/warranty and are content tinkering together a basic enclosure (or using a project-box), you can get the very good measured performance of this thing for a lot less money.

There was something of a virtual witch-burning about the relative value of this unit vs. the raw board it is supposed to be based in another corner of the internet. While value, and perception of value, are personal things … before anyone goes down that path here, bear in mind that the typical multiplier to get from a raw-parts cost to a sustainable retail price in consumer electronics runs from about 3x to 8x - and usually settles around 5x. And small-run enclosures are typically disproportionately expensive in comparison to the overall BoM.

The simplistic assumptions and claims I see about such things, i.e. that you can add 25% margin to raw costs and stay in business, let alone make enough profit to make it worth bothering with, are naive at best. There are, as ever, exceptions, but usually they come about due to either a company being able to reduce costs via increased production volume or by not offering support/warranty etc.


#3

This might be a fun project…well case build project lol…


#4

Here are some pretty thorough instructions for doing just that - https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/making-a-case-enclosure-for-the-khadas-tone-board.5054/


#5

I went down this rabbit hole for 2hrs…and determined I have plenty of DACs that already perform at this level or higher…and I don’t “need” another project lol…being a good boy and not jumping on this lol


#6

Hi Torq

You are spot on with your comments there. DIY can achieve great results if done well. However to compare a DIY effort to a commercial product is inappropriate and quite misleading. I wont go into a lengthy commentary about it here, but simple cost of materials is not the only consideration. Plus of course DIY is not for everyone.
I was involved with Khadas on this project prior to the board becoming known as a great DIY option, in fact it was due to me and this DAC1 that the raw board got tested on another forum in the first place (more fool me :slight_smile: ). I strongly encourage DIYers to DIY. I still do myself, but if you want a finished top tier DAC (and this beats most based on the same chip based on independent measurements) with 3 year warranty and accessible English speaking support, then the DAC1 is worthy of consideration.

cheers

Alan


#7

Thanks mshenay!

I am really looking forward to your detailed subjective feedback on this.


#8

Nice to see you on here! I appreciate your contributions over on AudioScienceReview as well and I’m enjoying seeing you develop your business.


#9

Well after my research into the DIY I cobbled together a rough estimate of how much it would cost to make this in both a funky DIY with exposed board, and a 3d printed custom job. Both are cheaper than the professionally made version that MarchAudio puts together, but that is not accounting for the un-measurable loss of “time” and what that means to you. For me the value in custom making this isn’t worth the time. Also I have other DACs that are equal or better than this on hand so the joy of DIY would be the only reason to do this. But at this time I don’t have the time/desire to build one. I didn’t keep all the information I found but if you search for Khadas enclousure/case you can find a couple of threads regarding this. The one I liked the most was the one that used the Khadas enclosure with a custom 3dprinted job. If you go that route it would be roughly just under/over $200 and much cheaper Just over $100 if you did an open enclosure style. Or if you are good you could CAD design your own 3D print job and get it for the just over $100 price…probably around $140-150.

Also to keep in mind is the value of warranty and customer service provided by MarchAudio, not small things to consider. Either way you go both seem to be great experiences :wink:

EDIT: also anyone thinking they will remotely get close to the quality/polish and good looking DAC1 with DIY will be barking up the wrong tree, well unless you have access to professional machining gear lol. Another thing to consider is how a thing looks and how well it is put together…One could potentially get there with “Time” but once again that is a cost left up to the individual.


#10

The other thing about DIY is that it usually involves the acquisition of tools, which is its own cost. I don’t know how many times I’ve decided to eat that cost because I was sure I’d get some further use out of such a tool and now I can’t even find where I put it (not that I’d need to, because of course I have no further use for it!).

EDIT - If, OTOH, the goal is not to save money but to enjoy the experience, then there is a special kind of satisfaction to be had from DIY projects like, say, building a kayak.


#11

Majority of the reason for me doing DIY :wink:

Also having the right tool for the job is crucial and is definitely a cost that needs to be accounted for.


#12

I just created an account here so I can chime in here since I too own the Dac1 from March Audio. I’ve had mine for a few weeks now and I am very pleased with it. I currently have it feeding my THX AAA 789 and this setup is simply perfect. If your goal is to achieve complete transparency in your headphone system, this is your combo. There is never any hint of noise or distortion. Listening with any number of headphones, Audeze LCD2 Classic, Hifiman Edition X v2, Focal Elex, or Mrspeakers Aeon Flow closed, this setup sounds simply put fantastic.

Yes you can buy the Khadas Tone Board for much less and DIY your own case but you won’t be achieving the level of fit and finish March Audio has achieved with the Dac1, not for less money. In near future March Audio will be releasing a series of power amps and a headphone amp which will all share the same design language so the Dac1 will match any of them should you get them. Furthermore the customer service March Audio provides is top notch. My Dac1 arrived to me damaged from rough shipping and he quickly made sure things were right.


#13

What are you comparing to?


#14

Asking the right questions here

That said I’m enjoying it yet again tonight on my speaker system, listening to some ELO!


#15

ELO…Erroneous Living Organism? Never heard of them…is there a Spotify link?

:wink:


#16

Electronic Light Orchestra - Mr.Blue Sky is the song by them you likely know.

Non the less, I often use my Legacy Behringer UCA 202 when I want to listen to a new band. It too has a slightly smoother presentation and does a nice job at being transparent enough to let the talent of the musicians shine without drawing attention to faults in the recording or my source gear.

That said, the DAC1 is a very CLEAR step above the UCA202 while still having a similar presentation. Ever so slightly smooth, enough to make some of the more poorly mastered music out there enjoyable. But still transparent enough that I don’t find my self missing much of anything really from some of my Higher Quality Test Tracks.

But I will admit, that not even the DAC1 can fix the many many issues with J. Roddy Walston & The Buisness.

Yikes, so that’s a good sign… I’ve only even enjoyed their music from really Low-Fi Bluetooth and or Car Speakers <.<, which is a shame as I like their music, but ugh the mastering… I can never listen to much more than 20-30 seconds


#17

Sorry, I was being what I thought, was funny…by making up my own acronym for the band…

It is cool seeing a new audio company on the scene… interested in seeing how the amps perform.


#18

Dacs or amps? Or both? I’ve had an unhealthy obsession with trying gear, my wallet doesn’t like me lol. I’ve used many different amps and a handful of dacs. Prior to the Dac1 I was using the Topping D50 with my main set of amps and the JDS Labs OL dac. As for the amps I’ve used recently the JDS Labs O2, Alex Cavalli Liquid Carbon X, Rega Ear, and Schiit Jotenheim to name a few. The THX 789 and Dac1 just happen to be the best combo I’ve found for black background, detail and clarity.