Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tiny DAC, Big Sound – Impression of Stoner Acoustics UD100 vs. ODAC

Stoner Acoustics is a fairly new start up by a DIY’er that has been pretty active in the local (Malaysia) audiophile community. By no mean his first project, the UD100 is however his first commercial product under the new company and it is aimed to deliver maximum bang for the buck sound quality with a minimalistic design for US$49 / RM138

TI PCM2706 (USB receiver) + ESS Sabre ES9023 (DAC)
Bit depth / Sampling Rate (max): 16bit / 48kHz
Output: 2Vrms line-out via 3.5mm stereo plug



Build Quality

Okay, there is no housing on this tiny USB DAC. It would seem the production isn’t large enough to call for a plastic injection mold to be made (those things can be very expensive). Otherwise, the USB DAC is very well made. All the soldering points look to be quite solid.

For the worrying type, a simple heat shrink seem to suffice to shield the components from dust and direct moisture. If you are the handy DIY type, you can get a $1 TF card reader from eBay, take the inner out, drill a hole on the side and fit the USB DAC into it (see pictures blow).

Note that UD100 is just a USB DAC without any amp section, so you will need to supply your own amp if you want to use it. It doesn’t support Windows volume control as well, so it will be wise not to plug your headphone into its 3.5mm directly.

A $1 TF card reader from eBay disassembled, next to UD100. See the similarity in size.

UD100 in the TF card reader case.

Sound Quality
At first, I am a bit skeptical about the overall SQ of the UD100. I can understand it could be better than most of the PCM270x+WM8740 variance that I own, based on my ownership of the ODAC and the experience of the ESS Sabre chip. However, given its miniature size and what seems to be the missing of many components, I really thought this is just going to be an obvious step-down from the ODAC. Well, I was wrong.

The first thing I did when I received the UD100 is to measure it via RMAA. The setup is as followed: PC -> USD BAC -> O2 -> Behringer UCA222 (USB Isolated). Since UD100 only supports sampling rate of 16/48 max due to its USB receiver, both UD100 and ODAC are measured under 16/44.1 condition. As UD100 doesn’t support software volume control, I have to put the O2 in between the DAC and the UCA222. It shouldn’t affect the comparison though, since whatever effect it might have will be applied to both DAC, and I am only interested in the difference between the DAC. Surprisingly, the result is so close that the tiny bit of difference are either within a dB or two of each other or well under 0.1%. In fact, UD100 measured just a tiny bit better in most case, plus a slightly flatter and more extended frequency response over 18kHz. On a separated test, I also confirmed UD100, like ODAC, is outputting 2Vrms on its line-out that is default of the ESS chip.

As far as subjective listening goes, I compared both UD100 and ODAC feeding to O2 and a couple of IEM. All and all, I have a hard time trying to find a difference between the two USB DAC. Whatever difference I think I have heard is too small to say in certainty that they are not just in my brain. They are both clean, neutral with a good soundstage. At time, I can tell UD100 sounds just a little more crisp on certain instruments or ODAC gives just a little lusher detail, but they aren’t night and day. I think the reality is, it would have been even tougher to actually tell the two USB DAC apart during a blind listening. It that a good thing? I supposed so. I like my ODAC from JDS Labs. It is very well built and sounds great for the price. But for 1/3 of the price and almost just as good a sound, I can’t fault UD100 at all. Once I housed it in a $1 mod’ed TF card reader case, it looks and functions almost perfectly.

ODAC (top) vs. UD100 (bottom)

UD100 truly exceeds my expectation on how good a tiny sized USB DAC can sound. It is the poor-man’s ODAC, so to speak. While it doesn’t support 24/96 like the ODAC, it shouldn’t matter to those who don’t have any HD music files. For those who are looking for either big bang for the buck or just something simple to feed into your amp, I couldn’t recommend this tiny USB DAC enough.

A thank to Stoner Acoustics for the UD100 sample.


Anonymous said...

The ODAC is meant to be a 'budget' DAC whose spec performance matches or outmatches more expensive DACs, with a large enough ENOB to allow Windows volume control.

Besides, NwAvGuy could have gotten ODAC smaller if he didn't plan it to be drop in for the O2 so that it will take the space of the batteries.

The UCA222 is also limiting the accuracy of measurement IMO, and it would be interesting to see NwAvGuy (who seems terribly busy nowadays) measure it properly.

Damian said...

I really love this kind of stuff.. when something not expensive rivals something that is much more pricier.

I am thinking also about the practicality.. I have a DacPort LX + C421. And if I need to bring both to the office or even at home.. I have 1 USB cable for the dacport + 3.5 adapter + C421 + if low on battery another USB cable. My desk is a mess...

Now I wish I bought something as tiny as possible with maybe not the best sound... which most of the time I wouldn't notice for sure. And something integrated.

Can I use the LX alone? Yes
Can I use the C421 alone? Yes
Both? Cumbersome
C421 for travel? No.. really I don't want my wallet, my phone, SE-215 and then another brick along. Also the 421 is really harsh on the sides.. so it could possibly destroy my pockets too.

I congrats for this kind of miniaturized DAC.. it may also work with the iPad.. if the current is really low (LX doesn't work).

Tai / ClieOS said...

Since ODAC doesn't have an amp section as well, it must be paired with an amp. Unless it happens to be a power amp without an dedicated volume control, the reason to have 24bit just so you can control it in software and not turning the volume know with your fingers is, well, kind of lame and definitely lazy at best. The more valid reason will be to have more 'headroom' to avoid losing dynamic range. But at the case of ODAC, as demonstrated with the designing capability of NwAvGuy, I don't think that will be an issue either, even with a 16bit chip. I don't think even NwAvGuy will deny that 24bit is generally more useful for recording rather than playback. It is easy to lock the volume down to max in most 16bit USB receiver chip in order to make sure it will give the best dynamic range and force the user to use the volume knob to adjust volume rather than the volume slider in PC. It is even easier to educate user why software volume control is generally a bad thing.

Actually if you read back on NwAvGuy ODAC posts, I don't think the 3 reversions before the final version even fit into O2.

Anyway, the point isn't to prove UD100 is better than ODAC, but to point out that you can save almost 1/2 to 2/3 of the money to get something really good sounding (at least to me, close to non-distinguishable by ears) - and that's useful from the POV of saving money and space/weight on a transportable setup, which I believe is the design goal of the UD100

Anonymous said...

Maybe speakers? There are wireless keyboards but no wireless volume knobs. So Windows software volume control becomes useful.

The few revisions that he has shown look the same size except for the one sporting a full size USB B connector like other DACs. He posted a faux Xray photo in the Feb update with a O2 fittable ODAC.

Anonymous said...

will u review UM customs in future?

Tai / ClieOS said...

Frankly speaking, I can't say for sure.

jack said...

i want to know if this thing better than dacport LX, what do you think?

Tai / ClieOS said...

I haven't heard Dacport LX, so I don't have any opinion on it.

DanBa said...

The UD100 can interwork with the Android-powered smartphone Samsung Galaxy S III:

Anonymous said...

I am confused, is this the same as the product you have reviewed

Tai / ClieOS said...

No the same at all. That, I believe, is closer to the ODAC (in design) than in UD100. I have not heard the one from Hifimediy and don't know how good it is.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

Rossysaurus said...

Got mine today. listening to it now it sounds quite bright compared to my iBasso D10 but it's probably more likely my D10 sounded dark. It's certainly balanced my HD600 out a bit. the clarity of this little thing is astonishing, the sound stage is bigger than the D10 as well, and seems to have a darker background, which I didn't even think could be done by a DAC.

Tai / ClieOS said...

A brighter presentation seems to be the norm when comparing ESS to Wolfson, certain the case here as well.

Anonymous said...

Hi Tai

Can this little device power the VSonic gr07 alone?


Tai / ClieOS said...

UD100 is not meant to drive any headphone directly. You should use an amp with it.

Jun Ming said...

Hi ClieOS

Thank you for your reco on Astrotec AM90! Just got it. Niceeee. Should I burn in? Using pink noise or?

Btw I using Swans M10 2.1 and Asus Xonar DGX soundcard(USD40) for music and gaming. Usage ard 60% music and 40% gaming.

Is the HifiMeDiy Sabre USB DAC(USD42) a good reason for me to change?

HifiMeDiy Sabre USB DAC

Tai / ClieOS said...

I really can't tell you very useful opinion or comparison on things I have not heard or used myself, in this case, on both Xonar and HifiMeDIY. However, given HifiMeDIY is using similar (but not identical) topology as ODAC, I'll guess it is going to be quite good sounding.

Jun Ming said...

Oh OK ClieOS. No worries. I guess the HifiMeDIY may sounds slight better with a better USB receiver and 24bit/194 performance.

Anyway to give some credits to Astrotec AM90,it comes with aluminium housing(which most knows) and also cables that are made of bulletproof fibre.

Not kelvar-grade but still strong enough to use for IEM. And lastly anti-bacterial eartips.

Info obtained from:

Anyway some bad reviews are the change in eartips and pouch accessories. Bought from Lendmeyourears(authorized dealer if not wrong). Came with just normal single flare eartips in 3 sizes and a pair of foam tips(not Comply if I not wrong) and does wthout the hard casing. Just a velvet pouch.

Tai / ClieOS said...

BTW, HiFiMeDIY only supports up to 24/96, not 192.

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