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Oct 2012 JKDAC32 DAC Review 

Most importantly, the JKDAC32 doesn't seem to have obvious flaws. It is one thing to make a DAC that sounds dynamic and lively, or smooth and warm for that matter, but it is more difficult to create something that has no real weak points and still sounds good. To my ears, the JKDAC32 is about as neutral and even-handed as it gets at this price level, and still manages to avoid sounding boring or flat. Even including the cost of a computer, this represents good sonic value for money for a digital source.

Summing up, the JKDAC32 is a big step forward from most of the DACs in the same price-range that I have heard before. That I can't say that it sounds inferior to the Tabla/Mutu combination when it costs significantly less is a huge compliment . If you are looking to move up from an entry-level USB DAC, but don't want to spend 'thousands', I would say look no further than this little bargain. Functionally basic, as Maarten says, but far from basic when it comes to sound quality.

May 2012 JKDAC32 DAC Review 

Over the last several weeks I've been enjoying Bertrand Chamayou’s incandescent reading of Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage [Naïve 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV], a truly staggering piece of music interpreted with exceptional verve and passion. I thought the JKDAC32 admirably captured the attacks and sustain of Chamayou’s instrument—there was real thunder on those huge dynamic peaks—and revealed the light, nuance and beauty of the softer moments. On a recent recording of Kalevi Aho’s Chamber Symphonies [BIS 24/44.1 WAV] I noted a distinctly open, clear and very involving sound. Strings came across clean, clear, crisp and extended without any undue edge or shrillness. 

 

With LCD Soundsystem’s live-in-the-studio London Sessions [Virgin 16/44.1 WAV], electric bass was taut and tuneful with a great sense of forward propulsion and bounce if lacking a little in bottom extension. Drums and cymbals had plenty of snap and bite. Interestingly the manner in which the JKDAC32 handled pace and rhythm as well as transients and dynamics reminded me of some of the better non-oversampling DACs such as the excellent Peter Daniel-designed Audio Zone DAC-1. 

 

Listening to Los Pajaros Perdidos [Virgin 24/88.2 WAV] provided an excellent demonstration of what high-rez is about - nuance, refinement and truth of timbre. This lovely collection of Baroque South American music ranked among the finer more exhilarating digital playback I've had in my home. There was ideal separation between performers, awesome spatial depth and a convincing reproduction of instrumental and vocal sounds, especially that of the various singers.

 

In many respects how the JKDAC32 presented music reminded me of those great Decca recordings of the 50s and 60s which are so rarely matched these days - a wonderfully large airy soundstage combined with exquisite precision and clarity that wasn’t the last word in warmth and body. Think of Solti’s Ring and all those awesome Karajan/Vienna recordings; and of course those of Ernest Ansermet and his delightful L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Particularly impressive was that clarity and incisiveness did not come at the expense of treble smoothness and ease. No glare, no edge, no brittleness, no digital nasties. 

Oct 2012 JKDAC32 DAC Review 

Most importantly, the JKDAC32 doesn't seem to have obvious flaws. It is one thing to make a DAC that sounds dynamic and lively, or smooth and warm for that matter, but it is more difficult to create something that has no real weak points and still sounds good. To my ears, the JKDAC32 is about as neutral and even-handed as it gets at this price level, and still manages to avoid sounding boring or flat. Even including the cost of a computer, this represents good sonic value for money for a digital source.

Summing up, the JKDAC32 is a big step forward from most of the DACs in the same price-range that I have heard before. That I can't say that it sounds inferior to the Tabla/Mutu combination when it costs significantly less is a huge compliment . If you are looking to move up from an entry-level USB DAC, but don't want to spend 'thousands', I would say look no further than this little bargain. Functionally basic, as Maarten says, but far from basic when it comes to sound quality.

April 2012 JKDAC32 DAC Review 

vs. Rega DAC (AU$900).  The JKDAC32 and its British counterpart share some qualitative similarities.  They both lean towards the organic end of the spectrum.  They both put overall musical coherence and PRaT ahead of detail extraction and top-to-bottom frequency extension, the Rega being warmer overall by way of a plumper lower-midrange.  The Rega's also a little more lively in the top end.  The kicker being that the Rega demands the JKSPDIF (or similar) to run even-Stevens with the JKDAC32.
 

A run through Lampchop's Mr. M, first with the JKDAC32 and then with the Rega DAC: without USB-S/PDIF convertor appendage - and fed via its own USB input - the Rega DAC sounds comparatively tonally bleached.  Kurt Wagner's vocal body is thinner via standalone Brit than the all-in-one Irishman. For a record that seduces with hushed tones, an inky-black background is critical mood enhancer.  The JKDAC32's battery infusion wins hands down here.  Running its USB direct into the Mac Mini, the Rega's background is infected by a soupçon of hash-fizz.

 

vs. JKDAC (Sabre). Of the two JK units, initial impressions suggest the Sabre original materialises as the most able to trawl for deep for detail.  It definitely extends further at both frequency extremes: a bass that swings wrecking-ball low but a top-end that crystalline and vivid.  Smooth or refined it isn't; there's little evidence of vapour-trail decay, for which you'll need to BYO tube amplifier.  Like many ESS-chipped decoders, the Sabre-d JK sounds lit-up by brilliant sunshine and highly caffeinated.  It's pure Sydney:  in your face, fun, brash, thrilling…and (often) tiring - the detail carve skirts the edges of listener fatigue during longer listening sessions.  Redolent of MSG as a food flavour enhancer, the initial wow-factor of extra tongue-zing ultimately morphs into an inner-detail hangover.  Or exhaustion.  Or both.
 

The JKDAC32 is pure Melbourne:  cooler, wetter, more cultured, smoother, more refined.  It does't draw attention to itself and is altogether more easy-going.  Instrumentation is served up as more congealed - a thicker soup and with less spice.

 

Concluding. The achievement here is not just a theoretical one:  that digital transport quality matters.  John Kenny's DAC twins might come with the compromise of being USB-only but they deliver in spades.  The jitter-broom of a Hiface means the tonal-bleaching and high-frequency tension is swept away BEFORE the DAC chip gets its mitts on the one and zeroes......

I don't intend to insult your intelligence (dear reader) with clichés of how the JKDAC32 "competes with units two or three times the price".  Or that it is "recommended".  Or that it is "superb".  Despite superlatives meaning little in a comparative world it is all of these things.