This is a DAC with a difference from a Dutch startup that seems to have considered all the options and produced a humdinger straight from the gate.
Products from small new companies are often fraught with challenges as far as the consumer is concerned. Can I trust this (new) brand? Will it last? What if it goes wrong? Is it truly compatible? These and many other questions crop up which makes entering the industry very difficult, and even more so when so much of the product evaluation is subjective. There’s so much to consider, too. Styling – yes, people buy audio gear with their eyes as well as, and sometimes instead of, their ears. For others it’s how ‘substantial’ the unit feels. In every sense, lightweight speakers tend to be (incorrectly) perceived as sonically lightweight. And a few years ago many full-width electronics components were often filled with fresh air, a circuit board that looked like a small city viewed from outer space, and a miniscule mains transformer.
Now there’s a ‘new kid’ on the digital block, DiDiT (which stands for Different in Design (D) ifferent in Technology), based in Holland, and founded by a group of serious audiophiles who also have a good deal of digital and audio knowledge behind them. They took a (very brief) look at the scenario above and decided it wasn’t for them. They wanted a small number of very high-performance products that inspire pride of ownership and offer a long, satisfying life-span, so they decided to make their own. The company DiDiT resulted, and their first product is the DiDiT ‘Decoding pre-amp’, which is essentially a digital preamp with a very hi-spec DAC inside. The first thing that strikes you about it is the packaging. A delightfully sculpted cork box (as opposed to a polystyrene pressing) houses the DAC and its rather novel remote. A recess in the lid provides a neat receptacle for the instruction book, itself nicely printed and everything is a really snug fit. Mains and USB cables are also included, as is the battery for the remote.
Ease the DAC out of the base, and immediately you’re aware that it is a quality product. The main carcass (in this case the lid and three sides) is machined from a solid billet of high-grade aluminium. All the corners are radiused, and every edge is smooth and silk-like. The front panel is populated by a simple on-off button, and the grid of smaller holes indicate input and volume. If you remove the lid, a substantial main circuit board is clearly laid out, its obvious quality complemented by very high spec components, sensibly laid out, and with sufficient space round each for more-than-adequate cooling. Turning to the rear panel, the RCA phonos for digital in and analogue out are substantial and tight-fitting. The optical connections are similarly high quality, as are the two USB connections, one for updating firmware, the other for streaming.
For those buying with their eyes, that should be enough to seal the deal. Those who choose audio gear for its aural performance have a real treat in store. The DiDiT DAC has been developed not only through hours of bench-testing and empirical digital signal sampling but also by hours of listening by a wide variety of music lovers, some of whom are audiophiles, many of whom are not. As a result the DiDiT band have created a quite stunning and unique DAC.
This may seem a very strange area in which to make a first foray in the audio business, but the whole product experience is simple, stylish, elegant, superbly well-engineered, ergonomically very easy to use, and sonically very, very good. Once it’s connected to an appropriate source, amp and speakers the real magic begins.
As many who have read my audio ramblings will know, I’m not in favour of determining how a component will sound by looking at its measured specs, or measuring this or that. At the end of the day few listen with a ‘scope on their knees, or a meter to measure how deep the bass goes. For me, the relevant parameter is whether a component will allow you to access the source material in an enjoyable, satisfying, engaging and rewarding way.
Straight out of the box, from first power-up, and long into the first late evening (which then became early morning) the DAC was engaging, musical and ‘fun’ in the best sense of that word, and so easy on the ear it was a struggle to accept that this was a digital product being auditioned.
Early digital products were often criticized for being ‘bright’, ‘hard’, or similar. Continuing development has lessened those criticisms and digital is by many considered the ‘equal’ of vinyl. Ease of listening, engagement and convenience have made non-analogue sources much more acceptable in the vinyl camp, and many live happily with both. This svelte unit not only provides a small-footprint DAC for ‘typical’ digital products like a CD player, but also has a streaming facility, so it’s possible to connect your laptop, iPhone or other streaming device to it and enjoy the latest addition to the digital audio armoury. I used a variety of mainly disc spinning sources: DCS Scarlatti CD/SACD, Wadia 20, Pioneer PDS-802 (heavily modded by Trichord), Audiomeca Mephisto, Pioneer DV-530 DVD player, Apple TV and a 2014 Apple Mac Pro.
Sceptical though I initially was (I’m always sceptical of digital products, but am now forced to be less so!) DiDiT’s DAC is very good. Its noise floor is unbelievably low. No discernible hiss at any volume level is something to be proud of. No shrill highs either – unless that is how they are on the recording. It seems to capture very faithfully the essence of the recording and portray it in a very accessible way. There’s no obvious rose-tinted presentation, but nor is it clinically clean. It is very open, transparent and seemingly very fast. Deep bass is particularly well reproduced, being both deft and agile but not without weight when appropriate. The top end is open, and nicely lit; it has ‘sparkle’ without being bright, but there’s no detail loss either.
An early version I heard did have minor sonic differences between coax and optical inputs. These are now absent, and it was difficult to tell one from the other without looking at the front panel to see which input was selected. Some products have been labeled ‘good for rock’ or ‘classical only’. Not so here. Poor recordings will show up as poor. Good ones will sound good, and fare a lot better.
This DAC is not harsh or ruthless, but reflects the source with an honesty and integrity that is, at times, surprising. In a sense the surprise (this being a new product from a new company) was that there was no surprise. It was a case of ‘plug it in and enjoy the music’. Nothing more, and definitely nothing less. But THE MORE YOU LISTEN, THE HARDER IT IS TO TURN IT OFF.
Streaming via the USB connection provided an interesting challenge. Was Spotify as good as Tidal? Does Airplay sound different from… And yes, the list is almost endless. Fortunately the streaming input is as well conceived as all the other inputs, and offers the same attributes; transparency, clarity, bass weight etc. However, it is noticeable that there are differences between the different streaming options, and this is undoubtedly a credit to the DAC that it makes these differences clear. It’s not that one or other option is ‘better’ or ‘worse’, but that they are not the same, relying as they do on different bit and sampling rates, streaming protocols and so on. It certainly gives you the opportunity to play around and see which you prefer.
As for that remote, it has four buttons; source select (toggle through or back), and volume (increase or decrease). It’s simply a slim cylinder a shade over 1cm in diameter, and some 15 or 16cms long. The selected input appears in the front panel, as does the volume level.
Of course, the acid test has to be ‘what does it sound like?’, to which the answer has to be ‘I don’t know’. I was utterly impressed by the fact that in the context of the systems I used it in, I could find no sonic signature to label it with. It seemed to convey all types of music with an equal hand. Drum’n’bass was executed with power, weight, space, and the old PRT (pace, rhythm and timing) seemed spot-on. Put on some Elizabethan madrigals or a Monteverdi opera and you’d be transported to the (very different) recording acoustic with very obviously different forces at work. Difficult organ music (Messaien for example) was presented ‘as is’, with a clarity in the inner details, but no loss of dexterity and weight in the pedals. Neither Mahler’s Symphony for a Thousand (Mahler 8) nor Delius’ Mass of Life (with four soloists, double choir and orchestra) was sullied by blurring, dynamic compression or loss of focus. I suppose you could argue the DAC never made anything ‘more’ exciting than it was, but nor did it make everything sound the same. It simply seemed to be a transparent conduit through which a digital data stream flowed and became analogue music.
I mentioned earlier about the ability to update firmware via the USB A connector as and when updates arise. This is done via a USB stick. Full info is on DiDiT’s website which contains links to firmware updates as and when they become available, and downloading and updating is fully covered in the excellent, comprehensive but simple manual (and online if needed).
Having praised this little unit, is there a downside? Well, you might not like to hear this, but it’s well underpriced for the sound quality you get. The machining, style and attention to detail that have gone into it are really quite astonishing. It deserves to be much more expensive; its (relatively low) price may well prejudice prospective purchasers – an unjust state of affairs in my opinion. However, those who do buy will not fail to be pleased, and just to give you a heads-up on the future, there are more products in the pipeline which follow the same ethic. Very highly recommended.