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TNT Audio Review - JKDAC32

posted 27 Oct 2012, 05:07 by John Kenny
If you like DACs then you now live in a time of plenty. I don't think there have ever been as many on the market as today, and the choice of options is incredible. The time that a DAC would just have SPDIF in and analogue out is gone. Most will still have coaxial SPDIF, but in addition there will be TOSLINK, AES, USB, network, hard-disk, airplay, Bluetooth and other options. There are now even DACS that don't have an SPDIF input at all. The JKDAC32 is one of them, offering only USB as input, and only RCA analogue output. It almost feels old-fashioned, but is actually rather modern in its approach. This DAC is solely for computer audio and nothing else. For many people that is just fine, and it allows for excellent value for money.

To get a better impression I took the JKDAC32 to a friend who uses a Rega DAC with his computer audio system. He wasn't completely happy with the Rega, so he is using it with a Musical Fidelity V-Link USB drive. The V-Link is basically similar to the product that John Kenny started his company with, but made by MF. It turns the Rega from a synchronous USB DAC into an asynchronous USB DAC and did indeed improve the sound in my friend's system. Compared to the two box solution with the V-Link and the Rega DAC the tiny JKDAC32 does look extremely elegant: just a single box connected to only the computer and the amp. Soundwise, the Rega was a bit warmer, with more bass, and tracks that needed that extra bottom end did benefit, but the JKDAC32 produced much better mids and high frequencies, with more refinement. The whole sound from the JKDAC32 was more consistent, less mechanical and easier on the ear. The Rega's soundstage was distinctly left-right, while the JKDAC32 was able to project central images that were solid and well placed, resulting in a much more convincing spatial reproduction. To my ears it was an easy win for the JKDAC32, as it is even cheaper than the Rega DAC.

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.

Full Review Here