Getting music from your computer to your hi-fi is easy. Getting it there with decent sound quality, less so. For many people, the simple, elegant Apple TV gets the job done nicely. But Apple TV only has digital outputs, which means that it depends on the DAC in your receiver for its sound quality. It also requires a wired or Wi-Fi home network.
NAD is seeking to remedy both of these problems with its DAC 1 Wireless USB DAC. Consisting of a small transmitter and receiver, the DAC 1 turns your A/V system into computer speakers. Unlike with Apple TV, this means you can play the rest of your computer audio on your big system, including Spotify, Rhapsody, and non-Apple-friendly audio file formats like FLAC.
Inside NAD’s receiver lies a Burr-Brown PCM1781 converter, a chip commonly found in high-end DACs. Transmission is over its own 2.4-GHz channel, with no additional data compression. Range is a claimed 132 feet, though walls will cut that distance down. On the back you’ve got analog stereo out, plus a coaxial digital output if you just want to add wireless but use your own DAC. A three-position channel selector (there’s a matching one on the transmitter) lets you find a clear frequency if necessary. There’s not much to set up — just plug the transmitter into your computer’s USB port and hook the receiver up to your system like any other source. The two automatically find each other.
The NAD DAC 1’s sound quality is very good. Instead of the coloration and harshness that’s indicative of cheap DACs, you get a pleasingly accurate, smooth reproduction of your music files.
The DAC 1 falls into a desirable niche: a step up in sound quality and audio-streaming usability from the Apple TV, but a step down in cost from high-end DACs that may offer fancier D/A conversion (but no wireless audio streaming). Cool deal. – Geoffrey Morrison
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