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Published on September 9th, 2011 | by Greg


NuForce uDAC2: The Tiniest USB DAC Yet?

Lit­tle isn’t al­ways bet­ter. Es­pe­cial­ly when it comes to au­dio gear- big­ger bass re­quires big­ger speak­ers, and this is true re­gard­less of whether you’re try­ing to fill a the­ater or sim­ply pump mu­sic through a de­cent set of head­phones. There are ex­cep­tions of course, but even with MP3 files, a high­er bi­trate is a larg­er file and gen­er­al­ly bet­ter au­dio qual­i­ty. Ev­ery rule has a lim­it- you won’t no­tice much of an im­prove­ment be­yond 192kpbs, and even the best head­phone drivers don’t need to be much larg­er to ca­pa­bly han­dle sound. But tiny is usu­al­ly anath­e­ma to au­dio- the iPod notwith­stand­ing.

But it’s pre­cise­ly in­to this dig­i­tal world that the Nu­Force uDAC2 leaps, mere­ly a cou­ple of inch­es on each side and weigh­ing just a few ounces. And though we’ve seen sev­er­al oth­er sim­i­lar prod­ucts be­fore- and will be check­ing out more in the days to come- the uDAC2 has sheer porta­bil­i­ty on it’s side. The pur­pose of a USB DACs is sim­ple- they are dig­i­tal au­dio con­ver­tors that con­nect to your desk­top or lap­top and pro­cess the au­dio in­stead of re­ly­ing on the au­dio con­vert­er in­side your com­put­er. This has a few ben­e­fits, name­ly clear­er and rich­er au­dio with less noise, hiss­ing, and pop­ping. This isn’t as spe­cial­ized a piece of gear as the VRM box for vir­tu­al ref­er­ence mon­i­tor­ing, and it al­so isn’t a se­ri­ous amp (con­sid­er the TTVJ box that we’ve tried for that). But it ca­pa­bly han­dles your dig­i­tal files, with lit­tle set­up. Sim­ply plug in the USB cord to your PC or Mac, and con­nect a pair of head­phones. No ex­ter­nal pow­er is re­quired.

Of course, this type of box is aimed at au­dio­philes- per­haps those who have spent a cou­ple of hun­dred dol­lars on good head­phones, but not the folks who are ana­log and tube afi­ciona­dos. You won’t hear much im­prove­ment if you’re us­ing a cheap pair of head­phones or ear­buds- cer­tain­ly sounds will be a bit broad­er and more dis­tinct, and we heard less dis­tor­tion at high and low vol­umes, but the re­al test was when us­ing high-qual­i­ty loss­less files and a good pair of head­phones (like our trusty Gra­dos). Lis­ten­ing to high­ly-pro­duced tracks from Four Tet pro­vid­ed ex­cel­lent ref­er­ence- the in­stru­men­ta­tion is sharp and fast and easy to get washed out but the uDAC2 han­dled it well. Suf­fice to say, this will def­i­nite­ly im­prove your lis­ten­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, if your oth­er gear is up to par.

We like that the unit in­cludes an RCA and coax­i­al S/PDIF out, though we didn’t end up try­ing it. And we def­i­nite­ly ap­pre­ci­at­ed the build qual­i­ty- com­po­nents felt stur­dy and the cas­ing was sleek. Avail­able in sev­er­al col­ors, in­clud­ing blue, black, red, and sil­ver, we strong­ly rec­om­mend that au­dio­philes take a look. It blows away your on­board sound card, and though it might slide around your desk a bit, it’s handy at par­ties and even at the of­fice. The uDAC2 won’t smooth over de­fects in your mu­sic- it can ac­cen­tu­ate them in fact. But if you need a fair­ly ca­pa­ble and ul­tra-portable DAC, look no fur­ther. $129, avail­able on­line. Al­so, Nu­Force makes a va­ri­ety of oth­er prod­ucts, in­clud­ing some ear­phones that we’ve tried out in the past.

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About the Author

Greg dreamed up the idea for the Truly Network while living in Hawaii, which began with a single site called TrulyObscure. In 2010, when advertisers and readers were requesting coverage beyond the scope of that site, TrulyNet was launched, reaching a broader audience over a variety of niche sites. Formerly the head technology correspondent for the Des Moines Register at age 16, he has since lived and worked in five states and two countries, helping a list of organizations and companies that includes the United States Census Bureau, TripAdvisor, Events Photo Group, Berlitz, and Computer Geeks. He also served as the Content Strategy Manager for HearPlanet, a multi-platform app that has reached over a million users and has been featured in the New York Times, Hemispheres Magazine, National Geographic Adventure, Fox Business News, PC Magazine, and even Apple’s own iPhone ads. Greg has written as a restaurant critic and feature journalist for a number of national and international publications, including City Weekend Magazine, Red Egg Magazine, the Newton Daily News, Capital Change Magazine, and an arm of China Daily, Beijing Weekend. In addition, he has served as a consulting editor for the Foreign Language Press of Beijing, as well as a writer and editor for the George Washington University Hatchet, the school newspaper of his alma mater. Originally from Iowa, Greg is currently living in the West Village of Manhattan.

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