Published on December 26th, 2013 | by Greg0
Audioengine D3 DAC: Improve Your Audio In Seconds
If you have a laptop or desktop computer, chances are you’re using your computer’s built-in audio card to handle all of your music and sound output. This makes sense- modern machines have pretty decent sound circuitry- but you can definitely do better. Much like with video cards, a dedicated set of chips devoted to a specific task can make a big difference.
Any DAC is essentially offering that promise- stand-alone electronics that can isolate noise and improve your experience. Though some digital-to-analog converters that we’ve seen are quite large and expensive and take some know-how to setup, today’s is as small and simple as it gets. It won’t work with your iPod, iPad, tablet, or smartphone, but the Audioengine D3 is about the size of a thumb drive, plus in via USB, and makes your system sounds like it just had a major upgrade.
Offering true 24-bit processing, the D3 works with both Mac and PC, and it’s plug and play so no install is necessary or required. We use a pretty wide variety of headphones to test, and compare against other DACs after some burn-in time. For instance, the D3 is just a bit smaller and sleeker (but significantly less expensive) than the M2Tech, but sounds a bit harsher on FLAC opera and jazz tracks. It might seem unfair to set it against the non-portable, separately-powered NAD D 1050, but the D3 held up well in fact, with only a few listeners able to tell the difference on all but the highest-quality tracks, offering sharper notes on electronic, and a flatter sound on acoustic music. For your average Spotify or Pandora user, you might not tell the difference on a $100 set of headphones or speakers, but on any system above $250 or so, especially on demanding vocal tracks or those with distinct bass/treble overlays, you’ll see a major difference.
We liked the look, feel, size, and aluminum body of the Audioengine D3. Way smaller than the previously-reviewed D1, it can’t compete on depth or a broad soundstage but acquits itself nicely considering the size. Pair with other Audioengine gear- like the A2 speakers we checked out last year or their fantastic sibling A2+ model. The D3 is cute and capable, and available now online and in stores for under $200.