Published on June 8th, 2014 | by Greg0
Eastern Promises: Yulong’s D200 DAC And The Mid-Fi Audiophile
If you carefully check the labels on your audio gear, you’ll notice something that probably won’t be surprising- much of it is manufactured in China. Even much of the gear that is assembled here or in Europe has components largely from Asia. But we see few major audio gear brands coming from the area, beyond some Korean and Japanese firms like Sony, Yamaha, and Pioneer. Audiophiles know names like Marantz or beyerdynamic, but if you’re on a budget (and who isn’t?) then it’s probably time to consider looking directly at the source. Generally, you’ll find less marketing and perhaps weaker industrial design, but the same components at a fraction of the price.
Take Yulong for example, and their new D200 DAC. At first glance, it might seem a bit boring, and indeed, there is little about the color, shape, or style to comment on- it’s a pretty traditional metal box, sized and meant to fit in with other audio gear. The name probably won’t mean much either- it’s a shift from their DA8 model, well-regarded among enthusiasts. This one, though, offers nearly the performance but cuts the price in half, undercutting their own business in a way that reminds me of a quote from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos: if you’re not figuring out ways to destroy your own business and succeeding, then someone else is going to do it for you.
Because, ultimately, most audiophiles- and really, anyone who buys a DAC deserves rights to the name- don’t care much about looks. They care first and foremost about sound. The spec sheet here offers plenty of potential. Boasting true 32-bit 384KHZ decoding, the D200 digital-to-analog converter can handle just about any source, thanks to a range of inputs (USB, TOSLINK, SPDIF and AES). The outputs are almost as numerous, from standard 3.5mm minijack headphone to RCA and XLR. We love the fairly rare balanced XLR outputs, handy for connecting to high-end headphones, like the MrSpeaker Alpha Dogs that we’re proud to have in the office. We burned in the D200 for a few hours before testing, and kept it warm in general during use. And we largely used it in DAC/amp mode, though a pure DAC mode is available, their warnings scared us a bit (it outputs a full-scale signal, so make sure you have an alternate volume control or you could ruin your equipment).
Meant to offer an extreme high performance to cost ratio, they did go all-out on the internals and components. Yulong’s D200 feels rock solid and well-machined, with the finely 80-step adjustable knob and LCD display you might expect, but it’s the insides that really count. We geeked out a bit on forums and if you’re the type for whom power isolation matters, then you’ll probably appreciate the Canadian Plitron toroidal transformer and the multi-mode jitter filter. As with most modern DACs, there’s support for every modern operating system, and they opted for the Xmos U implementation, with full DSD support to boot- though you’ll need to install a driver. You might remember from a recent review where we talked about DSD, and whatever your opinion of the format, it’s still a badge of honor and a very nice feature to have. We used primarily our Macbook Air and iTunes library as a source, but also dipped our toes into DSD, using the included USB cable and testing a wide range of settings and headphones (unlike many DACs, there are some functions to play around with here). As always, the coolest part of a DAC is just how much better the music sounds than when connected directly- it’s a boost similar to moving from earbuds to over-ear headphones, with clearer acoustics in every range and so much more space and range. Of course, your headphones better cost over $200 or so to really make use of this gear, and the better the pair, the more a DAC like the D200 can offer.
There are a lot of DACs on the market today, and they each offer some advantages in capabilities. This one might not be the prettiest- the Matrix Mini is cute, perky and good-looking- but the Yulong D200 has a smarter, steadier head on her shoulders, with brains and brawn that more than make up for the fairly plain exterior. The sound was described as a little shiny, but with a very appealing darkness, moody and rich, with perhaps the best sense of space we’ve heard from a DAC/amp unit. You feel swallowed without feeling isolated from your music, and well-mixed tracks can be nothing short of astounding (we loved some of the Birdland Jazz and Internet Archive high-resolution tracks available online if you look carefully). Start paying for expertise and components- the Yulong D200 is available for around $700, a fraction of some of the competition, and well worth the price.