Published on July 7th, 2014 | by Greg0
A Pint-Sized Pure DAC: The Tri-Art Sprout
One of the weird fundamentals about the world of electronics is that you basically need to consider three basic parts of any item: the inside, the outside, and usability (the software or interface). And it’s pretty common to find a piece of gear that you like only in part- a beautiful screen with a poor interface, or great battery life but a terrible-looking case. It’s pretty rare when a company manages to get all of the pieces working together, creating something greater than the sum of it’s parts.
The Sprout DAC from Tri-Art Audio gets pretty close. For starters, it doesn’t really have much of an interface or any software to worry about- like many DACs, it does require a driver installation, but it’s pretty easy from then on. There’s a USB port to plug into your laptop or desktop computer, as well as a headphone jack… and that’s about it. Pure, simple, and uncomplicated. Likewise, the exterior is low-key- this is one of the smaller DACs that we’ve seen, and though a digital-to-audio convertor doesn’t need to be large, they often include extra circuitry for power regulation or amplification. Audio heads will want to have a separate headphone amp most likely, to get the most out of a tiny DAC like this one which can’t provide enough power to drive larger headphones.
We liked that it’s wooden, lightweight and made from sustainable bamboo. The Sprout looks classy without trying, and the Canadian company even uses sheep’s wool on the inside as padding. Also on the inside are the important parts- the circuitry that makes it all possible. DACs live and die on the strength of their internals, and the specs here include a PCM5102A chip from TI as the heart and soul, as well as a linear regulator also from TI (the LP5907 LDO). We’ve seen that same chipset power other DACs, and like it quite a bit, but the complete specs did give us pause- it looks like Tri-Art is using the very cool Stoner Acoustics UD110v2 (identical clock and receiver, plus the language on their site is even a perfect match down to the awkward punctuation). This is pretty nifty- taking Stoner’s Malaysian capabilities and wrapping them in a lovely package. It’s exactly what most companies do- find an OEM, or original manufacturer, and then create the marketing, branding, and body around the interior components. But we don’t always get to see it happen so transparently, and with such good reason- the Stoner Acoustics UD110 is a solid, great-sounding board that adds plenty of oomph on the low end and detail throughout. 32-bit capable, the Sprout can’t natively handle files beyond 96kHz. For most people, that won’t matter, but HD audio aficionados will need to find another DAC.
The Sprout is available now though a bit hard to find, and runs $150. Tri-Art also makes a pretty wide range of gear, most with cute names (Bam Bam and Pebbles for instance). We like the consistent theme- light bamboo wood adds a natural flair to most of their pieces. And we’ll never feel sheepish about putting on our headphones and listening to music with far better depth, thanks to the Sprout DAC.