Equipment Reviews – Technical Audio Devices (TAD) DAC DA1000
Introduction – Coming in at £11,500 the TAD DA1000 DAC is expensive and it’s also big. I’d love to see under the lid to discover what takes up all the space inside what is the largest DAC I have reviewed to date including the 3 box MSB Discrete DAC. TAD is to Pioneer what Rolls Royce is to BMW, Bentley is to VAG or Lexus is to Toyota. These premium brands tend to leave their already impressive stablemates way behind in terms of build quality, function and performance and customer pride of ownership by using upmarket parts. This DAC is no exception to that rule and has been built with little regard to cost, putting performance above anything else. Yet at the rather hefty price it still has a long way to go to be a part of the real high-end where DAC’s can cost well into a six-figure sum.
So, it’s big, pricey and extremely well built, but how does it sound and how does it compare to other DAC’s in the £5,000 to £15,000 price bracket? Read on to find out.
Technology – The DA1000 is from their Evolution range of products and is just a DAC, it doesn’t pretend to be anything else although it does have a volume control to allow direct connection to a power amp and also has a built-in headphone amp with a separate volume control. I only tested it as a straightforward DAC into my preamp from its balanced XLR analogue outputs. As well as the now common USB 2 input it has two S/PDIF RCA’s, an XLR and an optical input. It is capable of playing files up to 32 bit/384kHz from USB, 24 bit/192 from RCA and XLR and 24 bit/96 from optical input and can play DSD up to 512. It doesn’t upsample any of the inputs. It has analogue outputs on RCA and XLR and also digital outputs on RCA and XLR. The limited front panel display shows the input selected and the incoming bit rate, hurrah! Our sample dates from 2013 so the twin DAC’s used are probably not the latest versions in use today and come from the Burr Brown range, although I’m not sure which one has been used. In use it runs only mildly warm, but it needs a lot of shelf space and shouldn’t have equipment stacked on top. It weighs in at 16.5kg and is 440w x 150h x 406d.
System Components – The TAD DA1000 was inserted into my home system between the Innuos Zenith server and matching USB Reclocker via a USB connection and then by XLR to my Michi P5 preamp connected with Jorma interconnects feeding the Michi M8 monoblocs and the Marten Mingus Quintet speakers. As before most cables came from the Jorma range. I did listen via the optical input from my Sony ES range CD player from the early 90’s and it sounded great until the Sony decided it no longer wanted to play ball and shut down its optical output, I guess a repair is needed. All my main listening was therefore via the USB input.
Performance – this is a darker DAC than some that I have reviewed but that is not meant to be a criticism because it has all the depth of detail of any respectable DAC in this price bracket. But what this does mean is that its possible to listen to it for many hours without it becoming fatiguing or tiring and that is something not all modern DAC’s can do. It really draws you in to whatever you have chosen to play, and it will hold you there – no track flipping sessions with this DAC which encourages you to listen to whole albums.
‘Standin’ In The Rain’ by the ELO (24bit/192kHz) showed how amazing some of these older albums can sound when played through modern high end equipment. ‘Ride A White Horse’ by Goldfrapp showed how the DA1000 can deliver dynamic bass without it swamping the rest of the content. It was musical, detailed and inviting with a sound that you could listen to at any volume with total enjoyment but turn it up and party and it will make you smile from ear to ear. Then I played the 12” version of ‘The Invisible Man’ by Queen and the party mode continued at full steam. I love what this DAC can do and keeping it going I played ‘Electrified II’ by Yello and the strong bass rhythm didn’t swamp the vocals and other instruments as can be the case with lesser capable DAC’s.
I could go on like this for ages because the TAD DA1000 has the ability to hold your attention indefinitely and encourages longer listening sessions but coming down from party mode I listened to ‘Get Home’ by Angus and Julia Stone, ‘What’s Going On’ by Marvin Gaye, ‘Here Comes the Sun’ by Nina Simone, ‘Game of Pretend’ by Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie and finally ‘The Beat Hotel’ by Allen Taylor and every track had me held in its spell.
Summary – This large and imposing DAC will not draw you in during a quick demo against other DAC’s designed to make an immediate demo impression, but boy does it grow on you. If you have the rack space to accommodate it then you won’t be disappointed. This won’t be a DAC for everyone with some finding it perhaps a little tool aid back for their taste but for me I will definitely miss it when it goes back to the showroom.
It’s not better that some of the likely competition (see my other recent DAC reviews), it’s just a little different and an excellent alternative to the brighter and more fatiguing DAC’s currently in vogue. This is how it should be because if everything sounded the same it would be a boring world to live in.
The DA1000 is built to last a lifetime and would probably sound even better in a system comprising other TAD products. I was hoping to review it with their M2500 MK2 power amp but at 45kg I wasn’t sure I could lift it into and out of the car, let alone set it up – perhaps another day.
Please contact us at Nintronics to listen to any of our TAD equipment including this DAC, their amplifiers and Speakers in our three dedicated listening rooms, current Covid 19 restrictions notwithstanding.
Thanks for listening and if you have any questions then I am very happy to try and answer them for you.
Bob at Team Nintronics – Christmas 2020.