Josh has had this for a while so I know he has really put it through its paces. I also know that he gets on really well with it and in my auditions with I have been similarly impressed. While it doesn’t have the last say in the subtle technicalities it does sound very warm and analogue, which is a main target for a DAC. I will let him take other because his thoughts are just a little more detailed and thought out that mine on it. -Sonny
Teac is a company that the vast majority of people are aware of as a company associated with audio, but not necessarily as a serious consideration for home desktop listening for us more critical audiophiles. I was so curious about the performance of this 32/384khz native DSD capable DAC that I actually bought one.
This DAC retails at £699 and is placed in their Reference Series of products as their flagship standalone DAC, and it has a pretty hefty specification for that money too.
• Supports DSD 2.8/5.6MHz playback (via USB)
• Supports PCM 32bit/384kHz playback (via USB)
• Supports PCM 24bit/192kHz playback (Coaxial)
• Supports up to 24bit/96kHz playback (Optical)
An abundance of digital inputs to keep most happy are offered up in the form of 5 in total: two coaxial, two optical, and a single USB. We also have 1 set of XLR outputs and a set of RCA’s which can be used independently or at the same time. The screen on the front panel displays the sample rate, filters that are applied and whether any up-sampling is happening. We also have a ¼ inch headphone output on the front aluminium panel with a rather large volume control for it. There are two ‘filters’ for PCM, sharp and slow. There are also four finite impulse response filters for DSD. As I mentioned there is the ability to up-sample PCM to 24/192 for owners of this DAC but I tended to have this switched off. The options continue; the display can be dimmed and even turned off to suit the environment or user preference as well as the XLR option of having them pin two hot or pin three hot (our usage).
Usability, Convenience and Build
The product itself is actually a bit bigger than I expected it to be, the best way to describe the size in an understandable way would be to say it fits snuggly on an A4 piece of paper. But its size to me is imposing enough to be at home on a Hi Fi rack and not too big to look ridiculous as part of a headphone desktop rig. The black aluminium body is gorgeous and extremely solid. Other aluminium body products I have owned have somehow felt less solid than this Teac. One area I’m not quite sure about in terms of aesthetics is the handles on the side, not only because they are silver whilst the body is black but also I think that 95% of people won’t use them. I know it gives a contrasting aspect, but I’m not sure about it.
The layout of inputs and buttons is another great feature of this DAC, I find the back of the product to be convenient and intuitive and I can’t ask for any more than that. The front panel I also like. Some people will hate the two knobs being different sizes, shape and texture but I think this is actually quite a good idea to differentiate from the headphone functions and the DAC functions. Scrolling through the menus and options is another aspect that I think works well. It is extremely easy to use and get used to and prevents the front panel from being cluttered. Good stuff from Teac then but I wouldn’t expect anything less from such an experienced and well established brand.
Before we crack on with the sound I will mention the filters in a bit more detail The FIR filters (used for DSD) vary the cut off frequency and gain: FIR Filter 1 Cut off Frequency = 185kHz, Gain= -6.6dB, FIR Filter 2 Cut off Frequency = 90kHz, Gain= +0.3dB, FIR Filter 3 Cut off Frequency = 85kHz, Gain= -1.5dB, and FIR Filter 4 Cut off Frequency = 94kHz, Gain= -3.3dB. PCM filters are either sharp, slow or off. I found that these options can aid a little bit towards system matching but nothing major by any means. I personally left the PCM filter off with the LS-50’s and put it in sharp with the IMF’s. The FIR was left in the default FIR 2. These allow you to play around with the sound a little but are completely dependent on your personal sound preference so that is all I will say about them for now.
Dual monaural circuitry
The UD-501 uses a single BurrBrown PCM1795 DAC chip per channel as well as dual MUSES8920 operational amplifiers on each channel. The Teac also sports an individual toroidal-core power transformer on each channel to truly achieve a total Dual Monaural Design. The two circuits for the separate channels are kept entirely separate from one another to effectively eliminate interference and achieve ‘purer audio signal processing’. Now this is not massively uncommon in the DAC market by any means, but this DAC costs £699, it uses dual monaural design and will play up to DSD128 natively. To me this really looks like a bargain but he real test is obviously how it sounds and how it engages…
So we have established that on paper the Teac appears a winner. But what’s it like to listen to I hear you ask? Well I shall tell you.
Pretty much as soon as I had given it a few days burn in, I took it round to Sonny’s for our Thursday night audio session because we were both pretty curious about it. At this time we were comparing it to the Rein Audio X3 DAC which cost considerably more than the Teac so in all honesty, neither of us were expecting the impressions that we got. We became pretty good at switching XLR’s quickly and efficiently to keep the conditions exactly the same when A/B-ing as to keep the time between listens to a minimum.
We usually have a nice lengthy listen before discussing our thoughts but with this Teac the differences were instantly obvious to us both.
The first thing to jump out was the dynamics of this thing! It produces a dramatic energetic performance in the majority of the frequency range (especially bass), that the Rein simply cannot cope with causing it to sound really dead and flat. The difference wasn’t small, it was massive. This kind of set the tone for the rest of our listen. The separation of instruments and soundstage was also pretty darn good, when listening to tracks from Jason Mraz in 24/96 there was some decent space between instruments and good width to the stage presentation. Don’t think the Teac is fussy with recordings though because to be honest it isn’t, obviously there is a noticeable difference between sample rates but what I’m saying is it doesn’t tear recording apart, it doesn’t ruin your favourite song by pulling out all the tiny details and imperfections. This is not a positive point but it is something worth noting if the majority of your collection is CD or MP3 quality.
Bass is great. It is big but controlled and has a lovely decay that aids the signature of this DAC. It extends deep and is one of my favourite parts of this DAC. It never struggles with bass rhythms either, it appears to drag more detail from low end that anywhere else actually, which brings me nicely on to the higher end. I feel that there is a lack of sparkle and excitement to it occasionally, especially on lower res tracks. The highs could feel a little more airy and open if I’m being really picky but at this price the 501 is a solid performer throughout the frequency range.
The mid-range is smooth and again, rather dynamic when it needs to be. We are not showered in tiny details or perfect attacking edges but it does a remarkable job of conveying emotions in recordings, getting you involved with what you are listening to. These great properties and the warmth of this DAC make it a genuine pleasure to listen to vocal tracks because of.
There are negatives to the sound of the Teac. For example, the detail retrieval is not fantastic compared to the likes of the BMC pureDAC and the Zodiac Gold, even the rein in all honesty; and I know they all cost more(some considerably more) but the detail isn’t on par with other DAC’s even slightly below price point. The Arcam irDAC springs to mind. I would say that the depth of the soundstage sometimes leaves me wanting a bit more, nothing major but I did notice. Also, as I mentioned, it is not a transparent component. It hasn’t given me an insight into a recording that I haven’t come across before. But this just isn’t the signature of the Teac and I have to admit, the signature is something I’m going to need to go into in a bit more detail for it to be understood.
Using Teac’s own digital interface on the PC you can play files over 24/96,when using USB (although I used JRiver) and I love the fact that DSD DAC’s are now coming down in price and are becoming more available. I cannot understand how people think that DSD sounds the same as PCM. Even on our £6000 (Cables stands all included) hifi system that many would consider ‘budget’ DSD jut gives a sense of realism involvement and emotive involvement that when switching between the two, PCM struggles to match up to. The Teac loves DSD files, they bring out the best in the 501’s qualities and I for one am sold on DSD and I know Sonny is too.
This will be the first aspect of the 501 that you notice and it was with both Sonny and I but I wanted to give it its own section to try and explain it to you. I plugged the Teac into the HiFi with the LS50’s and I finally sat down to listen properly, I was overcome with a velvet warmth and smoothness to the sound. I was unsure at first listen whether this was something that was exaggerated and not the ‘true’ sound of the music but you quickly realise that what this DAC achieves is something addictive and loveable.
This is a very analogue sounding DAC, it doesn’t sound digital or bitty at any point, and there are no harsh edges or rough patches. It is wonderful in conjunction with the LS50’s which are quite analytical in their sound. The combination of the Teac the Parasound P5 and the A23 with the KEF’s was truly a wonderful combination of smoothness and detail.
The thing the 501 achieves though is making you actually feel like you are involved in the music. It grabs you and takes hold of you in your seat and you just want to listen. The Liquid vocals, punchy attacking bass with a nice decay just get you so immersed in the music. Nelly Furtado’s album Whoa, Nelly! Was a brilliant demonstration of the Teac’s finer qualities.
I would recommend pairing this with a system that was analytical and highs that sparkle. The detail and energy offered by the P5, A23 and LS50’s makes a great combo with the 501 because it brings the warmth and realism that takes the system to the next level for me. With the IMF TLS80’s and the Roksan k2 the warmth was a bit over egged for my liking but some bass heads would love this combo. It is all down to personal preference as we know, and in my opinion, I prefer the Teac integrated into a sparkling analytical system.
So despite its flaws in detail and extension into the top frequencies, this Teac offers dynamics, warmth, velvet mids, DSD capability, balanced outputs, wide soundstage, good separation and most importantly emotive involvement and love-ability all for £699. Technically this DAC is not the greatest but it makes you feel involved and in tune with what you is listening to. I urge you to audition it.