I was meant to begin this review a while ago when it was a ‘fresh off the kiln’ Yulong product but the truth is I have been a little leisurely getting this article to press. This means it is coming up to a year of being on the market. That being said it is without doubt a rarely spoke about product so it’s not like this will be just another take, in fact in English, it will be among the first reviews. I am not actually sure why this product fell on such deaf ears, in its infancy it has already dropped in price from an original RRP of £670 ($838) or £720 ($900) with additional WiFi adapter. Now I can find it for £585 shipped with the WiFi adapter.
The ADA1 is marketed as a WiFi DSD DAC. I love how many things we can now throw in front of DAC to try and spice up its appeal. This adds to Yulongs vast sub £1000 DAC line up and they now have the £420 D200 and £920 DA8II, both of which I have reviewed. They have also recently launched the £209 DAART Canary. Slotting in the middle this is the odd one out. It has a different aesthetic and it leaves the seduction of the Sabre chipsets for the AKM4490. The big new feature this product seems to really flaunt is the addition of the WiFi input (don’t know why you can buy without, should just be a standard part of the product). On top of that like the previous Yulong DACs I have reviewed, this works as a DAC, pre amp and headphone amp!
Yulong have been big supporter of Sabre silicon for as long as I can remember, I mean they used to throw “Sabre” in front of their product names for gods sake! With Sabre only recently releasing a new flagship DAC chipset I am really surprised they have not opted to implement that. Maybe they have finally had enough of their quirks/flaws. Opting for AKM’s AK4490 chip instead was hardly them going out on a limb. It has been thrown into just about all the latest DAPs since Astell & Kern used some in their AK380. Since then it has been found in Cayin’s i5 and Aune M2 as well as in DACs from Bryston, Teac and Audio Alchemy. I should add Yulong have placed it in a dual DAC configuration so there is one per channel. Before that it uses a Saviaudio SA8804 which is ‘known’ for clocking with low jitter (less than 50PS). That is paired with the Saviaudio SA9227 for USB and SA9800 for WiFI. They talk a lot about these Saviaudio gear but in all honesty I have never heard of it! You finally have Texas Instruments OPA1632 op amps for the output buffer, which I presume leads into the JFET input and fully discrete Class A output stage using matched MJD243/253 transistors. The do use a transformer I can at least relate to from Piltron.
Perhaps a reason they have transitioned to this AKM chip (other than it being less susceptible to noise) is that with DSD it can playback natively bypassing the onboard delta sigma modulators. This is only via the USB which can handle DSD up to 256 natively while all inputs can do DSD64/128 over DoP. Additionally all inputs can do PCM up too 24/384, with USB adding 32/384 extra, like that really makes much difference. I am happy streaming Tidal via Roon, guess what… it sounds awesome! Talking of all inputs this has USB, Coaxial, Optical, AES/EBU and WiFi. Output wise it has RCA/XLR for line level and a 1/4 inch headphone jack. Once again Yulong mention that you can actually use the XLR line out with an adapter for balanced headphone drive but in a world where there are already far too many balanced connections this just isn’t smart and I really doubt sees much use, I certainly haven’t been able to try it.
Externally this was as much a departure for Yulong as the internal section. Available in silver or black the aluminium body wraps around a glass touch screen on the front. It also has that antenna sticking out its back, not something I am used to seeing on a DAC. The front panel is illuminated red, for both the text and the 3 discoloured buttons it has. The display likes to automatically dim itself far to quickly and with a lack of a remote, you have to persevere with the horrendous buttons. Curiously they aren’t tactile and therefore find them to lack responsiveness. With some functions needing longer presses, you sometimes hold your finger on the flat surface and get no outcome. It is frustrating and I just don’t see the need for this more futuristic design. Call me old fashioned but I like a physical volume pot, always choosing to use one on my desk over a remote. When you have 80 steps of digital volume at your disposal it would be nice to enjoy using them.
A few of the extra functions found via long presses of the touch buttons include holding input for a change of filter, moving from sharp to slow. You can then hold volume up past -0dB to go into pure DAC mode, which shuts off the headphone amp circuitry. You also have some ‘holds’ to reset WiFi when using that but I found them very hit and miss.
Going back to the actual build of the unit and it is all solid. The feet are made of aluminium and while I won’t say the chassis is near as thick as those of COS, I like that it has no soldering or screw points. It looks like the internal section would have been slid in. The black option certainly looks better than my silver unit and while I hate the whole touch screen mumbo jumbo, I think its sets itself apart from the very standardised look of previous models.
Through Thin Air
WiFI is certainly one of the BIG features of this DAC. Something that breaks the trend and gives it appeal over anything else if you don’t like cables. Now unlike the Audiomat Maestro 3 which has an ethernet port to physically get on your network for music playback, this does so with an optional antenna. Now I thought this could end up being quite cool, I could basically connect it to my phone and playback my music from there or do so from Roon on my iMac. If only it worked that simply….
Being a OnePlus Two (Android) user, I obviously tried to sync it up with that initially. I followed the steps and navigated it to the WiFi input and then downloaded Bubble UPnP as suggested to stream music from. It was absolutely not having that, never once did it even sniff out the DAC as an option to play my music from. After checking around online I found that most resellers have a link for an Android app that 100% doesn’t exist. Excellent. The bottomline is that I most certainly did not get this working with my phone.
Of course I didn’t just give up there, grabbing my mums iPhone 6S to see if a change of platform is what I needed. Fortunately the “Yulong” app can be downloaded from Apples App Store, why they didn’t also put it on the Play store is beyond me. Not that the app was the saving grace, because nothing I did managed to coax it into seeing the DAC. The instructions also said Airplay was an option so I deleted the app and connected to the WiFi signal of the Yulong. I was absolutely mind blown because for the first time a phone had at least registered the existence of the ADA1, with it showing up on Airplay. Don’t let out a sigh of relief too soon though because I could not get any music to play regardless.
Now I am beyond mad at this point but after having spent this much time trying to get it to work and with it being such a major feature of this product I couldn’t just stop now. Thankfully I finally got it working via Airplay on my iMac, using Roon as my interface. It was not a quick process. I had to connect my computers WiFi to its signal but to get it to fully gel I had to remove my totaldac ethernet cable that links me to my hub. Then I selected the DAC in airplay and could get myself online again by reconnecting my ethernet cable.
Now I don’t know if this was Roons fault but when playing 24/96 music it converted the music to a 64 bit float, then the sample rate to 44.1kHz and then 64 bit to 16 bit. An elaborate process that can’t be good for signal quality, especially as it should be able to handle 24/96 and more.
After this whole affair I thought I should compare to USB, so I switched inputs, listened to a sample track, noting it was louder and more dynamic. I then proceeded to quickly switch back to WiFi only to realise I had to do the whole connection process again. I well and truly had enough of the WiFi and called it a day with it there, no way would I want to go through that process every time I wanted a quick listen, defeats the whole easiness of wireless listening to begin with. I’ll just whack a USB cable in thank you.
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