NuForce Air Analog DAC Review

9/21/2012 9:19:45 AM

Audiophile can feel reassured getting rid of CD player and using this device to connect with computer to enjoy the versatility and advantage of music players.

Though the world is becoming digitized, in audio field, analog is still dominant. A bulky system occupying a lot of space, with complex connection of entangled cables, time and money has long been a common formula for audiophile. However, some collectors still believe in the pre-eminence of digital technology and start replacing their bulky analog system with compact and versatile analog devices. NuForce is among manufacturers who did soon realize the trend and wait in front for the market with innovative device such as Air DAC.

Description: NuForce Air DAC

NuForce Air DAC

NuForce Air DAC first appeared at CES 2012. This is a lovely device whose size is smaller than even Wi-Fi transmitter having Airport Express audio output, from Apple. The case is totally made of plastic with easy and effective configuration. The device uses external 5V power supply via a small rectifier adaptor. Besides, there’s also another version owning iTX transmitter using Apple contact to link with iPhone, iPad, iPod.

NuForce Air DAC shines with superior wireless connectivity using SKAA technology of Eleven Engineering, a Canadian manufacturer specialized in Wi-Fi receiver/transmitter for audio industry. Based on compressed data sharing, HPX, Wi-Fi transmitter connected to computer or Apple device is responsible for encoding, compressing original audio data from 16bit down to 5bit and transmitting it to receiver via Wi-Fi connection. Receiver will decompress, turn 5bit data into 16bit data and restore the original audio data. With the same method, sharing audio files through Wi-Fi environment will become easier, without lagging or interruption, like common issues on other devices. To preserve compressed audio quality, Eleven Engineering uses some special techniques to maintain time latency at the lowest level and THD+N (total harmonic distortion plus noise) at relative level with common CD’s standard parameter. It is recognizable that despite running on popular frequency band (2.4GHz) but using WFD protocol, Wi-Fi technology of SKAA doesn’t completely conflict with other Wi-Fi transmitters. For streaming device collectors, this point is very important.

Using SKAA technology allows Air DAC’s central device to connect simultaneously with 4 Wi-Fi transmitters. Therefore, Air DAC functions as the center of audio system and easily connects with source devices, like computer, iPhone, iPad…

Description: USB Wi-Fi transmitter

USB Wi-Fi transmitter

Inside Air DAC is very basic. The main part is SKAA encoder associated with Wi-Fi antenna of Eleven Engineering. After being decoded and restored to the original, audio signal will be transferred to AKM4426 decode IC (from Akasi Kaisei, Japan) to turn into analog signal. AKM4426 is modern 24bit DAC, though compact, and integrated with a lot of powerful features, especially ability of reproducing well detailed and extensive sound. Output sound signal at 2Vrms and directed straight to RCA port, via no capacitor. The quite simple circuit takes full advantage of glued components to reduce the size, helping to shorten signal line as much as possible.

Description: The product’s central part is Air DAC.

The product’s central part is Air DAC.

Air DAC’s connection with computer is quite simple, without installation and setting up Wi-Fi parameter. It just requires plug Wi-Fi transmitter into USB port then the computer will automatically detect the device.

Using laptop as transmitting source then connecting Air DAC to Nuforce Icon 2 digital amplifier to transfer signal to AKG 701 earphones and deploying Foobar2000 program to test the device with some favorite songs, this system delivered superior audio quality for such a relative cost and it could satisfy hard-to-please listeners completely. NuForce Air DAC’s sound appeared quite detailed, strong and loud. Difficultly reproduced sound, of piano and violin, seemed quite vibrant.

Continuing connecting Air DAC with an old mid-class receiver of Marantz and hard-to-connect Dynaca speakers, we felt NuForce Air DAC’s audio quality was no much less than that of Arcam 72 CD player. Though Arcam 72 was good with impressing sound, when compared with NuForce’s tiny system playing the same music, Arcam 72’s domination was not remarkable. Through these tests, it was clear that this budget device can absolutely replace a mid-class CD player but still preserve hi-fi sound and reduce the bulk as well as inconvenience in configuration.

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