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Acoustic Research UA1 - Latest Review from Headphone.Guru

Posted by Israel Davimes on

Acoustic Research UA1 DAC 

 With over 60years of experience designing and building products in home entertainment, whether it be audiophile or videophile – AR Acoustics are a brand synonymous with quality. In 1959 they produced one of theworld’s first dome tweeters and revolutionized vinyl playback by building a belt drive turntable with T-bar sub chassis, add to that the world’s first universal remote control and you can be sure that these guys know what they are doing.

The company was originally founded by theAmerican inventor, educator and writer Edgar Villchur in partnership withAmerican audio engineer HenryKloss and based themselves in Cambridge, Massachusetts. These two men were no slouches and among their credentials are the inventions ofthe acoustic suspension loud speaker in 1954 and the high fidelity cassette deck.

Known by most home audio enthusiasts for their expertise in the manufacturing of high quality interconnects that include anything from optical cables to premium 16 gauge speaker wire, Acoustic Research have now decided turn their attention towards the world of headphone amplification with the inauguration of their new AR UA1DAC/ HEADAMP.

Build quality and tech specs

The UA1 hi res DAC was built as part of the 2011 reboot program instigated by Acoustic Research. TheDAC/head amp has become their first new productfrom the digital high end section within the company. As a DACit boasts resolution up to 24/192via HD USB. Another key feature is its audiophile grade, ultra-low jitter asynchronous USB implementation. This is a standard feature of many DACs today but usually at higher price points. AR’s ability to competently utilize this technology and keep the cost low is quite impressive. They also include a free installation pack for J River media centre that would costthe customer over $70



Acoustic Research UA1 DAC | Headphone.Guru

The build is in my opinion superb. I love its minimal aesthetics. The aerospace grade aluminium encased chassis sits in contrastto the device’s black panels thatlie on the back and front. AR made a conscious decision to have no digital display and to utilise all power from the USB to the amplification of headphones. This product plugs straightinto your laptop/PC/MacBookwithoutthe need of walled power supply, enhancing its convenience for the user. There is an LED placed on the front ofthe device and will illuminate different colours depending on the playback format chosen. The colours correlatewith the following formats – WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, DSD64, DSD128and DSD. How DSD playback is achievable at 400grams is beyond my ability to comprehend but somehow AR Acoustics have managed to do justthat and still facilitate a head amp with the capability of powering nearly every headphone from 16to 600ohms. Maybe some ofthese secrets lie in the implementation oftheBurrBrown PCM 1794a digital to analogue converter, or inAR’s choice to use theXMOS platform – PLL generator, which instead of using a single clock crystal oscillator, it utilizes an advanced dual clock crystal oscillator. The chosen outputfor amplification for theUA1is in this case theTexas Instruments TPA6120A2keeping the total harmonic distortion to 0.01% and offloading 400 milliwatts into 32ohms. ( Sound DACsection ¬this is where the product really holds up in my opinion. TheDAChas a very revealing nature and is quite impressivewith hi-res files. In fact, when using the J river music center, hi-res files of 24/192resolution,the results are astonishing, especially atthis price point. This DACreally lets you know what’s on a recording. This was my firsttime in experiencing aBurrBrown chip, and although the presentation was slightly leaner than whatI am used to, it was still a sound thatI very much grew to like. It does sound completely differentto myArcam Rdac. TheArcam has a slightly bigger soundstage and can be described as having a rounded presentation, whereas theAcoustic research UA1has a slight edge in its ability to pull more detail from a track. It manages to portray the detail in whatI would describe as little pockets ofinformation that are nearly displayed across the soundstage. The sounds ofinstruments are separated with great precision and seem almostto 2015. 10. 3. Acoustic Research UA1 DAC | Headphone.Guru 3/6 be deposited to the left and right when listening to headphones, as opposed to being melded together in one uniform front. Most DACs atthis price point can be difficultto tell apart but with these two side by side therewas no mistake,these are two very different creatures altogether. TheAR’s treble seems slightly more extended with twinkle and glimmer in the higher registers when compared to theArcams darker nature. One ofthe firsttracks thatimpressed mewhen listening to theUA1was ALT-J’s “MS” from theirMercury prizewinning album – “AnAwesomeWave”. This album has excellent production and thattrack really grabs the listener. The layered vocals jump forward in the soundstage and have a presence thatis very appealing on headphones especially theHD650, but with speakers the sound is utterly engaging. I used theUA1’s DACsection and paired it with myWooAudioWA5and a set of EIST Audio Dubh floor standers. I feltthattheUA1’s DACreally punched above its weight here and the pairing ofthese3components left a smile on my face through long listening sessions. I tried all sorts oftracks for testing this product, everything from bluegrass and rock to chamber music and jazz. As I mentioned earlier,the treble presentation oftheUA1is whatimpressed me the most, and this was very evidentin theCurtis Fuller track “Oscarlypso” from the1957album – “The Opener”. The sound of cymbals on this album is truly incredible and a greattester for percussions. Art Taylor’s drumming here is as good as it gets. TheUA1DACcould extract detail in this recording with precision, being able to relay acoustic queues, such as sustain and decay with almost no shortcomings. Therewere also room reflections and natural reverb embedded in the recording that can sometimes be lostin cheap DAC’s buttheUA1could reconfigure these natural effects convincingly. Another track I used in testing was an ElgarCello concerto, played by JaquelineDePre. The UA1’s DACsection handled this really well. All the intricacies and finesse of Jaqueline’s bowing techniquewas captured authentically and made for a very enjoyable listen. One ofthe hardest parts of a recording like this to get right, is the soundstage size. TheUA1fell down slightly here, but more than made up for itin terms of soundstage dept. Amp section ¬the advantages theUA1’s amplifier has over a standard laptop is instantly recognizable. For driving headphones, itis far superior to any MP3player orPCaudio out. The amp has a subtle touch and when paired with my HD595’s and HD650’s. It can drive them with little or no harshness, which is a big plus for a product atthis price point. It can power the Sennheiser HD800to expectable volumes, but only when the volumewheel is nearing its limit. One of my only gripes with his productis the volume knob itself. Itisn’t exactly as smooth as I would like, but when you consider all ofthe accessories that comewith theUA1 package, it’s only a minor draw back. I think theUA1DAC/ headphone amp would be a great choice for anyone starting out as an audiophile. It does a greatjob of powering any of my headphones from 50to 400dollars, including the Shure SHR 440, Sennheiser HD80pro, Audio TechnicaAT-m50, Sennheiser HD595and even theHD650. Conclusion AcousticResearch has managed to make a product,thatis both a headphone amp and a DAC, with the capability of playing formats from 16bit/44KHz all theway to 24bit/192KHz, and have included in this package, a free installation of J River media centre, and all for the 2015. 10. 3. Acoustic Research UA1 DAC | Headphone.Guru 4/6 amazing price of $600USD. The strengths ofthis productin my opinion, lie in theDACsection and its ability to produce nearly grain-free treble and upper-mids. TheDACis even convincing in my speaker system, which is something thatI was not expecting. As ifthat wasn’t enough, the amplifier within theUA1has power enough to drive almost any headphone. I believe that this productis a perfect starting pointfor anyone setting out on building a headphone rig. (



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