T+A has set the bar extremely high with the DAC 200. This DAC is one for the ages. It sounds fantastic, looks classic, functions seamlessly, is well supported, and is priced competitively. Based on my listening habits and experience with more DACs than I can remember, this would be my number one choice for a DAC anywhere near the DAC 200's price. Everything about the DAC 200 is just that good. Period.
The T+A DAC 200 is so good, it brought me back to two channel stereo listening, from my one of a kind 7.1.4 Atmos system, and figuratively glued me to my chair. I'm enthralled with the music coming from my system, through the DAC 200. Given that my immersive system is capable of truly amazing performance, T+A is doing more than a few things right with the DAC 200.
The first time I was dramatically drawn back to my two channel system, I was listening to Lady Blackbird's album Black Acid Soul. On tracks such as Five Feet Tall, and It'll Never Happen Again, Lady Blackbird just reached out through my Wilson Alexia speakers, grabbed me by the collar, and made me sit up straight in my listening chair. What I heard was so full of emotion, effort, and talent that I had to run my warm hand up and down my arm as the goosebumps sent a chill through my body. The DAC 200 pulls incredible music and performances from ones and zeros, like nothing in its class.
Let's dig into what makes the DAC 200 tick, before going further about its stellar performance.
T+A DAC 200 Details
The DAC 200 has a long list of meaningful features that don't just check a box for the consumerist with a spreadsheet. These are A List features for music aficionados that set this DAC apart from the competition. The most impactful of these features is the T+A Path Separation Technology. According to T+A, "Both PCM and DSD have their own converter, specifically tailored to their requirements ... For PCM signals we use our quadruple converter, whereas DSD files are processed using the T+A True 1-bit converter, which is unique in the world." The DAC 200 is literally two digital to analog converters in one chassis. It's the best of both worlds, without the requirement of purchasing two DACs and all the headache that would follow, when one needs to switch DACs between playing PCM and DSD. The DAC 200 reads the input signal and routes the audio accordingly.
T+A offers four different filters for internal upsampling in the DAC 200. If I had to guess, I'd say most DACs on the market don't offer manual filter selections. T+A prefers to give the listener options. The options are FIR 1 for extremely linear frequency response, FIR 2 for improved peak handling, BEZ 1 for Bezier interpolation and IIR filtering, and the BEZ 2 pure Bezier interpolator for "perfect" timing and dynamics. One great aspect of these filters is that there's no wrong choices. It's all about personal preference.
Those who prefer non-oversampling (NOS) DACs because they like to use an application such as HQPlayer to upsample externally, are also in luck. The DAC 200 features two crucial pieces of this puzzle. First, it offers two different NOS modes. The difference between the modes is a low pass filter setting of 120 kHz or 60 kHz for 1x sample rate material. Second, the DAC 200 accepts ultra high sample rates up through 768 kHz PCM and DSD1024. High sample rate inputs are critical for those who upsample externally.
Based on my extended listening through the DAC 200, the best sound in my system was achieved using HQPlayer to upsample all audio to DSD256, using poly-sync-gauss-long (1x), poly-sync-gauss-hires-lp (2x), and the ASDM7ECv2 modulator. If there was a "right" filter and modulator, there would be no choices available in HQPlayer. However, filter and modulator selection are all about personal preference, whether done externally or inside the DAC.
Similar to the T+A Path Separation Technology in concept, is the T+A Digital Analogue Separation System inside the DAC 200. This, "Utilizes ultra-fast digital isolators from Silicon Labs to provide galvanic separation between the analogue and digital sections. ... the mains sections for the analogue and digital signal paths are also completely separated galvanically." Takign this a step further, the timing critical clocking signals for the D to A converters are isolated using special high frequency impulse transformers to insure jitter free performance, that is unobtainable using integrated isolators. As readers can see, separation is a big deal to the T+A engineering team, and it should be a big deal for music lovers who care about sound quality.
On the outside, the DAC 200's design is elegant and technical at the same time. There are quite a few physical buttons, to access that which needs quick accessing, but they look nice and have a solid feel. The volume control features satisfying detents as it's rotated, and also has a very solid feel. The front display is large enough to be useful from the listening position, to see the selected input and current sample rate. However, the other items are quite small and require the listener be up close and personal with the DAC 200.
The stars of the front panel show are clearly the analog meters. The T+A engineering team hit a home run with these on many levels. Of course they look really nice and contribute to the "audio fireplace" effect. But, T+A took them even further by enabling the meters to work in three different modes, each selectable by the listener. The meters can operate in a more traditional VU scale monitoring the input or output level, display the temperature of the entire system and output stages separately, or display the quality of the incoming audio stream. According to the DAC 200 manual, "The left meter [scale - 0 +] shows whether the clock frequency of the incoming data stream of the currently active source is operating at the standard frequency. If the needle is exactly in the middle of the scale, the frequency of the source is exactly at the standard frequency. The display range covers -150ppm to +150 ppm. Digital sources complying to the standards should be in the range +/- 50ppm. The right meter [scale 0...100] indicates the error rate of the currently active input. With good transmission quality, the display should be at 0."
Both internally and externally, the T+A engineering team has done a marvelous job pairing form and function, with the main goal of accurate music reproduction.
Back To Listening
Getting back into listening mode, I spent time using the DAC 200 in different digital configurations. I settled on two different sources. One, a custom built SOtM computer using the new SOtM sMB-Q370 Motherboard, PCIe USB card, Ethernet card, clocking add-ons and power supplies all supplied by SOtM. Two, my stalwart Sonore signatureRendu SE Optical running NAA software. These sources and HQPlayer Embedded came together to create a really special sound.
Listening to Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Le Sacre du Printemps, really enabled the DAC 200 to shine in multiple areas. The best of those was reproduction of percussion, from tiny cymbal details to texture on drumheads to booming thunder-like strikes. Through some components we get either texture or boom, with one precluding the other. Not so, through the DAC 200. I heard it all with great detail and transients and power. I listened to Night On Bald Mountain several times through the DAC 200, each time as enjoyable as the previous one. The DAC 200 never disappointed.
Using the same track, but switching to the DAC 200's built-in Bezier filters and sending the DAC bit perfect 24/96 PCM audio, one could her an equally engaging performance with nuance and detail, but it was just a skosh softer than HQPlayer and DSD256. External upsample is the icing on the cake, while the cake is delicious in its own right. Listeners uninterested in external upsampling should consider this DAC a 10 out of 10, with the ability to go to 11 via HQPlayer if necessary.
Moving back to HQPlayer upsampling to DSD256 on the SOtM computer, I played Greg Brown's album Honey in the Lion's Head. On the track Who Killed Cock Robin, I could smell Brown's coffee and cigarette laden breath. I don't know if he smokes or drinks coffee, but I won't let that ruin a perfect illusion brought on by such realistic audio reproduction through the T+A DAC 200. This track, and entire album, has a pure and organic realism through the DAC 200, that just isn't present in many competitive DACs. I was listening to tracks that I'd typically skip, because the sound was so good. This isn't a case of listening to music only because it sounds good, but rather, letting oneself be exposed to new music initially because of the sound, and realizing afterward that I was previously missing out on some really great music.
Thanks to my 7.1.4 Atmos system, I've recently been exposed to some great prog rock. A new favorite of mine is the band Porcupine Tree and its album Closure/Continuation. Listening to the album in stereo is a very different experience, especially because band leader Steven Wilson's enthusiasm for immersive audio and talent mixing in Atmos, has lead him to produce incredible surround albums.
I was a touch nervous that the DAC 200 would fall flat when I listened to Porcupine Tree. Let's be real, any stereo DAC has its hands and feet tied together when competing against a 12 channel immersive system, playing an album created with Atmos in mind. Listening to the two channel stereo mix of C/C, the track Harridan sounds great through the DC 200. From the opening bass intro to the hard hitting kick drums to the immensely powerful guitar riffs that kick in after a slight lull in the music around the 3:15 mark of the track. Any fault I could hear in the sound was completely unrelated to the DAC 200, and solely because I was comparing the Atmos and stereo mixes in my head. Overall, the DAC 200 delivered everything there was to deliver on this album, and nothing more. Speed, power, and detail were all there, when present on the recording. Just as they should be.
One activity I wish I could've done is compare the DAC 200 with the DAC 8 from T+A. I really liked the DAC 8, as I do much of what T+A designes. It's solid engineering-based audio company that delivers on its promise. Going solely by memory, which is fraught with issues, I'd say the DAC 200 is in a completely different class from the DAC 8. It really isn't a fair comparison. The DAC 200 is far better than the price difference between the two suggests.
Many years from now, when T+A ceases DAC 200 production, this DAC will have an immediate cult following, and values on the used market will shoot up. This is one of those DACs that'll be sought after for decades. It does so much, so right. It's a product for which the CASH List was created. The DAC 200 is among the leaders, at any price, on our list of recommended hardware, and easily the leader among its peers anywhere near its $7,125 MSRP.
This DAC was designed to use its internal filters or take advantage of the great horsepower of an external upsampling computer running HQPlayer. Either way, the T+A DAC 200 delivers the goods. It's a 10 out of 10 on its own, and an 11 out of 10 with the world class DSP from Jussi Laako's HQPlayer.
After listening through the DAC 200 for a few weeks, using it with different sources, reading the user manual a couple times, and exchanging emails with the T+A team, I realized that T+A gets it. I'm willing to bet that many readers will immediately understand what "it" is, because they've also been immersed in this world of digital audio for many years and tried many different solutions in an effort to perfect their audio systems. T+A enables many of us to have the best of both worlds because the company gets it on so many levels, embraces cutting edge technologies, and has set a new standard for digital to analog conversion at a competitive price.
Well done T+A, well done.
Complete Audio System Details - https://audiophile.style/system
- Source: Aurender N20, CAPS 20, Roon ROCK, SOtM PC w/ sMB-Q370 Motherboard
- DAC: EMM Labs DV2, Schiit Audio Yggdrasil LiM
- D-to-D Converter: Sonore Signature Rendu SE (optical), APL HiFi DNP-SR, CAPS 20.1
- Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers, Constellation Audio Inspiration Integrated 1.0
- Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0
- Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2, Wilson Audio TuneTot
- Headphones: RAAL-requisite SR1a
- Digital Signal Processing: Accurate Sound, HQPlayer
- Remote Control Software: Roon Remote, Aurender Conductor, HQPDcontrol v4 (iOS) (Android), JPLAY for iOS
- Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro (M1)
- Playback Software: Roon, HQPlayer
- Network Attached Storage (NAS): QNAP TVS-872XT
- Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Ultra Interconnects, Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Ultra Speaker Cables
- USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable
- Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables
- Power Isolation: Transparent Reference PowerIsolator
- Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables
- Fiber optic Cables: Single Mode OS1-9/125um (LC to LC)
- Acoustic Room Treatments: Vicoustic Diffusion and Absorption, ATS Acoustics Bass Traps
- Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 16 XG, Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, UniFi FlexHD AP, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x6, Commercial Grade Fiber Optic Patch Cables, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload