A DAC is not for everyone. But for those who care, it is probably one of the most vital parts of their sound systems. In the AI-101DA, TEAC have packaged a great sound performance and conversion, in a small package and a reasonable cost. We took it for a drive, and were immensely pleased with the sound produced.
For most of us, even the ones among us who love music, DACs are not really the kind of thing we worry or think about. We either go with expensive hi-fis, that have it all built in, or we just try and get a good set of speakers plugged in to our devices. However, as most music now lives in digital format, it is only natural that most of it comes from our computers and phones, and frankly, neither are good at converting digital sound to analog. For those of us who care, and for those of us where this really matters, one can invest in a DAC, a digital to audio converter, that takes sound from a digital source, and after some processing, releases it as an audio file, something your computer can play well. TEAC has already built a great reputation in the world of DACs, and the AI-101D is another offering from them, allowing you to plug directly into your computer, or even connect to your smartphone via a Bluetooth connection.
In the box
- The DAC
- Power Cord
- Remote control (with batteries)
- Rubber Feet
- Owner’s Manual
The box does not contain any connectivity cables. Not for your PC, not for your speakers. The assumption is that if you know what you’re buying, you should probably have one of those cables. I still think a USB cable would have been handy. It is the same cable you plug into a printer, just in case you’re wondering, so there is a good chance you may have it.
Then again, it is convention for high end sound equipment to come without cables.
- USB DAC for PCM 192kHz/24-bit High-resolution Audio Streaming
- 2 Optical Audio Input supporting PCM 192kHz/24-bit
- Bluetooth® aptX® Wireless Audio Streaming
- 26W + 26W Built-in Class-D Power Amplifier
- BurrBrown PCM1796 D/A Converter
- Up-conversion up to 192kHz
- Asynchronous Transfer Mode
- 100mW + 100mW Headphone Output Power
- DSP-based HR Loudness for maximized audio performance, applicable to all incoming audio signal including Analog Line In
- Aluminum Front Panel and Case
- Machined Aluminum Knobs
- Iconic Side Guard Bars
- Vertical and Horizontal Design
- Auto Power Saving / Auto Power On
- Remote Control
- Binding-post Speaker Terminals
- Subwoofer Pre-out for 2.1ch System
Look and feel
The front of the system features a massive volume control, that gives you output in decibels instead of the usual 0-10. To balance the volume knob, you have a couple of smaller knobs on the left, which are digital switches allowing you to flick between on/off and input control. Also, on the front, is a headphone out.
A bunch of LEDs tell you which input is selected, and whether UP Convert is used or whether the remote control was used to change the volume. Bit of an issue there, as the volume knob, if touched, will then take precedence. Bit of a UI conflict there, but not big enough for one to worry about.
A big silver circular disc under the LEDs is the remote control signal receiver.
The back provides a bunch of connectors for all kinds of uses. The most import one is the USB in, though you can also use a 3.5mm AUX in, or Optical lines to connect to this. A couple of speaker outputs, as well as a subwoofer out are available.
Connecting to a computer (PC or Mac)
Before you connect this to either of the two types of machines, you will need to install drivers. Much like you would for a sound card. The driver can be downloaded for free from the TEAC website:
There is even a free app that can be downloaded to play various music files on your computer, but personally, I don’t think you need it.
Ease of use
Other than turning it on, or using the volume knob, you don’t really need to do much once it is setup. This makes it quite easy to use. I quite liked using it on Bluetooth mode as well. The remote is a handy feature on top, but the Bluetooth controls on the remote didn’t play/pause my music files when used in Bluetooth mode.
Generally though, it is one of those plug and forget kind of devices.
So, now for the real litmus test. My test started with listening to the soundtrack from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, going on to a few classical pieces, listening to a few rock songs, back to classical, a bit of Bowie, and once again, back again to classical. And then back to Bowie.
You may notice a trend there. The idea was simple. The device offers extreme detail. A tonal balance is achieved, and you can hear everything clearly, from the shrillest of squeaks to the heaviest of drums. Every instrument has a place, and it works oh so well! And then there is the vocals. The detail there is immense and immersive too. That is why I kept going back to Bowie. That man deserves a good sound system, and this is what you need.
The test involved turning upconvert on and off, and the difference is really there for the tuned ears. More important though is the fact that using one of these, you can connect a medium specced set of speakers or headphones, and be on to a winner.
More information on the TEAC AI-101DA can be found on their website:
It retails for £229, and can be bought from various online retailers, including Amazon.
This device is purely for those who really care for their sound, and for them, this is it.