Sutherland 12dAX7 USB DAC and Preamp Reviewed

By |

Page 1 Page 2

Sutherland_12DAX7_USB_DAC.gifIn the hierarchy of people who actively pursue cruddy sound, the top spot belongs to computer nerds. Who else voluntarily puts up with sonic nightmares so gleefully, while having the audacity (in their techno-arrogance) to declare that the swill from PC soundcards via �29-per-pair plastic boxes is good because it's 'digital'? Arguing is pointless: most new music has more in common with Intel and Motorola than Fender and Steinway. So, in their sheer lack of discernment (or, more likely, utter meanness), nerds perpetuate the acceptance of bad sound. All of which bodes ill for what could be their salvation.

Ron Sutherland, who released a line of cutting-edge solid-state amp and pre-amps in the 1990s, offers a product which bypasses a computer's soundcard and accesses the digital data stream directly via a USB socket, as found on nearly every post-1998 PC and some Macs. The inspiration is simple: computers are overtaking hi-fi in certain quarters (e.g. colleges) as the source of music, yet they suffer undernourished power supplies, most sound cards are made from scandalously cheap parts, and the environment in which they operate is 'dirty'. More specifically, because volume control in a computer exists in a purely digital domain, the software 'volume sliders' lower level by shedding bits of information. The 12dAX7 adjusts volume solely in the analogue domain, with no loss of information.

Additional Resources

Unbelievably given Ron's pedigree, the 12dAX7 is a valve product. And we all know that the digitisation of music adds vile artefacts to the signal; the 12dAX7 uses 12AX7 tubes in a special circuit that 'euphonically restores even order harmonic structure to music.' Each channel in the 12dAX7 contains its own circuit board, 'a type of dual-mono construction unusual in even the most expensive high-end audio products,' according to Sutherland. And Sutherland chose a Burr-Brown PCM2702 DAC as the heart of the unit.

Effectively a preamp-D/A converter housed in a gorgeous 15x8.5x3in (WDH) box to fit in-between computer and hi-fi system, the 12dAX7 is so minimalist that it doesn't even provide on/off; the unit is controlled entirely by the computer to which it's attached, save for a master volume rotary on its 1/2in thick Perspex front panel. Through the panel, you can observe the valves and four LEDs on the PCB: 'mute' which flashes red during warm-up, 'suspend' (also red) which is on until the computer drivers 'find' the 12dAX7, a yellow LED marked 'zero' which glows when there is no audio data coming in, and 'play', which glows green when digital data is available. The back contains only the USB input, phono sockets for left and right analogue line output and an IEC mains socket.


  • Comment on this article

Post a Comment
comments powered by Disqus

HTR Product Rating for Sutherland 12dAX7 USB DAC and Preamp

Criteria Rating

Performance

4

Value

4

Overall

4

Disagree with our product rating? Email us and tell us why you think this product should receive a higher rating.


Latest Digital to Analog Converter Reviews

Dec 30
Denon PMA-150H Integrated Network Amplifier Reviewed Denon's PMA-150H Integrated Network Amplifier with HEOS ($1,099) lends some credibility to an argument I've been making for a few...
Denon PMA-150H Integrated Network Amplifier Reviewed

Dec 23
Lumin X1 Network Player Reviewed The Lumin brand was launched in 2012 by Hong Kong-based Pixel Magic Systems Ltd., a manufacturer of commercial grade receivers...
Lumin X1 Network Player Reviewed

Dec 09
Home Theater Review's Best of 2019 Awards As 2019 comes to a close, we at HomeTheaterReview.com look back at all the products we reviewed this year and pick the best of the bunch, from affordable favorites to flagship products that make us drool.
Home Theater Review's Best of 2019 Awards

Jul 22
Naim Uniti Nova All-in-one Media Player Reviewed World populations are increasingly moving from rural to urban centers, making for larger cities with greater population density than ever...
Naim Uniti Nova All-in-one Media Player Reviewed

Jul 15
Krell K-300i Integrated Stereo Amplifier Reviewed There are few things in the AV market right now that excite me quite so much as the melding of...
Krell K-300i Integrated Stereo Amplifier Reviewed