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The U-2 has two different headphone outputs marked H.D. for high damping and L.D for low. The two differ operationally as well as sonically. Plugging a headphone into H.D. will mute the pre-outs. Plugging into the L.D. does not. Sonically the U-2 attempts to satisfy two different camps. The H.D. position is intended to be the more accurate with considerably wider frequency response, dynamics and edge, presumably the ‘transistor’ output. The L.D. is tailored to a softer ‘tube-like’ presentation rounded at the frequency extremes with less definition and dynamics. The output level of H.D. is significantly higher so caution should be taken when switching back and forth.

Computer connection requires no additional software or drivers. DA&T also offers a downloadable custom control panel compatible with up to 32-bit Vista designed to monitor file decoding status and more importantly, bypass the Windows drivers so that the U-2 DAC can process an unchanged and uncorrupted digital signal at native resolution.

Since the DA&T U-2 marked my first foray into serious headphone amplification, I decided to hold the product to very high standards. The unit was hooked up to the Audiospace CDP-8A via the player’s digital and analog outputs to compare the U-2s DAC against the two versions of the CD player’s internal tube and transistor converter streams. The signal was fed to the Audiospace Reference 2S preamp in the first phase of the evaluation and directly into the Bel Canto amplifier in the second. The Apogee Duetta Signature loudspeakers were primary reference speakers but a fair portion of listening was also done through the Usher S-520/SW-520 combination which represents a sonic overachiever at a significantly lower price. The subwoofer saw duty with the Apogees but not with the Usher speakers.

Higher and lower resolution files were tested from both laptop and main PC via the supplied USB cable and a Signal Cable optical link. Driver handshaking on the computers was painless, with Windows immediately recognizing the DA&T. Installation of the custom control panel software was not possible on my 64-bit Windows Vista main computer and still a work in progress on the laptop by the end of the review. It was time to pull out some material.

• "Mombasa" from Inception - The Soundtrack: Hans Zimmer  [Reprise/Water Tower Music 524667] had some critics calling it Zimmer’s best realized work and this cut is a transparent percussive powerhouse that has steep powerful drum and synthesizer attacks that pound fast and furious.
• "1941" from Erich Kunzel-Cincinnati Pops Orchestra Perform a Salute to The Great Film Scores of Steven Spielberg [Telarc CD-80495] is a rousing bit of music from John Williams that can be a dynamic nightmare to reproduce. Ascending from low levels to full tutti power, the subtle quiet beginnings challenge a system's ability to resolve at low volume or risk the powerful climaxes turning brass to brash.

• "Find My Soul" from Disco Romance: Sally Shapiro [Paper Bag records 029] is lightweight fun Swedish disco that evokes the style of the 80s. Heavy synth and retro electronic percussion with a hard steady beat and soft airy vocals.

• "Prelude to Cello Suite #1: Michael Hedges from A Winter’s Solstice 2:Windham Hills Artists [Windham Hill records WD-1077] is a compendium of eclectic music and talented artists on this small dedicated label, Hedges contributes a virtuoso solo guitar piece on a unique instrument whose monstrous bass performance must be heard to be believed. Delicate and deep in a warm acoustic.

• "Georgia on My Mind: Mari Makamoto" from The Super Extended Resolution Sound of TBM  [FIM XRCD018] is sultry jazz with a powerful expressive vocal performance. Detail, nuance and emotion are all well captured.

• "Blue City/Isao Suzuki Quartet" from the eponymous CD has subtlety and attack on the piano, airy guitar and a bass performed with powerful finger work with a huge acoustical space.
• "Dinah" from Keepin’ out of Mischief: Judy and the Jazzmakers [Coherent Recordings CD501] runs just two microphones and no compression as a direct recording on the technical side and one dynamite little jazz band in an empty church on the performance side. It’s a single cut from a uniformly superb CD and a fun way to hear what you need to know about a system.

I had a small grounding problem with the U-2 which generated low-level buzz most noticeable through the H.D. headphone outputs but also through the preamp and line output. This was independent of volume and occurred even in standby mode and in every system configuration with the sole exception of the laptop/headphone amp combination. It worsened going from standby to operational mode but after some experimentation was finally cured by floating the ground on the U-2. Afterwards the unit operated quietly.