September
2021

Country of Origin

USA

e1X DAC

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz, Tidal, Denafrips Terminator+ clock-synced to Gaia reclocker, Avatar CD transport, Soundaware D100Pro SD card transport; Preamp: icOn 4Pro SE; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 monos; Headamp: Kinki Studio; Phones: HifiMan Susvara; Loudspeakers: Aurai Audio Lieutenant, Audio Physic Codex Cube Audio Nenuphar Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 6 x 8m with open door behind listening seat
2nd system: Source: Soundaware D300Ref SD transport; DAC: Denafrips Terminator; Preamp/filter: icOn 4Pro + 4th-order/80Hz hi-low pass;
Amplifier: Crayon CFA-1.2; Loudspeakers: sound|kaos Vox 3awf, Dyaudio 18S subwoofer; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~3.5 x 8m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win7/64; USB bridge: Audiobyte Hydra X+; Headamp: COS Engineering H1; Headphones: Final D-8000; Powered speakers: Fram Audio Midi 150
Upstairs headfi/speaker system: Source: Soundaware A280 SD transport; Integrated amplifiers: Schiit Jotunheim R, Bakoon AMP-13R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a; Loudspeakers: Acelec Model 1, Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF
2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; All-in-One: Simon AudioLoudspeakers: German Physiks HRS-120, Zu Submission subwoofer; Power delivery: Furutech eTP-8, Room: ~6x4m

Review component retail in the EU: €6'900 incl. VAT

"1'500 years ago everybody knew that the Earth was the center of the universe. 500 years ago everybody knew that the Earth was flat. 15 minutes ago you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow." – Agent K.

At Bel Canto—Italian for beautiful song—the Men in Black have their own product line called Black. While in the Bible, Abraham begat Isaac who begat Jacob who begat Judas all the way to JC (not John Curl), in Bel Canto's catalogue Black sired Black EX which sired e1X. Unlike in the Bible, Bel Canto designer John Stronczer stopped well short of the 14th generation, never mind cause three such genetic chain reactions. After e1X he only added e.One though each range counts multiple models. Today we're on about his 3rd-from-the-top range and its DAC. That also appears inside a matching integrated whose uprated nCore power stage then appears in an amplifier of matching cosmetics. So one could build a system with the e1X integrated; or go separate ways with an e1X DAC/amp pairing. The full title of our review suspect is DAC Control Preamp. You might think the second word extraneous but it's actually why I signed up for this gig. I'm a control freak. Really.

To wit, the e1X isn't just a volume-controlled DAC with analog line-level inputs plus MM/MC phono plus headfi plus Roon ready plus custom app control; not that this isn't loaded functionality already. But it still does us better. It adds a secondary analog output for a subwoofer. That sees a menu-based digital bass management "including independent selection of a 2nd-order Butterworth low pass and high pass filter set. The main speakers can be run full range or rolled off below 40-120Hz in 10Hz increments. The subwoofer's low pass can be set likewise. There's also ±6dB of gain trim on the subwoofer output." There's even a subtle bass EQ function. Voilà, flexible onboard integration of subwoofer and mains in 64-bit DSP which bypasses a sub's inferior A/D⇒DSP⇒D/A processing.

While not exactly a unicorn sighting, in my world that stunt remains rare. In the home-theater sector, pre/pros are loaded with smart bass-management features. That's because no diehard HT freak worth his cheap explosions would do without a big sub or two. Now proper and flexible integration is key. In the 2-channel space meanwhile, subwoofers—if they factor at all—mostly follow the narrow gospel of REL.

That's augmentation or 'tack-on' mode via a high-level connection at the speaker terminals.

It just can't unburden the main amp of low bass nor does it filter the speakers. It can't reduce their excursions to lower distortion. It can't lower their voice-coil heat to stop impedance from rising which causes dynamic compression. For those benefits one filters the mains, ideally in a perfectly mirror-imaged slope to the subwoofer for phase consistency at the handover and a linear response.

The bad news? Audiophile 2-channel preamps lack the necessary featurization to do it unless they're my custom icOn 4Pro SE. Meanwhile external analog xovers like Wilson's command $4'500 but offer no remote. Linn and TotalDAC embed digital solutions, the budget pro field does digital xovers à la Behringer. Getting a flexible hi/lo-pass filter inside a premium audiophile DAC with variable outputs plus Quad-style tilt controls plus bass EQ plus gain trim for the sub out… that's a bit of an egg-laying milk-giving Mangalitsa pig. To go full hog, read this. As I don't spin vinyl or radiate WiF, I won't cover those features. But I headfi and subwoof to dig into those features of the e1X DAC Control Preamp.

And it goes without saying: the e1X comes in stealth black only. Proper men in black won't be seen with silver anythings unless it's a very big very shiny gun. Before you worry that we're descending into juvenile prop worship, agent K's weapon here merely shows how doing more is its own reward. For all the advanced DAC/pres out there, what else packs as much as the e1X?