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The same is claimed for the ASIO-based driver which enables asynchronous data transfer and circumvents Windows’ dreaded K-Mixer even though my laptop’s volume control remained active. The driver install also increases the otherwise 96Hz-limited ‘bore’ of USB to 192kHz. To have the media player shake seamless hands with the DAC8 driver (which installed so intuitively and is further explained in the owner’s manual to here not warrant additional comments), a few quick tips relative to Foobar200 and J.River Media Center.

With Foobar you’ll want to have pre-installed the freeware ASIO plug-in. Now you’ll pull down Preferences from the main menu, select File command to open up a new window with a hierarchical menu tree. Under Playback you’ll want to select Playback Output ASIO Virtual Devices. Confirm with OK and presto. With J.River you’ll want to go to Steering in the main menu, then select from Playback Options the Playback Mode ASIO, then DAC8 USB ASIO driver. Finish up with two OK confirmations and you’re off to the races. Which is where this review has gotten to by now.

Let’s kick off with a poor-me confession. Before I elected to professionaly review audio components and simply selected personal gear for pleasure and fun, it was sufficient to state "I like that component better than this". Nowadays I must add explanations and justifications with valid analysis and descriptions. This requires all the concentration I’m capable of. Yet beneath this discipline lives another more subtle domain whose inputs often rise up not from deliberation but when I simply sit down to get lost in the music or cue up some background ambiance during computer work.

Here loudspeakers make the whole business easier since often their differences are more tangible. Try the same clear differentiators of tonal neutrality, macrodynamics, soundstage focus or LF heft with a component like ARC’s DAC8. Now more digging is required. The DAC8 eludes easy capture by living above and beyond such standard categorizations. True, aspects which impressed right off were exemplary open and airy staging. But here I must add that with USB audio + media players and even patently more affordable DACs, I often encounter acoustic core excellence that's beyond obvious criticism and leaves rather costlier CD players in the dust.

No, the traits which turn a machine like this Audio Research into an object of desire and motivate us to smack down additional kilo euros on our dealer’s counter happen beyond acoustic core duties. That said, wiring up the ARC to my high-resolution Audionet AMP Monos and Thiel CS3.7s did surprise over what I was used to. It sounded pleasantly ‘non technical’ and ‘involving’ whilst not initially revealing just why and how. Neither did these impressions render my usual Northstar USB dac32 (steered via kernel streaming and fitted with Audio Exklusiv d.C.d footers) technical or hard to digest to make things more elusive yet. I did think it interesting that these differences with my Northstar were more pronounced over S/PDIF than USB. Where the ARC performed on the same niveau whether driven from my Fonel Simplicité player as transport or laptop, the Northstar’s performance clearly went south when I switched from USB to S/PDIF. It became less nuanced and rougher. But never mind. Let’s listen to the ARC from my J.River interfaced notebook loaded with EAC-ripped 16bit/44.1kHz WAV data.