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I used the same musical passages for direct comparisons and to underline the perceived differences – if there were any. With the DAC-100, I could identify no significant differences between Windows and Mac operating systems run off the same Apple Mac Book Pro via the optical connection. Compared to the digital-to-analog converter of my Atoll PR5.1, the DAC-100 however went deeper and the result was more detailed, transparent and airier.

I identified no difference between Mac and Acer either. However, both computers did highlight a performance decline via USB. Differences were not huge but compared to the Toslink and S/PDIF inputs, I noticed a decrease in transparency and dynamics. On the other hand, even connected via USB the DAC-100 proved superior to the digital-to-analog converter of my PR5.1. Dynamics improved and I also noted progress in the capacity to extract details from the tunes. Hence the USB input of today’s DAC is an attractive solution to connect to a computer without Toslink or S/PDIF digital outputs.

For the listening session, I established a standard based on my Opera Audio Droplet deck as a transport connected to the DAC-100. The goal was not to measure against the Droplet’s own converter which is of course superior to the Atoll but to have a constant ‘traditional’ Redbook source of two boxes to asses the PC audio options. Based on this, I could not identify important differences between the two computers or the Atoll CD-30 and Denon 3910 players when all ran into the DAC-100. The results were very close to the Droplet reference transport. The gap was minimal and the decrease was mostly felt in the ability of extracting the smallest micro details, airiness and dimensionality of the soundstage. Here the Droplet connected to the DAC-100 was marginally superior.

On the other hand, I was amazed by the great improvements I got with my Philips DVP5960 bought for €69 in 2008; and my old Sony GRX-3000. These two DVD players produce a dry sound with a lack of relief. Dynamics are weak, stage dimensionality is dull and the music is a bit acidic. Connected to the Atoll DAC-100, both improved significantly. I noticed gains in openness, air, dynamics and depth. Any bitterness disappeared and a multitude of micro details emerged instead. Ultimately both players scaled up tremendously but fell short of the performance obtained with the computers, the CD-30 or the Denon.