Review: Audio Note DAC 2.1x Balanced DA converter

Category: Digital

The Audio Note DAC 2.1x Balanced is the most natural music I have ever heard through my audio system. It's the last stop on the way to Audio Nirvana. Through my audio journey, begun in my teenage years and on hold until 2002, there have been two discoveries that are worth noting: tubes and the AN DAC. Adding tubes to my system, both preamp and amp, really brought out the naturalness of instruments on recordings, or so I thought. It was good but adding the AN DAC made this perception come true.

Just when I had decided it was time to demo an AN DAC my local dealer goes on vacation and yet one becomes available, barely used, within miles of my house. I dragged my EMC-1 down for a demo of the used unit and the rest is history. Days later the 2.1x Balanced was in my system.

The Resolution Audio Opus 21 I use in a headphone system is more organic sounding than the EMC-1, but the AN DAC sounds not just organic but natural. I read a comment somewhere that a listener to an AN DAC had to close his eyes to force himself to not see his audio system because the fact was it sounded live. That is the best description I have come across and it's exactly what I would say. With the AN DAC in my system acoustic instruments simply sound real: acoustic guitar, piano, violin, cello. They are there in the room.

That last point leads me to comment on the 3 dimensionality of the AN DAC sound. I rarely listen in the "sweet spot", and anyway most live music seating setups don't permit this, yet the music is 3 dimensional. From anywhere in the room music come naturally and beautifully. In comparison the EMC-1 sounds electronic and flat, and I used to think it was a great CDP (I'm still using it as the transport).

It has been a long time since I've heard any vinyl so I won't compare the AN DAC to that, but I just don't know how much better the sound can get: organic, real, natural, dynamic, effortless, beautiful, making music that inspires, transcends and transports. It's not live, but coming off a CD it's close.

Associated equipment include:

Mcintosh MC2102 tube amp
Mcintosh C2200 preamp
Electrocompaniet EMC-1 as transport
Acoustic Zen MC2 digital cable
Audience Au24 interconnects and speaker cables
Blue Circle Music Ring balanced power conditioner
Blue Circle and Audience power cords

In the hyped up world of upsampling and hi-rez I highly recommend you take a listen to an AN DAC in your system if you want music, not hi-fi. This is a short review, but hopefully it's informative. I am pleased to have discovered this product and look forward to upgrading when funds permit. Pardon me but the music's calling.

Associated gear
Click to view my Virtual System

Similar products
Electrocompaniet EMC-1
Resolution Audio Opus 21
If you like the Audio Note DAC I urge you to audition the Audio Note preamps and amplifiers as well. I would take a SORO int amp over a McIntosh combo any day of the week; sold my Mc C22 and MC240 in favour of Audio Note Conqueror/M1 Phono/TT1 rig.

Yeah, I agree! Great DAC. No second-guessing this purchase. Very natural, with a nice bloom. Easy on the ears, especially with my somewhat "forward" speakers. Trumpets no longer make my ears bleed.

I've had mine for 8 months now and wanted to pair it with the AN M2 balanced pre. Was initially disappointed that the M2 didn't have HT pass-thru, but the VAC pre I recently bought does the job and more.

I've finally graduated to the "DONE FOR NOW" section in the A'gon Virtual Systems ;-)

As awesome as the DAC is changing the rectifier tube to a Bendix 5852 and replacing the stock output tubes to Tele or others will really make this DAC shine.
I heard the audio note dac 1.1 and 2.1 recently and my jaw dropped. I was shopping for a tube amp, and that is what I bought, but it was an audio note p1 monoblock pair (only 8 watts each!!! I replaced a 200 wpc stereo amp with 8watts!) The microdynamics were incredible. The overall musicality was unbelievable. I got the same effect using the amps alone, or the dac alone, but put them together and forget about it. I bought the amps, and I am now saving money for the dac. In the mean time I've auditioned new DAC's in my system that oversample etc, and while they get rid of the cd grain and open up the soundstage with more air, that air around the musicians does not reverberate the way it does with the audio note gear...which lead me to think the air on the upsampling dac's is fake, because it is on every recording--this is part of audio note's philophy...if a piece of gear makes every recording sound similar, it cannot be accurate--accurate in reproducing the recording, not some preconcieved notion we have about what live misic sounds like. I for one am buying in to Audio Notes philosophy which can be read on their web page. And it is my ears that are convincing me. So congratulations on your DAC 2.1 purchase!!!
Jack, Glad you found something that really caught your attention. The AN DAC caught my attention that way too. I think they know what they believe in and strive to meet that goal. Unfortunately, I'm banned by my wife from any upgrades to my main system so any other AN gear is out for now. Too many upgrades too fast burned my bridge. But I'm patient! In time I'd like to try other AN components though my current speakers need more than 8 watts. Not much more, but higher than 8 watts. Please keep me informed of your AN experience.
How do you compare the AN DAC 2.1x with the older AN DAC 2 (non-signature)? Can it come close to DAC 2.1x by upgrading it?
Atjandra888, I have not done this. However, the newer DACs are all filterless which is an improvement over the older design.
How's the bass? Thanks.
With a good transport (the new AN CDT2/II bass is simply great.