Review: muse audio Mini HiFi SPDIF+Optical DAC DA converter

Category: Digital

I chanced upon this little Chinese-made DAC on Ebay. It claimed to utilize the same DAC, opamp and other parts (Burr-Brown PCM1793+DIR9001+OPA2134 S) as some quite pricy gear, all for a too-good-to-be-true $59.99. From what little I gleaned on the net, it appeared to be a knock-off of Valab and/or Aune DACs, which seem to be well-regarded in the head-fi realm. Intrigued (or bored), I ordered it; it arrived from China about two weeks letter in professional-looking box and packing. Surfacially, it appears well-built; only annoyance was that its separate power supply is DC. I did, however, track down an AC adaptor and started fooling around with it.
Initially, I a/b'd it with a couple of older CDPs I have around, a Nakamichi OMS7 and a late 90s Integra DX, alternating the analog and digital outs on the CDPs. In both cases, the Muse made the CDPs sound significantly more revealing and detailed, with noticeably higher highs; drums and cymbals, in particular were much more dynamic and realistic, perhaps attributable to the higher sampling rate in the Muse.
I then turned to my Denon 2910 universal player, which is connected to a Denon 4803 AVR. I prefered the internal
DAC in the Denon 2910 to the Muse, which sounded a bit more "digital" and less liquid, but the difference was subtle. I couldn't discern any real sonic difference between the Muse and the internal DAC in the ($4,000) AVR; music played on the 2910 sounded about the same when connected to either.
Finally. I did some unscientific comparisons between the Muse and a couple of inexpensive DACs, and Entech Number Cruncher 203.2 and the giant-killer MF V-DAC. On brief listening, I thought the Muse sounded better than the Entech--again, more detailed and lively; it sweemed to present more musical information. The V-DAC sounded equally detailed, but more natural and refined and would probably be less fatiguiging over extended listening. Its superiority over the Muse, however, was less than you'd think--the Muse was definitely playing in the same league.
Now, I'm sure that Bryston or PSAudio or Bel Canto aren't unduly unduly concerned, but, I tell ya, this little $59 is a viable product. It's terrifyingly good for the mere pittance it commands. Admittedly, there's an inherent bias in this kind of evaluation (if only because most people get some kick out of discovering a diamond-in-the-rough). I'd be curious to see how it holds up in a truly blind test against pricier products.
So, a couple of observations:
1. The price of chips and other DAC parts must be really, really cheap;
2. Notwithstanding, I don't see how Chinese manufacturers can sell fully functional, good quality products like this for next to nothing; and
3. American audio manufacturers are in deep trouble; ultimately I can't conceive how they can compete.
Thanks for reading.
I wonder what your long term impressions of this DAC are? Thinking of springing for the same item.
rwinner, i remain impressed even after the novelty has worn off--this cheap little box is a discernible upgrade to the middlin' cdps i've used it with. fwiw, a couple of members have emailed me to praise theirs as well. validation is always nice.