Review: Parts Express DAC without headphone amp DA converter

Category: Digital

Budget esoterica review magazine
October 2014 bonus issue

Scenario number two / A tribute to the teenager with a $200 broken turntable

Ok, so you are a teenage boy who lives with your parents. Your audiophile dad just purchased a $200 turntable for you as a gift on your birthday. You love your turntable so much that you want to have your best friend over for an extended listening session. Your friend arrives with a mysterious brown bag in his possession. You invite him into your room and ask him what is in the brown bag. He pulls out of the bag miniature bottles of vodka that his mom collected from her many visits to Europe , that she received , complimentary, from the airlines. You and your friend put on a 180g Miles Davis record and start kicking back straight shots of vodka.
By this time you are both getting very betrunken and also a little bored. "Wait a minute!", your friend screams at you and says ,"Isn't the Miss America pageant on television today?". So you turn on the tv and find that they are in the middle of the swimsuit competition. You and your friend start having an argument about which Miss America contestant
has the most stylish bikini top, and your belligerent friend
pushes you over and you use your turntable to break your fall. Needless to say your gifted $200 turntable is in pieces and you kick your friend out of your home and never talk
to him again. The next day your audiophile dad finds out about the broken turntable and gives you 20 lashes to your backside with his $2,000 shunyata power cord. What to do?

Parts Express has the solution with an inexpensive dac converter that will give you a good taste of your $200 turntable. I bought this converter several years ago for around $30 from Parts Express. I think it is now discontinued, but they have one that might be the same with an added headphone amp , priced around $66. Since the Parts Express dac has a little bit of an analog flavor, i thought it would be interesting to compare it to my newly purchased U-Turn audio orbit starter package. I will be using an entry
level furutech interconnect with the orbit, and classic Ixos interconnects with the dac.

I decided to chart out the differences as well as the positive and negative attributes of the orbit turntable and parts express dac. The orbit turntable will be listed first followed by the dac. I will be comparing two reference discs. The first one will be Miles Davis, "kind of blue", track number 4 and the second one will be Stanley Turrentine, "sugar", track number 3. Both of the records are made out of 180 gram vinyl.

Orbit turntable - Miles Davis, "all blues"

better rhythm and timing
more tonal color
horns are more realistic
horns are rounder
better center imaging
more detail in highs
livelier sound
slightly crisper sounding
more organic
better presence
sharper highs
more 3 dimensional

Parts Express dac - Miles Davis, "all blues"

more bass
good sense of presence
cleaner and more solid highs
very good coherence
a little bland sounding

Orbit turntable - Stanley Turrentine , "impressions"

better imaging
more natural and cleaner horns
more tonal color
softer on top
freer - less stressed sound
smoother sound
better timing
better balance
jumpy bass

Parts Express dac - Stanley Turrentine , "impressions"

analog-like bass
good upper frequency detail
good sense of coherence
very good sense of presence
slight crispness
slightly punchy bass
slight silvery highs
more solid and thicker highs
better microdynamics
more dynamic
fuller sounding

This was a very interesting experiment for me. I learned that both the cd and vinyl format have strengths and weaknesses that are inherent to the format itself. I enjoyed
listening to both the turntable and the dac, but i felt that overall the turntable had too many strengths that the dac could not offer. It did, however, give me a good taste of analog sound. I would say if you cannot afford an entry level turntable, or simply don't want to mess with the hassles that records can bring, then the Parts Express dac would be a very sensible choice.

Associated gear
Kenwood KA-9100 with stereo dave's jumpers
Denon DVD-1000
Audioquest Flex/Slip 14/2 speaker cable
Ixos interconnects
Paradigm titan speakers

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