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
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.