Published on September 27th, 2013 | by Greg0
NAD’s D 1050 USB DAC: Spelling Out Solid Sound
Yesterday, we reviewed a lovely piece of gear from an audio manufacturer that you might not know- NAD isn’t typically found in your big box stores, but are known in the audiophile world for their performance and history. With the shift to the digital world, a lot of the old-school manufacturers have had to play catch-up, and find creative ways to compete in a world where heavy amps and huge hulking boxes no longer command as much attention. If you’re reading this, you might very well have an immense collection of music- and thanks to services like iTunes, have instant access to much more than any record collector could ever dream of. But you probably don’t want to spend thousands on a setup, and don’t want it to take over your living room.
Hopefully, though, you recognize quality when you see it- if you spend a few hundred dollars on a set of headphones, you can expect to spend around a thousand on speakers, and it’s worth the investment in a few other components as well. Seriously: the right digital-to-audio converter can change your musical world. It won’t do much if you only listen to lossy MP3s or your average podcast, but if you have FLAC or other lossless files, then you’ll hear an impressive difference with between any custom DAC and your computer’s built-in basic one. Much like you’d expect, dedicated hardware is superior, and your computer tries to do a lot of stuff, much of it which can compromise your listening experience, bit by bit.
NAD’s D 1050 USB DAC addresses that issue directly, allowing you to connect your computer via USB and handle the audio processing itself. Unlike many of the DACs that we’ve seen recently, this isn’t a portable model- that’s largely because most larger DACs can cost a lot, over our normal price point. NAD has worked some wonders here, bringing some expensive components and solid circuitry into a fairly small and remarkably inexpensive box (in audiophile terms, at least). We still wouldn’t suggest picking one up for the kids or grandmas, but if you have a budget of $1500 or so for your personal system, then there is room for this DAC without much compromise or stretching. And unless you’re dealing with only analog sources, we strongly recommend adding a digital-to-audio converter.
So, we’ve talked about what it does and why you need one, but haven’t discussed the “how”. The D 1050 includes digital inputs for many different sources- SPDIF inputs that support balanced AES/EBU, dual coaxial and optical connectors- and outputs for both XLR and RCA. We primarily listened with headphones, using some high-end Sennheisers and beyerdynamic sets. Thanks to the built-in headphone amplifier, we were able to drive every set we tried, though a discrete unit might be recommended for those who want either a warmer tone or still more power. There was nearly no audible noise, and the remote power supply separates that typical source of noise as well.
But the nicest part of it all was the sleek shape and really convenient volume control, which was a nice balance between the classic solidity of the receivers and amps that your father used and the more modern look and feel. The touch sensitive controls were easy to use, and light up smoothly. It all looks more expensive than it is, with a very refined Apple-esque design, if a bit glossy of a finish that can attract fingerprints. The unit’s soundstage is deep, but the tone isn’t really neutral, so those looking for a purer sound might be disappointed. The NAD D 1050 adds it’s own flair and flavor, which we tended to like, especially on groove and soul tracks. You could certainly spend more, and gain some added detail- instrumentals are crisp and clear, especially compared to the muddy outputs of your laptop, but won’t wow anyone with a big amp and larger DAC. The size of the NAD makes it great for bookshelf or desktop use, and they offer other similar-styled components in the Digital Classics lineup. Available now, the D 1050 USB DAC is a clever piece of engineering, well worth the pricetag, though it occupies a fairly small spot in the market between heftier premium components and smaller portable ones. Expect to spend under $500, and enjoy your music much, much more!