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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Audiophile Review!
Phono Pre, A/D-D/A Combo:
"Perfect For Your Vinyl Rips"

Hi-Res LP Dubbing A/D-D/A

Price: $499
Likes: DSD audio, easy to use
Dislikes: no Android AudioGate4
Wow Factor: smooth DSD for vinyl rips

by Russ Long
  We have discovered a nearly perfect audio device for dubbing your LPs to the hi-res digital format of your choice: DSD (Direct Stream Digital, the same digital as used on SACDs) or 24 bit PCM. And it is so easy to use that a novice can be up and running in a few hours, dubbing that original Sgt. Pepper LP, a classic RCA Red Seal disc, or the favorite Fish record.
  The KORG DS-DAC-10R is a USB 2.0 DAC/ADC and headphone amplifier that supports 1-bit native 2.8224 MHz and 5.6448 MHz DSD record and playback on Mac (via Core Audio) and Windows (via ASIO or WDM). The device works in conjunction with KORG’s AudioGate4 high-resolution music player application. It includes a phono input making it a perfect solution for high-resolution, vinyl archiving.

  KORG’s early commitment to high-resolution audio goes back more than ten years with its MR Series of rack-style DSD/PCM studio recorders, portable devices, and hand-held units. Later came a line of consumer DACs, AudioGate software for PC/Mac playback and now the A/D-D/A.
  We have discovered a nearly perfect audio device for dubbing your LPs to the hi-res digital format of your choice: DSD (Direct Stream Digital, the same digital as used on SACDs) or 24 bit PCM.

  The KORG DS-DAC-10R (US retail $599 and sold by Essence Electrostatic) is built into an aluminum box with a copper sub-chassis that weighs in at just under 2.5 pounds. It measures 6.10 x 7.24 x 1.93 inches, is robust and well made. The front panel of the simple, sleek, stylish box includes a stereo headphone jack and a large volume pot that is encircled by a glowing LED ring. The ring glow color cleverly changes to indicate the incoming audio’s sample rate. Green indicates 44.1/48 kHz, purple 88.2/96 kHz, white 176.4/192 kHz, light blue 2.8 MHz, and dark blue 5.6 MHz.

Cool looks and  simple, but effective, control/hookup

  The headphone amplifier has a maximum output of 70 mW + 70 mW (PEAK) at 32 ohms. Exemplifying KORG’s motto for “uncolored sound that faithfully reproduces the original,” the DS-DAC-10R utilizes the same Texas Instruments PCM4202 AD converter and Cirrus Logic CS4390 DA converter used in the renowned KORG MR-2000S 1-bit studio recorder.
  To ensure pristine phono cartridge performance, the phono amp’s pre-stage circuit incorporates high-performance parts such as the Texas Instruments OPA1662 and Rubycon thin-film polymer multi-layer capacitors.
  AudioGate4 is KORG’s free computer music player and audio recorder software that also provides basic file conversion and editing capabilities. AudioGate4 is fully DSD and PCM compatible, making the DS-DAC-10R  an ideal companion for high-resolution recording. It also allows projects or files created with any of the KORG MR Series of DSD 1-bit recorders to be converted into any desired audio file format for export or used to create an audio CD or DSD disc.

Connection could not be easier

  KORG’s iAudioGate iOS app ($14.99) makes it easy to playback files created with the AudioGate4 software on an iPhone or iPad (although if no external DAC is used, the audio is down-sampled to 44.1kHz or 48kHz).
  There is no specific AudioGate4 app for Android users, even though Android is much more hi-res capable than IOS when it comes to ultra high-res playback. Fortunately, there is a wide selection of hi-res-capable playback app options for Android including: USB Audio Player Pro, Hiby, Neutron, etc., in order to play the KORG-recorded music. Or you can take your KORG-recorded tracks and transfer them to one of the many DSD portable DAC/players with headphone output: Sony, TEAC (PCM only), iBasso and Astell & Kern, Hi-fiMAN. 

My vinyl dub setup
  My review setup included KORG’s AudioGate4 software (version 4.0.2) running on a MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2015) 2.9 GHz Intel Core i5 laptop with 16 GB RAM, with OS X Version 10.11.6. The MacBook Pro was connected to the DS-DAC-10R via USB. Source audio playback was via a TEAC TN-550 turntable that was connected to the DS-DAC-10R’s analog input. The TN-550 was switched to phono input via the AudioGate4 software. Users who have a phono stage that they favor can add their  own external phono stage to the chain and re-configure the inputs via AudioGate4 to line level. 
  While I listened to the digital files that I created on several different systems, all of my listening during vinyl transfers was through the DS-DAC-10R’s headphone output with either Ultimate Ears 18+ Pro IEMs or Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 headphones.

The DS-DAC-10R is a compact 6.1 inches wide

  Considering the box’s primary function is a high-resolution DAC/ADC, the headphone amplifier quality is very good. It lacks the power to drive many of the power-challenged, “pro” headphone models up to full spec, but it sounds quite impressive with exceptional image and depth — when coupled with Ultimate Ears 18+ Pro IEMs (in ear) or HPs, such as my Audio Technica ATH-MSR7.  
  The unit’s phono stage input impedance is 50k Ohms with a maximum input level of 5 mV rms/100 mV rms making the phono input incompatible with some cartridge makes. Software selectable phono equalizer curve options include RIAA, RIAA+IEC, NAB, COLUMBIA, FFRR, AES and Off. KORG recommends RIAA for most situations, and I found that setting always worked well for me. Although the phono equalizer curve is applied in the digital domain, it cannot be changed after a recording is made. So if you are unsure of the curve, you should record with this setting set to Off.

Match your cartridge with AudioGate4's software settings

  The strength of the DS-DAC-10R is it's A/D - D/A conversion and its integration with the AudioGate4 software, which provides digital audio encoding in PCM up to 192 kHz as well as DSD64 (2.8 MHz) and DSD128 (5.6MHz). AudioGate4 accommodates real-time up/down-sampling, hardware configuration, in/out data processing, normalization and file exporting — as well as standard recording, track splitting, tagging and playback functions. The only trade-off to the exceptional sound quality of DSD is its memory requirement. An average DSD64-encoded phonograph side requires close to a gigabyte of storage. However, you get the perfect dub in return.
  When recording to DSD, AudioGate4 creates DFF files that cannot be tagged for use beyond AudioGate4. This is because all in-app written album/artist tags, file merges and track splits take place at KORG’s proprietary Meta level. To listen in other software, the AudioGate4 file export function must be used — as it creates a copy of the rip that can be used in Audirvana+, JRiver or most other preferred hi-res playback applications on PC, Mac, Android and IOS.

The audition
  During my review period, I dubbed multiple albums to DSD 5.6 including The Beach BoysPet Sounds, Roxy MusicAvalon, RadioheadIn Rainbows, Daft Punk —  Random Access Memories, Wilco — Summerteeth, The BeatlesAbbey Road, and both mono and stereo versions of Antal Dorati conducting the Minneapolis Symphony OrchestraTchaikovsky 1812 Festival Overture, Op. 49.
  Since I make my living recording audio, I found recording via KORG DS-DAC-10R and AudioGate4 software very easy to use. A novice may need a little time to familiarize himself with the on-screen functions, but it won’t take long until they become a wiz at operating the software.

TI PCM4202 A/D  and Cirrus CS4390 (D/A chip sets

  You simply set the phono preamp settings on the DS-DAC-10R, plug in, and connect the USB cable from the DS-DAC-10R to the computer. Open the AudioGate4 program, select input source, adjust the channel levels via the on screen level slider and hit the record on screen button. As with recording any audio. it is best to have the peak signals hit about -3 dB level to build in some headroom to prevent clipping.
  AudioGate 4 allows individual songs in the Song List to be divided into sections, or combined into one. This allows the user to export selected regions from an audio file, or combine multiple consecutively-recorded files into a single file before you export it. You can also edit the gain, fade, and DC cut settings of each song, and edit text data such as the Title, Album, and Artist Name. For a free computer program, AudioGate4 has some great features,
  The DS-DAC-10R allows recording to be monitored via the headphone jack or the line-level output as it progresses or for play back once recording stops. In both instances, monitoring is via the internal DAC; thus, the sound is identical. Record-standby also provides the ability to listen to the audio encode/decode without committing any data to the hard-drive. Not only does AudioGate4 simplify the entire vinyl transfer and cleanup process, it also makes the addition of track meta-data (track names, album name, artist name, etc. ) quick and easy. 
  The DS-DAC-10R packs a unique combination of features into an easily transportable A/D-D/A unit, combined with the excellent AudioGate4 app. The package provides exceptional recording quality and playback at a remarkable price. Let the brotherhood of vinyl-rippers rejoice!

  Preferences vary from one listener to the next, but I enjoyed the DSD record dubs more than those tracks recorded with 192 kHz PCM. The only problem with DSD is that it doesn’t lend itself to easy editing or processing like PCM. For example, when dealing with problem vinyl (vinyl with excessive scratches and/or wear and tear), the AudioGate4 does not offer extensive de-noising. So I used a separate de-noise program. I recorded problem vinly in  PCM via the KORG, then used iZotope’s De-click plug-in from their RX 6 Audio Repair plug-in suite.
  I used this de-noise program on a Korg PCM dubbed 1964 LP of Virgil Fox playing Philadelphia’s famous Wanamaker Court Organ (which I had picked up a used copy earlier this year after having an opportunity to hear the amazing instrument during a trip to Philadelphia). Although the album is showing significant wear and tear, iZotope’s De-click plug-in was able to make it sound like new. I then used AudioGate4 to convert the PCM files to DSD for final playback. 

The verdict
  While one can easily argue that nothing beats the sound of listening to vinyl on a world-class hi-fi system (to which I must agree!), there’s something wonderful about being able to capture that amazing sound from  your favorite turntable and phono stage, record it to DSD and play it anywhere — be it your living room, hotel room, car stereo or on an airplane flight.

  My DSD recordings of vinyl with the DS-DAC-10R increased my LP enjoyment factor with digital sound reproduction — at a level I previously had not experienced. In every instance, the vinyl recordings revealed a depth and sonic soundscape not present in their solely digital counterpart. Bravo to KORG for making this so easy to accomplish.
  While the DS-DAC-10R isn’t revolutionary, it packs a unique combination of features into an easily transportable A/D-D/A unit, combined with the excellent AudioGate4 app. The package provides exceptional recording quality and playback at a remarkable price. It most certainly receives the Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award, Let the brotherhood of vinyl-rippers rejoice!

   Russ Long is a Nashville-based producer, engineer, and audio mixer, whose worked with numerous artists over the last 25 years. He also is an avid audiophile and home cinema equipment reviewer for the Everything Audio Network. Based on his professional experience, Mr. Long has a unique perspective on high-quality audio — from the initial studio recording to the final playback in a home environment.

Second Opinion
The DS-DAC-10R Rules!

  I have have been using the KORG AudioGate app on Mac for five years with various KORG DACs, and prior to that I was the first reviewer to evaluate KORG's original hand-held MR-1 DSD recorder.
  The new KORG DS-DAC-10R and AudioGate4 software make for a surprisingly high-quality computer vinyl rip setup. Pro caliber, if you will, and you can use it to dub other analog sources such as your cassette collection (8-Track?). The A/D-DAC unit gives you all the tools: high-quality conversion for DSD or PCM, onboard phono preamp and the USB link to your computer.
  AudioGate4, although feature filled, is really easy to navigate and setup for recording, editing and playback. Once your LP tracks are recorded (all at once or one by one), you can easily edit them to a comprehensive play list that plays back via the AudioGate4 software on your computer or smart device. Or you can play it all back on almost any of the popular software players.
  I had a ball recording via the KORG and playing a dub of my original Frampton Comes Alive double LP (better sounding than the SACD release) on my Android tablet using USB Audio Player Pro and a Benchmark DAC3-DX.
  The DAC quality is excellent on either DSD or PCM, rivaling units that are a grand or more. If you record a great-sounding record, the KORG DS-DAC-10R systems guarantees you a pristine-sounding dub. Highly recommended and an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award winner.
—John Gatski


Kemper Holt said...

I'm sending a link to my buddy in CO who does a lot of vinyl rips.

JB K said...

when converting vinyl to digital. do you have to manually input the album information or or is there software available to add the information?

John Gatski said...

You do have to manually input the info for the tracks, but since you are ripping manually, it is not that complicated. There are some systems coming on the marjet thar are said to autonate the process. I will let you know when we get a review of said products. I actually rip a lot of vinyl with Audacity and an external A/D. Since the real time rip takes time, it is easy to pre-plan the info to insert into tracks titles as digital files.

John Gatski

Manuel Gracia said...

is there a way to rip CD and convert it to DSD files too? I have lot of CDs to convert and I don't have money to buy Vinyls records of the same songs/music. thanks for any advice

Manuel Gracia said...

After reading your wonderful review, I decided to buy one. My problem is when you elect to export the file created on Audiogate it will not let you edit the destination. I am using a Mac mini computer. I want to export the DSD music file to my Sony XZ phone as this phone plays any hi rez music file. Please let me know how to do this. Thanks for any help. Also it looks like I have to record the songs/tracks one by one to separate them as recording the whole album will not do it separately. Any additional advice is appreciated as I am not a computer expert. Thanks for any help


John Gatski said...

You should be able to drag the files from the computer to the storage drive on the X2. I use an HTC phone. I drag the Audiogate converted file to the phone's micro sd music folder and play with USB Audio Player Pro.

John Gatski

John Gatski said...

To rip CDs. You can use itunes or the OSX on MAC. Even on Windows, the Windows system can copy the CD to your computer. After you rip the CD, download TEAC Hi-RES Editor from TEAC web site. Free for Windows or Mac. it has an export feature that you select either DSD 5.8 or 2.8 MHz sampling and send the converted file to a designated folder. Very easy. You need to convert the AIFF CD files to wav or TEAC Hi-Res editor will not recognize the files. Its only flaw...Audiogate can do the same thing on Mac. Don't know about Windows.

John Gatski