Vintage Audio Lab USB – DAC review

Well it has been more than a few weeks but here it is the review of the valab v-dac that I purchased from a fellow named Kevin in Taipei Taiwan, from his eBay store – it cost $320.00 USD.(including courier shipping)

First off Kevin is a great guy to deal with the DAC showed up via international courier about 5 or 6 days after I executed the “buy it now” on ebay. I bet it would of shown up sooner if I had not paid for it late on a Friday afternoon. It was packed very well with a ton of foam and bubble wrap, since these appear to be homemade units there was no box per say; but who cares if the thing  comes with  some molded foam and a box with a logo as long as it sounds good…

After unpacking the DAC and outboard power supply I quickly connected the included umbilical between the two machined extruded aluminum chassis, plugged it into my system a Pas3 / Joe Curcio inspired home brew preamp, and an HH Scott LK150 tube power amp.  Next I plugged the usb cable into my then my Lenovo x201 laptop, booted up windows 7 and watched the drivers magically install, after about 45 seconds I launched FooBar2000 and started playing an uncompressed 44hz flac file. Low and behold MUSIC and very nice sounding music at that. From reading reviews from other owners on Kevin’s eBay store I learned that I should “burn in” the Valab prior to critical listening so I left my laptop on and connected for the recommended 40-60 hours. I am not sure how important this is because after I first fired the thing up it sounded awesome.

The Valab TDA1543 comes with Optical, Coax and USB inputs; and 2 high quality Gold plated analogue outputs. The sound quality of the optical and coax is far superior to the USB input due to the noise generated by the USB interface and USB cable. I discovered that if I move the cable away from my preamp the sound improves this could be due to my preamp not being shielded enough or because my USB cable cost me a buck at the local Goodwill storeJ. Even with this noise the USB interface was quite a bit better than my old USB DAC an M Audio Fast Track interface.

After my less than stellar experience with the USB interface I switched to spdif on my desktop computer. I connected the Valab TDA1543 to the M-Audio 24-96 audiophile soundcard spdif port and started listening, the results were startling – they were very good, the sound was significantly better than the USB interface. I compared the Valab to the analogue out of the Maudio sound card and again the Valab was the winner, more transparency. My testing consisted of connecting my Maudio soundcard analogue outputs to one input on my preamp, and the ValLab to the other, and switching back and forth. As you may of guessed the Valab produces far better in sound stage, with more definition and clarity than the analogue out from the sound card. After switching It was like wiping the dirt from a window.

My next test took place using some extremely high end gear, more specifically a Shanling TD-100 cd transport with an upgraded dac/clock and believe it or not this 3k retail device only sounded slightly better, again it was clearer with a wider sound stage, this tells me that until you want to spend 2k+ you are better off with the valab.

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