For multichannel music fans, there is a fork in the road. You can take the well-traveled route based on readily available AVRs and preamp-processors intended for home theater. Or you can take the purist’s route and face the challenge of finding a suitable and affordable multichannel DAC. Now that the $299, PCM-only miniDSP U-DAC8 has been withdrawn from the market, the least expensive multichannel DAC is the Merging Anubis at around $2000. That entry fee is a significant barrier for many.
For a couple of years, I have been following Prague-based Okto Research. At first, Pavel Krasensky, the founder and hardware developer, offered audio design ideas and DIY modules that I found tantalizing. For example, there was a dandy-looking ESS 9038Pro Sabrebased output module and some appealing power supply modulesbut to use those, the buyer had to manage inputs and integration on their own.
He followed this with a few assembled prototypes with limited availability. Then, finally, last year, he released the dac8 PRO.
Because Okto had many followers, he was able to start promoting and beta-testing the dac8 PRO via a “tour.” The device was dispatched to an interested party for evaluation, then passed on, ad seriatim. The dac8 PRO got great feedback, which led to more exposure. He began to take orders.
Delivery times are still long. Most of us who are interested have been waiting for our turn. My turn finally arrived.
What it is
The dac8 PRO is an 8-channel D/A processor with USB input and output, 8 channels of AES/EBU input, and 8 channels of balanced (XLR) analog output as well as a headphone output (THD+N specified as 113dB THD+N @ 100mW into 32 ohms) and a stereo AES/EBU output. (It outputs digital data corresponding to the first two channels.) The specifications indicate THD+N of 119dB and a 125dB dynamic range (20Hz20kHz).
There’s a choice of seven PCM reconstruction filters. Its nifty front-panel volume control and display obviates the need for a preamp in a dedicated system, works with the Apple remote, and is based on the ESS Sabre DAC. Output level can be customized for optimal system-matching. All for 989 (equivalent to $1169 as of early September 2020), plus shipping (footnote 1).
How it sounds
I found the dac8 PRO to be a great-sounding DAC with many potentially useful features, such as the ability to synchronize with other dac8s for 16 or more channels. It has native MacOS and Linux compatibility, which is why I needed it for the Pink Faun review elsewhere in this issue (footnote 2). A generic ASIO driver allows it to work well in Windows world. I’ve used it with Roon, JRiver Media Center, Qobuz, and system-default output. It handles PCM up to 32/192 and DSD up to DSD128.
For now, all sales, support, and service is provided by Okto in Prague, so it does not pass Stereophile‘s traditional rules for a feature review (footnote 3). But I was so impressed that I caucused for reconsideration. Subsequently, Editor-in-Chief Jim Austin approved this brief report and John Atkinson agreed to put it on his test bench. JA1’s results will appear along with his forthcoming review of the recently released Okto dac8 Stereo.
To misquote Magritte, “This is not a review!” I bought it, though, and I’m glad I did!
Footnote 1: For more details, see here.
Footnote 2: See the Pink Faun review for details of the system used to audition the dac8 PRO.—Editor
Footnote 3: That rule exists to ensure that owners receive respectable product support. Currently, the dac8 PRO must be returned to the Czech Republic for service, at the owner’s expense, and we don’t know how long it takes. But, considering the scarcity of multichannel DACs and the apparent high quality and good value offered by the dac8 PROand considering that there’s a 30-day at-home evaluation period (although if you decide not to keep it, it has to be shipped back to Prague, again at the auditioner’s expense). I decided to give it some Stereophile love.Editor
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