Musical Fidelity V90-DAC
Musical Fidelity V90-DAC (needs 12 V DC wall-wart, 21.0 oz./596 g, about $300). enlarge. I'd get it it at Amazon. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use that or any of these links when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live — but I receive nothing for my efforts if you buy elsewhere. I'm not NPR; I get no government hand-outs and run no pledge drives to support my research, so please always use any of these links for the best prices and service whenever you get anything. Thanks for helping me help you! Ken.
Musical Fidelity V90-DAC. enlarge.
Digital Inputs: 1 USB, 1 Coaxial and 2 TOSLINK.
Analog Outputs: Unbalanced RCA pair.
Power: Tiny 12V DC wall-wart. 100-240V, 50-60 Hz, non-polarized 2-blade USA plug.
Notable: Solid mechanical construction. No bothersome controls or options; just plug-and-play.
Missing: No other controls. No analog inputs or digital outputs. No headphone jack or volume controls. No AES digital inputs or outputs. Not USB powered; always needs wall power.
Bottom, Musical Fidelity V90-DAC. enlarge.
Wall wart and Musical Fidelity V90-DAC. enlarge.
The Musical Fidelity V90-DAC is a very well made and very basic digital-to-analog converter (DAC). It's a simple utility DAC with a power switch and input selector, and that's it. Plug it in and you're done; there are no menus, no filter selectors, no volume controls, no headphone jacks and nothing else but the music.
The V90-DAC is a queer size, an inch less than half-rack wide with a faceplate a fraction of a millimeter taller than 1 RU. Clearly not for studio use, its odd size and building-block simplicity suggests this is a DAC ideal for tucking away behind the rest of your equipment.
Its case is sheet metal and its faceplate is aluminum. The toggle switches are metal. The feet are hard plastic, so it slides around.
The power switch is upside-down (down is ON), and the input switch has three clicks. Perfect! There is a tiny blue POWER LED and a green LOCK LED, and that's it for the front panel. The markings are all painted, not engraved.
It's made in Taiwan, which costs its maker about three times as much as dumping its production to China, as too many once great brands do today. It's in a tougher case with much better feeling controls than Chinese DACs like the Cambridge DacMagic Plus and Audio Engine D2, each of which cost twice as much as this V90-DAC.
It's powered by a tiny included 12 V DC wall wart. The included wart is a tiny switching supply that runs universally from 100-240 V, 50-60 Hz. Mine has a two-blade (non-polarized USA) plug. The 12 V DC input is a coaxial socket, but of a smaller (3.5mm) diameter than standard 12 V plugs.
I love that the V90-DAC has a real input toggle switch. I HATE crappy Chinese DACs with idiotic pushbuttons and LEDs that require many pushes to try to select an input; with the V90, just flip the switch and you're done.
It's more toughly made and is much simpler than the Cambridge DacMagic Plus or Audio Engine D2 and it sounds at least as good, but the V90 tests poorer than either — or the superb iPhone 5 — if you care about measurements.
Upsampled to 192 ksps.
USB to 24 bits, 96 ksps, asynchronous.
47Ω source impedance.
0.0004% (-108 dB), 20 - 20,000 Hz.
-104 dB, 20 - 20,000 Hz.
Signal to Noise Ratio
117 dB, A-weighted.
12 ps total.
12 V DC, 500 mA.
Rated 1.3mm (?I.D.), measured 3.5mm O.D. plug.
Won't run from USB power.
Made in Taiwan.
10 - 90% RH, noncondensing.
102 x 170 x 47 mm, DWH.
4 x 6-2/3 x 1-2/3 inches, DWH. Yes, the specifications read in thirds of inches.
Depth includes connectors and switches.
Height includes feet.
21.025 oz./596.0 g,
12 DVC adapter 1.950 oz. (55.2g).
Musical Fidelity rates it as 24 oz. (600 g), or 40 oz. (1,100 g) for the complete system packed in carton.
V90-DAC in a nice box.
28 May 2013.
$300, July 2013.
These measurements were made with a $50,000 Rohde & Schwarz UPL laboratory analyzer. The traces from the Rohde & Schwarz UPL laboratory analyzer are color coded for the Left Channel and for the Right Channel. When they don't lie on top of each other, it's due to channel imbalance.
Unless otherwise specified. all measurements are made with a coaxial digital input from the UPL at 44.1 ksps, 1.0 V P-P with 24 undithered bits at 1 kHz at 0 dBFS. The DAC's output was loaded with 200 kΩ in parallel with 400 pF. I saw no difference in in self-jitter or jitter rejection or anything regardless of if I used the TOSLINK or coaxial input.
2.1932 V RMS (+6.822 dBV), which is 9.66% or 0.801 dB above the standard, so this DAC will sound just a tiny bit louder than a standard DAC, SACD or CD player.
0.03 dB channel imbalance, which is audibly perfect.
(2.1968 V RMS (+6.834 dBV) left, 2.1896 V (+6.807 dBV) RMS right.)
Actual output source impedance: 101 Ω.
(300 Ω load drops level 2.5227 dB /2.5247 dB; R source = (R load/attenuation ratio) - R load.)
Playing zeros, AC coupled from 1 Hz:
-108.7 dBV A-weighted.
-106.14 dBV unweighted.
With a 0 DBFS output of +6.822 dBV, this calculates as:
-115.5 dB A-weighted SNR (18.9 effective bits).
-113.0 dB unweighted SNR (18.5 effective bits).
-228 µV left, -250.3 µV right.
No problems here.
96.76 dB left, 93.23 dB right.
(15.8 effective bits left, 15.0 bits right).
Musical Fidelity V90-DAC frequency response. (R&S UPL source.)
It's a third of a decibel low at 20 kHz. This deficiency is probably deliberate, as it may ever so slightly smooth the sound compared to a more accurate DAC, but it doesn't meet its specification of ±0.1 dB.
I measured the same frequency response at 55 ksps, and it was also unchanged with a reduced 134 pF instead of a 400 pF load; so it's most likely an internal filter artifact and not a cable-driving artifact.
Measured THD (harmonics only) rises above -17 dBFS, so it never measures that well, but it's still about 40 dB below audibility. It's as good as my iPhone 5, which tests better than most "audiophile" DACs.
THD versus level from -70 dBFS to 0 dBFS, 22kHz bandwidth. (R&S UPL.)
Harmonic components, 1kHz at 0 dBFS. (R&S UPL source.)
At full scale, it's mostly benign second harmonic distortion
Harmonic components, 1kHz at -20 dBFS. (R&S UPL source.)
At -20 dBFS, it's the usual distortion.
Harmonic components, 1kHz at -40 dBFS. (R&S UPL source.)
Likewise, at -40 dBFS, it's the usual distortion.
THD at 0 dBFS (2.2V RMS), 22kHz measurement bandwidth. (R&S UPL.)
Whatever is raising the distortion. at full output is doing it without regard to frequency. Since it's mostly second harmonic, as any engineer can see by the fact that the curve doesn't notch down as we approach 10 kHz and the 22 kHz measurement cutoff, I'll bet you something isn't completely symmetrical about whatever power supply is working from a single-ended 12 V DC wall-wart.
THD at -20 dBFS (220 mV), 22kHz measurement bandwidth. (R&S UPL.)
At -20 dBFS, it's beautiful. Too bad it can't dish this out at full output.
THD at -40 dBFS (22 mV), 22kHz measurement bandwidth. (R&S UPL.)
Not bad for -40 dBFS.
THD at -60 dBFS (2.2 mV), 22kHz measurement bandwidth. (R&S UPL.)
This is fine for -60 dBFS; this is mostly noise.
10 kHz Sine Wave, Narrowband FFT (self-jitter test)
Output spectrum, TOSLINK input from R&S UPL. (Coax input was the same.)
This is poor; my iPhone 5 is 42 dB cleaner playing an ALC file coded from my 16-bit 1984 test CD than this DAC playing a freshly-generated 24-bit signal. You won't hear this, but it shouldn't have these close-in spikes. I popped my Benchmark DAC1 HDR in to reality-check my lab setup; it was as clean as always.
You'll never hear this, but it shows that it's not as good as pricier American-made DACs. These spikes are so close-in (the whole trace only covers ±200 Hz at 10 kHz) that they are completely inaudible.
No big deal; even I can't hear a half a dB at -120 dBFS (-120 dBFS is completely below the threshold of hearing unless you're playing your music at 120 dB SPL peak, which is the threshold of pain.)
1 kHz level error versus digital modulation level, -120 ~ 0 dBFS. (R&S UPL.)
20 kHz signal with 0.1 UI of jitter added at 19 kHz as generated by the R&S UPL.
This is perfect. If jitter was affecting the audio output, you'd see a spike at 1 kHz. The tits around 4.5 kHz, 5.5 kHz and 15kHz are artifacts of my test setup; they are there with or without jitter.
The V90-DAC's sound is as expected: neutral.
It's output is just slightly louder than a standard DAC or disc player (0.8 dB hotter), so to most non-professional listeners it will sound a bit bigger, fuller and better than other DACs, but that's just because it's louder — not actually better. The difference is so subtle that consumers aren't likely to hear the level difference as a level difference.
This slight level boost is clever, because it's so slight that the impressionable listener won't detect it as louder. It's so slight that it will subtly improve subjective things, making a very impressive A/B comparison to the innocent.
I fed the coaxial output of one of my reference Sony SCD-XA777ES players into the V90-DAC, and then A/B'ed the analog output of the reference player with the output of this inexpensive DAC. The SCD-XA777ES has a standard output level, while this V90-DAC is 0.8 dB hotter.
As expected, the sound is the same between the two DACs, except for the slightly hotter level of the V90-DAC. Casual audiophiles will imagine all sorts of sonic subtleties which are just the result of the slight level shift.
If a DAC has any sort of sonic coloration, it's broken. This DAC is fine.
DACs shouldn't have any sound or character to them; if they do, they're broken. This V90-DAC sounds like whatever you put into it, which is exactly what it's supposed to do. I saw no difference in output quality regardless of the input used.
As a basic building-block DAC used as part of a much larger system, I really like its solid construction quality compared to other more expensive DACs. This V90-DAC is much better made than many other DACs that cost twice as much; it doesn't feel like a toy as so many of them do, and it sounds just as good.
Sonically, its ample output lets it sound as good or better than many other DACs when A/B' ed, even if the sound really is the same.
As measured, its output is not quite as good as a much more expensive DAC (or as good as the superb analog output of an iPhone 5 whose output section is better than most "audiophile" products; don't confuse it with an ordinary cell phone! ), so I wouldn't go out of my way to buy one of these simply to replace the analog output of an existing player; it won't change anything except offer a little more level.
Don't worry about my measurements, nothing I measured is audibly different than the other DACs to which I compared it. I have to make some excruciatingly precise measurements to show the minor differences, none of which is audible in the levels I've measured here.
I've only compared it to DACs that sell for at least twice as much, and it sounds just as good. I've even had DACs I refused to review here that sold for over five times as much that sounded worse!
For $300, this is a very competent and well-made DAC.
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