Rega DAC sounds better through its hi-res inputs

I have been listening to music with the Rega DAC with data streamed by the Bryston BDP-1 digital music player for the past two days and I can confirm at least one thing - the Rega DAC’s USB input is its weakest link.

In the previous post, I had noted that the Rega DAC’s USB input accepts only 16bit/48 kHz upsampling and downsampled hi-res files streamed to it by my Toshiba laptop.

With the Bryston BDP-1 I could stream the 24/88.2, 24/96, 24/176.4 and 24/192 files natively to the Rega DAC through the BNC to coax cable.

I could also stream ripped files of CDs (16/44.1) and MP3 files.

You have to use the coax or Toslink inputs for best performance.

Now, I can confirm another thing - ripped CD and MP3 files sound better through the Rega DAC’s coax (and presumably the Toslink) inputs which accept up to 24/192 compared with the USB’s 16/48. Before writing the previous post, I had streamed some ripped CD and MP3 files from the laptop via USB.

The better sound from ripped CD and MP3 files could partly be due to the Bryston BDP-1 digital player as previously I had also connected the Roksan Caspian CD player (used as transport) to the Rega DAC with an MIT coax cable. Thus it can be concluded that ripped CD files sound better than the CD itself with a good digital player like the Bryston.

The problem, as I mentioned in the earlier post, is that a computer audiophile owning a laptop (Mac or Windows-based) would have a real problem finding a way to stream hi-res (or even ripped CDs and MP3 files) to the Rega DAC via its superior coax and Toslink inputs. Most Macs offer digital output via optical, but it is shared with the 3.5mm mini headphone jack and a normal Toslink cable cannot be plugged into it. So, if you own a MacBook, MacBook Pro, recent iMac or Mac Mini, you have to buy either a mini-Toslink adapter or mini-Toslink to Toslink cable to stream data via optical fibre to the DAC. However, the MacBook Air has no optical output.

With the hi-res files, the Rega DAC sounded good with wide soundstaging, good imaging and smooth sound quality even though its bassy tonal balance was still apparent.

Its rendition of 24/192 files was especially very pleasing and the music sounded rich and natural. When playing hi-res files, filter setting number one seemed the best sounding.

However, the Rega DAC had problems decoding Reference Recording’s HRx 24/176.4 files. I played three HRx files and each time I pressed play on the iPad, which wirelessly controlled the Bryston, I heard only a series of clicks and silence.

Just to make sure that the HRx 24/176.4 files were not corrupted, I unplugged the BNC/coax cable from the Rega DAC and plugged it to the Benchmark DAC1 Pre. The Benchmark played all three HRx files without problems.

Once while I was playing ripped CD files through the Rega DAC instead of a new track being played, I heard only white noise. However, this happened only once during the lengthy listening sessions.

If you decide to buy the Rega DAC, which costs around RM2,500 compared with the Benchmark DAC1 Pre at RM6,500, it is better for you to ignore the USB input altogether and use only its Toslink and coax inputs.

It has trouble handling HRx files, which are not that common anyway, and there is the occasional data drop-out problem, but at its price point, the Rega DAC sounds better than its competitors (when using its 24/192 Toslink and coax inputs).

Update 17/12/2010

The white noise was caused by a corrupted file. So it would appear that the Rega DAC has no issues with drop-outs, but it has problems dealing with the Reference Recordings HRx 176.4 music files.

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  1. Are you aware that the headphone jack on a MacBook or MacBook Pro doubles as a Toslink output?

  2. U still need to buy a mini-Toslink adapter which can be difficult to obtain depending on which country u live in. of course, u can always buy it from e-bay.
    the mini-Toslink adapter can be used with the MacBook, MacBook Pro, recent iMac or Mac Mini.

  3. Did you ever get 176.4 khz to work in the Rega Dac? I wonder if the problem is the DAC can't really take 176.4 or there is something off about the HRx recordings.

    Did you try both coax and optical?

  4. ben,
    nope, the rega dac could not accept the HRx 176.4 files.
    if i'm not mistaken, there's some licensing fee involved. i could be wrong though.

  5. ben,
    this post in pink fish media explains the 176.4 khz issue:


    Hi Kdoot,

    As I understand it, the 176.4khz sampling frequency has only recently been adopted and only by some hi-res sites.

    It was not envisaged during product development that this was to be a usable sampling rate and as a consequence your Rega Dac may therefore occasionally have problems consistently locking onto a 176.4khz signal.

    The good news is that all Rega Dacs dispatched from May 2011 onwards have an update to accomodate 176.4khz and, where appropriate, the update can be by done by Rega HQ or their designated overseas distributor.

    Paul Darwin
    Rega Research

  6. Hi,

    Recently Rega DAC won best DAC products in recent Hi-Fi British magazine award 2011. Can use USB to Digital Coaxial converter- M2Tech fiFace ( Very good combo pair with valve amp using EL84 tubes. By the way, great review / article on CAS! Hope can explore more in CAS...

  7. A glass toslink cable is critical when going with the optical connection. There are only a few glass models. I use a Wireworld mini-toslink to toslink cable to connect an AirPort Express to the Rega DAC and it sounds pretty great for the money.

  8. Hello,

    Best DAC in the World

    I am the first time visitor of this blog. But I found lots of good and unique information about the best DAC. Thanks...


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