If you’ve been looking to soup up the sonics coming from your laptop or mobile device but haven’t had the cash to commit to hi-res audio, British audio specialists iFi may have the solution with their super affordable new Uno portable DAC and headphone amplifier.
Touted as a “first-rung audio upgrade” for those making their first, tentative steps into the realms of taking sound quality seriously, the Uno boasts a budget price of £79 / $79 (around AU$129 – AU$139).
For those new to the term “portable DAC”, you’re not alone but don’t worry: a digital to analog converter basically translates a digital audio signal into an analog one, so that your headphones or speakers can provide a sound. All smartphones, tablets and (almost all) computers will have one, but chances are it’s not the best, with poor filtering and shielding making its output noisy and distorted, while it may also be incapable of providing high-bitrate listening, which is where a dedicated unit such as the Uno comes in.
iFi claims that the tiny 8.8 x 2.6 x 8.1cm unit provides a more “thrilling” listening experience, with the device packing in its Quad DAC+ and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator tech, both of which feature on the company’s more expensive models such as the excellent hip-dac.
This uncomplicated unit has a USB-C input allowing it to connect to Windows PCs and Apple Macs as well as smartphones and tablets, with the connection doubling up as the device’s power source, handily meaning no extra cables.
There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack which includes a switchable 6dB gain stage to match your headphones too, plus RCA stereo outputs allowing you to connect the Uno to an amplifier or powered speakers.
There’s also pretty comprehensive high-resolution audio support, with the Uno capable of file playback up to 32-bit/384kHz, plus out of the box compatibility with PCM, DSD256 and MQA files from Tidal. An illuminated ring surrounding the volume dial meanwhile changes color according to the input format and sample rate.
There’s also onboard EQ adjustment, with three preset modes for music, movies and games.
The Uno is set to be available direct from Uno (opens in new tab) by the first week of December.
Analysis: Uno could be the number one choice for a budget boost to your audio
With so many of us now using our computers and mobile devices as our main source for listening to music, it’s no great surprise to find dedicated DACs growing in popularity.
A decent DAC nevertheless usually comes at a premium price (and often in a chunky frame), and while there have certainly been plenty of examples of budget headphone amps and DACs in a compact form, up until this point the boost in performance has rarely been significant enough to justify having them as a break out box over what’s built in to your source device.
While its small size and shape might sadly not still be quite compact enough to make it conducive for listening on the go, iFi ‘s track record nevertheless means we’ve got high hopes for the Uno being a perfect companion for a desktop PC, Mac or stationary tablet and one that we can’t wait blast our speakers and cans with.