Yes. R2R ladder DACs aren’t the first choices when it comes to choosing DACs anymore.
If you’re on the hunt for the best DACs, R2R ladder DACs automatically get left behind. But some of you might still be interested in the so-called “dying breed.”
Okay, I’ll stop bashing them here.
After careful consideration, we only found one of the DACs worth mentioning. It’s the R2R ladder DAC from Musician. We think it deserves the title of the Best R2R DAC. Let’s find out why.
And although a lot of you might skip this one, some of you may think twice.
We’ve got some interesting pointers for you regarding the DAC throughout the page. So, stick around till the end.
What is a DAC?
Well, DAC stands for digital-analog-converter. Do you need this? Well, if you’re using headphones and speakers, yes, you do. These DACs take digital signals from computers, TVs, phones, laptops, etc., and turn them into analog signals.
Then the analog signals can push and power the drivers inside speakers and headphones. Well, that’s how you hear the sound, isn’t it?
Navigating the Inputs
So, what are the standard inputs, and how do you navigate them?
Well, the most common are the USB, optical, coaxial, and Bluetooth. There can be a couple of others too.
So how do you know if a DAC is better in terms of inputs? You get far more options with the high-end DACs. A cheaper DAC would usually ship with the bare minimum.
How the Outputs Should be
There are two terms you need to learn here. They are “XLR” and “RCA.” Or they are balanced for XLR; and unbalanced for RCA.
While some DACs have weird-looking ports like TRS, you shouldn’t have to come across that if you’re the average consumer.
Why you Should Get a DAC
Well, if you’re not convinced about getting a DAC yet, I think this will help.
You will come across a DAC in almost any digital kit. That’s where the problem lies. If everything had a perfect DAC, we didn’t need separate DACs that took up so much space.
So yes, they make a difference. And if you’re an audio enthusiast, you’d know what we’re talking about.
But how justified is it to spend over a thousand bucks on a device like this? What makes a DAC worth it?
DACs can give out clear audio and add a few levels of detail. You can rest assured that your money isn’t getting wasted.
Why R2R is Still the Way to Go
Okay, I’ve heard enough. People have been bashing R2R DACs a bit too much now, me included. I’ll be talking about what this type of DAC actually does. Here’s what I think from a user’s POV.
Like other complex groups of enthusiasts, I’ve been on the R2R train for years! And I’ll give you something you might like about them. Heck, I’ll even give you two things.
It’s the resolution of these DACs and the tone. Between the two, the naturalness of the DACs makes it even better. This is something most of the cheaper DACs fail to deliver.
Look, I know things aren’t looking too good for the future of R2R DACs. But enthusiasts like you and I would fight for it.
If you’re on the hunt for truly organic audio, I don’t think the other types of DACs can compete with R2R. But they’re getting there.
You can still hear the distortions in the cheaper alternatives. And some of them would have grains and noises on the audio. So, this is the practical solution in my eyes.
Musician Pegasus Review: The Best R2R DAC Available
That’s enough for the information. Let’s talk about the star of the show here. While you might have expected a few more R2R DACs here, I’m sorry to disappoint.
There’s something that sets this one apart from the competition. It’s the custom-made USB interface that uses all the bandwidth of the USB 2.0 standard.
This makes the DAC reliable enough. It’s also future proof, if you ask me, due to this custom interface. Let’s head into the review!
The Pegasus isn’t your typical R2R resistor ladder DAC. As it’s the first product from the company, we weren’t too sure whether they could live up to the expectations. I mean, only the tech-savvy bunch of you want R2R DACs now.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first. The price is steep. It’s comparable to most of the R2R DACs nowadays. But at least you get to choose from the black and silver color choices.
Well, there are a lot of things we don’t like. And, we’re not going to cut any slack to the Musician team. But this ladder DAC has a few tricks up its sleeves too.
How’s the Build Quality?
Ladder DACs aren’t usually built to resist drops from several stories. And this one wouldn’t survive a big drop like that either.
But we disassembled the whole thing. The DAC has thick metal plates on all sides.
And, there are quite a few DACs out there that use a plastic casing. So I think we can give some points to the Musician team here.
That’s not all. They claim that the metal plates protect the unit from wireless interference. And it’s correct.
One design element that we didn’t like is at the bottom. It has three pointy legs. So, if you have a soft desk mat, the legs might damage it. You can use a flat piece of wood to avoid this.
You might think that this DAC rolls around on any surface due to the metal. Well, no. They used silicone pads on the bottom.
And the silicon bottom feet help keep the device stable.
Rounded edges are always appreciated here in our team. Apart from saving you from the accidental cuts, they also fit in well with other expensive audio accessories.
As for buttons, you only get three. All of them are at the front of the device. We didn’t hit any of them accidentally as they were all flush with the front panel. And the travel was also decent. They’re clicky and tactile; that’s what you want from buttons.
Along with the big power button at the front, there are just a couple more. On the right of the power button is the NOS or noise-oversampling button.
Then you get the usual input selection button on the left of the big one.
I’ll be honest. The overall DAC feels like that it was put together well enough. It weighs a lot! So if you’re ever in one of those situations where you need to stop a bullet, hold this up.
Jokes apart, there aren’t a lot of DACs that can match this in terms of build quality. So you practically pay for the durability.
You can probably get a similar industrial build from a more compact DAC. But I doubt it’d be better than this one.
This is going to be incredibly short. That’s because there isn’t really an interface on this DAC. Most R2R DACs don’t come with a digital display. So you shouldn’t be too worried about this one.
The lack of a display isn’t a big bummer, though. But it’s safe to say that some DACs use these to show the volume or different essential info. Maybe, this counts as a missed opportunity if you ask me.
And, as for the rest of the interface, you get the usual buttons and the input LEDs. That’s it.
But you might not like the minimal interface at all. If this is something you’re worried about, maybe a DAC with a big display on the front can sway you. It isn’t R2R, but at least you get a neat interface, right?
There’s a small button to the left of the power button. And it’s dedicated to selecting a digital input.
You get different options here. And the common choices are there too. You’ll get coaxial, AEC, optical, USB, and I2S. If we put this against some modern DACs, the choices put this one right at the top.
Before you ask, no, you can’t utilize all the inputs together. You can only get audio from one source at a time. Use the input selection button to switch between different inputs.
In terms of input selections, you won’t get DACs with more inputs. so we can’t really recommend anything else in this regard.
There’s nothing much to brag about when it comes to ports in most DACs. As time goes on, DACs are getting smaller. Take a look at a small DAC, for instance, and you’ll see what I mean.
Compared to something like that, the Pegasus deserves a bit more appreciation. I mean, you don’t get this many ports in the modern DACs anymore. But I guess a smaller footprint on your desk might be something you prefer.
As for the ports, you get all the digital input ports that we just talked about. When it comes to the analog outputs, you get the left and right XLR modules. And there is also the conventional pair of RCAs.
Since the DAC uses stereo R2R modules, this XLR output is the better of the bunch.
You can use a good RCA cable to plug into the RCA ports of this DAC.
Since we already mentioned that the XLR is seemingly better since it’s an R2R DAC, you might want a decent XLR cable too.
The Sound Quality
While checking the sound, we were curious. I mean, we spent a lot of money on this one. So it had to be good.
We can say that the sound fills the room nicely. If you pair this up with a good amplifier, this overall combination might give you a good experience.
I mean, the sound was to our liking.
During our time with one entry-level DAC, we’ve experienced grey background noises. These noises add a particular veil to the music. We’re just happy that the Pegasus doesn’t show the same result.
We didn’t notice any grain. Even listening to some low-intensity music, we didn’t notice any grain on the audio. I think this performed well without any hissing or humming sounds.
Not all DACs know how to move a lot of air at once. So this is where this one is showing its ability.
But if you’re willing to pay a lot more than this, you might get better choices. For instance, a premium DAC would give you an enhanced experience.
Things That Need Improvement
Like many tech products, this one does not come without flaws. We’ve seen distortions quite a few times.
The NOS LED is a real pain in the back. I mean, NOS stands for noise-over sampling. So when it’s lit up, you would think that the mode is turned on, right?
Well, here’s the strange bit. The manual says that when the LED is on, it’s “non-oversampling.” So which one is it? Just make up your mind, Musician. A more straightforward interface would have made things far easier.
I would have liked it if I was able to tell the difference audibly. But I can’t do that either. So that’s a bummer.
How to Plug in a DAC?
If you’re new to the world of DACs, this is important. But you can skip this if you’re a skilled professional.
Some wise man said, “Audio is a lot like coffee.” That’s because there’s an expensive way and a cheaper way to do things. And there’s, of course, a simple way to do things and a complicated way. So which one does this fall under?
If you’re not aware yet, you’ve proudly selected the complicated and expensive way, the deadly duo. I mean, you wouldn’t have been on this page otherwise.
In this section, I will break this down as if this is your first-day using DACs.
Step 1: Setting Up Your DAC and Amplifier
The first thing you’ll have to do is take your DAC and your amplifier. Plug in the power cables on both your DAC and amplifier.
Step 2: Selecting the Output
Select the output that you’re going to use for the DAC. Let’s use USB, for example. Plug in one end into your computer and the other end into the DAC.
Step 3: Selecting Between RCA or XLR
You have to select the port to run from the DAC to the amplifier. This would transfer the analog signal from the DAC to the amplifier.
A suitable XLR cable might come in handy when you’re doing this.
Step 4: Turning The System On
At this point, the system should be a fully functioning DAC and amp combo. But make sure to double-check the input and check if the power is perfect. And then you should be done.
Do any of the inputs sound better than the others?
If you’re an audiophile, this question has a pretty subjective answer. That is, the answer depends on who you ask. I’ll say that it doesn’t matter. But you can have a different opinion. Upon testing, the sounds from different inputs didn’t seem to differ.
Will I get benefits from using USB?
As for me, I like USB for a couple of different reasons. Firstly, it’s in the name; it’s universal. You can get a USB input in almost any device. So I like the flexibility that you get. This will differ based on the device you like.
Can I use this as a portable unit?
While this might not be an R2R portable DAC, you can still carry it in your bags. I mean, if you’re crazy about your audio equipment, this should not seem too big.
As we’ve said, choosing this route is the more expensive and complicated way. So you’re already aware of what your upcoming challenges would be.
While some of you might move away from the R2R system, I think the system is still viable. It’s definitely not a dying breed.
We were able to pick the top one after evaluating a few options. I mean, there aren’t quite a few options to begin with.
With that said, I think the Pegasis is the best R2R DAC that you can go for in this budget.
Thanks to you guys for reading. Good luck with your hobby. Catch you guys at the next discussion about DACs.