by Kevin OBrien on October 15th, 2012


We made it out to Riverside, CA to visit the VSA factory to give Albert and Damon a demo of our YFS Ref-3 SE music server. The trip gave us a chance to hear some fantastic speakers and other gear including the Audio Research DAC8 USB Digital to Analog Converter. We wanted to let folks know about our general thoughts and opinions on this interesting USB DAC.

We were able to install the ARC DAC8 drivers without any problems but we ran into some small snags after we were up and running. We could get every file we played to output perfectly except 24.192. We're not sure what the exact problem was but we're confident if we got the DAC back to our listening room in Rochester, we'd be able to get it figured out. We didn't like their drivers in terms of all the options we had to choose from. We've used the Thesycon USB drivers previously but for some reason the ARC drivers were a little different. (More than just the fact that the little red "T" was replaced by the "ARC" symbol in the system tray) Some of the buffering options and file format output options started to get a little frustrating especially when you factor in how many combinations one can choose from while trying to dial in the USB input settings. The main comment we have that we'd like ARC to pay attention to when designing their next DAC iteration is to include a bypass-able volume control and leave the Thesycon drivers alone. Let Thesycon do their job and you guys do yours. USB software and USB hardware are two entirely different areas. We feel Thesycon has it covered for now. Don't fix it if it ain't broken, right?

The XMOS USB input software includes its own ASIO drivers and we like that. Unfortunately, ARC took it to the next level by modifying the basic TUSB software and we think they may have turned an easy-to-use software driver into a little more difficult driver than we'd like to see. We've noted other folks having some difficulty with getting hi-res files to work as well so we'd really like another shot at getting the DAC8 to work perfectly with our Ref-3 server. Maybe we can convince the head of equipment acquisition at VSA to send it out to us for one more shot? We'll see...

We eventually bypassed the USB input by hooking up an M2Tech EVO that was laying around and we tested the XLR and COAX inputs which passed 16.44 all the way up to 24.192 with absolutely no problems at all! Nice work ARC. We've tried using SPDIF converters in the past with DAC's and we've run into incompatibility issues especially regarding 24.176 and 24.192 file formats. A lot of equipment specs say their specific DAC can handle those two formats when in reality they cannot.

The DAC8 is well built and has the classic ARC look with a silver or black faceplate with their signature handles to compliment the utilitarian look. It weighs in at a just under 12 lbs so it isn't the heaviest DAC we've moved around but not the lightest either. We were definitely digging its looks in Albert's rack. We were hooking up to the silver unit in our case and it matched really well with the rest of the gear. We particularly liked the indicator lights on the front of the DAC that told us which sample rate we were currently using from 44.1 up to 192 including 176.4. That's a nice touch especially when you're wondering if you're playing the redbook or the hi-res version of an album while you're comparing the two.

Most importantly, the DAC8 sounded great. It reminded us of a tube DAC with that extra bit of dynamic range and less distortion than a tube solution. NICE JOB ARC! If you're looking for that laid back sound with great bass and mids without the sometimes edgy solid state highs, this is the DAC for you. Again, we could have sworn there were tubes in there somewhere!

Aside from the tweaked Thesycon drivers and not being able to get full compatibility with all the accepted hi-res digital formats, we loved the ARC DAC8 (the latter could have also had to do with our lack of set up time). We have a feeling if one were able to score the DAC8 on the used market for a good price, it would be well advised and a great pick-up. All in all, we really enjoyed the sound and the build quality of the DAC8. The next ARC DAC8 iteration should be a little friendlier as far as setup goes and a volume control would be helpful. Being able to totally defeat that volume control would be even handier and a welcome change to what otherwise is a real winner.

Until next time...

-YFS Design Team


Associated Equipment:

  • YFS HD Ref-3 SE Music Server Transport
  • YFS Custom Ca-60 Preamp
  • McIntosh MC275 MkV Amplifiers (in mono configuration)
  • Von Schweikert VR-44 Aktive Speakers
  • PS Audio Power Plant Premier (one for each monoblock)
  • Equitech 1.5Q Balanced Power Isolation Transformer (used for source components)
  • YFS Cabling and Interconnects