StyleAudio Carat UD-1 USB DAC and Headphone Amplifier
Computer sound card - bad. Outboard USB DAC - good. For happy wallets, to South Korea go. That neatly sums up Styleaudio's proposition for their Carat UD1 Entry level cigarette-pack audio extrusion.
The Carat UD-1 is a desktop unit, as it doesn’t have any internal batteries, nor does it have an external power supply connector. Hence the USB bus supplies both digital data and the power to the UD-1. It’s dimensions are quite small for a desktop DAC, though it’s fairly large by portable amps standard.
It has good build quality, utilizing a Hammond style case, with very good fit and finish quality. On the back panel you find a pair of RCA out, a 3.5mm out, a USB digital input, and a Toslink optical digital output.
On the front panel, there is a 1/4″ phone jack connector, power led, volume knob, and a toggle switch for choosing the desired output between headphones or RCA outs.
It is the firm's contention, however, that the premium goodies populating their board make this most gussied up of the Carats a bona fide audiophile proposition. Ever since Gordon Rankin of Wavelength Audio strapped a Macbook to a tube-powered USB DAC at a long gone CES, the concept has gained legitimacy. Imminent is the day when sources or preamps without universal serial bus will be considered hopelessly passé.
Styleaudio is a Korean creative design group developing hifi and PC audio products where personal computers are viewed as digital music sources. Founder and Hi-Fi enthusiast Ted Lee explained:
"Our mission is to provide the best bridge solution between fine audio and the personal computer. We introduced our first model exclusively in the Korean market. After the launch, the market reaction was very high on our product and thousands of users talked about Styleaudio to where we're now No. 1 in Korea for USB DACs. We are planning that all our products will maintain the current design concept and identity."
Here's what the Press has to Say:
"The DAC is quite remarkable sounding for its price tag. I fed the analog signal from the RCA out to the Balanced TPA6120 amp (which is quickly becoming my favorite amplifier, btw), with mostly the HD800 driven balanced, or sometimes, through the UM Mage in single ended (Yes, I know. An entry level DAC with $1,400 cans. The Sennheiser is very revealing and I love using it for DAC evaluation.) When compared to the more expensive Ibasso D10, I was surprised, I find the DAC section of the UD-1 to better the DAC section of the D10 because the DAC chip in the D10 is far superior than the one in the UD-1. In what way? Overall, the sound of the UD-1 is smoother and more organic than the D10. The D10 sounded harsh at first, but after some burn in, the sound does smooth out, but still not as smooth as the UD-1. I’m not talking about a veiled-smooth either, cause what’s the use of a veiled DAC? The UD-1 is smooth and more pleasing to the ears, yet it’s just as detailed as the higher priced D10."
Mike Reviewed for Headfonia
The Style Audio Carat Range Size comparison
CARAT-UD1 : 75 mm (W) x 30 mm (H) x 109 mm (D)
CARAT-HD1V : 75 mm (W) x 30 mm (H) x 109 mm (D)
CARAT-PERIDOT : 75 mm (W) x 30 mm (H) x 126 mm (D)
CARAT-TOPAZ : 75 mm (W) x 30 mm (H) x 126 mm (D)
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