Disclaimer: Bob Rapaport supplied HDACC for review at Headfonia. It goes for 499$ USD. You can find all about it here: HDACC For Hi Res Audio.
My 2016 Headfonia review queue kicked off with a cost/performance skyscraper from Bob Rapaport. It’s the Essence HDACC. It goes for 499$ (down from 699$) and basically does everything you wish it would. Plus HDMI.
As I mentioned in ESSENCE HDACC – QUIBBLES AND BITS, its navigation menu is pretty simple to suss. Its back panel is well laid out, and structurally - with the possible exception of its coaxial jacks - HDACC is ready for the long haul. It’s not a looker, and the unit Essence shipped me for review came with a crooked front panel, which turns round LED indicators behind it into cat eyes. Also, the attenuator/navigation nipple grinds against the case as you twist it 'round and ‘round.
Whatever. It works. For the most part, its features work as advertised. As you can see below, its DAC spits a high-quality signal from its XLRs, and its headphone output is decent, though stymied by the same so-so blocks that hold better all-in-one DACs back. Its main headphone-related problem is hiss. It hisses a lot. I’ve heard worse, but not in a long time. Even my portable headphones pick it up. Still, once you get it going, it’s not _that_ bad.
And it’s 499$.
If it were 699$, there’d be better grounds to complain. And let’s face it, HDACC is meant for the living room; it’s meant to go side-by-side with an TV, becoming a virtual switch box for myriad analogue and digital devices. You can even plug your iPhone into its USB. It does everything. I’m almost surprised it has a headphone amp at all. Still, it’d be nice if it hissed less.
If you’ve had enough of USB, that 3,5mm port next to the 6,3mm headphone port? That’s a line input. It is very good. If your mates come over, have them plug their phones, or players into it rather than the RCA phone input around the back. The RCA phono input is far less impressive (IMD and THD totally off the charts). You know, the unit I was shipped could be a dud. Who knows. All I know is this: the front input measures better at the same voltage.
And it’s 499$.
HDACC’s main output DAC is the Sabre ESS9012, which is fantastic. HDACC wrangles detail, great stereo imaging, and relatively low distortion levels from it. But HDACC's headphone amp must be split from a different DAC because the performance vector between the two isn’t compatible. Not that it’s bad; it’s just not in line with what I’ve come to expect from HDACC’s XLR outs.
The following Rightmark Audio Analyzer tests were conducted through this equipment.
Source: Essence HDACC
ADC: Lynx Studio HILO LT-TB
Computer: 2012 27" iMac
Cables: 1,5m Hosa Pro 3,5mm stereo to dual 3-pin XLR (around 8$); bespoke y-split 2,5 TRRS to dual 3-pin XLR made by Musashi Sound Technology.
NL - no load
SM2 - Earsonics SM2
ES7 - Audio Technica ES7
DT880 - Beyerdynamic DT880/600
24-bit all loads results @+6dBV - headphone output
24-bit NL summary @+6dBV - headphone output
24-bit all loads results @+6dBV - XLR output
Bob Rapaport shouldn't feel that he has to strong arm reviewers. HDACC is a nice machine. Sure, it's tacky here and there, and certain features are only half-baked, raising a number of questions about the importance of so much pack-in. But its main selling points: HDMI, 24/192, equitable USB performance, and great XLR outputs, sell themselves.
And, it's 499$.
You could buy one just for its DAC and HDMI, hook up a LinnenberG Maestro, and suffer no downstream ill will.