Americans are a lot of things, but being tolerant of losers is not one of them. As a culture, it could be argued that we place greater emphasis on winning than on being happy. As it happens, the two states do not always coincide. One need only read or watch the local news to see that a professional sports team will frequently lead the headlines, while local sports, social, or professional achievements may receive lesser, fleeting recognition. Excellence on a smaller scale is still worthy of praise in American culture, however. Anyone who has watched the excellent film or television show Friday Night Lights, or read the original, even better book by H.G. Bissinger, can attest that we are prone to heaping both praise and pressure on young adults to achieve excellence. Objective excellence at any venture is of course worthy of praise. But there can only ever be one winner.
Michael Phelps, for instance, is a heck of a swimmer. He excels at traversing an aqueous medium at a speed that I can comfortably eclipse on flat earth without getting my heart rate above 80bpm. Yet he’s the one on the Wheaties box, earning millions of dollars per year in endorsements, even though he has some trouble ambulating in what is ostensibly his natural habitat. You know. Land.
What of the rest of us? Many people are not excellent at anything, but I suspect there are a fair number of individuals who are very good at many things. Some of my friends are uncommonly accomplished at a multitude of things, to the extent that, by comparison, I occasionally feel bad about myself. They are exceedingly well read, have excellent jobs, are in terrific shape, and are as competent with a difficult recipe as they are explaining the potential benefits and pitfalls of quantitative easing. They’re also affable, good-looking, and kind. Must be nice. Yet these individuals never receive the acclaim of top businessmen, politicians, or athletes.
Founded in 1953 as the Tokyo Electro Acoustic Company, Japanese corporation TEAC has four divisions: one devoted to data-storage products, the others focused on audio devices. TASCAM is well known for its professional audio gear. Esoteric, the company’s high-end arm, took part in our sister website Ultra Audio’s The World’s Best Audio System (TWBAS) event early in 2012.
Of relevance to this review is TEAC’s Consumer Electronics division. Maker of several lines of products that can be found in large retailers around the globe, TEAC also makes a Reference Series comprising high-performance components in small packages. Among these is the UD-H01 digital-to-analog converter. Armed with impressive specifications for a modestly priced product ($399 USD), it promised excellent value. However, its warranty is rather brief: one year.
The 8.5"W x 2.2"H x 8.5"D plastic chassis has aluminum front and side plates that wrap around the 3.3-pound DAC. Available in silver or black, and shipped with a short RCA cable, the box houses a pair of Burr-Brown PCM1795 chips that can accept resolutions of up to 32-bit/192kHz and operate in a dual-differential configuration, a rarity at this price point. The UD-H01’s claimed signal/noise ratio is 115dB, its total harmonic distortion 0.0015% at 1kHz.
The UD-H01 provides three inputs, including an asynchronous USB 2.0 connection that requires the installation of drivers from TEAC’s website, as well as coaxial and optical connections. Traditional RCA outputs are present, as are the traditionally more expensive XLR outputs. Both of these output a 2.0V RMS signal. Rounding out the features is a stereo headphone amplifier with an independent volume control and, on the right side of the faceplate, a 0.25" input on the front panel. At the left are a blue-lit power button and a source selector button; in the middle are readouts indicating the sampling frequency and which input source is active.
The UD-H01 displayed several operational quirks. When I turned on the review sample but had not yet fed it any digital information, the inactive yet selected input light would blink with a certain rapidity. While it could be helpful to know both that the UD-H01 is inactive yet still set to a certain input, that blinking blue light proved irksome over the long run. Another idiosyncrasy was that when the UD-H01 acquired or dropped a signal, it would make an audible click. I broke in the review sample by using my cable-TV box as a source; changing channels brought with it a fair amount of clicking and flashing. But I suspect far more people will use the TEAC on a desk, not in a larger stereo system.
The TEAC UD-H01 saw use with a lot of different equipment during its stay. Primarily, however, it spent time with Peachtree Audio’s Peachtree200 power amplifier and the preamplifier section of my stalwart Krell KAV-300il integrated amplifier, the two connected via a set of old RCA cables from MIT. I connected the TEAC to the Krell with Nordost Blue Heaven LS XLR interconnects. The Peachtree was linked to my Mirage OMD-28 omnidirectional speakers via Nordost Blue Heaven LS speaker cables, while Blue Heaven power cords fed current to all of my equipment. To test the UD-H01’s headphone amplifier, I also partnered it directly with my Apple MacBook Pro and Shure SE530 in-ear monitors.
Immediately after unpacking and setting up the UD-H01, I installed TEAC’s Macintosh drivers in my MacBook Pro via the TEAC website. That done, I wired my Nordost Blue Heaven LS USB cable from the rear of the UD-H01 to the laptop, selected the DAC via Apple’s Audio MIDI utility, and was good to go.
My first impression of the UD-H01 was one of relative neutrality. It seemed to render music with perhaps a hint of warmth, but nothing more. The UD-H01 was more objective in this regard than my tonally cool Benchmark DAC1 USB ($1295), or the noticeably warmer, richer sound of Musical Fidelity’s M1DAC ($749, and which I reviewed earlier this year), both of which are far more expensive.
The singular ability of my omnidirectional Mirages to re-create a three-dimensional space leads me to favor listening to larger choral works through them, and Hans Zimmer’s Grammy Award-winning score for Crimson Tide (16/44.1 AIFF, Hollywood Records) worked well with the UD-H01 in play. "Little Ducks," which features a male choir singing the Naval Services Hymn, "Eternal Father Strong to Save," was spread relatively broadly and deeply across my listening room. While it did not provide the sonic scale of the larger, almost-twice-as-expensive Musical Fidelity M1DAC, it offered 75% of the British DAC’s performance. The choir was robust yet clearly articulated, with individual voices occasionally discernible when they fell afoul of the larger surrounding group’s harmony.
In "The Goldeneye Overture," from Eric Serra’s score for the 1996 James Bond film Goldeneye (16/44.1 AIFF, Virgin), the bells and triangle that ring throughout the opening sequence demonstrated the UD-H01’s ability to resolve fine detail while also illustrating how instruments resound in a large recording space. I’ve found that the delivery of transients is a good way to determine how much resolution a DAC is passing along to listeners; while the TEAC was not as accomplished as my reference Benchmark, it was nonetheless competent.
I was better able to appreciate the UD-H01’s virtues when using it as a desktop companion to my MacBook Pro and Shure SE530s earphones. The three-driver Shures are probably the most resolving products I own; they and the TEAC greatly improved the quality of sound I got from my laptop. It was much more composed and focused. The Allegro of Handel’s Water Music, as arranged by Pierre Boulez and performed by the New York Philharmonic (16/44.1 AIFF, Sony Music Distribution), took on new life through the TEAC. Without the assistance of the UD-H01 this track sounded dull and insipid, almost like an MP3; with the TEAC it sounded invigorated, more vibrant and dynamic. The flitting trumpets at the beginning were lithe, and hung furtively toward the left of the soundstage, and the greater transparency allowed me to hear farther back into the recording venue. While the experience was not the sea change in sound that my Benchmark brings through headphones, the improvement was still easily audible. Computer users skeptical about the benefits of an external DAC would do well to try the UD-H01.
It’s precisely those who listen to music from computers whom I see buying the UD-H01. Up until now I’ve said that it produced good sound quality, though I qualified that by comparing it to the far more expensive components I’m familiar with. Indeed, the TEAC is no giant killer in this regard. But recognition should be paid to products (and people) that are multi-talented, if not exceptional in one area. The UD-H01’s sound quality is commensurate with its price. And when you consider that it also offers an asynchronous USB input, XLR outputs, and a headphone amplifier, and that its Swiss Army Knife flexibility makes it suitable for a wide variety of applications, the overall package becomes much more compelling. The UD-H01 could prove to be a product that will grow along with listeners as their listening habits evolve. In that sense, it’s an ideal gateway product to high-fidelity audio.
. . . Hans Wetzel
- Speakers -- Mirage OMD-28
- Earphones -- Shure SE530
- Amplifier -- Peachtree Audio Peachtree220
- Preamplifier -- Krell KAV-300il
- Sources -- Apple MacBook Pro computer running iTunes and Songbird; Benchmark DAC1 USB D/A converter
- Speaker cables -- Nordost Blue Heaven LS
- Interconnects -- Nordost Blue Heaven LS XLR and USB
- Power cables -- Nordost Blue Heaven LS
TEAC UD-H01 Digital-to-Analog Converter
Price: $399 USD.
Warranty: One year parts and labor.
TEAC America, Inc.
7733 Telegraph Road
Montebello, CA 90640
Phone: (323) 726-0303