Are you having trouble finding the right digital-to-analog converter/headphone amp combo for your personal setup? It can be hard to decide with so many options to choose from. Out of the many options available, trusting a well-known and established company is usually a good place to start.
Our unbiased, detailed Audioengine D1 Review will help you decide whether or not it’s the right choice for you.
You might already know that this device can be used to enhance the sound quality playing from your laptop or TV. It can also be used for boosting the output of your favorite headphones.
If you want to see where it stands out (or doesn’t) among the competition, you’ll want to stick around until the end. Our final wrap up and rating out of 10 will be featured in a comprehensive review table at the bottom. Are you ready to get started?
Audioengine D1 Review – USB DAC/Amp Combo
Features & Specifications:
- Easy plug-n-play setup
- Compatible with laptop, TV, CD player, or desktop
- Includes USB and S/PDIF optical inputs + 3.5 mm headphone jack
- Central control knob for easy volume adjustment
- 24-bit processor (for hi-res playback)
- Includes RCA outputs for connecting to powered speakers
- Low noise/low distortion audio playback
- Dimensions: 1.48 x 1.38 x 0.39 in
- Weight: 16 oz.
You’re probably dying to know “How does it sound?” or “How does is stack up against a DAC in the same price range?”. Since the level of performance is one of the main (if not the main) deciding factors for most of us, we’ll cover that first.
Performance & Audio Playback
Is that tiny device really capable of powering my audio equipment? Chances are, you’re already somewhat aware of the night and day difference that a USB DAC/Amp combo can make when paired with the right pair of speakers or headphones.
Most laptops, portable players, and other digital storage devices have an internal sound card or DAC that’s mainly designed to perform the most basic functions. If you buy an external DAC or amp and it doesn’t make your audio sound exponentially better – you might want to consider returning it for one that does.
Although you can swap out the stock sound card, an external device such as the D1 is the easiest (and least time-consuming) solution for most of us. Here’s where this device differs from most built-in DACs.
What Sets The D1 Apart?
It features a high quality AK4396 DAC that supports larger audio files which allow for more true-to-life sound since it’s not compressed and therefore partially watered down.
The internal AK4396 DAC can process digital audio at any speed (up to) 24-bits. If you’re not familiar with bit rates, that basically means that it can process hi-res audio files (FLAC, ALAC, AIFF, WAV) that take up more storage space but ultimately sound better. You can read more about the difference between WAV and MP3 here.
Now let’s take an in-depth look at how well it performs when used with a pair of compatible headphones.
For Use With Headphones – Sonic Performance
Before we dive into the actual sonic performance of the D1, there are a few features you’ll want to be aware of.
The first topic has to deal with certain default features that may or may not have an effect on your individual listening experience.
Simultaneous Headphone/Speaker Playback
Even though this device supports playback on both headphones and speakers separately, you won’t be able to play audio on both simultaneously. If you decide to use the RCA outputs and you’re playing music on a set of speakers – once you plug the headphone jack in, it will mute the audio playing from the speakers.
For some, this feature seems unnecessary (and possibly slightly annoying) and for others it’s a helpful feature that makes perfect sense.
For example, if you’re mixing a track and like to alternate back and forth between speakers and headphones to get a more accurate mix – it could be a bit irritating. (That being said, this device isn’t designed to be a dedicated recording or mixing device so if you’re looking for something for that purpose, the Presonus Audiobox USB would be more well-suited.)
On the other hand, if you’re like most listeners and you’re just looking for a device to bypass your laptop’s sound card, you probably won’t have any issues alternating back and forth. Most of us likely prefer listening exclusively with one or the other at any given time.
Sound Profile – Lows, Mids, and Highs
Now that we’ve established some of the basic performance aspects, let’s dive into a few highlights. As you can see below, we listed a few important sound profile/playback highlights that might sway your opinion one way or the other.
- Enhanced detail separation (distinct background and instrumental clarity)
- Clean, tight bass resolution
- Treble is notably prominent, but not overpowering
- No hissing or audible distortion
As you can see, this DAC/amp brings more clarity to your audio than it does distort it. The low-end bass-heavy frequencies won’t muddy the track or make them sound overly bloated. If your main concern lies in how strong the bass response is, you’ll probably want to keep looking.
If you like a strong low-end presence, but also enjoy being able to clearly hear the other musical elements (sound effects, etc.) and frequencies, you should be satisfied.
Since there is added detail separation between the instruments/instrumental and vocals, even the smallest details can be heard. On top of that, the lack of a slightly audible hissing (sometimes present when using other DAC/amps) is completely nonexistent.
Headphone Impedance & DAC Output Impedance
Depending on your personal level of expertise, you may or may not know that just because you get an amp, doesn’t mean that it will necessarily work the way it should with your specific pair of ‘phones. The impedance level (measured in Ohms) plays a major role when it comes to deciding on which DAC/Amp to get.
For example, it’s important to note that headphones with an impedance of over 250 Ohms can be harder to drive and may not be best suited for use with the D1. The DAC output impedance levels aren’t quite strong enough to drive ‘phones above that approximate range.
Most headphones fall under the 250 Ohm range but certain higher-end pairs (like the Sennheiser HD 650) require more power to function at their best. If you own a pair like the HD 650, you’ll probably want to consider another option.
If you’re unsure of your headphone’s impedance, it’s recommended that you do a quick Google search or double check with your user manual. For use with headphones, the D1 won’t quite meet your expectations if you pair it with ‘phones that weren’t designed to function (at their best) in the sub-250 Ohm range.
For Use With Powered Speakers
Since this device has RCA outputs (on the back), you can connect it to powered speakers and listen out loud. If you’re connecting to a pair like the Audioengine HD3 Wireless, you’ll be able to control the volume right from the knob on the front of the DAC.
This ability may vary depending on the pair of speakers, but should work in most cases. If you’re using powered speakers vs. active speakers, it will make a difference.) It might not seem like a feature worth noting unless you know how inconvenient it can be having to reach around and constantly readjust your speakers.
In terms of convenience, it’s definitely a nice addition to the setup. Other reviewers agree that since this DAC works with ‘phones as well as speakers – it would be a mistake not to use it with both.
This isn’t to say that you need one over the other or that it won’t work well if you choose not to. (The main point is that it will help justify the purchase to your family or significant other.)
So far, the D1 checks off some of the most important factors, but how does it fare in terms of build quality?
Compatibility – Connectivity Options
You probably noticed that there is not only an RCA output but an S/PDIF optical output as well. Some listeners prefer to connect with their digital storage devices using an optical cable because that sounds better in their opinion.
S/PDIF cables are often used in high-end home theater surround sound setups or connection with an amplifying receiver. They do have their limitations and are generally used by HiFi enthusiasts that prefer taking a more personalized approach to their setup.
Here are some possible reasons to consider using an optical cable:
- Some users report a higher level of sonic fidelity
- Higher bit/sample rate
Most devices similar to the D1 don’t offer the same level of versatility when it comes to connections with external components. You can connect via speakers using the RCA/Optical and headphones using the 3.5 mm port. This allows for more flexibility for customizing the setup to your personal taste.
Powering Your Device
We’ve covered audio playback and your options for connecting to external components, but we haven’t covered how the D1 receives power in order to function. A USB connection is required at all times for powering the DAC, which may be a minor drawback for some.
On one hand, it conserves space on your surge protector or outlet on the wall, but also limits your options. For example, due to the USB connection required, it won’t be compatible with most turntables, some smartphones, most popular MP3 players (iPod, etc.), or any other player that can’t provide a power source via USB.
This also brings us to the next point. Despite the compact, sturdy build design, the power requirement means that in most cases, completely portable use isn’t possible. Imagine that you want to leave your laptop at home when you go out but you still want your music to have the same oomph.
Unfortunately, you can’t just pack it up in the carrying pouch and bring it with you to use with your iPhone. That’s true for Android and Apple devices unless you also grab the extra cables needed to make that connection.
An amp that’s specifically designed for fully-portable use (like the models here) would work better in that case since they don’t require an external power source. The D1 is great for easy transport, but not necessarily the best for fully-portable use on-the-go.
Build Quality, Materials, and Practicality
This DAC is built with a durable metal casing with rubber front and rear plates. The rubber plates add to the satisfying weight and are also perfect for keeping your DAC from sliding around. It can also help prevent the metal casing from being scratched since it will be naturally elevated above the surface where it sits.
Since it’s so compact (1.5 inches at it’s longest) it’s an optimal amplification device for taking with you to the library, school, or coffee shop with your laptop. This also makes it ideal for use on a small desk while you’re getting some work done, browsing videos on YouTube, or listening to a new album.
It also comes with a carrying pouch which makes it easy to throw in a backpack, purse, or other bag for easy transport. The included USB cable, D1, your headphones, and a laptop is a pretty small package to carry considering the amount of enjoyment it will bring you.
Volume Knob Resistance
Another strong feature worth noting is the quality of the volume knob. There is slight resistance when adjusting the volume levels which is a good indicator of a solid build.
It can be disappointing and unsatisfying when you receive a new piece of audio gear and after you rip all the packaging off, you hold it in your hands and it feels like there’s something missing.
Luckily, that isn’t the case here. The durable build quality and slightly resistant volume knob let you know that the D1 means business. Small details such as the way the volume knob feels as you turn the volume up or down can make a big difference and are oftentimes overlooked.
Even if you don’t know how to articulate why it feels like it’s missing something, you’ll know when you feel it. You’ve probably had the experience of using audio equipment that feels extremely cheap.
It’s not the most satisfying experience to reach up to adjust the volume and accidentally turn it up way too high (or low) because the knob was loose and flimsy.
That’s one easy way to self-test things like durability and build quality without having to know why it feels right because sometimes, it just does.
Headphone Jack Build & Design
Although there is a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack (featured on the front) of the D1, some users have mentioned that a 1/4″ jack might be more well-suited. The main reason being that accidental jerking on the cable (from standing up too fast or moving to grab something) could cause the inner components to break.
In general, as long as you’re careful and don’t put your gear through hell, it will hold up with little to no issues whatsoever. Once again, this is a somewhat nit-picky flaw that doesn’t affect the overall performance or function, just something to keep in mind if that factors into your specific criteria.
Our Final Wrap Up – Who Is This DAC/Amp Perfect For?
Without sounding too much like a broken record, let’s end with a brief rundown of the main features to consider before making your decision.
This compact device should be seriously considered if you:
- Need something lightweight, but durable for easily transportable hi-res playback
- Enjoy a clean and precise bass response + detailed separation
- Like having the option to use with both speakers and headphones
- Have used and enjoyed other Audioengine gear in the past
- Can’t live without hi-res audio since you first got that initial taste
- Don’t mind bringing a compatible portable USB device in order to power the D1
- Are seeking an extremely easy to setup, plug-n-play device to elevate your audio
Factoring The Strong Features & Drawbacks
While it’s not absolutely perfect and doesn’t come without some minor drawbacks, this DAC/amp combo would be great for listeners of all stages. Whether you’re a hi-res newbie, semi-knowledgeable audio enthusiast, or audiophile on a budget – we hope our Audioengine D1 Review gave you enough information to consider trying it out for yourself.
For a reasonably-priced DAC/amp that has this much functionality, it would be wise to utilize it’s features with both speakers and headphones. If you have the ability to use it with both, why limit your options? The price of the D1 has been reduced from it’s original retail value, so now would be a good time to take advantage of the offer (especially if it meets your criteria).
Before you use the link below to see the current asking price on Amazon, take a look at the review table below. You can see a final pros & cons checklist comparing the good with the bad, and how our final rating factored everything together to best sum up the main features and drawbacks.
We hope you enjoyed this review and that it helped you along your quest for the perfect DAC/amp combo for your personal setup. If you’re curious about any of the features or performance aspects, feel free to leave your question below! We always do our best to respond as quickly as we can and would love to answer any questions you have about this device!
Thanks for stopping by, if you enjoyed our review and want to surf around and read about other related subjects, you’ll enjoy taking a look at the Best Bookshelf Speakers of 2018 here or browsing our Top 10 Absolute Best Headphone Albums.
We look forward to hearing from you soon!
Sonic Elevation: Ride The Waves.
Audioengine D1 24-bit USB DAC Amp
Build & Durability9.0/10
Setup For First Time Users10.0/10
- Compact & Durable + Includes A Carrying Pouch
- Clean, Concise, & Well-Detailed Audio Playback
- Works With Both Headphones & Speakers
- Multiple Connectivity Options Allow For A More Personalized Setup
- Well-Built Construction + Obvious Attention To Detail
- Requires a USB Connection For Power
- Uses a 3.5 mm Headphone Jack (Instead of a 1/4" Jack)
- Doesn't Include An Optical Cable
- Not Ideal For Strictly Bass-seeking Listeners