Our Verdict 
An engaging performance that’s lovely to listen to. Just add more drive
For 
Subtle, refined sound
Plenty of depth and weight in the low end
Smooth performance
Sturdy and well-finished design
Easy to use
Against 
Lacks energy and drive
Also no display or remote
Reviewed on

The new Pathos Converto may not have the Italian manufacturer’s signature look (no valves!), but this DAC has Pathos blood running through it.

Its external design can be traced back to the £850 Pathos Aurium headphone amplifier, and the subtlety and weight we like so much in Pathos’ products is very much present.

Performance

The Converto’s focus on subtlety means it isn’t quite as agile and punchy as other DACs

There are layers of detail wrapped around each note. The saxophone in Fela Kuti’s Colonial Mentality oozes character. It’s textured, the meandering tone is full of subtle dynamics, and it fits in cohesively with the other instruments.

All that detail is underpinned by a real sense of weight. Play The Cat Empire’s Fishies and you can hear just how authoritative and solid the sound is. The basslines are surprisingly muscular, with the kind of low-end authority rarely heard in this class. Voices are full-bodied and rich with emotion, while that bass rumbles along merrily.

It’s not the most rhythmically agile sound. That funky swing tune is more laidback than it should be, and the Pathos needs more pep and precision to get to that enthusiastic tempo.

We want more snap and clarity, too. The punctuating, staccato beats of Garbage’s Cherry Lips lack some punch, perhaps requiring a more precise and energetic machine to show off its attitude.

However, the Pathos still does a wonderful job of conveying the subtle inflections and tonal changes of Shirley Manson’s vocals. It never sounds boring, but a little extra drive and attack would elevate the Converto to a five-star product.

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More after the break

Build and design

Make sure you turn up the gain control for a punchier, clearer and more dynamic sound

Pathos has a stubbornly simple approach to its design. There’s no remote, no display, and no labels. Just two buttons: one for power, one for inputs. And four LED strips.

It’s a bit disconcerting at first, but it becomes more intuitive once you get your bearings. After perusing the manual to find out which LED strip corresponds to which input, you’ll never forget it. It becomes second nature.

The DAC itself is a rigid metal construction that’s just the right size to sit unobtrusively on your desk. The inputs change with a satisfying click, and the small volume dial is similarly responsive.

The dial is perhaps a bit too small, though. It can be fiddly for those with larger fingers, as there’s not much of a gap once you plug headphones into the 6.3mm jack.

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Features and connectivity

The Converto plays high-resolution 24-bit/192kHz files across its digital inputs, including one USB Type B, two coaxials and a single optical input.

There are also a pair of line level inputs for an analogue source, and the choice of balanced and single-ended outputs if you want to use it as a pre-amplifier.

You’ll also find balance and gain controls on the back panel. Take some time to adjust the gain control: it helps optimise performance across a wide range of headphones and systems.

Verdict

The Converto isn’t quite the five-star product we’ve come to expect from Pathos. But it’s close. We’re fond of the no-frills approach to design, and although some may yearn for a display and remote, we never felt we were missing out.

Design aside, it’s the smooth, luxuriously detailed and weighty sound that draws us to this DAC.

It could do with an extra dose of energy, but the Converto is an engaging and charming listen that has us yearning for more.

MORE: Best DACs 2015

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The Competition 

Audiolab M-DAC

Our Rating 
90%
Price from £799

Pioneer U-05

Our Rating 
80%

Sony PHA-3AC

Our Rating 
0%
Price from £589

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